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Just what is propaganda?

The word propaganda is being thrown about so much lately that it has lost its meaning, which was quite broad and relatively benign anyway. Here is a look at how there's a little bit of propaganda in just about everything.

It seems that propaganda has got a bad rap lately, thanks to many people on multiple sides of various debates, totally misunderstanding both the word and the nature of propaganda.

The word propaganda derives from the Latin propagare which is synonymous with the modern understanding of the words propagate, disseminate or promulgate.

In the late-modern period, the word came to mean any set of materials whether written, oral, visual or audio, which enthusiastically promulgate various ideas in favour of a specific cause or causes. Whilst this definition is harmless, in colloquial speech, propaganda has taken on the added meaning of referring to materials that are categorically one sided. Again, this is a fairly harmless definition.

When one goes to a church, Marxists or for that matter Hinduism isn’t given a right of reply or ‘equal time’. One goes into a Christian church and the sermon is about Christianity. Sometimes I wonder if those calling everything under the sun ‘propaganda’ realise that the Pope is a Catholic.

For those still confused about the various ways one can disseminate ideas, here’s a helpful list for the unenlightened:

–Academic Writing

Academic Writing generally employs scientific or near-scientific methodology to analyse a generally large set of facts (although there are errors and imperfections even in these facts). The facts are used to bolster or propagate the initial hypothesis. In many instances, academic writers are encouraged to explore a counter-hypothesis in order to better test the rigour of the initially postulated aim of the publication.

–Political analysis

Political analysis is what many people engage in every day. They view the facts to the best of their abilities and analyse what it all means. This analyses can be informed by one, some or all of the following: one’s personal background, one’s political stance, one’s schooling, one’s faith, one’s nationality, one’s race, one’s mood.

All of this should be taken into account when reading political analysis.

–Opinion pieces

This one really does what it says on the tin. It’s a piece of someone’s opinion. Well written opinion pieces site many facts, others site few. Opinion pieces vary in pugnaciousness depending on the strength of one’s opinion. A highly strong and critical opinion piece can be called a polemic.

–Reportage  

A reportage piece is a news item that disseminates information about an event. One can produce a piece of war reportage (The English army had just won the war), sport reportage (the England football team just lost the match), or reportage about local events, (just after the England football team lost the match, supporters became violent and started a war in which the army had to intervene and ultimately won).

–Art

Art is as worthy a propagator of information as anything. It is amongst the most emotionally driven means of disseminating information, but also one of the most effective and easily grasped. Think of how Tchaikovsky’s Grand Overture uses music to depict the Russian victory over invading Napoleonic forces in 1812.

Picasso’s Guernica depicts the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. The American painter Robert Motherwell also painted works as meditations on the Spanish Civil War. Boris Alexandrov’s song The Sacred War remains popular amongst Russians who commemorate the sacrifices of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War.

–Encyclopedic information

Encyclopedic information conveys dates, facts and figures on a wide variety of subjects ranging from historical events, biographies, philosophical movements to scientific terminology and more. Whilst good encyclopedic sources generally have the least opinion of any of the aforementioned means of propagating information, even encyclopedic writing is imbued with certain perspectives.

The way one characterises an individual or political movement for example, can vary from source to source depending on the interpretation and proclivities of the author.

This list shows that there are elements of propaganda in all forms of information dissemination. One is always propagating something other than the cold hard facts and even the cold hard facts often are open to interpretations which are inevitably coloured by opinion.

Propaganda should not be understood as a moral concept. There is no such thing as good propaganda or bad propaganda other than in terms of style. The more important moral imperative should be employed in criticising the cause or movement which is supported by the propagation of information and opinions.

Those who propagate in the service of war are, in my OPINION, doing something immoral. Those who propagate in the service of peace are, in my OPINION doing something both moral and necessary.

Facts, when they can be mutually agreed upon by opposing forces, are sacred, but comment is ideally free. When the Washington Post labels virtually all contemporary media outlets who disagree with its own editorial line as ‘propaganda’, it really is quite farcical.

The Washington Post is using the very methods of the most insidious kind of propaganda to try and stop others from propagating their divergent points of view. I think there ought to be an open market place of ideas where people challenge the ideas themselves rather than the character or those propagating the ideas.

The Washington Post moreover is engaged in something far less sophisticated than any kind of propagation of information, they are engaged in a commercial exercise in order to sell newspapers and advertising space on their website.

I should think that if the editors of the Washington Post composed an overture or produced a painting used to criticise sources of information like The Duran, RT, Infowars and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, it would be a much better use of their time and resources.

In this spirit, I dedicate the following informational poem to the Washington Post.

An Ode to WaPo
by Adam Garrie

I used to read the Washington Post
To see which liberal cause I admired most
But instead I made a sizable donation
To the decent folk at the Clinton Foundation.
They said in doing so I could author my own legislation.

I told them I oppose terrorism and support the Syrian Regime
That on droning Julian Assange, I was not keen
Suddenly they said that I was working for the Russia State
I thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t that be great’.

Far better than working for Saudi and Qatar,
That would be a bridge to far.
But when presidential candidates are by Wahhabist regimes bought and sold
Their talk of human rights is worth its weight in fool’s gold.

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