The propaganda society

In the final years of the Soviet Union, as I’ve mentioned before I think, everybody in the Russian Empire knew that half of what they read in the ironically-titled Pravda (Truth) was nothing but lies. The problem for truth was that they had litle way of knowing which half was false. The trouble for national morale has been well observered by British ex-psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple:

In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.” — Theodore Dalrymple

Well, that may not be an alien concept to regular readers here. I’ve been majoring on the pervasive propaganda in our culture, in various areas, for much of the past year, and have explored the mechanics of deceptive PR occasionally over a much longer period.

But I’ve seen myself as a contrarian voice on such things. Though I’ve been aware that movements like populism have arisen from grass-roots disillusion with the West’s “Liberal Establishment,” I’ve considered that, and therefore my own skepticism about our institutions, to be a fringe view. That, after all, is why I’ve deemed it worthwhile to raise a flag here, in the hope of getting other people to investigate for themselves and come to agree.

However, I was surprised by an episode in church yesterday, of all things in the children’s talk given by an excellent young teenager named Paul, who was given his first opportunity to lead a service. He gave his kid’s talk on the question of “trust,” and was working up to a fairly commonplace demonstration of getting one of his cronies to submit to a possible drenching on the platform, trusting that Paul would keep his promise that she would stay dry (she did).

To introduce his talk, he asked the congregation, “Who do you trust?” His very first example was, “Do you trust the News?” And from my vantage point as a musician on the platform, I could see that in that mixed, very ordinary, congregation of 100 predominantly middle-class Baptists, nobody raised their hands. Not one. There were some shaken heads, and maybe two people wobbled their hands at half-mast and cocked their heads, in that common expression of equivocation. Even Boris Johnson got more votes than that.

Now, when I was working I was always pleased that in surveys GPs usually came out leading the “trust” ratings, ahead of politicians, journalists and even priests. But to discover that nobody in my church is willing to express any trust in the news (which, in Paul’s unqualified question, predominantly means the BBC news) was a shock to me.

And it is probably a sign that the general population, at least in non-metroplitan Britain, is as cynical about what they are told as Russians were in the days of Brezhnev. And that is not a good sign for “the body politic,” because a nation that is perceived to be operating on the basis of propaganda (to the extent that the BBC has become a universally untrusted source), rather than of truth, cannot be healthy. It is a recipe for apathy and decline at best, and violent insurrection at worst.

Now, in the interests of honesty I must add that in other contexts there is less cynicism: one of my jazz bandmates had no conception of bias in the BBC until I pointed him to a video by Robin Aitken, and he admitted he had never noticed it because he himself is a liberal academic – a metropolitan transplanted to a rural community. And there are many like him, not least because folks like me like to retire to the countryside when we’ve made our pile or fled from our rat-race burnout.

But if law-abiding, bourgeois Baptists don’t trust the system enough to raise a hand for it, then we have an ultimately unsustainable situation on our hands, which Brexit will not solve, and still less the machinations of the élite to prevent Brexit.

How does one roll back a world that has become entirely organised around propaganda?

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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