Monday, September 12, 2011

So much propaganda in such a little piece

Here's another one of those chain mail style statuses floating around Facebook. As far as I can tell, it's been around since early summer.
SO LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT ... If you cross the North Korean border illegally, you get 12 yrs. hard labor. If you cross the Afghanistan border illegally, you get shot. Two Americans just got eight years for crossing the Iranian border. If you cross the U. S. border illegally you get a job, a drivers license, food stamps, a place to live, health care, housing & child benefits, education, & a tax free business for 7 yrs ...No wonder we are a country in debt. Re-post if you agree

Where to start... where to start? Lets start at the bottom.

"No wonder we are a country in debt." The implication here is that our national debt is caused by giving goodies to illegal immigrants, not by running two wars while reducing revenue or from any other cause. For over a year now, politicians and pundits have been telling us that the debt and deficit are the single worst problems facing the country, that they are a threat to the very existence of our country. In that context, this little note is is saying that "they," the illegal immigrants, are destroying America. It is only self-defense to fear and hate them. That is, as our high-school English teachers tried to teach us, the thesis statement of this particular essay.

Now lets go to the top. "If you cross the North Korean border illegally..." Why are we talking about North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iran? Two of these countries are the surviving members of the Axis of Evil and the third is one of the worst places on Earth to live. Is the writer saying that we should view them as role models and try to be more like them? Even though many of the intended readers of the note will say "hell, yeah!" at the idea of killing people who try to cross our borders without the proper papers, that's not really the point of mentioning these three countries. The point is a matter of contrast. The brutal punishments handed out by the Axis of Evil are strong. Handing out goodies is weak and that weakness is destroying us.

Who is it that is creating that weakness? Is it the writer? No. Is it the reader? Presumably, also no. Since the writer and the reader would never do anything to destroy America, it must be someone more powerful. The policies that are destroying America must come from an elite internal enemy, a second "they" aligned with the external enemy to bring about our destruction.

Let's look at that list of goodies. At a casual glance, it would be easy to say, "yeah, if you pretend to be a citizen, you can get the same things citizens get. So what?" But the response this kind of letter is trying get isn't a shrug. It's phrased so that the implication is not that illegal immigrants can get these things, it's they will automatically be given these things.

To make that implication, the writer has engaged in an intellectual bait-and-switch. The US example comes forth in a list, which makes it appear that all four are talking about the same thing. If you enter North Korea illegally you get prison; Afghanistan, shot; Iran, prison; America, presents! But, the four are not the same. If you enter North Korea illegally and get caught, the government sends you to prison. If you enter the US illegally and get caught, the government does not give you presents; it puts you in jail for a while, then deports you. Maybe that's more lenient than shooting you on the spot, but it is not a basket full of goodies.

The list of goodies itself isn't just dishonest; it's calculated to create a strong sense of resentment. The reader sees that illegal immigrants automatically are given a job, health care, child benefits, a place to live (and housing!), and a tax free business for seven years and the reader's expected reaction is, "no one gave me those things. I have to work hard for what I get." A sense of personal injustice is created. Before the reader has a chance to think about anything, their mostly emotional response is further provoked by the sneering conclusion, "No wonder we are a country in debt." Not only is the reader being screwed, but our children and the whole country are being screwed by these foreign invaders and the enemy within.

If the reader had paused long enough to look closely at the list and think about it, they would have seen how laughably absurd it is. A tax free business for seven years? Just for being an illegal immigrant? How do you get these things? Is there a government office that you go to to apply for them? If I go to that office and tell them I'm an illegal immigrant, can I get health care and a seven year tax exemption?

The whole piece would be laughable if it, and others like it, weren't resonating with so many good people. Americans are hurting. The working poor are seeing their hopes of rising into the middle class dashed. Millions in the middle class are facing the real possibility of sliding downward. Additional millions are unemployed, using up their last resources, and facing a national leadership that is indifferent to plight when it isn't openly hostile to them. We're scared, we're hurting, and we want to know how we got into this mess. We want someone to blame. Propaganda like this little note distract us from finding real answers.

Propaganda like this is calculated to bring out the bully in people. We feel powerless in the face of an increasingly cold and hostile world. Rather than confront the forces that are hemming us in and taking away our sense of control over our lives, this kind of propaganda encourages to find someone even more powerless than we are and to take our our frustrations on them. As long as we are fighting each other down here, the people at the top of the food chain have nothing to fear from us.

The person who wrote this little note almost certainly did not have all of this in mind when they wrote it. Many of the elements in the note have been circulating for years. This particular version dates back to the beginning of the summer. A longer email blaming the debt on immigrants was circulating two years ago. It was based on a piece published on a conservative web site two years before that. Scopes traces the seven tax-free years claim back at least to the sixties. In a more generalized form, this kind of politics of resentment is as old as propaganda. And that's old.

So much propaganda in such a little piece.
  • Scapegoating. Check.
  • Conspiratorial paranoia. Check.
  • False equivalency. Check.
  • politics of resentment. Check.
  • Bald-faced lies. Check.
  • Divide and conquer. Check and check.

98% of the people who read this post won't send it on to their crazy uncle...


Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

look at the fact that if they come here undocumented they can walk in your house murder your whole family and leave with no trail.

They send large portions of their income to mexico, which never returns to the united states.

They also work for much less pay which may be great for the bussiness owners, but lowers the standard of living for workers. they are doing skilled jobs also ex. drywall finishing, masonry, concrete finishing. these were all jobs which paid average of twenty plus dollars an hour now you have take less pay. while in turn the owner makes more. Hey that will help the economy. get real!

So what ever happened to the soldiers and sailors jobs who were told when they came home from iraq and afganistan they would still have.Why dont we give the illegals the draft option or leave.this dont help the rich.
You can dress it up all you want,but fact is this is illegal and dangerous. when have we ever had this much violence spill into our country from the cartels.
the integrity of our country is diminishing spread the word

Anonymous said...

Damn, Anon #2 hit all the spots in Race-Baiting Bingo--with bonus points for piss-poor spelling and grammar, which indicates either a lack of education or laziness. Given his/her use of tropes and racist dog-whistles, I'm willing to bet that both are true.