Thursday, March 09, 2006


Audience and Purpose

In doing graduate research for the thesis included in my second book, I developed a curricular proposal that incorporated the study of psychological warfare as a key component of effective social activism:

The more I observe discussion online about social conflict now taking place on the Internet and public airwaves, the more I realize how widespread and entrenched the misunderstanding of the nature of this conflict is, and in turn how important it is for those engaged in this war of ideas to acquaint themselves with at least the basic principles if not tactics of psychological warfare. For those unable to access the classic texts on this topic--Psychological Warfare by Paul Linebarger, and The Science of Coercion by Christopher Simpson--I'll try to recall them here.

For starters, there are two things to always keep in mind: the target audience, and the purpose of the message. In a theater of war--physical or psychological--there are combatants and non-combatants and at least two sides, as well as many interests. In communicating social transformation, psychological warfare will be employed at different times and in different ways depending on the audience targeted and what the message transmitter is attempting to affect.

In recruiting the uninvolved or uncommitted, the message might convey an urgent threat, a righteous cause, a juicy opportunity, or a chance for revenge. In retaining the involved, a message would likely include an appeal to pride and expectations of victory. In undermining the resolve of the enemy, messages generally try to create doubts about all the above.

One area often overlooked by the unexperienced in psychological warfare, however, is the use of messages crafted and delivered for the purpose of preventing the enemy from effectively mobilizing audiences potentially supportive of its views, goals, and objectives. These strategically-developed messages--sometimes overt, sometimes covert--are those most-commonly associated with gray and black ops, white being forthright, gray misleading, and black counterfeit.

Understanding these techniques of mass communication--deployed in abundance in politics and advertising today--is essential for those who care about where the world is heading, even if in the end they decide to avoid the field of social conflict themselves. Once educated on the topic, they can at least refrain from unwittingly undermining those with whom they agree.


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