Propaganda only works on humans because we have self-consciousness, i.e., self-awareness. Propaganda does not work at all on cats and dogs, because while they have consciousness, they have no self-awareness.
If people were totally aware of how propaganda works, it would not work on us at all.
As Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew and the acknowledged “Father of Spin” in the U.S. wrote, propaganda is based on three things:
1) Appeal to emotion but convince people you are appealing to logic.
2) Demonize the enemy.
3) Tell people it will be better, safer world once the enemy is vanquished.
As Paul McLean discovered, our brains are like an onion: at the bottom is the most primitive, the Reptilian Complex, with the emotional brain on top of that, followed by the cortex, or rational brain.
Unfortunately, all our perceptions are filtered through our emotional brain before they engage the thinking brain. We are not a particularly rational species, although we rationalize that we are (if people were more rational, they would have some understanding of logical fallacies and apply them).
Our emotion-drive, not-so-rational behavior is why it’s easy for propagandists to convince people they are being rational when they are not.
One of the easiest ways to make people irrational is to tell them they are under attack by people who wish to destroy them, i.e., they are insane homicidal maniacs who will not stop under they have conquered the world.
Convincing people they are under attack by insane homicidal maniacs makes it easy to demonize – dehumanize – the enemy. Then, of course, once these homicidal maniacs are eliminated, it will be a better, safer world.
The first problem is that humans are irrational, but can be easily convinced they aren’t.
The second problem is dehumanizing people. This is related to our inborn narcissism, meaning we split things into all good or all bad. Which essentially means “human” or “non-human.” We’re human; our “enemies” are not, not exactly, because they’re slavering insane monstrous homicidal maniacs bent on death and destruction and conquering the world.
The third problem is the belief we can create a better, perhaps nearly perfect world by killing enough people. Theologian Walter Wink called this “the Myth of Redemptive Violence,” the belief that violence cleanses and redeems the world.
There are ways to avoid falling for propaganda. The first one is to understand we are inherently irrational. I believe this is why there exists that old saying, when you get mad, count to ten before you say anything.
The second way is to refuse to believe there are human demons in the world. Everyone is a mixture of good and bad, positive and negative. What I believe is the biggest red flag of all is for “the enemy” to be portrayed as an evil maniac who, like Pinky of Pinky and the Brain, wants to conquer the world.
The Nazis were supposed to conquer the world, yet could not even conquer Russia. They also ran into a buzz saw in a tiny country like Serbia.
After WWII the Communist Soviet Union was, yes, supposed to conquer the world. Then Japan was supposed to conquer the world economically. Then after 9-11 Islam was supposed to conquer the world. Now it’s China that’s supposed to conquer the world.
I wonder who’s next.
Although most people don’t know it, ignore it, or agree with it, England came the closest to conquering the world. After all, there used to exist the saying, the sun never set on the British Empire.
These days, the closest there is to a country that has conquered the world is the United States of America, since we have military bases in three-quarters of the world’s countries.
Except for Britain and the United States (because they are supposed to be well-intentioned, indeed noble) the other countries and religions are supposed to be composed of maniacs who exist only to conquer. It’s nonsense, but it’s dangerous nonsense, and it works.
Propaganda is also based on the archetype of the horror story: Good attacked by Evil, Order attacked by Chaos. It’s the story of the village attacked by Frankenstein’s monster, so the villagers chase him into the windmill and burn it down.
All wars are based on the archetype of the horror story. All are irrational, based on demonizing “the enemy,” and based on extirpating them.
If people always kept in their awareness they are prone to being irrational, that no one is evil and wants to conquer the world, and that a perfect world cannot be created, especially through violence, then propaganda would never work on us.