Monday, April 30, 2012

In Defense of Propaganda -- Writer's Poke #387


Propaganda is a rather discredited term, but not necessarily a discredited concept. Probably best recognized in politics (and generally called “spin”), propaganda has its origin in the Reformation. Back in the 16th century, the Catholic Church was trying to keep the faithful from turning Protestant, and so they developed a propaganda office to forward their cause.
Even today, some people try to defend propaganda by suggesting that all it is, really, is a way for activists to promote a position. As long as propagandists allow the facts to speak for themselves, refrain from omitting some details and exaggerating others,  and avoid purposely using logical fallacies, then propaganda is good.
The problem is: the term “propaganda” is no longer associated, if it ever was, with “good argument construction.” Propaganda is associated with manipulation. The propagandist has no interest in letting the facts speak for themselves; rather, the propagandist wants to direct your thinking in a specific way -- to close your mind to further inquiry.
This is different from a person who simply wants to provide information. Someone who provides information may not have a specific agenda. An information-provider simply wants to give people the opportunity to make informed decisions. Likewise, a propagandist is not in any real sense an “educator,” because true educators hope you will continue to ask questions -- to keep your mind open even after you have reached tentative conclusions.
How good are you at recognizing propaganda?
“By skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even a heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.” – Adolf Hitler

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