Mike Cernovich, propaganda and the Truth

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton stopped...

Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton stopped by Little Rock to get the endorsement of Governor Mike Beebe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an interesting film, Mike Cernovich (hereafter MC) says that he is tired of mainstream media propaganda.[1] He does not believe that the media covered the conventions correctly. He sets out to the tell the truth about the conventions, the protests, and the media’s failure to cover either appropriately. For MC, the media’s failure indicates they engage in propaganda.[2] To counter this propaganda, he will broadcast the truth, at least the truth as he understands it or can capture with Periscope.[3]

At a technical level, the film shows the relative ease with which one can use the Periscope application to capture live events and broadcast them. Periscope appears to make video as easy to broadcast as social media platforms like WordPress and Blogger make documents easy to publish. The short comings, though, are not from technology but from the content, in particular, the way the issues are framed.

What are the issues with content or intent?

First, MC believes he acts in the spirit of a truth teller, a Parrhesiastes.[4] I admire his desire to act thusly even though he falls short. The truth teller, to succeed, has to hold the Truth, not simply an opinion about how he understands the Truth or even an opinion about the Truth. The truth teller is someone who is compelled to tell the Truth in the face of danger. The truth teller must confront the prevailing opinion. The prevailing opinion may, or may not be, the orthodoxy. In most cases, though, what has to be challenged is the accepted public opinion about something or the opinion that the media has reported. In this case, MC contests the prevailing opinion about the media’s reports on the political party conventions.

The truth is opposed to opinion, therein the film’s major flaw

Second, we have to clear up a common misunderstanding about Truth, lies, and opinions. The prevailing opinion is that a lie is the opposite of the truth. The dichotomy is between truth and lie. Yet, this prevailing opinion limits debate and discussion. Instead, we need to consider that the opposite of the truth is opinion. When we start with this understanding, as informed by Hannah Arendt’s work, we see how MC’s approach will suffer a near fatal flaw.[5] MC approaches the media’s reporting as if he has the truth about the conventions and the coverage based on what he has seen and recorded through Periscope. As he believes he has the truth, he will see the media’s reporting as at worst a lie and at best propaganda. His position is unsurprising since it is what most people believe in the public domain when they engage in politics. Like others, MC thinks he has the truth, not simply an opinion about the truth, or even an understanding of an opinion about the truth. He has the Truth. From this premise, we come to an immediate problem. We cannot see that two people can consider the same event and come away with different opinions. Instead, one must be wrong and the other right. One must be telling the truth and therefore the other must be lying. Yet, once we consider that they both might have an opinion about the convention and the coverage, we then begin to see that we need for a public dialogue to discern the truth.

What is often missed in such reporting, MC acts as a type of reporter in his approach, is the need to discern, through a reasoned discussion, the differences within the opinions as well as how they overlap. When citizens discuss an issue, to discern its meaning, they begin to exercise public reasoning. Yet, when the public reasoning is reduced to an “either/or” case and not “both and” we cannot reconcile the opinions or begin to consider which opinion comes closer to uncovering the reality of the situation.[6] In that sense, we cannot build a shared understanding, we limit debate and we stay in our echo chamber.  We find what we are looking for, a type of confirmation bias, because we only look for what we want to find. At any given time, the truth, based on reconciled opinions, is a constructed truth, which sustains the common good. It is a truth constructed on the facts of reality as seen, understood, and expressed by the parties. This does not mean that all truth is relative or constructed. Instead, it is to say that when we use public reasoning to discern the political truth as presented by the reality we describe and compare, we are constructing the political truth as we live it.

Superficial, without meaningful content, but that isn’t the point is it?

Third, MC’s approach, while well intentioned, is superficial. The superficiality of the analysis comes from the failure to discuss the levels of analysis problem.[7] The levels of analysis problem refers to what anyone who wants to study a political phenomenon must answer so that their analysis remains consistent. In general, there are three levels to consider

  • the individual,
  • the organisation
  • the system.

However, the level that is used (individual, organisational, or system) will determine what one finds. In this case MC wants to say that his individual view, the view on the ground, is the correct or better view than one at the organisational level or the national or system level. He believes that the media either misses the individual level or that it prioritizes the national level to the point is distorts or ignores what happens on the ground. Yet, his view on the ground is limited. What is needed is to recognize the problem so that he can put his individual level view into either an organisational or a national context. Had he looked at the party level, he would have seen the conventions differently. Just as if he had seen it from a national perspective, how the conventions reflect the national trends and audiences, it would have been understood differently.

What did MC miss with his level of analysis?

Here is an example of what he missed. He does not consider the nature of the protests. He equates the protests at the RNC with the DNC. Had he reflected on the protests, their nature, and their intent, he would have seen an important difference. The RNC protestors were external to the party while the DNC protests were from within the party. The difference becomes greater when we look within the conventions as the protests continued in a different form. Even though the RNC had relatively mild external protestors, the RNC itself contained deep divisions, conflicts, and outright animosity.[8] In a word, the RNC was not a unified convention. By contrast, the DNC had unity.[9] Bernie Sanders supported Hillary Clinton. Yet, MC’s focus on the protests on the ground misses this point. In effect, he assumes that the protests outside the convention are more important and should be covered with greater interests than the protests within the convention. Since he does not explain why this should be the case, we are left with what appears to be his personal preference. In much the same way that a baseball fan might like there to be more focus on the right fielder, the focus will always be the pitcher or the batter for that is where the majority of the determinative acts occur.

In the end, a lot about MC and perhaps that is the only point.

Overall, the movie shows us what can be done with Periscope. It also shows us that what passes for political commentary or analysis is more often than not a loud voice, light on reason, with a broadcast platform. Unless his output improves, I’ll give his work a pass. As the movie lacked context and content, it provides no meaningful insight into politics, media, protests or their relationship. Perhaps that superficiality is intended for what the movie does tell us is a lot about MC and it just might be that was the point.

[1] http://www.dangerandplay.com/2016/09/14/mike-cernovich-documentary-unconvention-dnc-rnc/ The film was produced by Loren Feldman who has real talent for this work. His social commentary, unlike his political commentary, is insightful, biting, and funny. A rare combination and worth a watch. http://www.lorenfeldman.com/about/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda What is curious is that he does not define propaganda so much as practice it.

[3] http://smallbiztrends.com/2015/08/what-is-periscope-how-do-i-use-it.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parrhesia

[5] “To the citizens’ ever-changing opinions about human affairs, which themselves were in a state of constant flux, the philosopher opposed the truth about those things which in their very nature were everlasting and from which, therefore, principles could be derived to stabilize human affairs. Hence the opposite to truth was mere opinion, which was equated with illusion, and it was this degrading of opinion that gave the conflict its political poignancy; for opinion, and not truth, belongs among the indispensable prerequisites of all power. “All governments rest on opinion,” James Madison said, and not even the most autocratic ruler or tyrant could ever rise to power, let alone keep it, without the support of those who are like-minded.” (p.4)

TRUTH AND POLITICS by Hannah Arendt Originally published in The New Yorker, February 25, 1967, and reprinted with minor changes in Between Past and Future (1968) and The Portable Hannah Arendt edited by Peter Baier (2000) and Truth: Engagements Across Philosophical Traditions edited by Medina and Wood (2005)


[7] The Level-of-Analysis Problem in International Relations, J. David Singer, World Politics , Vol. 14, No. 1, The International System: Theoretical Essays (Oct., 1961), pp. 77-92  A general description is provided here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Level_of_analysis

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/18/donald-trump-republican-national-convention-party-unity

[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/upshot/democrats-may-not-be-unified-but-their-convention-speakers-are.html?_r=0

About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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