Mar 102010

Some critical components of democracy are addressed, including the ability of citizens to recognize propaganda and how it operates.





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I was asked:   Why shouldn’t I believe the Government?  They SAID that Lockheed Martin Corporation would not have access to the data on every citizen in the Canadian census records?  …

The response to the question relates to propaganda and our desire to believe.  (Maybe it’s in our brain chemistry from the time we absolutely depended on our Mothers for survival?)  Reassurances can become opiates; they induce a false and unrealistic sense of contentment that we like.

What is the compelling evidence that Lockheed Martin’s involvement in the Canadian census is highly suspect?  There is a parallel story of CN.  In response to public concerns that Canadian National Railways, once privatized, would fall into American hands, the Government passed legislation in 1995 to reassure us that CN would remain Canadian with its headquarters in Montreal.  Today CN is owned by American interests.  It is “CN” and not to be referred to as “Canadian National”.  Reassurances . . .even laws  ..  opiates worth nothing. They wait us out and then proceed with their agenda.  The Americans want the information on all Canadians – – I’ve circulated the news reports that spell it out.

Foreign ownership of rail transportation, foreign ownership of oil and gas resources, foreign ownership of media – –  the Canadian gun registry run by American corporations, Canada student loans outsourced and now run by American corporations, and so on.

Before sending the email to establish WHY one should be wary of the assurances regarding Lockheed Martin, I wanted to address the use of propaganda and our susceptibility to it.

Arising out of the theme of propaganda I started an email on ILLUSION.  Propaganda works if we are susceptible to illusion.  And so it seems to me important to understand WHY or under what circumstances we buy into illusion.  We can’t duel with it, if we don’t take time to learn to recognize and understand its thrusts.


The Kitty Werthmann posting,
2010-03-06    Propaganda. Kitty Werthmann, Austria, 1938 (The Sound of Music) “the state, little by little eroded our freedom” :

–        I sent it because it is instructive to know what propaganda and manipulation look like, so they are clearly recognizable by citizens.  Propaganda and manipulation are critical tools of those whose power is threatened by the power of democracy.

–        I chose not to edit (censor?!) any of what Kitty said.

–        Which was right, and which turned out to be okay, but ONLY because some of you took the time to provide valuable critiques, the CONTEXT.   (See the “COMMENTS” on the posting).

Kitty Werthmann describes the susceptibility to propaganda when people are jobless and hungry. Kitty erects signs on the lake’s winter surface that say “Thin ice here”.  (We should react to that information by changing course so we don’t fall into the hole.)

But simultaneously,  I must look past the portion of Kitty’s statement that I selectively chose for its relevance to my argument, to see what else lies there.  I preach the importance of “context”, but with Kitty’s work I did not provide any.  I was in a time trap and took a short cut.   Fortunately, some of you filled in that contextual gap.

This example raises a niggling question:  is it possible to have democracy in a society that has “no time”?  We find ourselves in a world where we don’t know the basics of our form of governance, we don’t equip citizens to function in a democracy.  Nor do we have time for what democracy takes.  We are impatient with meetings and impatient with listening to other people because we “don’t have time”.

Democracy takes practice.  Practice gives competence. Competence gives confidence. Too many people withdraw from standing up and saying their piece because they lack confidence or feel uncomfortable or vulnerable.  They haven’t practised speaking in public gatherings.  Democracy is undermined if our skill set and knowledge base train us to be consumers and managers, not friends, orators, writers, thinkers, empowered and connected people.

In order for a society to survive in a world where the reality is CHANGE, it is terribly important that we have time to think about things, whether as an individual or as a society.  Clinging to the status quo is suicidal.

Rush, rush, rush on the treadmill allows no time for contemplation.  It also allows little time for the community interest.  WHY is it that Europeans have more annual vacation time than North Americans?  Much of the imbalance in our lives comes from the prevalence of commercial propaganda.

Some countries are in disdain of our lifestyle which isolates and robs many of us of the beauty and joy, the music and dance, and the enlivening/healing experience found in a community of people.  Aaaah!  Those are also the things that STRENGTHEN both the individual and the community.  Corporatocracy cannot flourish where there are strong communities.

We need to respond appropriately as a community to solving the problems that belong to everyone.  Otherwise, the disparities between people and countries only radicalize and polarize us.  You can never erect enough iron fences and security systems, or have a large enough army to make yourself “safe” if there is widespread inequity.

The CEO’s of the corporations with multi-million dollar salaries financed by government money may go unchallenged in good times.  People are placated because they’re doing okay.  But when, as a consequence of the relationships between government and some corporations, people lose their jobs and their homes, people are much less tolerant of the disparities (the fleecing).  The powerful then want police protection, a militaristic state.  I read an article today – the American Security people are perplexed.  They can’t understand the growth in what they see as domestic “terrorism”.  It’s not just those bad guys from overseas.  It’s our own population!

You CAN have “the good life” if you help to protect your life supports (water free of poisons, clean air, etc.) AND if you help others.  It means, among other things, that WE (it’s our money) have to stop funding wars that kill.  A long history tells us that war and destruction don’t work. They are counter-productive.   They are the opposite of “helping others”.

Albert Einstein said

Men should continue to fight, but they should fight for things worth while, not for imaginary geographical lines, racial prejudices and private greed draped in the colours of patriotism.”

I am wondering:

if we do not have an ability to see “the other”,

if we can only minister to self-centred wants fueled by commercial propaganda,

is it possible to defend democracy?


I want democracy for me.  But I also want democracy for others.  I don’t want armies coming here and destroying what we have.  I don’t want unmanned drone aircraft dropping bombs on Saskatoon, wiping out our water treatment plant and the Main Library, the Mendel Art Gallery our hospitals and schools, not to mention my home, family and friends.

We seem to think that WE can have democracy when we don’t ensure it for others.  I don’t think it works that way.  … One of the next postings says of THE AMERICANS ”In early 2010, the U.S. Air Force had more drone operators in training than fighter and bomber pilots.”

Shed our illusions.  It is the Canadians AND the Americans that are training more drone operators than fighter and bomber pilots.  I will re-circulate an older email about the extent of the “inter-operability” we now have with the Americans; Canadian Generals are part of the American military operation.

There is no democracy for the people upon whom the bombs are dropped, if democracy has anything to do with participation in the decisions that affect your life, or if democracy has anything to do with peace and justice.


On the flip side, Canadians did not take part in any democratic process through which we decided to participate in the use of unmanned drones for warfare.

If we think we will be spared the consequences of our failure to be informed and to speak up and fight on behalf of those people whose lives are being ripped apart by our heads-in-the-sand, I think we dream in technicolour.

We need to know the civilian deaths from unmanned bomb-carrying drones launched from U.S. soil (Nevada) against targets in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  Because our name (Canadian) is attached, through the integration of armed forces.  We are responsible for Canadian actions, including those on “Afghan detainees”.

What is The Way in which we will be held accountable?  It is quite simple:  eventually there will be unmanned drones carrying bombs that will be launched against us if for no other reason than that the weapons manufacturers do not care to which state they sell their wares.  Or just because what goes around, comes around.  Eventually.

When we were fighting (unsuccessfully and all around-the-world) to stop the American illegal war on Iraq I recounted two stories to illustrate how long the hate lasts:

–        Well-educated people in Savannah, Georgia who still talk today as though the American Civil War (1861-1865) happened only twenty years ago.  Their sons were horribly killed by the northerners.  (And vice versa, of course.  But it’s easier on the victors.)

–        The Expulsion of the Acadians (French) from their homes in Nova Scotia by the British  in 1755.  Today, you can visit a relatively-new Acadian Museum in Louisiana where the “genocide by the English” is documented.

The stories and the hatred created by the injustices are never lost.  They get handed down generation-to-generation for centuries.  The memories are not just verbal; they become part of the memory transmitted in human cells from parent to child.

(Some of you may remember, result of a CBC interview by Anna Maria Tremonti, the email about the American psychologist (“the daughter”) who had terrifying and on-going nightmares.  The nightmares followed her from childhood into adulthood, with no personal experience to explain them.  Through the psychologist’s work she came to recognize a pattern in many of her patients, and developed a specialized practice for people whose difficulties are rooted in the life experiences of their parents, have nothing to do with their own experiences.  Through serendipity during a tourist visit to Poland by the psychologist and her Mother, the source of the nightmares became known.  They were the unremembered infant experiences of the psychologist’s Mother who was hidden in a dark basement to escape the Nazis. (The Grandmother had been able to hand the baby into safe hands on her way to a concentration camp where she died.  The serendipity brought the psychologist and her Mother together with the old woman who, as a young woman cared for and loved the small baby who must not cry lest their hiding place be discovered.) The psychologist daughter had no way of knowing the source of her own nightmares because her Mother had no verbal memory of them to pass along.  The nightmares ended with the serendipitous disclosure of the Mother’s experience in infancy.  The stuff of war doesn’t die; it remains generations after the “victory” is proclaimed.)

American foreign policy, our failure to imagine the life of “the other”, and propaganda are at the root of the terrorism.

I don’t want corporations coming here, taking what they want, poisoning our water, air and land in their bargain.  Said another way:  I don’t want others to appropriate as their own, resources that do not belong to them.  The resources belong to the Earth, are essential for our survival, and need to be carefully husbanded.

Canadian mining companies are doing the same dirty work of taking, depleting, and poisoning local water supplies in other countries.  We prefer to characterize such behaviour as “American” corporate practice.  Denial is a big part of illusion.


Viewed by “the other”, let’s say a Muslim whose values are the same as yours or mine, . . .  transport our bodies into their shoes, would we not see Canadians as a terrible threat to the sanctity of their culture?  How can you possibly fight against this all-pervasive, decadent wave of Hollywood values and glitz and sex that swamps us?  …  If I instead say “would we not see Americans as a terrible threat to the sanctity of Islam?”, it sounds better, more comfortable.  Because denial of our (the Canadian) role is at work.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of “the other” who follow the prophet Mohammed, if we were able to see ourselves from outside, I think we would be pretty horrified.  We prefer to live in denial of our own “culture” and its impact on “the other”.

As I recall a recent story of a TV personality in Iraq:  he let it be known publicly, on television, that he enjoyed sex with women who were not his wife.  His crime was described in terms of disrespect for his wife.  He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to jail.

The Muslim TV personality was imitating what is acceptable and normal in “American” culture.  But is offensive in other cultures.  Indeed, our own culture is by times horrifying to many of us.  But it is “normal”.  The perversions we blithely feed our children, and so on are “normal”.  We do it through mass media.  Jesus is not God; we bow down before Money and all that is superficial. We sit on the pews in front of our altar, the television set.

Which reminds me of the words of Kitty Werthmann (far right though she be), “Our teacher, a very devout woman, stood up and told the class we wouldn’t pray or have religion anymore.” Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler all used that same tool:  create dependence of the population by removing the competing loyalties.  It is not an argument to say that religion and the state should not be separated; they should be.  It is a question of understanding the tools that the manipulator, the propagandist uses.

The creation of dependence.  Which is not an argument to say that we must be fiercely Independent.  We accomplish much more working together.

If we can separate reality from illusion, our personal reality is that we normalize violence, the same as the Americans do, maybe a little less.  It’s the Bowling for Columbine story.  Seen from the view-point of a Muslim, and especially those Muslims who receive their state propaganda, the same as we are fed our state propaganda, yes, we are terrible people.  How can you save your women from the disrespect and rape, from those all-pervasive images that give license to acts of gross indency?  If you feel powerless, what do you do?  …  maybe we should put ourselves into their head space.  War, with its more killing, torture and rape reinforces the thought that western culture is evil.  “The other” does not experience our goodness.  Not any more than we experience their goodness.

From Wikipedia:

Mohammed was born June 8, 632.  He “is the founder of the religion of Islam and is regarded by Muslims as a messenger and prophet of God (Arabic: الله‎ Allāh), the greatest law-bearer in a series of Islamic prophets and by most Muslims the last prophet as taught by the Qur’an. Muslims thus consider him the restorer of an uncorrupted original monotheistic faith (islām) of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and other prophets.[7][8][9] He was also active as a diplomat, merchant, philosopher, orator, legislator, reformer, military general, and, according to Muslim belief, an agent of divine action.[10]

Yes, Jesus too was an “agent of divine action”.

Muslims follow the teachings of Mohammed;  Christians follow the teachings of Jesus and don’t see Mohammed in their line of prophets.  The various religions have their holy books from which their teachings come.   And through history, there are always groups that break-away or branch off.

Muslims try to live good lives, as do all of us.  They struggle to raise their children to be “good”, as do all of us.

There are two components:

  1. We have to be able to see “the other”, but
  2. “Seeing” the other is dependent upon IMAGINATION.

Imagination equipped Canadian Steven Galloway to write “The Cellist of Sarajevo” (see item #2).  OUR imaginations then allow us to transport that portrayal to people in Iraq or in Afghanistan; unmanned drones dropping bombs inflict on them the same treacheries but probably worse.  Or, we can imagine the circumstances under which the same thing could happen to us.  Or, we might imagine action we can take in aid of those others.  We imagine actions to take back our power:  “The worst about the red tyrants was not they themselves but us, all our cowardice and servility…”

To the extent that our educational systems fertilize freedom, creativity and equality of the value of each child, we develop the critical capacity in a democracy to imagine “the other”.  To the extent that a narrow focus on “the rational” exists and is unduly rewarded at the expense of our other qualities, we restrict our capacity to make progress.  What passes as “rational” is not rational.  Unmanned, remote-controlled drones dropping bombs on other countries?  You’ve gotta be kidding.


PORTION removed, made into a separate post.  See   2016-05-21 I lose myself. “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.”

Includes important discussion by John Ralson Saul with quotes from his book   “On Equilibrium”.

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It’s the early nineties, and the city of Sarajevo is under siege by the Bosnian Serb forces. Three characters make their way through the chaos and destruction of the city streets: Kenan, on a journey across town to collect drinkable water for his family; Dragan, held up on his way to work, afraid to cross an intersection covered by a Serb sniper; and Arrow, a Sarajevan sniper struggling to maintain her independence. In the background to all of their lives is the music of the unnamed cellist of the title, who goes out into the street each day for twenty-two days, to play one adagio for each of the victims of a recent shelling.

The cellist himself is a minor part of the story, his stubborn and dangerous performances a symbol for the way that each character is trying to hold onto an idea of their life and the city as they were before the siege began. As Dragan sets out on his way to work, picking his way through rubble and carefully planning a route to avoid the most dangerous areas of the city, he contemplates the changes taking place around him:

Every day the Sarajevo he thinks he remembers slips away from him a little at a time, like water cupped in the palms of his hands, and when it’s gone he wonders what will be left. He isn’t sure what it will be like to live without remembering how life used to be, what it was like to live in a beautiful city. When the war first started he tried to fight the loss of the city, tried to keep what he could intact. When he looked at a building, he’d try to see it as it had once been, and when he looked at someone he knew, he tried to ignore their changes in appearance and behaviour. But as time went on he began to see things as they now were, and then one day he knew that he was no longer fighting the city’s disappearance, even in his mind. What he saw around him was his only reality.

Dragan’s wife and son have fled the city, and at first he dreams of following them, but later he comes to the conclusion that to leave the city now would be to leave it behind forever, and to sacrifice the concept of himself as a Sarajevan. This theme, of the importance of perception, is later taken up in Kenan’s story when, on his way home with his full canisters of drinking water, he discovers the cellist in mid-performance and pauses to hear him play:

He watches as the cellist’s hair smooths itself out, his beard disappears. A dirty tuxedo becomes clean, shoes polished bright as mirrors. […]

The building behind the cellist repairs itself. The scars of bullets and shrapnel are covered by plaster and paint, and windows reassemble, clarify and sparkle as the sun reflects off glass. The cobblestones of the road set themselves straight. Around him people stand up taller, their faces put on weight and colour. Clothes gain lost thread, brighten, smooth out their wrinkles.

Vedran Smailovic: the real cellist of Sarajevo

The performances of the cellist in the novel were inspired by a series of real performances given in Sarajevo by Vedran Smailovic. When he read the book, Smailovic was apparently upset at what he saw as the theft of his story. Galloway responded by pointing out that fictional accounts of public events aren’t at all uncommon, and that his cellist, while inspired by Smailovic, was certainly fictional. Still, it was perhaps unfortunate that the Canadian publisher chose to put a photograph of Smailovic on the cover of their edition.

Essentially, then, The Cellist of Sarajevo presents three concurrent short stories about people struggling to maintain their identity and values in a destroyed city (the siege lasted a little under four years, and claimed more than 10,000 lives). It’s well written, absorbing, and short; it cuts itself off before having a chance to waste a word.

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