Number 312 December 3, 2005

This Week:

Quote of the Week
Seasonal Gift-Buying: If You Do It, Do It Well!
When Do We See Propaganda?  Six Red Flags
What is "Hegemony?"  And Why Do I Care?


I said last week that I would talk in this week's issue about Who does Propaganda?  And Where and When do you find it?  That's sort-of what you'll find this week.  I talk about the "when," but I only indirectly talk about the "who" and the "where."  I decided it would be a good idea, before getting into detail on those parts of the series, to introduce the concept of "hegemony" (pronounced: hedge-EM-uh-nee).  The "Who" and "Where" will be in next week's issue.  I promise!  Really!

In Nygaard Notes I try to avoid using academic-sounding big words--like "paradigm" and "semiotic"--as they intimidate me, and lots of other non-college-educated people, and I don't think they are really necessary to understand important things.  But I make an exception for the word "hegemony," as I think it is a really useful word, and almost indispensable for anyone who wants to fully understand the modern phenomenon of Propaganda.  I hope that, by the end of this series (in a couple of weeks?), you'll agree.

Welcome to the various new readers of Nygaard Notes!  Some of you have come in right in the middle of a several-weeks-long series on Propaganda.  Sometimes Nygaard Notes is full of facts and specific illustrations of the way I look at the world.  And, every once in a while, I back off and drop a little theory on the faithful readers of the Notes.  This is one of those times.  Who knew that theoretical writing could be fun?

Remember that you can always go to the Nygaard Notes website at to find the things that you missed and to get expanded articles on some of the things I reference in the series.  For example, I'm always talking about Overt Propaganda and Deep Propaganda.  For a longer look at what I mean by those words, go read Nygaard Notes #172.

Propaganda, itself, has been in the news a bit lately.  I hope to find time to discuss some of that in the next week or two, as well.  Lots to talk about, so buckle your proverbial seat belts!

Rockin' on,


"Quote" of the Week:

Here are some words that are attributed to Gunnar Myrdal, although I've never read the book ("An American Dilemma" of 1944) in which they are said to appear.  It's still a great quotation, whether he said it or someone else did:

"Cultural influences have set up the assumptions about the mind, the body, and the universe with which we begin; pose the questions we ask; influence the facts we seek; determine the interpretations we give these facts; and direct our reaction to these interpretations and conclusions."

He's talking about what I call Deep Propaganda.

Seasonal Gift-Buying: If You Do It, Do It Well!

I don't really do holiday shopping, but I know a lot of people do.  So, here are a few ideas about where to spend your hard-earned dollars, if you're that kind of person:

1.  Consider donating something in the name of a friend or loved one to the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition.  There's been a lot of scams and garbage associated with the supposed relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but these folks are the real deal.  Here's what they say about themselves: "PHRF is working to build a People's movement -- a movement of grassroots persons disproportionately impacted by Hurricane Katrina and the dehumanizing treatment they received from local, state, and federal officials."  Find out more, including how to donate, at   Or call them at 1-888-310-PHRF.

1 and one-half: Of course, I'm sure many of you will choose to honor a friend by giving a donation in their name to Nygaard Notes.  Need I even mention this?!

2.  For those folks in the Twin Cities area (best known as "The Home of Nygaard Notes"), there are lots of community-based businesses that have great products AND are deserving of our support.  Number One on my list is the Northland Poster Collective, on East Lake Street in Minneapolis.  They have amazing and beautiful products that make great gifts, like posters, buttons, mouse pads, T-shirts, mugs, CDs, and on and on.  A specific product that I think everyone should buy is their New Orleans Reconstruction poster.  (A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this poster go to the PHRF, too.)  Stop by their store next time you go by 16th and Lake Street, or check them out on the web at   Or give 'em a buzz at 1-800-627-3082.

3.  There are two great bookstore/infoshops in the Twin Cities that are great places to pick up politically-progressive books, magazines, DVDs, buttons, and who-knows-what.  Were you thinking of ordering from Amazon?!  How could you?  Go to your local independent bookstores!  Two collectively-run shops in Minneapolis that I recommend are Mayday Books ( or 612-333-4719) and Arise! Books ( or 612-871-7110)

And, of course, for those of you who, like myself, don't buy into the seasonal gift-giving thing, more power to you.  Disregard this moment of seasonal mania on my part.


When Do We See Propaganda?  Six Red Flags

It would be easy to say that you are being subjected to Propaganda any time you read a newspaper or watch the news.  But that's not really true.  There is lots of information in the media that is really explanatory and offered in the spirit of education, as opposed to indoctrination. So here are a few red flags to look for that mark an increased risk of the presence of Propaganda:

RED FLAG #1: ADVERTISING.  Advertising is basically nothing but Propaganda, so any time you see, hear, or read an ad, that's what it is.  Duh!

RED FLAG #2: CAMPAIGNS.  Political campaigns are basically nothing but advertisements (really long ones!), so campaign season is another time to be on the lookout for Propaganda.  Remember, Propaganda can be either true or false.

RED FLAG #3: PROFIT  Whenever the news organization is either a corporation, or part of a corporation, where the basic idea is making a profit, you are much more likely to be subjected to Propaganda.  This is not just a knee-jerk "I hate corporations" statement, and I will expand on why it's not, in the "How Does Propaganda Work" segment of this series, in a week or two.

RED FLAG #4:  UNSTATED ASSUMPTIONS  Whenever a major point is assumed, or forms the unspoken basis for a controversial story, then you should think about the possibility of Propaganda.  This happens all the time, in fact it is so common as to be the norm in most reports.  I'll expand on this, as well, in the "How Does Propaganda Work" segment.

RED FLAG #5:  NOT ENOUGH TIME AND RESOURCES  Whenever a journalist is under unreasonable deadline pressure, or is working under too tight a budget, or is otherwise pressed for the time and resources to do her or his job right, then Propaganda is a risk.  This is a danger in all media, not just in the for-profit corporate environment.  Furthermore, in the Age of Tight Budgets, this applies to the information infrastructure as a whole.

RED FLAG #6:  ANONYMOUS SOURCES  Whenever a source is quoted anonymously, there is a high Propaganda risk.  This is now so common that it may seem like most of the news is Propaganda.  But, consider the two basic reasons for remaining anonymous: One is to protect yourself from threats to your safety, your job, etc.  This is the case with so-called "whistleblowers."  Usually, when someone goes to the press with information that puts them at risk, they are not doing it in an attempt to spread Propaganda.  They are usually trying to stop some behavior that they think is bad.

The other reason to remain anonymous when speaking to the media is to avoid being accountable for what you are saying.  Is someone who does not want to be accountable a credible source?  I don't think so, and I would say the risk of Propaganda is high when a source demands anonymity and there is no serious threat to their livelihood or their person.  Again, it depends on the nature of the information, and some knowledge of the history of the reporting on the issue.  But anonymous sources-especially the famous "high administration sources"--are notorious for "planting" Propaganda in the press.  And, increasingly, the press is notorious for publishing it.


What is "Hegemony?"  And Why Do I Care?

An anecdote: Once, many years ago, I was applying for membership in a local medical clinic.  My intake interview was being conducted by a blond, blue-eyed young woman who reminded me of myself (except the woman part).  She was a few years younger than I, and she had the official University of Minnesota medical school form in front of her.

After many questions about my medical history and so forth, she came to this question: "What is your religion?"  I replied, "None."  She looked up, a bit startled, then returned her eyes to the page, which she scanned for a few moments.  "That's not on my list," she said, looking up again, expectantly.  "Well," I replied, "that is my answer, regardless of what is, or is not, on your list."

At this, there was a long pause, followed by another intense scan of "The List" by my very gracious, but apparently inexperienced, interrogator.  Finally, she looked up at me again and cocked her head to the side.  "Well," she asked, "should I just put 'Christian?"  Much explaining ensued, after which, if memory serves me correctly, I was categorized under "Other."

Another anecdote: About five years before the Medical Intake Incident,  I was informed that only  about 20 percent of the world's population was Christian.  I think the correct number was more like 35 percent, but, in any case, I was SHOCKED!  In my world of small-town Minnesota, I had come to believe that 80 percent of the world was CATHOLIC, with about 15 percent Protestant, and the rest I-had-no-idea.

The assumption that my fellow small-towner revealed in the interview, and which was shared with almost everyone else who was raised around here at that time, was the assumption that everyone--everyone!--believed in some form of organized religious creed.  So, when I said "None," it made literally no sense to her.  When an assumption is that widely shared, and when an "average" person in the dominant population group cannot imagine any other way to think about something, then we are beginning to see the meaning of the word that is the subject of this essay:  "hegemony."

The concept of hegemony is an old one, going back at least to the 6th Century BC.  My Oxford dictionary defines "hegemony" as "Dominance or undue influence exercised by a country over its weaker neighbors."  Hegemony can also be understood to be the dominance of one class over another.

Cultural Hegemony

For the purposes of my discussion of Propaganda, I want to focus on the idea of "cultural hegemony."  One of my favorite thinkers on the subject is a guy named Antonio Gramsci.  He was an Italian socialist, political theorist, and activist of the 1920s and '30s, whose activities became such a threat to the Italian authorities (dominated by the Fascists at the time), that he was imprisoned for the last ten years of his life.  He died in prison in 1937.

In his "Prison Notebooks" Gramsci articulated several important ideas that I think are still very useful (some seven decades later!) in understanding how Propaganda and media work.

According to Gramsci, "cultural hegemony" is achieved when certain attitudes, beliefs and conceptions about the world become so widely accepted in a society as to function essentially as the  "organizing principles" of that society.  This is what I have called "Deep Propaganda."  That is, the stuff that seems like "common sense," the stuff that is so obviously true that it forms the basis for every news report you see or hear.  (Of course, what we call "common sense" may not be true, which is why I like the bumper sticker: "Don't Believe Everything You Think.")

Gramsci pointed out that a society that was stable and peaceful was that way because of "[t]he 'spontaneous' consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group."  It is only when that "consent" (which can be "active" or "passive") begins to break down that the dominant groups will use force, or what Gramsci calls "state coercive power."  He's talking about the police, or the National Guard, or the various means spelled out in the Patriot Act, for example.

Furthermore, Gramsci believed, as do I, that hegemony is a result of power.  That is, different groups of people have their own ideas about how the world works, what is fair, how the economy should be organized, how crime is dealt with, and so forth.  The ideas of the most dominant group will generally prevail, since they tend to use their power to reinforce the ideas that support them remaining in power.  They can then be said to have achieved Cultural Hegemony.

The reason you might care about the concept of hegemony is that it will help you to understand next week's installment in the Propaganda Series: Who Does Propaganda?  See you then!