What is Propaganda

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"If you cannot convince them, confuse them." - Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States

There has never been a more important time to explore the complex role of propaganda in contemporary society. Everyone needs this knowledge. Everybody needs to activate critical thinking and creativity and to deepen their understanding of media (including social media). Without the tools to deconstruct the world around you, you're disempowered. Most people wonder who's the sucker at the poker table of life. If you don't understand how to deconstruct and parse propaganda, odds are it's you and it'll always be you...

"Whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." - Mark Twain

Without at least some kind of training in dealing with propaganda we're at the mercy of having our thoughts programmed without our knowledge. The advance of psychometrics and microtargeting has made this an absolute imperative. Anyone not armed with techniques for handling the propaganda in everyday life is cannon fodder for manipulation.

The PROPAGANDA wiki aims to develop your critical approach to:

  • print and online media
  • mainstream and demographic news
  • information campaigns
  • advertisements
  • political rhetoric
  • snake-oil cult of the personality
  • demagogue populism
  • psychometrics

The PROPAGANDA wiki will help you master the ability to:

  • deconstruct how propaganda is used in everyday society
  • understand how propaganda is used to misinform, anger and incite people to hatred or xenophobia
  • evaluate and expose propaganda truth claims
  • parse deconstructed propaganda in its proper context
  • shield yourself against or manipulate microtargeting
  • see the dark heart of psychometrics and psychographic profiling from data harvesting
  • understand that propaganda is defined in different ways depending on the culture, time period, and the context
  • recognize that propaganda activates strong emotions, simplifies ideas, appeals to audience needs, and values, and targets opponents
  • develop a sense of social responsibility for the appropriate sharing of propaganda
  • gain confidence in expressing views and in participating in discussions of controversial topics where people have differences of opinion
  • reflect on propaganda’s potentially beneficial or harmful nature and its impact on individuals and society

"Life is like a poker game and any time you look around the table and can't tell who the sucker is, it's you." - Paul Newman

INTRODUCTION

Propaganda is typically introduced to us in the history lessons at school, e.g. the authoritarian regimes from the 20th century such us Nazism and the Soviet Union. We get taught about propaganda as an instrument used to achieve mass consensus on a national scale. Personality cults (Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao) and easily recognizable, ever-recurring symbols (swastika, Uncle Sam war recruitment, communist art, Big Brother). This may be a useful primer but frankly, it doesn't equip us - as adults - to identify, deconstruct, and parse the evolved universal propaganda of the 21st century.

In the modern era, where the propaganda tactics adopted to spread a message have grown more and more refined, concealed, and persuasive, the minute we stop observing with a critical eye, we have already been persuaded. We are most vulnerable to the modern phenomenon of propaganda if we haven't received training in seeing it, deconstructing it, and hopefully using our critical thought and independent judgment to understand its methods and its true message. It's only when we perceive the true message that we're able to decide how to react. Anything less and we're pawns, to be manipulated by forces outside of our control.

Most of the time - and this is valid for the youth no less than for adults - we don't have time to patiently sort through every piece of information presented to us so that we may derive our own solution. Therefore, more often than we can imagine, we let ourselves absorb propaganda passively. This is a very dangerous habit.

This course is designed to provide you with the tools to no longer be at the mercy of propaganda, to see how it works, to understand its techniques and to decide - once you see the wood for the trees - what it means to your personal outlook, politics and everyday life choices.

(image: propaganda-definitions3.png)

Edward Bernays, one of the fathers of the concept of public relations and author of the 1928 publication “Propaganda”, is used as a starting point for modern propaganda. Its presentation has changed much in the last hundred years, as has the sheer volume of 'stuff' a person is bombarded by every day.

"In the ethical sense, Propaganda bears the same relation to education as to business or politics. It may be abused. It may be used to over-advertise an institution and to create in the public mind artificial values. There can be no absolute guarantee against its misuse." - Edward Bernays, Propaganda (1928)

This course will help you develop an awareness of how propaganda is used in everyday society. In this chapter, you'll develop an understanding of the easy in which propaganda is used to misinform, anger and incite people to hatred or xenophobia. Moreover, this course should inculcate a skeptical approach to truth claims made by propaganda and give you a way to train your mind to unconsciously parse fact from fiction, motive from the message.

Fortunately, on the whole, the methods of propaganda can be distilled into manageable rules. Know the methods, train yourself to effortlessly apply the rules and you'll see the truth behind the presentation. It's no exaggeration to say this may be the most important social skill of our time and the difference between living as an unknowing plaything of propaganda and taking control of your thoughts and environment as an independent free human being.

Contemporary Definitions of Propaganda

Neil Postman once wrote that of all the words we use to talk about talk, the word “propaganda” is the most mischievous. That’s because the word has a wide variety of definitions. Consider the definitions below to identify common features of propaganda and notice how the definition has developed and changed over time:

1. Propaganda is one means by which large numbers of people are induced to act together. -Bruce Lannes Smith and Harold Lasswell, authors of Propaganda, Communication and Public Opinion, 1946

2. Propaganda is a form of information that panders to our insecurities and anxieties. - Jacques Ellul, author of Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, 1962

3. Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist. - Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, authors of Propaganda and Persuasion, 1986

4. Propaganda is intentionally-designed communication that invites us to respond emotionally, immediately, and in an either-or manner. - Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, 1994

5. Propaganda is a form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. - Richard Alan Nelson, author of A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States, 1996

6. Propaganda is indifferent to truth and truthfulness, knowledge and understanding; it is a form of strategic communication that uses any means to accomplish its ends. - Walter Cunningham, author of The Idea of Propaganda, 2002

7. Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position. - Wikipedia, entry on propaganda, 2008

8. Propaganda appears in a variety of forms. It is strategic and intentional as it aims to influence attitudes, opinions, and behaviors. Propaganda can be beneficial or harmful. It may use truth, half-truths, or lies. To be successful, propaganda taps into our deepest values, fears, hopes, and dreams. - Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach, authors of The State of Deception, 2009

Propaganda is normally defined as a set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviors of large groups of people such as nations (aka public opinion). It is an attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitive thought, and direct behavior towards the goals of the propagandist. The key idea to create an artificial reality which is completely bogus but still can help to shape public opinion. Propagandists emphasize the elements of information that support their position and deemphasize or exclude those that do not.

The word propaganda (in its modern sense) originated in the Catholic church: New Latin, from Congregatio de propaganda fide Congregation for propagating the faith, organization established by Pope Gregory XV †1623 - First Known Use: 1718