In the last years, I conducted some research on ‘covert propaganda agencies’ and their means of political persuasion. The objective was to understand whether these shadow agencies may have represented a threat to normal democratic parliamentary activities, and, if this was the case, whether these agencies represent a threat to the national security of a country or to the international community as whole.
My interest was also to understand who is really behind these agencies and what political objectives they pursue. Are they working for a specific party, state or are they autonomus entities? What means of persuasion and mental manipulation do they use? Are these means compliant to the existing law?
I knew about the existence of several shadow agencies of propaganda by reading articles on Putin’s Russia and of his youth’s Kremlin-sponsored ‘web brigades’. Even Wikipedia has an entry on them. Government’s affiliated hacktivist or youth groups – the latter referred to as ‘Generation Putin‘ – are often part or form ties with Kremlin-based institutions. In line with Putin’s dictates, it has been shown, they promote those nationalist aspirations that conform to their ‘Father’s’ vision of the new Soviet Union. The web is the tool where these nationalist propaganda and massive campaigns of disinformation and political aggression materialize. In no rare cases, international ties with other like-minded hacktivist groups are also established (see article here).
I became particularly interested in the shadow activities of such agencies of propaganda because they provide a ready-to-eat analysis of more complex political discourses. These may have an impact on the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of unsuspecting citizens, and, ultimately, on the overall process of democratization itself.
Hence, I asked myself whether these agencies are simply tools of political analysis or whether they contribute, through hidden discoursive techniques, to the formation of a specific partisan ideology. I became in one case extremely suspicious when I discovered that one of these ‘political analysis suppliers’, close to a specialization in ancient rethoric (‘the art of political persuasion’), specialized also in ‘Eriksonian hypnosis’.
As the term suggests, Eriksonian hypnosis is a form of discoursive hypnosis that consists in the ‘smuggling in of messages to the unconscious of the individual through the means of a hypnotic discourse’.
Whilst the official objective of the Eriksonian hypnosis is therapeutic, the master of this technique can also artificially ‘smuggling in’ one determined point of view or line of reasoning. S/he can convince. S/he can question breaking the defensive barriers of the unconscious or circumventing them.
I imagined a set of individuals with an ability to artificially leading to a ‘discoursive trans’, ‘smuggling in’, in a covert way, specific political or religious values. What happens if they, by chance, enter in contact with politicians? Are they able to change their point of view ? Can they artificially persuade the counterpart of the necessity of one policy course over another?
Irrational fears could be easily promoted by so-called ‘political analysis experts’, leading to extremist politics, hate politics or religious fundamentalism, I thought. Political blackmail becomes also possible.
Yesterday, I attended a lecture by Ira Katznelson who reminded to the audience Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous sentence pronounced on the edge of the 1930s economic crisis: ‘One thing we have to fear is the fear itself’.
In his book ‘Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time‘, Katznelson also reminds that the reduction of some civic rights (such as the right to privacy) has been temporarily admissable to preserve democracy during extremely difficult times (such as during World War II or immediately after the 11/9 attacks). But one of the great successes of American democracy was not to abandon formal rules and practices of parliamentary discussions and decision-making, but to reinforce them even in times emergency and crisis. This is what I think democracy is all about.