Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Michael Yon in his latest post discusses the differences and similarities between propaganda and truth and uses two media montages to demonstrate:

It’s interesting to compare these two montages. The first from an un-attributed source, perhaps even a work of propaganda, shows people at their best, braving terrorists to vote in Iraq, then dipping their fingers in the purple ink, and smiling with pride, strength and hope.

The second montage by MSNBC, linked below, conveys the ultra-violence of nature against man, the cruelty of man against man, and helps explain why we want the world to be more like the impression we are left with after the “propaganda” montage. And yet, as someone who was out there experiencing some of what was depicted in both slide shows, it’s important to add that both are accurate in what they portray, while each is confined in scope. The difference is subtle, perhaps purely rhetorical. But the consequent impact, and how it influences public opinion, is something closer to cataclysmic.

Go to Yon's site for links to the two different montages.

I have a theory about how and why propaganda and/or truth (or a combination of both) would have profound impact on people's behavior.

Let me first start by reminding everyone what the respective definitions of propaganda and truth are:

propaganda - 1 : the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
2 : ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect

truth - 1 a archaic : FIDELITY, CONSTANCY b : sincerity in action, character, and utterance
2 a (1) : the state of being the case : FACT (2) : the body of real things, events, and facts : ACTUALITY (3) often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality b : a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true c : the body of true statements and propositions
3 a : the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality

And second, let us review the way our bodies are hardwired to deal with danger. From a March, 2005 post:

Sigmund Freud's powerful book Civilization and its Discontents argued that human instincts are out of sync with modern civilization; that aggression and other instinctual needs were once absolutely necessary for survival in a dangerous world, but that today these archaic impulses impede our ability to live happily in the present day and age. Among other innovative ideas from this short, but important work, Freud posits that the same aggression that was once directed towards survival, in the modern era is frequently turned inward, to the Self, rather than outward toward the environment, and causes the psychological phenomenon of depression. In psychiatry we refer to this as "aggression turned inward".

Our brains and bodies were designed for the "fight or flight" response--when in danger or threatened in any way, we physiologically respond with a burst of adrenalin (a hormone more formally known as epinephrine, a catcholamine); and that compound initiates a series of biological reactions that prepare us to either run away from the danger or to stand and fight.

It can be argued that depression and its concomitant emotion despair can be conceptualized as the inability--particularly in modern times-- to be able to "run away" or "fight" in the traditional sense. How effective would it be for the individual, do you think, if--called on the carpet by his or her boss--that individual responded by decking the boss or screaming and running out of the room? Bereft of these behavioral options in civilized society, we are still confined to the physiological response that such scenarios engender. This leads us to the concept of "stress".

When we hear a story that is factual and true from which we perceive danger to ourselves or our loved ones, that true story stimulates the "fight or flight" response. So it was with 9/11. The nation was initially stunned by the images of the WTC towers attacked and then collapsing. As it became clearer what had happened, these images made a connection to people's hardwired responses. We saw a threat, and we began to respond to it in exactly the way we were programmed. Initially, the dominant response to this threat was to "fight"--but within days, we were also beginning to hear from a sizable number of the population whose intitial response was to run away from the danger and/or pretend it didnt' exist.

Whichever response was stimulated, both are the psychological and behavior strategies that are fundamental to our physiology. Both strategies have their uses, depending on the situation.

Now, let us consider for a moment some propaganda. As stated in the definition, propaganda seeks to deliberately use certain ideas, facts, or allegations to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause

The best and most effective manner to damage an opposing cause is also to tap into the basic hardwiring of human beings. If you can present facts or allegations with an appropriate slant that triggers the innate physiological signal for "DANGER! DANGER!", then your propaganda will be optimally effective and have profound effects on the way a situation is perceived by an individual.

Two examples:

-showing the "death count" in Iraq over and over again; emphasizing the number of soldiers killed and the number of bombs going off (even though such information may be entirely true) without also showing the deaths in the context of operational goals or strategy; or without also showing (or, deliberately ignoring) the positive and successful images

-discussing the "invasion of privacy" of a top-secret program during a war as if it were something entirely new in American history; or without any discussion of how the same strategy was used in previous administrations; previous wars--i.e., without putting it into any context except that your personally are in imminent danger of being monitored by the government

There are many more that could be used. But the two above are not examples of "truth" as we have defined it--they are both examples of propaganda, because they deliberately are slanting information in order to further a particular point of view and denigrate the opposition point of view. This is how most propaganda works. This is also why bad/frightening news tends to cause more of a response than good news ("if it bleeds, it ledes")

In fact, what is interesting to me is that certain parties are using propaganda--though they would vehemently deny it-- and a distortion of the truth (i.e., the truth that America is in danger) in order to futher only one particular political manifestation of the "fight or flight" paradigm. Specifically, the motivations of all of these propagandists are in the camp that counsels "flight" --better described as "immediate withdrawal" and/or continued appeasement of the danger. This strategy is often referred to as the pacifist or antiwar strategy.

Despite their objections to the propaganda from the other side (and that too, does exist), the fact remains that they are also using propaganda--and using it much more effectively than their political oppononents on the fight/confrontation side.

Whenever truth or propagandized truth is utilized for the opposite perspective (fight), it is roundly condemned and generates an extreme response from the "flight" side, who cry "no fair!" Case in point is that whenever people are reminded of 9/11 by the President, it is denounced as "warmongering." Or, more recently, the revelations that the military pays for their side of the story to come out in Iraq. Both are roundly denounced (and twisted into propaganda, I might add, by the Leftist/antiwar crowd who use this to claim that we are headed for a police state--something I would call "fearmongering"). This is how it has come to pass that only antiwar propaganda and pacifist "truth" are able to be headlines in our media.

Now, it is certainly true that propaganda can also be used to make people fear a nonexistent threat and to mount the drums of war. But what we are witnessing is propaganda being used to make people fear a nonexistent police state and to mount the drums of peace.

The former strategy was used effectively by the Germans in WWII; and the threat used was focused on the Jews as the source of all evil. This strategy is also used today by the Islamofascists who actively encourage war against Jews and other infidels. Again, the psycholgoical motivation of both these these scapegoating actions are to explain their own cultures' failures in the real world. It is propaganda because its intent is to deliberately foster a certain point of view (one that blames others instead of themselves).

The latter strategy is being used by the Democrats, the Left, and the antiwar crowd.

The choice of confrontation or appeasement is in essence a biological one. Fight or Flight is as old as humanity. The use of propaganda and/or the truth are strategies to mobilize one or the other response in a population of humans.

The issue isn't really propaganda vs. truth -- both sides use the two of them to justify behavior. The issue is fight or flight (biological imperative) with concomitant confrontation or appeasement (conscious choice).

Which will it be?

No comments: