How to see through manipulations

A comment by Albrecht Müller.

In his new book „Glaube wenig, hinterfrage alles, denke selbst“ Albrecht Müller explains manipulation techniques and shows how to arm oneself against opinion-making.

Democracy sounds nice. In fact, it is hollowed out every day. We are all constantly pressed to think what others tell us. But one can free oneself from the undergrowth of manipulations. In my new book I describe numerous common methods of manipulation as well as cases of successful or attempted opinion-making and analyse the strategies behind them. It is time to become more sceptical, to believe little and to question everything. It is time to think for yourself again and to join forces with others.

Knowing the methods of manipulation that are common today helps to prevent oneself from becoming victims of opinion-making. Some approaches are old acquaintances, while others are based on more recent experiences. Often two or more methods are used simultaneously. One of these methods of influencing our thinking and feeling is to tell short stories. I would now like to go into this in more detail using a few examples.

Telling stories in a shortened way: Using the „shortened story telling method“, many people are constantly led astray. It determines the public debate in a significant way. On the basis of these manipulations, a series of political mistakes are made and covered up. Typical examples are:

When in Germany the relationship between the West and Russia is reported and spoken about, the fact that West and East agreed together in 1990 not to threaten each other any more and to base the relationship on the idea of common security is often forgotten. It had been agreed to disarm. It is now being acted as if these agreements did not exist, as if the whole policy of detente and peace did not exist.

And, of course, nothing is said about the breach of mutual promises. Nothing about the fact that even the expansion of NATO to the Russian border was a bad breach of trust. Nothing of the fact that and how the West tried to govern Russia’s internal affairs during the term of office of Russian President Yeltsin. Naomi Klein impressively reported on these incredible machinations in her book „Schock-Strategie“ (1). The book was published in Germany in 2007 and was surprisingly successfully forgotten.

In the assessment of Russian politics and in particular of President Putin, everything possible is cited, but not the fact that in September 2001 Putin made far-reaching offers for cooperation in a speech before the German Bundestag, partly in German (2). This does not fit into the picture, so it is not reported. Neither do the embarrassed faces of German cabinet members, from Joschka Fischer to Otto Schily, who were noticed that this peace offer did not suit them because their American friends had tuned them into confrontation.

Second example: The story of the Syrian conflict begins with the outrageous story that the Syrian „dictator“ – optionally „ruler“ – has barrel bombs thrown at Syrian children and the Russians randomly bomb Syrian cities including hospitals. The prehistory is not told: Not that the West had decided on a regime change in Syria and had paid and armed Islamists and terrorists for the deployment in Syria with the help of various Gulf states for this purpose. It is not reported that this conflict had already begun in 2011 and that Russia intervened only from September 2015 and at the request of the Syrian president. It is not said that Germany was also involved from 2015 at the latest (3), from 2011 Germany had already participated in sanctions against Syria and helped to starve the Syrian people. It goes without saying that neither the media nor the Federal Government reports that Germany is involved in almost all of these wars because of the use of US bases. And the news is also not being followed up that Germany – together with people who rightfully call themselves refugees – has also taken in Islamists from Syria (4).

Third example: The Ukraine conflict. Many media – and also Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (5) – date the Ukrainian crisis to Russia’s military support for the insurgents in Eastern Ukraine and to the annexation of the Crimea. Almost everything important that happened before is ignored: the aforementioned expansion of NATO to the Russian border, the attempt by the EU and NATO to include Ukraine including Crimea and thus Russia’s military base in Sevastopol in the EU and NATO area. The USA’s propaganda and – as they call it – democratic reconstruction work in Ukraine will be omitted. According to the responsible US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, they have invested 5 billion dollars – billions!, not millions – in Ukraine. The Western stagings of the Maidan, the circumstances of the coup d’état against the incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych and the influence of right-wing groups in Ukraine are not included in the narrative either. Nor is it explained what role the foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany, namely Steinmeier, played in Kiev in February 2014. All these interventions can be justified, but they cannot simply be omitted from the story.

Another example from a completely different world: almost everyone is taking part in the discussion of free trade agreements (TTIP, CETA) with a remarkable shortening. It is assumed from the outset that the further expansion of world trade makes sense. In doing so, it is concealed that we already have a considerable degree of world trade and that the much-cited globalisation is by no means as new as is claimed. In addition, it is concealed that national and international transport is causing ever greater problems, that it is an ecological burden, that we are certainly no longer able to cope with the truck fleets, and that, in addition, transport is often subsidised, at any rate does not bear the full costs, in other words is not only ecologically questionable but also economically questionable. What has happened to the debate on traffic avoidance? And where is the discussion about decentralising economic areas? Were all these irrelevant thoughts?

If you want to see through the events, arguments and interpretations, then you have to take these methods, in this case the method of a shortened narrative of a story to heart. Always check which facts are presented and which publications come into conflict with each other. Do not let others abuse you. Ask yourself about the whole story. Here, too, Naomi Klein’s book helps and animates in an exemplary way to see through the whole story of a process.

Picture source: © Liesa Johannsen

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