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 Alienation via Propaganda, Jacques Ellul

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PostAlienation via Propaganda, Jacques Ellul



Alienation via Propaganda (DRAFT)

In the following discussion, taken from Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes by Jacques Ellul, Ellul discusses how the forces of propaganda rob the individual of oneself, making one susceptible to the adoption of external thoughts and obeying others who are foreign to them.



Alienation Through Propaganda
(page 169)

To be alienated means to be someone other (alienus) than oneself; it also can mean to belong to someone else, it means to be deprived of one's self, to be subjected to, or even identified with, someone else. That is definitely the effect of propaganda. Propaganda strips the individual robs him of himself, and makes him live an alien and artificial life, to such an extent that he becomes another person and obeys impulses foreign to him. He obeys someone else.

Once again, to produce this effect, propaganda restricts itself to utilizing, increasing, and reinforcing the individual's inclination to lose himself in something bigger than he is, to dissipate his individuality, to free his ego of all doubt, conflict, and suffering - through fusion with others; to devote himself to a great leader and a great cause. In large groups, man feels united with others and he therefore tries to free himself by blending with a large group. Indeed, propaganda offers him that possibility in an exceptionally easy and satisfying fashion. But it pushes the individual into the mass until he disappears entirely.

To begin with, what is it that propaganda makes disappear? Everything in the nature of critical and personal judgment. Obviously, propaganda limits the application of thought. It limits the propagandee's field of thought to the extent that it provides him with ready made (and moreover, unreal) thoughts and stereotypes. It orients him towards very limited ends and prevents him from using his mind or experimenting on his own. It determines the core from which all his thoughts must derive and draws from the beginning a sort of guideline that permits neither criticism nor imagination. More precisely, his imagination will lead only to a small digressions from the fixed line and to only slightly deviant, preliminary responses within the framework. In this fashion we see the progressives make some "variations" around the basic propaganda tenets of the Communist party. But the field of such variations is strictly limited.

The acceptance of this line, of such ends and limitations, presupposes the suppression of all critical judgment, which in turn is a result of the crystallization of thoughts and attitudes and the creations of taboos. As Jules Monnerot ha accurately said: All individual passion leads to the suppression of all critical judgment with regard to the object of that passion. Beyond that, in the collective passion created by propaganda, critical judgment disappears altogether, for in no way can there ever be critical collective judgment. Man becomes incapable of "separation," of discernment (the word critical is derived from the Greek krino, separate). The individual can no longer judge for himself because he inescapably relates his thoughts to the entire complex of values and prejudices established by propaganda. With regard to political situations, he is given ready made value judgements invested with the power of truth by the number of supporters and the word of experts. The individual has no chance exercise his judgment either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under any conditions.

What the individual loses is never easy to revive. Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have been atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda has been suppressed. In fact, we are dealing here with one of propaganda's most durable effects: years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such faculties. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another; this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis-a-vis some event without ready made opinion, and obliged to judge it for himself. At the same time, propaganda presents facts, judgments and values in such confusion and with so many methods that it is literally impossible for the average man to proceed with discernment. He has neither the intellectual capacity nor the sources of information. He is therefore forced either to accept, or reject, everything in toto.

We thus reach the same point via different route: on the one hand, propaganda destroys the critical faculty; on the other, it presents objectives on which that faculty could not be exercised, and thus renders it useless.

All this obviously leads to the elimination of personal judgment, which takes place as soon as the individual accepts public opinion as his own. When he expresses public opinion in his words and gestures, he no longer expresses himself, but his society, his group. To be sure, the individual always will express the group, more or less. But in this case he will express it totally and in response to a systematic operation.

Moreover, this impersonal public opinion, when produced by propaganda, is artificial. It corresponds to nothing authentic; yet is precisely this artificial opinion that the individual absorbs. He is filled with it; he no longer expresses his ideas, but those of his group, and with great fervor at that - it is a propaganda prerequisite that he should assert them with firmness and conviction. He absorbs the collective judgments, the creatures of propaganda; he absorbs them like the nourishment which they have, in fact become. he expounds them as his own. He takes a vigorous stand, begins to oppose others. He asserts himself at the very moment that he denies his own self without realizing it. When he recites his propaganda lesson and says that he is thinking for himself, when his eyes see nothing and his mouth only produces sounds previously stenciled into his brain, when he says that he is indeed expressing his own judgement - then he really demonstrates that he no longer thinks at all, ever, and that he does not exist as a person. When the propagandee tries to assert himself as a living reality, he demonstrates his total alienation most clearly; for he shows he can no longer even distinguish between himself and society. He is then perfectly integrated, he is the social group, there is nothing in him not of the group's opinion. He is nothing except what has propaganda has taught him. He is merely a channel that ingests the truths of propaganda and dispenses them with the conviction that is the result of his absence as a person. He cannot take a single step back to look at events under such conditions; there can be no distance of any kind between him and propaganda.

The mechanism of alienation generally corresponds either to projection into, and identification with, a hero and a leader, or to a fusion with the mss. These two mechanisms are not mutually exclusive: When a Hitler Youth projected himself into his Fuhrer, he entered by that very act into the mass integrated by propaganda. When the young Kosomol surrendered himself to the cult of Stalin's personality, he became, at that very moment, altogether part of the mass. It is important to note that when the propagandee believes to be expressing the highest ideal of personality, he is at the lowest point of alienation. Did you not hear often enough Fascism's claim that is restored Personality to its place of honor? But through one channel or another, the same alienation is produced by any propaganda, for the creation of a hero is just as much the result of propaganda as is the integration of an individual in an activated mass. When propaganda makes the indiviual participate in a collective movement, it not only makes him share in an artificial activity, but also evokes in him a psychology of participation, "a crowd psychology". This psychic modification, which automatically takes place in the presence of other participants, is systematically produced by propaganda. It is the creation of mass psychology, with man's individual psychology integrated into the crowd.

In this process of alienation, the individual loses control and submits to external impulses; his personal inclinations and tastes give way to participation in the collective. But that collective will always be best idealized, patterned, and represented by the hero. The cult of the hero is the absolutely necessary complement of the massification of society. We see the automatic creation of this cult in connection with champion athletes, movie stars, and even such abstractions as Davy Crockett in the United States and Canada in 1955. The exaltation of the hero proves that one lives in a mass society. The individual who is prevented by circumstances from becoming a real person, who can no longer express himself through personal thought or action, who finds his aspirations frustrated, projects onto the hero all he would wish to be. He lives vicariously and experiences the athletic or amorous or military exploits of the god with whom he lives in spiritual symbiosis. The well known mechanism of identifying with movie stars is almost impossible to avoid for the member of modern society who comes to admire himself in the person of the hero. There he reveals the powers of which he unconsciously dreams, projects his desires, identifies with the success and the adventure. The hero becomes model and father, power and mythical realization of all that individual cannot be.

Propaganda uses all these mechanisms, but actually does even more to reinforce, stabilize, and spread them. The propagandee is alienated and transposed into the person promoted by propaganda (publicity campaigns for movie stars and propaganda campaigns are almost identical). For this, incidentally, no totalitarian organization is needed - such alienation does not take place merely in the event of a Hitler or a Stalin, but also in that of Khrushchev, a Clemenceau, a Coolidge, or a Churchill (the myth surrounding is very remarkable in this respect).

The propagandee finds himself in a psychological situation composed of the following elements: he lives vicariously through an intermediary. He feels, thinks and acts through the hero. he is under the guardianship and protection of his living god; he accepts being a child; he ceases to defend his own interests, for he knows his hero loves him and everything his hero decides is for the propagandee's own good; he thus compensates for the rigor of the sacrifices imposed on him. For this reason every regime that demands a certain amount of heroism must develop this propaganda of projection onto the hero (leader).

In this connection one can really speak of alienation, and of regression to an infantile state caused by propaganda. Young is of the opinion that the propagandee no longer develops intellectuality, but becomes arrested in an infantile neurotic regression sets in when the individual is submerged in mass psychology. This is confirmed by Stoetzel, who says that propaganda destroys all individuality, is capable of creating only a collective personality, and that it is an obstacle to the free development of the personality.

Such extensive alienation is by no means exceptional. The reader may think we have described an extreme, almost pathological case. Unfortunately, he is common type, even in his acute state. Everywhere we find men who pronounce as highly personal truths what they have read in the papers only an hour before, and whose beliefs are merely the result of a powerful propaganda. Everywhere we find people who have blind confidence in a political party, a general, a movie star, a country, or a cause, and who will not tolerate the slightest challenge to that god. Everywhere we meet people who, because they are filled with the consciousness of Higher Interests they must serve unto death, are no longer capable of making the simplest moral or intellectual distinctions or of engaging in the most elemenatry reasoning. yet all this acquired without effort, experience, reflection, or criticism - by the destructive effect of well made propaganda. We meet this alienated man at every turn, and are possibly already one ourselves.

Aside from the alienation that takes place when the rational individual retreats into thr irrational collective, there are other forms of alienation - for example, through the artificial satisfaction of real needs, or the real satisfaction of artificial needs (publicity and advertising).

The first case is the one we have discussed, in which propaganda develops from the contemporary sociological situation in order to give man artificial for real needs. Because man is restless and frustrated , because he understands nothing of the world in which he lives and acts, because he still is asked to make great sacrifices and efforts - because of all that, propaganda develops. It satisfies man, but with false and illusory satisfaction. It gives him explanations of the World in which he lives, but explanations that are mendacious and irrational. It reassures him or excites him, but always at the wrong moment. It makes him tremble with der of some biological warfare that never did exist, and makes him believe in the peaceful intentions of countries that have no desire for peace. It gives him reasons for the sacrifices demanded of him, but not the real reasons. Thus, in 1914, it called on him to lay down his life for his country, but remained silent on the war's economic causes, for which he certainly would not have fought.
Propaganda satisfies man's need for release and certainty, it eases his tensions and compensates for his frustrations, but with artificial means. If, for example, the worker has reasons- given his actual economic situation- to feel frustrated, alienated, or exploited, propaganda, which can really "solve" the worker's problems, as it has already done in the U.S.S.R., alienates him even more by making him oblivious of his frustrations and alienation, and by claiming and satisfying him. When man is subjected to the abnormal conditions of a big city or a battlefield and has good reason to feel tense, fearful, an out of step, propaganda that adjusts him to such conditions and resolves his conflicts artificially, without changing his situation in the least, is particularly pernicious. Of course, it seems like a cure. But it is like the cure that would heal the liver of an alcoholic in such a way that he continue to get drunk without feeling pain in his liver. Propaganda's artificial and unreal answers for modern man's psychological suffering are precisly of that kind: they allow him to continue living abnormally under the conditions in which society places him. Propaganda suppresses the warning signals that his anxieties, maladjustment, rebellions, and demands once supplied.
All this is also at work when propaganda liberates our deepest impulses and tendencies, such as our erotic drives, guilt feelings, and desire for power. But such liberation does not provide true and genuine satisfactions for such drives, any more than it justifies our demands and aggressions by permitting us to feel righteous in spite of them. Man can no more pick the object of his aggression than he can give free reign to his erotic drive. The satisfactions and liberations offered by propaganda are ersatz. Their aim is to provide a certain decompression or to use the shock effect of these tremendous forces somewhere else, to use them in support of actions that would otherwise lack impetus. This shows how the propaganda deprives the individual of his true personality.
Modern man deeply craves friendship, confidence, close personal relationships. But he is plunged into a world of competition, hostility, and anonymity, he needs to meet someone whom he can trust completely, for whom he can feel pure friendship, and to whom he can mean something in return. That is hard to find in his daily life, but apparently confidence in a leader, a hero, a movie star, or a TV personality is much more satisfying. TV, for example, creates feelings of friendship, a new intimacy, and thus fully satisfies those needs. But such satisfactions are purely illusory and fallacious because there is no true friendship of any kind between the TV personality and the viewer who feels that personality to be his friend. Here is a typical mendacious satisfaction of a genuine need. And what TV spontaneously produces is systematically exploited by propaganda: the "Little father" is always present.

Another example: In 1958 Khrushchev promised the transition to integrated Communism in the U.S.S.R.; later he declared that it would be realized very soon. Based on this them was an entire irrational propaganda campaign whose principal argument was that Communism would soon be fully attained because by 1975 the U.S.S.R. would have reached the production level of the United States - which would mean that the United States would then be ready to achieve Communism. Incidentally, the year given by Khrushchev in 1058 for the occurrence of this phenomenon was 1975, but in April 1960, the year he gave was 1980. This campaign was designed to satisfy the needs of the Soviet masses, to regain their confidence and appease their demands. What we see here is a purely theoretical answer, but it satisfies because it is believed by the masses and thus made true and real by the mechanism of propaganda.

Let us now look at the other side of the coin. Propaganda creates artificial needs. just as propaganda creates political problems that would never arise by themselves, but for which public opinion will demand a solution, it arouses in us an increase of certain desires, prejudices, and needs which were by no means imperative to begin with. They became so only as a result of propaganda, which here plays the same role as advertising. Besides, propaganda is helped by advertising, which gives certain twists and orientations to individual drives, while propaganda extends the effects of advertising by promising psychological relief of tensions in general. Under the impact of propaganda, certain prejudices (racial or economic), certain needs (for equality or success), become all-devouring, destructive passions, occupying the entire range of a person's consciousness, superseding all other aspects of life, and demanding answers.

As a result of propaganda, these superficial tendencies end up by becoming identified with our deepest needs and become confused with what is most personal and profound within us. Precisely in this fashion the genuine need for freedom has been diluted and adulterated into an abominable mixture of liberalism under the impact of various forms of propaganda of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this psychic confusion, created by propaganda, propaganda alone then imposes order. Just as it is a fact that mass communication media create new media (for example, the existence of TV creates the need to buy a set and to turn it on), it is even more the case when these means are used by propaganda.

And just as propaganda acts to create new needs, it also creates the demands for their solutions. We have shown how propaganda can relieve and resolve tensions. These tensions are purposely provoked by the propagandist, who holds out their remedy at the same time. He is master of both excitation and satisfaction. One may even say that he has provoked a particular tension, it was in order to lead the individual to accept a particular remedy, to demand some suitable action (suitable from the propagandist's viewpoint ), and to submit to a system that will alleviate tension. He thus places the individual in a universe of artificially created political needs, needs that are artificial even if their roots were completely genuine.

For example, by creating class consciousness in the proletariat, propaganda adds corresponding tension to the worker's misery. Similarly, by creating an equality complex, it adds another tension to the all the natural demands of the "have-nots."But propaganda simultaneously offers the means to reduce these tensions. It opens a door to the individual, and we have seen that is one of the most effective propaganda devices. the only trouble is that it really offers is a profound alienation: when an individual reacts to these artificially created stimuli, or when he submits to the manipulations that make him repress certain personal impulses to make room for abstract drives and reduction of these tensions, he is no more himself than he is when he reacts biologically to a tranquilizer. This will appear to be a true remedy, which in fact it is - but for a sickness deliberately provoked to fit the remedy.

As we have frequently noted, these artificial needs assume considerable importance because of their universal nature and the means (the mass media) by which they are propagated. They become more demanding and imperative for the individual than his own private needs and lead him to sacrifice his private satisfactions. In politics as in economics, the development of artificial needs progressively eliminates personal needs and inclinations. Thus, what takes place is truly an expulsion of the individual outside of himself, designed to deliver him to the abstract forces of technically oriented mechanisms.

On this level, too, the more the individual is convinced that he thinks, feels, and acts on his own , the greater the alienation will be. The psychologist Biddle has demonstrated in detail that an individual subjected to propaganda behaves as though his reactions depended on his own decisions. He obeys, he trembles with fear and expands or contracts on command, but nothing in this obedience is passive or automatic; even when yielding to suggestion, he decides "for himself" and thinks himself free - in fact the more he is subjected to propaganda, the freer he thinks he is. He is energetic and chooses his own action. In fact, propaganda to reduce the tension it has created in the first place, offers him one, two, even three possible courses of action, and the propagandee considers himself a well-organized, fully aware individual when chooses one of them. Of course, this takes little effort on his part. The propagandee does not much energy to make his decision, for that decisions corresponds with his group, with suggestion, and with the sociological forces. Under the influence of propaganda he always takes the easy, the path of least resistance, even if it cost him his life. But even while coasting downhill, he claims he is climbing uphill and performing a personal, heroic act. For propaganda has aroused his energy, personality, an sense of responsibility - or rather their verbal images, because the forces themselves were long ago destroyed by propaganda. This duplicity is propaganda's most destructive act. And it leads us to consider next propaganda's effect of psychic dissociation.

addendum: How groups impact the individual....

  • Disappear everything in the nature of critical and personal judgment
  • Limit the propagandee's field of thought to the extent that it provides him with ready made (and moreover, unreal) thoughts and stereotypes.
  • Orients the subject towards very limited ends and prevents him from using his mind or experimenting on his own.
  • It determines the core from which all his thoughts must derive and draws from the beginning a sort of guideline that permits neither criticism nor imagination.
  • Any imagination exercised will lead only to small digressions from the fixed line and to only slightly deviant, preliminary responses within the authorized framework. Acceptance of this line, of such ends and limitations, presupposes the suppression of all critical judgment, which in turn is a result of the crystallization of thoughts and attitudes and the creations of taboos.


Continued at the following thread, where the background of Propaganda is discussed.


Last edited by IP on Sun 31 Jan 2010, 12:43 pm; edited 8 times in total
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Alienation via Propaganda, Jacques Ellul :: Comments

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The irony was pretty rich posting a link to this thread on FB.
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Re: Alienation via Propaganda, Jacques Ellul
Post on Thu 15 Jul 2010, 12:38 am by Guerrero
i apologize because actually i am posting a response before i have read through the whole article but i just wanted to respond before i forgot my response.
Quote :
To be alienated means to be someone other (alienus) than oneself; it
also can mean to belong to someone else, it means to be deprived of
one's self, to be subjected to, or even identified with, someone else.

i think part of the propaganda has also been the focus on SELF as the orienting point, rather than God. i understand some peeps here have some knowledge of Derrida and Deconstructionism which is what i was reminded of immediately. i think it was Derrida that spoke of peeps need for a center (that from which everything derives, as well as that which everything refers back to). And how that "center" has sociologically changed over the ages in Western civilization. like once upon a time things like the sun and moon and stars were "centers" for the peeps; but then moved on to a God concept; but then moved onto a "self" center, largely brought on by the psychological theories of the early 20th century, namely Freud.

i think we are still stuck in that mode, sociologically, where the "self" is promoted as the "center" and God is disregarded and regarded as an out-dated concept. however i think this is part of the social programming/conditioning etc. that has been wrought upon us, in order to disconnect and disorient us away from God, the true center/origin of all things. and this disconnect is what alienates us and creates the psychological problems such as depression or anxiety as well as turning to all sorts of material means to fill that hole/or lose that feeling of being alienated.

okay. i'll go back to reading the entire article/post now.
Guerrero that is a could point, I would say ego but I think it is the same meaning when you say self. By stroking the ego and by how people value their egos propaganda gains a huge foothold. People do not like admitting they were fooled or that the country they were proud of for years is actually an evil empire, it hurts the ego. Almost everything in mainstream society, entertainment, or consumerism is filled with massive strokes for the ego. I think the ego is also a big reason why people today are have less truthful interaction and less meaningful friendships, we are too proud of ourselves to be real with each other. Too proud of a false image to be honest about our shortcomings.
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Re: Alienation via Propaganda, Jacques Ellul
Post on Thu 15 Jul 2010, 11:26 am by Guerrero
yes, actually "ego" is perhaps a better word to use. and great points. if you also look at the celebrities/famous people who are marketed as "role models" (modern-day idol worship) - they are all HUGE egoists, ie Oprah, Lance Armstrong (well any big sport star for that matter), Obama, Angelina Jolie, etc. Celebrities especially seem to be engaged in full-time self-worship, and that is a reflection too of where a lot of society is at, self-worship is promoted from all fronts.
 

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