Jason Stanley, “The Ways of Silencing”

July 22, 2011 § 18 Comments

Article from The Stone (NYT) about media control, propaganda, and the issue of trust, with a follow-up from Stanley responding to commenters.


§ 18 Responses to Jason Stanley, “The Ways of Silencing”

  • Mai Quynh Ta says:

    Stanley brings a great point: “The erosion of the trust required for reasoned debate. If it is generally held that no one is sincere in their assertions, there is no longer reason to take truth to be a norm for one’s own utterances”.

    Stanley describes the “bizarre and improbable claims about public figures” which “misappropriated and meanings twisted” as silencing and “stealing the voices of others”. In my opinion, he successfully reasons the latter part but the “silencing” part, I don’t quite get it. How do substantive claims play a role in silencing? If he could give his definition of silencing, his article would be more clear.

    The most important thing I got out of this article is that the issue of information controlling to the public. Unlike the filter bubble video of Praiser, this article and the one of Chomsky touch on politics. I think this channel is more important because everyone can control and change it somehow but with politics, while it is important, we don’t have many ways to confirm the information or to choose what in and out.

  • Lan Nguyen says:

    The article discusses about beliefs as silence which changes the nature of the argument. I value the Stanley’s response more than his original post in a way he addressed the arguments against and for his point. Going further from those responses which agree with Fox example, he asserted that it is still right that Fox is counter-balancing – biased even if every other news outlets do the same thing. I agree with him when he claimed it was a problem that since we all believed there were no possibility of non-biased assertion in the public arena, news outlet could continually counter-balance ideological messages instead of producing balanced news. According James Rachel, the Cultural Difference Argument states that we cannot validly move from premises about what people believe to be the case to a conclusion about what is the case because people or even whole societies can be wrong. Let alone in this case, people even do not believe it is morally right to counter-balance the news.
    Developing from his original post, he wanted to note what the real problem is. He does not want to hold the blame on anyone but rather to point out how the loss of trust could damage the speech. I agree with him that news, politics arena or maybe Hollywood over-indulge in speech unconstrained by the norm of truth which leads to the belief of general gross insincerity. Those arenas should be constrained as workplace or other fields so that they are obliged to provide knowledge of sincerity despite the suspicion of their audiences.

  • prj32 says:

    Although I agree with some of the readers who thought that Stanley’s examples were not strong enough to support his point, I think that the topic he addresses is very prominent in today’s world. Picking up on some of the explanations he gave about the term “silencing,” I would define it as the act of manipulating a message regardless of the mean that is being used. I think that propaganda is probably one of the best elements to illustrate silencing. Politicians, news correspondents, and regular individuals are able to play around with words to present a message whose meaning is far from being straight-forward and true.

    Reading this article reminded me of George Orwell’s 1984 novel since it greatly focuses on the ability we have to twist words around and mislead others. Furthermore, I believe that this is the worst kind of silencing because it is done with the greatest level of intention and awareness of the consequences it may bring. Whenever governments try to come up with terms that refer to concerning situations and try to put it into nicer words (Ex: “tax cut” vs. “tax relief”) I feel as if they are intentionally trying to deceive citizens. Stanley also points out that the importance on this topic relies on the consequences the act of silencing might bring, which is a loss of trust among individuals. I think that this loss of trust might lead to uncertainty and conflict among people, which could affect the overall social stability of entire countries.

  • jeromiharris says:

    After reading the two articles, I felt it talked about many things we have discussed and gone over in class. The first being the premise that were used to against Obama, like we discussed in class weak premises such as those only weaken one’s argument not strengthen it. Just as Jason Stanley stated is not really arguing it is more of just silencing your opposition. Another topic we learned in class I noticed was the FOX NEWS example. I thought it was similar to that of EIi Pariser’s filter bubble example. That we are allowing ourselves to be place into a filter believing only what the authority of the government & journalist want us to believe instead of having the inquiry as Charles Peirce would call it to find the truth. Or the fact that politicians use tenacity to assert political views that they themselves may not believe, but to win votes or silence their opponents make it seem as if they do believe. The last thing I wanted to point was how Stanley made it aware of how politician use stipulative definitions in their speeches. The example he used was about Victor Klemperer and his book, The Language of the Third Reich. Like how he compared the word heroic during the time of WW II to how we use the word freedom today as a use of propaganda.

  • rdl37 says:

    I am not sure I entirely agree with Stanley here. While I do believe words and the context in which they are used have a way to sway individuals in their opinions I think more credit needs to be given to the listeners. Most reasonable individuals will not be mislead by phrases like tax relief, and the death tax. I think that the words used over or under dramatize the actions that are being taken but the meanings are still conveyed. They will still illicit specific emotions and for any self thinking individual will evoke the need to explore the situation deeper. This will then allow them to create their own opinions so they can be voiced. The use of these dramatic phrases does not really silence or change anybodies mind or opinions. Most people who pay attention to the world of politics already have formed opinions on these matters and the use of misleading words will not silence or dissuade them. Of course this is not always true, the case of the third Reich and heroism is a valid one. However, I feel many supporting opinions were already formed and the use of this language had minimal impact on there beliefs.

  • Tinamarie Rintye says:

    Jason Stanily presents the argument that outlandish statements discredited not only the source of those statements but the party the statement refers too and then silences further discussion. It sort of reminds me of the book 1984 where the government systematically gets rid of words from the dictionary to force individual to talk in a certain way or not at all. It fascinating that people still feel government is doing this, mind you that book was written in 1948 just after WWII and the beginning of reform in Europe as statement to what the governments were doing. I can agree to a certain point in this article about silencing being used as propaganda to persuade ideas. Take the new term being used about taxes “tax revenue” with the debate over debt ceiling, another interest political word. They invent a semi-happy word so the public will agree to tax raises although polling shows Americans are ok with it for they feel it will help the economy. Although I feel Stanily leaving out the element of taking self responsible to outlandish claims, the public can be reasonable and intelligent. This article lacks that claim that a person can decipher the claim to be untrue or a bit extreme, which I believe weaken his argument. In my example I illustrate that the public can be responsible for themselves and sound decisions and even agree to a few hardships. I wish Stanily would have used such an example or try not to relay so much the “power of language” for more people understand that power and are now defending themselves to it.

  • Steve Ford says:

    I think the author makes some good points about silencing; however, with some points I do not entirely agree. The example about the speech act towards women confused me a little. I do not see where pornography can lead to men thinking a woman doesn’t mean what she says. I know that there are many scenarios where rape is performed in pornography, but I think men know that the individuals are being paid to have sex with each other and the scene was written this way. I feel that pimps have a stronger effect on the treatment of women then pornography does. Pimps do not care what women think and only use women for the business and personal endeavors.
    I like the propaganda example, but I believe every message has some sort of hidden agenda whether it is for good or bad. Propaganda is probably the best means for silencing. When people watch Fox news I think they know that the news is being portrayed the way the tv station wants it to be. It is up to the person watching to decide how he/she wants to take that news. As far as American politics goes, people know that they are lying and we just have to accept that.

  • Kathy Wu says:

    The quote “It is possible to silence people by denying them access to the vocabulary to express their claims.” reminds me of the book 1984 where The Party creates the language Newspeak to control the people. In the book, potentially dangerous words are eliminated completely and other words are condensed to simple terms with no connotative meanings. The examples that Stanley uses “Freedom” and “Heroism” still exist, so people are not denied access to them. The emotions evoked from these words may not be as powerful because of the overuse of the word, but the user of the word causes this change. Stanley claims that one person’s overuse of a word will effect society’s view on that word. He uses the example of Fox and their “fair and balanced” slogan to explain this claim. However there is no proof that Fox’s hypocritical slogan is the reason people lose trust in the media.

  • smb366 says:

    I actually had to re-read Stanley’s argument two times before I actually understood what he was arguing. I think Tina talked about this in her post, but I also immediately thought of 1984 when reading Stanley’s argument about Victor Klemperer, in his book “The Language of the Third Reich and how certain words were used during that time period that mean different things today. In 1984, the government removes words from the dictionary to have individuals in their society talk in certain and to not say specific words. I do agree with Stanley on the idea of silencing being used to further certain ideas to crush other ones, however, I am still skeptical. Stanley discusses the Fox channel and how it engages in silencing and how the audiences of Fox news know fully that they are not getting the entire truth. Isn’t that the way all news outlets are? I am confused as to what point of bringing Fox up had to do with his argument. I wish Stanley would have gone into a little more detail about Fox and silencing because he pretty much stated a fact that Fox engages in silencing and that the public knows it and that is it. Throughout this entire article I had hoped that Stanley would have defined silencing in his own terms because he gave examples of silencing however he never came out and said, this is what I define silencing as. I do think that the Eli Pariser and the Filter Bubble can be compared to Stanley and silencing, however Stanley compares silencing and politics which is something that Pariser never touched on.

  • davidhanaway says:

    I really dont think that Stanley argues his point that well at all. After reading the entry I was confused and have unanswered questions. First off I don’t understand how pornography has an affect on people when women say no to sexual acts. When a woman refuses a sexual act how does porn change the view of mens opinions? I really don’t feel as if Stanley showed this very well. He said that, ” to employ a speech act by representing that person or group as insincere in their use of it.” How is saying no insincere to when a woman actually doesn’t want to be invovled in a sexual act? And how does porn make us insincere to this?

    Later in the article Stanley did say a few things that I agreed with. Such as demonstrating how the government sways the public’s opinion such as in the 2003 invasion of Iraq’s naming it Operation Freedom. I really believe that the government named it Operation Freedom in order to better sway the public’s opinion on it. They could have named it the battle of Iraq, similarly to historical battles or wars but they didn’t. But how does this silence the public’s view on it? I think a better way of describing it that the government tries to control our voices and conform our voice to whatever they want us to think.

  • Undermining one another is what we do all the time especially in politics, it sad to see someone’s word taken so far out of context just to make a person look bad. People are always trying to get ahead in life but because of this, in my opinion, childish act it really holds people back. Because of this I really liked the arguments that Stanley is trying to make until he mentioned the book about the Third Reich. I am sure that the points he was trying to make were good ones but to me it seemed weird bringing that up, it just seemed inappropriate to me but again that is just my opinion. From that book however he does mention how the some points relate back to propaganda now a days, from health care reform and taxes. When he breaks down specific words later on in the piece I find that bringing up Operation Iraqi Freedom is not that great of an idea only because it was for freedom and I believed that at the time it was a good thing so I feel that his argument does not work in that sense. For his reference to that taxes and the different terms for tax cuts I agree with everything and I feel that by changing the name the meaning should not change.

    This piece was very eye opening but as I wrote earlier some of the things mention I feel should have been left out because of the reaction people would have to them. But since it is an opinion piece I understand and in the overall it got the point across.

  • lauracava says:

    Words may be missapropriated, but I also believe that it is partly listeners fault. I’m not saying that I dont agree with him, but he also needs to realize that by expressing meanings in such a way attracts peoples attention. They don’t always twist meanings, more I notice that they leave stories out. Talking about the war and how they named it “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was smart on the governments part, but I also believe that when they give reports on it they take out major events that would change the opinions of American people. People aren’t shown how many soldiers and citizens are killed everyday from pointless acts of violence. The media tries to portray the war as making a difference when in reality no one is really seeing how little we have actually done for the amount of years and number of innocent lives that have been lost. It is hard for people to argue why we are over there when the government has given the war such a name that makes us second guess ourselves. I also believe that it is not only to do with the media, but the government plays a large role in how the media is to present their information. The media can give bold titles to their stories, but need to watch that they aren’t upsetting the people. We need to see it as a business as well. There is competition between news channels in which they are fighting for the most consumers. Listeners need to realize when giving into the information that is shown it may be twisted around. It is their priority to tell us what is going on in the world, but also they need to win listeners over with their stories and information.

  • Evan Samlin says:

    These articles reminded me of our in-class discussion on stipulative definitions. Terms like “freedom” have been applied much differently in the last couple of decades; it now has a much more positive connotation. This is not random, and when it is used to describe our goal of invading Iraq, it is meant to influence us by quieting the voice in our head (silencing seems a bit extreme) that would otherwise try to analyze it objectively. It’s as if the government presented an argument to the American people, and started it by saying, “We want to spread freedom all over the world, including in Iraq. For the purposes of this argument, freedom means ‘living in a democratic, American-style society, whether or not one wants to.'” As with the “flash mob” example in class, it matters what the conflict in Iraq is called, and how we argue for and against that name.

  • The article did bring up interesting arguments, particularly with the idea of language dictated our capabilities to communicate. As someone earlier pointed out, it reminds me almost of 1984 and it’s uses of euphemisms, particularly with the department of peace or, if you look at our real life government, what you’ll see is the “defense department” (even though many of their actions are hardly in defense.) All these comparisons all bring up our discussions on metaphors and how often, people tend to recklessly throw them into their arguments.

    Yet this also greatly reminds me of the Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis. A cultural sociological/anthropological term, its core belief is that our language has a direct impact in how we see and interact with the world. Wether this is seen in 1930’s Nazi propaganda or the current, hotile political atmosphere (tax hikes versus entitlements?), I believe his article and response does catch on to an increasingly reoccurring practice.

    – Cliff Drake

  • Stanley bring up and interesting point when he talks about people being denied thee access to the vocabulary to express their claims. And explains it further by using the examples of tax relief and Operation Iraqi Freedom. From an observer’s stand point it is very difficult to argue against either of those phrases on the surface but I believe that only applies to the surface. After giving it more thought though the name may convey a positive message, the issue still retains a negativity and it is that negativity that an observer would discuss. I would not say that because a name sounds positive I am not going to address the underlying issue. In regards to dissuading the the trust of political figures using underarmed techniques, and smearing their credibility, Stanley is spot on. For without the backing of the public politicians are in essence useless, that is the reason certain events have been covered up.

  • Anqi Li says:

    I’m entirely agree with what Mai said:”The most important thing I got out of this article is that the issue of information controlling to the public”. Honestly, I cannot realize all paragraphs in Stanley’s article, but in my opinion, Stanley is trying to argue about “say what” and the social influence which done by it. Just like the President Obama example, Stanley says if Obama is born in Kanya, then the American has no reason to believe what he said in any situation. This example gives me a question: does the background information influence the public belief? This question really confused me a lot, and I didn’t fine exactly answer for it. However, to have a whole view of the article, I have a different understanding about the relationship between word(or information) and the public. I used to think that the information, or the word, influences the public by media, or public presentation; but after reading Stanley’s article, I think the information doesn’t change people’s view, information unlocks people’s brains so that they can have more space to relate many information fragments together, and then they have a new opinion. These two things sound like the same thing, in some situation, but I believe the first one is more likely to a brainwashing which done or influenced by the surrounding, and the second one, is like a personal activity, and the information is just a “primacord”.

  • sfh35 says:

    Stanley’s article finally gave me a name to describe what we all innately knew about the way politicians spin things, silencing. Politicians use the manipulation of our language to make the not so nice things sound a little bit better. The manipulation of language is an art and its artists are the politicians using their linguistic strategies to paint a pretty picture, turning lead into political gold.

    I feel that Stanley’s claim that citizens who grow up in a state in which the authorities deliver propaganda have no experience with trust is a bit dramatic. Someone had to initially instill the mistrust in the authorities. The opposing party attempting to undermine the oppressive authority could have cultivated this mistrust. One must educate themselves on the issues at hand and the topics politicians are conversing about. It is then up to you to filter through the bullshit and the side spinning, deflecting language the politicians and the news media use to make everything smell like roses. I believe regardless of whether your news source has giving you reason to mistrust it or not, you must always question what “news” you are being told. The news we are exposed to today, from Fox News or not, is conveyed with someone else’s agenda in mind. It is naive to think that any news source is totally reliable, especially via the Internet. What is the sad part is that the majority of the United States is not smart enough to see what and how our politicians and news sources manipulate and distort the truth in order to get you to think and reason in a certain way.
    For example in reading Stanley’s response to his readers, they begin to comment on his little jab at Fox News. They go on to discuss how Fox News’ actually covers the news, some defending and some agreeing with Stanley. The irony is in the fact that Stanley’s point was that Fox News re-defines the emotion and meaning attached to their claim “fair and balanced” when blatantly taking a rightist view on the political news. Thus ultimately undermining the belief that news stations and the media reports trustworthy, un-biased, “fair and balanced” news.

    I enjoyed reading Stanley’s article and he brings to light and defines things that we probably all have known in the back of our minds. Though I do believe that once again the responsibility falls on own shoulders to know when we are being silenced. It is up to you to educate yourself on these issues that are being masked and skewed by well placed adjectives.

  • Cheng-Hua Wang says:

    I agree with what Stanley says to a degree. This silencing effect the describes is a problem, but for the most part, I feel that people can reason these misleading thoughts out. If people simply observed things for what they were rather than taking in the silencing speech as fact many things could be more clear to people. For example, if Obama was actually born in Kenya or secretly an Islamist agent, would the many American agencies really allow him to run for the presidency, especially in this post September 11 era? Simply watching by FOX news, one can easily determine that they are not fair and highly biased based on the presentation of the news. Newscasters should be unbiased and deliver news for what it is, rather than interpreting and twisting it to serve their own purposes.

    Just from observing things in history, weather in class or media, I feel that silencing is an major part of all countries. Every government seems to want to keep its populace informed the way it wants them to be informed to better control them. Propaganda almost always depicts the enemy as inhuman or subhuman when they are most definitely human beings, but if people have never seen the enemy they may actually think that that was what the enemy was.

    I feel the effect of silencing will only decrease with the passage of time. With the development of more and more advanced communication technologies, facts are bound to become available to the masses. Today it is harder to keep people from accurate information. For example, Wikileaks is dedicated to making things known for what it is. It stands to reason that since there has been a trend of increased accurate information flow to the people of the world, the effect of silencing will decrease, provided that people are able to process information properly.

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