April 07, 2010

Power and Propaganda

“The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

- Noam Chomsky

The word ‘propaganda’ originally referred to the propagation of plants and animals. It took on new meaning in the 17th century when the Papacy established the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for Propagating the Faith), to systematically spread Catholic doctrine throughout the world to win new converts and stem the rising tide of Protestantism. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12456a.htm

The modern political sense of the term ‘propaganda’ dates from World War I when propaganda techniques were discovered as a powerful weapon for shaping public opinion and behaviour. During WW1 the governments of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, the United States, Germany, and Austria-Hungary employed writers, artists, and filmmakers to craft political messages aimed at mobilizing their populations for war, weakening the enemy’s morale and will to fight, and at winning over audiences in neutral countries. In the USA, the Creel Committee, which included Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud), devised a pro-war propaganda campaign which produced an intense anti-German hysteria within six months. http://web.utk.edu/~glenn/CreelCommittee.html

Propaganda also became the subject of serious discussion and intellectual study in Germany. Adolf Hitler, leader of an obscure right-wing extremist party in Bavaria, wrote, "Propaganda is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert." The Nazis subsequently eliminated the "marketplace of ideas" through terror and media manipulation and mobilized propaganda as a weapon to unite the German people around a leader and to facilitate aggression, mass murder, and genocide.

Modern propaganda draws upon techniques and strategies used in advertising, public relations, communications, and mass psychology. It simplifies complicated issues or ideology for popular consumption, is usually biased, and is geared to achieving a particular end. Propaganda generally employs symbols, whether in written, musical, or visual forms, and plays upon complex human emotions. It is employed by governments and private organizations to promote causes and institutions and scorn their opponents. It is deployed to obtain your vote.

Chomsky’s theory (1988) postulates three main classes of "filters" that determine the type of news that is presented in news media: Ownership of the medium, the medium's funding, and sourcing of the news. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Chomsky stated that the new filter replacing communism would be terrorism and Islam. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Political_Economy_of_the_Mass_Media

Propaganda is a powerful weapon in war. It is used in insidious ways to dehumanize and create hatred toward a supposed enemy, either internal or external, by creating a false image in the mind. This can be done by using derogatory or racist terms, avoiding certain words and by making allegations of enemy atrocities. Most propaganda wars require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an injustice, which may be fictitious or factual - it does usually matter which in the battle of words.

Propaganda is generally an appeal to emotion, not intellect. Disinformation about the history of certain groups or foreign countries may be either encouraged or tolerated in the educational system. Few people double-check what they learn at school, and this disinformation will be repeated by journalists as well as parents, thus reinforcing the idea that the disinformation is really a well-known fact. Paradoxically, no one repeating the myth is able to point to an authoritative source. This permeating propaganda can be used for political goals by giving citizens a false impression of the quality or life, or the policies of their country.

Media such as daily news coverage, advertisements, videos, pictures, polls, and various others are indirectly controlled by the news media. People are more and more focusing on the great soap opera known as the news, which is often seen as a credible source. The aim of the propagandist is to create the semblance of credibility.

George Orwell's novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are widely seen as textbooks on the use of propaganda. These books are about totalitarian regimes that constantly corrupt language for political purposes.

Propaganda is also used in psychological warfare, which may involve false flag operations. The term propaganda may also refer to false information meant to reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the propagandist wishes. If people believe something false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual's predisposition to self-select "agreeable" information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control.

What sets propaganda apart from other forms of advocacy is the willingness of the propagandist to change people's understanding through deception and confusion rather than persuasion and understanding. Not to be overlooked is the link between propaganda, indoctrination, and terrorism/counterterrorism. Threats to destroy are often as socially disruptive as physical devastation itself.

Television and the Internet have increased the speed and spread of information globally. Websites and other online media now reach hundreds of millions of people throughout the world and have become major propaganda vehicles for private and governmental organizations. In the face of such a relentless and skilful media barrage, we must now, more than ever, carefully and critically evaluate the information we receive in order to become better informed citizens capable of making our own decisions for the future.