Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ellul on the shift an individual makes from adhering to propaganda to embracing the propaganda of the "enemy" in the face of doubts--a possible explanation of what the "cage phase" is.

Long ago when I was reading Internet Monk I remember coming across a memorable phrase, "cage phase".  Reading Ellul recently has, perhaps, provided an illuminating potential way of describing the emotional/personal dynamics of this "cage phase" in terms of a person's relationship to competing propagandas.  Ellul warned way back in 1965 that it's foolish to think that propaganda for Team A will be canceled out by propaganda from Team B because as socal manipulation propaganda's effects can be cumulative.  A person overwhelmed by mass media messaging can reach a saturation point where one of two decisions become psychologically likely.  The first is to check out in resignation and the second is to pick a propaganda that you embrace whole hog while rejecting the others.  If, over time you have doubts about the team you picked well ...

Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner
Vintage Books Edition, February 1973
Copyright (c) 195 by Alfred A Knopf Inc.
ISBN 0-394-71874-7

page 190

Moreover it is possible to provide successive stages for the individual. While he is still a solid member of a group, propaganda can introduce a factor of ambiguity, of doubt, of suspicion. But the individual finds it very difficult to remain long in such a situation. Ambiguity is painful to him, and he seeks to escape it. But he cannot escape it by returning to his previous certainties and total blind allegiance to his former group. This is impossible because the doubt introduced can no longer be assuaged while the individual remains in the original context of values and truths. It is then, by going over to the enemy group, by compliance with what provoked the ambiguity, that man escapes that ambiguity. He then will enter into an absolute allegiance to the truth of the enemy group. His compliance will be all the more radical, his fusion with it all the more irrational, because it is a flight from yesterday's truth and because it will have to protect him against any return to, memory of, or nostalgia for the former allegiance. There is no greater enemy of Christianity or Communism than he who was once an absolute believer.

Anyone get the impression that this could describe just about any "cage phase" embrace of just about anything?  It sures seems applicable.

and it doesn't just so happen ..

Of course there's another potential application of this observation. It's not just that someone who was once some kind of Christian or communist might be a sworn adversary of those beliefs.  Ellul's proposal could apply to any ideology that could be disseminated by way of propaganda.

For the sake of a thought experiment let's take Mars Hill.  If someone were inside Mars Hill and perceived it's core to be complementarianism because young guys found a sense of purpose then if the seed of doubt were arguments for egalitarianism or feminism then, in Ellul's proposed possible rejection of propaganda, the person who bailed on Mars Hill might embrace egalitarianism and feminism not necessarily "just" because the person sincerely embraced that because of the dynamics of propaganda and the way a human acclimates to propagandistic dynamics.

 If while within a setting like Mars Hill a person got the impression that the "enemy" was a high church liturgical approach or Orthodoxy or Catholicism then in the process of eliminating ambiguity a person could embrace the "enemy" and go for Orthodoxy or Catholicism.  If someone inside a setting like Mars Hill where many a lad embraced some variant of libertarian economic ideas and market idealism a person might embrace progressive economics and politics as an abjection of what was once perceived to be the central cultural "point" of Mars Hill. 

The collapse of Mars Hill, if you will, as a propagandistic apparatus, could well have left people in Seattle more progressive than they otherwise would be in the sense that those who discovered that Driscoll's blue collar shtick was potentially just that, might either reject that or ... paradoxically embrace progressive ideals by doubling down on what they believe to be a "real" working class ethos that would contrast with what seemed to be a ploy on the part of Driscoll's years of talking about guys swinging hammers for a living. 

Changing your convictions through an intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual struggle is certainly valuable--but Ellul's writing could be a useful caution that merely shifting from one hard and fast position to another is not a sign that you have stopped "drinking the kool-aid", it might be a sign that you're drinking more sugar-water than ever but for a different team.

Anyone who leaves a cultural setting like Mars Hill was may have already gone through a "cage phase" or two.

I know there are those who might think it's too abstract and too esoteric to discuss the history of Mars Hill as if it were a propaganda machine and perhaps it's off-putting to describe Driscoll's public career in terms of propagandistic methodologies rather than attempting to analyze his ideas in psychological terms or trying to discern his motives.  His motives are not something that can be too easily surmised.  The resignation of 2014, when all the stories shared about it by Driscoll and others, seems too opaque and too impulsive to bother attempting to explain even on its own terms 

On the other hand, discussing Mark Driscoll's persona in terms of propaganda may be a useful approach.  Why?  Because apart from whomever he's had meals with in the Phoenix pastor scene the most common way people are going to have contact with Driscoll is by way of technology, by means of the mass and social media platforms that Ellul described as inherent in propaganda.  A "regular" person may be as connected to Mark Driscoll as he or she would be to, say, Taylor Swift or George Clooney, which is to say not in the way that a real friend would be.  To borrow a polemic evangelicals have used about certain types of entertainers ... there's a pseudo-intimacy, an illusion of intimacy and personal connection that can happen in propaganda.  It's not necessarily "Big Brother", it could also be an illusory sense of connection to a popular musician or movie star. Or ... some other kind of star, perhaps. 

So many people have tried to get at what they felt the mentality of the scene was it can be easy to miss that a lot of the scene was mediated by mass and social media.  Remember that at its peak most people who called Mars Hill their church home were hearing a sermon mediated by a disc that Driscoll preached a week or so earlier that got filmed and re-mastered for distribution at the sites.  In church service terms that's like watching an episode of Blues Clues on a Friday when the episode first aired on a Monday within the same week.  But for those who called Mars Hill home they sincerely thought of Mark Driscoll as their pastor.

So in keeping with the thematic arc of this post it's not too huge a surprise that many people who left Mars Hill gravitated toward higher liturgical traditions, perhaps in part because church mediated by screens really isn't church in quite the same way that a church service where the pastor or priest presents eucharist.

By now it's probably clear to those who have trudged through these posts inspired by Ellul that any megachurch could be described, almost by definition, as fitting the working definition of a propaganda machine as outlined by Ellul. It's not that liturgical churches can't participate in propaganda, that's hardly true at all. On the ther hand, if a church chooses to forsake propaganda a church that isn't a megachurch will have an easier time of it by dint of not being defined in practice by using the tools of propaganda. 

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