Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How Propaganda Works

This was published at an online magazine, then I transferred it to my website, back before there were blogs. I had to code the entire thing.

One day when I looked at the counter (one for each article) I found I had over 40,000 hits. To this day I still believe what I wrote.

I should add that as nuts as Hitler was he understood propaganda. He wrote the masses were feminine, i.e., ruled by their feelings. Mobs always are. They are never rational.

"Once you base your whole life striving on a desperate lie, and try to implement that lie, you instrument your own undoing." - Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death.

It's not hard to understand how propaganda works. You don't need a college degree, or to even to read any of those thick textbooks everybody hates. Everything relevant can be explained in one not-particularly-long article. And I guarantee you, you must understand how propaganda targets you, to immunize yourself against the attempts.

Propaganda works by appealing to our most base, animalistic instincts. It does not appeal to our better nature, although one of the purposes of it is to convince us it does. It pretends to appeal to our reason, when in fact it appeals to our most primitive emotions. There is good reason for this: perception travels through the emotional brain first, to the rational brain last.

Specifically, propaganda works by appealing to three things: emotions, tribalism and narcissism.

I just mentioned perception travels first to the emotional brain, then the rational brain. This happens to everyone, including people who con themselves they are the most rational and intelligent of intellectuals.

As for tribes, we share with every nearly every animal in the world the instinct to form tribes, arranged in a hierarchy, with a leader. We are group animals. The fact we look to a leader to take care of us is one of the most firmly established principles in psychology (if you don't remember anything else, remember that).

When anyone transgresses the taboos of a tribe, they can, and often are, ostracized or even expelled. An example? Say some people oppose a war. What happens? They are often called cowards and told to leave the country. Who hasn't heard the insult, "You're a coward! If you don't like it here, get out!" People who say such things think they're being patriotic; in reality they're acting like animals. Emotional, irrational, herd animals, prone to the fear and flight activated by propaganda. Individuals think; groups do not, and cannot.

Narcissism is our inborn tendency to see everything as grandiose or devalued, good or bad, with nothing in-between. It's why nearly every tribe in the world—and nations are just tribes writ large—called itself "the People," "the Humans," "the Chosen," "the Motherland," "the Fatherland," or "the greatest nation on earth," relegating everyone outside the tribe to a devalued non-people, non-human status (aka "collateral damage"). No wonder it's so easy to kill the outsiders — they're just not quite human.

When you combine those three concepts, you have the basis for all propaganda. If a leader of a tribe tells the people their goodness is under attack by insane, evil people who want to destroy them, they will react just like animals and attack. The Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels noticed all you had to do to get people to march off to war is for the leaders to tell them they were under attack, denounce protesters as traitors exposing the tribe to danger, and the people would slander, ostracize and expel the protesters, and then tramp straight off to be slaughtered. He said this technique worked in every country of the world.

The Bush administration used exactly this technique to start two wars. Essentially they told the public that our goodness was under attack by insane and evil people who wanted to destroy us. See how it works? Tribalism, emotionalism, and narcissism.

Supporters of the war responded by attacking protesters as traitors—trying to expel them from the tribe — and marching off to war. It's altogether too simple, and too easy.

One man everyone should know is Edward L. Bernays, the American disciple and nephew of Sigmund Freud. He was for all practical purposes the founder of modern propaganda techniques.

Bernays despised most people and regarded them as his inferiors, especially because of intellectual or social claims. (See how it works? I just appealed to your emotions, and convinced you Bernays was attacking you. You fell for it, right?)

Bernays not only pretty much founded modern propaganda techniques, but was also the father of modern PR. Although, you could say they are same thing, and that there's really no difference between them.

In his 1928 book, Propaganda, Bernays wrote, "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country..."

Remember that quote. Burn it into your memory. Bernays thought people should be ruled by an extremely small elite, who should manipulate them through propaganda. That means you. People who believe in the wonders of government, and that it is their friend, should think twice about it.

In another book, Crystallizing Public Opinion Bernays wrote how governments and advertisers can "regiment the mind like the military regiments the body." This can be imposed, he said, because of "the natural inherent flexibility of individual human nature," and suggested the "average citizen is the world's most efficient censor. His own mind is the greatest barrier between him and the facts. His own 'logic-proof compartments,' his own absolutism are the obstacles which prevent him from seeing in terms of experience and thought rather than in terms of group reaction."

Bernays also thought "physical loneliness is a real terror to the gregarious animal, and that association with the herd causes a feeling of security. In man this fear of loneliness creates a desire for identification with the herd in matters of opinion."

Bernays claimed that "the group mind does not think in the strict sense of the word...In making up its mind, its first impulse is usually to follow the example of a trusted leader. This is one of the most firmly established principles in mass psychology." What Bernays called the "regimentation of the mind" is accomplished by taking advantage of the human tendency to self-deception [logic-proof compartments], gregariousness [the herd instinct], individualism [exalting their vanity] and the seductive power of a strong leader.

Bernays also expressed the opinion people "have to take sides...[they] must step out of the audience onto the stage and wrestle as the hero for the victory of good over evil." This also means appealing to our narcissism, our inborn tendency to see everything as either good or bad, with little or nothing in-between.

He also noted the need for people to feel as if they belong to something larger than themselves. Again, this also means appealing to our narcissism, such as people claiming they belong to "the greatest nation on earth."

When people consider themselves as part of the Humans (by whatever name they call themselves), they exalt themselves. Still again, those outside the tribe are non-people, "collateral damage."

"Mental habits create stereotypes just as physical habits create certain definite reflex actionism," Bernays wrote. "...these stereotypes or clich├ęs are not necessarily truthful pictures of what they are supposed to portray." Perception is everything, the truth matters little or not at all.

Now, let's boil all this down and see what we have:

Mass Man, the herd, cannot think, and is instead ruled by its feelings. The herd will look to a leader to save it. The best way to accomplish this is for the herd to feel it is under attack. The herd will draw together, expel those who see the truth and protest, and then march off to war.

The full quote from Goebbels? "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Tell the herd they are the Humans, or the People, or best of all, have God on their side. Paint their enemies as insane and evil. Again, this is appealing to people's narcissism, the tendency to see everything as either good (us) or evil (them). Evoke paranoia and hysteria in them by convincing them the insane evil ones want to conquer and destroy them. What will happen? You can get them to march off to war by the millions, just as Goering noticed. The truth doesn't matter, only the manipulation of perception.

To make it as simple as possible, everything that is needed for a successful propaganda campaign can be summed up in those three aforementioned words: emotionalism, tribalism and narcissism.

We con ourselves we are so advanced. In reality, the human race is stuck in One Million Years BC, except there's no Raquel Welch in a two-piece fur bikini.

I forgot—there is one another component to successful propaganda: keep repeating the message over and over.


LosAngelesKing said...

I highly recommend reading the works of Gustave Le Bon to further understand the psychology of the mob and propaganda. It goes a long way to help explain the French Revolution and other leftist terrors.

The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. A magnum opus in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Funny. Recently a website called Ashley Madison (A hookup website that advertises itself for married people to fling together. No not swinging, cheating on their spouse.) was recently hacked, and as a result had all the personal information of the users leaked on the internet. 38 million users.

Anyway, the information was leaked on a forum full of people that I would describe as mentally ill angry people. When the information was leaked, they found tons of average joes in there, but they also found politically involved people (Joe Biden's son is on there.) Now obviously the people that were caught cheating did not take the news so gleefully, and thusly some have committed suicide over this. But what was interesting is the mob mentality of users on the forum. They laughed at their suicides and are even working towards more, they call the cheaters as immoral adulters (and they are.) and what they're doing is right. Keep in mind this is a forum full of angry "redpilled" types.

They formed their own mob, they have their targets, and the sociopathic predation are all morally justified. And in no way do any of them seeing anything wrong with their cultish behavior.

Brian said...

Sports fandom works the same way. It doesn't matter if Tom Brady had deflated footballs. The only thing that matters is that you take a side and lose your mind arguing over it.

Mindstorm said...

Meh, recycled content.

DeNihilst said...

Anon, I agree with this guy.


Glen Filthie said...

"Say some people oppose a war. What happens? They are often called cowards and told to leave the country. Who hasn't heard the insult, "You're a coward! If you don't like it here, get out!" People who say such things think they're being patriotic; in reality they're acting like animals."

Au contraire. Tribes and animals that don't fight for their own survival die. Pacifism is an unnatural human state and it can only exist in tribes with decaying morals and self respect. It is also a product of the Idiocracy that protects and rewards stupidity. Historically stupid people like this found themselves enslaved and forced to be productive, or fed to the lions to entertain the masses - or killed out of hand.

It is my scholarly contention that our charming host is himself a victim of the pacifist agenda and propaganda.

One Fat Oz Guy said...

The word on the Net is that it was done by a former female employee. Apparently only the servers that had a majority of male subscribers were hacked. Servers with more women were miraculously spared.

Quartermain said...


Your point is well taken except for the last sentence which I take to be a dig at Bob. I have the old fashioned view that one should only go to war in cases of attack and/or invasion. What if the country is neither attacked nor invaded, but those who are in government are wanting to war for the wrong reasons?

Unknown said...

I'm not a pacifist in the slightest but many wars are unnecessary - "Rich man's war, poor man's fight."

Quartermain said...

@Mr. Wallace

Amen, spot on, and as Pastor Manning would say "Boomshakalaka"!!!

I'm a peace time veteran, and have over the years became acquainted with many war veterans. Most of them do not want to see their children or anybody else's children get stuck in a war.

I knew of a veteran, who was in V-Day, that was worried almost to death when his son got drafted.

One Viet Nam told me when I was in the service, "No one who has been in a war, except for a psychopath, would want to be in another war."

Glen Filthie said...

I have always taken cheap shots at Uncle Bob, Quartermain. Bob lets them pass, knowing that my opinion is worth significantly less than what he paid for it!

You and Bob buy into that old tired trope of the effed up, broken down Viet Nam vet that went to war, watched his buddies die and got crippled or maimed - and all for nothing. That is a flawed short view, as is your principle of non-aggression. Had Hitler been swatted the same way Saddam was...millions of lives would have been saved. But people wanted to listen to Chamberlain even as they listen to guys like you and Unca Bob today. Fools that won't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

When Hitler attacked - it was over before it started. You assume you will always have the benefit of having time to mount a viable defense and that is simply flawed thinking. What happens when you run into a fully militarized country with a gangster gov't and giving them the first shot is also giving them the last?

ISIS is beheading TODDLERS now. They are destroying churches that have stood for 1400 years. They are burning prisoners alive and raping wives in front of their husbands and kids. Don't tell me it's propaganda, -it's all over Youtube. Don't you guys get on your high horses and lecture me about your noble views. When kids ask why nobody did anything when Hitler was powering up - guys like you get sheepish and evasive because you did NOTHING. It wasn't YOUR relatives getting fed to the ovens, right?

Today Iran is threatening everyone with nukes they haven't even got yet. ISIS is destroying churches that stood for 1600 years. They are beheading toddlers and civilians, and raping wives in front of their children and husbands. Sitting on your hands while that is going on isn't old fashioned, boys - it's cowardice.

Thankfully today's soldiers aren't the same spoiled flower children that got sent to Viet Nam. In case you haven't been paying attention, the wounded vets coming back are real men and most are genuine heroes. Cripes, one fella lost two legs and an arm in Iraq and today he is running marathons and relay races and WINNING.

War will always be with us. You can't make peace with people that want to kill you, and treating your enemies well will not make them your friends.

Quartermain said...

@ Glen

What part of this statement flew by you?

" I have the old fashioned view that one should only go to war in cases of attack and/or invasion."

Anonymous said...


Anne Morelli has summarized and systematized the contents of Ponsonby's classic in "ten commandments of propaganda":[4]

1. We do not want war.

2. The opposite party alone is guilty of war.

3. The enemy is the face of the devil.

4. We defend a noble cause, not our own interest.

5. The enemy systematically commits cruelties; our mishaps are involuntary.

6. The enemy uses forbidden weapons.

7. We suffer small losses, those of the enemy are enormous.

8. Artists and intellectuals back our cause.

9. Our cause is sacred. "The ages-old 'God bless America' is playing once more."

10. All who doubt our propaganda, are traitors