Passive absorption of propaganda

As is well known, a society’s worldview (and hence ours as individuals in it) is formed unconsciously. We absorb it, as blotting paper absorbs ink (or as a Kleenex absorbs snot, sometimes), rather than weighing the pros and cons of propositions and forming a judgement. That is why it is so hard, yet so important, to examine one’s most basic assumptions – that is, if you want to live by truth rather than societal convention.

Pervasive propaganda changes the calculus a bit, since unlike the societal sins that nobody thinks about (reliance on slaves, sacrificing children to Moloch, etc), somebody is consciously propagating narratives intended to change feelings and behaviour for the propagandist’s benefit.

There are many results of propaganda that are not altogether intuitive, one of which is that victims don’t simply believe particular information based on lies (“The Jews are dirty and are taking over our country – there was a film at the cinema about it,”) but they absorb an entire narrative unconsciously, thereby dictating that the whole way they see that particular aspect of the world complies with what is intended.

One unsubtle example is how vaccines are always “safe and effective,” and never “beneficial and low on side effects,” the repeated slogan becoming imprinted in the unwary mind so that it becomes very difficult to think the word “vaccine” without “safe and effective” appearing at the same time. The effect is to create cognitive dissonance, even mental incoherence, if some contrary evidence emerges. “Dangerously safe” or “effective but useless” do not compute, and the slogan got embedded first.

But slogans are relatively easy to resist – it is when they are buried in constantly repeated narratives that they become unconscious worldview assumptions. I have noticed that in some of this year’s Christmas letters from friends.

A newsletter from an erstwhile professional colleague, in the midst of family news, drops in “Putin’s dreadful activities in the Ukraine” for no obvious reason. Before you point out that the Ukraine War is in the news, I must note that before the last three years, none of this person’s Christmas letters mentioned world events at all – there was never a comment about the civil war in Syria, the genocide in Yemen, the 2009 recession, or anything else.

But in 2020, the year when in my estimation propaganda changed from being a blight on our news media to being the news, as well as in 2021, the Christmas letter was full of the required talking point of COVID. But unlike any Christmas letter I might have sent (and didn’t!) there was no analysis of the problem with the benefit of medical expertise; no questioning of the lockdowns, the vaccines, the masking, the testing, the economic damage, the demonisation of established drugs, or the loss of civil liberties. Instead there was simply stuff about concern for those who were suffering so badly from this dreadful virus.

The point was not that the sender expressed a particular opinion on the crisis, but that unconsciously they felt constrained to mention it (because it had been made a talking point), and to mention it in the “authorised” terms appropriate to a plague with plenty of victims, no villains, and no nuance.

Returning to 2022’s letter, it is notable that COVID has completely disappeared, as it has from the mass-media. If any of the sufferers mentioned in the last two years had ongoing problems, they are not mentioned. Instead, the only news mentioned is this year’s official talking point, the Ukraine war. And notice that in the brief, obligatory, mention, there is no considered opinion on the rights or wrongs, the folly of war, the escalation of funding and weaponry, or even British Commandos fighting in the theatre aginst all the conventions of warfare. Instead, the whole thing is “Putin’s dreadful activities,” picking up our propaganda-machine’s personalisation of Russia’s operations, which of course was from the outset intended to prepare the way for regime change in Moscow.

Putin, of course, is not in Ukraine, and hasn’t been throughout the conflict, so cannot be conducting activities there whether dreadful or otherwise. Nobody is mentioning Biden’s activities, or Sunak’s or Scholtz’s, activities in Ukraine. In fact even Zelensky is treated as a saintly figurehead somewhat above the conflict itself. He leads Ukraine, yes – but the war is between Ukraine and Putin, singlehandedly committing atrocities whilst, at the moment, beating the pants off the whole Ukrainian war machine.

In fact, the war is really between NATO and Russia, and was from the start, a truth that the Russians have acknowledged from early on, but which is still buried under our propaganda that nobody except Ukraine is at arms against Russia. The British Commandos, the Canadian trainers of the Nazi Azov troops, the US controllers of Himars launchers, the hundreds of slain Polish soldiers, and the stream of politicians going to Kiev to order Zelensky’s next moves, are all buried under the slogan “Putin’s dreadful acts.”

And simply because it is the required talking point, the average intelligent news follower absorbs the whole narrative unconsciously and dutifully includes it in Christmas newsletters! Such is the baleful influence of propaganda… but it is what it is, and isn’t Meghan and Harry’s Netflix thing awful…

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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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7 Responses to Passive absorption of propaganda

  1. shopwindows says:

    Standing on the shoulders of our forebears has been the mindset. Faced with thousands of plausible but unlikely alternatives what else is a busy person intent on achieving, extending knowledge to do?

    We consider it to be our professional competence that we can avoid examining irrelevant alternatives. No way are we guilty of more haste, less progress. And in the application of our professional judgement, our self aggrandised opinion of ourselves, we are proudly employing Edward de Bonos blotting paper description of our accumulated, overlaid decision taking contextual framework.

    Thereby merging subversive propaganda – and fake news – received consciously and subliminally with other more legitimate inputs.

    Yet occasionally we realise we have acted in haste and will repent at leisure, the bull has disturbed the China. The way to deal with this is with appropriate humility, contrition, not to double down? And in management to recognise that introverts are not inferior to extroverts.

    The term “conspiracy theory” post JFK is one of the greatest aids to opacity, stifling of truth, imposition of approved narratives – and persuading Joe Bloggs that everything is as the establishment would have us believe, that people are honest rather than duplicitous. Audi alterem partem.

    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      In the West (thank God, not over the whole world as I formerly feared!) we have something of a perfect storm, including:

      * Corrupt governments controlled by elites who, apart from anything else, comprise unaccountable intelligence services (and so cannot ever be exposed because “national security”).

      * Well developed and massively funded propaganda techniques (it’s no coincidence that “conspiracy theory” was coined by the CIA in the context of the Kennedy assassinations).

      * An ascendant ideology which dictates that ideology trumps, or rather is truth, so that it is immune to evidence (see this brief but excellent analysis by Melanie Phillips).

      * That ideology being, in one form or another, that of those in power, so that they really believe that anything counter to what they say is “misinformation” even as everything they say is evidence-free.

      It’s not surprising that all this captivates the general public, who have every right to expect (if plenty of evidence to refute) that they elect governments to serve them, that civil servants and intelligence agencies serve those elected governments, and that a free press keeps everything in check.

      But isn’t it interesting how little it takes to break it open? Donald Trump popularised the term “fake news,” and that simple phrase began a process of questioning for millions. The long game of anti-Trump propaganda, from Russiagate to Astroturf demonstrations when he visited here, to the FBI stage-managed insurrection and its reporting, may have got rid of Trump himself, but not the consciousness of “fake news.”

      • shopwindows says:

        Thankyou Jon. I’ve just watched the Melanie Philips video. Audi Alterem Partem essentially being innocent until proven guilty is thrown out. To dissent from the approved narrative is to be guilty of whatever Stalin chooses to hang you for. Her analysis is chilling but absolutely reflective of events this last few years.

        • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

          The good news is that because you can’t live in defiance of reality, still less an entire nation or an entire culture, this madness will not continue for that long. Unfortunately, we do not know how long “that long” may be!

  2. Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

    Another factor to consider is how long-term the trickle of propaganda is – it’s the one thing the devils get right.

    Consider how most Britons are quite sure Putin is a villainous dictator out to take over the world. Why? They have good reason, because somewhere in their memory he took over the Crimea (oh, but that was in response to the NATO power-play in Ukraine); he occupied Syria (actually Russia supported the legitimate government against a US invasion Turkish invaders called in); he nobbled the US election to get Trump into power (oh – it was actually Clinton who invented that story out of wholecloth and dissident Russian disinformation); he poisoned the Skripals (but the UK story has holes like Swiss cheese in it); and now he started an entirely unprovoked war in Ukraine (which as Jeffrey Sachs points out actually started 8 years before because of the NATO coup aforementioned). Censorship of proper information on that war, of course, enables our gutter press like the Telegraph and the Guardian to paint Putin as a one-man-war-crime, and his military as on its last legs and easy to beat with a bit of spunk.

    The point here is that, as NATO has escalated the conflict into a boots-on-the-ground proto-World War, it isn’t just UK public sentiment acquiescing in tax-pounds going into weapons that results. No, it means that when they provoke a full-on total war, the British public will go along with sending their troops, and then their conscripts, and then the body-bags, into Ukraine, just as they were enticed to do in 1914 by equally xenophobic propaganda.

    Once that happens, of course, you won’t read blogs like this any more, because the silencing regime will make Twitter and Facebook look like libertarians.

  3. Peter Hickman says:

    ‘People would rather believe than know.’ E.O. Wilson

    I’ve just read Benjamin Abelow’s booklet (only 70 pages) on How the West Brought War to Ukraine. It’s a concise readable summary of all of the facts and history that the Western MSM would never tell us, and that people do not want to know.

  4. Robert Byers says:

    Propaganda is historic and accusations of it likewise. The reality is that mankind trusts trusted sources for info. whether media, gov’t, or anything. Who is independent in weighing the evidence? Its just people who in some subject they know discover propaganda from a trusted source. it will nevdr end. Mankind must trust someone else for stuff we know not the truth. the answer to it must be big mouths who , like lawyers, can take on the trusted source. tHis can be done. We do it here on this blog. The only issue is reaching more people.

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