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L. Neil Smith's
Number 528, July 19, 2009


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Dialog With a Propagandist
by Paul Bonneau

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I was driving home one evening and decided to keep myself awake by listening to the local version of NPR (National Propaganda Radio). I entertain myself by sifting out the sly and sophisticated propaganda techniques they use.

There was an interview with a regular commentator on Montana "public" radio. He was talking about his childhood, what it was like growing up in a home when his father was a member of the Communist Party (!) and all the bad things about the McCarthy era, and about fighting racism, etc. Toward the end he was asked his opinion of militias; he said they were "extreme", and left it at that. I thought that odd, so I tracked him down and sent him an email. The exchange follows:

Hello Brian,

I just wanted to say it was one of the more interesting interviews I have heard. I was swinging back and forth between empathizing with your position, and scoffing in disbelief.

Now, either you are simply a propagandist, or you actually have some of the humanity you claim for yourself. If the former, then simply ignore this email. If the latter, maybe we should have a conversation.

Just as a possible place to start, tell me, do you consider yourself a "collectivist"?

Not the friendliest opening, I admit. He responded:

Thanks for writing.

I am puzzled and amused that you would scoff in disbelief. At what specifically? As to empathy, I am not sure for what. I had the great good fortune to be raised by my parents. I learned a lot along the way that broadened my thinking, but nothing that has altered the fundamental truths that I was taught. They include that justice for all matters, and in its pursuit lays the potential for our survival as a species.

Human life is in reality both necessarily and appropriately "collectivist" and "individualistic". Where the boundaries are located and why, at different times in history, is a key issue.

My response:

I brought up collectivism because you spent a good deal of time talking about fighting racism (which I agree with in principle, if perhaps not with your methods). People should be treated as individuals, not defined and pigeonholed due to some characteristic such as skin color (as MLK pointed out). Racism is a collectivist idea, it seems to me.

Yet you did a little pigeonholing yourself in your discussion of militias. That they are "extremist" (whatever that means), and so forth. What do you know about people who are in militias or sympathize with militias? In what sense are they extreme?

I agree that justice for all matters. Of course, this sentence can mean almost anything. The Devil's in the details...

His response, a nice lecture.

You and I agree fully people should be treated as individuals, not because of skin color. Regrettably, racism, and active discrimination, existed and exists exactly on the basis of skin color, or religion, ethnicity and other absurdities. It functions both at the individual level and the "collective" level. Example: For 300 years, first as slaves and then as half-free people, blacks AS A GROUP were denied elementary equal opportunity and rights—more repressively in the south, but very much so in the north. Had your and my children and relatives been denied the right to vote, buy a home in a neighborhood you could afford, own land, go to a decent public school, an equal shot at a job—due to our skin color, I doubt we'd have had much patience for the situation, or been particularly interested in philosophical debates about remedies, such collectivist vs individual, or "you can't legislate morality".

One might argue (some "leaders" do) that Brown v Board of Education, or the 60s civil rights/voting acts reflected a "collectivist" solution—and therefore were inappropriate. Such arguments are rarely made by the folks who paid the horrific price.

That does not mean that what constitutes appropriate remedies, legislative or other, are not highly important issues. It does mean that the issues and human consequences are too important to be assessed with one word labels.

I've spent a fair amount of time studying the Constitution, constitutional law. If you have not done so, the major Supreme Court cases on race and "equal justice" are very much worth reading, as are Jefferson and Lincoln. (Yes, I know both Lincoln and Jefferson were racially prejudiced. That's part of why they are worth reading.)

I know a fair amount about rural, resource-dependent people (I grew in that community, for decades my closest friends have been in/of it, and do a lot of my non-radio work with folks in those communities.) I am a lifelong gun guy and know a fair amount about the different philosophical elements of that specific community. The militia movement in my view/experience is rooted substantially in elements of those communities, as well in part with elements of Christian fundamentalism, as was/is the KKK.

If you ask seriously in what respect the militia movement is extreme, there is not much I can say.

My response, trying patiently to see where he's coming from:

I agree about labels (although labelling militias "extreme" seems to be more of that).

As to impatience about discrimination, I think you paint with too broad a brush. It's one thing to not be allowed to vote. It's another thing entirely to force people to accommodate you in their private lives (e.g. rental rules, or who you sell your house to). You are simply incorrect in assuming I or many other people would advocate the latter, even if I myself were subject to that "personal discrimination". I'd simply take my business elsewhere. These are not just uninteresting philosophical points; this goes to the base of how people are supposed to live with each other.

About Brown v. Board, I have mixed opinions. The real problem is that government schools exist at all. However given that the taxes (money stolen) from "black" people supported the unequal treatment, they were certainly deserving of redress. Unfortunately, in a very short period of time back then, we went from government racism (forcing people NOT to associate with each other), to government racism (forcing people TO associate with each other). Government never simply let people sort it out for themselves, as would have happened naturally. Government indeed picked the collectivist solution, because that is the sort of thing government always does.

This does not even get into the point of how best to make racism go away; government-sponsored racism makes personal racism worse, if you ask me....

I too have read a lot about the Constitution, the so-called Civil War, "Reconstruction", 14th Amendment, and other such things. I don't have much use for Lincoln, thinking him the most evil President we have ever had. I'm not much inclined to know any more about what he thought, considering what he did....

[To his comment that "If you ask seriously in what respect the militia movement is extreme, there is not much I can say."] This is not an answer; it is avoiding an answer. I seriously don't know what aspect you are talking about. I know there is a lot of propaganda out there about militias; I don't know if you have bought into that, or what it is that bothers you. Are they too religious for your taste? Too concerned about the Constitution? Too much into gun-nuttery? What?

Are you saying the KKK is active out here? You're joking, right?

His short response:

Given the limited time we both have, I do consider it an appropriate answer to your question. And actually, it was you who avoided answering my question in my response to your initial email.

The KKK is active in our nation. I have never heard that it's active here.

I explain why I allegedly didn't answer his initial question, although the discussion about militias is precisely that:

To answer your initial question properly, I would have to have a transcript of your interview, since I was unable to write anything down while I was driving, and specifics are receding in my memory. If you have a link to that, I will read it and answer your question.

I am amazed you are unwilling to provide even a single example of something that bothers you about militias, yet are satisfied with labelling them as extreme. Your time must be valuable indeed.

My time is not that valuable. I'm always willing to get into a discussion with individuals who like to get to the bottom of things.

He still refrains from a direct response:

Regrettably, we don't have transcripts.

My time may or may not be valuable, but it is pretty limited. Due to a fair amount of correspondence generated by Home Ground radio, and the demands of other work, I am regularly behind in things I need to get done, and make choices.

Being comfortable labeling the militia movement extreme, and beginning a discussion on the issue, are two different things:

I base my view on a direct discussion with a militia leader, and reading of militia materials.

As to the second point and my earlier comment that if you have to ask why, I don't see the point in pursuing it: Either you have no opinion, in which case the solution is to research the issue, or you do, and do not regard them as extreme but for some reason have chosen not to say so. If that's the case, that is fully one's right. But as between such a view and mine, to "get to the bottom" of a subject involving concepts of moral certainty, religion, the Constitution, and appropriate conditions to resort to violence, there is such a range of issues and different perceptions/values as to make serious discussion very lengthy at best, and likely, not seriously informative for either person.

I hope you will accept my reasons in the same good faith in which they are offered.

My parting shot:

I'm at a loss to say how my doing research on militias, would help. That would tell me whether I think a particular militia representative was "extreme" or not, in my opinion. It would not tell me what you think is extreme about them, which is what I am trying to get from you.

You continue to dance around the issue, rather than just coming out and saying what you don't like about them. Not even a single, solitary example. Sorta makes me think you don't have anything; or that what you don't like about them, would not (by most people) be considered as extreme at all.

I guess the whole point is, when we listen to Brian Kahn on the radio calling (all) militias extreme, we are just supposed to accept it without question. That seems to be what you are telling me. Well, my middle name is "question authority", so I have a hard time doing that, sorry.

This was interesting to me. It's hard to see how to take this. I have the feeling that the real kernel of the interview was his judgement that militias are extremist, and all the stuff before that was intended to get decent people to empathize with him, so making it easier to swallow that kernel at the end. Even if the kernel was the exact opposite of his introductory material, which was that people should not be prejudiced toward others, should treat others as individuals, and so forth. Apparently that rule does not apply to members of a militia, who are now apparently the niggers of the 21st century. No wonder people experience cognitive dissonance, listening to state propaganda organs.

Also likely true is the old "follow the money" thing: he likely knows what message his bosses want to put out, and knows what to do to advance in his job. Even if it negates his entire life's lesson.

I might have come to a different conclusion, had he made an honest conversation with me. Everyone has some beliefs that could use a little critical examination now and then. But he was evasive and not interested in getting to the bottom of things. Thus my judgement he is a propagandist.

My advice: don't listen to NPR if you can avoid it. All radio is propaganda of one sort or another, but NPR is the pinnacle of propaganda methods, very sly and convincing.


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