I’ve just read a few pages of Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, by Jacques Ellul, and unfortunately had to return it to my library (it was only out on inter-library loan). This particular passage, from the introduction, reminded me so much of several people I know, the sort who think that they are more open minded than everybody else, usually, because they are better educated. Ellul pops that balloon easily, as propaganda as we know it actually depends upon that education. By saying:
” … Modern propaganda cannot work without “education”; he thus reversed the widespread notion that education is the best prophylactic against propaganda. On the contrary, he says, education or what usually goes by that word in the modern world, is the absolute prerequisite for propaganda. In fact, education is largely identical with what Ellul calls “pre-propaganda”– the conditioning of minds with vast amounts of incoherent information, already dispensed for ulterior purposes and posing as “facts” and as “education.” Ellul follows through by designating intellectuals as virtually the most vulnerable of all to modern propaganda, for three reasons:
1) they absorb the largest amount of secondhand, unverifiable information;
2) they feel a compelling need to have an opinion on every important question of our time, and thus easily succumb to opinions offered to them by propaganda on all such indigestible pieces of information;
3) they consider themselves capable of “judging for themselves.” They literally need propaganda.
In fact, the need for propaganda on the part of the “propagandee” is one of the most powerful elements of Ellul’s thesis. Cast out of the disintegrating microgroups of the past, such as [extended] family, church, or village, the individual is plunged into mass society and thrown back upon his own inadequate resources, his isolation, his loneliness, his ineffectuality. Propaganda then hands him in veritable abundance what he needs: a raison d’etre, personal involvement and participation in important events, an outlet and excuse for some of his more doubtful impulses, righteousness–all factitious, to be sure, all more or less spurious; but he drinks it all in and asks for more. Without this intense collaboration by the propagandee the propagandist would be helpless.
The Olympics are beginning tonight, and tonight we will see another form of propaganda. The media will pick the athletes it wants us to admire and those it wants us to despise. It will show us warm, human interest stories, accompanied with sweet, dramatic, emotion-inducing background music for the athletes it wants us to love. We will get cold reporting, sneers, and negative commentary about the athletes the media hates. I suspect this categorization is based mainly on which athletes are nicest to the annoying, obstrusive reporters, but there may be other reasons.
Alinsky advocated the deliberate use of falsehoods to change people’s minds and hearts, and the NEA embraced Alinsky.
Mitchell recognizes this and writes of the same issue in Graves of Academe:
“It is possible, of course, to keep educated people unfree in a state of civilization, but it’s much easier to keep ignorant people unfree in a state of civilization. And it is easiest of all if you can convince the ignorant that they are educated, for you can thus make them collaborators in your disposition of their liberty and property. That is the institutionally assigned task, for all that it may be invisible to those who perform it, of American public education. “
In the Gift of Fire, by RIchard Mitchell, Mitchell says in chapter nine, Home Rule that our education is no longer an education, and it renders us unable to tell the difference between rubbish and reason., which dovetails nicely with Ellul:
“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…The vast majority of people, perhaps 90% percent, know how to read, but do not exercise their intelligence beyond this. They attribute authority and eminent value to the printed word, or, conversely, reject it altogether. As these people do not possess enough knowledge to reflect and discern, they believe — or disbelieve — in toto what they read. And as such people, moreover, will select the easiest, not the hardest, reading matter, they are precisely on the level at which the printed word can seize and convince them without opposition. They are perfectly adapted to propaganda…
Let us not say: “If one gave them good things to read… If these people received a better education…” Such an argument has no validity because things just are not that way. Let us not say, either: “This is only the first stage; soon their education will be better; one must begin somewhere.” First of all, it takes a very long time to pass from the first to the second stage… There is more, unfortunately. This first stage has placed man at the disposal of propaganda. Before he can pass to the second stage, he will find himself in a universe of propaganda. He will be already formed, adapted, integrated.…
One can reach a higher level of culture without ceasing to be a propagandee as long as one was a propagandee before acquiring critical faculties, and as long as that culture itself is integrated into a universe of propaganda. Actually, the most obvious result of primary education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was to make the individual susceptible to superpropaganda …
In fact, what happens and what we see all around us is the claim that propaganda itself is our culture and what the masses ought to learn. Only in and through propaganda have the masses access to political economy, politics, art, or literature. Primary education makes it possible to enter the realm of propaganda, in which people then receive their intellectual and cultural environment… The uncultured man cannot be reached by propaganda.
Also, one of the most effective propaganda methods in Asia was to establish “teachers” to teach reading and indoctrinate people at the same time. The prestige of the intellectual — “marked with God’s finger” — allowed political assertions to appear as Truth, while the prestige of the printed word one learned to decipher confirmed the validity of what the teachers said. These facts leave no doubt that the development of primary education is a fundamental condition for the organization of propaganda, even though such a conclusion may run counter to many prejudices, best expressed by Paul Rivet’s pointed but completely unrealistic words: “A person who cannot read a newspaper is not free.”
This need of a certain cultural level to make people susceptible to propaganda is best understood if one looks at one of propaganda’s most important devices, the manipulation of symbols. The more an individual participates in the society in which he lives, the more he will cling to stereotyped symbols expressing collective notions about the past and the future of his group. The more stereotypes in a culture, the easier it is to form public opinion, and the more an individual participates in that culture, the more susceptible he becomes to the manipulation of these symbols. … it is only normal that the most educated people (intellectuals) are the first to be reached by such propaganda… All this runs counter to pat notions that only the public swallows propaganda. Naturally, the educated man does not believe in propaganda; he shrugs and is convinced that propaganda has no effect on him. This is, in fact, one of his great weaknesses, and propagandists are well aware that in order to reach someone, one must first convince him that propaganda is ineffectual and not very clever. Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anybody else to this maneuver… “
Excerpted from Jacques Ellul. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. New York: Vintage Books, 1973