Why Propaganda Works

29 June 2023
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Caitlin Johnstone wrote a very readable explanation of Why Propaganda Works (Consortium News, 29 June 2023). Here are some excerpts:

Mass media employees have attested to the fact that they experience constant pressure to administer narratives which are favorable to the political status quo of the U.S. empire...

... human minds are very hackable. Manipulators understand this...

By continually hammering our minds with simple, repeated messaging about the nature of the world we live in, propagandists are able to exploit glitches in human cognition like the illusory truth effect, which causes our minds to mistake the experience of having heard something before with the experience of having heard something that is true.

Modern psychology tells us that people don’t just tend to hold onto their propaganda-induced belief systems; people tend to hold onto any belief system.

Belief perseverance, as the name suggests, describes the way people tend to cling to their beliefs even when presented with evidence disproving them. The theory goes that back when most humans lived in tribes that were often hostile to each other, our tribal cohesion and knowing who we can trust mattered more to our survival than taking the time to figure out what’s objectively true...

... our emotional interests and “tribal” loyalties color the way we take in new information. It can also give rise to the backfire effect*, where being confronted with evidence which conflicts with one’s worldview will not only fail to change their beliefs but actually strengthen them...

And above all we can just keep telling the truth, in as many fresh, engaging and creative ways as we can come up with. The more we do this, the more opportunities there are for someone to catch a glimmer of something beyond the veil of their propaganda-installed worldview and the cognitive biases which protect it.


* The backfire effect is related to cognitive dissonance - holding conflicting thoughts. Someone in this state may tend to double down on their existing beliefs in order to minimize internal conflict with presented with conflicting information.

It takes five years for a willing person's mind to change. Have patience with yourself and others when treading in an area protected by a taboo.