How Is It Done?
The means with which to promote propaganda have never been greater, since the explosion of mass media starting in the 1900’s; the population never more vulnerable since many people have lost the ability to think, evaluate arguments and to recognized strategies designed to manipulate them.
Dialogue and debate are always needed to determine truth in authentic relationships and community. When truth has been abandoned, words are simply a means of influence, a weapon if you will instead of a tool.
Sound logic is the basis of dialogue and debate however these things are wholly out of fashion today. It is rare to even find a high school or college that teaches logic anymore.
There are questions that should be asked to evaluate the parts to any deductive (General to specific) argument
1) Are the terms clear of unclear?
2) Are the premises true or not?
3) Is the argument logically valid?
Interested in learning more? Check out Peter Kreeft’s book Socratic Logic (2004)- a mini course you can take at home.
Below are common fallacies that are used quite frequently by propagandists.
Fallacies of Language:
Begging the Question- Assuming what you are suppose to be proving, and the use of “slanted” language “begs the question” by telling you whether to like or dislike the thing the word describes. Instead of proving that the thing it describes is good or bad, it assumes its value or disvalue in the very description. e.g. calling an idea “up-to-date” or “wild” (“fuzzy math” is a good example of this)
More Examples: “pro-life”, “pro-choice” terms of value chosen by opposite sides of the abortion debate. By virtue of a naming device,the opposition is placed by default into a seemingly indefensible category such as being “against life” or being “against choice”.
Euphemism- A common form of slanting (Holocaust being referred to as “the final solution to the Jewish problem”)
Slogans- Impactful catchphrases that are substitutes for arguments
Glittering Generalities: Use vague words to evoke emotions (Obama’s Hope and change Campaign)
Straw Man- Refuting an unfairly weak, stupid or ridiculous version of your opponents idea
Fallacies of Diversion:
Ways to divert attention away from the point of the issue
Ad hominem- an argument directed to the person rather than the issue (How can you believe anything that man says?He is a liar.)
Name-calling: Denigrating opponents
Character Assassination: Destroy the person.
Appeal to Illegitimate Authority-
Authority is illegitimate for the following reasons
Irrelevant (Movie star as authority on science/Brad Pitt on Fracking)
Unreliable (National Enquirer)
Unnecessary (There is a good argument from reason available)
Dogmatic (Claiming certainty instead of probability (Obama on climate change)
Uncritical (No good reason why this authority should be trusted)
Appeal to Fear
Stoking fear as the reason to accept an idea (Climate change is replete with this tactic)
Appeal to Pity
Appealing to someones sense of goodwill and charity (illegal aliens should not be forced to follow the law because that would break up families) (Polar bears dying because of “global warming”)
Appeal to Shame
Shaming a person into accepting a position instead of though argument
(How can you sit back and let your children suffer the effects of climate change)
Appeal to Popularity
Appealing to the need for acceptance from others instead of proper argument
Bandwagon: Pump up the value of ‘joining the party’
The Big Lie: So large it must be true (unconscious assumption that if others are falling for it, it must be true because most people would never fall for a lie that big)
Appeal to Ignorance
Something must be true because we can’t prove otherwise
Fallacies of Oversimplification:
Toffler has delineated 6 different methods that are used in wartime regarding nations or leaders of nations but these methods can and are used to vilify individuals (Alvin Toffler’s book, “War and Anti-War: Making Sense of Today’s Global Chaos)
Black and White Fallacy
Stereotyping Them=Bad, Us=Good
Accuse the other side of committing acts of gross indecency and atrocities that will shock and show the enemy to be sub-human.
When values are broken badly, then this legitimizes extreme punishment and revenge.
Bombing a religious building or hospital.
Killing innocent victims, especially children.
Exaggerate the things they believe or have done to make them particularly terrible. Use generalization to turn one instance into something that happens all the time, or that one person is representative of everyone in their group. Use emphasis to make key things stand out.
Taking the actions of one terrorist as representing the beliefs of everyone they claim to represent.
Describing injuries as ‘horrific’ and ‘mortal’.
Demonization and dehumanization
Make them appear as wholly bad in all ways, without hope of redemption or conversion. Frame them as evil animals who seek only to destroy that which we hold dear.
Comparing them with known ‘demons’ such as Hitler or Pol Pot.
Describing their actions as disgusting and abhorrent.
Contrast what we and they believe, say and do. Show that they are not like us, putting them and us at opposite poles. Paint our people as glorious heroes, in sharp contrast to their evil villains.
Talk about how our people love God whilst theirs worship the devil.
Contrast how they dress and how this is not like us.
Claim that what you are doing is either required or aligned with higher powers. Show you are more religious and that the holy people are on your side (especially if both sides are of the same faith).
Reinterpret the scriptures to justify your actions.
Say you have conversed with God or a religious figure.
Use propaganda about propaganda. Show how they make things up and are deliberately trying to deceive, whilst our messages are based on clear evidence.
If you can destroy one piece of propaganda then you shake belief in anything else they say. Meta-propaganda is hence particularly powerful.
Show they have control of the media.
Show video footage to support one’s own claims.
Toffler, A. and Toffler, H. (1995). War and Anti-War: Making Sense of Today’s Global Chaos, Grand Central Publishing
Moving outside the domain of logic, there are a host of techniques gleaned from the study of mass psychology. Here are just a few of them for now.
Bandwagon Propaganda: Making it seem like everyone is doing it or thinking a certain way
Plain Folks Propaganda: Making the leader seem ordinary increases trust and credibility.
Testimonial Propaganda: The testimony of an independent person is seen as more trustworthy.
A sister strategy to this is setting up “Sham” organizations (non-profits) that are supposedly neutral but they get their financing from people whose aim is to propagandize. They release information that bolsters the case.
And finally co-opting previously respected organizations from within (think AMA and recent release of the most scientifically unproven statement that gender is imaginary)
Card-stacking Propaganda: Build a highly-biased case for your position through multiple channels of support. All of the above in testimonial section can be considered card-stacking.
Transfer Propaganda: Associate the leader with trusted others.
Name-calling Propaganda: Denigrating opponents
Suppression of Alternative Views
Mockery or name calling toward opposing viewpoints suppresses dissent because people are afraid to get mocked
1. Causes are described and their effects are ignored
2. Effects are described and their causes withheld
The release of information that is damaging to opponents
The retention of information damaging to propagandists ideology
Manipulation of the presentation of statistical data
Manipulation in the way the data is typically determined (Unemployment data and the decision to simply changing the classification of the people not longer looking for work outside the status of unemployed makes the economy seem better)
Retaining sensitive information on individuals (Think NSA)
Radio, TV programming, Commercials, Internet, Newspapers, Music, Movies and Art
Mass communication are not per se a technique but rather the means.
When news programming is offered….almost all the strategies above can be used
When non-news programming is offered use a slow saturation of topics pushing culture and thought in the desired direction. Subjects within the program can demonize or laud, use emotional illogical appeals and so on.
Stories, messages and narratives can be chosen according to the effect on the populace.
In fact non-direct messaging is probably more powerful at challenging cultural norms than direct messaging