By Graham Murdoch.
Midway between that referendum and the forthcoming council elections, Old Susannah takes a look at the nature, effect and effectiveness of propaganda. By Suzanne Kelly.
Tally Ho! The weather in Aberdeen has been glorious; half of the town seems to have been at the beach or Torrymelinos this past Sunday; even the dolphins showed up to add to a beautiful spring day. I just finished reading Adam Ardrey’s book ‘Finding Merlin’, which I review elsewhere in Aberdeen Voice.
Ardrey makes some interesting observations in this book. Between this and a thread on Facebook where a city employee set out to defend the City’s publication ‘Our Green Times’ which uses (whether deliberately or not) several propaganda techniques, Old Susannah has been thinking about ways in which people are being manipulated by those in power.
Ardrey’s book and other works show that what little we think we know today about Merlin and Arthur had been deliberately garbled by the propaganda arm of the young Christian church. There was a huge power struggle between the existing druidic tradition (where education was prized, men and women were largely equal) and the new Christian movement.
The church needed to seize power and to instil fear and respect in the populace in order to survive and become supreme. The old ways favoured a system of meritocracy for choosing kings; the church used politics and propaganda, and chose to favour hereditary government. The church could not allow any alternative religion or opposition of any kind to exist.
So the druid Merlin was referred to as a madman and a conjurer in Christian-controlled texts of the times, and non-Christians were lumped into one group called ‘pagans’ and ‘heathens’.
The Christian church’s use of propaganda was skilful, and it pretty much ensured druidic tradition was purged from the records. Only in coded form or in ridicule would the church allow its opponents to be referred to at all. The new religion’s propaganda was sometimes brutal, sometimes subtle – but in the end it won.
Thank goodness today people come to positions of power and influence because of their abilities and not because of money and connections. Take Donald Trump for instance (please – just take him), or some of our amazingly-gifted local politicians and ACSEF members.
They don’t rely on connections, money or propaganda; we love them for everything they’ve done to us – sorry, ‘for us’. We can rely on our governments to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Sure we can.
Just look at the fantastic Phase 2 consultation for the tree planting.
No one objected to the scheme! Result! Of course no one knew at the time there would be a deer cull and most of the trees (89,000 plus) would be plunked on Tullos Hill (as the info had been deliberately withheld), but there you go. And surely no one in power would use ridicule to discredit or suppress vocal opponents?
we are constantly being bombarded with subtle propaganda tactics, which can be quite effective
It’s not as if the work of weapons expert Hans Blix was in any way devalued when he said that Iraq did not have secret stashes of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ (this expression, ‘WMD; is itself an example of creating a propaganda phrase which caught on).
Dr. Kelly (RIP), the government advisor, was labelled a ‘Walter Mitty type’ by government mandarins for his courageous stand against the propaganda that led to the Iraq Invasion. Dr Kelly paid for his principles with his life. In fact the whole case for this bloody war was based on a dossier that was ‘sexed up’ – i.e. blatantly amended and turned into propaganda. This was done by the top propagandists of our times: Blair and Campbell.
But we are constantly being bombarded with subtle propaganda tactics, which can be quite effective. Believe it or not, this even happens here in Aberdeen! Perhaps our kindly, benevolent government just wants to help us by digesting facts for us, skipping the ones that might upset us, and painting a rosy picture for us to swallow without question. Quite nice of them, really.
One person, however, wants to analyse the secrets of the propagandist and ruin the party.
Time (finally) to get on with some propaganda-based definitions…
Fear: (noun) state of alarm or terror. In propaganda terms, ‘fear’ is deliberately employed to influence people’s thoughts and actions.
Surely no one would ever employ fear as a propaganda weapon against the good people of Aberdeen? Well, there was the little matter of fear-based propaganda over the gardens: build them or no companies will come to Aberdeen to set up shop was the message that pretty A3 colour flyer and the BIG partnership put about.
Of course BiG is really, really subtle when it comes to propaganda, as we’ve seen recently. While you got this message in a Technicolor brochure, your employer may well have been writing to you to say you should vote for the web. The combined message was: ‘Worried about money? Then you better support the web and we’ll all be rich and have jobs.’
Fear was used on us – and it was used by the secretive group Vote for the City Gardens Project which was accountable to no one – but which certainly put out a nice quantity of propaganda. Old Susannah has copies of the lovely A3 colour leaflet, and is considering whether to frame them or recycle as a cat tray liner. I’ll get back to you on my decision.
Here’s a decision which I have made.
According to my sources, some of those who participated in and/or financed and/or were connected to the secretive ‘Vote for the City Gardens Project’ included:
Stewart Milne (no introduction needed)
Mary Martin (of the Douglas Hotel)
I am sure these modest heroes who helped voters choose sides won’t mind my mentioning them now. However, if any of those named above writes to deny any involvement with VFTCGP, then I will be more than happy to remove their name from my list and issue an apology. If any other VFTCGP supporters or financers who wish to step up to receive the grateful public’s thanks, then please do get in touch. But on with our definitions.
Stop Government Propaganda Now: (noun) American legislation supported by GW Bush (really) which sought to make it a criminal offense for government to influence media to push particular stories, skew the truth, or to hide information.
Has anything like that happened in Aberdeen? Would the local media allow itself to be used? Would local media favour its higher-spending advertisers? Hmmm.
But the city government has its own periodicals including ‘Our Green Times’. The supporter of this periodical who was flying its flag on Facebook quite rightly pointed out that the thing costs time and money to create (taxpayer money mind).
Old Susannah was in an interesting Facebook thread with a city employee who is involved in the publication of Aberdeen City’s PR ‘newspaper’, ‘Our Green Times. Consciously or not, the person who made these posts used several more types of tools straight out of the ‘Propaganda For Dummies’ handbook. The first was:
Name-calling: (noun) Propaganda tool which seeks to both deflect attention away from any actual issues, and create a negative stereotype to brand groups of people with. Name-calling can become widely used (the word ‘CHAV’ being a good example), or it can be something subtle.
The Facebook defender of Aberdeen City’s publication, ‘Our Green Times’ somehow came up with a category of people he called ‘campaigners’, and the implication was made that campaigners were failing to see all the good things going on in the city, and focused on the negative.
Gee. ‘Campaigners’ – the word evokes right-on, aggressive militants with placards, if not extremists. Yet when it comes to issues such as Union Terrace Gardens, the Tullos Hill situation, and the swingeing budget cuts, there is no wider cross-section of ‘campaigners’ to be found. I call them ‘people’ myself. But he’s tried to establish that there is a negative group of people, and they are to be lumped together and called ‘campaigners’ for criticising the city.
Card-stacking: (noun)to present only information which makes a positive public impression – and in so doing gives the impression – whether deliberate or otherwise – that there are no negative issues.
This is in many ways the most serious form of propaganda weapon. In the words of the author of the article published in ‘how stuff works’ in the above link:-
“… the bad stuff is left out entirely. …. this type of propaganda technique presents a lopsided and unrealistic viewpoint that is dangerously deceptive.”
Sorry, but the above description fits exactly with what ‘Our Green Times’ does. In its pages there are no deer culls, no high pollution figures for Wellington Road, and no urban sprawl issues.
By now the Facebook discussion thread was growing by leaps and bounds. Another poster asked our man from ‘Our Green Times’ about several environmental issues. The reply that came back? ‘FFS’. (Old Susannah is told this is a rather rude expression, but I certainly have no idea what it means and no intention of defining it).
Yet another poster showed up to defend ‘Our Green Times;’ she ridiculed the guy who’d asked the questions.
Ridicule: (noun) to belittle by poking fun at something or someone; in propaganda terms, this is an old standby favourite. If you can get your opponent laughed at, then you are on your way.
Old Susannah will put her hand up: I have actually believed one or two people in power in our fair city deserving of a bit of ridicule; some readers may have seen small traces of this in previous columns. Historically, the English literally belittled Napoleon – he was jokingly called a small man. Truth was, he was taller than Nelson.
Old Susannah could go on about other propaganda tools such as ‘transfer’ and ‘Greenwash’ (to pretend to be greener than you are to win acceptance ), but you get the idea.
We were blitzed with propaganda over the City Garden Project, and in the run up to the May elections, we will be bombarded with yet more. I’d just like to suggest strongly to everyone to take on board that these techniques exist, and to be alert for when they are used on you.
By all means apply the same criteria to everything you read in The Aberdeen Voice too.
The Voice will take articles and writing from anyone on any subject, so long as it meets legal requirements for publication. The Voice has no agenda of its own; it has printed items on both sides of issues such as the Menie Golf Course and the AWPR. It has no advertisers to keep happy, only readers to hopefully inform, entertain, and amuse.
Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly learned as we all did this week that the Council plans to push ahead with unsuitable and unpopular plans to turn one of our remaining meadows, Tullos Hill, into some kind of forest.
With no warning, and while Councillor Cooney was attempting to forward the idea of preserving Tullos Hill as the meadow it is, we learned this week that the cull and tree scheme is on.
Aileen Malone is in the news this week, saying the scheme will work and ‘a lot of hard work’ has gone on the scheme. I’m sure it has. Pity the hard work was against the wishes of the community councils in the area, 3,000 facebook ’cause’ supporters, and nearly 2,500 petition signatories.
It is also a pity that the scheme simply is not going to work. Following my visit to Tullos Hill tonight, I can confirm that the area of gorse just cleared for the trees is far stonier – and far more polluted – than I could have imagined. It is testimony to the resilience of gorse that it managed to grow there at all.
(Should any deer die on Wellington Road in the next few weeks, I am personally of the opinion that it will be due to the removal of this gorse habitat).
I never saw a finalised funding application, and the draft I received was a work of fiction in places.
The draft seemed to claim that the hill was disused farmland. Part of it indeed was – but the rest was either a tip, or too stony by miles to grow any crops on. I certainly hope the finalised application was accurate.
I have asked for a copy of it, so has Councillor Cooney – who arguably should have had sight of it before it went to the Commission; he is on the Housing Committee, and I know he wanted to see it. How precisely his draft paper in support of the meadow scheme has managed to sink without trace without going before his committee is a matter I hope the relevant Councillors and officers will research with some speed.
Earlier articles are on Aberdeen Voice, and research and backing documents (and an executive summary) can be found at http://suzannekelly.yolasite.com/
If you were not previously aware that a soil report says the soil matrix on the hill is poor and not suitable for trees, or that the Council had to repay £43,800 for the previous failure of trees to grow on Tullos (largely due to weeds), you might want to start reading there.
I am now more convinced than ever that the trees are not going to stand a chance. We are throwing good money after bad, and are going to sacrifice deer in the process.
Now our city’s tree expert has been in the news this week, saying the city has a responsibility to cull the deer anyway, because Tullos is small. He seems unaware that the deer move fairly freely in the area between Kincorth and other areas.
Of course, with the over-zealous housebuilding programmes coming soon to Loirston and Cove, we are losing more meadowland forever. This is bad news for all the local animal populations.
Why in the circumstances turning this meadow into a non-workable forest experiment is considered a good idea is a complete mystery to me, to animal welfare experts, to forestry experts I have consulted, and the local residents.
I do apologise – my voice is awful, but I did my best to think on my feet as the light was fading, and as I was shouting into the wind. (Wind is the very thing that will get rid of any trees that begin to grow. Winds of over 90 miles per hour were a fairly frequent occurrence this winter). In a random wander into the cleared area (which should ideally have warning signs on it), I found the soil to be only a few inches deep, and with the heel of my boot I was unable to go more than say 4″ into the soil before hitting rock.
The debris was everywhere: tubes, parts of rusted machinery, giant pieces of wire, broken glass, fibreglass – it is all there where the gorse was.
More on this story later. If you want to help: tell the City Council you oppose the scheme and are concerned about the soil’s suitability and health and safety. Parents – tell your school your child will NOT be planting any trees. Voters: vote for people other than the ones that pushed this scheme on us (a list of how councillors voted on environmental issues is coming soon).
The jury for the City Garden Project will announce the final scheme for the proposed development of Union Terrace Gardens sometime in January. The choice will be between two designs, one with a web-based motif and the other with a big glass building in the middle which looks like a giant worm.
It is clear from both designs that most of the existing trees will be removed to build the new ‘garden’, whichever is built.
New trees could of course be planted, but it would be decades before these grew to a comparable size, and this may not even be possible in those areas with a shallow concrete substrate. There will be claims that some of the smaller trees could be replanted, although the practicalities of this are obvious.
The big trees are particularly important as they absorb carbon and filter more pollution from the air compared to smaller trees. One study concluded that for this purpose:
“Big trees, the ones the Victorians planted for us, are what we need to maintain, but they are few and far between.”
This week saw the shocking news that people living in Scottish cities are being exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants. A WWF Scotland report identified three pollution hotspots in Aberdeen; Union Street, Market Street, and Wellington Road. These show levels that are in breach of EU targets intended to protect human health. The main problem is the high levels of nitrogen dioxide caused by traffic fumes.
It is also clear that we need to maintain the tree population of the city centre to help absorb the pollution. The key areas are Bon Accord Gardens, St. Nicholas churchyard and Union Terrace Gardens itself. Otherwise, Aberdeen city centre can hardly be described as awash with trees.
Yet, the proposed City Garden Project will remove a population of mature trees from the city centre. The problem is acknowledged in the Technical Feasibility Study for the project.
“Removal of mature trees and existing ecological habitat; 78 mature trees would be lost including 17 number mature Elm trees. The ecological value of these trees would take decades to replace as many of the trees are up to 200 years old.”
The City Garden Project will itself be a major source of pollution while it is being built (for the duration of almost two and a half years according to the same study).
“Excavation of rock/earth; It is anticipated that 30,000m3 of earth and 35,000m3 of granite will need to be removed from site. This which will cause large environmental impacts from noise, dust, transport and energy use. The removal of this volume of material is equivalent to approximately 3,947 dump trucks of earth and 4,605 dump trucks or more of granite to be removed from site or re-used where possible on site. This would have large environmental and social impacts on the local area and community surrounding the gardens.”
It is clear from this, that the ecological downside of building the City Garden Project is substantial. The construction phase will see a protracted period of dirt and pollution in the city centre. By contrast, it is no exaggeration to describe Union Terrace Gardens as the green, living heart of the Granite City; its big trees acting as a natural washing machine, helping to keep us healthy by removing noxious pollution.
Those living in Aberdeen City will receive a postal ballot in mid February allowing them to decide between retaining Union Terrace Gardens or sanctioning the construction of the City Garden Project.
I will vote to retain Union Terrace Gardens.
With Remembrance Sunday approaching fast and the wearing of a poppy being de rigueur for every stuffed shirt and empty suit on TV, Voice’s Dave Watt thinks about 11 November.
I mean, businesses might lose a whole two minutes profit and think what a disaster that would be for our thriving economy. After all, big business interests shovel money into party funds and one and a quarter million dead servicemen and women don’t. So, balls to them.
Armistice Day on 11 November was originally meant to signal the end of The War to End Wars, back in a time when that phrase wouldn’t bring forth a cynical snigger.
In fact, on my grandfather’s medals, hanging in a frame in my hallway, it refers to The Great War For Civilisation which shows that there were politicians in the 1920s capable of coming out with the same kind of drivel as George W Bush did with his ludicrous War on Terror ten years ago.
Presumably, at some time in the future there will be a War For Straight Bananas or a War For Fashionable Sandals or something equally weird.
Hopefully, this year will not feature such irretrievable tat as the Royal British Legion inviting The Saturdays to frolic half-naked in a sea of poppies or getting the judges on X Factor to wear grotesque poppy fashion items – two tasteless frolics which inspired ex-SAS soldier Ben Griffin to describe them as ‘stunts to trivialise, normalise and satirise war’. Griffin, in fact, went on to state that remembrance has been turned into ‘a month long drum roll of support for current wars’, a point of view it is increasingly difficult to disagree with.
Then again, if Tony had been in charge in 1939 he’d surely have produced some shoddy dossiers to our gullible Parliament showing how those dastardly Poles were all set to attack peace-loving Nazi Germany and that they had weapons of mass destruction concealed in Cracow and Gdansk which could be deployed within 45 minutes.
Yes, if good old Tony had been on the case then, we could nowadays watch Wellington bombers joining the Stukas strafing the women and kids in Warsaw on World at War on Yesterday – with a suitably solemn voice-over courtesy of Laurence Olivier. God, wouldn’t that make us just so proud of ourselves?
No, the bottom line is that we’re not the Good Guys helping the Underdog against the Bully any more. We’re something quite different now.
If you were wondering what happened to my uncle and grandfather in their wars, my uncle died in Normandy in 1944 after fighting in North Africa, Italy and Sicily. My grandfather survived four years in the trenches but was wounded and mustard-gassed in 1918. The mustard gas steadily and horribly eroded his lungs over the years and he eventually died in 1955 aged 56, so the War for Civilisation got him in the end.
I also had a relative on board HMS Hood when the Bismarck sank her in the Denmark Straits in May 1941. He was not one of the three survivors.
It’s interesting to think that if my three relations had survived wars and lived until now that their reward from a grateful country would be to have some pampered ex-public schoolboy Tories and Lib Dems cutting their fuel allowances by £100 this winter.
I’ll have my own two minutes silence for my relations and all the rest – the ones who came back and the ones who didn’t.
Photo Credits –
Row Of Crosses © Mediaonela | Dreamstime.com
Poppy At Newe July 2011 © Elaine Andrews