Monday, 16 January 2017

Toomas Karmo (Part B): Peacework and Propaganda

One of my four current Debian GNU/Linux desktops. Anticlockwise, from upper right: operational clocks, showing local civil time (in green) and Universal Coordinated  Time (in red); a Debian GNU/Linux /usr/bin/xterm display of some private research notes, related to my peace studies; the Peace Pilgrim (; a British courtroom scene, calling to mind the positive traditions of the British bar (photo provenance not known, sorry); the Perm-36 gulag (, in which the organs of Soviet state security interned among many others the longtime Estonian dissident, and friend of Prof. Andrei Sakharov (Андрей Дмитриевич Сахаров, 1921-1989),  Mart Niklus (1934-). 

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3'5 is "mediocre pass", 4.5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 5/5. Justification: Kmo, while slipping on his schedule, nevertheless  had time to do a decidedly complete and (within the framework of the version 3.0.1, 3.0.2, .. process) reasonably polished job.

Revision history:

  • 20170117T1648Z/version 3.1.0: Kmo added a top-of-posting image, with caption. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.1.1, 3.1.2, 3.1.3, ... . 
  • 20170117T0527Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo finished converting his point-form outline into coherent prose. He reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170117T0334Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo overcame some inadequacies in his point-form outline, and was now at last ready to start converting it - behind schedule - into coherent prose.
  • 20170117T2309Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo had time only to upload a (preliminary) point-form outline. 

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that is formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" which on many Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect "Cascading Style Sheets" problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

Seven nights ago, I noted on this present blog, as "Part A" of this present essay , a pair of conditions for an article's being propagandistic - each of them individually sufficient, but neither of them individually necessary. 

When I was mulling over the concept of propaganda last week, it seemed to me that the inclusive disjunction of the two conditions might be not only sufficient, but also necessary. Perhaps, I thought, it is both necessary and sufficient for an article's being propagandistic that it possess at least one of the following two properties: 
  • it tells something other than the truth
  • it neglects to tell the whole of the truth
I now realize, however, that my initial thoughts were hasty. I now think it is possible for an article to be propagandistic without breaching either of the precepts "tell only the truth" or "tell the whole truth."


Right up to her death in 2011, my Mum had a television. The set helped entertain both Mum and her nurses. I myself would watch the set. Sometimes, to be sociable, I would when in Nova Scotia watch it with Mum and her nurses, in the daylight hours. Sometimes I would also watch it alone, in the late evenings. 

This past week, I have recalled that I would learn one thing and another from watching, in those years leading up to 2011. In particular, this past week I recalled seeing repeated propagandistic car-or-truck advertising, showcasing one or another promoted machine in one or another wilderness setting. The propagandistic idea was to wear down sales resistance, by weakening the viewer's ability to link the idea of vehicle ownership with a second (highly relevant, and yet highly unflattering) idea. What was to be suppressed, even while the idea of ownership was encouraged, was the idea of environmental responsibility. 

No single, easily avoidable, consumer choice in the typical Canadian (or Estonian, or whatever) household is more environmentally damaging than the decision to run a private vehicle. Colossal energy is expended in multiple sub-assembly and assembly plants, on multiple continents, during the long process of manufacturing the vehicle, weeks and months before the hapless consumer is persuaded to buy it. 

Significant energy is also expended in harvesting scrap metal at the end of the vehicle's (typically rather short) life. 

Over its (short) lifespan, the vehicle generates, at the consumer's hands, a stream of solid and liquid wastes. There are discarded tyres. There may be one or more discarded lead-acid batteries. There are multiple "oil changes". There is in the experience of many households even some more or less expensive swapping-out of vehicle parts - or more accurately these days, some swapping-out of entire, perhaps on occasion massive, black-box modules. The waste stream from public conveyances must, on a per-capita basis, be smaller. Although buses perhaps get replaced often, VIA Rail in Canada impresses with its ability to keep rolling stock going for decades: I think my 2006 Toronto-to-Pacific sit-up-through-the-nights train journey was made in correctly maintained "domecar", or similar, accommodations from the 1950s. 

And there is, notoriously, the emission of greenhouse gas. 

The motor-vehicle propaganda as I encountered it in Mum's sitting room is at least as old as Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003), in her film covering a Nüremberg 1934 Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) rally. In North America, the vehicle gets filmed in unlittered (Arizona? New Mexico?) dryland or in  pristine (Cascadia? Appalachia?) forest. For the Leni Riefenstahl of the 1930s Triumph des Willens, there is (as I recall it from Reg Hartt's helpful Toronto screening a decade or so ago) first a shot of conical Hitler Jugend camping tents, and then immediately after a shot of conical roofing on some church or cathedral. The soundtrack voice-over-continuity does not at this point, as I recall it it, so much as mention the Church. With those two particular ciné clips juxtaposed, however, sales resistance gets worn down, with a weakening of the viewer's ability to contrast the (pro-NSDAP) Hitler Jugend with a highly relevant other thing, namely (anti-NSDAP) Church social teaching. 


A further example of tell-the truth-and-the-whole-truth ("veracious") propaganda - admittedly more fanciful than the cunningly veracious pair of  Triumph des Willens clips - suggests itself. Some corporation or government is eventually liable to try exploiting what I call the Rule of the Duck. 

My Rule is the following: 

  • If it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck, and it somehow involves politics east of the River Elbe, then it in all probability is something other than a duck. 
The Rule has also a distinctively deadly corollary: 

  • If it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck, and it somehow involves politics east of the River Elbe, then [this is the final, deadly, irony] it on certain select occasions actually is a duck. 
I used to have the idea of touring Russia by train, with a railway-minded friend or friends well versed in Russian affairs, and (unlike me) properly fluent in Russian. Let me write here, "the XYZ Person(s)", or simply "XYZ". I proposed to XYZ, in some tea-table meeting or phone chat or e-mail discussion, an application of the Rule of the Duck. Let us, I said, make this journey some day, and let one of our two- or three- or four-individual party remark ever so casually to Russian strangers in our compartment that "Toomas here has of course no connection whatever with MI6, or indeed with any intelligence agency." The idea I put to XYZ was that by telling the truth in a way which could not be believed, I would within a couple of hours have set the entire train buzzing. Our seven-day run out to Vladivostok would, I suggested, soon become stimulating, with lots of nice people dropping by our compartment for a chat. People everyone on the train, said I to XYZ, would be speculating. Some would say, "That Estonyets called Toomas, in Second Class kushett two carriages forward of the ресторан, is an MI6 pod-Polkovnik." To this others, seemingly better informed of the Ways of Intelligence, would retort, "Oh no, he has too strong an air of authority for that - probably full Pokovnik, or higher, I'd say." One might further picture people in various carriages in the long train nodding sagely, and saying that well of course if the nice, thick-bearded kinda-Dostoyevsky and-kinda-Tammsaare Estonyets is a full Polkovnik (or higher), he will clearly have taken the operational precaution of booking his kushett in Second, which is the very thing we all observe. Travelling in First counts, rather (it will be said), as the mark of a callow MI6 junior. 

And then upon walking up to the bar as we hurtle through the Siberian night, I could, I suppose, remark that I prefer my martinis shaken, not stirred. 

XYZ brought me down to earth from this fantasizing by remarking that my stratagem would require an audience of rubes  - of rednecks, of hopelessly provincial люди - such as was perhaps still available on the Russian rails as recently as 1992 or 1994, but is now gone. However poorly informed people in the West may even nowadays be regarding Russia, Russians - at least of the various administrative and commercial classes likely to be riding the Trans-Siberian overnight - are nowadays, and have for ten or twenty years already been, cosmopolitan. 

Still, I ask: could not some corporation or government try something along the lines just sketched? Perhaps, for instance (I am making this up), we will some day have from HM Government the following: The MoD, in a press conference this morning, remarked that it had no conceivable ability, let alone any conceivable inclination, to send frigates to police the Barents Sea. The intention of this eminently truthful statement would be to get the Kremlin forming suspicions contrary to what Whitehall had so candidly averred to the reporters. 

If Whitehall were to try it on, it would be propaganda of a peculiarly stealthy type, perhaps of a rather unpleasant Oxbridge worldly-wise flavour. We must for the good of the British soul hope Whitehall never stoops so low. 


At its most banal, writing which succeeds in telling the-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth, and is nevertheless in its veracity propaganda, does not use the stealthy juxtaposed-images technique of Triumph des Willens, and also does not use my stealthy (imagined) technique of misleading candour. Rather, such propaganda in its banal forms exploits an emotional palette. In the 1960s, Enoch Powell (1912-1998), in criticizing British immigration policy, predicted a river "foaming with much blood". (Classicist that he was, Mr Powell was quoting another, more celebrated, political propagandist, Augustus Caesar's apologist-poet Publius Vergilius Maro.) Mr Powell meant just "civil unrest". That dull phrase, however, was emotionally too grey for his perhaps noble-seeming, yet in fact morally flawed (and I imagine even somewhat demagogic) rhetorical purpose. And my suspicion is that he was playing his audience like a violin, amplifying their fears. 

By way of a second example of banal veracious propagandizing, we may take - I recycle here a 2016-04-18 or 2016-04-19  remark from this present blog - the Soviet-Estonian propensity to dismiss a coveted Western consumer luxury item, embarrassingly unavailable in occupied Estonia, as a mere kodanlik eputis, or "bourgeois frivolity". The kodanlik eputis, or "bourgeois frivolity", of the occupation was a translation of буржуазная фривольность, from the central Russian-language propaganda machine.

It is of course true that Western consumer luxuries were back then, and are still now, in many instances junk. Few beverages could be sillier than Coca-Cola. Few meals could be sillier than a Big Mac. But the objective biochemical realities of the case aside, kodanlik eputis, with  its central-organs pregenitor phrase буржуазная фривольность, has a fine, emotional, ring, even as Mr Powell's learnedly Virgilian "foaming with much blood" does. It invites us, or rather it summons us, us to a particularly lofty and particularly muscular disdain of the objectively contemptible Coke and the objectively contemptible quarter-pounder - perhaps even challenging us to our own austere personal, private imitation of Che Guevara (who is to be pictured unshaven, and in jungle fatigues, dining hastily on rice and beans, as the Hispanic heroes of the Revolution must). 

I do want to remark here in parentheses - it is fun, although my overall argument hardly requires me to dwell on it - how smoothly the emotionally-so-charged Estonian rendition of буржуазная фривольность, as kodanlik eputis, manages to trip off our local tongue. It may some day be pleasant to have a Tallinn-Stockholm ferry called the Kodanlik Eputis. Imagine the advertising copy, in the Estonian papers:  Tallinnast Stokholmi kolm korda nädalas! Neli baari, kolm luksusrestorani, kaks tantsusaali, viis kohvikut, koguni kasiino! Kuni märsti lõpuni alagavad Kodanliku Eputise teiseklassi kajutid vaid 400 EUR-ist - "From Tallinn to Stockholm three times a week! Four bars, three luxury bistros, two discos, five cafes, even a casino! Until the end of March, second-class cabins on the Burzhuaznaya Frivolnost start at just 400 EUR..." 

It is a little like those other pleasant Russian words, Гласность and Перестройка. Who among us has not dreamed of owning a pair of rambunctious young terriers called  Гласность and Перестройка, and attracting favourable notice in affluent Toronto by taking them into the off-leash parks? GLASNOST! - one calls, and  PERESTROIKA! - one calls. Whereupon the two little guys come running, their tongues lolling, with many a yip and many a woof. 

Anyway, the reality is that буржуазная фривольност and kodanlik eputis  tug at the emotions, in a not-quite-healthy way, until one has the presence of mind to make the emotionally loaded phrases look ridiculous. 


To get at the essence or logical core of propaganda, it is necessary to seek out the element common to, and unifying, the various cited sufficient-and-yet-not-individually-necessary conditions. The common thread is evident enough. In each of the various cases, there is an attempt to manipulate. For a piece of writing (or a film clip, or a radio bulletin, or whatever) to be propagandistic, it is, I consequently suggest, both necessary and sufficient that it be audience-manipulative. 

Although my definition might be thought facile, it does seem to deliver a gratifyingly reasonable verdict in three relevant test cases. 

(1) Courtroom advocacy, however impassioned, is not normally considered a form of propaganda. And indeed (consistently with my offered analysis) it seems that legitimate courtroom advocacy is considered by cognoscenti to be in its essence non-manipulative - however unpleasant it may in other ways on occasion become. 

Here is a real-life example. 

It was unpleasant - worse, it was unfair - of Mr David Bronskill to call the Richmond Hill Naturalists ideologically motivated at our 2015-04-30 Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing. At issue was the question whether the Naturalists should be assessed for costs, in their unsuccessful 2012 and 2014 OMB opposition to the would-be developer of a 32-hectare portion of the pre-2008 77-hectare David Dunlap Observatory and Park. Mr Bronskill, representing the would-be developer, pressed for a dramatic costs award of 200,000 CAD. 

The reality was that the Richmond Hill Naturalists had in essence no assets. In particular (though Mr Bronskill, despite his OMB-manifested financial curiosity, cannot have known this when he spoke), I had even in my poverty been their sole big donor over the years 2010-2014. Now, in 2015, with a half-million lost from my pocket and not a single tree saved, my ability to finance the Richmond Hill Naturalists casework was at an end.  

We know what an "ideologically motivated" party, an "ideologue", is. Leon Trotsky and Osama bin Laden are two examples, out of many. 

People, however, acting from mere philosophical conviction are not in normal Canadian or Estonian public life "ideologues". In particular, the Richmond Hill Naturalists no more merit this denigrating label than would Canada's more prominent conservationists, such as author-broadcaster Dr David Suzuki.  

But - to reiterate - legal cognoscenti would not normally call a courtroom advocate a propagandist, whatever other disapproval they might voice. Once you enter a hearing room, you are in a structured, formalized environment, with its own ancient traditions. In that rarefied atmosphere, you must expect to endure abrasive, even unfair, things. While seeking to denigrate (and succeeding - the Board made a costs award of 100,000 CAD, or fully half of what had been so dramatically sought) Mr Bronskill was not, on any reasonably law-literate view, propagandizing. And he was not, on any reasonably law-literate view, manipulative.

With this first test case, we may consequently say: so far, so good for my analysis. 

(2) A homily in mosque, synagogue, church, or temple, however impassioned, is not normally considered a form of propaganda. And indeed it appears to be a pretty generally held Canadian, American, British, and European-Union view that religious preaching is within a religious frame of reference acceptable so long as it avoids manipulation - that, in other words, it is only when the preacher strays away from the (as it might be) merely obfuscatory, or the merely dull, or the merely lurid, or the merely absurd, into the outright audience-manipulative that an accusation of propaganda can in propriety be levelled. If you are sitting in pew or on bench or on prayer mat, or are quietly standing under arch or dome, or are in that little minority which is bothering to listen to the sidewalk orators at Toronto's Yonge and Dundas - or again if you have switched your Mum's Canadian telly over to the not-quite-happily-named "Vision Channel": if you do any of these things, you have entered into a kind of bargain, just as when you enter a tribunal, and you are supposed to know now what you are in for. The world of religion is a structured world, with traditions and mores still more ancient than those of tribunals.

It may not be pleasant to be told, to take one example, that because you like attending Mass, you are headed for Hell. (This particular pearl I once got from a team of Yonge-and-Dundas street preachers, to my distress.)

But hey, if you don't like the heat, then, as Harry Truman said in the context of USA party politics, you must avoid the kitchen.

(3) A here's-how-I-see-it opinion newspaper piece, however impassioned, is surely not normally, in civilized Canada or USA or UK or European Union, considered a form of propaganda. The ecologically minded among us in the Greater Toronto Area may well be depressed by the editorial-space attack, from Ms Marney Beck of the Richmond Hill Liberal, on the Richmond Hill Naturalists. (One might as well be levelling an editorial attack against Greenpeace, or the conservationist Blue Dot movement, or the Papal environmental-conservation-and-social-justice encyclical Laudato si'.) But hey, at that time it was her paper. Indeed one of the marks of an open society must be our willingness to read eccentric editorial opinions without, in some mindlessly Pavlovian or neo-Soviet or neo-McCarthy reflex, calling them propaganda.

It in a way pains me to write it, and yet write it I must. An opinion piece which attacked NATO and defended the Kremlin, in ways paralleling Marney Beck's attack on the Richmond Hill Naturalists and her concomitant implied support of our DDO-conservation-averse Mayor and Council, might in various ways be faulted, and yet must not be faulted as propagandistic.

(What's this, you say: was the subsequently-retired Ms Beck politically on the side, as editor of our community paper, of Mayor and Council? Yup, say I. I was for one thing in the Council chamber, just steps away from Ms Beck, a few months ago, when at the end of her journalistic career she got presented with a huge bouquet by Mr Mayor. She had had every right to write what she, for whatever reason, wanted to write in her own editorial columns, and a grateful Mayor had every right to hand over whatever floral tributes he might thereafter think fitting. Just as I concomitantly have every right to call Town Hall and community newspaper whatever I, in my obstinately tree-hugging way, want to call them - even perhaps, on occasion,  Под-Кремль and Правда, respectively. Canada and Estonia, unlike some places one could name, are free countries. - And I do make this remark on freedom with some experience to back it up. The fact that I observe Russia from afar can, I admit, carry only modest weight. Also on the Scales of Justice, however, is the weighty fact that I know authoritarianism from the inside - close, intimate, ugly - through my 1984-1986 lecturing stint in the Singapore of Lee Kuan Yew.)


I wrote last week that a rigorous analysis of the concept of propaganda is an urgent task for the USA intelligence community. I remarked last week that that community's present key public document, the 2017-01-06 Director of National Intelligence (and National Intelligence Council) report, "Background to 'Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections': The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution" (, unfortunately suffers from leaving the concept of propaganda unanalyzed. 

My present analysis is intended only as an amateur's tentative contribution. Let Uncle Sam's three-letter agencies now call in the professional philosophers, from some duly selected Ivy League (or similarly eminent) campuses. And let us thereupon have everyone - amateurs and professionals alike - work together, giving our besieged Open Society the intellectually rigorous defence it deserves. 


In fact it is not just our Canada-and-UK-and-USA-and-European-Union (et cetera) open society that deserves such treatment from us, as media observers. We must be mindful of the Peace Pilgrim's witness in its wider implications. To repeat from last week: the Pilgrim - formally Mildred Lisette Norman (1908-1981) -  is a recent American social prophet, as deep as any Solzhenitsyn. As I remarked last week, her work is chronicled at and This week i note that we must (applying the Pilgrim's insights in full consistency) have sympathy and concern not just for our own rulers but for their Kremlin counterparts. 

In making this necessary application, we must recognize our own sad Western role in the Kremlin's becoming what it is today, through our colluding in a betrayal of the bright promise held out on 1991-12-26. The night of 1991-12-26 was the night on which (as it then seemed) the Red Bedsheet, an emblem of seven-plus decades' suffering, was being lowered from its Kremlin flagstaff for the last time. Only  on one other occasion have I seen anything more deeply moving on the telly - when (I somehow think of this, like 1991-12-26, as an occasion more spiritual than secular) Apollo 11 landed on the Sea of Tranquillity.

Why, in the eight chaotic years following 1991-12-26, did the West make no serious attempt to help build up Russia's nascent legal and parliamentary institutions? Where were the so-necessary postdoctoral fellowships for Russian historians, the so-necessary scholarships for emerging Russian constitutional theorists? Where were even the so-necessary police-training seminars? Where were even the humble, and so necessary, Maersk or Hanjin containerloads of police-academy textbooks and law-school journals? Why did the West, having all through the 1947-1991 Cold War been so wearisomely strident a herald of its self-proclaimed civic virtue, now waste time - thereby allowing Russia to slip back, from 1999-12-31 onward, into authoritarian rule under a sometime KGB pod-Polkovnik?

If we can now bring clearly articulated Open Society ideals to bear on the problems highlighted at, we will be discharging a duty not to our own comparatively happy Western society alone, but - what can be of no less importance in God's eyes - to unhappy, martyred (and in dark bygone times called, for perhaps deep reasons, "Holy") Russia. 

[End of essay.] 

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