Tosin Adewale
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To-Sync With Nature...

Of Information and Propaganda

Of Information and Propaganda

Extracted from PROPAGANDA - The Formation of Men's Attitudes by JACQUES ELLUL

Tosin Adewale's photo
Tosin Adewale
·May 26, 2022·

14 min read

"Boole’s credo: That Language is an instrument of human reason, and not merely a medium for the expression of thought "

There is no better way to know what propaganda is, by first bringing to light what it is not.

Myth 1

Many observers look upon propaganda as a collection of "gimmicks" and of more or less serious practices. But it is a modern techniques-that is, it is based on one or more branches of science. Modem propaganda is based on scientific analyses of psychology and sociology.

Step by step, the propagandist builds his techniques on the basis of his knowledge of man, his tendencies, his desires, his needs, his psychic mechanisms, his conditioning-and as much on social psychology as on depth psychology. Without the scientific research of modem psychology and sociology there would be no propaganda, or rather we still would be in the primitive stages of propaganda that existed in the time of Pericles or Augustus.

Myth 2

Also, Propaganda is very frequently described as a manipulation for the purpose of changing ideas or opinions, of making individuals "believe" some idea or fact, and finally of making them adhere to some doctrine ;all matters of mind. Or, to put it differently, propaganda is described as dealing with beliefs or ideas. If the individual is a Marxist, it tries to destroy his conviction and turn him into an anti-Marxist, and so on. This line of reasoning is completely wrong.

Myth 3

In addition, the idea that propaganda consists of lies is wrong. For a long time propagandists have recognized that lying must be avoided. "In propaganda, truth pays off'- this formula has been increasingly accepted. There is little reason to falsify statistics. Similarly, there is no good reason to launch a propaganda campaign based on unbelievable or false facts. First of all, propaganda can effectively rest on a claim that some fact is untrue which may actually be true but is difficult to prove. Also, most of the time the fact is presented in such a fashion that the listener or reader cannot really understand it or draw any conclusions from it.

For example, a figure may be given without reference to anything, without a correlation or a percentage or a ratio. One states that production has risen by 30 percent, without indicating the base year, or that the standard of living has risen by 15 percent, without indicating how it is calculated, or that such and such a movement has grown by so many people, without giving figures for previous years. Finally, there is the use of accurate facts by propaganda. Based on them, the mechanism of suggestion can work best. Americans call this technique innuendo. Facts are treated in such a fashion that they draw their listener into an irresistible sociological current. The public is left to draw obvious conclusions. from a cleverly presented truth and the great majority comes to the same conclusions.

To obtain this result, propaganda must be based on some truth that can be said in few words and is able to linger in the collective consciousness. In such cases the enemy cannot go against the tide, which he might do if the basis of the propaganda were a lie or the sort of truth requiring a proof to make it stick. On the contrary, the enemy now must provide proof, but it no longer changes the conclusions that the propagandee already has drawn from the suggestions.

Although, Propaganda is necessarily false when it speaks of values, of truth, of good, of justice, of happiness-and when it interprets and colours facts and imputes meaning to them. It is true when it serves up the plain fact, but does so only for the sake of establishing a pretence and only as an example of the interpretation that it supports with that fact.

True picture of Propaganda?

The aim of modem propaganda is no longer to modify ideas, but to provoke action. It is no longer to change adherence to a doctrine, but to make the individual cling irrationally to a process of action. It is no longer to lead to a choice, but to loosen the reflexes. It is no longer to transform an opinion, but to arouse an active and mythical belief. Propaganda cannot operate in a vacuum. It must be rooted in action, in a reality that is part of it. For action makes propaganda's effect irreversible. He who acts in obedience to propaganda can never go back. He is now obliged to believe in that propaganda because of his past action. He is obliged to receive from it his justification and authority, without which his action will seem to him absurd or unjust, which would be intolerable. He is obliged to continue to advance in the direction indicated by propaganda, for action demands more action.

Information and Propaganda- The controversial union

In relation to information, Modern propaganda could not exist without the mass media inventions that produced press, radio, television, and motion pictures, or those that produced the means of modern transportation and which permit crowds of diverse individuals from all over to assemble easily and frequently. Which is why Propaganda can play only on individuals more or less intensely involved in social currents. The isolated mountaineer or forester, having only occasional contact with society at the village market, is hardly sensitive to propaganda. For him it does not even exist. He will begin to notice it only when a strict regulation imposed on his activities changes his way of life, or when economic problems prevent him from selling his products in the usual way.

Modem propaganda must utilize all of these media. Each usable medium has its own particular way of penetration. A movie does not play on the same motives, does not produce the same feelings, does not provoke the same reactions as a newspaper. The very fact that the effectiveness of each medium is limited to one particular area clearly shows the necessity of complementing it with other media. A word spoken on the radio is not the same, does not produce the same effect, does not have the same impact as the identical word spoken in private conversation or in a public speech before a large crowd. To draw the individual into the net of propaganda, each technique must be utilized in its own specific way, directed toward producing the effect it can best produce, and fused with all the other media, each of them reaching the individual in a specific fashion and making him react anew to the same theme-in the same direction, but differently. This marks as one of the bedrocks of Propaganda - Propaganda must be total.

We must also point to a dual factor necessary if the mass media are really to become instruments of propaganda. For they are not such instruments automatically or under just any conditions. They must be subject to centralized control on the one hand, and well diversified with regard to their products on the other. Where fllm production, the press, and radio transmission are not centrally controlled, no propaganda is possible. As long as a large number of independent news agencies, newsreel producers, and diverse local papers function, no conscious and direct propaganda is possible. This is not because the reader or viewer has real freedom of choice-which he has not, as we shall see later-but because none of the media has enough power to hold the individual constantly and through all channels. Local influences are sufficiently strong to neutralize the great national press, to give just one example.

To make the organization of propaganda possible, the media must be concentrated, the number of news agencies reduced, the press brought under single control, and radio and fllm monopolies established. The effect will be still greater if the various media are concentrated in the same hands. Only through concentration in a few hands of a large number of media can one attain a true orchestration, a continuity, and an application of scientific methods of influencing individuals.

Why Do We Even Need Propaganda? What justifies its existence.

Purely impassioned and emotional propaganda is disappearing. Modem man needs a relation to facts, a self-justification to convince himself that by acting in a certain way he is obeying reason and proved experience. We must therefore once again study the close relationship between information and propaganda. Propaganda's content increasingly resembles information. It has even clearly been proved that a violent, excessive, shock-provoking propaganda text leads ultimately to less conviction and participation than does a more "informative" and reasonable text on the same subject. A large dose of fear precipitates immediate action; a reasonably small dose produces lasting support. The listener's critical powers decrease if the propaganda message is more rational and less violent.

Propaganda's content therefore tends to be rational and factual. But is this enough to show that propaganda is rational? Besides content, there is the receiver of the content, the individual who undergoes the barrage of propaganda or information. When an individual has read a technical· and factual advertisement of a television set or a new automobile engine, and if he is not an electrician or a mechanic, what does he remember? Can he describe a transistor or a new type of wheel-suspension? Of course not. All those technical descriptions and exact details will form a general picture in his head, rather vague but highly colored-and when he speaks of the engine, he will say: "It's terrific".

It is exactly the same with all rational, logical, factual propaganda. After having read an article on wheat in the United States or on steel in Russia, does the reader remember the figures and statistics, has he understood the economic mechanisms, has he absorbed the line of reasoning? He is not an economist by profession, he will retain an over-all impression, a general conviction that "these Americans (or Russians) are amazing .•.. They have methods .... Progress is important after all," and so on.

These days people read only headlines, it seems as if the modern human retention ability is limited to 256 characters - so much for a tweet. Thereafter, what remains with the individual affected by this propaganda is a perfectly irrational picture, a purely emotional feeling, a myth. The facts, the data, the reasoning-all are forgotten, and only the impression remains. And this is indeed what the propagandist ultimately seeks, for the individual will never begin to act on the basis of facts, or engage in purely rational behaviour. What makes him act is the emotional pressure, the vision of a future, the myth. The problem is to create an irrational response on the basis of rational and factual elements. That response must be fed with facts, those frenzies must be provoked by rigorously logical proofs. Thus propaganda in itself becomes honest, strict, exact. but its effect remains irrational for Propaganda because of the spontaneous transformation of all its contents by the individual.

We emphasize that this is true not just for propaganda but also for information. Except for the specialist, information, even when it is very well presented, gives people only a broad image of the world. And much of the information disseminated nowadays-research findings, facts, statistics, explanations, analyses eliminate personal judgement and the capacity to form one's own opinion even more surely than the most extravagant propaganda.This claim may seem shocking; but it is a fact that excessive data do not enlighten the reader or the listener; they drown him. He cannot remember them all, or coordinate them, or understand them; if he does not want to risk losing his mind, he will merely draw a general picture from them. And the more facts supplied, the more Simplistic the image.

If a man is given one item of information, he will retain it; if he is given a hundred data in one field, on one question, he will have only a general idea of that question. But if he is given a hundred items of information on all the political and economic aspects of a nation, he will arrive at a summary judgement-"The Russians are terrific!" and so on.

A surfeit of data, far from permitting people to make judgments and form opinions, prevents them from doing so and actually paralyzes them. They are caught in a web of facts and must remain at the level of the facts they have been given. They cannot even form a choice or a judgement in other areas or on other subjects. Thus the mechanisms of modem information induce a sort of hypnosis in the individual, who cannot get out of the field that has been laid out for him by the information. His opinion will ultimately be formed solely on the basis of the facts transmitted to him, and not on the basis of his choice and his personal experience. The more the techniques of distributing information develop, the more the individual is shaped by such information. It is not true that he can choose freely with regard to what is presented to him as the truth. And because rational propaganda thus creates an irrational situation, it remains, above all, propaganda-that is, an inner control over the individual by a social force, which means that it deprives him of himself.

Now that we have established what propaganda is, its relation to facts, information and the transmission of information, this sets the stage for us to understand how propaganda influences people through the use of information.

Any modern propaganda will, first of all, address itself at one and the same time to the individual and to the masses. It cannot separate the two elements. For propaganda to address itself to the individual, in his isolation, apart from the crowd, is impossible.

The individual is of no interest to the propagandist; as an isolated unit he presents much too much resistance to external action. To be effective, propaganda cannot be concerned with detail, not only because to win men over one by one takes much too long, but also because to create certain convictions in an isolated individual is much too difficult.

When propaganda is addressed to a crowd, it must touch each individual in that crowd, in that whole group. To be effective, it must give the impression of being personal, for we must never forget that the mass is composed of individuals, and is in fact nothing but assembled individual. Actually, just because men are in a group, and therefore weakened, receptive, and in a state of psychological regression, they pretend all the more to be "strong individuals." The mass man is clearly subhuman, but pretends to be superman. He is more suggestible, but insists he is more forceful; he is more unstable, but thinks he is firm in his convictions.

If one openly treats the mass as a mass, the individuals who form it will feel themselves belittled and will refuse to participate. If one treats these individuals as children (and they are children because they are in a group), they will not accept their leader's projections or identify with him. They will withdraw and we will not be able to get anything out of them.

On the contrary, each one must feel individualized, each must have the impression that he is being looked at, that he is being addressed personally. Only then will he respond and cease to be anonymous (although in reality remaining anonymous).

Propaganda must be continuous and lasting-continuous in that it must not leave any gaps, but must fill the citizen's whole day and all his days; lasting in that it must function over a very long period of time. successful propaganda will occupy every moment of the individual's life: through posters and loudspeakers when he is out walking, through radio and newspapers at home, through meetings and movies in the evening. The individual must not be allowed to recover, to collect himself, to remain untouched by propaganda during any relatively long period, for propaganda is not the touch of the magic wand. It is based on slow, constant impregnation.

And to prevent him from finding external points of reference, it protects him by censoring everything that might come in from the outside. Not only does propaganda seek to invade the whole man, to lead him to adopt a mystical attitude and reach him through all possible psychological channels, but, more, it speaks to all men.

Propaganda cannot be satisfied with partial successes, for it does not tolerate discussion; by its very nature, it excludes contradiction and discussion. As long as a noticeable or expressed tension or a conflict of action remains, propaganda cannot be said to have accomplished its aim. It must produce quasi-unanimity, and the opposing faction must become negligible, or in any case cease to be vocal.

All of these begs the question - Who is the propagandist?.

The Propagandist is the leader or expert who enjoys authority and prestige among the mass is the man who best speaks for that mass. The ordinary man must see himself reflected in his leader. The leader must be a sublimation of the "ordinary man." He must not seem to be of a different quality. The ordinary man must not feel that the leader transcends him.

Albeit, Propaganda has several limitations, one of them is - Propaganda cannot succeed where people have no trace of Western culture. We are not speaking here of intelligence; some primitive tribes are surely intelligent, but have an intelligence foreign to our concepts and customs. A base is needed-for example, education; a man who cannot read will escape most propaganda, as will a man who is not interested in reading.

People used to think that learning to read evidenced human progress; they still celebrate the decline of illiteracy as a great victory; they condemn countries with a large proportion of illiterates; they think that reading is a road to freedom. All this is debatable, for the important thing is not to be able to read, but to understand what one reads, to reflect on and judge what one reads. Outside of that, reading has no meaning (and even destroys certain automatic qualities of memory and observation).

And if you have read from the beginning of this article to the very end, I guess it's safe to say you are susceptible to propaganda as the next person - Welcome to the Matrix!

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