This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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3.1. Aspects of Propaganda

General remarks

We will begin by citing a letter written by author Dennis Wheatley, which was buried on his estate with the intent that it be discovered and found useful long after his death. It provides insight into the impact of technology on public opinion and the way the arrival of the machine prepared the way for an entirely new mental climate:

When I was born electricity had been discovered but not yet adapted to practical every-day usage. London had no electric light or telephone system. Wireless, radio recording, broadcasting and gramophones were still unknown, and the petrol engine was still in its infancy. There were no motorcars; on the streets all vehicles were still horse-drawn, and for travelling further afield, the steam train as yet without corridor coaches, was the only means of transport. Liners and warships were generally steam propelled but a great part of the world’s sea-borne commerce was still carried in sailing ships; and the idea of travelling by air was as remote and unreal with us as it was with the Romans.

The electric age, having its infancy while I was a schoolboy, reaching maturity during the First World War, and becoming a dominant factor in all our lives from then on, has revolutionised thought wherever it has penetrated.

In the early years of the century the vast majority of the people of Europe and the United States – and even more so those of the less progressive areas of the world – formed their opinions from personal contact with their fellows. The more advanced among them were neither lacking in intelligence or political consciousness, but their attitude towards their rulers was governed in the main by (1) any new laws which affected their personal well-being and (2) the discussion of events at the centres of government – declarations of war, treaties of alliance, court scandals, royal marriages etc. these were often belatedly reported but formed the staple talk wherever men were gathered together; in the towns, in clubs and taverns, in the country, in public halls and inns. Thus, in those days, the ‘voice of the people’ was in fact the consensus of opinion arrived at after a vast number of free debates had taken place at every level of society and in all parts of the country, concerned.

This ‘voice’ was rarely raised; but when it was, rulers had good cause to tremble, and almost invariably, the result was a cessation of repression or a change of government; as the ‘voice’ was usually pregnant with both justice and commonsense.

But the ‘voice’ was stilled by the coming of the electro-machine age, as the new inventions enabled the professional politicians of all parties to get into direct touch with every community, however remote. First came the electric press, enabling a million or more copies of a newspaper to be run off in a single night – and enormously improved arrangements for distribution. Then came the wireless telegraph – which swiftly developed into radio, with a five times a day news service which, by means of a cheap receiving set, could be picked up in every home. And these were followed by the cinematograph which soon became one of the most insidious weapons for political propaganda.

The result was that instead of forming their opinions by quiet thought and reasoned discussion, the bulk of the people took them ready made (from so called ‘informed’ sources) and, in consequence, in the short space of the first two decades of the 20th century an almost unbelievable change took place in the mental attitude of the masses all over the world. The immense speeding up of means of communication brought the national and international picture so swiftly before them that it filled their thoughts to the exclusion of local conditions and the well-being of their own communities; political ideologies and abstract theories of government usurped in their minds the place which had previously been occupied by the selective prosperity of local industries and the prospects of crops. Worst of all, the masses came under the immediate influence of the political demagogues who labelled themselves as the ‘representatives of the people’, who held that ‘all men being equal’ all power should be vested in the majority rather than in the intelligent minority, as had been the case in the past.[1]

Hopefully this text serves as an initial clarification of this section’s title, which refers to ‘propaganda’, and situates it somewhat as a sub-topic of the study of technology and its influence on society. Propaganda is, in this sense, one of the effects of the technological overthrow of traditional modes of thought, and in a sense it is the new mode of thought, or at least provides the conditions in which thought now takes place. It is our purpose here to dissect the phenomenon and in its various aspects.

Propaganda is one of those caricatured subjects, much like monarchy, that is difficult to talk about today because everyone who hears the term thinks they know what it signifies, while in fact they are acquainted only with a parody of the concept. This confusion is, ironically, often a direct result of propaganda. What I mean is that, while I can’t say for sure if the insane know they’re insane, I can say that the propagandized do not usually know they are propagandized.

Again, comparing discussions about propaganda to those about monarchy, it is impossible to speak of these concepts to American audiences because their shallow preconceptions have been so thoroughly reinforced, not by study or by experience, but by the pressure of exaggeration and self-congratulatory myth. At this point, any explanation at variance with their expectations is rejected out of hand as counter to “common sense.” Just as all Americans believe that every King is necessarily a tyrant, so also is propaganda a thing of the past, discarded because impotent against an enlightened and informed populace.

This is why the term, if it is used at all, is applied to primitive and obvious attempts to further political positions. When we hear “propaganda,” we think of cartoons picturing Uncle Sam spanking Hitler, or something of that sort. We see such devices as so blatant and superficial that to call an effort “propaganda” is to classify it as something so apparent that no reasonable adult would take it seriously.

To make matters worse, the term also brings to mind Hollywood representations of “brain washing” and Manchurian Candidate-style conspiracy plots. All of this mocking confusion undermines a proper discussion of propaganda from the start. Any warnings or claims about the dangers association with it sound to the modern ear like simple-mindedness or paranoia. I hope in what follows to illustrate clearly that the assumption that modern man is exempt from propaganda technique is a very dangerous form of ignorance.

[1] Dennis Wheatley, A Letter to Posterity.

A dangerous situation

Egalitarian society asks much of the men within it; so much in fact that it is difficult to imagine any group of individuals capable of answering the call with success. It is no insult to admit that a single person is not capable of achieving competence on very many matters. This is due to a variety of factors such as time, desire, and aptitude. After all, the names on a ballot really represent a range of very complex questions, and very few men have the time required to understand and answer those questions properly before they enter the voting booth. Of those who do have the time, how many have the desire to carry out their so-called due diligence? And of the remaining number who have both the time and the desire, how many of these still lack the proper aptitude for this type of study? Few indeed will be left able to reach the level of knowledge that we could honestly describe as competent.

This creates a dangerous environment from the outset, because it is everywhere suggested to men that they must express opinions regardless of whether they are properly equipped to do so, regardless of whether they even have opinions about a given issue, and even though some of them may have never even cared to think about the matter before. (And in most cases, it is entirely proper that they have never thought about the matter, for a wise men does not attempt to generate opinions on everything under the sun, and particularly on those matters which fall outside of his range of competence and therefore do not concern him).

Democratic civilization goes even to the point of imputing a sort of negligence on to those who, perhaps out of an honest humility, choose not to express their ignorance on the ballot sheet. I ask the reader: can you sense the extreme peril of such a situation? Masses of men are being herded into ballot boxes and pressed to fill out questionnaires about men they do not know and who, ironically, may be as ill-equipped for the task of governance as themselves. Such conditions do not empower the people, but leave them ripe for exploitation.

Deprived of knowledge, pressured into an act of hypocrisy, the voter is often just as likely to answer one way as another. It only takes a nudge to tip the scales and get a vote, and that nudge rarely comes in the form of a rational discourse. The modern election, carried out in this fashion, becomes a large-scale expression of ignorance.

We must proceed, therefore, by asking what, if not knowledge, determines the outcome of the electoral process? Asked another way: what forces influence and direct the mind of the modern democratic man? These are not simple questions, and the subject must be approached from various angles in order to get a sense of the answer.

Democracy and the need for opinions

Let us take a step back for a moment and look again at the situation where the average American citizen finds himself. Our existences are, for the most part, banal, and so are our social problems. This does not mean they are not important, but it does mean that they are not as obvious as the problem of Huns descending upon our neighbors or the threat of starvation due to draught. Our problems are at the same time much more complex and much more uninteresting.

Were the difficulties of the day to be stated in the chaotic, confused, and ultimately mundane terms where we actually find them, then no one would take an interest in the news, much less in politics. If some did take an interest, they would not feel very compelled to express and opinion on the matter anymore than they feel compelled to philosophize about the process of photosynthesis occurring in the grass on their front lawn.

In order to induce the citizen to care enough to go out and vote, he must be convinced that the workings of politics which often seem beyond his comprehension (because they are) and beyond his control (again, because they are) are worth the time he must spend trying to understand them. This is quite a task. In the words of Hans Delbrück:

“The experience of thousands of years teaches that the overwhelming majority of peoples does not take sufficient interest in the state to be able to form well-founded opinions concerning either persons or bills to cast its vote accordingly. . . . In most elections, except those of rare popular interests, the party that succeeds through some means or other in hauling a crowd of absolutely indifferent men to the polls is the party that wins. Is it then the people’s will that has become manifest through this election? We find ourselves in an evident dilemma. If no parties existed, the vote would be so small that there could be no question of an action of the people. If we have parties, it is true, they drag the people onto the stage, but the verdict is pronounced by the powers, who understand how to induce those who have no opinion of their own to vote in the way desired.”

Although this runs counter to the present way of understanding the democratic process, it is an accurate depiction of the truth, and it also explains why every news story is sensationalized as much as possible, and why political issues are framed in terms that inevitably threaten the well-being of the average citizen, otherwise the average citizen would not care. So here we are with a political system organized on the assumption that men want to control their own political processes. When it turns out that really this isn’t true of very many people, rather than change the assumption, political parties set about trying to convince the people that they should care, and this always necessitates a distortion of the issues. Nevertheless, and for reasons we will explore below, it always succeeds through propaganda technique in inducing men to become passionate about “the issues.”

But there is one serious problem with this success. Having induced the people to care, and care very vehemently, democracy is immediately confronted with the problem of knowledge. Fear and concern has been instilled in the mob, but where shall they find their opinions, which because they never cared they never formed? Clearly these must be manufactured for them, and nothing is more efficient at this process than propaganda. And so we see at this early stage a key feature of propaganda: it is self-perpetuating.

Propaganda is self-inflicted based on a need

Propaganda, once unleashed, creates in society a need for more propaganda. First the concern of the citizen is inflamed, and when he finds himself in dire need of opinions and ‘answers’ to allow him to express this concern, and again propaganda presents itself as the answer. In a way, it is like an addictive drug. This is propaganda in its second stage, and it is this type of ‘opinion forming’ propaganda that we see and experience most in the present context.

What is most important to understand now is that once this point is reached propaganda is catering to a population of consumers who need it. They need opinions, for only through opinionating can the democratic citizen find any semblance of peace. In the post-literate age where books no longer matter, the wellspring of opinion is the apparatus of propaganda. This is why Jacques Ellul wrote:

“[O]ne cannot reach through propaganda to those who do not need what it offers. The propagandee is by no means just an innocent victim… There is not just a wicked propagandist at work who sets up means to ensnare the innocent citizen. Rather, there is a citizen who craves propaganda from the bottom of his being and a propagandist who responds to this craving.”

Individual need

We have identified an individual need, but this need can be divided into many aspects, each of which exerts an incessant pressure, an affliction for which propaganda is the most efficient source of relief. The aspects are as follows:

The citizen of today, more than ever before, takes a very serious interest politics. He feels, at the same time, responsible for every event that takes place in the political world and helpless to alter these events. This fundamental disharmony—the sense of having responsibility for something that is completely out of one’s control—is enough to drive a person mad.

The citizen, by subscribing to the notion that the people rule, and acknowledging that he is one of the people, then he feels the pressure that in previous ages only statesmen and kings might have known. This pressure, moreover, is multiplied a hundred times over by the fact that his world is exponentially more complex than what was experienced by the kings of old. The man of today is confronted with unprecedented complexity in his surroundings, combined with unprecedented responsibility for whatever happens, and this creates a constant sense of anguish and alienation from the very political system of which he has been assured that he is a part. His mind buys into the notion of participation, but reality is constantly refuting it. One moment he is flattered and the next he feels reduced to a cog in a machine he knows nothing about and could not hope to influence. He is divided against himself. Like Prometheus, he took possession of things beyond his state, and his prize is to be torturously consumed by his successes.

As a culminating blow, there is no longer a public religious presence to assure him that God is ultimately the one who will control the fate of the nation. On the contrary, God is a thing for the private space, which is a very small compartment indeed, while the public space is under the direction of his peers, without the bothersome interference of religious dogmatizing. Thus, even religion cannot offer solace when it comes to the problems of daily life.

Confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, the man arrives home from a twelve-hour shift to hear that an election is approaching, and it is up to him to choose wisely, lest the nation be obliterated when the wrong party comes into power. Where is he to turn? We all know the answer. He turns to the television. He watches the news. The news informed him, disturbed him, and then eased his mind by telling him precisely what to think about the matter. He votes accordingly. The circle is complete. Everything will start over in the morning.

State need

The individual need is only a part of the story. The modern state also requires propaganda and is dependent on it, although in a different fashion. It is a problem of responsibility to the public, which requires the assent of the public before the state can implement its designs.

Democratic governments depend on the assent of the public in order to govern. Or, in the words of Napoleon: “Power is based on opinion. What is a government not supported by opinion? Nothing.” Yet public opinion is irrational, erratic, absent critical faculties, and historically blind. For example, public opinion can in no way formulate long-term foreign policy. Public opinion cannot evaluate a long-term anything, if there are short term concerns present, which there always are. The solution, from the position of those who govern, is clear:

“…a government that is honest, serious, benevolent, and respects the voter cannot follow public opinion. But it cannot escape it either…Only one solution is possible: as the government cannot follow opinion, opinion must follow the government. One must convince this present, ponderous, impassioned mass that the government’s decisions are legitimate and good and that its foreign policy is correct.”

And so the government must set about manufacturing the consent that it requires in order to do what it must do. In this it has no choice. If any government at any time followed the will of the people, it would be ruined in a week.

Corporate need

In addition to the individual and the state, which are often mistakenly considered the only two actors in contemporary society, we must speak of the role of corporations, or “Big Business” in the phenomenon of propaganda.  We could also describe this third party as the ‘money power’, although this obscures things a bit since the politicians who compose ‘the state’ are millionaires and the line between big business and big government is not at all distinct.

The so-called Roaring 20’s saw a phenomenal degree of prosperity, which brought to light a problem that had not been faced before. In previous periods normal men and women purchased what they needed. Their shopping was, by and large, practical. With the rise of the affluent society producers were faced with the problem of overproduction. They needed to find a way to convince the public to buy things even when they did not necessarily need them, and to replace clothing, cars, and other devices for reasons other than the fact that the old had been worn out. The world of production required the mentality we now call “consumerism” which buys for a range of reasons that have little or nothing to do with practical need. This period also saw the invention of “planned obsolescence.” Cars, at the suggestion of the Freudians, could now be purchased as symbols of sexuality and masculine prowess, and when they died early it did not so much matter because the sex appeal needed to be renewed anyhow.

Paul Mazer of the Lehman Brothers stated the problem explicitly:

“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

And how could this be brought about except by means of propaganda?—or in more familiar terms, by “advertising.” We take advertising for granted but it is nothing other than the most common form of propaganda in a commercialist society such as ours. Every commercial is an attempt to propagandize, and considering the known correlation between sales and advertising budgets, this propaganda has become very effective.

Parties as the collusion between State and Individual

The three groups that are today dependent on propaganda for their well-being are therefore the citizen, the state, and the corporation. Before moving on, however, we have to understand that although reflex has taught us that this sets them at odds with one another, in the end we find that they often cooperate in the endeavor. No better example of this collusion for the purposes of “reciprocal propagandizing” can be found than the political party.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that political parties were an “addiction.” He called them “the last degradation of a free and moral agent,” stating further in his letters that, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”

Unfortunately, today we take them as a given, and even as a public good, and party loyalties are so ingrained that a man will often disdain his family or his religion before he will call into question the infallibility of his party. How can we explain this fanaticism for parties which the Founding Fathers despised? The answer lies in propaganda and the thirst for what it provides.

By their fruits you shall know them. What are the fruits of political parties? They provide answers, “platforms,” slogans, easily comprehensible and even “common sense” paradigms for the most difficult of social problems. They are educational bodies that condense history, current events, and the loftiest of philosophical problems into clichés. Needless to say, the truth rarely survives the operation, but the individual finds comfort. To return again to Ellul:

“This is the great role propaganda must perform. It must give the people the feeling–which they crave and which satisfies them–‘to have wanted what the government is doing, to be responsible for its actions, to be involved in defending them and making them succeed, to be ‘with it.’”

If we turn now to the problems faced by the individual as a voter, however, we find that the political party is the answer to his prayers. It soothes his feeling of ignorance by teaching him all the answers to the problems of the day, whether or not he knows anything about them in reality. The party provides him with a leader that he can trust, even though he can never know him personally. The party gives him the sense of belonging, and this satisfies him most of all. It seems to escape his awareness completely that he had absolutely nothing to do with the selection of the leader or the formulation of the platform and cannot understand any of the legislation that will result from his vote.

But all these will be elaborated upon as we proceed. For now we need only acknowledge that party fanaticism is the collaboration between the state, which must have an instrument with which to propagandize, and the individual, which must have an instrument with which to propagandize itself.

Corporations participate also by injecting money, which is the lifeblood of all modern politics. This is the collusion between state and business. President Herbert Hoover can here act as our witness, as we cite the words he spoke to a group of public relations men:

“You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to economic progress.”

Propaganda manufactures products for all

Clearly propaganda is so accepted, despite the fact that it is degrading to the mind, because it meets a need for each group involved. The individual needs certainty, the state needs consent, and corporations need desire. All these things propaganda provides, and provides very effectively.

The myth of the general will

Let us now probe into mind of those who live in democratic ages in order to dispel a certain illusion. If we ask how the democrat thinks, we notice that he has a very particular set of ideas through which he seeks to understand his world. These ideas are always very simplistic because a democracy requires that its precepts be comprehensible to everyone, even those most averse to rational enquiry. Thus, the democrat takes for granted certain concepts that would be alien in any other time or place. For example, the notion of a homogenous and unified will of the people or the general will.

There is no such thing as a “general will” any more than there is such a thing as an “average intelligence.” That is to say, if we really did compute the “average intelligence” of an American, this number would probably not correspond to any actual living Americans. Every individual would be either higher or lower than the average. Likewise, when we speak of a “general will,” things become even more absurd, and even if we could somehow compute such a thing, this artificial will would be at variance with all the real ones for the same reason just mentioned.

The problem is complicated further by the fact that men work upon each other’s minds and so the two minds working together is not the same thing as two isolated minds added together arithmetically. When we transfer this to a larger scale, we arrive at some frightening observations.

When men combine they become, not a collection of individual and insulated selves, but “mass men.” When this happens, the mental reactions of the group do not equal a sort of “average intelligence” of all those present, even though this is what one might expect from a purely mathematical standpoint. On the contrary, because masses tend to de-individuate and feed off of one another, and because this de-individuation must proceed toward a level common to everyone present, it cannot move up toward a level present only in the minority, nor can it approach the “average” intelligence. The only way the group can form their aggregate and come to an agreement is by moving downward toward the mental level of the lowest elements present. This phenomenon is the combined result of logical necessity and human psychology. It represents a condition which can be properly termed the “democratic psychosis.”

The mingling of minds on a massive scale produces not a unified “mastermind” that contains all answers to all problems, but rather degrades the group to the condition of the herd.

The Age of Propaganda

To say that you live in the “information age” is true but inexact. More precision is needed, because the ocean of information in which you are immersed is a very specific kind of information which is delivered to you in a very specific way. If you turn on the news you will never see images and hear words at random, but in a planned order and with a purpose; and the purpose is always persuasive. There can never be any such thing as an “objective” news broadcast any more than there could ever be an “objective” advertisement. Objectivity in the human order is as impossible as perfection. Even a program properly categorized as “entertainment” carries a persuasive element in it seeking to win the viewers’ attention over other programs of a similar type and tenor. It does this by a variety of appeals, either to the emotions or the intellect. Because not every person uses the intellect, while every person alive uses the emotions, emotion appeal quickly becomes the standard technique used to achieve the goal of persuasion. The field known as advertising was the true forerunner of modern political discourse, which is but a perversion of traditional political discourse. When men spoke in person to small crowds of their fellow elites who were as educated as they were, the discourse had no choice but to seek a pure intellectual conviction within the listeners. Clear argumentation was a necessity. If a man was going to be dishonest, he had to trick the mind, but even this required him to appeal to it—he could not bypass it altogether. Advertising, on the other hand, seeks to produce a reflex action which will appeal to the intellect only secondarily, if at all. Needless to say, for the reasons already mentioned, the techniques of advertising eventually proved themselves far more efficient in regard to “persuasion” than those of traditional political discourse. Appeals to the intellect require not only certain levels of education within the person, but also a certain degree of truth must be contained within the “argument” itself. Advertising requires none of this; it only asks that the subject be alive and equipped with certain standard human reactions. Its successes or failures can teach anyone what sort of responses can be expected from various words, colors, situations, images, etc. Thus, while traditional political discourse favored rhetoric and reason, the modern form of discourse, modeled on advertising, favors a purely pragmatic method which, while based in psychology, does not achieve its goals by working on the critical faculty. Advances in psychological understanding have also given immense powers to the media planners, as there are stimuli the response to which can now be predicted with a very high degree of certainty. This knowledge about the mind, combined with the machine of dissemination which we call “the media” forms a very finely tuned apparatus which directs itself toward the persuasion of the viewer’s mind—and the apparatus never sleeps. It runs at every hour and through the entire year.

Anonymity

Here I should clarify that I am not suggesting that a certain man, or even a panel of men, sit behind a curtain turning the gears of the great apparatus, engineering responses to certain predefined goals in a humanly calculated program of exploitation and mind control. That is far too simple-minded, although it makes for exciting conspiracy tales. No, this apparatus moves of its own accord, having divorced itself from conscious guidance long ago. If anything it might be described as something guided by man’s collective and unconscious will-to-death, and we could even go further and say that it is a result of modern man’s “collective possession,” but we are getting ahead of ourselves. For now, to return to our point, we should say that man does not simply live in the “age of information,” but rather than he lives in the “age of propaganda.” And let it not be said that propaganda ceases to be propaganda just because the individuals utilizing it are not fully aware of what they are doing.

Guénon said truly that,

“it is not easy to judge the degree of sincerity of those who become the propagators of such ideas, or to know to what extent they fall prey to their own lies and deceive themselves as they deceive others; in fact, in propaganda of this sort, those who play the part of the dupes are often the best instruments, as they bring to the work a conviction that others would have difficulty in simulating, and which is readily contagious.”

Propaganda as technique

Propaganda is nothing more than a term used to describe specific techniques of persuasion which seeks to gain the assent of the human subject while bypassing or overriding his or her rational faculties. There is nothing in this definition which requires the techniques be wielded by any particular person, or with explicit knowledge of the nature of the manipulations. Propaganda is in many respects an “impersonal” phenomenon, even if its action always begins with persons. Like an avalanche, or the age-old concept of the egregore, propaganda technique can be initiated and nurtured by individuals who are more or less conscious of what they are doing, but at a certain point is become disconnected from their conscious direction and takes on a life of its own as a sort of artificial demonic entity, loosed to wreak havoc on its creators just as much as anyone else.

Man as a means

Even when kept under conscious control, it is important to acknowledge that the kind of mental manipulation that propaganda involves is inherently subhuman. It is therefore to be rejected on every level as a means of achieving one’s goals. It does not matter whom the technique of propaganda is applied to, it is unacceptable because it seeks to coerce the will not through the mind but by short-circuiting the mind. It achieves its end by bypassing the consciousness of the person and directing them toward an end of which they are unaware, incapable of understanding, or cannot reasonably resist.

The result is that the human subject is turned into an object, which is to say, into a mere means to an end. According to any morality which acknowledges the freedom of the will and the dignity of the person, this sort of degradation is a crime even to one’s enemies. And yet we open ourselves to this daily from many directions.

Make no mistake, every time you turn on the television, every time you watch or hear “the news,” know that you are unleashing this technique upon yourself, and be on your guard.

Efficiency

Propaganda exists due, among other things, to the tendency of modern man to always follow the most efficient means for any goal he sets for himself. This is a reflection of the industrial mentality, of which our industrialized society is but a reflection. I will not say whether or not the industrialization of civilization is a result of this mental transformation, or if the mental transformation is a result of economic industrialization. It is enough to simply say that the two have grown together, and to conclude that the industrial focus on efficiency without regard to any subtle human factors characterizes modern politics just as much as the production line. The most efficient means will be adopted in an enterprise unless some obstacle is erected to prevent its path, thus effectively rendering it inefficient.

Reduction to simplicity

One consequence of the “efficient mentality,” when applied to communication, is a preference for the reduction of concepts to their most simplistic form. An idea that is difficult, subtle, or multifaceted cannot be easily transmitted to masses of varying dispositions, nor can it be communicated in the almost instantaneous fashion required by the modern lifestyle. Some concept which presupposes familiarity with distant historical factors, for example, is impossible to present to a democratic population. The mass of men may not have the time, and perhaps not even the aptitude, for the required comprehension, and so this renders the effort inefficient in the utmost. How then to proceed? Associations here are central for the propagandist, and so he must appeal to pre-existing mental constructs, as well as universal reflex actions, within his audience. What this means, in short, is that entire subjects must be reduced to agendas, agendas reduced to “platforms,” and platforms reduced to mere slogans and catchphrases. Any experience with contemporary politics is enough to see that slogans are a favorite of modern mass man. Consider President Obama’s 2008 slogan, “Change we can believe in,” which is in every way meaningless if analyzed from a rational point of view, but becomes very powerful if analyzed from a purely emotional standpoint devoid of intellectual meaning. The vague notion of “change” has universal appeal to a nation that is almost always dissatisfied with present circumstance, and the notion of something which we can “believe in” creates in those already predisposed a response akin to “faith,” or at least signals to them that this slogan represents not a particular truth, but “truth” in the abstract, which obviously deserves unquestionable loyalty of all. In 2012, Obama’s slogan changed simply to “Forward,” which, again, is not only meaningless from a rational standpoint, but is actually in direct contradiction to the 2008 slogan. Nonetheless, it prevails on an emotional level regardless of any contradictions it might entail.

Keywords

Beyond slogans, there has also been developed an array of specific keywords which merely by being invoked can create a desired response. These are such words as democracy, freedom, equality. These are terms which, elevated to the status of “values” in and of themselves, give impression of thought and argument each time they are invoked, yet are completely devoid of meaning if left without qualification and further explanation. For example, one might consider the oft-repeated statement that America’s enemies “hate our freedoms.” This statement, empty of meaning in itself, has nonetheless proven sufficient to explain to the American people every hostile action by a foreign nation in the last 50 years, perhaps more. Never mind that the statement is really so fluid that it could be applied to any situation and any military action, including those of the United States. For example, the Allies in WWII hated Hitler’s freedom to exterminate Jews. Therefore, such statements as “they hate our freedoms,” while giving the impression of thought, end up ensuring that there is no thinking involved in the matter. “Freedom,” as a haloed concept in the modern civil religion, is to be revered. Any hatred toward freedom is received as if it were hatred toward God. Thus, we see that such slogans really only serve to bypass the mind and create a reflex action of anger and fear, which are very persuasive factors, especially in the absence of reason.

Semantic breakdown

A variety of observers have noted with frustration the natural outcome of these trends, which is a sort of prevailing “semantic breakdown.” What this means is that language is decaying and proper definitions are systematically replaced with sentimental responses. Another way of saying this is that everything becomes slang and slur: certain words which have a valid meaning become impossible to use in their proper sense because they have been “hijacked” by abuse with sufficient frequency as to render the original meaning obsolete. The term “liberal” is an excellent example of this. Having originally been used to signify a specific philosophical bent, emphasizing the freedom of individuals, closely linked to humanism and the Enlightenment, the term “liberal” now means nothing more than one of the two American political parties fighting perpetually for control. It may or may not signify any of the actual doctrines of “liberalism” in the historical and philosophical sense. In fact, it cannot be used in this way because it would then apply to conservatives as well, because the two opponents are in fact two modern branches of the liberal tree, each adhering to the philosophy in a different manner and degree. This means, of course, that conservative also has no objective meaning. Conservative and liberal are not simply relative terms which can only be said to describe two enemy parties whose actual philosophical positions may be here, or there, or nowhere, depending on the year. Thus you will see that you can use such terms if you dare, but you will never be able to use them in their proper sense. The climate of propaganda where you are saturated forbids it, and any attempt to communicate using the intellectual meanings of words will only lead you into frustration and confusion.

Unconsciousness of propaganda

Always keep in mind that the propagandistic climate is so familiar to your contemporaries, so all-pervasive, that it has ceased to be consciously felt for what it is, and is now as natural as breath. The air indeed would smell stale to them if it were cleared of the propagandistic technique and delivered via pure intellectual appeal. They would find it alien and appalling. See, for example, how many men you can persuade to read Aristotle’s Politics, and you will quickly understand. Intellectual foundations for arguments cease to be necessary when arguments cease to be intellectual. Emotions do not require a foundation; they only ask to be felt. Again, this all proceeds on a level outside of conscious acknowledgement and your neighbor will all the while deny the existence of the drum even as he dances to its beat.

No more demagogues

Frequently today we hear so-and-so accused of being a demagogue. This is an important error for us to correct, which we will now do. In the words of Theodor Geiger:

“The typical leader by no means influences the masses in one direction, he finds the undercurrent and is himself a possessed among the possessed. The typical mass-leader is not a ‘demagogue,’ he does not consciously and with a cool brain direct the masses in one way, he most of all is gripped by the ecstasy of mass-experience, he is himself among the most unconscious of all.”

The modern political leader is really only the first dupe. He is truly the first among equals amidst a mass of equally ignorant and deluded individuals, whether we are speaking here of a president or a Fuhrer. Remember that we are speaking here not of theory or any articulated law as to the “powers” invested here or there, but rather of the actual effective role of such leaders in the flow of political events. Here, with few exceptions, the individual melts into passivity.

The verbal universe

Quoting Davila again, we can agree with him that: “Daily news is the modern surrogate of experience.”

To illustrate this point, I am reminded of an anecdote from Milan Kundera:

“My grandmother, who lived in a Moravian village, still knew everything through her own experience: how bread is baked, how a house is built, how a pig is slaughtered and the meat smoked, what quilts are made of, what the priest and the schoolteacher think about the world; she met the whole village every day and knew how many murders were committed in the country over the last ten years; she had, so to speak, personal control over reality, and nobody could fool her by maintaining that Moravian agriculture was thriving when people at home had nothing to eat. My Paris neighbor spends his time at an office, where he sits for eight hours facing an office colleague, then he sits in his car and drives home, turns on the TV, and when the announcer informs him that in the latest public opinion poll the majority of Frenchmen voted their country the safest in Europe (I recently read such a report), he is overjoyed and opens a bottle of champagne without ever learning that three thefts and two murders were committed on his street that very day.”

This is the result of propaganda, that it plummets men into a purely verbal universe that is completely disconnected from reality. What is constructed within this abstract world begins to guide political development and cultural ethos in such a way that the nation no longer makes decisions based on what they see but on what they imagine.

Propaganda does not require unity

Because propaganda thrives on disorder and confusion within the mob, it does not, as one would assume from watching movies about brainwashing and manipulation, have to be carried out with precise planning and through flawless execution. Remember, propaganda operates through confusion, and through relentless conditioning achieves its ends. It does not need a “plan,” because it does not need a planner. There may be a multiplicity of parties and organizations each employing the same means to batter the subject population with conflicting ideas, undermining each other’s particular agenda at every turn. No matter. This does not change the nature of the propagandistic climate, for it is not characterized by calculated ends, but by a conflagration of nervous agitation and mental bewilderment, suppressing man’s higher faculties in favor of irrational impulse and, more specifically, conditioned reflex.

Exploitation of hate

Everyone feels hatred, resentment, and anger. This means that there is also in each person a need for an outlet or a means of expressing these emotions that will not result in guilt or negative social consequences. Normally a man has to find a way, usually by religious practice and self-discipline, to restrain and diffuse this hatred, or else he will suffer consequences. Not so in the age of propaganda. Propaganda excels in providing men with official enemies, at the same time ensuring that even the most puerile and shameful resentments against “the opposition” are socially sanctioned. Anyone familiar with party systems has seen the disgust one party member is apt to show toward another whom he may really know nothing about other than that he is part of the opposition. He cannot afford to know much about the person, for then he risks finding some redeeming feature in his enemy, and this is unacceptable and would rob the whole project of its advantages. Any redemption for the enemy is a failure for propaganda which seeks separation between individuals; human communion, that is to say mutual respect and empathy, is the defeat of propaganda. For such reasons, it matters little what scapegoat is chosen. They need not be powerful or of a different color. The Jews were made easily to serve this purpose by Hitler, so badly does man need someone whom he can hate with impunity.

Dependence

It has been suggested that the adherents of one party are commanded not to read the literature of other parties because they might find something agreeable in their reading and might therefore change allegiance; but I have found this to be untrue. In the end, the propagandized man becomes dependent on the propaganda, needing it and feeling something akin to fear in its absence. He abstains from all literature not sanctioned by the party authority, not because the authority forbids it, but because he himself fears it. He begins to return daily to the altar of propaganda because he has come to require it as sustenance. In the beginning propaganda may have had to assail him so thoroughly that it became as natural to him as air, but once this acclimation was complete it had to assail him no longer. Having identified it with air, he has come to need it like air, and he feels suffocated in its absence. The human person thus becomes assimilated with propaganda—there may be no turning back.

The moral paintbrush

Closely linked to the desire to hate is the desire to feel justified in one’s own opinions and behavior. Each man wants to be affirmed, wants to be “right,” and wants to claim for himself the banner of truth. And this is not a matter of simple theoretical truth, but ultimate truth, which is to say, moral truth. He does not want to be “right” as one is right about a math problem; he wants to be “justified” not only in regard to rational error, but also in regard to sin itself. He wants to be righteous! Here again propaganda is more than happy to accommodate him. As it provides him with an enemy toward which he may express his hatred, so also he is encouraged to impute to this enemy all evils in the world. Every social problem, every human suffering, will be traced in some way to “the enemy,” so that nothing remains a simple difference of opinion. Party allegiance becomes an ultimate question—a spiritual question. Philosophical differences become religious differences. It becomes impossible to conceive of two men who seek truth but come to different conclusions. There is only good and evil, and the line is clearly drawn. This process is an immense simplification of the kind carried out by Hitler against the Jews. Great masses of individuals who may themselves vary greatly in character and opinion are group indiscriminately into one entity as “the enemy,” and all must be despised together as if they were so many limbs of the devil himself. Again, although this does rely on the exploitation of hate, we have no gone further and are seeing the exploitation of pride. This is not simply a sanctioned resentment of one’s neighbor; it is a sanctioned claim to self-righteousness. Who can resist such an offer?

Collective transference

Another way to look at the previous point is this: there is technique in psychoanalysis called “transference,” whereby the physician seeks to redirect feelings of guilt and self-loathing, which the patient originally aims at himself, in such a way that the patient begins to attribute those feelings to the physicians. By this method the physician “frees” the patient from guilt. The idea is that, while initially this results in the patient loathing the physician, it completes a first necessary step of allowing the patient to love himself, and the physician then seeks to train the patient to properly direct the negative feelings consciously, so that they are neither aimed at neither himself nor the physician. Propaganda exploits this technique, albeit on a collective scale and without the goal of mental health. Propaganda, by its relentless pulverizations and suggestions, allows the collective to “transfer” its guilt feelings onto a designated enemy, who then carries not only his own sins, but also the sins of the entire society.

Causes and conditions

Remember we had said that the propagandistic climate resulted from certain ambient conditions without which it could not exist. Here we may briefly enumerate some of those conditions which combine to reinforce or exacerbate the propagandistic climate.

Individualism

The dispersion of tightly-knit social groups into that of isolated “individuals” allows the mechanisms of propaganda to then regroup them as potent and organic associations, but rather as abstract “teams,” thus offering the feeling of camaraderie without the power or relationship implied in such solidarity. The family must decay so that the company can prosper; the clan must die so that the party can achieve its ends. In truth, propaganda could not operate in societies where the traditional forms of solidarity were central. Peasant and village peoples are impervious to propaganda methods. We can conclude then that widespread individualism and atomization is on pre-condition of propaganda.

Technological depersonalization

Propaganda presupposes not only the separation of individualism, but also the depersonalization of those around us once we conceive of them as separate and unrelated to ourselves. As technological means become the medium for all communication, discourse itself becomes less human and therefore serves this end with great efficiency. There is no possible way propaganda could exert its force in an organic setting of interpersonal dialogue. Natural face-to-face conversation has both advantages and limitations, but in almost every way it is hostile to propaganda. It implies an inescapable personal contact which excludes the possibility of seeing your “opponent” in the abstract as the devil himself. In such scenarios we cannot help but see the man across from us as a limited human being as susceptible to error and ignorance as anyone else. We find then that he could not possible be the evil mastermind that we had pictured in our abstract generalizations, and against which we had directed so much disdain. It is even likely, although not guaranteed, that we may sense some likeable quality in the man. Indeed, we may realize, with abject horror, that the man actually harbors a good will! We may be forced to explain his opinions as a matter of ignorance pure and simple, which renders our hatred somewhat impotent, because who can really hate someone seen as good-willed but wrong-headed? At worst we are left with a frustration at our inability to meet intellectually, but, having met personally, much of our insanity has been expelled.

Existential insecurity

As suggested already, the modern man has unprecedented expectations laid at his feet in regard both to discernment and behavior. Never before has the common man been so “free” from guidance from the wisdom of tradition or religion. Never before has he been so privileged as to have a say in all of the most complex of political, economic, social, and scientific matters. Having been liberated from all the traditional limitations, he suffers under the weight of his the plethora of new responsibilities which threaten to overwhelm him. Divorced not only from traditional supports, but also even from his neighbor, he must discern for himself in every matter. When the perennial problems of existence assail him, he must formulate his own explanations. He knows he is a sinner and he feels his own weakness, both physically and mentally, and yet he is deprived of any recourse. He is ripe for propaganda. Propaganda is more than happy to offer him simplistic explanations for the most complex social phenomena. These he must accept because the real explanations are impossibly far removed from his competence, and he must have an explanation!—so he takes the only one that is within his reach, however absurd. It is more honorable in this age to be arrogantly ill-informed than to be honestly about one’s ignorance. So much for the struggle with his ignorance. And the struggle with his sinfulness?—with the knowledge that he is weak and that there are ever-present evils in the world with which he must struggle? The wings of the church can no longer shelter him. Again, he must find his own solutions. Propaganda is here again, teaching man how to project his own evils onto an abstract opponent, focusing all of his spite on the enemy. He is taught to separate himself from sin, freeing him of his guilt and his need for repentance, which simultaneously frees him from any obligation to deal charitably with his enemies. Propaganda offers him truth and salvation in a terrifying world that denies the existence of both.

Fear and angst

As Mencken wrote, this creates a vicious circle:

“Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. Wars are no longer waged by the will of superior men, capable of judging dispassionately and intelligently the causes behind them and the effects flowing out of them. They are now begun by first throwing a mob into a panic; they are ended only when it has spent its ferine fury.”

Materialism

As suggested above, propaganda tends to create a new order of sacred objects. More accurately, for those civilizations where materialism has created a spiritual void, propaganda seeks to populate that void with new concepts, persons, and pseudo-doctrines. This elevation of inferior objects to the status of sacred could obviously never be achieved in the presence of a valid spiritual authority. Thus, propaganda presupposes a practical materialism. Even if the society where it works continues to remain nominally religious, the forces of propaganda will still succeed if the spiritual authority is excluded from the social order. Again, even if the society claims and even theoretically desires religion to remain supreme, if it is excluded from all socio-political matters it becomes, in a practical sense, subordinate. This creates the aforementioned spiritual vacuum which is then easily populated as described. It is a strange irony then that materialism does not eliminate the sacred sphere, but merely displaces it and sweeps it clean before populating it with something else, namely, civil religion. This new faith is just as dogmatic and twice overbearing as any church state, because its members are not tied to any rationally enunciated set of principles. The new order of the sacred is an order of irrationality and tribalism.

Propaganda stops at nothing to give an impression

In desperate propaganda, no effort is spared to give the impression that no effort will be spared. The fanatics must be convinced. Right now the United States president is deploying troops to the southern border to block the terrifying flood of immigrants that threaten the well-being of (North) Americans. It matters not that illegal immigration is at a 20 year low. He is also still trying to build his “wall” along the border, even though crossings at the border, at least with respect to the drug trade, are decreasing, and crossings at the ports are up. The wall does not, therefore, serve the expressed purpose. It serves a rhetorical or symbolic purpose. So do the troops. The spectacle is all that matters. He is proving to the nation that he is willing to do things, and the things are less important than the willingness.

Atrophy of the critical faculty

It has been observed that “there is no such thing as a collective critical faculty.” As “man as individual” slowly disintegrates, losing himself to “man as teeming throng,” the less the critical faculty will be able to operate in any way. This is precisely the reason that men lose themselves during riots. Since the critical faculty can only operate on an individual level, and because the passions once inflamed can only be checked by that very faculty, when men de-individuate within the herd and the reason is suppressed, there is nothing left to check the passions. Thus, the same passion, which might have inflicted minimal damage through a man in isolation, becomes violent and catastrophic when that same individual is immersed within the collective. It is not so much that he takes on the passions of others, as you might expect, but that his aptitude for moderation becomes paralyzed, and so he becomes helpless before his very own passions—and that is more than enough.

Resultant predisposition

When propaganda succeeds, which it always will within mass civilization, it creates in the people certain predispositions. It agitates and ensures that a certain level of tension, short of riot but only just, will remain constant. Man must never feel at ease, and whether it be awareness of death, injustice, war, natural disaster, political strife, or economic downturn, he must always exist in a state of anxiety. In this way he will maintain the necessary openness to suggestion. When the suggestion comes, it sends him down a path which is wholly predictable and is really now only a matter of reflex. When the signal comes, he knows exactly where to go, what to say, and, most importantly, who the enemy is. Ironically, however, what this usually means is not war or some dramatic act of revolt. It usually means simply that he accepts this candidate or piece of legislation while rejecting the other; that he hates this nation and loves another; that he believes this doctrine while accepting another; all without the exercise of his own reason. He will start no wars. He will not become a radical. He will probably do nothing shocking, nothing that a fully aware and un-propagandized man wouldn’t do.

The final product

Perhaps the only real difference between the man of propaganda and the conscious man is that the former will not do anything in his daily life simply because he has considered the action in its essence—questioned and examined it—and decided that it was best. He will simply do it, and that is all, whether that involves spending his money, voting, shooting a gun, or flaying the flesh off his neighbors back. And to the degree that he just does these things, any of them, to that same degree does he cease to be human. Propaganda is, at its essence, the animalization of man. It manufactures men who are, as the scientists say, without wills. As a differentiated man, propaganda will perhaps cause you more pain than any other single modern phenomenon. This is not because it will touch you as deeply, since you have a degree of natural immunity (or else you would not be reading this book). No, it will agonize you because it will touch everyone around you, and there will be nothing you can do to overpower it. Set before it the greatest work of philosophy and wisdom—it will be trampled into the dust by a thousand feet marching, chanting meaningless slogans. Produce the most eloquent of speeches!—it will be drowned out by an idiot talking nonsense on the television. Then you will realize one day that communication has become impossible. This will perhaps be the loneliest day of your life. But you must learn to accept it, to transcend it, and to accept the challenge, which is that you must speak in the small places, the secret places, the places where few will hear and none will remember your name. The age of famous philosophers is gone—the philosopher is as dead now as God. But that does not mean you cannot find, here and there, a lover of philosophy. It does not mean that you cannot find, even in the silence that is chaos, communion with God.

Mass media as an apparatus for propaganda

We can conclude with a note on the press. In short, there is no such thing: there is only the machinery of propaganda. Here as everywhere the laws of subversion have transformed a mechanism designed for truth into one which perpetuates deceit. Here again you must maintain the proper perspective: the information given you by the media will always be useless, even malicious, in the raw form in which it will come to you. Until you work upon it, disseminating its half-truth, its misinterpretation, and its grossly misplaced emphasis, which will inevitably tinge everything which passes through its machinery, it can offer you no sustenance. In fact, the degradation of the press has gone so far that you will have to think long and hard about whether it is even worth the effort to make of it something useful, asking yourself if it is not wiser to discard it completely, as Spengler suggested, writing that:

“To-day we live so cowed under the bombardment of this intellectual artillery (the media) that hardly anyone can attain to the inward detachment that is required for a clear view of the monstrous drama. The will-to-power operating under a pure democratic disguise has finished off its masterpiece so well that the object’s sense of freedom is actually flattered by the most thorough-going enslavement that has ever existed”

The media today exists for no other social function that to allow the audience to be informed about everything without understanding anything.

The dregs of standardized language

By imposing standardization of language, humanity responds by manifesting symptoms of the suppression of certain impulses which must be combated by the standardized society. Blacks and their slang is the closest thing we have to a healthy “dialect” in the United States, but it is despised and viewed as a sign of low intelligence, although the opposite is actually more true: to speak in a purely standardized manner according to a set of contrived, and in the case of the English language, contradictory rules, requires less intelligence and in fact suppresses mental activity. Thus, while certain groups may develop a dialectic, which is natural and human, they are ostracized since, by bucking the system, they are breaking it. All of the characteristics of dialectic (community) and the protections it affords (one cannot propagandize a dialect from outside–and so any manipulations of this kind must be tailored to specific communities, which, due to the nature of propaganda as a mass communication, renders it impotent) could be described as characteristically human; the impulses that give rise to standardization and the vulnerability it creates, on the other hand, are inhuman and anti-human. Standardized language is in the service of economy, which is to say it is imposed to support the industrial society which operates best with a mentally homogenous population.