Perception is everything. Wars are often won or lost based on how the actors perceive one another’s strengths and weaknesses, not so much how strong or weak they are in reality. So it goes with any agenda item.
When people sense a shift in public opinion on an issue, a fair number will shift right along with what they perceive. Thus, power elites can shape behaviors and attitudes by applying various techniques of crowd psychology, focused on propaganda and silencing dissent.
The end product is thought reform or “collective belief formation.” It’s all about molding your perception of a given issue so your perception will influence others’ perceptions, creating an “opinion cascade.” Effective propaganda also keeps you in the dark about the fact that you are being manipulated.
You Can’t Resist What You Don’t Understand
You can go a long way in fighting propaganda simply by helping people understand how it operates on us. If we can’t grasp how propaganda works, we become susceptible to it. Over time, we lose our ability to distinguish reality from illusion. Mass delusion can set in wherever large populations live in ignorance of how they are manipulated. (We can see this most clearly in a place like North Korea, where six decades of ironclad dictatorship has psychologically transformed the masses into a lemming-like state.)
So when Rush Limbaugh discussed my Federalist article “How to Escape the Age of Mass Delusion,” I was gratified to see this aspect of the discussion occur in such a large forum. This conversation must continue.
In case you haven’t noticed, there are a host of leftist agenda items that simply don’t hold up to the scrutiny of thorough debate. Their passage into law depends largely on propaganda techniques that induce smearing and silencing of dissenters. A few of these items include Obamacare, Common Core, global warming, immigration reform, transgenderism in K-12 and the military, and the Iran deal. The list goes on and on.
Dealing with everything at once seems like fighting in an escalating whack-a-mole war of attrition. That’s why it’s more important to understand the processes and methods of propaganda machine itself than to understand the intricacies of all of the issues it has spawned.
So let’s shift focus and try to take a look behind the curtain instead of just on the stage. Let’s take some notes on the guts of the machine. What’s driving it? Let’s try to dissect the inner workings of political correctness. How does it manage to instill human obedience to self-destructive agendas? Once we gain a better understanding of how it manipulates us, we should be able to short-circuit some of its wires and at least refuse to be used by it—and pass on the knowledge to others.
I’ve tried to put together an informal ten-point primer on how ordinary people might think about propaganda in order to resist its adverse influences on us and on those with whom we interact.
1. Drop Political Correctness
Political Correctness is all about Propaganda Compliance. PC is the engine of the propaganda machine that produces mass delusion. PC is basically a calculated process of molding public opinion through psychological manipulation. The process is twofold: saturation and suppression. Saturation is the practice of repeating a deception relentlessly and injecting it into every corner of public life so that it becomes accepted as truth. It involves control of most communications outlets.
A perfect example is how the transgender lobby has saturated the media and pop culture with its talking points through Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and incessant Hollywood shilling. Suppression is the PC practice of quashing ideas that compete with the PC message, usually through speech codes, shout-downs, or smears. No matter how implausible an idea may seem, it can gain acceptance in the minds of the citizens as the forces of PC relentlessly repeat and hype the notion in the public square. The twin processes of saturation and suppression, if diligently applied, can produce the illusion of a public opinion shift, or a “cascade.”
2. Realize Personal Relationships Are the Target
PC is a war on our personal relationships and personal conversations. Getting your business, school, or church in line with a politically correct agenda item is just the beginning for agents of propaganda compliance. In fact, control of the media, popular culture, and all of society’s institutions will never ever be enough for the central planners who push PC. Control of personal relationships is their endgame.
If you don’t think your personal relationships are a target, then answer this question: How free do you feel to express your non-PC ideas to a coworker, classmate, or neighbor? More and more people are censoring their personal conversations in everyday life. The General Social Survey shows there’s been a huge decline in social trust among Americans over the past 40 years. Sowing distrust is a totalitarian impulse because it undermines intimacy that allows autonomous relationships to flourish.
3. Human Separation Is the End Result of PC
In this sense, PC is basically a separatist movement. Its endgame is cult-like: to separate and silence people, especially in their one-on-one interactions. The PC propaganda machine serves to atomize us so our relationships with others become weaker and more subject to the dictates of PC. If we fear punishment for speaking on an issue—especially if we don’t know whom we can trust—we become more isolated and easily controlled. With all mediating institutions under attack—family, faith, and voluntary associations—relationships are already being weakened. We know that PC power elites control most of the big outlets of communication: the mass media, academia, Hollywood, unions, and so on. But how many people realize that the ultimate prize for agents of PC is control over our private lives and private thoughts? Over our one-on-one personal relationships and our one-on-one personal conversations?
4. Fear Fuels the Machine
PC’s main fuel is the primal human fear of social rejection. As with all tyranny, PC gains compliance by manipulating the universal fear of being socially cast out and isolated from others. It’s an inhumane and ancient tactic. The purveyors of PC know it’s akin to the fear of solitary confinement, the most brutally imposed kind of loneliness. In Stalinist Russia, those who fell out of favor were referred to as nonpersons. Others would shun them to avoid guilt by association.
We can feel that starting to happen here. As people fear losing their job, relationships, or status for misspeaking, they end up complying with the regime of PC and thus help to create a tyranny of silencing. (There is a Censorship Act currently before Congress that would expedite this. It goes by the Orwellian name “The Equality Act.”)
5. PC Is Oiled by Mass Ignorance
For thought reform to succeed, the subjects must be kept unaware that there is an agenda to control or change their mindset. Obviously, when people are aware that the goal is truly to control how they think, the gig is up. Controlling agents would have you believe that it’s normal to behave as they wish, and not question the PC regime. This is reinforced through peer pressure. As Margaret Thaler Singer, an expert on cults, wrote: “The process of keeping people unaware is key to a cult’s double agenda.”
A fascinating aside is that in 1983 the American Psychological Association put Singer in charge of a task force to help Americans understand how to recognize and resist “Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control.” The report was subsequently squashed by outside “experts” as well as the APA, and Singer was smeared. Thus, Americans were deliberately denied information that would help them understand how cultish propaganda works.
6. Coerced Silence Kills Democracy
We must never forget that free speech is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. As it peters out, it cannot be recovered without great sacrifice. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” This also applies in full force to saying nothing.
But one needn’t convince any bigwigs to sow seeds of resistance against PC. One need only express sincere thoughts one on one, in friendship, with a neighbor, co-worker, or classmate, perhaps. That’s exactly what controlling power elites fear most, and that’s what they want to suppress. Reticence to speak creates that Spiral of Silence public opinion scholar Elisabeth Noelle Neuman wrote about in the 1980s: “the climate of opinion depends upon who talks and who keeps quiet.”
7. Resistance Is the Only Antidote
To self-identify in opposition to a PC agenda is effective in breaking down barriers, especially one on one. When people speak openly and respectfully about their beliefs to someone who likes or identifies with them, they can be immensely persuasive, even without talking points. They trigger ripple effects in thought. It is precisely these privately sparked ripple effects that PC aims to contain and control through its silencing tactics. As Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz stated: “In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” Vaclav Havel, in his essay “The Power of the Powerless,” spoke of such truth as having a powerful illuminating effect on those who hear it, even if they say nothing in response.
8. One Person Has Immense Power
Spread the word that the power of one individual is vast. Controlling power elites who push PC know this very well. So why shouldn’t every single one of us be aware we hold such influence? I would suggest that the most important thing conservative thought leaders can do through their platforms—especially talk radio—is to help spark ripple effects that begin in private life. They should zero in on teaching their listeners how best to speak out in their daily one-on-one conversations, and to place a bigger focus on facilitating that process.
Creating such a ripple effect that begins in the “hidden sphere” of private life is exactly the formula Havel wrote about. While doing so, we should always remember the link between freedom and friendship.
9. ‘Surprising Validators’ Are Like Superpowers
Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s regulatory czar from 2009-2012 wrote an interesting op-ed about people who are persuasive only because they appear to represent someone from the other side of an issue. He wrote: “People tend to dismiss information that would falsify their convictions. But they may reconsider if the information comes from a source they cannot dismiss. People are most likely to find a source credible if they closely identify with it or begin in essential agreement with it. . . . What matters most may be not what is said, but who, exactly, is saying it.”
Sunstein is wrong about a lot, but he’s right about this. Consider how the Left’s propaganda machine manufactured an “opinion cascade” on the issue of same-sex marriage, by first using “surprising validator” conservatives like Vice President Dick Cheney, polling pundit Michael Barone, and especially David Blankenhorn, who was one of the most persuasive and powerful supporters of organic marriage until he broke down and published a recantation. Not surprisingly, stealth conservatives—particularly those who work in increasingly politicized professions such as psychiatry, social work, teaching, or the arts—have enormous potential if they come out as surprising validators.
10. Get Out and Engage
Conservatives must get out of their comfort zones and engage the other side. This is exactly how the Left has achieved an illusion of conformity to their PC causes. Indeed, ’60s radicals promised to “change the system by working within the system.” Michelle Obama admonished Oberlin College’s graduating class of 2015 to do this when she said: “Today, I want to urge you to actively seek out the most contentious, polarized, gridlocked places you can find. Because so often, throughout our history, those have been the places where progress really happens . . . Out in the real world, there are plenty of people who think very differently than you do, and they hold their opinions just as passionately. So if you want to change their minds, if you want to work with them to move this country forward, you can’t just shut them out.”
If only the Left truly lived by those words rather using them as a targeted vehicle to propagandize and vilify opposing views with the aim of enforcing total conformity of thought, word, and deed.
For people of goodwill, the instinct to self-segregate with like-minded folks is a trap, and it’s lethal for free speech. PC promotes self-cocooning because that’s the first phase of separating us from one another. If PC is left to its own devices, our isolation becomes complete and all relationships end up regulated by the state.
So conservatives, engage in those polarized, gridlocked places—like the neighborhood picnic, the local swim club, the farmer’s market, the student union, etc.—and engage one on one. Come out to a neighbor or a classmate. Don’t bother with talking points, because the purpose is not to win the argument but to simply to put a human face on your beliefs.
Just be who you are and be friendly. In today’s PC-saturated culture, that’s the only way to draw out the lonely like-minded person or to influence a fence-sitter. It’s also the only way to water down PC stereotypes of conservatives. Ultimately, it’s the only way to start those ripple effects that can create cascades of truth.