An Introduction to stoppolarizingtalk.org: Protecting Freedom of Thought
When I first began listening to political talk radio (PTR) in the early 1990’s, I was saddened, shocked and alarmed to hear strategies of deeply polarizing propaganda being used by Rush Limbaugh, Ken Hamblin, and other conservative hosts.
After the bombing of the Oklahoma City government building in 1995, President Clinton said that “loud and angry voices” might have encouraged this act of domestic terrorism. But Rush Limbaugh and other hosts rejected this criticism as unfair.
My own background in the study of the polarizing language of extremist propaganda, used by both the left and the right in 20th century Germany, made me wonder if Clinton may have made a valid point.
I taped several of Limbaugh’s and Hamblin’s programs in the mid-90’s and did a political discourse analysis of linguistic strategies and structures these hosts used on their shows. Most of these strategies and structures are not readily apparent to the average listener. In 2003, a chapter I wrote on this topic was published in New York and Berlin in the book At War with Words.
In the last 20 years, the use of intensely polarizing language has spread into the left. TV program hosts, such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, are using similar linguistic strategies, even though their liberal/progressive ideological perspective is the opposite of conservatism.
Unfortunately for our political culture, and for our country, even some representatives from both sides of the aisle are starting to wade into the deeper waters of propaganda. Rather than emphasizing practical ideas, and workable solutions to America’s problems, the focus is increasingly moving toward characterizing fellow citizens and political opponents as members of out-groups, or even enemy-groups.
Since the gatekeepers (responsible editors, extended families, community organizations, etc.) are fading in the Information Age, it is necessary for each of us, as citizens, to be able to identify and resist manipulative, propagandistic political speech. In 2010, I began to speak in public forums on this topic.
This talk provides public information that should be available to all. For this reason, I give the talk at no cost, and it is available on this blog for viewing in full.
If we do not have liberty of thought, all of the liberties in the world will do us no good. But once we are able to recognize the language of propaganda (and how it differs from standard political speech), we are far less likely to succumb to manipulation, regardless of whether it is coming from the right or the left.
We cannot censor even the most hateful political speech, but we can use our own freedom of speech to resist and counter manipulation. This blog is dedicated to the freedom and the protection of individual thought.
“To misname things is to add to the misery of the world.” — Albert Camus
M.S. German and Linguistics, Georgetown University
Author, Ch. 1 of At War with Words: “Liberal parasites and other creepers”