Each and every day we are subject to propaganda, yet many of us are oblivious to the fact that we are being manipulated so frequently. In light of compelling information and evidence which supports largely predictable outcomes, propaganda can be used to confuse, obstruct, and distract individuals and society from clearly understanding the issues at hand. As we face serious and interconnected challenges, it is important to understand the role propaganda plays in society.
Propaganda is a form of communication geared towards manipulating and influencing the mindset of individuals through a series of emotionally charged messages. It can be used to either promote certain causes or to negatively influence and persuade people to support various ideological positions. Propaganda is powerful because everyone is susceptible to it. Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, author of the best-selling book Influence, outlines why people don’t realise they are being subject to propaganda: “In order to deal with it, we need shortcuts. We cannot be expected to recognise and analyse all the aspects in each person, event, and situation we encounter in even one day. We do not have the time, energy, or capacity to process the information; and instead we must often use our stereotypes, our rules of thumb to classify things according to a few key features and then to respond without thinking when one or another of these trigger feature are present.”(1)
Apart from the inability to disseminate large volumes of information, the main difficulty in distinguishing propaganda from other types of biases is in its subjectivity. For one party the information communicated may be seen as educational, yet for the other party it may be seen as propaganda. Propaganda is about presenting facts and information selectively and impartially so that the message elicits an emotional response. Propaganda is everywhere and is disseminated through media outlets, by politicians, by governments, educational institutions, corporations and through the entertainment industry. Here are some great quotes from Orwell, Chomsky, Pilger, Smith, and Vidal who understand the role propaganda plays in society.
Propaganda in War and Terrorism
“One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” George Orwell
“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: You liberate a city by destroying it. Words are used to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.” Gore Vidal
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” George Orwell
Propaganda in Business and Corporations
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” Noam Chomsky
“People who own the society, the merchants and manufacturers, they are the architects of government policy and they design it in their own interest of course no matter how grievous the effect is on others. The point of corporate propaganda and the educational system is to instill these beliefs and it works pretty well.” Adam Smith
“There is massive propaganda for everyone to consume. Consumption is good for profits and consumption is good for the political establishment.” Noam Chomsky
“The major western democracies are moving towards corporatism. Democracy has become a business plan, with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies — socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor — and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war. This is not democracy. It is to politics what McDonalds is to food.” John Pilger
Propaganda in Journalism
“Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the ‘official truth.’ They simply cipher and transmit lies. It really grieves me that so many of my fellow journalists can be so manipulated that they become really what the French describe as ‘functionaries,’ functionaries, not journalists. Many journalists become very defensive when you suggest to them that they are anything but impartial and objective. The problem with those words ‘impartiality’ and ‘objectivity’ is that they have lost their dictionary meaning. They’ve been taken over… [they] now mean the establishment point of view… Journalists don’t sit down and think, ‘I’m now going to speak for the establishment.’ Of course not. But they internalise a whole set of assumptions, and one of the most potent assumptions is that the world should be seen in terms of its usefulness to the West, not humanity.” John Pilger
How to Avoid Being Manipulated by Propaganda
“I try to encourage people to think for themselves, to question standard assumptions… Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin by taking a sceptical attitude toward anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself.” Noam Chomsky
“Citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self-defence to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for meaningful democracy.” Noam Chomsky
Source: excerpts from Rethink…Your world, Your future.
(1) Cialdini, Robert, Influence Science and Practice, New York, Harper Collins 1993, p7.
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