From Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda.


1. Propaganda Techniques

Metacognition: We need to be mindful of how we think as well as what we think.

While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples (e.g. Nazi propaganda used to justify the Holocaust), propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging people to report crimes to law agencies, amongst others.

So the exact definition of propaganda is constantly debated, and no specific definition is completely agreed. Some argue that any persuasive communication is propaganda, whilst others hold that propaganda specifically alters political opinions. However, it is doubtless that propaganda is material which is meant to manipulate or change public opinion, and though it may vary in form and technique, it always serves this same purpose.

In the context of this article, propaganda is generally to be defined as a calculated, coordinated campaign carried out through media that are capable of reaching a large amount of people, to further a primarily political agenda, (although principles of propaganda can be applied equally to further a religious or commercial agenda also).

A number of techniques founded on social psychological research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are certainly not necessarily valid.

Some time has been spent analysing the means by which propaganda messages are transmitted. That work is important but it is clear that information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those messages are spread.

A basic assertion is an enthusiastic or energetic proposition presented as a statement of fact, although of course it is not necessarily true. Assertions often imply that the statement requires no explanation or evidence, but that it should merely be accepted without question.

Examples of assertions can be found often in advertising propaganda. Any time an advertiser states that their product is the best without providing evidence for this, they are using an assertion. The subject, ideally, are supposed to simply agree with the assertion without searching for additional information or applying any reasoning. Assertions, although usually simple to spot, are often dangerous forms of propaganda because they often include damaging falsehoods or lies.

“Glittering generalities” is one of the seven main propaganda techniques identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1938. It also arises very often in politics and political propaganda. Glittering generalities are words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts. When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved. For example, when a person is asked to do something in “defence of democracy” or “freedom” they are more likely to agree. The concepts of democracy and freedom have positive connotations to them because they are regarded as highly valued principles by the majority of people.

The “lesser of two evils” technique is an attempt to convince us of an idea or proposal by presenting it as the least offensive option. This technique is often implemented during wartime or economic recession to convince people of the need for sacrifices or to justify difficult decisions. This technique is often accompanied by adding blame on an enemy country or political group. One idea or proposal is often portrayed as the “better” one of the only options, and dominates political opinion.

The proposal that austerity measures are for the “benefit” or “good” of the general population is an excellent example of this. Just don’t expect to be informed about how much more wealthy the already wealthy have become since the Coalition imposed cuts and austerity, with the most vulnerable bearing the biggest burden of loss, and the wealthy bearing gifts from the always generous Tory tax handouts, but only for the already privileged.

It’s worth bearing in mind that when someone speaks or writes, they are trying to convince you of somethingAsk yourself what it is that they want you to believe, then analyse their basic proposition carefully. Examine what they are saying, look for consistency, coherence, reasoning and logic, and look for the evidence to support the proposition, of course.

It’s also important to recognise the merit and value of critical thinking, because propositions are opinions that usually exist in debate and controversy. There are usually other counter propositions, often at least equally compelling, that set a challenge – other points of view.  In Parliament, members debate proposals regarding legislation, vote, and make resolutions which become laws. Debates are usually conducted by proposing a law, or changes to a law. Members of Parliament (or Congress) then discuss it and eventually cast their vote for or against such a law. In democracies, this process is (at least in principle) based on reasoned debate, and a balanced consideration of all of the propositions, facts, evidence and implications presented.

Critical thinking involves understanding the extent of an area of controversy, as well as the details of each individual proposition, and looking at the evidence and reasoning presented with each point of view. We don’t have to agree with an opinion to understand it. Understanding something that we disagree with is an important part of formulating alternative reliable and valid perspectives of our own. Understanding alternatives and critically appraising them means that your own thought out and well-reasoned views are more likely to stand up to scrutiny and critical evaluation. It also means they are more likely to be grounded in reality – more likely to be factually informed.

Critical thinking is essential to spark cogent, rational, open debate and provide a framework to support and guide the public to participate in well-informed discussions on current issues responsibly. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis in the US arose “to teach people how to think rather than what to think.”

In the UK, we currently have a Government that exercises an unhealthy and considerable control of the media. It’s often possible to predict when the next round of cuts and austerity measures are going to be inflicted on us because the announcement of policy is typically preceded by media attempts at justification prior to the event, usually involving the demarcation and scapegoating of the social group to be affected by the policy.

We usually have a few weeks of the press stereotyping immigrants as a “free-loading drain on the taxpayer”, or poor sick and disabled people as “fraudsters” and “con artists”, with problems no more disabling that acne, being overweight, or substance abuse. Or unemployed people are portrayed as feckless, idle “spongers”, or lone parents as immoral and irresponsible “burdens”, reducing social housing availability for “deserving” families, as well as costing the State, and that mythical being, the very righteous but careworn and duped taxpayer.  But how else could a corrupt and authoritarian Government attempt to justify taking so much money from the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, whilst rewarding the wealthy with enormous tax cuts?

There is usually a considerable chasm between the propositions stated by the likes of Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Fraud, for example, (well-established, prolific liars), evidence and reality. It’s almost like these people have a kind of political rhetoric schizophrenia: completely detached and isolated from reality, the ordinary world of everyday life and events. There is clearly a need for some analysis of such rhetoric and its link with Coalition policies.

The current Government are most certainly outrageous propagandists, on par with the Nazi Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, controlling the news media in particular, with the aim of shaping and controlling public opinions, attitudes and behaviours by a process of indoctrination, using übertrieben neo-liberalist dogmata to both create and justify neo-feudal subordination, oppressive hierarchical social structures and to signify the end of our humanist ideal and practice of shared citizenship.

We must challenge this 

The challenge starts in the same way as this article did: through metacognition. We need to be mindful of how we think as well as what we think. I ought to recommend Sir Karl Popper’s ideas of  falsificationism and verisimilitude rather than the more commonly employed verificationism as a methodology for discerning valid information: habitually search for the evidence that refutes what you are being told by any of the Coalition. It’s out there, and saves what would be an impossible task: you can never find proof of any Tory proposition actually being true. Plenty of evidence to verify lies, though. (I’m not being entirely tongue in cheek here, either.)

(I did try very hard to refute the existence of the Coalition….there was a snag with that, sorry to say. It seems falsificationism does have limitations.)

I almost forgot to mention Cameron’s one remarkable but accidental, blurted out truth: We are raising more money for the rich. That is verifiable fact. For once. Gosh.

Techniques for generating propaganda:

Ad hominem – A Latin phrase which has come to mean attacking your opponent, as opposed to attacking their arguments. David Cameron employs this strategy with considerable psychopathic expertise in Parliamentary debate. (See Prime Ministers Questions).

Ad nauseam – This approach uses tireless repetition of an idea. An idea, especially a simple slogan, that is repeated enough times, may begin to be taken as the truth. This approach works best when media sources are limited and controlled by the propagator. Joseph Goebbels, not known to be driven by the passionate inspiration of the moment, but by the result of sober psychological calculation, was particularly talented in utilising this approach. Iain Duncan Smith has a similar penchant for repeated mendacity. A serial offender.

To justify his cruel and unwarranted welfare “reforms” (cuts), Iain Duncan Smith says that he has taken money that is essential for meeting the basic survival needs from the poorest people because “It’s fair to taxpayers.”  Repeatedly. (See also Slogans.)

I am somehow reminded of the parable “The Judgement of Solomon”  from the Hebrew Bible, in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child by tricking the parties into revealing their true feelings. It has become an archetypal example of a judge displaying wisdom in making a ruling. Solomon ordered a sword to cut the baby in half, as the “one fair solution”. Of course the woman who loved her child was revealed as she was prepared to sacrifice her motherhood to save her baby and of course Solomon spared the baby.

Iain Duncan Smith is a stereotypical Tory, and being neither wise nor compassionate, he proceeded to cut (and not “reform”) the baby in half: he spitefully killed it, allegorically speaking. Despite the fierce protests. And the need for ad hoc application of an archaic commons convention – financial privilege, invoked to stifle the mass opposition, overturn the House of Lords amendments to the Bill and hammer the “reforms” through the legislative process.

The narrative constructed in support of this attack on welfare payments rests on the proposition “Benefit claimants shouldn’t get more than ‘strivers‘”: an appeal to generate and fuel a public sense of injustice. However, the majority of welfare payments to be slashed in real terms are benefits that are paid to working people. Benefits to be restricted to below inflation rises include; Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit, Maternity Pay, Paternity Pay, Council Tax Benefit and Statutory Sick Pay.

People claiming welfare benefits are also taxpayers, these are not two discrete social groups at all. Welfare is funded by taxpayers for times when taxpayers need financial support, because they lost their job, or became ill or disabled, for example. No-one has gained a thing from the welfare “reforms”, except for the minority of very wealthy people. That’s where the savings made from welfare cuts, at the expense of the poorest, have gone. (See also Operant conditioning and Slogan.)


Appeals to authority – this technique involves citing prominent figures to support a position, idea, argument, or course of action. The Tories, however, believe there are none who know better, or have more authority than the Tories. According to the Tories. See also Authoritarianism.

A good example of this technique being used is Osborne’s careful selection of “leading economists” (he used business leaders) to endorse his damaging austerity program. He carefully excluded those who presented valid criticisms of the centrepiece of Osborne’s strategy: it’s accelerated austerity for purely ideological ends, (see also Minarchism) and it halted the recovery that happened under the previous Labour Government in its tracks.

Another example is Cameron’s quote from a doctor in Ed Miliband’s constituency of Doncaster last year, he used “Doncaster GP”, Dr Greg Conner to defend his NHS Reform Bill, following debate when Miliband had pointed out that most Health Care professionals did not endorse or support the Bill. In fact the majority opposed it. However, Dr Conner’s remarks were made when he was chairman of the Doncaster clinical commissioning group – a position he no longer holds, as he left in 2011. Cameron failed to mention this, of course. See Card Stacking and Disinformation also.

Loaded language – Specific words and phrases with strong emotional implications are used to influence the audience. News headlines are often used for this purpose. For example “Britain risks huge influx of east Europe migrants”, from the Telegraph.

Examples also include the ad nauseum use of value-laden terms in political narratives and the media, such as “benefit cheat”, “dependency”, “entrenched”, “fraud”, “worklessness”, “addiction”, and more opprobrious examples such as “scrounger”, “skiver”, “workshy” (see Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich and the origins of this word, it’s now being used very frequently in the media to describe unemployed and disabled people.)

Iain Duncan Smith has spoken of a “mass culture of welfare dependency” in every speech on benefits he has made in the past 12 months. Several studies show that compared with the end of the Labour Government, such pejorative language use has risen dramatically, and Duncan Smith is the most frequent Parliamentary user of value-laden terminology, regularly including phrases and terms such as entrenched and intergenerational worklessness and welfare dependency in his speeches. The research and analysis came after complaints that the government is using exceptional cases such as that of Mick Philpott, the unemployed man jailed for the manslaughter of six children, to justify its program of brutal cuts to the benefits system. Fullfact research debunked claims made about “intergenerational worklessness”, using the Department of Work and Pension’s own data.

However, the Tories tend to “unload” or “neutralise” some of their language too, especially in discussion and debate about their policies. For example, using the word reforms rather than a more neutral but informative word like changes, or a negative (and accurate) one like cuts. This is used to conceal the true aims and consequences of policies, and draws on Orwellian Doublespeak: language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or even reverses the normative meaning of words.

Another example is the use of phrases such as “statistical norms”, “not targets but aspirations” and “robust expectations of performance”  in outrageous, very unsubtle feats of Government linguistic ducking and diving to attempt disguise of the fact that sick and disabled people’s benefits have inbuilt targets of benefit removal, embedded in “assessments” and “eligibility criteria”.

In fact, the whole “assessment” process is nothing more than an opportunity for the “justification” of welfare stripping. And regardless of any human costs, no matter how catastrophic to those targeted to lose their benefits. That’s 7 out of 8 people, regardless of the extent of their illness and disability, who will be told they are “fit for work”, because the Government decided in advance of any assessment that they are going to lose their disability benefit, and wrote this into the Atos contract. See Repetition, Stereotyping, Labeling, Name-calling and Ad Nauseum and also Techniques of Neutralisation.

Appeal to fear or Ad Horribilis – Appeals to fear seek to build support by instilling anxieties and panic in the general population, for example Goebbels exploited Theodore N. Kaufman’s Germany Must Perish! to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.

This strategy is often employed to justify racism. It often appeals to the “burden on the taxpayer”  proposition, and often utilises Stereotyping and Flag-Waving techniques. Use of reactionary words like “swamping”, “spiralling”, “invading” and “crisis” have a long history of creating and heightening public fears of immigration, implying blame for economic downturns and recession and justifying racist policy.

The calculated use of the example of an exceptional psychopathic individual, Mick Philpott, the incidently unemployed man jailed for the manslaughter of his six children, as a way of deliberately creating public fears that a “benefit culture”  turns people into such violent and manipulative characters, whilst conveniently stigmatising all  unemployed benefit claimants, was done in an attempt to justify the Tory-led Government’s long-standing ideological imperative to destroy our social security system.

Dr Harold Shipman, one of the most prolific serial killers in recorded history, was in work, as was Ian Kevin Huntley, a caretaker at a secondary school and Peter Sutcliffe –  the “Yorkshire ripper” –  worked as a truck driver, yet we never hear of a link being made between employment and the capacity for prolific, brutal, cold-bloodied murder.

The “hardworking taxpayer”  is often depicted as solely carrying the burden of the costs of welfare and any other kind of social support , and there is an element of fear-mongering in this portrayal, but of course, everyone pays taxes, including those in receipt of welfare. In fact the poorest citizens tend to pay more in taxes than the wealthy. See also Appeal to Prejudice, Loaded language, Stereotyping  and Name-Calling.

Appeal to prejudice – Using loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition. For example, the phrase: “Any hard-working, striving taxpayer would have to agree that those who do not work, and who do not support the community do not deserve the public’s support through welfare benefits”.

Another example of this technique is the proposition embedded in this comment: “Who will pay for the pensions these immigrants will claim, and their families? It is nothing more than living on credit, making our children deal with the mess”. – UKIP Chief Executive, Will Gilpin.

A key study conducted by The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, showed that migrants from so-called A8 countries (the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004) made a positive contribution to the country’s public finances in each fiscal year since their EU accession. Although they mostly work in low-wage jobs, their (often exploited) labour-force participation and employment rates tend to be higher than average, which offsets the impact of their lower wages. See also Black and White Fallacy and Loaded language.

Bandwagon – Bandwagon and “inevitable-victory” appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking.”

Black and White fallacy – Presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice. (e.g. “You are either with us, or you are with the enemy” or “If you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”). So this involves reducing complex issues to overly simplified and contrived oppositional dichotomies, and uncritically favouring one of the two schemata.

An example is the “either endure austerity or increase the UK’s deficit” binary conceptual schema. We know that the evidence is that austerity has led to the deteriorating state of the UK economy, and the austerity  program has a negative impact on domestic demand and GDP, and there has been no substantive reduction in Britain’s current account deficit.

Another example is from the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who said in her statement, directly in response to the recent killing in Woolwich: “This attack was an attack on everyone in the United Kingdom, and it will be condemned by people from every community”  she spurred on a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment and consequent violence. On May 22, the English Defence League (EDL) were quick to sweep through Woolwich whilst it was recommended that Muslims in the area remain indoors. Since then, we have seen many verbal and physical attacks around the country against Muslims and Islamic institutions, alongside weekly marches called by both the EDL and the British National Party (BNP) in an attempt to legitimise explicitly racist and Islamophobic rhetoric through its existence in the mainstream political sphere.

Theresa May, however, has responded by calling for the instatement of a “snooper’s charter” in order to ban groups that are deemed to encourage “radical Islamism” whether or not they condone the use of violence, and in order to monitor the internet use of potential suspects (i.e. monitoring e-mails, social media, Skype, website visits, etc.). Whilst undemocratic policies and initiatives like these have been in existence throughout the so-called “War on Terror” with the creation of organisations such as “Prevent” and the collection of students’ information from University College of London’s (UCL) Islamic Society given to the CIA (2010), they do not encompass other forms of hate speech that have been the cause of racially or religiously motivated attacks in Britain. It seems, then, that terror inflicted upon Muslims in Britain, or “racially or religiously motivated attacks”, does not constitute a threat to British society despite its prevalence and violent nature. Instead, these attacks are indirectly encouraged through the language used and actions taken by the Government, especially by Theresa May and David Cameron. This is also a very good example of the Government marginalising and isolating a social group. See also Appeal to Prejudice and Loaded language.

Big Lie – See also Disinformation. The repeated articulation of a complex of series of events that justify subsequent action. The descriptions of these events have elements of truth, and the “big lie” generalisations merge and eventually supplant the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events. After World War I the German Stab in the back explanation of the cause of their defeat became a justification for Nazi re-militarisation and revanchist aggression.

Not to be confused with Cameron’s “Big society”, although this is also a big lie.

Common man – The ordinary folks  or Common man approach is an attempt to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.

For example, a propaganda leaflet may make an argument on a macroeconomic issue, such as unemployment benefits, using everyday terms: “given that the country has little money during this recession, we should stop paying extravagant unemployment benefits to those who do not work, because that is like maxing out all your credit cards during a tight period, when we all should be tightening our belt”.

A common example of this type of propaganda is a political figure, usually running for a parliamentary seat, portrayed in a humble backyard, commercial bread bakery or shop, doing daily routine things. This image appeals to the “common person”. The Tories frequently try this one to attempt to shake off the solid, privileged, aristocratic and insular anti-social situation they inhabit, in vain attempts to appear “ordinary”. Needless to say, most of us don’t buy it.

Demonising the enemy – Making individuals from the opposing nation, from a different ethnic group, or those who support the opposing viewpoint appear to be subhuman (e.g., the Vietnam War-era term “gooks” for National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam aka Vietcong, (or ‘VC’) soldiers), worthless, or immoral, through suggestion or false accusations.

Another example is the current Government making individuals of the Opposition Party appear responsible for the socio-economic crisis of Coalition origin and manufacture. (See The Great Debt Lie and the Deficit Myth).

The systematic demonisation of the recipients of any social support and welfare via the media and political rhetoric is another example. This is done to to erode public sympathy and support for the poor, so that the Government can then remove such “costly” support and hand out “tax payer’s” money to the wealthy and private companies instead. See also Loaded language, Name-calling and Stereotyping.

Direct order – This technique is an attempt to simplify the decision making process by using images and words to tell the audience exactly what actions to take, eliminating any other possible choices. Authority figures can be used to give the order, overlapping it with the Appeal to authority technique, but not necessarily.

A good example is the raft of pointless questionnaires and consultation documents that have no scope whatsoever for disagreeing with the current Government. “Choice architecture” –  your responses are “nudged” in the desired “direction”, although the Tories are often even less subtle than that: there are no alternative perspectives expressed or suggested, the loaded, fixed questions elicit fixed, short responses and that renders the exercise of completing them futile. The words “stroke me with my own Tory opinions, because this ain’t a democracy” ought to be written on the title page of each one.

Disinformation – The creation or deletion of information from public records, in the purpose of making a false record of an event or the actions of a person or organisation, including outright forgery of photographs, motion pictures, broadcasts, and sound recordings as well as printed documents. And in the case of the Tories, statistics (Iain Duncan Smith). See David “paying down the debt” Cameron also.

Another example is Iain Duncan Smith’s lie about his education and qualifications, as stated in his biography on the Conservative Party website, his entry in Who’s Who, and various other places, which make the claim that he went to the Universita di Perugia in Italy. Mr Duncan Smith’s office has been forced to admit to Newsnight researchers investigating his academic  background that he didn’t get any qualifications in Perugia, or even finish his exams. It was also claimed that he was “educated at Dunchurch College of Management”. In fact, Dunchurch was the former staff college for GEC Marconi, for whom he worked in the 1980s. Mr Duncan Smith’s office was forced to admit that that he did not get any qualifications there either, but that he completed six separate courses lasting a few days each, adding up to about a month in total. (See Newsnight reveals ‘inaccuracies’ in Iain Duncan Smith’s CV ). It’s easy to see why Mr Duncan Smith has made it his very own personal campaign to “monitor” the BBC for “left-wing bias.”

I believe that a related technique is Information Suppression, and it is becoming increasingly common practice in the UK. This includes censorship, media black-outs, such as the lack of open reporting about the widespread criticisms and professional and public protests preceding and following the welfare reforms and Health and Social Care Bill, suppression of investigations, such as Project Riverside , “the other hacking scandal”, and withholding information that would ordinarily be released to the public. These strategies bear the characteristic hallmark of an authoritarian Government.

A very blatant example is the Government’s deliberate withholding publication of the Department of Health’s Transition Risk Register, which was a statement of risks of NHS changes due to the Tory-led Health and Social Care Bill. There was legitimate demand from professionals, academics and the public, and a legal ruling from the Parliamentary Information Commissioner for release of the information, the Government defied a second legal ruling to publish the risk register following their unsuccessful appeal against the information commissioner’s original ruling that it should be made public. The judgement very clearly and explicitly supported the public’s right to know about the risks the Government is taking with its plans to privatise the NHS. Despite strong legal support for a full and open public debate about the NHS “reorganisation”, Cabinet Ministers did not respect the law and continue to stifle and censor such debate. We are still awaiting the release of that information from 2010. (See also David Cameron launches damaging attack on the Freedom of Information Act.)

Perhaps we may call another related technique: “Re-writing History”. Examples include the making of false claims and inventing statistical “evidence”, or mispresenting that evidenceGrant Shapps falsely claimed in the House of Commons that the Coalition would build more affordable homes in five years than the Labour Government had done in the 13 years they were in Office. However, housebuilding is currently at the lowest it’s been since 1946. Officials in the Department for Communities and Local Government battled for nearly a year to prevent the release of internal correspondence (emails) relating to the former Housing minister Mr Shapps following the complaint made to Andrew Dilnot, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, by the Opposition, about Mr Shapps’s claims and the misuse of statistics.

Finally forced to back down by the Information Commissioner the subsequently released emails showed that civil servants believed Mr Shapps, who is now Conservative Party chairman, had made inaccurate statements about the number of affordable homes being built in Britain.

Mr Shapps was reprimanded again after being been caught using false statistics to back up the Government’s welfare reforms, pointing to the wrong set of numbers to imply there were nearly a million benefit cheats. Shapps is quoted saying: “nearly 900,000 people who were on incapacity benefit dropped their claim to the payments, rather than undergo a tough medical test”. The figure of nearly one million Shapps quoted was in fact the number of new applicants to Employment and Support Allowance who had dropped claims between October 2008 and May 2012. They had not been awarded ESA. The actual number of people who were claiming incapacity benefit who dropped their claim to the payments was 19,700.

The UK Statistics Authority chair Andrew Dilnot, responding to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore’s enquiry, said: “Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA”.

Ms Gilmore had also complained that press reports of the issue implied that those dropping claims were doing so because they had never really been ill. Mr Dilnot wrote: “In your letter, you also expressed concern about the apparent implication in the Sunday Telegraph article that claims for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) had been dropped because the individuals were never really ill in the first place. The statistical release does not address the issue of why cases were closed in great depth, but it does point to research undertaken by DWP which suggests that ‘an important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation'”. A copy of the rebuke was also sent to Iain Duncan Smith, also reprimanded more than once by the UK Statistics Authority for similar misuse of figures to promote the “effectiveness” of the welfare “reforms”. (See also Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party chairman, has claimed he was only joking when he used a fake name to promote his get-rich-quick business.)

Euphoria – The use of an event that generates euphoria or “feel good”, happiness, or using an appealing event to boost morale, such as the Olympic games. Euphoria can also be created by declaring a holiday, or mounting a military parade with marching bands and patriotic messages. Royal weddings and births are elevated and spotlighted by the media for this purpose. See also Ad Nauseum

Flag-waving – An attempt to justify an action on the grounds that doing so will make one more patriotic, or in some way benefit a group, country, or idea. The feeling of patriotism which this technique attempts to inspire may not necessarily diminish or entirely omit one’s capability for rational examination of the matter in question.

In the most recent budget announcement by the Chancellor George Osborne, a measure was declared that proposes people who have “unfavourable English language skills should have their benefits cut”.  A shallow, populist appeal to the shallow “common man” Daily Mail readers. Those who frequent the far-right saw this as a moment of national pride: “keeping Britain for the British”.

The selling of public services to foreign multinational companies is not patriotic at all, however. The Minister who has been given responsibility for the sell-off Royal Mail is the ultra-dry Thatcherite, Michael Fallon. He has already informed Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communications Workers Union that if his members won’t accept the bribe of some shares in return for the mortgaging of their future and that of a national postal service, he will actively seek foreign buyers to asset-strip this national institution.

We already know that the transfer of largely profitable state assets such as British Telecom to the private sector meant that the taxpayer lost that income – which instead went to private shareholders. As years went by, many publicly owned companies were not only privatised, such as the railways, the taxpayer was then asked to subsidise the private operators. The reward for our enforced generosity? Exorbitant price rises. Examples of this are electricity, water and rail. Tories like Fallon usually grace us with lectures about “patriotism” and “flying the flag”. This certainly reveals inconsistency and incoherence in established Tory “ideological grammar”. See also Cognitive Dissonance.

The Finnish Maiden  – personification of Finnish nationalism. See Sibelius also.

Intentional vagueness – Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analysing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application. The intent is to cause people to draw their own interpretations rather than simply being presented with an explicit idea. In trying to “figure out” the propaganda, the audience forgoes judgement of the ideas presented. Their validity, reasonableness and application may still be considered.

Not to be confused with “completely ignoring questions”. This is something of a speciality technique of David Cameron. He also mastered the technique of “getting away with it”, but that tends to come with experienced, psychopathic, aristocratic authoritarians.

Labeling – A Euphemism is used when the propagandist attempts to increase the perceived quality, credibility, or credence of a particular ideal. A Dysphemism is used when the intent of the propagandist is to discredit, diminish the perceived quality, or hurt the perceived righteousness of the Mark. By creating a “label” or “category” or “faction” of a population, it is much easier to make an example of these larger bodies, because they can uplift or defame the Mark without actually incurring legal-defamation. “Scrounger/striver” rhetoric would fall into this category.

Another example – “Liberal” is a dysphemsim intended to diminish the perceived credibility of a particular Mark. By taking a displeasing argument presented by a Mark, the propagandist can quote that person, and then attack “liberals” in an attempt to both (1) create a political battle-axe of unaccountable aggression and (2) diminish the quality of the Mark.

If the propagandist uses the label on too many perceivably credible individuals, muddying up the word can be done by broadcasting bad-examples of “liberals” in the media.

Labeling can be thought of as a sub-set of Guilt by association, another Logical Fallacy. For example, the Labour Party don’t support the Tory welfare “reforms” (cuts), and so Cameron has tried to brand them as “the party of the scrounger, who are supporting the idle”. See Stereotyping and Loaded Language also.

Name-calling – Propagandists use this technique to incite fears and arouse prejudices in their hearers with the intent that the bad names will cause hearers to construct a negative opinion about a group or set of beliefs or ideas that the propagandist would wish hearers to denounce. The method is intended to provoke conclusions about a matter apart from impartial examinations of facts. Name-calling is thus a substitute for rational, fact-based arguments against the an idea or belief on its own merits. Again, “scrounger”, “fraud” and “workshy” are examples of this technique. See also Labeling and Stereotyping.

Obtain disapproval or Reductio ad Hitlerum – This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus if a group which supports a certain policy is led to believe that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people support the same policy, then the members of the group may decide to change their original position. This is a form of bad logic, where it is said that a ∈ X and a ∈ Y, therefore, X=Y.

It’s worth noting that invocation of Reductio ad Hitlerum or the related Godwin’s Law is unreasonable where such a comparison is appropriate. (For example, in discussions of dangers involved in eugenics, the stigmatisation and persecution of social groups, tolerance of racist and nationalist political parties and propaganda campaigns to promote any of these). In such contexts, the belittling and dismissal of an opponent’s argument on this basis becomes its own form of association fallacy and Ad Hominem attack.

The Obtain Disapproval technique has been used to stifle debate about the welfare “reforms” with the Opposition, because the Labour Party don’t endorse the cuts, they are therefore supportive of, and popular amongst the “idle, feckless scrounging” poor. They also “borrow too much” in order to support the unfortunates, and as we know, that’s a big untruth because such support is paid for by us for us. It isn’t the Government’s money: it’s ours.

Another good example is Iain Duncan Smith’s comment: “I’m sorry, but there is a group of people out there who think they’re too good for this kind of stuff.”  The comment was aimed at people opposing workfare, not because of the nature of the work, but rather because it involves forcing people to do menial work (under threat of sanctions) for free with profit-making corporations. That is immoral, and contravenes established rights that were fought for by our grandparents, great grandparents, and their parents.

This is also an appeal to the “common man”, and Iain Duncan Smith employs an inverted snobbery approach to try and appeal to his audience. He is also dissembling tangentially to avoid discussing the actual fundamentals of the case for workfare. Well, there isn’t one, unless you happen to be an executive of a private company, solely directed by the profit motive, so he has no choice, strategically speaking.

Oversimplification – Favourable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems. An example of this is the use of the word “worklessness”  instead of unemployment. We know that unemployment arises through political and economic macro-level structural conditions caused by Government decision making. But the word “worklessness” is used by the current Government to shift the burden of guilt, divert attention from their shortcomings and to blame individuals for the fact they cannot find a job. There aren’t enough jobs, it’s a grim recession, we know this is so, but the Government blatantly ignores this crucial detail, or invents statistical “evidence” of none existent jobs.  See Labeling also

Quotes out of Context – Selective editing of quotes which can change meanings. Political documentaries designed to discredit an opponent or an opposing political viewpoint often make use of this technique.

An example of this is Liam Byrne’s jesting note to David Laws, his successor. It said “I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.”  It is a long-standing convention for outgoing ministers to leave notes for their successors with advice on how to settle into the job, which are often slanted with humour. But Byrne’s note – which he later confirmed was certainly intended as a private joke – was used in Tory-led attempts to negate Labour’s credibility regarding their (comparatively excellent) economic record. Mind the logical gap.

Rationalisation – Individuals or groups may use favourable generalities to rationalise questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs. A good example is the rationalisation that benefit sanctions  – the taking away of someone’s means of basic survival – will “support people into work”. A further example is the rationalisation that cutting benefits will “make work pay”, despite the fact that wages have decreased enormously in value due to the 25% rise in the cost of living, and wages have not risen in monetary terms at all. But above all, there is a huge logical gap between the act of cutting benefits and the statement “making work pay”. It doesn’t have any coherence, as a basic idea, and certainly not in practice, either. It’s propaganda of raving dementors. They suck the life from every social kindness, act of decency, civilisation, good will and grace.

Card stacking, or selective omission, is often related to Rationalisation, and is one of the seven techniques identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA). It involves only presenting information that is positive to an idea or proposal and omitting information contrary to it. Card stacking is used in almost all forms of propaganda, and is extremely effective in convincing the public. Although the majority of information presented by the card stacking approach may contain some truth, it is dangerous because it omits important information. See also Black and White fallacy, Disinformation and Information Suppression.

Red herring – Presenting data or issues that, while compelling, are irrelevant to the argument at hand, and then claiming that it validates the argument. Or if you are Iain Duncan Smith, invention of statistics is the preferred sub-set technique here.

A good example of this is Cameron’s oft-used response to difficult questions about the NHS, welfare or disability benefits: he frequently uses Ivan, his own disabled and deceased child, to elicit public sympathy, and to offer as “irrefutable” proof that his welfare “reforms” (cuts) must be therefore be “right”, and this tactic has the added bonus of implied rebuke for daring to question the policies. Curiously, we never hear mention of Cameron’s other children. But the comment “As someone who has actually filled out the form for disability allowance and had a child with cerebral palsy, I know how long it takes to fill in that form”  is very clearly calculated to appeal to common experience, in addition to diverting us from the truth: the current Government is persecuting and pauperising sick and disabled people via an implicit eugenics agenda written into their devastating policies, which are based on removing benefits from the most vulnerable people.

Repetition – This type of propaganda deals with a jingle or word that is repeated over and over again, thus getting it stuck in someone’s head, so they can buy the product. The “Repetition” method has been described previously. A good example is “making work pay”, which has also become something of a Tory slogan, (see below). The phrase has come to mean stripping social security, and welfare provision, whilst driving down wages at the same time. Another example is Cameron’s unconvincing “Big Society”. There is definitely Orwellian Doublespeak going on there. See also Ad Nauseum.

Slogans – A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. Although slogans may be enlisted to support reasoned ideas, in practice they tend to act only as emotional appeals. Opponents of the US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq use the slogan “blood for oil” to suggest that the invasion and its human losses was done to access Iraq’s oil riches. On the other hand, “hawks” who argued that the US should continue to fight in Iraq use the slogan “cut and run” to suggest that it would be cowardly or weak to withdraw from Iraq. Similarly, the names of the military campaigns, such as “enduring freedom” or “just cause”, may also be regarded as slogans, devised to influence people.

A Tory slogan of epic farce value is: “we are all in it together”. We know that whilst the majority endure austerity, and life changing cuts to our basic income, the minority of very wealthy individuals are enjoying an increase in their already considerable standard of living, at our expense. Also see Repetition and Ad Nauseum. Again.

It’s worth noting that “we are all in it together” was a slogan made famous in Terry Guiliams’s black and dystopic  film “Brazil.” Cameron certainly had a moment of recycling propaganda with taunting irony there.

tumblr_m81dzafFA21qcekj1o1_500State propaganda poster from the film “Brazil”

Stereotyping (Name-Calling or Labeling) – This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable. For instance, reporting on a foreign country or social group may focus on the stereotypical traits that the reader expects, even though they are far from being representative of the whole country or group; such reporting often focuses on the constructed and amplified negative traits (See the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sun in particular).

Again, the “workshy” individual, lounging in bed all day behind closed curtains, with massive and expensive plasma screen TVs, luxurious and idle lifestyles, usually with drugs and alcohol in abundance, undeserved holidays, a walking stick which is never used except for assessments, propped by the front door, and many offspring of dubious parentage just to “con” the “taxpayer” out of even more money is a well-worn typification.

The right wing public express outrage at the very idea that people who are unemployed are somehow “better off” than people who work. Although most of us know that it isn’t the case since benefits are calculated to meet basic living costs only, and we also know that most claimants have contributed and continue to contribute tax, this mythological scrounger-type persists only as a rhetorical strategy, a necessity for the current Government, so that stripping welfare provision can be “justified”. See Loaded language

Testimonial – Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the official sanction of a respected person or authority in a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with the authority or to accept the authority’s opinions and beliefs as its own. See also damaging quotation and Appeal to Authority

An example of this technique is the selective employment of a leading doctor as a spokesperson for the Government to justify closing National Health Service maternity units, by asserting, with a straight face, that this will “improve” services by increasing centralisation and that “We do need to rationalise because in future smaller obstetric units won’t be affordable”. Tosh.

Firstly, increasing the distance that pregnant women in labour have to travel to receive crucial care puts them and their babies at serious risk, for obvious reasons. Secondly, we know the NHS is able to function in the way that it has done since its inception because it is primarily funded through the general taxation system. We also know that the Coalition is deliberately starving the NHS of essential funding, setting it up to fail the needs of patients so that full privatisation can be justified, and profit for many Coalition MPs, invested in private health care companies, can be had.

Transfer – Also known as Association, this is a technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organisation, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognised authorities.

Unstated assumption – This technique is used when the propaganda concept that the propagandist intends to transmit would seem less credible if explicitly stated. The concept is instead repeatedly assumed or implied.

An example of this is the current Tory notion of the “trickle down” effect. This is to justify tax breaks or other economic benefits provided by Government to businesses and the wealthy, on the basis that this will benefit poorer members of society eventually by improving the economy as a whole.

The term has been attributed to humorist Will Rogers, who said, during the Great Depression, that “money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy.” Worth remembering that the term was originally mostly used ironically or as pejorative. So to clarify the implicit Tory policy directive, money is taken from the poorest, and handed to the wealthiest, with the hope of it being “trickled” back down to the poorest at some point in the future. Well, how very coherent, credible and sensible that is. Ho hum. And how very Tory.

Virtue words – These are words in the value system of the target audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, “The Truth”,  striver etc. are virtue words. In countries such as the U.S. religiosity is seen as a virtue, making associations to this quality effectively beneficial. This technique is now very evident in the UK.  See Transfer.

Straw man – This type of argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

I’ve written a summary of the techniques here.

537138_298121333590735_348384495_n (1)Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his really excellent art work  


40 thoughts on “From Psycho-Linguistics to the Politics of Psychopathy. Part 1: Propaganda.

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  2. I’m amazed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that too few folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I came across this during my hunt for something relating to this.


  3. Having read this I thought it was very enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this informative article together. I once again find myself personally spending a significant amount of time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


  4. This is our first time i visit here. I found so many engaging stuff inside your blog, especially its discussion. From the a lot of comments on your posts, I suppose I am not alone having each of the enjoyment right here! Keep up the excellent work.


  5. Hey There. I found your blog the usage of msn. This is a very well written article. I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to learn more of your helpful info. Thank you for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.


  6. Great Article Kitty…engrossing read..can’t wait for Part 2 🙂 Meanwhile I ‘shared’ it with the UN Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik..who seems to have ruffled Grunt Shits…oops Grant ..feathers. But then he needs to be ‘plucked’..hard!


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  9. Thank you…….absolutely brilliant. My wife, whom claims to have “suffered” for years due to my conspiracy theories and frustration at the distorted truths thrown at us, has finally had her eyes opened by your article. That’s one. I’m sure there will be many more. Let’s hope.


    1. Oh, sorry to hear I’m not alone in being called a ‘conspiracy theorist’ by nearest and dearest! But I think now that most accept that propaganda techniques are real and most certainly used. At the very least they are clearly evidently in advertising, But I must say the Tories have gone to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths.

      Glad to see someone recognises this, and perhaps the examples and evidence helped.

      Yes, let’s hope 🙂


  10. Reblogged this on Lucky Otter's Haven and commented:
    We are living in an Orwellian society. Here’s a long but important article about the way language has been used to promote psychopathy in society and politics, and target the most vulnerable members of society. It’s a form of societal scapegoating, not much different than the way dysfunctional families target their most sensitive member (the “truthteller”) for abuse and ostracization.

    Although this post is told from the perspective of modern British society, it definitely applies to America too (probably even more so), and most of the western world. Psychopathy–and its attendant lack of empathy and ruthlessness–is glorified, even though it’s not called by that name. The real victims of this compassionless agenda–the poor, disabled, minority races, etc.–are blamed for all the ills of society even though they have never had any power. Think about how similar this is to what goes on in dysfunctional families headed by narcissists. It’s society-wide gaslighting.

    Language is a powerful weapon, and is being successfully used to promote this evil agenda of selfishness and callous disregard. It’s the real world Newspeak.

    Liked by 1 person

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