Active Thinking Topic 05 -  Truth & Propaganda in Public & Private Life

Monday 10 May 2021, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm

Any replies to the organizer -

Venue: Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide (You must buy a drink or something. We are 'renting' the space for 2 hours)

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. What would happen if people told the whole truth all of the time? In a court of law you are asked to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How often does this actually happen in courts of law? In companies? In private life?

2. It is very hard to get millions, or hundreds of millions, of people to pursue compatible goals on a national scale. Do you feel that some kind of continuing propaganda is necessary to achieve this goal? You have to persuade the dumbest, the smartest and the most criminal to work for such broad goals. Can you tell all of them the whole truth?

3.What do you personally recognize as propaganda a) within Australia; b) internationally. Why?

4. What do you see as the link between propaganda and power? What incentives does such a link create?

5. How necessary is propaganda?

6. What are some examples of the most and least successful attempts at propaganda? What influenced the success or failure of these attempts?

7. How important is impartial journalism in a country? Two ex-PMs of Australia (Rudd and Turnbull) are running a petition for an enquiry into Murdoch sourced media (News Ltd), which controls over 60% of Australian news sources. They say it is "a cancer on democracy". This move has been backed by the former head of America's CIA, James Clapper, who says that 'truth decay' in USA is a huge threat to America. Do they have a serious complaint, or is it all a beatup?

8. What is the relationship between marketing/advertising and truth? Why is it complicated?

9. The largest majority of people worldwide cannot understand the full meaning (denotation & connotation) of more than very simple written language*. Whose fault is it if they get the wrong message, then claim that they were deceived? [Note that this failure of public comprehension is mostly what keeps lawyers in business]. Examples?

10. What are some of the ways in which images and video are used to lie? When are these deceptions justified and when are they damaging? How is the technology changing to make deception easier?


Extra Reading

Wikipedia (2021) "History of Propaganda" @

Wikipedia (2021) "Plain English (or layman's terms) is language that is considered to be clear and concise". @  [Thor, explanation: The Plain English Movement has mostly been found in Law and Medicine where obscure language amounts to fraud, and has serious consequences for consumers]

Standford University (May 31, 2015) "Why Propaganda Matters" Philosophytalk @ 

Paul Ekman (n.d.) "Is Lying Ever Justifiable? - What to Consider when Thinking about Lying". Paul Ekman Group @ 

Jeremy Adam Smith (February 8, 2017) "What’s Good about Lying? - New research reveals how we learn to lie for the benefit of other people." BBC @ (2018) "Is Lying Justifiable?" - 63 answers on Quora @

BN Branding (n.d.) "Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty". BN Branding @ 

Peter Sandeen (n.d.) "7 Common Marketing Lies and How to Spot Lying Marketers - Marketing is often thought to be synonymous with lying. And unfortunately often…it is. Here are a few things you should know". Peter Sandeen Blog @ 

Charlotte Govae (2020) "Deceptive Journalism: Characteristics of Untrustworthy News Items" Journalism Practice Volume 14, 2020 - Issue 6 @ 

Maxine Jacobs (May 5, 2018) "The Ethics of Deception in Journalism - What is deception in journalism?" @ 

Katharine Murphy (21 Apr 2021) "Former US intelligence director backs Turnbull and Rudd’s call for Murdoch media inquiry - James Clapper says royal commission into Rupert Murdoch’s empire in Australia a ‘good idea for the sake of transparency’". The Guardian @ 

Anthony Galloway (April 10, 2021) "The new world of ‘deep fake’: How cyber attackers impersonated senior ministers, diplomats". Brisbane Times @ 

Chris Gill (Oct 05 2020) "China plagued by online ‘super-fake’ identity theft using AI
Criminals have been selling databases of photos with facial 'QR code' for cheap rates for use in getting online loans and other frauds; Beijing Internet Court deals with thousands of disputes over the use of people's images every year." 

By Christina Morales [April 26, 2021] "‘Church’ sold $1.3m of toxic bleach as miracle cure: Miami officials". Brisbane Times @  [Thor, comment: Sad life lesson: a big chunk of every population are absolute credulous idiots to be herded, used and conned even to the point of self-destruction. There's money and power in that truth, a gift for the unscrupulous. Ask Trump, the high priest of bleach cures whose guidance opened this particular business opportunity. Was it an advance on India's President Narendra Modi who told India's masses that lighting candles and beating pots would scare away the evil Covid spirits? He attracts huge crowds, who promptly catch Covid19. Of course, in the political universe, you don't even need an evil Covid19 spirit. An evil anything will do. At the moment Australians are being set up by the federal government for a war fear election (chest beating by China's 'wolf warrior' diplomats has been a gift from heaven for the shaky state of Australia's political leaders. At last there's something to unite against.]

Thor May (205) "How much attention has $529 billion of advertising bought?". @ [PDF] or  [html ] [Extract: "Marketing, mostly in the form of advertising, channels the attention and actions of tens of millions of people into common participation. Where that mass participation involves spending money, then industries with successful marketing campaigns are the ones which survive in the marketplace, and in doing so shape the kind of society in which we live. None of this is to say that the industries (or politicians) who prevail in the contest of marketing actually have the best products, or even have socially beneficial products. The opposite may be true. That is, the marketplace is apparently quite amoral".

Thor May (2014) "Fakes, liars, cheats, deceivers, animals in the forest - It’s all around us. From face lifts to luxury cars on hire purchase, from inflated CVs to exaggerated job titles, from company publicity material to the spin that governments put on their failures and deceptions. At what point does fakery become fraud? Would the world be a duller place without it?" Passionate Skeptic website @

Thor May (2008) "Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language Education" [TESOL Law Journal, Vol.2 March 2008] copy on this site:  [Abstract : This paper examines some of the ways in which foreign language education has been affected by corrupt practices and various other distortions of best teaching practice. Particular attention is paid to South Korea. The nature of corruption and its social origins are identified. Pressures affecting students, teachers and institutions are all seen to play a part. It is noted that mass education is a simulation of real life, and leaves space for fraud, whereas actual live language performance is its own test. Perhaps as a consequence, the gradual insertion of a new language code like English into a speech community might succeed over the long term even where immediate educational practices suggest failure. ]

Thor May (2006) "Is Assessment a Satire? - The Conspiracy of South Kogglebot - The wise elders and the feckless noviates, the desperate mothers and the captains of industry, even it is rumoured, the king, nowadays puzzle over backwash from the great South Kogglebot bell curve conspiracy". Passionate Skeptic website @

Thor May (2014) "Some Uses and Misuses of Reason" Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "When the sun rises each morning we may say the reason is that the earth on its elliptical orbit spins so that one point faces that star. Or we may say that the Sun God has mounted his chariot. Or we may say, after Ptolemy and the Christian elders until a few centuries ago, that the sun is moving around the earth. Take your pick. They have all seemed good reasons from reasonable men in their time. Our acceptance of what passes for reasoned argument has a great deal to do with the company we keep. Perhaps for most people, the word of accepted authority is the ultimate parameter on where those reasoned arguments may venture'.]

Thor May (2014) " Crime without Punishment – the journey from means to ends". Passionate Skeptic website @ Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: In the real world of events, as opposed to philosophical statements of “should”, decisions about ends and means always come down to who, if anybody, is responsible for consequences. Where consequences are not clear for actors, and especially if consequences are not personal, almost any ends can be argued for, and almost any means might be rationalized. "]

Thor May (2013) "Ethical Behaviour is Harder for the Rich". Passionate Skeptic website @  [Abstract: This little essay is about (my ideas of) the behaviour of the rich. Of course all kinds of people are rich for all kinds of reasons (ditto for the poor). Nevertheless I will argue that rich people demonstrate ethics in ways which are consistent with broad human tendencies. Depending upon the social context of their wealth (e.g. corporate versus inherited) that wealth might influence them to exhibit particular behaviours. Yet those habits will merely be a subset of something much more general. Ethics, at bottom, is sourced in the evolutionary behaviour of the species].

Thor May (2012) "Déjà Vu and Wicked Stories". Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "This story is just a grumble about living in a world of predictable villainy and occasional charm. As pretty as snowflakes piling up on a bleak field, I've accumulated a passable knowledge of world history and international affairs (especially Asian). Yet snow is snow, while the seven deadly sins don't really change their cloaks regardless of the weather. No matter where I look and no matter at what time in history, the same underlying stories play out".]

hor May (28 March 2010) "Somebody Else's Problem". Thor's New China Diary @  [Quote: "So there you have it, guys and gals in the barbarian outer worlds. You are never going to get nuked by a hot and bothered Chinese Dr Strangelove. The Director of Whatever who has a password to the inner password of the Office of Bombing Foreigners is never going to release the outer password without a three week meeting of 500 obedient but sly cadres, who know very well that bombing the barbarians will cut off their supply of Jumbo Jets and Ritter Sports Chocolate. Besides, it just so happens that the Director of Whatever has a third mistress who just loves Ritter Sports Chocolate". ]

Sarah Martin (26 April 2021) "Scott Morrison tells Christian conference he was called to do God’s work as prime minister - Australia’s first Pentecostal PM says he practises the tradition of ‘laying on of hands’ while working and calls misuse of social media the work of ‘the evil one’ ". The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: Hmm, say your prayers ... who will save us now?]

John Lee (27 April 2021) "We must not fall for Beijing’s magical narrative". The Australian @  [Quote: "In 2014, President Xi Jinping reached back into Chinese Communist Party folklore to reintroduce Mao Zedong’s concept of magic weapons that could be used to achieve the great rejuvenation of the country and achieve his “China Dream”. Xi was referring to the co-optation tactics of the CCP’s United Front network to win friends, influence governments and eliminate dissent inside China and in other countries. In recent years the CCP has developed another magic weapon that complements its accumulation of material power. This is the success Beijing is having in shaping grand narratives in Australia and our region about China. The genius is that these narratives condition us to accept Chinese policies meekly even if they are against our national interests. The magic weapon is a narrative buttressed by five basic messages: Chinese dominance is the historical norm and is inevitable; the objectives of the CCP are permanent and unchanging; a CCP-led China is fundamentally undeterrable; the party is prepared to pay any price to achieve its core objectives; and the US is an increasingly weak and unreliable ally. If we accept these propositions, the motivation for regional states to resist or counter even the most coercive policies is greatly diminished even if we profoundly disagree with China’s behaviour... China and the CCP have weaknesses, vulnerabilities and dependencies that have been carefully and cleverly concealed to perpetuate the preferred narrative. We and others are engaged in a tense and fraught period of renegotiating the terms of our relationship with China. Getting it right means dealing sensibly with reality as it is, not as the CCP would have the rest of the world believe."]

Bill Birtles (April 30, 2021) "‘A day to pack up our lives and get out’: journalist Bill Birtles on fleeing China - As diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra worsened, the ABC’s foreign correspondent and his partner had to leave everything – immediately". ABC News @  [Thor, comment -recommended reading ]

Sayragul Sauytbay and Alexandra Cavelius (April 30, 2021) "Teaching the living dead: My classroom in Xinjiang - Sayragul Sauytbay escaped Xinjiang to tell of its detention camps. In this extract from her book, she relives a day of horror in a camp ‘classroom’." Brisbane Times @  [Thor, comment: This brutal and graphic account could have been taken straight from a German Nazi concentration camp in the 1930s, but it is part of 'communist' China at the moment (communism has nothing to do with it). China has many parts, visible or invisible to various groups of its citizens. The parts are hidden from each other exactly because there is no credible, independent media - the place runs on rumours - and crude propaganda soaks up the oxygen. A well-off 20-something hanging out with friends in a Shanghai mall would have no idea of these murderous Xinjiang chambers of horror. The Beijing political elite know. They have built a glittering edifice with lies piled upon lies. The one constant is that truth is forbidden. My understanding from the evidence available is that Xi jinping and his clique are lawless racists in the same way that Hitler was a racist - members of a self-proclaimed master race, not deeply flawed humans amongst all the other humans on the planet. In the end that greatest lie will destroy them (not China), but the cost may be great and the path may be long.]

ABC News (7 April 2021) "Chinese Ambassador holds press conference to play 'propaganda' videos about Xinjiang ". Australian Broadcasting Corporation @ 

Paul Monk (2 May 2021) "China will outflank us if we don’t get smart - China is not al-Qa’ida or Islamic State, or even Saddam Hussein. For years, Xi Jinping’s leading planners have been working on ways to win a war with the West without fighting".
The Australian @  [Paul Monk was head of the China desk Australia's the Defence Intelligence Organisation]

Dan Ariely (2015) "How and Why We Cheat" fs blog @

Dan Ariely (Mar 31, 2014) "The Honest Truth About Dishonesty’". Wharton, University of Pennsylvania @  [Thor, comment: Hey, one D. Trump went to this place. The advice must have been good]

The Guardian (14 May 1945) Archive: "From the Ghetto to Auschwitz - the story of a Jewish boy: Abraham Cykiert, a young Jew from Lodz, describes how he escaped from the gas chamber at Auschwitz". The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: this is an historical account (though almost in my lifetime). We may feel safe and insulated. However the threat of man's inhumanity to man is always with us, never far below the surface. Consider lies and propaganda. These are ways of distorting reality to obtain some short term advantage. They are common short cuts by both individuals and organizations or governments. Commonly they are corrected either by actual events, or by exposure (for example through journalism). When correction does not occur, the damage from lies and propaganda multiplies. That damage, at an extreme, leads to war or in the worst case, to genocide (the extermination of whole groups of people), as by Nazis in Germany's 3rd Reich. The next time you are in a bus, look around at the faces. Some of them, given permission by the state, would murder you without a qualm, like the SS officers in this story.]


Truth & Propaganda in Public & Private Life (c) Thor May 2021 

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