31 Dec 2018

Propaganda and Censorship

Posted by jofr

The hallmark of nearly all forms of fascism, from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, is propaganda. Repeated propaganda. Ubiquitous propaganda. In Russian communism, in German nazism, or in the original Italian fascism, everywhere propaganda is an essential part of fascism. Why is that so? It must have a fundamental importance.

Jowett & O’Donnell define propaganda as “the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and to direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” [1]. This definition is similar to the one from Edward Bernays 90 years before who wrote in 1928 “Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence te relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group” [2].

Propaganda comes from the latin word “propagare” which means to propagate or to spread information. This information can be advertising of a physical product like “Buy this product X, it is good for you”, or marketing for an abstract ideology like “Believe in X and do Y”. In both cases propaganda means usually a lot of lies and distorting the truth, because propaganda is based on advertising and marketing, and marketing can be seen as the art of lying, deception and truth manipulation to successfully sell a product in a market. Successful marketing of a product bends the truth without breaking it to convince the people of a product.

In the center of propaganda there is a certain brand, a symbol which is used to manipulate emotions and perceptions. Advertising makes the promise that the product in question is good for you, that it will make you feel great. It manipulates opinions about the product. The brand is used to associate a certain product with certain desirable attributes or properties.

Propaganda is a special form of advertising or marketing. It is a radical, more comprehensive, and more totalitarian form, because it tries to affect the whole worldview, to define what’s good and what’s bad overall. The border is usually the movement or the party: good/bad is what’s good/bad the movement.

Jason Stanley distinguishes in his book “How propaganda works” [3] between “supporting” and “undermining” propaganda. Supporting propaganda is constructive, it creates a myth or legend of a person or party, and increases the realization of certain ideologies or ideals. Undermining propaganda is destructive. It can destroy what has been created by supporting propaganda. Supporting propaganda apparently includes censorship of undermining propaganda.

Propaganda films for instance are “supporting propaganda” because they can increase an ideal like patriotism. A propaganda speech can increase obedience to authority or can increase the authority of a certain leader. A propaganda story can create a myth or legend.

In authoritarian systems, which can be *-stan countries like Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan or even companies like Apple or Tesla, propaganda is a reality distortion field used to maintain the myth of an absolutely superior product or a great infallible leader. It is needed to uphold the authority of the leader or president, and authority is apparently essential for an authoritarian system. According to this myth the leader is the only one who is able to lead the country or organization and enables it to prosper, while in reality this may be the case only temporarily. The leader is of course not infallible at all, and corruption or organized crime are often the thriving elements behing the curtain in authoritarian systems.

Propaganda in authoritarian systems focusses on the leader, who becomes his own brand. It promises that the leader will make the country great again, but it does not necessarily emphasize the importance of the party or movement of the leader. Contrary views are suppressed, but censorship exists mainly for critics of the great infallible leader.

Narcissistic persons or persons with narcissistic personality disorder are perfect candidates to lead authoritarian systems, because they naturally believe they are the greatest persons of the whole world. They inherently create a myth around themselves that they are the greatest and smartest persons ever. Of course in reality they are not.

In totalitarian systems propaganda has even greater importance. Here the propaganda is directed towards the system, movement or party itself. The propaganda is not only used to maintain the myth of a great leader, it is also used to create a myth for the country as a whole, and it promises that the movement *and* the leader of the movement will make the country great again.

To do that it creates an entity out of a social system by an elementary processes of brain washing. It is here where a form of social gene expression comes into play and propaganda starts to shine. Propaganda can not only create an imaginary myth or legend, it can also create a real movement which embodies an ideology. It is a living entity which has all properties of a life-form: it has a body, it can shrink and grow, and it can move and expand. We have mentioned that process of cultural gene expression earlier in the article about the secret of religion.

So yes, there are cultural or social genes. And they are very fundamental for our society. The expression and translation of these cultural genes is a fundamental social process which creates coherent entities in social systems. A number of social genes are used to control the behavior of the group. They are expressed in speeches, church servies, political rallies, and in modern times by broadcasting propaganda on TV. Propaganda is a means of gene expression.

Censorship is of great importance in totalitarian systems too, because it eliminates foreign gene material which interferes with the process of expression and translation. Censorship and propgaganda are in fact two sides of a coin. Censorship narrows the spectrum of the speakable, propaganda extends it, adds new imaginary or alternative facts, and makes the spectrum more colorful. Together they form the (un)speakable.

In China for instance, the censorship system of the government suppresses any information about the dissident Liu Xiaobo, because he called for political reforms that could threaten the very existence of the party and the one-party system. Writings like his Charter 08 have the power to create the foundation of a new system, which the current government wants to avoid at all cost.

In the Soviet Union censorship of dissidents like Andrei Sakharov was also very common, and in Nazi Germany censorship was extreme as well. In all the systems where we have massive propaganda we also have massive censorship. The censorship is in fact nothing else but an immune system for the life-form created by repeated propaganda.

All in all we arrive at the following view:

Propaganda Person Party
Myth or
Myth of founder,
Superiority myth
Gossip about leader,
Criticism of leader
Criticism of regime
Desired property Authority Integrity
Resulting system Authoritarian Totalitarian

[1] Garth S. Jowett, Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda & Persuasion, SAGE Publications, 2018
[2] Edward Bernays, Propaganda, Routledge, 1928
[3] Jason Stanley, How propaganda works, Princeton University Press, 2016


Images are from Wikipedia and show Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, as well as a Nazi party rally

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