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Rules of political misdirection

Deceiving the Citizenry

Added August 11, 2006)

Sleight of Hand

Magician's rules of misdirection:

1. The spectator's eye will look where the magician looks.

2. Use a broad motion to cover another motion you wish to conceal.

3. Keep the audience occupied with patter and direct their attention....

Like a magician working his sleight-of-hand deceptions to deceive and misdirect the eye, political sleight-of-hand artists work their deceptions to deceive and misdirect a society's collective mind and attention. The mass media provide the stage on which the theatre of deception unfolds and on which the audience's rapt attention remains focused. It's large scale spectacle, full of drama and emotion, fear and prejudice, ideological politics and dubious aims, but ultimately hollow and bitter as these magicians are not working a benign entertainment but applying deceit and duplicity with devastating mendacity. It's worthwhile then to speculate about some of the procedures of 'legerdemain' (sleight-of-hand) adhered to by the political magicians of our time - what set of practices allow them success in managing their audience while they unswervingly pursue their strategic goals.

Note: It's important to realize that political performance is primarily for the home audience - it's not essential for the other side (the enemy) to buy into the viewpoints being peddled - but it is important to sell these at home in order to obtain acquiescence or at least limit domestic resistance to a particular policy or course of action. (The other side (the enemy) will be handled through other, more 'vigorous' means.) The homefront is key as it's through domestic movements that resistance to a particular policy or action might emerge. So, limiting the effectiveness of that resistance is crucial.

Here then, structured loosely along the lines of a magician's guide to audience misdirection are the rules of political misdirection:

Rules of political misdirection and deception:

1. The people's minds will follow the media's focus and the media will follow the official focus.

Whatever crisis the official spotlight illuminates is where the media will focus. Wherever the media looks – the people look. Guide the media's attention and the people's attention will follow. So direct their minds towards issues of your choice and away from your key moves and strategies - from the things you need to get away with doing.

2. Hide one movement with another.

Use a large, dramatic movement to draw their attention. Use it to cover other movements on which there is too much heat or which are not executed well due to your lack of skill and ability or due to difficulties encountered (but which you still desire to accomplish).

3. Keep them occupied with your interpretation of events.

When brutal deeds that need doing are underway keep the media occupied with your justifications - tell them over and over again that your actions are only a measured but necessary response for the protection and greater benefit of the people. Use rule number 1 (feed selected information to the media) to accomplish this. Repeat this claim incessantly and emphatically.

4. Make them afraid.

Do something (anything) to maintain in the population a general sense of fear or dread (of imminent danger from enemies). When they are fearful - you can do your thing. When they become afraid, their critical faculties and overall awareness is low. Even if they are doubtful about your claims, they will acquiesce to most of what you do simply because they can't be completely certain that what you say isn't true.

5. Use broad, sweeping generalizations in your declarations.

Create trepidation in your opponents, enemies, and everyone else by using vague but ominous descriptions when profiling your enemy and their aims. People will duck and keep their political heads low to avoid fitting the profile or even associating with those who might fit the hazy descriptions you provide. When they're busy trying not to be noticed they'll stay away from words, actions, demonstrations and open opposition to your goals.

6. Conceal the crucial information.

Secrecy is good. The art of ruling requires maintenance of secrecy. Restrict access to information for security purposes - tell people this is for their own protection - now you can make whatever claims you like since it is always possible that you have information unknown to others and therefore your opponents cannot determine with certainty whether your actions are based on lies or whether they are based on “classified information” only available to you. By the time it is discovered whether they are based on falsehood or fact, it's too late - you would have accomplished your deception and the discovered information is largely irrelevant to the situation now at hand.

7. Spin a good story.

It doesn't have to be the truth, so long as it's plausible and captures their attention. Feel free to mix lies with truth - it really doesn't matter if you're caught. If they point to the lies, you point to the true parts - blame the lies on faulty intel. Use the true parts to justify your actions.

8. Keep the momentum going no matter what.

If they discover a part of your deception, deny their explanations and keep going on with what you're doing. They're unlikely to uncover all your trickery for quite some time, and the momentum of events will act as misdirection from what's already been exposed.

9. Restrict their freedom.

First take care of steps 4 and 5. Then tighten the screws on political and legal rights - institute monitoring and surveillance on a widespread scale - grant your government special powers to circumvent the existing legal and justice systems. Tell people this is for their own safety and protection. After all what do they know - you have all the information.

10. Always keep a few aces up your sleeve.

Hold them back for when the show goes wrong and the audience grows restless. Produce an ace as and when necessary (but make sure your timing is good) - the “foiled terror-plot” ace is always good for regaining political ground, pushing back the opposition, and distracting from weak areas in your performance. Always make a big show of the ace production - milk it for all you can. This will allow you to move forward on the other points and may make it possible to salvage a show that is going wrong.

11. Stay one step ahead of the media.

This one's easy, since you have all the intel and information and they have nothing except what you tell them. And they're mostly inefficient at actually doing any real investigating - it's much easier for them just to attend briefings and report what you tell them and then call in the “experts” to speculate on what it all means.[1]

Like the audience at a magic show, many of us willingly suspend our disbelief and accept the illusions (even the poorly executed ones) - and if we're somewhat skeptical of the performance it's still hard to look away from such vigorously audacious spectacle. Perhaps it is only through letting ourselves be deceived, through taking sides and falling into line in order to soothe our fears, that our consciences can accept the actions carried out in our society's name.

Perhaps, as a society, we have lost (or thrown away, or drawn a heavy curtain over) the ability to see and judge things according to a realm of supernal values and ethics (which requires a compassionate connection to the wider world and a more elevated viewpoint). Instead the realm of desire and will allied with technical, instrumental, manipulative ability has come to supersede any impetus among the powerful to move and interact with the world in accordance with humane values and non-exploitative means. The faint shadow of understanding of ethics that remains has itself become a thing to be manipulated - useful for purposes of propaganda or as a mental instrument to be used to gain the acquiescence of people for the support of certain goals - goals which are ideological, power based goals, which, if they carry any value, carry a negative one - a negativity that arises not only from the relentless pursuit of acquisitive ends but from the heartless and mechanistic use of degraded, amoral means to achieve the end.

As for us, we're simply parameters that need to be managed and controlled and kept ineffectual (if we're in opposition to policy) while the equation plays itself out - we're an audience whose attention is to be directed and misdirected while the “great” goals of this new century are relentlessly pursued.

“...the powerful among the unjust speak out words (of promise) only to lead-on and deceive....What (they) have brought is deception; (and) surely God will make it come to nothing....(and) will show the truth to be the truth...though the guilty may be averse (to it)” (Qur'an 35:40, 10:81,82)



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  • 1 – Media Boundaries

    If mass media (and in these times, social media) as a whole sets a mental framework for society, media companies themselves operate within the bounds of certain social, political, and corporate influence structures. Their supposed unhindered freedom is already constrained by corporate hierarchy, power structure, owner influence, financial influence, social, political, and corporate rules (both written and unwritten), culture, and atmosphere.

    Most widespread media is “big-corporate” conglomerate media and the corporation's ties to other dominant structures in the society, it's politics, it's economic structure, investments, advertisers, it's audience, ties to political parties, politicians, government, influence of lobby groups, etc. all impact the operation of, and the direction of thought within the corporation. As anyone who has worked in any corporation knows, there are certain frameworks, directions, viewpoints, visions, cultures, and unspoken restrictions within which employees operate - they automatically, almost unconsciously fall into step with the framework even when this framework is not explicitly stated or enforced. This is why it can take so long for blatant corruption and wrongdoing within an organization to become public knowledge. Viewpoints championed by the media will be hemmed in by and largely align with the corporation's viewpoints and the corporation's political demographics. This impacts the tone, direction, and boundaries of political discussion.

    “In 2001 among the news shows on networks ABC, CBS, and NBC, 75 percent of all U.S. sources interviewed were Republican (in affiliation).” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting - “Power Sources” by Ina Howard)

    It requires a determined effort to break out of the boundaries of the mass-media box. Breaking out of the shallowness of that box is even harder. Complexity, depth, and real fairness don't sell easily and readily (except to a minority) and most people do not desire their discussions of current events to be framed by history, philosophy, metaphysics, or even ethics (nor has the media environment they are immersed in prepared them for that type of depth)

    It's also harder for governments to sell a war to their populations unless such discussion is kept to a minimum - an irrelevant whispering in the far corners of the media. Drama, outrage, and a clash of opinions (within a restricted framework) is far more compelling fare - then content takes a back seat to uninformed emotionally stated ideological opinion and intense verbal battles. In the end there's an illusion that one is better informed on a given topic when in fact all that's likely to have occurred is polarization or replacement of intellectual consideration with emotional opinion. Emotive terminology and phraseology, whether in the form of patriotic statements, affected outrage, strongly proclaimed determinations, indignant righteousness, or appeals to trust and faith instead of real questioning and investigation - all these have the effect, not of truly informing, but of restricting and delimiting thinking within certain parameters.

    “It's not so much the control of what we think, but the control of what we think about. When our governments want to sell us a course of action, they do it by making sure it's the only thing on the agenda, the only thing everyone's talking about. And they pre-load the ensuing discussion with highly selected images...and prejudicial language, dubious linkages, weak or false 'intelligence' and selected 'leaks'....With the ground thus prepared, governments are happy if you then 'use the democratic process' to agree or disagree — for, after all, their intention is to mobilise enough headlines and conversation to make the whole thing seem real and urgent.” (Brian Eno, Lessons in how to lie about Iraq, The Observer/Guardian, August 17, 2003).

    -Irshaad Hussain

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