Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Lessons from Nazi propaganda
The Nazis were infamous for their Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, headed by Joseph Goebbels. Quite a bit of money and organization were invested in this department. They knew its value and how to implement its enactment. At the time Goebbels said: “I consider radio to be the most modern and the most crucial instrument for influencing the masses.” Today this is TV and the internet.
Granted Naziism's core principles and inhumane behaviors were despicable but we can certainly learn from how they understood and effectively utilized propaganda. The conservatives learned this lesson well. And no, I'm not comparing US conservatives to Nazi ideology, just that they learned well its propaganda lessons. As can we.
You'll see some similarity to previous sources in the below, albeit with Hitler's delusional, dysfunctional, misanthropic and misogynist twist. Twist it back to humane, progressive morals and values and it works just as well. Hitler devoted two chapters to the topic in Mein Kampf. He writes in Chapter 6:
“Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people.... All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed.... The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
“Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favorable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favorable to its own side.... The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.... Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula.” 
I know some liberals will cringe at the suggestion, partly because they falsely believe in the efficacy of a 'pure' logical argument that has no need of such base tactics. (See the "real and false reason thread" based on Lakoff's work.) And partly because anything associated with Hitler and Naziism must be heinous and evil and therefore briskly swept under the rug. But one can see some of the same observations between Lakoff and Hitler on framing, and Nazi propaganda did persuade a majority of 'good' people to elect that Party. If one has the rational capacity to differentiate the medium from the message one can learn here. And yes, that will take those liberal elites with education and critical thinking skills to understand this, not the masses that they must learn to manipulate (and help) with progressive propaganda. And I know, even that sounds antithetical to so-called progressive values, but only from false reasoning.