This term, “whataboutism,” has been cropping up more and more lately. Apparently the Americans accused the Soviets of this “propaganda tactic” during the Cold War. Supposedly the Americans would accuse the Soviets of human rights violations (try not to laugh!) and then the Soviets would respond with something like, “And you are lynching black people.” The Americans then accused the Soviets of dodging the issue while tacitly admitting guilt of whatever they were accused of. This became known as whataboutism.
Whataboutism is an informal logical fallacy, also known as tu quoque (Latin for “you too”). It is also a natural reaction to blatant hypocrisy, but it’s not really whataboutism if you deny the accusations and THEN proceed to make your counterargument that the accuser is actually engaging in hypocrisy and/or psychological projection; that your accuser (not you) is guilty of the crimes, or something similar, that they accuse you of committing.
There is another fallacy that exists of drawing a moral equivalency (false equivalency) between the scale, purpose, or circumstances behind such seemingly immoral behavior on the part of individuals, or in this case, state actors. Regarding two ideological and geopolitical competitors we might ask: What are they fighting for? What are their goals? Who is the aggressor and who is the defender? Imperialist or anti-imperialist? Which state is fighting to expand an unjust and evil system (capitalism), and which is fighting for its antithesis, socialism? The answers to these questions make all the difference.
Of course we are interested in discovering the truth, but we are also interested in understanding values, motives, and ideologies which inform our political objectives.
Whataboutism is only a logical fallacy if the only goal is to get to the unvarnished truth of an accusation of immoral or criminal activity with no ulterior motives; but political and ideological battles are not fought over discovering the truth; they are fought in order to win greater influence for one’s own side. This quote from a Bloomberg article rightly points this out:
“As an appeal to fairness, and to correcting for an opponent’s biases, whataboutism is not a distraction tactic but an important weapon against a different propaganda technique, known as framing. In a point-scoring political debate, the side that succeeds in making its description of the situation stick is often the one that wins.” (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-11-03/in-defense-of-some-whataboutism)
It will probably be virtually impossible to convince the other side, or the other side’s supporters, that you are completely innocent of the crimes you are accused of; and you might be foolish to allow your enemy to sustain an attack while you remain on the defensive. In fact, in a CIA manual on propaganda (Psychological Warfare by Paul M. A. Linebarger), the reader is cautioned to stay on the attack and rarely or selectively respond to the enemy’s propaganda claims, i.e., engage in counterpropaganda.
When it comes down to it, hysterical claims of “whataboutism” really amount to an effort to stay on the attack, deflect and ridicule criticism or attempts to put a spotlight on one’s own glaring hypocrisy. In fact, the United States has historically been keen to beat its opponents to the punch in its propaganda campaigns by framing or controlling the narrative. The US accuses others of the blatant crimes that it commits itself! I have referred to this as psychological projection, but actually I don’t think that term fits when it is done consciously and deliberately.
Check out this Twitter thread by Suzie Dawson of The Internet Party of New Zealand. Click the timestamp or the conversation bubble to go to the thread. I wish she had just written an article on a blog instead of posting this through a couple dozen tweets, but it’s worth scrolling through it. Even with the awkward format of Twitter it’s a pretty quick read.
by Bruce A. Dixon
We all learned in school that some countries have a single governing party. If you’re not in that party, you can’t be part of the government. The US has two government parties, Republicans and Democrats, both funded by the corporations and wealthy individuals who make up this country’s capitalist elite. If you’re not in either one of the government parties, you’re denied access to media and in many states, laws are passed specifically to keep you off the ballot.
While the two parties are funded by pretty much the same class of people, their social bases are different. Since the 1960s, Republicans have made it clear that they are the white man’s party, the party of war abroad and racist reaction at home. Democrats, for electoral purposes are obliged to stake a contrary claim. Since the election of Donald Trump Democrats have branded themselves “the resistance.”
This month the House and Senate passed the reconciled version of the 2019 Pentagon budget on to the White House. On TV and establishment media they call it a defense budget, but that’s branding too. The second world war which ended in 1945 killed 60 or 65 million people, after the first world war claimed 30 million only a generation earlier. This sort of gave war bad name. So in 1948 they changed the name of the US Department of War to the US Department of Defense. With the stroke of a pen, wealthy merchants of death as they were widely known, the war contractors, all became patriotic defense contractors. The US Secretary of War became the US Secretary of Defense, and the US war budget, by far the world’s largest, became the defense budget. And so it’s been for seven decades.
Early this month, the House and Senate passed the reconciled version of the US war budget to the president for signature. It’s the earliest in the budget cycle Congress has done a military budget since 1996 or 1997, when a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in Congress were anxious to assure Republicans that they were all on the same side.
They call this year’s atrocity the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act, worth a record $716 billion. This total doesn’t include the budget of the Afghan war, which lives somewhere else, or the budgets of several other known programs, and there are secret budgets for more or less secret programs as well. Nobody really doubts that actual US military spending has hovered around a trillion a year for several years now.
So how did the resistance perform? In the Senate the vote was 87 to 10, three not voting. Only 8 Democrats resisted. Among them Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand. Dick Durbin of Illinois also voted against the Pentagon bill. This is purest theater, because Durbin since 2005 has been Democratic Whip in the Senate, the man responsible for lining up the votes of his fellow senators. If this meant anything to him, why did only 7 other Democrats vote with their supposed leader?
In the House the vote was 351 to 66, with 139 Democrats voting yes, 49 voting no, and 5 not voting. So the resistance was really the assistance, voting almost 2 to 1 to continue spending as much on US wars around the world as the next nine or ten countries put together.
The Congressional Black Caucus was even more eager to assist the US posture of global war than Democrats as a whole, a pattern Glen Ford has called out repeatedly in recent years. CBC members voted 34 to 8 in favor of the permanent war budget, which includes Trump’s military parade, a new Space Force, and scores of drone bases in Africa that put almost the entire continent under US cameras and guns. Noted progressive Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim in Congress, abstained. The CBC members who found the spine to cast votes against the war budget were Bonnie Watson-Coleman, Barbara Lee, John Lewis (who does have a US Navy oiler named after him), Hakim Jeffires, Yvette Clarke, Karne Bass, Bobby Rush, and Hank Johnson.
The House Progressive Caucus did a little better, but still only 28, less than half its membership of 64 opposed the Pentagon budget. That’s what it means to be a progressive Democrat these days.
When most of the so-called progressives are pro-war we can legitimately say that the resistance is really the assistance.
For Black Agenda Radio I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, where you can subscribe to our free weekly email notices of new content. Google and other social media continue to suppress our content in search results, so this is the only way you can be certain you receive fresh weekly news, commentary and analysis from the black left each week.
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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Here’s a good article on Medium that gives a quick history of far right-wing populism in America. This Trump, QAnon, Alex Jones type of phenomenon has a long history in the United States that goes back pretty much to the beginning of this fucked up country. – PC
by Chris Ledford
We are living in a golden age of bad ideas. There is perhaps no better proof of this than in the prevalence of conspiracy theories that were once restricted to the darkest corners of the internet, but have now found mainstream acceptance, peddled by celebrities, pundits, and politicians — including our President. One of the most popular — and disturbing — is the cult of “QAnon,” a dense canon of 4chan-originated folklore that includes prophecies of an imminent apocalyptic confrontation between the Trump administration and the “Deep State” and, of course, accusations that the Clinton Foundation is a front for child sex-trafficking. At a recent rally in Tampa, while President Trump stirred his supporters with his usual mishmash of slogans, impersonations, and non-sequiturs (highlights: “If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID,” and, “I’ve got to admit, Abe Lincoln was tough … we love Honest Abe”), many in the audience could be seen holding signs and wearing t-shirts bearing large ‘Q’s and other references to the “QAnon” movement.
It’s tempting for those of us still marginally tethered to reality to feel as though we are living in a world gone suddenly and horribly mad. It’s just as easy to blame this current wave of delusions on the internet and its ability to both spread “fake news” and connect people from all across the globe who share common sets of unorthodox beliefs. But is this really anything new? My dad has told me of how my great-grandfather would warn him as a child to watch out for Catholic kids at school, and claimed that the Knights of Columbus carried around concealed knives to use when the Pope gave a secret signal to kill all the Protestants. This wasn’t Belfast, this was Atlanta, and my great-grandfather was by no means a deranged schizophrenic or a member of a fringe religious sect — he was a mild-mannered architect and a Methodist.
In the 60s, the John Birch Society, who believed, among other things, that communists were using water fluoridation to turn the American population into socialist zombies, were able to propel Barry Goldwater to the GOP presidential nomination. At the 1964 Republican National Convention, Goldwater delivered the chilling credo that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” He lost in a landslide, but to many Americans, his nomination legitimized views that were once seen as beyond the pale, and helped pave the way for the rise of another Birchite beneficiary, a B-movie actor turned anti-communist crusader named Ronald Reagan.
During the Great Depression, the popular radio evangelist Father Charles Coughlin took advantage of the public’s well-founded mistrust of banks to steer his millions of listeners towards a philosophy of antisemitism, isolationism, and admiration of the emerging fascists leaders of Europe. Coughlin built a political organization called the National Union of Social Justice which at its height boasted over 7.5 million members. Meanwhile, in the same city from which Coughlin broadcast his bigoted beliefs to the masses, Henry Ford published copies of the infamous antisemitic hoax The Protocols of The Elders of Zion for dissemination across the country. One of Ford’s greatest admirers, Adolf Hitler, praised Ford in Mein Kampf for his role in evangelizing the dangers of the “international Jew” to the American public.
Go back even further, to the mid-19th century, and you will find the first major third party in American politics, the Anti-Masonic Party, founded on the belief that Freemasons secretly controlled all of America’s major institutions and murdered anyone who stood in their way. In 1831, the Anti-Masons became the first party to ever host a national presidential nominating convention. Within a decade, the Anti-Masons had won dozens of seats in congress, two governorships, and could count among their members such high profile politicians as former President John Quincy Adams, future President Millard Fillmore, abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, and future Secretary of State William Seward (on a related note, my papal-phobic great-grandfather was a Mason).
I don’t mean to downplay this disturbing — and dangerous — new brand of neurosis, but it is worth nothing that this phenomenon is as old as the republic itself. We, the people, have been wearing tinfoil hats since before we dumped 342 boxes of tea into the Boston Harbor. As a nation born of anti-monarchical outrage, we are inherently distrustful of the elites, whether it be politicians, banks, or the media. We also have an embarrassing tendency to allow this paranoia to be stoked by opportunists and charlatans from all ends of the political spectrum. Too often, this enmity finds its targets not in the elites, but in the downtrodden.
As in previous cases, the current panic comes from a place of justified anger. People should be mad as hell at the elites. From the financial crisis of 2008 to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, the last decade has provided countless examples of how power in America has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small class of politicians and billionaires with a seeming indifference towards the rest of us. But, anger does not justify zealotry — especially the kind of zealotry that frequently confuses society’s most powerful with society’s most vulnerable. Turbulent times call for solutions, and solutions must come from a place of reason. In a post-truth world, it is a civic duty to keep one’s head when all about are losing theirs.
An interesting and humorous perspective on propaganda. – PC
While I totally get the alarms raised by the Trump minions’ invocations of “alternate facts” and “fake news,” I must admit that some of their calculated avoidance of reality has been enabled by the way all of us consume reportage and information today. Many citizens, me included, now get most of our accounts of public happenings via two-line micro-summaries that jump out from a news site or Facebook feed – hardly the most in-depth or nuanced analyses required for critical thinking or an informed electorate.
Equally significant is the bottomless vortex of they-say, we-say coverage that plays upon longstanding popular fears of “media bias” one way or another. By presenting each story as a heroically honest rebuttal to a contrary deluge of spin and propaganda, a permanent cycle of skepticism and cynicism is created in the mass mind: the sense that there are no objective social or political truths…
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I’ve been enjoying The Jimmy Dore Show lately. His politics are pointed in the right direction and his show is fun to watch. In America, since it is a fucking joke country and completely insane, any progressive movement seems like it must be spearheaded by comedians! Unfortunately, I must somewhat disagree with Jimmy in that I think that the Trumpsters are not against the media for the same reasons (the
right correct reasons!) as are us true progressives. – PC
Libertarian propaganda purposefully takes attention away from the point of production; away from the unequal and exploitative relationship between a worker and his boss; a relationship between a rich person who can start his own business, and someone with little or nothing who has absolutely no choice but to rent out his time and labor to the former. Libertarians much prefer to focus all their attention on the point of exchange. They like to make us assume that there is no class division; that everyone is an equal actor or player in the game of getting more; that everyone can equally choose whether to start a business or work for someone else, and to negotiate a wage or salary from a more or less equal position of strength. You only have to think this situation through for half a moment to realize how absurd and childish is the view put forward by right-wing libertarians. This is a pervasive petty bourgeois ideology that is just as much a fantasy as the Easter bunny, or God; but it is an enduring fantasy that benefits the big capitalist ruling class as well – even if most of them don’t really believe in it.
A common slogan put out by libertarians, or anarcho-capitalists (ancaps), as they seem to be calling themselves these days (in order to sound more hip to new generations of dupes), is that: Taxation is theft! Taxation isn’t theft, at least not the kind of taxation these types are concerned with. They are not concerned about the working class being exploited by private businessmen extracting the surplus value of their labor, and then being taxed by the government owned (or influenced by, in the case of the petty bourgeoisie, who have more pull in this system than they pretend otherwise) by those same businessmen. The libertarians use this grain of truth, but twisted around, to enlist mass support to further their cause of making more profits and paying less of it in taxes to the state in order to maintain this unjust system.
Taxation is a line item on a profit and loss statement. It is simply a cost of doing business that every single capitalist system MUST endure in order to fund the repressive apparatus of the state. This can be a fairly significant cost for the upper-middle-class petty bourgeois businessman, and so he naturally wants to push this burden on to others, but in a capitalist system shit flows downhill, and that is why the tax burden can be comparably much smaller and even non-existent for the big bourgeois billionaire businessmen (say that 3 times fast!) So, again, we see who really benefits from this false propaganda narrative.
All this seems pretty obvious to thinking people. You don’t even have to be a socialist to see right through this libertarian nonsense, but lots of young, dumb fucks seem to be falling for this caper. It needs to be countered at every opportunity.
Here are some more thoughts about the ongoing political circus going on in the United States. I use the term crypto-politics, not to suggest a hidden ideology, but rather, hidden political action – what people are annoyingly calling the “deep state.”
I still maintain that the Democrats rigged the 2016 presidential election (with help from their pals across the aisle) so that Donald Trump would win. Why would they want that? Maybe they didn’t, but it was the lesser evil (to them) than allowing even a fake leftist like Bernie to possibly become president. They’re more worried about the followers (the public) than the leaders, like Bernie and Trump, who are part of the ruling class or under their control. Although, there is no honor among thieves in the dishonest game of politics and covert action, so I suppose there are always suspicions about a person’s true loyalties; whether or not they are a “double agent” or a “penetration agent / mole” in intelligence parlance.
I am sure that there are also genuine concerns among the American ruling class about inroads Russia has made either covertly or overtly through their propaganda (in the original non-tainted and neutral sense of the term) through social media and RT. Russia would be crazy not to attempt to “interfere” in one way or another; what is especially hard to believe, however, is that the Russian intelligence agencies were able to hack the voting machines and literally alter the vote tally. Rigging or manipulating elections is what Americans do all over the world, and they have mastered the art of controlling their own election apparatus.
When Bernie’s followers showed serious signs of breaking with the party after the primaries, and not voting for Hillary, the party elites perhaps decided that it would be better for the Donald to win so that the Bernie bro’s and progressive “traitors” could be scared and shamed into voting Democrat next time. Meanwhile, the far right folks would be pacified and managed. It’s all an effort to keep the mass of the population as close to the center-right as possible. Too far left and we have a socialist revolution, or at the least (god forbid!) free healthcare and education; too far right and we have occult-obsessed xenophobic maniacs who will wreck the empire.