People rely heavily on U.S. news and the opinions of U.S. doctors, scientists, researchers, and political analysts, but how do we know that this information isn’t propaganda. If we look at a different country’s news covering the same event or issue, what would it look like?
The U.S. is the so-called land of the free, the home of the brave, but is that even true? The U.S. government is the so-called protector of our rights, but is that even true? Are we propagandized to believe this? We live in the United States of America, which is governed by the United States government, the State – does it merit such governance – does it preserve our freedom, does it embrace the brave, or does it, on the contrary, take away our freedoms and disparage the brave? Are we the victims of Stockholm syndrome? Do we hold a love/loyalty relationship to the State which violates our rights and commits violence on us?
It’s so easy for people to recognize that North Korea or China has a tyrannical government, but if other nations view us as having a tyrannical government – an imperialist country that occupies many parts of the world – is that propaganda, or do they have a point? How do we know whether what we are told or taught is not propaganda? Research and evidence? What if the research is not conclusive or robust but passed off as such? What if the data is manipulated to represent significant findings? What if specific research that promotes specific agendas and worldviews is prioritized and much more greatly funded by the government? What if scientific studies that conflict with these specific agendas and worldviews are suppressed, and their researchers are excommunicated from the scientific community?
Just as propaganda is present in other countries that we would intuitively find dubious, the same goes for the U.S., and it’s flushed out by the corporate press and by people of high regard like philanthropists, doctors, scientists, researchers, professors, government agents, and political analysts.
If we take a historical look at propaganda, it had a neutral connotation during its inception – the Oxford English Dictionary defined it as “any association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice.” It meant to propagate information and beliefs – to spread information in hopes that it would flourish. During World War I, all nations utilized the available media to rile people up to support and defend their nation for the war effort – they were using propaganda to promote their own nation’s values and platitudes, and it was not viewed as malicious.
Although the United States and the United Kingdom were using their own subversive, propagandistic tools to fanaticize their people into war, the word propaganda began to develop these malevolent and subliminal undertones when the U.S. and the UK began to demonize the Germans and the Prussians. The Germans and the Prussians were also using the media to call their citizens to action in defense of their country for the war effort, but their effort to do this was seen as malicious and sinister, especially when the U.S. and the UK characterized the Germans and Prussians as barbarians tossing Belgian babies into the air and catching them with their bayonets.
Edward Bernays highlights this as the origin of how propaganda is used today – to disparage groups of people – to deceive people into believing false premises – to drive people in certain directions of belief and action. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, was involved in advertising campaigns for Procter & Gamble, the American Tobacco Company, Cartier Inc., CBS, the United Fruit Company, General Electric, Dodge Motors, the U.S. Public Health Service, and several other large corporate entities.
In his book “Propaganda”, Bernays highlights the many ways that we have been propagandized our entire lives, and more specifically – that this has been more proactively happening since World War 1. If in the late 1920s, Bernays recognized this as a problem. How big of an issue is it now almost a century later? How much more hidden and subversive is this propaganda – has it breached our every wake of life?
To quote him in “Propaganda”, “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.”
Furthermore, Bernays adds, “It remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct, or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons – a trifling faction of our hundred and twenty million – who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.”
One of the important mechanisms that accomplish what Bernays describes is the Cathedral. The Cathedral is the universities and the corporate press. The universities are the source of all new ideas, which tests the waters for new social values and conceptual understandings. These ideas then flow outward to the other arms of the educational system: the corporate press and the public schools, which form public opinion. Throughout 13 years or more of schooling, people are conditioned via seven standard lessons (e.g., confusion, class position, indifference, emotional dependency, intellectual dependency, provisional self-esteem, and the idea that one can’t hide) that teach students compliance and conformity, believing what they are told and doing as they are told. Once they are no longer within the direct influence of schools, the corporate press becomes the next educator people seek for information and knowledge, carefully guiding people towards certain opinions and actions.
The Cathedral informs the public what they must think and do in their lives, but even then, free will allows people to have organic thoughts and opinions given their unique observations and experiences. That is when entertainment comes in – Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus. If schools and the corporate press can’t influence people to the desired extent, sitting idly watching shows and movies is another approach to do so. These shows and movies have passed a filter test for specific themes and ideals, which are intended to guide the notions and sentiments of the viewers regardless of age and cultural background.
And even then, the human drive and mind it still is difficult to be controlled. People are very skeptical. If someone is soliciting to you a product/service/idea, you are likely to be skeptical – you will consider that they are possibly scamming you/taking advantage of you, selling you a product/service/idea that you actually do not want, or need, or that they only have their self-interests in mind. Therefore, in order to have the consumer buy the product/service/idea, the consumer must convince themselves that they want to accept the product/service/idea.
To quote Bernays in “Propaganda”, “No serious sociologist any longer believes that the voice of the people expresses any divine or specially wise and lofty idea. The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group of leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion.”
We are no longer simply sold products, lifestyles, ideas, and policies through exposure and direct advertising. The roles have been reversed. The propaganda we experience today reverses the roles of the corporatist/politician and the consumer. Instead of the corporatist/politician soliciting the consumer and persuading them to buy their product/service/policy, the consumer goes to the corporatist/politician demanding them to sell them their product/service and/or implement policy.
Events (e.g., disasters, tragedies, threats) and people of authority (e.g., celebrities, politicians, scientists/researchers, the corporate press) that are seemingly unrelated to the sale of a specific product/service/idea/policy guide our opinions into being favorable of that product/service/idea/policy. The public is completely unaware of it, but these events and persons of authority are presented within a carefully constructed narrative that inserts specific ideas and sentiments into people’s minds about said products/services/ideas/policies.
Then, when these products/services/ideas/policies are mentioned elsewhere, these ideas and sentiments are primed and associated with these same products/services/ideas/policies, which gradually become more and more integrated into people’s worldview and desires. Eventually, people will have integrated these ideas and sentiments into their worldview to the extent that they believe that these views and sentiments had been developed and worked out by themselves. These people then go on to purchase the product/service or advocate for the idea/policy that they have unknowingly been sold.
Bernays has a simple yet accurate example. A piano company no longer has to solicit people to buy pianos. In order to have people buy pianos, another entity – for example, architects will integrate a piano room or space into their house design and plans. Over time, people will continuously experience the notion and sentiment of needing a piano in their house since there is a designated area for a piano. They didn’t need to buy the piano but they held that sentiment and convinced themselves that they needed one. People then go to the piano company to buy a piano.
You can see this take place all the time in politics – gun control is a good example. To get people to be in favor of gun control policy, you cannot just speak to people about implementing increased measures of gun control – people would be skeptical of these politicians or the government or be disconnected to the policy which would result in the lack of political representation/advocation for the policy.
When tragic events (e.g., mass shootings and school shootings) occur, the corporate press takes hold of these events and creates a carefully constructed narrative with the use of graphic images and videos of victims to incite feelings and emotions of despair and vulnerability. Celebrities, political analysts, and other people of prominence and recognition make commentary over these events. Pro-gun groups like the NRA are targeted and demonized for their political demonstrations – they are the perfect boogieman – they will be disparaged as heartless killers and will cower to the legislators and compromise instead of sticking to their principles like other pro-gun organizations such as Black Guns Matter which is unheard of.
These notions and sentiments gradually, if not immediately, become instilled in people, which makes them want to alleviate these feelings of despair and vulnerability. The repetition of these stories and the conversations people will be a part of reinforcing these notions and sentiments. People then fervorously advocate for gun control policy and join the impassioned movement. Politicians and those in the government did not have to solicit gun control policy. People convinced themselves that gun control policy is what must be implemented, rallying about wanting “common-sense gun control”.
Think about what other domestic events function in the same manner. How much of our thoughts on politics, economics, history, society, and everything else is influenced and given to us? How much of what you believe has been thought through critically and diligently?
The boiling frog effect motif depicts exactly what society has been experiencing. Think about how often in life we are the boiling frog. People respond differently to the boiling water – some people think it’s nice and cozy, even when it has reached its boiling point. Some are noticing that the water’s temperature is increasing, but they don’t think it’s a problem. Others consider the possibility that it’s a problem but don’t do anything about it. Only a small minority of people are calling attention to the boiling water, trying to warn the others but everyone else either doesn’t care or thinks they’re crazy. That small minority is attacked and scapegoated for being delusional and misguided, and while the small minority attempts to jump out of the boiling water, they will be disparaged by those around them and prevented from leaving the boiling water just as the crabs in the bucket do to their own. Most people don’t recognize boiling water as a problem until it’s too late.
Tragic events call for increasing the dial of tyranny and the government’s violation of our rights, but it is not experienced as such since it is seen as a necessary thing to do. It is believed that we must have the government make changes to society to protect us from an imminent threat – bailing out the banks and increasing spending and welfare to the banks and corporations and doubling down on increasing spending. The gradual militarization of the police and red flag laws, which end in the swat and murder of nonviolent individuals. Surveillance under the Patriot Act after 911 and now contact tracing and the use of police drones to monitor the public during COVID-19. The frequent and overt censorship and caging of dissident thinkers and whistleblowers.
Are we boiling but don’t even know it? We are trusting the experts – we are accepting these acts of tyranny in the guise of our protection – how can we be sure that this is being done for our protection and not to fulfill self-interests and increase the powers and control of those already in power? If we have been lied to in the past – if previous events have been taken advantage of in the past – why are we so willing to trust these implementations? Do we even need protection? Are we not apt to defend ourselves? Are we not apt to take personal responsibility and assume risk? Are we not individuals with a conscience – with minds – to reason with and analyze.
To disparage dissident thinkers – to prevent people from making independent decisions to defend themselves, their families, and their communities – means to disparage humanity and disparage the gift of life: our free will and our conscience.
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