Propaganda – Introduction

I am fascinated by propaganda. So I’ve been collecting a bit to discuss with you.

For me, propaganda is interesting because it often tacitly admits that whatever it’s promoting is a lie. After all, if you knew something was true, you’d just expose the supporting facts and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions. When someone goes out of their way to push an agenda, then it gets fun and you see the lies peek out. I first realized this when someone asked me to read Lee Strobel’s book “The Case for a Creator” – was thinking “Wait a minute! If he’s using arguments that he knows have been refuted, then he’s knowingly lying to his readers!” And what does that tell you about his case?

I’ve got some goodies in my propaganda pile, including homeschool texts written by christian ideologues, social studies textbooks written by American nationalists, and some vintage pseudoscience. I don’t want to get any of this dreck confused with my “Things That Delight Me” thread. So, if you see “Propaganda” as the header, you’ll know it’s probably not worth reading.

Speaking of propaganda: when I was in 6th or 7th grade in the Baltimore City Public Schools, I remember a geography text that had a picture that said “America wants to be friends with everyone” – and uncle sam sitting in a circle with stereotyped global ethnicities (e.g: a slanty-eyed guy in a Vietnamese-style conical straw hat) (yes! that bad!) on the next page was a Soviet soldier with a PPSH tommygun standing astride the world “The Soviets Just Want to Rule The World”   If any of you have seen that one, and remember it, I want to find it so I can convince myself it was real. Looking back (this would have been 1972 or so) I havehad trouble believing that a public school system would shovel such garbage at kids.

Once I started looking at christian homeschooling texts, I realized that there’s no bottom to the lies that people will tell children for their own good.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Note that the word “propaganda” apparently originated in the Catholic Church when it set up the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.

  2. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#2:
    Holy crap! Merry Xmas from IVY MIKE.

    Horace. He died in bed, didn’t he? And – the Wilfred Owen poem. Ow. When I was a kid my dad briefly encouraged us to memorize poems. I memorized the Owen poem, and The Charge of The Light Brigade. Not exactly light entertainment.

  3. springa73 says

    What I find interesting about the word “propaganda” is that apparently it didn’t have the negative connotation of being dishonest and false until around the time of World War II. For a while, at least in English, it simply meant something like “information presented in a persuasive manner”. During WWII, though, the term became exclusively used for what the Axis claimed, and it took on its modern connotation of being “lies that the bad guys tell”.

  4. says

    Yeah, specifically not the same as “lies the good guys tell” which are ‘public relations’

    It appears that the USSR was in the habit of lying egregiously to its people. So the US responded with loads of lies of its own.

  5. lanir says

    There seems to be a standard one in economics around where they’re teaching the basics of supply and demand that says people buy things to be happy. I got that message in a high school course in the US and a college course in Canada so I’m assuming it’s widespread. In response I would respectfully suggest that the various wealthy tax dodgers (corporate or not) look kind of down and I’d like to add more happiness in their lives.

    Slightly off topic but I realized I was describing guilt trips to a friend recently in very similar language to your description of propaganda. Now I’m wondering if/how they’re related.

  6. says

    One of my earlier sunday sermons covered that: Epicurus says (I think he is right) people buy things because they’ve confused providing for themselves with safety – buying things gives them an illusion of control.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    militantagnostic @10: Seen the poem, but I didn’t know any of Schickele’s non-PDQ Bach stuff. Thanks, I’ll try to find it somewhere.

    Here’s Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth spoken in God’s Own Accent (Sheffield variety).

    “The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells”