Why John Feffer’s Cautious Reasoning Nonetheless Seems like Propaganda

John Feffer is a seasoned Washington DC “thinktanker” at Institute for Coverage Research. He isn’t solely a distinguished political commentator and creator. Feffer writes usually for Overseas Coverage in Focus (FPIF), a publication of which he’s co-director. Truthful Observer is all the time happy and honored to republish his articles.

I point out these info regarding his background to remind readers that Truthful Observer is a crowdsourced journal open to an amazing variety of factors of view. We really feel it’s important for readers to listen to diverse arguments regarding the problems with the day. We additionally imagine that you will need to perceive, wherever attainable, the background and backstory of the voices who share their punditry with the world. In everybody’s writing, reasoning and rhetoric stand aspect by aspect and even maintain palms. Understanding means coming to grips with each.

Most of Truthful Observer’s authors, not like Feffer, aren’t skilled pundits or seasoned writers. We encourage unknown voices to contribute. These are individuals who have one thing helpful to share with the world in an area the place seasoned journalists and pundits are additionally printed. We invite our authors to enter the world of public debate alongside heavyweights we usually publish, comparable to Feffer, Medea Benjamin, Gary Grappo or Tom Engelhardt, to say only some. 

At Truthful Observer, we by no means presume to know who is correct or fallacious about any problem, a undeniable fact that doesn’t stop the members of the editorial staff from having their very own viewpoints. And the bare, but additionally stimulating fact is that we within the staff have our personal very actual, typically deep divergences. Disagreement can and ought to be productive. It’s the basis of the type of dialogue that true democracy requires.

Alas, in instances of geopolitical pressure, the tolerance of variety and the style for constructive dialogue are inclined to wane. An reverse development, strongly inspired by governments themselves, pushes many individuals to suppress all divergences from official fact, usually branding it disinformation. When the thought of some noble frequent trigger, particularly of a army nature, involves the fore, the dominant forces in society search to use delicate, and typically much less delicate strain aiming at establishing and implementing conformity of thought round what emerges.

9/11 outlined the political tradition of the 21st century 

There are moments – consider the rapid aftermath of the 2001 assaults on New York’s commerce towers and the Pentagon – when all voices are anticipated to sing in unison. One false word, one instance of dissonance, will deliver immediate opprobrium. When comic Invoice Maher blurted out only some days later, “We’ve got been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying within the airplane when it hits the constructing – say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly,” the sponsors of his TV present canceled their contracts. Maher was pressured to apologize. Then there was the case of the avant-garde German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen who, six days after the occasion, known as the occasions of 9/11 “the best murals possible for the entire cosmos.”

Stockhausen’s music had all the time been ultra-provocative, constructed of deliberate and random dissonance, however nobody ever reacted with shock or disapproval to probably the most outlandish musical examples composed and carried out by a person thought of to be the chief within the subject of digital classical music. I attended a Stockhausen which in 1964 at UCLA’s Royce Corridor the place, uncovered to the intentionally chaotic assemblage of jarring sounds, the viewers sat in solemn, respectful silence. Everybody, that’s, however probably the most revered professor of UCLA’s music division, a disciple of Arnold Schoenberg’s, who was falling out of his seat roaring with delighted laughter. He was clearly the one one within the auditorium with a clue to what Stockhausen was doing. His conduct upset the person sitting behind him, who upbraided him for his lack of decorum, scolding him to be quiet. 


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Stockhausen’s outrageously unharmonic musical creations might thus draw rapt admiration from an mental elite; his equally unharmonic verbal notes in 2001 turned him right into a pariah. But in each circumstances, he developed a slicing irony that focused standard style and standard considering. Six months earlier, in the identical corridor, I had sat listening in shocked silence to John Coltrane make musical historical past. John Kennedy had been assassinated the day gone by. Coltrane’s problem to the order occurred on a distinct airplane and its results are nonetheless being felt. Deviating from the norm even at the price of being misunderstood was attainable then. That period was a second in historical past when non-commercial music might nonetheless have a robust influence on individuals’s lives. 

The world by which musicians like Stockhausen and Coltrane might thrive — each thought of masters of a music that pushed artwork too far for most individuals’s style — has definitively disappeared. In 2001 Stockhausen realized a basic lesson in regards to the character of the 21st century. Saying one thing deemed inappropriate might be deadly, no less than within the US. Speech and thought should now be policed. That’s even true for artists whose exercise historically belonged to a world unconnected to political discourse and social norms. 

Future historians could keep in mind this primary quarter of the twenty first century as an age of utmost censorship utilized to something deemed delicate or able to “triggering” a unfavourable emotion within the thoughts or coronary heart of somebody who occurs to be current. Seen within the purely social tradition of PC (politically appropriate), it has change into a fixture of great political discourse and a significant component in democratic elections. That is an ear by which noticing that Israel has created one thing that resembles apartheid system manufacturers the observer as anti-Semitic. Utilizing the fallacious English pronoun to seek advice from an individual is against the law in opposition to id. Citing a phrase related to racism, even within the context of historic evaluation, constitutes proof that one is a racist. Stating that Russia could have felt threatened by the rising army energy of NATO is a proof of complicity within the evil designs of the Satanic Vladimir Putin.

The triumph of conformity within the identify of safety

At present thought should be managed and dialogue restrained. Within the purely political realm, our fashionable nation states have elaborated exquisitely complicated strategies and technique of each upsetting and particularly implementing conformity of thought and guaranteeing that nobody, no matter they might privately imagine, could also be permitted publicly to deviate from the official evaluation of what’s good and what’s to be condemned. Joe Biden himself has made that clear. Democracy — even when managed by cash relatively than individuals — is nice and autocracy, even when it displays the need of the bulk, is dangerous. Believing that opens the door to the rule of cash, figuring out it with democratic advantage. It’s a system that makes political decision-making simpler, since decision-making might be primarily confided in a moneyed elite. 

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However the final impact of such conformist considering imposed by a restricted elite is to divide society, presumably irreparably. The cultural examples of people selecting and imposing their  pronouns and forbidden phrases, or designating as suspect expressions comparable to “Completely happy holidays” as a substitute of “Merry Christmas,” foster ongoing cultural dramas that preserve the 2 sides who revel of their binary opposition engaged in what every sees as a noble fight. 

Bitter disagreement and binary opposition at the moment are structuring parts of US tradition. Each problem can and certainly should be decreased to 2 opposing positions. That deep-seated reflex explains why the US can by no means transcend a two-party system. Even when the 2 events agree in pragmatic phrases on all of the necessities — unbridled financialized capitalism, world army domination, the divine standing of the greenback, gun possession and the virtues of consumerism — they draw all their political power from hating the opposite aspect.

However there are issues about which Individuals aren’t free to disagree. The instance of 9/11 confirmed there may be no less than one normal thought everybody should uncritically embrace: the protection of the nation. In its most excessive kind it has produced the favored slogan: “Find it irresistible or depart it.” It interprets because the responsibility of extraordinary Individuals by no means to name into query America’s army reason for the second. In a world beset by apparent risks associated partially to the more and more damaging nature of applied sciences which will find yourself within the “fallacious palms,” the insistence on conformity makes loads of sense. Particularly when one assumes that one’s personal palms are all the time the “proper palms.” So protection is such a basic precedence that the choices made in its identify can by no means be criticized, simply as ever-expanding protection budgets are by no means known as into query by anybody aside from marginal leftwing extremists and demented pacifists. 

How did the “protection intuition” change into so dominant within the tradition? In former instances, the notion of a nation’s international coverage targeted on commerce and entry to assets, in different phrases, the necessity to change with different areas and nations. These exchanges might have a industrial or cultural nature. Energy relationships have been essential however they weren’t outlined in purely army phrases. 

World Struggle II modified every part, partly due to its scale but additionally due to the invention and use of the atomic bomb. At present we settle for the concept that international coverage is much less in regards to the high quality of worldwide relations than it’s about safety in a purely bodily sense. Protection is outlined by weaponry to the detriment of social life and civilized conduct. 

However there may be one other much less apparent dimension of protection, the one George Orwell anticipated in his novel 1984: speech and thought management. Nobody can ignore the frequency with which, since 2001, insurance policies targeted on nationwide safety within the US have ended up difficult what individuals nonetheless seek advice from as “constitutional rights.” This sacrifice of conventional rights is all the time justified within the identify of “nationwide safety.” No critical observer might doubt that the Patriot Act of October 2001, handed within the identify of countering terrorism, has had, amongst its results, the very actual suppression of a number of the rights Individuals take as a right: notably the 2 pillars of the “Invoice of Rights,” the primary and fourth amendments (freedom of expression and freedom from unwarranted search).

The rights of a nation’s residents are one factor. They may all the time be the item of inside debate. Overseas coverage poses an issue of a distinct order. In current many years, the thought of defending “nationwide safety regardless of the worth” has led to the justification of the morally egregious idea of preventive battle. This turned the muse of the Bush doctrine, used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 

The identical logic lies behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It depends on the notion of a nation’s responsibility to reply militarily if essential to an “existential menace.” We now know that the menace Iraq represented in 2002-3, with its dreaded “weapons of mass destruction,” was imaginary. Most analysts right this moment agree that the menace to Russia by Ukraine’s dallying with NATO was exaggerated, however nobody can credibly declare it was purely imaginary. Nonetheless, making the declare that it might have been actual is now handled because the equal of Stockhausen’s characterization of 9/11 because the “best murals.”


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In purely rational phrases, the very notion of preventive battle ought to be thought of the alternative of protection. It means going elsewhere —  with weapons blazing, drones buzzing and bombs dropping —  to counter a supposed future menace. Custom tells us that “prevention is healthier than treatment” and “a sew in time saves 9.” But when the supposedly preventive act produces a Humpty-Dumpty end result, that may by no means be stitched again collectively once more, the proverbial knowledge could show far worse than any possible treatment. Over the previous 75 years, US international coverage in Korea, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – to call solely these apparent theaters of preventive battle – has left loads of gaps within the panorama that remained unstitched and infrequently unstitchable to at the present time.

What’s nationwide protection?

Each of the phrases — nation and protection —  require some critical historic and philosophical reflection. The nation state is, in spite of everything, a contemporary creation. We assume right this moment it’s a truth of nature, however it’s a man-made invention that historians hint again to 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia. That sort of political entity has clearly supplanted all earlier examples of social and political group. So what’s a nation? Are the individuals of any nation totally pleased with the results of historic processes by way of which their nation has been outlined? Are they even clear about what, within the idea of nation, must be defended? Is it land, property, the individuals themselves, their legal guidelines, their tradition, their shared (or imposed) ideology, their songs and their motion pictures?

Though the thought of the nation is current in human historical past, it’s going to all the time profit from a variety of seen clues regarding geography, language, ethnicity, faith and political ideology. Defining protection seems to be extra problematic. In most individuals’s naïve notion, the literal connotation of the phrase protection expresses an angle of protecting concern. In actuality, when insurance policies of armament are in play, it embraces one thing that goes far past the genteel notion of conservation of property, establishments and even normal welfare. In its army dimension, it features a measure of energetic menace, bravado and aggressive show.


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In our age of highly effective industrial group and complex know-how, those that have a task in institutional decision-making have succeeded in pushing the notion of protection nicely past its conventional connotation. Initially formulated because the intuition of safety, within the nuclear age, it has advanced into embracing within the mindset of these targeted on protection probably the most excessive type of intentional aggression. Who’re the decision-makers our democracies have designated as their brokers of protection? They occur to be a comparatively small loosely outlined group of politicians, industrialists, bankers and intellectuals, the producers of ideology. The latter group contains well-financed media, the promoting trade,a phase of academia and one other fashionable creation: suppose tanks.

Maybe with out realizing it, our democracies, notably within the West, have accepted a system by which this worldwide elite that dominates all of the seen establishments in a globalized economic system can dictate, largely in non-public, the themes and even the positions deemed respectable in public debate. It’s exactly to counter that domination that Truthful Observer seeks to open the dialogue to different voices. But it surely isn’t simply by letting different voices change into heard that we obtain our objective. It is usually through the use of that opening of the general public dialogue to stimulate vital considering.

The marginalization of vital considering

Many lucid observers have seen that our civilization, so completely organized to supply a most of handy materials items, has not solely completed little to keep up current traditions of vital considering, however has put in place the means to actively suppress it. Our more and more “standardized” schooling has no time for vital considering. We actually educate residents to do little greater than study to repeat the messages they obtain from each the official and unofficial channels that dominate all our media. Schooling has lengthy adopted the mannequin, which is now aided and abetted by know-how, symbolized by standardized curricula and the dictatorship of the a number of alternative query. The media and our governments play their function in creatively selling triviality and proscribing reflection on “critical points.”

The emphasis on vital considering is especially essential at this second of historical past by which individuals’s considering is alternatively guided by industrial institutional media on one aspect and the chaos of social media on the opposite. From the primary — which extends from company information media to suppose tanks — we derive the notion of “authoritative voices” who can information our considering. From the second we enable ourselves to be guided by “influencers,” random voices in social media with the cheek and elegance to push their model of actuality as compelling. 

For that purpose, right here at Truthful Observer, we imagine it’s each citizen’s responsibility to dig deeper. Meaning listening to totally different voices, creating an consciousness of the influence of business pursuits and recognizing the intimidation issue that exists on the aspect of authority. It implies making the trouble to change into conscious of the background and connections of those that declare to inform us learn how to suppose, whether or not they communicate with the authority of their very actual experience or have merely acquired the ability set that turns them right into a social media influencer.

Analyzing the discourse of a longtime pundit

As a political commentator with many years of expertise and acknowledged authority, Feffer has change into accustomed to the concept that his job is to investigate complicated conditions and suggest not solely attainable political options but additionally the precise actions that can allow these options. That’s, in spite of everything, what suppose tanks are designed to do.

True to his vocation, the liberal Feffer —  in a current article with the title “Ukraine Now Holds a Robust Edge Over Russia” — has lately provided to enlighten our readers on US international coverage concerning that battle. His time-tested approach consists of presenting a collection of apparently observations primarily based on info gleaned from his analysis and constructing them right into a type of reasoning that factors to what he considers to be the most effective plan of action. He’s clearly doing the job: suppose tanks suppose with a view to telling actors learn how to act.


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Some might imagine this can be a pretty snug job, since a pundit can by no means be held instantly accountable for the actions of those that act based on such suggestions, even when the actions go uncontrollably awry. That consideration alone explains why it’s essential for readers to look at the methodology suppose tank and media pundits use. Unavoidably, like everybody else of their place, they have an inclination to combine judgment calls and even intestine intuition with easy info. On this piece, for instance, Feffer attracts sturdy conclusions from very partial proof. He assumes that as a result of the info he chooses to quote seem to level in a sure course, his idea should be accepted as truth. 

Feffer’s technique on this article can assist us perceive how info and apparently strong reasoning might not be sufficient to make a robust case. We must always start by acknowledging that each one info aren’t created equal. On this planet of political discourse that will depend on another person’s reporting, there could even be good info and dangerous info. Good info should be each incontrovertibly true, significant of their broader context and never excessively contaminated by interpretative ambiguity. They have to even be pertinent to the argument. Readers must also understand that when describing conditions of battle, different doubtlessly contradictory info could exist which have an equal declare to fact. These info could or might not be pertinent to any specific argument. 

If info themselves could also be problematic, reasoning – the process of transferring from the info to succeed in a dependable conclusion – is a standard mare’s nest. The trail is fraught with errors that start when one makes an attempt to ascertain the literal that means of the phrases talked about as truth. It ends —  messily normally — with the psychology of the reasoner. At the very least for the reason that first day Socrates put the query of reasoning on spectacular public show whereas deambulating by way of the streets of Athens, philosophers have been having enjoyable in addition to experiencing deep anguish coping with the query of how logic can ever produce an appropriate conclusion. To understand the diploma of danger in following a pundit’s limpid reasoning, see Wittgenstein’s deflationism (“The frequent mistake is to imagine that fact has a nature of the sort that philosophers would possibly discover out about and develop theories of.”) 


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A more in-depth studying of Feffer’s argument

Feffer’s reasoning begins to falter within the title of the article: “Ukraine Now Holds a Robust Edge Over Russia.” Aside from the basic semantic query of what having an edge means within the context of a battle – wars are filled with sharp edges in addition to twists and turns – his declare within the subtitle that “Ukraine is efficiently ejecting the invading military” is just unfaithful. It’s definitely the type of statement a journalist within the New York Occasions or The Every day Beast could resolve to put in writing or talk. Such “info” are sometimes on account of an nameless supply within the intelligence neighborhood. However, regardless of the supply, that is clearly excessive. Ejecting means eliminating, cleaning, clearing out. The Russians seem like conducting tactical retreats in some warzones, however no critical army professional sees them operating for the borders. A want shouldn’t be a truth.

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It’s customary observe in up to date journalism to make use of polls to show a degree. Feffer cites a ballot launched by the Kyiv Worldwide Institute of Sociology, whose findings, he tells us, reveal that “86% of Ukrainian respondents imagine that it’s essential to preserve preventing regardless of the devastating air strikes.” Feffer doesn’t hassle to say that, based on these very pollsters, the “pattern didn’t embody residents of territories that weren’t quickly managed by the authorities of Ukraine till February 24” (no matter that double unfavourable formulation means). Extra to the purpose, he fails to acknowledge or appears to want to ignore a extra basic historic undeniable fact that the US authorities and the media have constantly hidden from view: that Ukraine is a divided nation that has been experiencing a really actual civil battle for no less than the previous eight years, a civil battle primarily based on tradition, language and historic id. As Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies have completed in a e-book we lately reviewed, the entire historical past of the previous 30 years demonstrates that these unresolved inside tensions stay main elements that compromise the thought of Ukrainian id. Why does that truth not curiosity Feffer, to the purpose of skewing the that means of the statistics he cites?

There may be in fact a purpose for Feffer’s sleight-of-hand. It’s a documented undeniable fact that the continual shelling by the Kyiv authorities of the Donbas over the previous eight years in defiance of the phrases of the Minsk II accord contributed to upsetting the Russian aggression. However citing that truth would make it inconceivable to make the usual declare that the Russian invasion was “unprovoked.” It might additionally invalidate the mandatory fiction that characterizes Ukrainians as a unified individuals searching for their independence.


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Later within the article, Feffer presents one other ballot end result that seems to bolster his case when he claims that “three out of 4 Individuals help the continuation of each financial and army assist to Ukraine.” That’s true sufficient. However he neglects to quote one other ballot whose findings contradict his important argument, that “that is no time to name for a ceasefire.” That September ballot, reported by Enterprise Insider tells us that “practically half of the respondents (47%) mentioned they solely help the continuation of US army assist to Ukraine if the US is concerned in ongoing diplomacy to finish the battle.”. Moreover, Enterprise Insider’s report concludes with the statement that “Individuals are rising bored with help for Ukraine with out diplomacy because the battle in opposition to Russia drags on.”

To make the purpose that even probably the most progressive Democrats align with Feffer’s place, he quotes at size a witness, Congressman Jamie Raskin. Feffer identifies him as “a outstanding Congressional Progressive Caucus member.” However how consultant of the left is Raskin? As investigative reporter Max Blumenthal has documented intimately —  providing a video of an interview with the Congressman for proof —   Raskin was not solely a Russiagate zealot, however somebody who blithely cites “info” that he is aware of to be false. Definitely, Feffer might have discovered a extra dependable witness.

Accepting and confronting opposite readings

Feffer is clearly in section with the US State Division that has constantly opposed the very thought of peace talks. However he finds himself in contradiction with the Pentagon’s Joint Chief of Employees Common Mark Milley, who has pushed for negotiations, estimating that “the probability of Ukraine absolutely vanquishing Russia on the battlefield is ‘not excessive,’” Milley is President Joe Biden’s principal army adviser. Maybe he stays unaware of the truth that the Ukrainians are “efficiently ejecting” the Russians from their territory. 

Former UN weapons inspector and Marine Corp intelligence officer Scott Ritter, a vocal critic of US international coverage, states in vehement phrases the alternative perspective. Few would argue with the truth that Ritter has remained nearer to the info than Feffer all through the battle. “Let’s be clear,” Ritter writes, “should you stand with Ukraine, you stand for the precipitous growth of NATO, of out of doors powers fomenting unlawful coups designed to overthrow the constitutional authority of a sovereign state, and the empowerment of white supremacist neo-Nazi ultra-nationalist actions who worship the reminiscence of mass murderers whom they’ve elevated to the standing of nationwide heroes.”


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Ritter doesn’t maintain again, pushing in direction of what could seem as the alternative excessive. It’s attainable to debate all these factors, together with clearly the relative clout of the neo-Nazis in Ukraine, whose presence and affect can’t be denied, although all commentators within the West, together with Feffer, fastidiously keep away from evoking them or after they do, dismiss them as marginal. That continues to be a respectable debate. What’s much less respectable is avoiding the talk altogether. Which is what commentators comparable to Feffer choose to do. And why shouldn”t they? Nobody within the authorities or the media will stand as much as encourage the talk.

My level is easy. As involved residents, we must always take heed to these, comparable to Feffer, who’ve expertise and a observe file of cautious evaluation of the subjects they write about. However we shouldn’t settle for at face worth their conclusions merely on the grounds of their fame or supposed authority. We must always look elsewhere, look at the proof and the case for its credibility. We must always above all train that ability we name vital considering.

Each citizen’s responsibility: to learn and suppose critically

Historical past has taken a harmful flip. The problems we’re speaking about now could spin uncontrolled with an actual probability of upsetting a nuclear holocaust. Bravado alone can’t produce lasting options. Democracies and certainly the human race can solely hope to operate appropriately and prosper if we study to critically look at the discourse of those that declare to talk with authority within the public sq.. 

Truthful Observer itself will proceed to publish those that need to make their case, as Feffer has completed and as I actually have completed right here. That’s our vocation. The factors of view and interpretations we publish usually fail to coincide. In circumstances like this one, they might even be diametrically opposed. We have to hear them. We have to assemble extra info than these every of us select for the comfort of argument. And every of us must be able not simply to discover and evaluate, but additionally to dig deeper with all of the assets at our disposal. Regarding Feffer’s article, I can solely add this private word: that I’m upset when a high quality researcher and thinker believes, for no matter purpose, it’s extra prudent to observe the drift of official propaganda, particularly in instances of battle and world hazard, than to look at the complexity of the problems he’s addressing. Our platform at Truthful Observer stays open to Feffer and others for dialogue and debate on these very points in addition to others raised by the articles we publish.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.