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…