What is Propaganda? Podcast Ep 52

For as long as there have been governments, those in power have been using media and art to manipulate the public into thinking or doing what they want. We often call this “propaganda.” On today’s episode, Brittany and Connor talk about what propaganda means and how individuals can learn to identify it in their everyday lives.

Books: 

Links:

Here is the transcript of our conversation: 

 

Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: So in another episode, we talked about our favorite controversial classics, I think we called them, and one of the books we discussed was called Propaganda. Now, this is one of my favorite topics to talk about. I think it’s one of yours too, even though it’s a little bit scary. So I wanted to throw it back to you for starters, and have you kind of define this word for us, what Connor is? Propaganda.

Connor: Propaganda. It’s kind of a scary term and it shares the same kind of root word with propagation. If you think of the sound waves right now coming out of your car or your earbuds or however you’re listening to this podcast, those sound waves are propagating through the air, moving through the air. They’re being transmitted. And so when things propagate, they basically move from one location to another. And so propagation of ideas is basically just sharing ideas with other people. You might even say religiously, you can propagate missionary work, you can evangelize. So in general, fine propaganda is in a sense, just the sharing of information,

Brittany: Which Isn’t however scary. Right. That sounds pretty normal

Connor: Yeah, that sounds normal enough. But as with many words, it is taken off on a negative twist because, well, it’s not so important because of what it did, but so much as the word propaganda now means today, when people use it, it means something negative. It means that you’re sharing something that’s one-sided, something that is biased. In other words, it’s not showing the whole picture. So propaganda might be, Connor is amazing and he is totally perfect, and he does everything right and well, and blah, blah, blah. And then my wife at home listening to this.

Brittany: I was gonna say, what would your wife say

Connor: Is rolling her eyes and being like, Well, I can tell you the other side of the story. And so propaganda is, it’s like that. It’s very one-sided messaging. Think of Hitler in Nazi Germany and the propaganda that came out about Jews being horrible and we are the Aryan race, and we’re amazing and we’re gonna take over the world that is propaganda because it’s not only is it wrong, but it’s one-sided and it’s very biased. It’s misinformation. And so when we say propaganda today, that’s typically what we mean.

Brittany: So it’s a bad thing. It’s a kind of information, like bad information, they’re spreading or maybe even false information.

Connor: Yeah, And typically it’s coming from someone in power. So it’s not sitting in class next to the kid and he’s saying something wrong. Oh, that’s propaganda. Typically, when we say propaganda, it is from an official source or a power source. So it could be the media when they’re completely misrepresenting things. I know a while back we had Ron Paul on the program, and you’ll remember this example just jumped to mine since we’re talking about the media. I remember at what point, at one point there was a debate and Ron Paul was part of that debate running for president. There were a number of people, and then they did a poll and they were asking people, Who do you think won the debate? Or who do you think did the best? And then the gentleman, I can’t remember who it was, Sean Hannity or something like that, they put up on the screen showing the results of the poll and they said, Look, this person got to number one.

And then look, this person got to number three and then number four, and then number five. And they completely omitted the person who came in second, which was Ron Paul, because his views did not align with what the media, that particular company, Fox News wanted to share with viewers. They wanted to kind of hide and suppress. And so they had this kind of lopsided set of results and information that they were sharing with people that that’s propaganda. Not because the media is in power in some official capacity, but because they are powerful. And then certainly when the government does it, that’s kind of an official message. And so when the government is sharing wrong things or lopsided things, we would also call that propaganda.

Brittany: We would, And it’s also, you mentioned something really important, ’cause you said the media and the government. One thing that propaganda, at least always stands out in my head, is that propaganda is kind of the melding of both of them. And especially you mentioned Nazi Germany. So in Nazi Germany, it was hard to find media even not just news, movies, books, and even board games that didn’t have propaganda in them. So it was almost like the government got together with media and even artists and was kind of just like, Right, how could we use your talents to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do? And that’s a little terrifying and kinda genius in its own way, But again, very scary and not for good reasons

Connor: Yeah, That’s right. When we were talking before about propaganda when with the controversial classics, it was centered around one book in particular that shares the actual name. It’s simply called Propaganda. And it was written by a gentleman by the name Edward Bernays And what’s really

Brittany: Interesting, he was an American, right? Wasn’t he an American?

Connor: Yep. Austrian American. But here in the United States, what’s really amazing to me is when I was looking up some information about him, I’ve always thought of him as this guy in the early 19 hundreds. He wrote this book. He was involved in propaganda for World War. He’s kind of the father of public relations. So public relations is kind of like media. So if you have a big company and you’re doing things, some people might not or some people would like it. You hire people to manage your public relations, and your relations with the public. And so they’re doing media, they’re doing interviews, they’re doing advertisements, and that’s public relations. Well, Edward Bernays was there right at the beginning of it. He’s kind of the father of it because his Uncle Sigmund Freud was studying a lot about how that was his uncle. And so he was able to learn a lot about how the brain works and how you can use psychology, how the brain operates, and how we respond in order to manipulate people in order to get people to change their behavior. And so he was able to use it a bit for the government. And then he used it a lot for corporate clients, companies who wanted to get people to buy their products or use

Brittany: It’s Advertising almost.

Connor: basically. Yeah. So he wrote this book prop again. Well, the point I was trying to get at there before I got sidetracked was when I was going back to look up a little more information about him, I learned he passed away in 1995. That’s like,

Brittany: That’s not that long ago.

Connor: Right? It would’ve been so curious. Just in the eighties and nineties, I want to go do some additional research. Was he continuing to write any books or do interviews or share his experiences? I thought that was amazing, cuz I’ve always thought of him as being relevant in the early 19 hundreds. I didn’t realize that he lived almost to the age of a hundred. I think it was 95 or 96. Wow. Anyways, so what’s crazy to me about this book t is that when I read it, I think I shared this on the last episode, he’s basically giving the secret playbook of how people in power use propaganda in order to change people’s behavior and change their opinions. And he gives all kinds of examples. And when you read the book, it’s not a long book. You realize that as he himself says that propaganda can be used to get people to do things otherwise wouldn’t when they are kind of controlled by the government into thinking something different.

For example, 9/11 happens, there was an attack in America, and we are all told that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. So the military needs to go into Iraq. Well then when you step back from that, you think, Well, wait a minute, those two are entirely different. Cuz Saddam Hussein did not attack New York City and he did not orchestrate the attacks. The people were all from Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t Iraq. So how was it that the public was able to be so whipped up and distracted, or their attention focused on Iraq and Saddam Hussein when that didn’t have anything to do with nine 11? That is the power of propaganda to shift people in a certain direction and get them to support something. It, it’s very scary when you think about it. Right.

Brittany: Very scary. And you brought up something I thought was really interesting how they were almost, it was almost the people in power were creating an enemy where there was no enemy. And one of the things that Edward Bernays says, and also is it Goebbels I always say, it’s Goebbels, right? That’s what you said.

Connor: Yeah

Brittany: He was like the Nazi father of propaganda. He was running all the propaganda for Nazi Germany. He always talked about how to get people to do anything. You have to make them have a common enemy. And this is so important because we see this all the time. We see this with Iran, this happens now all the time. We’re being told Iran is our enemy. Iran hates us because we’re free. They wanna attack us. And so a lot of people in America, especially older people sometimes believe this and they think, All right, this is true. These are our enemies. And then you actually talk to the younger people on the grounds in Iran, and they love America. They love western culture. So we don’t really know what’s going on because as long as you create this common enemy, you start turning people against each other. And we’ve talked about fear and what fear does. You’ve written about what fear does to people. I believe the book Feardom Get that right? Yeah. That you create this common enemy and then you create fear. And then when people are scared, and we saw this during the pandemic, they’ll do anything and they’ll give up their rights pretty quickly.

Connor: That’s exactly right. And it’s so hard for us to try and make sure that we understand the truth, that the voices we’re listening to the media, the news, the politicians, we all want to understand the way the world really works. We all want to understand what truth is. But it’s so hard when you’re, you feel like you’re being lied to all the time. Here is a brief quote, I’m gonna share from the book that I mentioned, Propaganda by Edward Bernays. And we’ll

Brittany: Link pulling a book link to the show notes

Connor: Too. Absolutely. So head to tuttletwins.com/podcast and you can find this has a few words, so I’ll kind of go slow and maybe break it down a bit. This is just a little portion of what he’s saying. So especially for the older kids and the parents, if this is of interest to you, go pick up the book on Amazon. It’s not that long, but it’s kind of startling to see a century ago what was being done in government. So he says that the conscious and intelligent manipulation, so you’re modifying it, The manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Let me pause there and break that down. So he’s saying that changing people’s habits and their opinions, the things that they believe, so manipulating them, controlling them, he says that’s an important element in a democratic society, not educating people, letting them decide whatever they want.

In fairness, without any bias. He’s saying manipulating what people think is an important element in a democratic society. Here’s how he continues. Those who manipulate society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country. Wow. Okay, one more sentence, but before we continue, he’s saying the people involved in controlling other people’s views with propaganda, they’re the invisible government that is truly ruling the government. Very alarming when you think about it. Here’s the last sentence I’ll share for now. There’s plenty more that he says after this. He says We are governed, Our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested largely by men. We have never heard of And so that is the power of propaganda. When people behind the scenes have ulterior motives or bad hidden motives, they don’t want people to know what they’re doing. When they can create campaigns, they can share ideas, they can pay for advertising, and they can get the media to talk about something. And all of a sudden people’s attention can be so focused from one thing to the next distracted and not paying attention to the things that really matter. That is the power of propaganda, I think, sadly. I think he’s right. I mean that is absolutely right.

Brittany: It’s scary. He’s Right

Connor: That is a true ruling power. What’s the point of elections if the public is totally deceived in one way or the other? If we don’t have an informed group of people who are voting and they’re just being manipulated by a few people, then those clearly are the people in power. If they can sway public opinion and get us to do things differently.

Brittany: Well, and it’s sad because a lot of people aren’t worried about things like that. They’re not really worried about policy because they’re taking care of their own lives. They’re worried about paying their bills, worried about doing this. So they’re going to look at someone in power and say, I don’t have time to research this. I don’t have time to find out what the truth is. So they’re just gonna take this for the gospel. And it’s a little bit scary, not a little bit scary. It’s a lot scary because we’ve seen what happens when this happens, and that is the policies change, laws change, and we become less free.

Connor: I agree. And it reminds me of the story of the boy who cried wolf. So here’s a boy, he claims that wolves are coming, the villagers down below, terrified, nervous, whatever it turns out, wasn’t telling the truth. And then later on when wolves are actually coming and the boy cries wolf, the villagers don’t believe him anymore because he’s no longer a source of trustworthy information. And so the question for us is, how does that apply in our lives when we see that someone is not being truthful when we see that they don’t have integrity, that they are not, or that they are biased, or one-sided, why should we continue to trust them? Maybe that’s someone or a group that we should be skeptical of and not believe what they’re saying. And the more that you start to learn about the government, the more that you start to learn about people in power, you realize that they have interests and goals that are not the same as yours. They want to preserve their power, increase their power, and they’re very willing to lie and be biased about it. And so when the government has these official narratives and this propaganda, I think it’s important for us to recognize that their track record is not very good. And so when they announce something or they claim, Hey, this happened, therefore we need to go invade this country, or we need to raise taxes or whatever it is, chances are there’s a large portion of that message that isn’t true.

Brittany: Probably most of it isn’t true. Maybe I’m just a little bit of a skeptic about the Government

Connor: 20% 80%

Brittany: Especially again, and I hone in on this part, when there is that common enemy, especially to be, it’s always a red flag when we are told that it’s all one person’s fault and that we all need to turn our attention against that person, I think that is when we need to be just very alert and know that maybe we aren’t being told the full truth.

Connor: As we wrap up here, I’ll just mention very briefly in the book Feardom that we mentioned earlier. Perhaps we can link to that at the show notes page as well. I share several stories in there about how the government has completely lied exactly for the reasons Brittany, that you’re describing in order to get people to be on Team America and therefore oppose someone else. A very brief example is Operation Northwoods. This is one word, Northwoods. Let’s even link to the show notes page on or to the Wikipedia page for that on our show notes page. So again, go to tuttletwins.com/podcast. Operation Northwoods was a project where the people in charge of the United States military went and sat down with the president. At the time, it was JFK, John F. Kennedy, and they proposed to the president of the United States that they wanted to hurt, injure, attack, and kill American citizens.

Now, the context for that is, at the time relations with Cuba were a big problem. Perhaps some of our listeners have heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis and things like that. There was a lot of tension cuz there were worries about kind of this foothold of communism right on America’s border. And rightly so, there were a lot of concerns. But here are the people in charge of the military, in charge of protecting Americans. And they suggested to the President that they should attack and kill Americans. Why? Well, not to admit that they were the ones who did it. In fact, what they recommended was that they would blame it on Cuba and they would get everyone in America, to use your example, Brittany, really angry at Cuba and then demanding the government and the military go attack Cuba. Because what they found is that prior to this, there wasn’t really a lot of support among the American public for launching a military attack. And the people in the military wanted to attack. And so they figured that the way to do this was to create this sometimes called a false flag event, but basically a fake event where it wasn’t Cubans that were going to bomb a boat full of Americans. And it wasn’t Cubans that were going to drop a bomb on an American city. It was in fact the American government and then they were gonna blame it, it on Cuba. So this stuff happens from time to time perhaps, or maybe often. You never know that.

Brittany: Often, but you never know

Connor: But this is interesting because it was the official plan and it was declassified. In other words, it used to be secret. And now it’s not a secret anymore. And you can go read about how our own government was proposing something. This didn’t happen simply because the President said no. But had he said yes, then the American government would’ve lied to the people and would’ve killed Americans. And we may never have known and we may never have known. So that is an example of propaganda. Guys Very depressing topic obviously, but very important to have our eyes open, I think, to the world around us. If we truly want to understand the way the world works, we need to understand that there are people like Edward Bernays saying, Hey, those of us in this invisible government is really pulling the strings. We’re really controlling things. If you and I want to act and have freedom and not be acted upon like puppeteers or puppets, rather by puppeteers who are pulling our strings and controlling us, we need to understand that this type of stuff is possible, that it’s happened in the past and that it’s certainly happening in the future.

So check out tuttletwins.com/podcast for the show notes so you can go look at some of those resources. If you want to learn more, make sure you’re subscribed. And Brittany, until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you next time

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