My wife and I had a funny incident today. Her nickname for me is “cun con” (Vietnamese for “puppy”), or “cun” for short. She also teases me about being fat (“map”). I always protest and it’s a fun game we play.
Today though, she said, “cun map (fat puppy) will get some more work done,” to which I responded, “Yes. Cun map will…” Well, she started roaring in laughter. “My brainwashing has worked!” I had to laugh.
But it demonstrates a simple, innocent example of how propaganda works. Constant repetition, irrespective of truth value, eventually wins out.
Now, there’s nothing sinister about “cun map”, and it’s just part of how my wife and I tease each other in a fun way. There is no hidden agenda or malicious intent to deceive.
However, that’s not par for the course for propaganda. There usually is a hidden agenda and an intent to deceive.
I’ve been vocal in some places about my disgust with modern media. Rather than reporting news, it seems more like entertainment for sadists. It’s as though they wish to eradicate any remaining vestiges of hope in people. Constant bombardment of news stories about “terrorists” that include students protesting tuition hikes and education cuts amount to nothing more than fear mongering. Labeling a lone gunman a terrorist further dilutes the meaning of the word “terrorist”, with the term basically being meaningless, but having an incredibly horrible connotation associated with it that is now something they can apply to anyone for any reason. Hacktivists that protest some injustice are also “terrorists”.
But therein lies a more insidious form of propaganda: Altering the meanings of words. That in itself is a long discussion. The crux of the problem is that when you begin to confuse meanings, you run the risk of creating logical contradictions. Given any single logical contradiction, you can derive any conclusion at all, no matter how insane.
For example, take the labeling of students at a protest as terrorists. Well, terrorists belong in prison. Students are terrorists. So, students belong in prison. While that’s a very short and unsophisticated example, it is completely accurate. What’s worse, is that bad logic actually happens in reality.
I’ve also been in discussions about how the modern media is all but completely illiterate. It is common to see some reporter discuss issues that the reporter clearly doesn’t understand. More than simply abusing the English language with horrendous grammar, spelling errors, and misused words, it is increasingly common to hear reporters delivering wrong information.
I don’t believe that propaganda is necessarily intentional on the part of the orator though. It seems reasonable to me that propaganda can be a product of an environment that pushes agendas. That is, a society or culture in itself can have a sort of agency in the same way that we would talk about a corporate agent (in the philosophical sense of the word).
Now, instead of a society/culture that pushes fear on itself, wouldn’t it be wonderful to instead have positive messages pushed?
Propaganda in itself isn’t an evil thing. It is a tool to alter perceptions of reality, and can be used for positive or negative purposes. It is unfortunate that it is almost exclusively used for negative purposes, but it doesn’t need to be that way. It is possible to constantly repeat positive messages and alter reality itself by doing so.
Remember what your mom used to tell you, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”