Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Big Lie: Why Joseph Goebbels and his propaganda philosophy is relevant today more than ever

(This article was first published at Devdiscourse.com, please click on the link to find it)

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

This is Joseph Goebbels’ famous, or rather notorious view on the “Big Lie”. This, later on, became the fundamental philosophy of the Nazi state’s propaganda machine. Contemporary philosophers analyze our times in reference to this doctrine and label our time as the times of post-truth, where truth loses its value when it clashes with such ‘big lies’.

In today’s India, the opposition and the political left finds it comfortable to compare the Narendra Modi administration, which is backed by the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), with the Nazi state. The argument is simply that the RSS-BJP clique wants to establish a Hindu Rashtra on the lines of the anti-Semitic ideology followed by the Nazis.

But, one needs a deeper analysis on the nature of the Modi administration and the Indian state of today. We definitely live in the times of post-truth which is evident from numerous cases of violence and injustice which result from fake propaganda circulated in the social media. But, is the government itself safe from such ‘big lies’ is a question that needs introspection.

Last month, during his Mann ki Baat episode, Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with farmers from across the country. One among them was Chintamani Kaushik, a woman farmer from Chhattisgarh’s Kanker district.

The video available on the official twitter handle of the PM shows a confident Chandramani confirming that her income got doubled after she got involved with the Krishi ATMA (Agriculture Technology Management Agency) Yojana. She said that her income used to be around Rs 50-60 before but has now grown to almost Rs. 700. The details of the income-expenditure model were not discussed and the PM happily generalized that farmers are growing under his administration.

However, ABP News did a real ground reporting and met the woman for an interview. The revelations that came after that was outrageous.

The ABP reporter asked the lady if her income has actually doubled to which she had no clear answer. Her comrades in her Self Help Group (SHG) denied that they have got any benefits. Instead, some shocking facts came out. Chandramani alleged that some officers of ‘Delhi’ came to see her and offered her a meeting with the PM if she said what she said in the live video.

Now, there are two possibilities for such a situation. Either the government is fully corrupt from the top to the bottom and PM Modi was aware that the lady was lying, or Modi himself was in darkness about the actual condition of his fellow citizens and thumping his 56-inch chest cruising on lies. Either way, it’s a massive failure of governance. More so, because one of Modi’s election motto in 2014 was “Pro-People, Good Governance or P2G2”.

Propaganda is not only a tool of the government, sometimes the opposition capitalizes on it too.

Last month Thomson Reuters Foundation published a survey report which declared India as the worst place on earth for women. Devdiscourse rebutted with responsibility immediately.

Read the article here: Thomson Reuters Foundation survey on women security and its rubbish India angle

But, the Indian intelligentsia, as well as the political class, danced in the tunes of a foreign news agency. The opposition attacked the government based on the survey which was conducted only among 500 odd ‘experts’ and had no connection whatsoever with the ground realities. Yes, India has gender issues, but again, is India worse than war-affected countries like Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, etc.?

The Thomson Reuters Foundation survey also works like a propaganda material for the opposition to bash the ruling government. In fact, today the opposition has been running a parallel propaganda campaign as well against the Modi regime as if Hindu Rastra bill is on the Lok Sabha floor. An engineered fear psychosis has resulted in a social binary and xenophobia. Because of the success of the ‘anti-Hindutva’ propaganda, the general masses are questioning even genuine motives of the government like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission).

Devdiscourse carried a follow-up story regarding the Reuter’s survey exposing the ones who buy such propaganda.

Read the article here: Thomson Reuters Foundation Survey: Et tu, Brute? says India to Indians giving it heed

The government also is undoing its wrongs through massive state-sponsored propaganda.

On December 8, 2016, at 8 PM in the evening PM Modi surprised and shocked the nation by announcing the demonetization of high-value currency notes.

He said that the reason for demonetization was to nullify the black money and black market in India which fuel not only poverty and unemployment but also terrorism. Indians bought this that night and cooperated. After 56 deaths and no necessary outcome, the strategy changed and a massive propaganda campaign was launched in favor of cashless transactions and digital India. Modi could not explain killing 56 people for making India a cashless economy, which failed miserably too. The basic point is that the Prime Minister failed in his governance and tried to cover it up with the ‘cashless economy’ propaganda.

Propaganda in the post-truth era has infected our society inside out as well.

According to a report by News18, a single Whatsapp message has killed 31 people in India by mob lynching. A fake message spreading ‘awareness’ about child lifters has been circulating via the IM app and has triggered locals to lynch outsiders to death in Gujrat, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Assam, and Tripura.

Whoever wrote the message did make sure it spread far and wide and did translate it to different languages too. Or it could be a case of mass hysteria where people believed what they saw in a Whatsapp message to be fact and forwarded it further. But this is also a classic case of failure of state on the face of propaganda – propaganda of hate, xenophobia, and misinformation.

Joseph Goebbels formulated a propaganda theory and machine which he could control. In today’s times, his disciples have adopted his philosophy but could not estimate the role of digital media and communication technology in the whole game. Thus, propaganda has become uncontrolled, like the nuclear reactor in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. We definitely need a Batman in these times of confusion.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Internet: Underdevelopment’s new enemy, and poverty’s new friend

“Are there any poor people on Quora, as Internet access is very cheap nowadays?”

This is one of the most introspective question threads on Quora. The initial answers were very generic descriptions of poverty experiences. But one gentleman from India, Rajana Siva, replied by simply posting pictures of his lifestyle which were self-explanatory of his poverty. The answer soon got viral with 2.3 million views. But most importantly, the answer opened a Pandora’s box. Other users started replying to the question too. This time not through text but by ‘showing’ their poverty using pictures. This started a phenomenon, in technical terms which are called participatory monitoring.

Read Rajana Siva's answer to Are there any poor people on Quora, as Internet access is very cheap nowadays? on Quora

The industrial revolution has been considered mankind’s greatest love affair with technology. But, actually, the 20th century saw another revolution which changed the way we live, interact and function fundamentally and forever. In the 1980s, when the 'World Wide Web' started functioning, possibilities seemed endless and today, four decades later we can see those possibilities in reality.

The Internet has made it easier for us not only to get instant messages from across the world, but we can also make video calls at really nominal spending. Today industries from banking, media, market, to airlines, are dependent directly or indirectly on the internet. Even governments are pushing towards a more internet based governance. Apart from that, private enterprises like Uber Cabs, Google Maps, have made our lives easier in many ways.

How will the internet make a better world?

In 2017 Internet World Stats published a report on their website on the global internet penetration data. An overview of the report suggests that since 2000 the world has seen exponential growth in internet users including countries in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia which are tagged as developing.

In India, PM Narendra Modi launched the Digital India campaign in 2015 with an aim to find practical solutions to our problems through the internet and extensive digitization of data as well as governance processes. Today, in India, almost all government services from filing a police FIR to applying for driving licence or passport is done online.

Many universities are considering remote access courses through which students in deep forests lands and rural areas can listen to the lectures of the top university professors. Even remote access medical surgeries are on the cards. The advantage of instant communication is being banked upon by government and private stakeholders alike.

Internet as a monitoring tool.

Till date, public development works have been under heavy influence of corruption and laziness on the part of the bureaucracy. Even if the party running the government are committed to developing the infrastructure and allot heavy funds to the same, the bureaucrats actually working on the field often do not implement them and only do an imitation job if the government authority comes for a review. Thus, there is no real-time monitoring possibility as of now.

This is where the internet comes in. Today even underdeveloped countries like Kenya have an internet user rate of 85 per cent of the total population. In such a case, if a crowdsourced mechanism of monitoring is conceived, it may be fruitful for both the government and the public.

Participatory monitoring is a process of generating the data needed to close the information gaps and achieve the evidence base needed for robust implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. This model follows a bottom-up approach in which the end beneficiary or the user can directly monitor the development indices and report in a pool of data which can be accessed both by the government as well as the public. For example, if the Google maps contained user-generated pictures of the potholes in a street, then not only the user would avoid using the road but this will also push the government officials into prompt action.

Challenges and Possibilities.

The main objection to such an approach of data collection is that the data might be incomplete as most of the internet users live in urban spaces or are generally very well to do people. Thus, they are more interested in Snapchat and Twitter rather than developing their nation using the internet.

But, this perception, however, is partially true. This is because of the following three reasons,
  • Internet-enabled devices like Laptop, Tablets and Mobile phones are becoming cheaper and cheaper. 
  • Internet usage rates are falling drastically worldwide due to market competition. We can expect half of the world to be internet users by 2030. If one out of two persons uses the internet, then we can expect a global pool of data easily. 
  • The Internet makes citizen journalism a reality and real raw data can be collected from volunteers who are inspired by participatory monitoring. 
However, the internet can only be a catalyst in development and if the catalyst itself is not allowed to spread then it might become a hurdle. Reports have suggested that many African government agencies have barred millions of dollars meant to increase internet access. Another report found that most of the African nationals have a deep dig at their pocket due to internet usage. In countries like Libya or South Africa, average monthly spending on the broadband internet is as high as 55 US Dollars or higher. These facts show that the developing countries, especially in Africa are not very welcoming towards the internet. The market as well as the state both have been exploitative and resisted deeper internet penetration.

This might be a serious challenge to the #Envision2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.