Why Does Propaganda Work? Some People Want It

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Daniel Lattier viaThe Foundation for Economic Education,

There’s a principle in hypnotism that goes like this: A person cannot be hypnotized against his will. He must be a willing subject. He must be fully cooperative.

So it goes with propaganda. For propaganda to be effective, it requires submissive subjects. As Professor Nicholas O’Shaughnessy wrote, propaganda is a “co-production in which we are willing participants.”

Propaganda is typically defined as the dissemination of particularly biased information in support of a political or ideological cause. In his 1965 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, philosopher Jacques Ellul provided us with some of the basic characteristics of propaganda: it thwarts dialogue, it is geared toward the masses, it utilizes various media, it is continuous, it is not intended to make one think.

Disable the Brain

If these are the characteristics of propaganda, then it is no exaggeration to say that we are surrounded by it today. Most news organizations have become partisan shills and propagandists. They provide viewers with a steady stream of videos, audio clips, images, and articles—most lacking nuance and of dubious intellectual merit—that serve the intended purpose of promoting an ideology while fueling disdain for the “opposition”. And they have become very successful doing it.

The reason they are successful, I fear, is that most people today want to be propagandized—though they would never admit it. Most people want to be given ideological marching orders and talking points from an authority. Most people have zero interest, and see little value, in engaging with arguments put forward by those who hold differing positions, unless it’s to ridicule them. Most people want to simply choose the news media organizations that best fit with their selected ideological camps and immerse themselves in their informational streams.

This realization is unfortunate, but not really surprising. Over the past few hundred years we’ve had a massive democratization of public discourse and higher education in the West. A continually larger percentage of the population has gone to school for longer and longer periods of time, and has been given the impression that, as a result of this education, they are enlightened “critical thinkers” whose opinions have as much value as the next person’s.  

Yet, at the same time, we must confront the question raised by Dorothy Sayers in her famous 1947 essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”:

“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?”

The fact is, though everyone goes through the education system today, most are not provided with the building blocks of thought. Most are no longer taught logic. Most are not shown how to engage in rational debate.

Avoiding Complexity

And even if these skills were better taught in today’s schools, I highly doubt that our situation would be that much better. If history and experience are any indicators, the difficult reality is that most people either don’t possess the intellectual chops for doing battle with complex and controversial ideas, or they choose not to undertake the discipline necessary to acquire this skill.  

In the past, when confronted with new or different ideas, people who did not achieve the heights of formal education had the values and traditions embedded in their communities to fall back on. These provided them with a foundation—a “common sense”—by which to assess the merit those opinions that may differ from their own.

But today, hyper-individualism, increased urbanization, the breakdown of the family, and ideological divisions have caused a decline in the formative influence of community, and reduced our access to the “common sense” that it can provide.  

Intellectually insecure and socially uprooted, many people are now desperate for some authority to cling to, someone who will give simple expression to the inklings of thoughts and instincts to which they can neither give adequate voice nor adequately live out.   

Is it any wonder, then, that so many people would seek out propaganda today, and that its providers would be so happy to oblige?

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bleu's picture
bleu (not verified) nmb Sep 9, 2016 7:50 PM

How to sift through propaganda & interpret the news. http://wp.me/P4OZ4v-2Mq

Down to Earth Thinking's picture

One thing I have determined for sure is that most Americans prefer lies and distortions, with lots of excsuses,  to the simple truth of many matters. That way they do not have to face anything, ever ? They can simply stay fat, dumb, spoiled, apathetic, cowardly and afraid of their own shadows.


How many of you fit that description ? 

BennyBoy's picture

"many people are now desperate for some authority to cling to"


Who the fuck is desperate for some dumass authority?


chumbawamba's picture

Most people want to simply choose the news media organizations that best fit with their selected ideological camps and immerse themselves in their informational streams.

Hello, Zero Hedge! :D

I am Chumbawamba.

Lonesome Crow's picture

I'm not sure he has this right. It takes unwitting subjects, not willing. Is anyone willing to be duped? or are they just unknowledgable of the dupe?


The best analysis of the subject that there is was assembled by Julian Jaynes.


Still Losing Money's picture

the germans SMELLED the ovens and still said they didn't know what was going on...they PURPOSELY ignored the signs and believed the nazi propagada even after it was too late  or at least complied out of fear..but in either case THEY BOUGHT INTO IT. they were not unwitting

Elco the Constitutionalist's picture
Elco the Constitutionalist (not verified) Still Losing Money Sep 9, 2016 6:28 PM

The simpler explanation in the case of the ovens example is: there were no fucking ovens. It was propaganda. The jews forced the nazis into existence. The jews expanded the war beyond unification of the historical German empire. Then the jews got to escape culpability because - ovens.

justdues's picture

The ovens story is propaganda and you are the dupe believing it .

Down to Earth Thinking's picture

NO you are the dupe, my father was there and you are a fucking idiot in denial and worse ! wake the fuck up tithead, millions died and many were mutilated in various forms of experimentation and other lunacy !

Down to Earth Thinking's picture

NO you are the dupe, my father was there and you are a fucking idiot in denial and worse ! wake the fuck up tithead, millions died and many were mutilated in various forms of experimentation and other lunacy !

Lonesome Crow's picture

It is a difficult endeavor to comment upon such an emotionally charged analogy with all of this subject's undeniable, horrifying imagery.

All I can add is that there were many more variables involved with that era than propaganda.

No offense meant to your justifiable concern, but the topic is the acceptance of propaganda and not the possible subsequent horror of humility, terror, coercion, and force.

juangrande's picture

ZH has become hugely propogandizing! All kitchen utensils are black here, sir!

Fuku Ben's picture

A person cannot be hypnotized against his will. He must be a willing subject. He must be fully cooperative.

If you really believe that you must be dreaming.


Still Losing Money's picture

Sorry ths is a reply to the higher post by lonesome crow

No, willing is the correct term...for propaganda to work people HAVE TO BUY INTO IT, which means they have to be willing. Inner city schools suck, blacks vote dem, the schools suck, blacks vote dem, on and on and constantly buying into the meme that white reps are the enemy. they do this WILLINGLY to keep the welfare, affrimative acton etc flowing. they aren't stupid/unwitting. Lots of airhead white rich lib college kids buy into it cause they think it will help them sit at the cool kids table if they are down with the cause, whatever the cause is... they PURPOSELY do not look into it further.

Lea's picture

Willing is the correct term indeed. First they tell you how great you are, how the USA is exceptional and awesome (what American wouldn't believe that he/she is "great" and that he was mighty lucky to be born in the "land of the free, home of the brave"?) Once most everyone believes that, they have you where they want you: you are open to any manipulation, as long as they remind you from time to time how great, better and more knowledgeable than others you are, and how you are nobody's sucker. Then they tell you, for instance, how awful commies are, without ever providing anything as hard evidence but phony reports and fabricated stories, and by messing everyone up on the definition of communism.
It worked like that during the whole of the Cold War, and you all swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
To this day, most Americans are hateful and fearful of communism, while being totally unable to give a proper definition of it. Some are so confused they even think Hillary Clinton is a commie. Clinton, for Soros' sake! Clinton represents the most nakedly brutal form of capitalism. You can all wait for her to talk about raising blue collar wages, or bringing jobs back, till hell freezes over. She'd rather get the army to shoot at protesters with live bullets, and most everyone would agree with her if she called these protesters "bigots and extreme right-wing nutters" and then intoned the "America is great" mantra. 

Propaganda works by first flattering you. It works because everyone wants to think they are better, superior, more knowlegeable and less gullible than others. Once you are pushed into believing you are too smart to be tricked, you are done for. Think used car salesman.

Ignatius's picture

"Elwood," my mother said, "in this world one must be oh-so-smart, or be oh-so-pleasant."

"I prefer pleasant."  --  Elwood P. Dowd, from Harvey


When I was a kid I used to ask my Chartered Accountant father what was for dinner? He would reply that 'he did not know, but whatever it was I was going to like it'. When I would ask my Chartered Accountant father what I would be getting for my birthday he would reply that 'I would get to not be spanked'.

Yen Cross's picture

 When I was a kid, I ate leftovers, whether I liked it or not.


Elco the Constitutionalist's picture
Elco the Constitutionalist (not verified) Sep 9, 2016 6:25 PM

That is why propaganda works. The reason it is used, is because some people want power over other people.

logicalman's picture

Because the school system actively discourages critical, independent thinking.


mijev's picture

97% of scientists believe...

Seal's picture

"She was asking for it."

thebigunit's picture


Ten thousand years ago, ALL humans were hunter-gatherers.

Herding and agriculture changed that, but the majority of people alive today STILL have the ethos of foragers.

Foragers are constantly looking for goodies, and are almost always disappointed.  People expect to be disappointed.

When politicians make a promise for some new goodie, people are predisposed to take a chance that it MIGHT be true. THERE IS NOTHING TO LOSE!

And when the promise turns our to be false, people are not surprised.  It's just the way the world works.

Yukon Cornholius's picture

The moon landings are proof positive in Hitler's statement that the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it. Ask any believer what they know about the Van Allen belts.

Bemused Observer's picture

Propaganda does not convince anyone of anything. It only works on those who ALREADY BELIEVE the message, but are reluctant to admit it because they think those around them would disapprove.

What it does is give them the 'all-clear' they need to be open about it. Propaganda doesn't tell them what to believe, it tells them why it's ok to believe it.

jfb's picture

People believe what they want to believe. 90% of them. Tell them that the US is bombing deliberatelly children in Aleppo for the fun & thrill, they will dismiss it as ackward propaganda. Tell them that the Russians do it, they will see it as a proof that their culture is superior and the Ruskies inferiors so it must be true and they have a divine mission to prevent it. 

seataka's picture

AUTHORITY SUGGESTION: . Authority based hypnotic suggestion is why the AMA told it's members in the early 60's to wear a white lab coat instead of the suit coat they used to wear.  It is why the drill Seargant wears a uniform, while he yells at you in boot camp. This is why the police wear uniforms.

Repeated exposure to authority suggestion erodes deep channels through the mind through which bad thinking tends to thereafter naturally tend to flow.

Authority suggestion stops thinking.

Whenever thinking is stopped by any means the door to your subconscious is left unguarded.

George Estabrooks, a psychologist and hypnotist working for OSS in 1943 said: "Anything said to a hypnotized subject is true for them"

Stage hypnotist Ralph Slater, played Carnegie Hall 7 times the winter of 1949/1950.  He noted that the more intelligent the subject was, the easier it was to induce hypnosis. All the old hypnotists agreed, stating that this was because "intelligent people can control their minds better"
After 1950 hypnosis and hypnotism seemed to fall out of the public psyche. I believe it was weaponized, scams like Dianetics appeared, the covert applications propelled "The American Dream" into reality. And it has been used as a weapon against the american people ever since, and its influence amplified exponetially by the power of mass media.

See Dr. Robbert Oppenhiemer's 1952 warning, about the power of the advances in psychology (covert hypnosis) to control what a man believes to be true making the atomic bomb seem trivial.  < Oppenhiemer uses the word trivial!

Ms No's picture

We don't fully understand the subject of suggestion or it's limitations.  You don't know how hypnotically suggestible you are until you really give an effort to try to accomplish it.  Then you would have someone try to put you under and attempt to resist it in order to see the outcome.  Then you might know how suggestible you are.  Some people are so extremely suggestive that they can literally break out in blisters because they were given the suggestion that they had been burned. 

They used to do surgery on conscious patients using hypnotic suggestion, so it is definitely real.  There was even a scientist from about a hundred years ago who claimed he had one client he could put under simply by intending so from a distance.  I would hazard a guess that TPTB know much more than we do and they don't appreciate the population doing research on it either.

As far as conscious intellectual suggestion it is probably the same amount of people who are vulnerable to it.  It's a mixed bag and most of us will be vulnerable, especially if they are targeting the subconscious through repetition, flashing lights and the other usual tricks.  The two types of suggestibility cross over and may actually be the same thing.  Just like anything else it can be used for good and bad.

seataka's picture

 Orwell has been at work. I am convinced that the ones who know, psychologists included, can't say because it has been classified and weaponized. The textbooks have been changed, key underlying data has been omitted. I explained  what I had divined from reading pre-1950 psychology tracts, to a forensic psychiatrist, who said they recall being taught much of it but not all of it and no one had connected the dots in this manner. She found my materials deeply disturbing, as I did.  I'm an old electronics guy, I took up this study after witnessing inexplicable events including an innocent young man's suicide. At that point almost twenty years ago, I chose to study a subject I detested because I had to know how the trick had been done.

“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” Voltaire


Ms No's picture

From what I have seen it's just like anything else, as long as research stays within the desired parameters and desired results everything is fine.  If not, the attack dogs are unleashed.  Which is fine because if you find the "attack Peter Schiff phenomena" and then you see that the criticism is not warranted, you have found value.  Value is easy find in this manner lately.

There is no doubt that suggestion has propaganda weapons value and easily far worse.

Ms No's picture

I am sure your already aware of this case where three students who had been hypnotized by an unlicensed principal died later and after witnesses said they saw them in trance-like states.  Two committed suicide and another went into trance and then off the road.  I wonder if that asshole was doing research for somebody.  I sometimes wonder if it's not a good idea to self hypnotize (via recorder and proper education/method) to be "impervious to arbitrary outside suggestion".   


Emergency Ward's picture

Brusha brusha brusha, new Ipana toothpaste, it's better for your teeth

You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent

Crest has been shown to be an effective decay-preventive dentifrice when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care

When you diaper your baby don't do anything rash

Feed him Dr Ross dog food do him a favor, it's got more meat and it's got more flavor, it's got more meat to make him feel the way he should, Dr Ross dog food is doggone good. Woof!

Our Leggs fit your legs they hug you they hold you, they never let you go.

I guess I didn't resist.

VWAndy's picture

 Propaganda is not a single lie its a whole packa lies.

SimpleJackBlack's picture
SimpleJackBlack (not verified) Sep 9, 2016 10:04 PM

Propaganda steers the hope of the weak minded.

downwiththebanks's picture

"That's not capitalism.  It's just greedy people using the means at their disposal to fuck their neighbor."


Ms No's picture

There are some interesting links between suggestion and multiple personality disorder that are really interesting.  Like people under hypnotic suggestion, people who have MPD can exhibit different drug allergies, illnesses and other sorts of distinct problems.  One theory on NPD is that the subconscious mind absorbs the conscious mind.  It's really fascinating actually.  Stephen Braude has written about this.  Here is a interview he did on the subject.  These guys seem a little queer but they are both quite brilliant.


JailBanksters's picture

It's Propaganda vs Conspiracies

Propaganda works because it comes from a Trusted Source

Conspiracies don't work because they come from people that are borderline skitso

But a LOT of Conspiracies that were off the planet, were proven to be correct but it could take 10-50 years to be proven.


tribune's picture

AUSTRALIAN propaganda: houses prices always go up and when they dont the "correct". . you cant lose by buying a property.

honestann's picture

Throughout school kids are rewarded for memorizing and repeating what they are told.  Anyone who imagines this does not habituate the process of memorization and repeating what they are told doesn't have a clue how animals work (including human animals).

BTW, the very structure of school leads to absence of critical thinking.  The teacher is the authority, and repeating what the authority said leads to better treatment.  Therefore kids are habituated to accept and repeat whatever authority says.

This habituation is so effective that after school, if you set someone in a different environment where some new authority teaches radically different nonsense, most will accept the new nonsense too.  That's what they've habituated to do.

Critical thinking cannot be learned via verbal interaction with human beings.

Critical thinking is learned by fiddling around with REALITY and learning by personal OBSERVATION and EXPERIENCE... not language.

This doesn't mean all language is useless or counterproductive, but it does mean language alone IS.

The only way critical thinking can be learned is to grapple with real, physical problems in the real, physical world and learn to solve problems this way.

This can be jump-started a bit by watching a video where others solve problems, and encouragement and occasional hints can be provided via language, but real learning of critical thinking comes from fiddling with reality by means of sense perception and physical manipulation... usually to learn about reality or to achieve specific goals.

Once an individual has habituated critical thinking on physical reality, they can gradually progress to more and more abstract subject matter because they have habituated the policy of not letting their thinking processes completely detach from reality.  The learn to make sure their every abstract mental-unit connects to the real world, and how, which makes reliable abstract thought possible.

CRM114's picture

Kids are largely now rewarded for getting higher grades, and nothing else. This is because most teachers are now judged on only three things; student grades, following official policy and teaching techniques, and salary (low is good). The approved techniques and lower salaried staff lead to an inability to reason constructively,and the exams then remove the requirement for this as otherwise grades would crash, leading to political questions. It's a death spiral for thinking. I have had exam boards tell me to my face that they are dropping difficult topics because "The kids can't do it any more". Some private schools still employ older staff with a genuinely liberal outlook (that's liberal as in free thinking, not political-liberal, which is anything but) and a determination to teach kids how to reason, both within and beyond the subject matter. I used to teach at Dorothy L Sayer's (see quote) school, and the girls there still hit the world able to reason and argue constructively, but that's becoming increasingly rare. The girls at that school do lots of external trips, and experience a lot of reality, and this does form an essential basis for developing their reasoning. Also, many staff have had 'real' jobs before becoming teachers. Part of the problem is that the vast majority of inspectors and education bureaucrats were bad teachers, and so the "approved" techniques are actually very poor, and kill all initiative and interest. Then just overload the good teachers with more paperwork every year and Bingo! no one has any enthusiasm left, students or staff. No enthusiasm = no reasoning. The brain shuts down the energy-draining thinking circuits and moves over to fiddling with phones and other zombification.

Oh, and while we're at it, the teacher is not the authority, but the guide. The guide should be questioned. Education is leading into learning, not stuffing it down their throats. Placing the teacher in authority is stupid because it is (as is painfully evident) doomed to failure. The parents are the authority. No teacher or school's actions can overcome the example of the parents (in day schools, anyway). The only effective discipline is when teachers say "I shall have to report that to your parents if you don't stop" and when the parents will take action on receiving that report. Persistently troublesome children should be returned to their parents until they can behave, i.e. excluded. Teachers cannot fix society's ills, and it kills the education of the willing if it is tried. Seehere.


Of course, education also falls apart if the teacher is not a competent guide, as is the case with increasing frequency.

scatha's picture

People are conditioned from their birth to accept propaganda as they are conditioned as fearful animals realizing that if they reject propaganda by seeking the truth, brutality and rejection of the system awaits them. So called pursuit of happiness turns into desperate clinging to painlessness at any cost like  a drug addicts people are addicted to any propaganda that reduces their fear and anxiety.

More on role of propaganda for supporters of the system can be found here.


The massive propaganda that is being deployed toward the courtier class however, has the main objective, not as much to suppress “undesirable” ideas about reality they are living in, but rather providing the avenue of “help” and escape of the tremendous stress imposed by the brutal regime they are tasked to uphold. The other avenues are provided as well through addictions and the sin industry always allowed and nurtured by the ruling elites for this very reason. The courtier class is required to be moral and to believe that they are moral, whatever “moral” means at given moment. All for their own psychological relief of tension, preventing any disruption of their duty to suppress the others.

galant's picture

Once the heart of journalism was to report what was new, significant, interesting.

The greats were content to call themselves reporters and their by-lines were like Tiffanys on silver.

Now we have so-called journalists who believe they have a higher calling.

They must tell us how to interpret the news and what we get is mostly opinions or propaganda with the truth at best collateral damage.

headless blogger's picture

There is little "hyper-individualism" today. Individualism is the hallmark of CREATIVITY, and is being systematically destroyed by the public education system, purposely. Today's younger people are of the Hive-Mind mentality. You can see it clearly in the work place. Where I'm currently working a group of 3 millenials gave a presentation to a group of us. They kept reiterating how we all need to be thoughtful of "older people who don't understand computers and how to operate them", etc. I spoke up and reminded them that it was many of those "older" citizens who created, designed, and deployed computer technology (including the iPhones they all seem to be continuously glued to). Of course, that lowered my popularity within the "Group" immediately.

Thats' why all the Millenials are always the same these days. "Diversity" was simply a ploy to create a Hive-mind made up of different colors and genders, but all having the same "mind". It totally creeps me out being around some of these brainwashed robotic hive-minders.

Grandad Grumps's picture

Yes, people like to hear comforing lies.

But the people who really want propaganda are those who cannot live a parasitic lifestyle without it.