Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

The morality of propoganda

  1. Apr 8, 2003 #1
    with the war in iraq there are all the usual debates about propoganda going on, not that there's much to debate, everyone seems to be (rightfully so) against any form of propoganda in the media or otherwise. i am very anti-propoganda, it seems that brainwashing a population is worse then imprisoning them, as it is a mental imprisonment, much harder to escape.

    so what if the propoganda is essentially beneficial to the population? should the government lie if it is for a good cause, and is there ever a good enough cause? i am currently considering a research project about economic propoganda in particular, if the population was kept in the dark about how the economy was faring it would sometimes be alot easier to control this wild beast. so should we maintain an ignorant and blissful state of stability? or even lie about how things are going, considering that people's lives and quality of life is dependant on their ignorant/misguided view of the economy.

    basically, when is propoganda ok? who should be in control of what the public is lead to believe?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2003 #2
    Propaganda is not nessecarily lies, it is the presentation of a one sided arguement, and it endevours to exclude/ignore the other side of the arguement completely whenever possible.

    An advertising campaign for a movie is an example of propaganda, as no one who worked to produce the movie tells you it 'bites the big one', 'really slow', 'a definate sleeping pill', things like that, they all tell you it's 'great', 'fantastic', 'the best', 'instant classic', that kind of information that is meant to press one point of view, as being the only point of view.

    That's propaganda.
  4. Apr 8, 2003 #3
    There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Then there is propoganda.

    Hitler and the ex-soviet union were both infamous for what is called "The Big Lie." When the news first leaked that the Nazis were committing genocide and stuffing bodies into ovens they simply denied it. Not even the president of the united states could believe such stories and he had access to serious evidence. No one could be that inhuman, now could they. This is the modern world after all. Wrong!

    US propoganda is infamous for usually being more subtle and, thus, more insidious. After a few decades, a half century or so, no one cares anymore. All the people directly affected are dead or dying. That's why from time to time you'll hear governments like united states appologise for genocide, slavery, and other things that occured fifty years or more in the past. If you're lucky, they'll even pay some small token in the way of reperations.

    Anyone convinced propoganda is just for the good of the people has been listening to too much propoganda. Either that, or they're living in denial which is even more frightening.
  5. Apr 8, 2003 #4
    well i think it is generally a combination of both. this big problem is that it seems like something that is really hard to break a person of.
  6. Apr 8, 2003 #5


    User Avatar

    The primary freedom is not freedom of speech, but freedom of thought. But in reality, I don't think anybody has that. Nations brainwash, it's what nations do. It's what holds them together. Patriotism, the love of the motherland, it all boils down to propaganda in one way or another. The real world is a complex system, and easily exploited with the all too tempting lies.

    Propaganda is never ok. Especially so in a democracy. But it will never be stopped because sometimes it is just addictive. Governments simply tap into people's will to believe what they want to believe. Sometimes propaganda doesn't even have to be used - we delude ourselves. In the end, in general, we want to be happy. We want blissful ignorance. We only speak out when the government gets caught.

    I would prefer the horrible truth to the sugar coated lies. But in the real world, many people would disagree.
  7. Apr 8, 2003 #6
    I don't know if this question is going to have much relevence for long. Unlike when I was kid, people can now watch five hundred channels instead of three and can access information from around the world on the internet.

    They say the great american forte' is marketing. We aren't famous for producing quality products at low prices, we're famous for being able to sell things and produce entertainment like hollywood movies. However, as Algazeera, the world weekly news, and rap music are proving, people want more sex and violence in everything. Either you give them what they want or they'll just go elsewhere.

    That's why so many american made movies began incorporating more graphic violence with all the mutilation, blood, and gore decades ago. First their Japanese audiences demanded it and then when the american audiences got used to it they demanded it as well. The music industry then began breaking sales records with rap music.

    I remember being shocked when I heard my first rap album with endless sirens and gunshots going off in the background. At first I didn't realize the sounds were on the album and I thought WWIII was breaking out. Then I realized this was the reality many inner city people live with everyday.

    Is it entertainment, propoganda, news, art, or what? Should we regulate it somehow or just let market forces drive everything? All of these are moot questions in my mind that, as often as not, are indistinguishable again from these things. Violence, however, remains violent no matter what form it takes or what you choose to call it.
  8. Apr 8, 2003 #7
    While a person could take Mr. Parson's view and call every one-sided argument "propaganda", I don't think much of anything can really be called propaganda in the ominous sense of the word that we think of it, with a few exceptions. In reality, nearly anything can be said to be one-sided, but in a marketplace of ideas that's ok. To really have propaganda you have to have a source that can effectively push that one side to the EXCLUSION of all others for some hidden purpose. This certainly happens (happened) in Saddam's regime. However, in a democracy, with a free press that competes, and with easy access to the internet, all of these one-sided views are available and individuals can make their own assessment.

    Certainly, individuals in the government will spin their side to bolster their positions and reputations. But we have a multi-party system in which even here the views expressed are not monolithic. Despite conspiracy theorists and government paranoids, our government really doesn't have much power to exclude other views, with the exception of cases of national security. Sure, you can point out abuses but for the most part, a president can't even have sex in the oval office anymore without someone finding out - you really think they could hide anything important? Please.

    The biggest threat to real information for the people doesn't come from the government. Instead, one modern threat is huge corporate oligarchies due to merger mania. Although we may have hundreds of channels, they are all owned by a handful of corporations. Since competition is the cornerstone of what keeps the press on the up and up, the lack of competition this situation breeds creates a threat to truth for the people.

    Another closely related threat is almost because of the opposite concern - TOO MUCH emphasis on competition for ratings. This creates situations where the people are told what they WANT to hear instead of the truth. Take for example the Fox (not fox news) series of so-called "documentaries" about aliens. These were staged completely and had paid actors playing the aliens, yet nowhere in the program was it revealed that the entire thing was fake, except for the credits which quickly flashed the names of the actors playing the aliens in the supposedly ACTUAL footage! (probably because of union requirements).

    And, lastly, another sort of distortion happens in the more mainstream media. This is when the news may be reporting true facts, and not actually lie anywhere, but because of the conglomeration of these news items, an overall impression of the world is created which is untrue. This happens because only that which is a rarity tends to be considered "big news". If one were to watch the news media, one would think that airplanes are more dangerous than cars, crime is getting worse, and pollution is getting worse when in fact the opposite is true in each of these cases.

    Whether you call this propaganda or not is a linguistic judgement call, but either way, those are the real threats to knowledge for the people in my view.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook