Propaganda versus democracy

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Propaganda, of the kind that we think of during wartime, consists of attempts to manipulate or coerce the thinking of an enemy or captive population. Some early scholars referred to propaganda as a "hypodermic approach" to communication, in which the communicator's objective is to "inject" his ideas into the minds of a "target population." This is quite different from the democratic model, which views communications as a dialogue between presumed equals. The goal of the propaganda model is simply to achieve efficient indoctrination, and it therefore tends to regard the assumptions of the democratic model as inconvenient obstacles to efficient communication.

The following points illustrate the ways that the propaganda model differs fundamentally from the democratic model, both in its goals and in its very definition of the nature of communication, from the propaganda model:

  • Propagandists define communications as a set of techniques of indoctrinating a "target audience," whereas the democratic model defines communications as an ongoing process of of dialogue between diverse voices.
  • For propagandists, the desired outcome of communications is for the audience to bend its thinking and actions to the will of the communicator. By contrast, the desired outcome of communications under the democratic model is a synthesis and sharing of views. Each participant expects to learn and alter his/her views, to learn from the others.
  • The propaganda model assumes that channels of communications must be tightly controlled. Often they insist on maintaining a single source of messages, in order to avoid contradictions and "confusion." By contrast, the democratic model assumes that channels of communications must not be tightly controlled. Instead of a single source of messages, democracy seeks to maintain diversity.
  • Under the propaganda model, the communicator is presumed to be separate, apart and superior to the audience, a "perception manager" who directs the thoughts of others. By contrast, the democratic model sees no necessary distinction between "communicator" and "audience." Everyone is a communicator. Everyone is part of the audience.
  • Propagandists may study the thinking of the audience through opinion polls and similar techniques, but the reason for studying their opinions is simply to facilitate delivery of the propaganda. The thinking of the audience is not regarded as a meaningful source of insights and ideas with merit of their own. By contrast, the democratic model assumes that everyone's ideas have potential merit as source of valuable insights.
  • Propaganda subordinates morality, politics and democracy to technocratic concerns with "what works." By contrast, the democratic model subordinates technocratic concerns to morality. Under a democracy, it is assumed that the self-interest of individuals should give way to their common interest in "the greatest good for the greatest number."
  • Secrecy and censorship are intrinsic parts of propaganda, whereas the democratic model value openness over secrecy.
  • Perhaps most importantly, propaganda is communication that is indifferent to the rights and needs of the target population being indoctrinated. Democracy is government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Propaganda, by contrast, seeks to dominate and control people.

See also