“What is modern propaganda? For many, it is the lies of a totalitarian state. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her epic films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerised Germans; her  Triumph of the Will cast Hitler’s spell. She told me that the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above”, but on the “submissive void” of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? “Everyone,” she said.” -John Pilger

Noam Chomsky has said many times that democracies are dominated not with violence but with propaganda. We humans are creatures of trance. If we do not declare our lives to be an endless struggle against external and internal deception we will melt into illusions we will think of as our own viewpoints. Even those who weave the spiderwebs of conspiracy theories, melt into a helpless study of past “deceptions” instead of questioning their own ideas of the nation state, or of capitalism, or of the religion into which they were born.

The quote above fascinates me. One of Hitler’s propagandists says she did not need to be told from above what lies to tell. She needed merely appeal to the human need to feel certain and safe. Appealing to vauge fears and aspirations of the people was all it took for the masses to fall into the arms of their leaders.

Notice her statement that the liberal and educated elite were not above the trance. According to her, everyone was a potential victim of propaganda. So we might ask, what are the lies we are telling ourselves this day to feel safe and certain? Looking back, were the “pride” of Reagan or the “hope” of Obama actual political programs, or were they appeals to our “submissive void?”

One way out of the propaganda maze is to leave our answers and return to our questions.  Buddha was once asked the secret of enlightenment. He said, “swim upstream.” For our purposes, “swimming upstream” means learning from sources that make us feel uncomfortable and shake our confidence in what we have been told.

John Pilger’s article on social media and propaganda, linked below, might be one uncomfortable way to stir a question or two.