March 15th, 2012

green leaves

Main points of lecture about polarizing political speech, part 1

I recently posted about this lecture, and I've gotten some interest in a text version. Here are main points, since I'm not willing to do a full transcript. My comments are in square brackets].

Kathryn Ruud Lecture, Part 1

Change of names for the other party (Libtards and Rethugs vs. Democrats and Republicans). [I'm old enough to remember a time when Americans weren't nearly as nasty about politics. It took me getting some decades under my belt to have a gut understanding that things can change, and I expect I'm not the only one.]

"Only he who can describe the problem can resolve the problem."

Background: linguist with specialty in polticial speech, and who specifically studied Nazi and East German rhetoric

Talked with people who remembered listening to Hitler speak, and people who were shot at escaping east Germany

She's also been a long-term listener to talk radio

2:26 [slide] Linguistics:
Scientific study of the features of language and its use
Spoken language
Sociolinguistics: language in groups
Political linguistics: language of persuasion

Linguists look at language the way meteorologists look at clouds-- ever-changing amorphous subject matter which nonetheless can be somewhat classified

4:41 Political speakers put themselves at the center as truth speakers, and range from there into the past and the future, and from self to others.

"Listeners have built in baloney detectors." [I'd say that a large part of persuasive speech (just on the other side, of course) is an effort to subvert baloney detectors.]

"The listener is never entirely passive."

Rise of fascism: hyperinflation, the great depression (unemployment 36%, disputed border areas, monarchy and a history of authoritarianism, during the Enlightenment Germany was 500 principalities so that the ideas didn't spread [I'm not sure this makes sense, but maybe Enlightenment ideas are more of a centralized government thing than I appreciate], the Versailles treaty....

But still, why Hitler? Why so much enthusiasm for him?

7:51 In 1982, a German professor teaches her about some Nazi propaganda and recommends Missbrauch der Sprache (Misuse of Language): Tendenzen nationalsozialistischer Sprachregelung (Tendencies in national socialist language control).

Reading the book was a very vivid memory-- she'd never seen German used like that. The book was a dissertation written in 1970 about the common use of Nazi language in the press and such, not the official propaganda.

The propaganda was in small chunks, and framed before and after by discussion of the techniques of persuasion.

Even so, she could only read it 10 or 15 minutes at a time, and then she'd look at the gray skies to let the propaganda wash out of her mind, and she'd remember her Jewish friends.

She never wanted to read the book again, she thought she'd never have a use for it, but she photocopied it because it seemed important. [A fast googling doesn't turn up a translation in English-- if there isn't one, I wonder if there's a publisher who'd like to take a crack at it.]

About 10 years after the class, she heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio, and something seemed familiar....

Limbaugh isn't a Nazi-- the intense racism isn't there, he's not a fascist....and his riffs on conspiracy theories were funny, but she reread the book on misuse of language and started recording Limbaugh and Ken Hamblin.

More research.... things are getting worse, and moving into the left and poplular discourse.

12:39 Graphic of talk radio in one week-- more than 90% of it is right wing.

Provocative talk sells....

[The lecture is broken into six chunks, and the breaks are at arbitrary points.]

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green leaves

Main points of lecture about polarizing political speech, part 2

Kathryn Ruud Lecture, Part two

June 2010 issue of Talkers Magazine, an industry publication-- an article compares political talk radio to pro wrestling

It's the job of the talk show host to crank up fear at the other side because that gets attention and advertising revenue:

Fear the enemy: the government
Fear the Other: political opponents
Rachett up fear through polarization
A sales technique with serious consequences

2:39 Glen Beck clip: He's selling gold because Marxism will wreck the country and people will need soemthing to start over with. [Anyone who's pretty sure they'll be able to protect their gold in a totalitarian dictorship probably deserves to give their money to Glen Beck.] Followed by malice about illegal immigrants.

Cicero: "He who knows only his own generation remains always a child."

There are good reasons to fear communism and fascism. Both were very pro-violence.

In Germany, there were political street battles between the wars.

In totalitarian countries, there was control which extended into people's homes.

Things went differently in the US-- while there were believers in far left and right ideas, but mostly, there was a rotation around a pragmatic middle. In Germany, the middle was weak and small.

Totalitarianism starts with ideologies which do not describe themselves as totalitarian.

Glen Beck and others put libertarianism exactly in the middle between totalitarianism and anarchy. This leaves out a lot of context about the range of non-totalitarian possibilites which are not libertarian, Republican, or constitutionalist.

Beck places Nazism on the left rather than acknowledging that totalitarianism can come from the right. Nazism and Communism get lumped together rather than being described as having quite different ideological roots. You can't recognize a problem if you have a mental framework which excludes it.

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green leaves

Main points of lecture about polarizing political speech, part 3

Kathryn Ruud Lecture, Part three

00:15 7 Strategies of Polarization
Ingroup/ "We" vs. Outgroup "Them"
Used by extreme left and extreme right
On PTR, used as sales technique
Overlapping similarities [between far left, far right, and political talk radio]
Extremes can take hold in democratic states
Not just what is said, but how is is said

People are harder to control if they can identify rhetorical methods of control

Hitler is unique-- there's no one in American politics who's comparable.

Contrast of tone: When Hitler spoke about his followers, his tone was of uplift and exaltation, when he spoke of his enemies, his tone was harsh and scathing. The effect of this was that it set loose an unrestrained political attack of defamation, ridicule, and hate. Opponents were made to feel disoriented, because this was a new way of arguing. Opponents weren't fellow citizens with bad ideas, they were bad people.

Examples from left wing talk radio, selected by the Conservative Media Research Center as the worst of 2009, and she agrees that they are good examples of a problem, and as bad as it gets in left wing political talk radio at a national level.

4:37 Olberman attacks Malkin with a series of insults
4:48 Ed Schultz says that Republicans want to see you dead. Also attacks Democrats for not being able to deal with Republicans.

Poisoning the well: inflating one's own credibility while demeaning opponents.

Hitler called the major newspapers "the Jewish press". He called their readers "the so-called educated circles" and "the so-called intellectuals". In East Germany, western newspapers were called "tools of capitalism". Limbaugh talks about opposition between the mainstream (national) media and conservative media. Limbaugh calls himself "the truth detector". Beck calls himself "the constitution czar". Recently, she's heard national media referred to as government-controlled or state-run media.

Lexical fusion: two words are welded together and used repeatedly. Nazis called their opponents "liberal socialists" or "liberal socialist communists". A range of critics are fused into a single threat.

Ideology over information: Beliefs of the group are defined as true. The outgroups' views have no merit, EVER. There's no middle ground or compromise.

Political radio showcases ideology. Opponents can call in, but what they say is generally followed by derision and ridicule.

The three strategies so far are part of normal political discourse. However, the next four strategies are wading into deeper waters.

There's gotten to be a much stronger emphasis on fighting enemies.

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green leaves

About that linguistics speech

As I was making the entries, it gradually registered that the url wasn't public (there are videos on youtube which you can only find if you know the url, you can't search for it), and possibly the author didn't want anyone making it public the way I was. So I've asked her, and I'm leaving the posts private until and unless I get permission.

It looks like she'll be doing a shorter version (possibly for a more general public) in the near future.

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