It is just being human. You smell a bad odor and you walk the other way, or you see road kill and you look away… We have a natural aversion to the unpleasant. And, a scan of any social media and you see it. Angry posts, oblivious posts, and people saying “I just don’t want to hear it anymore.” Today’s America would seem too sophisticated to fall into the pitfalls of the past.
But what happens when we turn off the news? Well, that is nothing new. News media consumption by Americans has been decreasing for years. Surveys of the American public awareness of civics, foreign affairs and politics consistently show we are not paying attention. We have been looking away for years – but something feels different.
On the one hand, the reality show-like headlines are shocking and alluring – and many media outlets are drawn to the flames and offer a surface level of coverage focusing on the immediate and not the in-depth.
The Truth, the Washington Post says, dies in darkness. And, a combined constant attack on the media with a litany or outrageous claims goes a long way to make many turn away. Some of the most corrupt regimes from Turkey to Hungry to Russia feature corrupt governments that push an anti-corruption platform to weaken the press and the roots of democracy.
The apex of this communication concept is often viewed as the dark work of Nazi Propaganda—false information to persuade an audience to accept a set of false ideas. But they did not invent propaganda: The term was coined by the Catholic Church to describe its reaction to Protestant Reformation. The Creel Commission in the US perfected the trade with the idea of getting the US pubic on board with the war effort. The success of the Creel Committee on Public Informatio inspired Hitler, as did the American idea of Eugenics, and he created a Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Hitler would say that propaganda should "be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan."
The differences between autocratic and democratic communions models?
Dictating or Listening:
Dictators prefer one-way communication where reframing and instructions are given to followers, there is no two way flow of communications, and the idea is not to hear or learn from the public, but to control and sustain. Propaganda posters from the 1940s showed the power of graphic lies that built fear and call for sacrifice to a father-like state, versus a plural, civil society.
Answering or Asking:
Math can go badly for the autocrat. Add up the facts, and new questions arise. To cement power, the autocrat wants and tolerates no questions- rather they will provide answers, and discourage dialog or questions. They need no feedback, they suppress the free media and public dialog.
Dictate or Teaching:
The autocrat corrects rather than educates. It is a classic one way flow – information comes from the government to cement the power structure, rather than expand or educate the public – so look for cuts to programs to motivate or teach – like vaccinations, epidemic preparation and public education. And instead look for statements “correcting” the past and playing up the policy base of an autocrat. Military excesses, big events and supporting wealthy supporters with benefits are more their style. Famously for years under the Salazar regime in Portugal all history textbooks ended with Salazar coming to power in 1928– much like a culmination of Portuguese history. The last line was a quote from the leader” I know what I want and where I am going.”
None of this is new, all of it is dangerous. And, Edward L. Bernays called it years ago in his book, Propaganda:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in ademocratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”