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Saturday, 16 August 2014

THE GREAT RESTRAINT IN KENYA: WHAT THE SPANISH FLU, EBOLA AND THE MEDIA HAVE IN COMMON


Soldiers in Trenches in WW1
As men from across the world fought side by side in the 1st World War, an insidious disease was mutating in the trenches of the Western front-line.

Late in the spring of 1918, the Spanish wire news service Agencia Fabra, sent cables to Reuters’ service headquarters in London, stating the nature of the disease.

The 1918 influenza epidemic had originated from China, mutated in United States and exponentially transformed in the close quarters present in the battlefields of the war in Europe. It is noted that after it was over, 50 -100 million people across the world, as far as the remote Polynesian Islands had died. 

Men in War Hospitals in WW1
Strangely it was called the Spanish Flu, not because it originated from Spain, but because Spain a neutral country had a more independent stance while reporting about the war. 

During the war information was carefully selected, distributed, emphasized and framed to serve the interests of the nation. Debate was bounded and divergent speech was muted and not always tolerated.

During this 1st World War propaganda became to democracy what violence was to a dictatorship.

Of interest during the 1st World War was the increased travel and modern transportation systems that had just become available at that time thus making the worldwide spread of the disease possible, in many ways the spread of the Spanish flu is similar to how information flows on the Internet today.

Ebola is arguably one of the world’s deadliest diseases and can kill up to 90% of those it infects. Due to this high mortality rate, it has created tremendous levels of fear around the world despite the fact it doesn't have the potency or spreading power of the Spanish flu. Why? Mainly due to misinformation and distortion of facts, fear an irrational emotion has taken root. While it is true that there are ‘accurate’ sources of information on how Ebola is spreading, including www.healthmap.org, which utilizes online informal sources to monitor and keep track of health threats. A larger question that looms is the role of media in the world today.

The Creel committee was an American government agency created to influence U.S public opinion regarding their participation in the 1st World War. They extensively used every available media (newsprint, posters, radio, telegraph, cable and movies) to encourage and inspire Americans to be involved in the war effort; they mainly used propaganda to achieve this. The use of positive news was paramount even when it was disinformation.

Edward Bernays, who wrote Propaganda (1928), understood the irrational behavior of the crowd and ascribed to the manipulation of public opinion in order for a select few to control the masses.

Women smoking in the 1920s and 1930s

1920s smoking advertisement
As the “father of public relations” he was central to the change of public opinion and culture over the 1930’s-60’s.  One of his early successes was in using the mass media to transform and alter the taboo associating women and smoking. In 1929, he organized a group of ‘successful looking’ women to walk during the Easter Sunday Parade holding their ”torches of freedom” and at the right time before the press they lit up and smoked liberally in public.  He then made sure that this act was extensively publicized across the country. This was used to exploit women’s aspiration to be emancipated and equal to men. By 1935, the number of women smoking had astronomically increased across America.

With the help of psychoanalysts, the inner most irrational emotions of people's fear, worry, anger, jealousy and so forth were manipulated to make them buy products from the large conglomerates.

You will be forgiven if you notice this practice still present today due mainly to its effective nature and the maturity of the Kenyan market.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels, who headed the Nazi Propaganda machinery, read Edwards Bernays’ book Propaganda and used it effectively, in manipulating the German people into a submissive, xenophobic and militaristic people.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels addressing a crowd in Germany
Adolf Hitler wrote extensively on Propaganda in Mein Kampf. Allow me to quote copiously 

“All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed.

The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another.

Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favorable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth, which is favorable to its own side.

The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all-effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

After the two World Wars, it became more evident that governments did not want the masses to influence or make decisions on certain pertinent issues, be it war, or the turn around of an economy or generally any hard decisions that needed to be made.

Despite the belief that George Gallup, through the public opinion poll, believed that the public was rational and well informed. It is also true that over a period of time the general public in America, Libya, Ukraine, Tunisia, South Africa and so forth has been manipulated through the use of irrational emotion.

One form of manipulation that is constantly being used in Kenya is the philosophy of futility where people are constantly being primed to be consumers of different products especially banking products and frivolous thrift products. And the major decisions are not in the public arena. Thus the power of the vote dissipates, and a close focus on what the government is engaged in is lacking.
 
An expression of a modern slave
The current situation is that the growing middle class in Kenya is burdened with loans and mortgages while the banking sector, which has directly or indirectly understood the irrational nature of the Kenyan population, is making super normal profits.

Another product of this philosophy of futility is diversion, where the masses end up being enthralled by things that divert them from the real issues.

A careful analysis of the Kenyan society and one realizes that most people prefer being enameled by music, gossip, socialite and sports news, as opposed to having a better understanding of the world around them. This then translates us into narrow-minded people in terms of our ability to make tangible decisions.

Through constant priming we become more worried about what we think other people think of us than what the state of affairs of the country is. We essentially delegate this responsibility to the elite in society and limit our development based on what we think we can and cannot do.

With constant bombardment by the mass media on a thin focus of interest, our ideology slowly erodes and changes and we lose sense, value and ability to judge the world around us on an objective level.  On the other end of the funnel, you are given certain information to gear you to embrace a certain ideology, be it birth control, female genital mutilation or homosexuality and then you are given the tools that will make you more accepting of that view.

A good example of an effective psychological tool is when you feel arrogant about the little you know despite the fact you haven’t researched about the pertinent issue. The fact is, we all have an ego, we are driven to be lazy and most people get to know about the world and develop a stance from the newspapers we read or the programs we watch on TV.

Another method being used is pressure from above and pressure from below. Where an uprising by a group(s) of people receives widespread media coverage. Pressure from below. And then the government (or foreign entity) to combat the problem institutes legislation or sanctions to combat the problem. Pressure from above.

Pressures abound
In the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014, Pierrie Omidyar's Omidyar Network funded the revolution groups with assistance from the US. The US coalition funded the Anti-Gaddafi rebels against the Libyan Army. 
 
For the citizenry, the mass media will tag on their irrational emotions with signs of a dire situation, possibility of civil war, misrule or corruption, xenophobia and so forth, it then pans to a person or entity that will solve the problem. And thus people are driven to either trust their government or criticize it.

What has also become evident with the use and pervasiveness of the Internet is the presence of misinformation which tends to travel even faster than facts.

To bring about new insight it is essential to use new information. But if this new information is flawed then the insights people arrive at will continue to be constricted and a fallacy. And in certain situations outdated beliefs will continue to persist. It is thus imperative that people learn how to filter and sieve new information.

The future is such that, the body of what humanity will know will sit in knowledge systems and less than 30% of that knowledge will sit on people’s minds.

As this happens we are in the process of ushering into the workforce 'Generation Z' persons born in the 1990s and beyond, whose spectrum of concern has so diminished that they only value video games, music videos, fashion and other superficial things (and please note this is massive generalization).  Their online activity is even more glaring, with their focus being mainly driven by their interests, which has nothing to do with public policy or the quality of our leaders.

You only have to look at the number of people who monitor and observe what our various levels of government be it parliament, county assemblies or senate do on a daily basis....

We are more concerned about watching the Premier League!

As a closing statement, I want to take us back to September 10, 2001, the American Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, held a press conference to disclose that over $2 trillion in Pentagon funds could not be accounted for.  Such a disclosure normally might have sparked a huge scandal. However the events of 9/11, which occurred the following morning, made sure that the story still remains buried in the annals of history. Trillions more were subsequently appropriated to fight the “War on Terror”. Why?  Because someone understood that you can manipulate even the elite in government by using the irrational emotion of fear.

Do you think the media in Kenya is independent and able to protect you from these issues? 

Let me know...

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