Monday, June 11, 2012

What Propaganda?

I believe we can assume that propaganda has a negative connotation.   Propagandas has an ideological goal, it is to persuade a large amount of people to a certain belief or goal.  The word propaganda comes from the word propagate which means to spread, proliferate or publicize.   In the ancient Greece Aristotle recognized that an appeal to emotion was useful in persuasive rhetoric.  Propaganda grew out of early persuasion and rhetoric.  It was first used in 1622 to describe the propagation of the Catholic Faith.  In that way it had no negative implication.  Only after the protestant movements started to challenge the Catholic faith, propaganda took a new meaning.

In today’s society the internet is the perfect tool for viral proliferation of any ideas.  It works especially with human psychology, mainly man’s weaknesses.  Media creators and advertising rely heavily on knowledge of human psychology.  Since propaganda plays a great deal on the human emotions we cannot deny its impact, and certainly cannot reason it away.  Let’s look at some ways propaganda is influencing our lives:

Definition and Purpose of propaganda

One web site states that Propaganda is the manipulation of public opinion.  Others say that it is persuasion by design with the goal to systematically and consciously promote certain ideas and to advocate certain actions based on ideas  According to another website, propaganda often exaggerates events or plainly changes them.  What means one thing to one person can be perceive completely different by somebody else.  In any case propaganda seeks to change people’s mind and influences their outlook.

Propaganda Techniques

There are various types of propaganda techniques, and I found them being used to inducing fear, exaggeration, hype, repetition, scarcity, and slogans. Then, there are the seven types of propaganda introduced by a website of George Mason University (GMU):

7 types of propaganda

·         Transfer                                The act of relating something or someone we like or respect with a product. Symbols are constantly used in this form.

·         Testimonial  The use of well known, respected people to endorse a product or service.

·         Glittering Generalities       The act of referring to words or ideas that evoke a positive emotional response from an audience. Virtue words are often used.

·         Plain Folks                           The use of everyday people to sell a product or service. Speakers in ads appear to make the person to be one of the people.

·         Bandwagon                         Attempts to persuade the target audience to take a course of action, "Everyone else is taking." "Join the crowd." This technique reinforces people’s natural desire to be on the winning side.

·         Name Calling                       The use of names that evoke fear or hatred in the viewer. This technique links a person or idea to a negative symbol.

·         Card Stacking                     Strategy of showing the product's best features. Telling half-truths and emitting or lying about its potential problems.

History of Propaganda

The word propaganda was first used in 1622, when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, a commission designed to spread the Catholic faith worldwide to describe the propagation of the Catholic faith. There was no malice intended in spreading the word of God for what the Catholics considered the only true faith; however, the emerging Protestant religions began to challenge this notion. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had achieved a solid grip on the communication of ideas. The Church, in close cooperation with the universities it controlled, began to identify and attack what it considered heresy.

Since then propaganda has taken on a much broader meaning, and refers to any technique, whether in writing, speech, music, film or other means, that attempts to influence mass public opinion.

The GMU website goes into a long explanation regarding the roots of propaganda and also describes the rise of propaganda in modern times.

Through the mass media we are constantly bombarded with ideas, advertisement and other suggestions.  I like to mention here a passage from Napoleon Hill’s latest book Outwitting the Devil.”

“One of my most effective tricks is known to you as propaganda.  This is the instrument of great value to me in setting people to murdering one another under the disguise of war.

The cleverness of this trick consists mainly of the subtlety with which I use it.

I mix propaganda with the news of the world.  I have it taught in public and private schools.  I see that it finds its way into the pulpit. I color moving pictures with it.  I see that it enters every home where there is a radio.  I inject it into billboards, newspapers, and radio advertising.  I spread it in every place of business where people work.  I use it to fill the divorce courts and I make it serve to destroy business and industry.

It is my chief instrument for starting runs on banks.  My propagandists cover the world so thoroughly that I can start epidemics of disease, turn loose the dogs of war, or throw business into a panic at will.”

“Propaganda is any device, plan, or method by which people can be influenced without knowing that they are being influenced, or the source of the influence.

Propaganda is used in business for the purpose of discouraging competition.  Employers use it to gain advantage over their employees.  The employees retaliate by using it to gain advantage over their employers.  In fact, it is used so universally and through such a smooth and beautiful streamlined technique that it looks harmless even when it is detected.” 

These are the answers of the Devil whom Napoleon Hill questioned in length regarding tricking people into drifting and guiding them away from the truth.

That sums up the purpose and the origin of propaganda.  It is to causes division and confusion.
I found the book very provoking, especially since it was written 73 years ago and describes a lot of parallels to our time today.  I will write more about my impressions on “Outwitting the Devil” in a later blog.  I believe that Napoleon Hill was way ahead of his time, and has very cleverly observed the work of the Devil in our society.  It couldn’t be any other way, since no one other person, organization, or even government could have such a far reaching influence.

How can we prevent coming under the influence of propaganda?  Think for yourself, be responsible and discover a definite purpose for your life.

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