February 18, 2010

uncoercive propagandizing?

I like books that I can read in a reasonably short trip to the bookstore or library, and yesterday I found myself reading B.R. Myers's The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. If you have much interest in North Korea, the book will be compelling, and if you have interest in propaganda and marketing, it will be doubly so. Myers's interpretation is sometimes explicitly Freudian, but I do not think that undermines the overall usefulness of the book; he obviously has more interest in what North Koreans actually think than many Korea-watchers (an expertise which seems primarily interested in justifying various political ideologies), He builds a case that the DPRK is not a communist or Confucian dictatorship, focusing instead on the racial ideology inherited from propaganda efforts during Japanese rule. I am no expert (or even well-informed amateur) on the question, but I find his arguments to be fairly compelling, especially on the matter of whether or not Juche represents an actual ideology or the semblance of one.

A repeated refrain throughout the book is that the regime actually enjoys a level of support among normal North Korean citizens; Meyers backs this up with evidence and anecdote. What I found odd, though, was a single caption, which noted that the regime enjoys a level of "uncoerced support" denied by most Western observers.


For a book that spills so much ink on the ability of carefully selected propaganda and imagery to massage and mold human minds and feelings, it seems very odd to make the casual assertion that support garnered in such a matter is "uncoerced". This works with a definition of coercion which requires the threat of physical harm; however, when a government, or system, enjoys uninhibited, unpreventable access to the human subject, the views conditioned through such are coerced. I would even go so far as to say that certain marketing/propaganda modes are always coercive in a way that is immoral (especially when applied on children), but "free speech" ideology has seemed to have prevented many Americans from thinking reasonably about what sort of things are political speech and what sort of things are deliberate programming. Imagery has an effect on the human passions that the newsprint of the Founders's day could never have; the emerging research on the poisonous effects of pornography on human minds, and the actual addictive effect it has, could not be more relevant, here.

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