Viral Video: If I Wanted America To Fail

My son asked me to watch this and to tell him what I thought.

I have to think about this. Clearly the piece is propaganda, although that is not a dirty word and my son also understands it’s not a dirty word.

My initial reaction is I think that parts of the criticisms here are right. Other parts of it are dead wrong, or twisted. Leaving out the absolutely critical role government has always played in the growth of businesses, successful capitalism, and making our civilization work at all is one thing wrong with it–the “free market” is far from the only thing that creates prosperity or makes a middle class possible. Conflating “prosperity” with “getting rich trading stocks and securities and through usury” is another, as is conflating “prosperity” with “taking advantage of the hard work of others.”

But my bigger problem with it is the conspiratorial tone which suggests that there is a group of people making policy who truly want America to fail–and while I have no doubt there are anti-American forces (right-wing and left-wing fringe both) who want the country to fail, I don’t believe most people, including most people in our government, want that either.

Still, I think some of the points it raises need raising.

If it generates serious discussion great. If it generates rage and animosity, well, then I’m not so sure.

I’ll have to think more on it before I answer my son. Thoughts are solicited. This thing has gotten over a million views in only a week or so, and I expect it to get more as the weeks progress.

(This item cross-posted to Dean’s World.)

         

Author: DEAN ESMAY, Guest Voice Columnist

Dean Esmay is a long-time associate of Joe Gandelman and The Moderate Voice. He is Managing Editor of A Voice for Men. He also blogs on a variety of issues at Dean's World, one of the world's first blogs and one of the few that was archived as Historically Significant by the Library of Congress for the 2004 elections. You can also follow Dean via Twitter here.

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14 Comments

  1. Where’s the substance? It sounded like the same tired Republican talking points to me.

    Perhaps you can start by telling us which “points it raises need raising”.

  2. el z: Pls read the commenters’ rules at the top of the home page.

    thanks
    archangel/ dr.e

  3. quite the flamewar in the youtube comments.
    people literally flaming to the point of killing each other.
    or at least wanting to.

  4. The video? What a load of nonsense.

  5. Sputtering rage, contempt, and silence seem to be all that the ad’s critics have, interestingly enough. This hits hard with a strong criticism I have of modern liberals: intellectual laziness. Frankly it’s infuriating, because right-wing and libertarian arguments most certainly can be answered effectively on the intellectual plane, but most of them don’t appear to want to do the hard work of doing it.

    I’ll watch the video with my son and talk to him about the parts of it I think are pretty spot on (some of them are I think), the parts I think are misleading or leave out crucial things, and especially about the enormously positive role government has always had on our free society and in making prosperity and the middle class possible. It appears that the rest I’ll just have to wing it since no one else seems to have anything rational to say.

  6. Here’s what I’d say, which is a motto I try to live by: Don’t trust anyone who knowingly lies to you, even if what they say is true most of the time.

    “Most” is generous in this case, since almost all of this is at least a gross oversimplification. But the point is: I wouldn’t bother pointing out the parts that you agree with. Those points can be found elsewhere. The more important lesson is to learn that for the seeker of truth must shun propaganda from all sides.

  7. Adelinesdad: That’s a pretty reasonable position. But it troubles me.

    The people who invented the art and science of modern marketing called it “propaganda” when they started. They kept using that word until it took on negative connotations from its use by oppressive regimes. Then, the propagandists, being good at their jobs, came up with a more neutral-sounding term that meant the same thing: “Marketing.”

    It was good marketing strategy to rename propaganda. But it was still the same thing.

    When I talked to my son about this, he was very astute. He asked me if I’d seen this video and I said “No, I saw the title and decided I wasn’t interested. I could tell it was propaganda, and while that’s not a bad thing I just wasn’t interested.” And my very bright 14 year old said “Propaganda isn’t bad, propaganda is a message designed to persuade.”

    Smart kid. He’s correct, and I told him so.

    When I look at an advertisement, I do not assume that the advertiser is lying to me. What I do is try to piece out what may be true in what they’re saying and what may not be.

    So the video is trying to persuade us. As with any effort to persuade, you therefore have to ask what it is you’re really being persuaded to believe–and, whether or not there’s truth or falsehood, and whether there are important omissions.

    I spotted one omission I think is very big. Do I think it was intentional? No, I think it was ideological.

    So really, I’m not comfortable telling my son to ignore propaganda. I think that’s a mistake. You can’t ignore propaganda, it’s all around you all the time.

    In fact, I think if you convince yourself you’re immune to propaganda, you’re way easier to fool with propaganda. Just as many magicians will tell you that it’s easier for them to fool smart people than it is to fool dumb people.

    So I think the better strategy is to look at this and say, “OK, what are they trying to make us believe? What are they not wanting us to believe? What are they including that’s important, and are they leaving anything out that’s important?”

    Or so I see it anyway. YMMV.

  8. Think of my comment as triage Dean. I see little reason to invest more than minimal reaction to any of the non-serious, poorly reasoned stuff that clutters up the internet. As they say, everyone has an opinon – that doesn’t mean they are all equally worthy of attention.

  9. Watching the video I was struck with how out of touch the claims were. If I wanted America to fail I would have them watch this video.

    1) Claim that OWS vilifies success. They don’t, they vilify crime committed by finacieers.

    2) Claim that tens of thousands of jobs were destroyed trying to save the spotted owl. Cutting down forests through clear-cutting eliminates jobs in the future. Replanting is necessary, but won’t happen w/o government intervention.

    3) Claim that government is trying to take away cheap energy: cost of environmental impact not included in fossil fuel energy. MA, DE, FL all are worried about losing land to the ocean due to unregulated use of FF energy. So there is a real question of whether or not that energy is actually ‘cheap’.

    4) Claim that regulations are squeezing small businesses. No specificity on which ones are doing so. No specificity on why they are not useful. If one looks closer, we find that the ‘regulations’ they want to eliminate are the ones that level the playing field by trying to eliminate fraud.

    5) Teaching about possibility of devastating climate change is science, not propaganda.

    6) Claims ‘free market’ is virtually holy. It is only through government regulation that one can actually have a ‘free market’. Meanwhile, we currently don’t have a free market because we haven’t got regulations in place to prevent abuse and fraud.

    7) Prey on the goodness and decency of Americans? Is he referring to those decent, caring individuals on Wall Street who set up their corporations for long-term failure, knowing that they would reap millions from short-sighted policies that created unsustainable risk? Maybe he should show a picture of Bernie Madoff as one of those financial success stories? At least he should show it next to the OWS people, just to be fair.

  10. Dean,

    Firstly, part of our disagreement is on the meaning of “propaganda.” I’d say that it’s debatable whether the original meaning is relevant. But, in any case, that’s not important to my argument. For lack of a better word, I’d using propaganda to mean “a message designed to deceive” rather than “to persuade.”

    It’s quite clear to me that the video is deceptive. Whether is it designed to be, or whether the creators are simply ignorant of the keys facts that are omitted and conclusions that are made hastily, is not entirely clear. But in this case the burden of proof (that they’ve done their homework) is on them, not me, and I don’t see any attempt to convince me that they have done their homework and can back up what they are saying with facts and rational arguments. Therefore, for my own protection I must assume that they are not attempting to persuade but rather the deceive.

    A message that attempts to persuade, without deceiving, would present the facts and then the rational argument that leads to a conclusion based on those facts. There may be flaws in the argument, or disputes over the relevance of the facts, but in my view that is the minimum bar that must be cleared for an argument to be worth engaging.

    Second, I wouldn’t say that I’m immune to propaganda. In fact, the reason I think it is important that the seeker of truth actively avoid deceptive arguments is is exactly *because* we are not immune. That’s why it’s important that we minimize our exposure to it and find sources of information and argument that are sound.

  11. To clarify my last paragraph, what I’m suggesting we avoid is people who have proven that they are willing to engage in intentionally deceptive arguments. Because even if they make an argument that seems sound, we cannot be sure we are not being fooled (because we are not immune).

  12. This video drives lefties crazy. I’ve been posting frequently on MSNBC’s First Read for two years. I linked this video twice in rebuttal to other posters and have now had my account permanently suspended.

    Newsvine claimed it was advertising. Really, what are they selling?

    If you’ve been on newsvine there’s plenty of liberal sourcing that is straight out advertising.

  13. Why, Rob, I would think it’s obvious. They’re selling stupid.

  14. propaganda noun

    1. The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.

    2. Material disseminated by the advocates or opponents of a doctrine or cause.

    As far as propaganda goes, it is useful to understand who is using it and why they are using it to determine how much one should accept as truth. If the group issuing propaganda regularly uses deception to make their point, the propaganda loses much of its effect – actually, it loses pretty much all of its effect.

    Here is the background of this group which has not only used deception in this film, but has run into trouble with the law with other deceptions:

    http://mediamatters.org/research/201204270002

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