1: Introduction to Propaganda

A Primer on Propaganda
How To Recognize and Resist



Propaganda and its cousins, indoctrination, and misinformation are not new concepts. 

People have been using tricks to manipulate the way people think for as long as people have existed.  The people who found ways to benefit by tricking others looked for techniques that helped them do it better.  They refined these techniques.  People and groups that could get substantial benefits by tricking others had resources they could use to hire professionals to help them refine the tricks they used.  Over the centuries, this constant work and improvement have led to a very advanced field, one that has truly fantastic capabilities to make people think the way others want them to think, so that they do what other people want them to do and support ideas that benefit other people, not themselves. 

This is not new. 

It has been going on for thousands of years.  We have records that describe the methods used to trick people that go back to the very first records that we still have available to us today. 

Socrates discusses the use of techniques used to indoctrinate and misinform people in great detail in dialogues written some 2,300 years ago.  Socrates has some brilliant insight and makes it very clear how these techniques were used in his time, what they were used for, and how effective they were.  Many of these discussions deal with the role of propaganda in war.  The techniques were clearly well worked out long before he was born and were well perfected when he lived. 

War propaganda needs minds that are receptive to it, so minds have to be prepared long in advance to accept the messages they need to accept to participate in these activities.  War is not a wonderful thing or even a good thing.  From an objective perspective, it is little more than organized mass murder and destruction on a massive scale.  This activity divides the human race into teams and pits them against each other in to-the-death contests which have no real potential to improve conditions for the human race or move our race toward a better future.  The conflicts are absolute losses economically, at least for the human race as a whole:  the resources and wealth that are turned into weapons and used to kill others are not available to benefit the human race or make life better.  This means that wars would be nothing bur dead losses even if there were no losses of life or property in the fighting. 

Schools don’t teach it that way, however.  They use various tools (those that Socrates explains) to make children think wars are wonderful adventures where evil monsters are quickly and easily vanquished by the kind and noble soldiers on ‘their side.’  Socrates points out that schools start preparing the minds of children for the mindset described above even before children are old enough to enough to understand words well enough to put together logical sentences.  Socrates points out that their minds are able to appreciate the feelings they get from music long before they are able to understand logical discussions.  The schools start with sing along lessons where the children sing wonderful, joyous melodies that incite pride and group loyalty.  These songs contain words (which the children won’t understand when they first hear them) that describe fantastically violent and horrific activities.  When children learn them, they don’t realize the words say these things.  It slowly dawns on them in ways that make them think the activities described must be acceptable, or they wouldn’t be associated with the wonderful feelings the music gives them. 


I went to school my first two years in France and sang the Marseilles with my classmates, long before I was old enough to realize what I was doing.  Only after I was an adult (after I read Socrates and realized that I may have been tricked) did I look closely at the words.  The song goes happily along about ‘slitting the throats of children’ and ‘watering the fields with the blood of the impure.’ 

My family moved to the United States when I was 7 years old.  There, I learned another jubilant and uplifting melody which I thought was about a happy immigrant named ‘Jose’ who trying to watch a beautiful fireworks display but couldn’t see it through the ‘donzerly’ light.  I didn’t realize until I had already sung this song hundreds of times over a period of years that it was not designed to tell us how we should be united with others through our common love of fireworks, it was designed to associate happiness with rockets (which, in practice, send explosives into people’s homes and kill them all with no warning) and bombs (which blow off the limbs and heads of the helpless, including children).  


Socrates points out that the education systems of the schools in his country at his time start with associations that children are able to make between music and the message:  organized mass murder and brutal atrocities are associated with these musical messages.  The education systems then build on these associations in various ways as children become more and more intellectually capable:  They are then taught poetry that associates intrinsically positive rhythms (which psychologists claim are associated with sounds of activities their mothers went through when the children were still in the uterus, with the heartbeat overplayed with the sound of walking) with desired ideas.  There are a few words that stick out from the early poetry I learned:  ‘Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.’   It has a catchy rhythm that invites you to find an excuse to recite it.  What do the words mean?  I didn’t think about it.  It must be the right way to think.  My teachers were good people.  They wouldn’t teach me things that were wrong. 

Then children are taught to worship icons.  For example, children in Socrates time had to pledge allegiance to the flag, the war banner of their country.  Ceremonies are added:  children watch and participate in parades and, when time comes to enlist and they see the soldiers marching proudly into war, associate the joy of the parades (marched to the most uplifting and happy musical tunes ever composed) with what they will do if they enlist.  As soon as children are old enough mentally to understand stories, and learn lessons from them, the real indoctrination begins.  Stories are told about the past, and particularly about past wars, that are little more than long collections of total lies about both history and the reality of military conflict.  Most of the stories are about things that didn’t happen at all.  The winners are always turned into what we may say are almost gods; the losers are vile monsters who were trying to destroy everything decent people care about and who had to be wiped out to make the world livable for real humans.  (The victors write the stories and the losers, having been exterminated or subjugated, have no forum to say anything.  The stories are always one sided.)  Since these stories come from teachers, who children are raised to respect, the children believe them and think stories are accurate representations of the past. 

Socrates claims that childhood training simply lays the foundation for a barrage of propaganda that will follow people the rest of their lives.  They will be prepared for any message that depicts people who the leaders of their state have identified as ‘enemies’ as evil monsters who deserve only endless misery that ends in a slow and painful death both for them and for any beliefs or ideals they may have inherited and refuse to relinquish.  The message doesn’t have to be logical or reasonable.  In fact, logic and reason are forbidden to listeners:  any attempt to inject logic makes them liable to charges they are ‘unpatriotic’ and want to give comfort to the enemy by treating them as real human beings (this is a capital crime in most places, the most serious crime that can be committed, called ‘treason’).   Socrates claims that the propaganda is designed to make us split our minds, a technique that George Orwell was later to call ‘doublethink:’  we use logic and reason to help us build weapons to kill people, but we don’t allow logic and reason to get into our minds when thinking about why the people we are building these weapons to kill are different from ourselves or why we need weapons to change their minds.

Socrates taught these ideas in Athens.  As you might imagine, the people who benefited from war and organized the systems of training did not want their people to understand the things Socrates was explaining.  Socrates was telling young people that the people who ran the system around them were trying to trick them.  He told them that these people used tools to trick them that were very well refined and had proven effectiveness.  He told them that, if they thought that they were not influenced at all by this propaganda, they were being naive:  they had all been tricked to some extent.  This trickery was designed specifically to get them to do things that would harm them personally and harm the human race as a whole. 

The people in charge wanted Socrates to stop.  The authorities had faced this problem before, of course.  They had many tools they could use to silence people who presented dangerous messages.  Normally, simple intimidation works quite well.   Most people cared a lot about money and their position in society.  The authorities could use propaganda that was designed to defame the person presenting the dangerous message that threatened his position and then use their appropriation methods to freeze or otherwise take way his wealth.  This didn’t work on Socrates.  He didn’t have a position in an educational institution and a carefully cultivated professional reputation that he would be afraid to lose.  He didn’t have any money.  He didn’t respond to intimidation, so they went to the next step:  threats.  The country was at war.  Socrates message hurt morale which harms the war effort.  If he does it accidentally, without realizing he is harming his country, he might be let off, provided he stopped and promised never to say anything like it again.  But if he is told that it harms the war effort, and keeps doing it, this is treason, a crime punishable by execution.  Socrates was told that if he did not stop, he would be put on trial and the prosecutors would seek the death penalty.  There is a very good chance that he would die. 

All this is explained in Plato’s book ‘The Apology.’  (The authorities offered him a deal:  if he would agree he had done something wrong and issue a public apology, he could go free.  Otherwise, he would be put on trial.  The Apology goes over the trial and discusses the arguments used against him and his reason for not accepting the deal and issuing the apology that would have saved his life.) 

Socrates claimed he would not apologize for trying to make the world a better place.  The things he said were all true.  He would not apologize for telling the truth. 

The prosecutors appealed to the emotions of the jury members, and particularly their patriotism.  They pointed out that they were living in dangerous times. Their state was surrounded by enemies.  It was at risk of being overrun by the evil monsters they were fighting.  Socrates may have had a few good points.  But this was not the time to make them.  If Socrates had simply waited until the war was over and the risks had been dealt with, his ideas would have been welcomed.  (If Socrates waited for a time when there were no war risks or threats, he would still be waiting.)   But, at the present time, this can’t be tolerated because his message is harming our children.  They are going to war to fight for things they believe in.  Socrates message plants doubt in their minds and, if they doubt, they won’t fight as hard as the enemies.  This places us all at great risk.  Socrates was given a chance.  He could have simply stopped trying to harm the country that loved him and gave him the freedom, justice, liberty, and other wonderful things that his country gave him.  But he refused.  It is sad to have to execute someone for saying something he believes in, even if we all disagree with it.  But we must think about our children, our soldiers, and the sacrifices made by the people who died for their country in the past.  This is more important than one man’s right to speak. 

The jury was swayed.  They loved their country enough to make the sacrifice, and ordered Socrates to be put to death. 

Socrates seemed to have been shocked:  he seems to have expected the jury to be swayed by his arguments.  But the mindset they had been raised to accept was strong enough to resist.  His final words to the court are recorded in ‘The Apology:’ 


O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.  He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance.  But I see clearly that the time had arrived when it was better for me to die and be released from trouble.  For which reason, I am not angry with my condemners, or with my accusers; they have done me no harm, although they did not mean to do me any good; and for this I may gently blame them.

Still I have a favour to ask of them.  When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about anything more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing—then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing.  And if you do this, both I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways—I to die, and you to live.  Which is better God only knows.


Some More History


Socrates’ message was not new 2,300 years ago.  Many of his ideas about the field of propaganda appear to have come from his grandfather, Timaeus.  Timaeus was a member of an organization called the ‘Pythagoreans.’  People in this organization accepted and spread the social ideas of one of the greatest thinkers of all time, Pythagoras.  Pythagoras had been put to death, about 2 centuries before Socrates was put to death, for presenting ideas that the authorities thought were dangerous. 

We all know the name ‘Pythagoras.’ 

We learned about his most famous theorem in high school; those who studied higher math learned other principles of mathematics he worked out (the infinitely dense number line, the proof irrational numbers exist, and dozens of key ‘proofs’ of key relationships that held in math) that now form the foundation for the modern field of higher math.  Those involved with music learned about the Pythagorean interval, the foundation of all western music, and those who studied physics learned the way his harmonic principles are providing insight into the way the physical world works, even now, 2,500 years after his death.  (‘The Music Of Physics’ explains the way Pythagorean principles are being used to help us understand the field of quantum mechanics.)  

Pythagoras could teach some things openly. 

But he had a great many interests.  Some of them crossed the same line that Socrates crossed later.  Pythagoras realized that the people who ran the systems then in place (the same kinds of systems now in place) didn’t want certain ideas presented.  They would take steps to prevent people from learning about these ideas if they knew about them.  Pythagoras didn’t want to have to fight the system, but he wanted people who were interested in these topics to have the ability to meet with others to discuss them.  He created the ‘Pythagoreans’ as an underground society.  Its basic message was simple:  We must accept we have the right to use our own minds and not feel we have to think the way we have been told we are supposed to think.  The symbol of the Pythagoreans was mathematicians compass (representing the geometric proofs that Pythagoras helped us think in totally logical ways). 

Qqqq compass image here.


In 495 BC by the calendar now in use, the authorities found out about one of the meetings of this society.  Pythagoras himself was in attendance.  It was to be held in the town called ‘Croton,’ now a part of the country of Italy (on the instep of the boot).  The authorities were ready.  Before the meeting, they came in and wedged the window shutters shut so people couldn’t leave.  When the meeting started, they blocked the door and set the building on fire, killing everyone inside, including Pythagoras.  

This did not stop the ideas however.  The message, basically that your mind belongs to you and you have the right to use it any way you want, is very appealing.  It spread to areas far away from the places where Pythagoras had lived.  Timaeus met with the Pythagoreans in Athens.  He raised his grandson, Socrates.  Although we can’t say for sure, it seems very likely that the ideas Socrates had were not entirely original.  They had been around for centuries. 


Propaganda in our World Today


Pythagoras was put to death slightly more than 2,500 years ago.  Over this period, a great many things have changed in the world. 

But some things have not changed:   Powerful individuals and groups still manipulate the information flow in order to try to get people to think the way they want them to think.  They are trying to take away are free will and get people to reach the conclusions that they want us to reach, rather than the conclusions we would reach if not for the training, indoctrination, misinformation, and propaganda. 

Over this time, a great many people who want to deceive us have gained positions of great power, wealth, and authority.  (The book Fact Based History discusses this issue and explains that many of the people who created important institutions that still manipulate minds today, including certain churches, clearly studied the field and used it intentionally.)   They have used their authority and wealth to hire people to help them find better ways to manipulate the minds of the people they want to influence. 

Some of the tools in use today are extremely effective.  They are so effective that it is probably safe to say that no one is entirely immune from the influence of this trickery.   You may think you are the exception, perhaps the only one.  But there will be times when you hear a few words of a song glorifying war and can’t help but associate the horrific words with the wonderful melody.  I think it is naive to think that you, or the people you talk to, have not been influenced at all.  Of course, others have been influenced more.  But there is something in all of us that makes us want to belong and synchronize our thinking with others.  

Before we can solve a problem, we must be aware the problem exists.  

A lot of the world’s problems today can only exist if a large percentage of the people of the world have been tricked into thinking a certain way.  Some of the problems that result from this trickery threaten the very existence of our race.  If we want to solve these problems, we have to be able to think the way Pythagoras and Socrates thought.  We have to be willing to accept that a great many of the message that we get from the government, corporations, the media, and even from our own friends, are not logical and reasonable conclusions that follow from objective truths, but are ideas that powerful people and groups that benefit from activities that harm the human race as a whole have worked hard to implant into our minds.  They are trying to trick us. 

If we want to have any chance at solving these problems, we have to understand the state of this field.  We have to understand the tools and tricks that have been put together over time to manipulate the way we think.  We can’t even recognize when they are being used until we understand them.  Then, once we recognize them, we need to have the mental skills to understand how to sort out the actual information that helps us understand the way the world works from the garbage nonsense that is designed specifically to prevent us from understanding the way the world works. 

That is what this book is about.