Ask seemingly anyone who disagrees with you politically these days and they’ll discount whatever source you use as propaganda, regardless of if the journalist who authored the piece has a Pulitzer prize or a long history of libellous accusations. The word itself seems to be losing its meaning as fast as our political climate sours, and is now as synonymous as a symptom of current derision as it is with causing that divide in the first place.
Put loosely, propaganda is a disinformation that seeks to change what the reader thinks, and adjust its readers view to a certain narrative. Propaganda doesn’t provide you with impartial facts to allow you to look at things objectively and make your own mind up, it grabs you by your emotions, and tells you everything you hold dear is under threat and the time for action is now!
You need only look at the phrases blasted at the main voting core for recent populist campaigns used such misinformation to see how effective this can be. Phrases like “Take back control” and “Make America Great Again” preyed on the working class’s economic anxieties, and memories of when life was better, eliciting a strong emotional response from millions of people.
Opposing groups inevitably create a backlash, enraged that a position can even be held, and rush to discredit the other side for a “greater good,” and attempt to discredit the original propaganda through any means necessary. This opposition rhetoric ends up simply mirroring the the propaganda it alleges to contest.
We all live life as the protagonists of our own life story, constantly relating ourselves to the wider world in different ways, as we all experience life differently. The issues that propaganda brings to the table are the same issues that lead to political disagreements boiling over at the dinner table. People don’t like to be told that their conception of the world is skewed, as our worldview is tied so closely to how we see ourselves, and get defensive. How skewed a worldview is must just be a matter of perspective surely?
Just take a step back it’s possible to how it came to this. Whether it’s a billboard telling you that you ‘need’ a new trade, or a commercial accusing you of being ‘mad’ for missing an offer, advertisement uses the mistruths and emotional devices of propaganda to great effect, creating for us a reality which determines our self worth by the ever changing value of our possessions as status objects. We come into contact with propaganda refined to change our behavior through decades of research into consumer psychology on a daily basis, to the point where it would be an all consuming task to look at it all critically.
And of course there’s the sensationalised news headlines that we come into contact with equally as frequently, cherry picking or distorting events to create panic or rage.
Slowly but surely, society has grown to accept this mistruths as simply a part of everyday life, leaving us numb to the minute effects that being inundated with mistruths has on how we experience the world, until we stopped questioning them almost entirely. When you can never truly escape propaganda it becomes harder and harder to separate propaganda from reality.
You could never go through everyday life pulling apart everything you see read or hear, but looking at things critically is something that we should endeavour to do for our own good.
Don’t make the mistake of living your life in an echochamber, surrounded by people and sources that tidly agree with your worldview and let you sit comfortable. The world around us is nuanced, full of different people with differing opinions. It’s too easy with the rise of social media to surround yourself with voices and sources that don’t present any challenge to your beliefs and paint the world in a particular way, so it’s always worth reading around and looking at differing opinions even if they don’t change the way you see the world. After all there will always come a time when people will argue against what you believe in, and by understanding where the principles behind their arguments come from we can have better discussions on the world, and move away from the divisive, propaganda fuelled climate we’ve come to recognise today.
Most importantly, don’t just tell people that they’re wrong. Challenge small aspects of people’s beliefs rather than attacking them, they’re less likely to take it personally. We may never escape the universal pull of propaganda, but we can teach ourselves to find it and challenge it. At the end of the day we have to build our worldviews with our heads and not our hearts, and get as many people along for the ride as we can.
Written by Zac Harvey
Visuals courtesy of Tyler Sprangler