In this age of technology, when a million archives and libraries rest virtually at our fingertips, we may have a tendency to become jaded and cocksure. Access to information that would have remained unseen, unheard, and unlearned in decades past, coupled with the opportunity to read, hear, and see opposing points of view for virtually any topic, has led us to a moral and logical relativism. This certain uncertainty, this new world where nothing is beyond question and no absolute acknowledged, has ironically led to what one might deem a tyrannical arrogance that resides in the collective unconscious.
In this day and age, no matter how thorough the research, no matter how reasoned the position, no matter how politic the presentation, someone stands ready to mock, deride, and discredit both the presentation and the presenter from concept to conclusion. "Truth" has become the purview of the listener, and personal opinion is our societal deity. The ego has become the proctor and standard for all knowledge, and the "expert" is now merely a tool to be used when deemed convenient to support presuppositiomn. "Ad hominem" has become status quo, and the old chestnut about the only absolute being the non-existence of absolutes has never rung more absolutely true.
Of course, another side of this circumstance is the fact that societies with greater access to information and dissenting opinion are arguably much more difficult to control (this is very debatable, but that is a subject for another blog.) The tyrant must now face the fact that every decree and edict will be vetted in the court of world opinion and fact-checked by the collected minds represented by the internet within hours.
Access to the aforementioned archives and libraries of the world also allows us a chance to perform a sort of social archaeology, where treasures and artifacts of the past can be exhumed from physical storage and digitally reproduced millions of times within minutes, all for the edification and entertainment of the masses.
One such little gem came to my attention today. The artifact in question being a short propaganda film produced by Disney to "educate" American families about the evils of Nazism, and (ironically) the brainwashing of the Nazi propaganda machine.
This film is unquestionably Allied propaganda, carefully designed to convey clear messages via physical representation and a not-so-subtle use of exaggeration.
This raises some interesting questions.
WWII has of been raised as an example of a "just" war. Here in the West, we have been taught that the Axis was "evil," the Allies were "good," and that the Axis was deceitful and untrustworthy, while the Allies were honest and true. This is all debatable, but this blog is not the appropriate context for that debate. I raise this point because here we have a video made in an Allied country and for the purpose of justifying the Allied cause, that could be termed "deceitful," if for no other reasons that the caricature and exaggeration that form the vehicle for the message.
But what if the message is true?
Does the use of a dishonest means of communication negate the virtue of communicating an honest message? If the "good guys" use the same tactics as the bad guys, but use them for good, are the tactics still bad?
We are also led to ponder if such a film could be produced today. What if such a film were made about Bin Laden and Al Qaeda? What if animated representations of Moslem extremists were shown to be doing the very things that Moslem extremists are doing in poverty-stricken nations the world over? Would a cartoon showing the Taliban instructing children that the greatest glory is to die while killing Americans and Israelis be countenanced in modern American society?
I submit that it would not. The mere mention of such a project would bring dire threat of legal action from anti-defamation groups across the nation and from the far corners of the earth. Pundits would flood the news channels with dire accusations of racism and demand unconditional apologies. Activists would use the furor for leverage to advance the cause of those who claim offense. America would censor itself in a contradictory orgy of guilty apology and self-righteous indignation.
Meanwhile, propaganda far more cancerous than this is being shown to children every day in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and across the "Arab World." Those who doubt my claim need only go to a video site and look up "Farfour" or "Hamas Children's TV."
So is all propaganda evil by nature? Was the anti-Nazi propaganda wrong? Would anti-Moslem-extremist propaganda be wrong now? Is their anti-Western propaganda wrong? Is the use of deception to communicate truth ever justified? Is the simplification of a complex issue properly deemed a deception?
If it's right and proper to censor ourselves while our enemies disseminate hatred and deception with unfettered freedom, will our position on the moral high ground accelerate our physical downfall?
Maybe we'll never arrive at comfortable answers to these questions, but it's about time we started thinking about them.