June 3, 2021

A warning about bad faith arguments and propaganda

I wrote a piece in October 2020 about live streaming. The article was written with the idea in mind that the argument against live streaming was genuine. That the people arguing were doing so in good faith. Perhaps some of them are. After all, they have every reason to be afraid. People in activism are often targeted by governments when governments do not want to change. Or when activism brings to light gross injustice.

At the time, I considered the possibility the argument could be a result of propaganda – propaganda meant to drive a wedge, causing activists to fight each other instead of continuing their common causes. We often think that the far-right or religion or other groups are running propagandist machines. Regrettably, I did not take the idea seriously. In the following months, as people in a certain faction began to fight over the subject more, it occurred to our cohort that this was indeed propaganda. The anger was intense. Activist communities both online and on the ground have been arguing, lines have been drawn, sides have been taking, and people have been retreating into their own corners.

The wedge has succeeded. Until now.

At one point, I gave up my task: dismantling every bit of the argument that I could think of. In retrospect, the task has been draining. I spent too much time going down rabbit holes, trying to find people at the root of a problem that, to me, had begun to seem like not a real problem. Rather, it began to feel like one that was manufactured in order to divide activists and sew suspicion.

However, this made me realise that I made a mistake. I never should have delayed. Furthermore, instead of arguing about whether or not police were using live streams and they were categorically bad, we needed to focus on the necessity of journalism in activism in general. The big picture. We were distracted by a small faction in a specific scenario. A red herring.

Delaying this series of articles was regrettable. The Left, Liberals, Anarchists, pseudo-Leftists, Progressives, and so on, make propaganda just as anyone we try to overcome does. When we deal with propaganda, we must remember that we are not immune to falling victim to its traps. It can be tailored to look like arguments that we, activists, would make. We must remain level-headed and clear of mind. We may not have objective demonstrative evidence but we do have logical evidence. We must fight it head on with the best arguments we have.

We also must remember that as much as we like to believe that we make decisions based on reason, we make many decisions (and thus arguments) based on our intuitions. There is nothing wrong with this except that we must be aware of this fact. Even more so when we are in extraordinary situations such as those that put us under extreme duress. We must remember to evaluate arguments to ensure they are valid when we are at times that we can process these arguments. And if we cannot do so, trust that others can and listen to them. We are not alone. We are responsible for our community, not just ourselves.

Some of the greatest tools we have are our imaginations, logic, and journalism. While it is prudent that any tool can be used to betray us, it is also wise to remember that we, too, have the power to use these tools to our benefit.

Let us not forget this as we move forward.

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