Propaganda’s primary mission isn’t to get you to believe in lies. It never was. Besides, convincing the public of small or even large not-truths isn’t difficult.
No, propaganda is effective precisely because the public is never able to ask or even consider the real questions. Its just buried. Propaganda isn’t a poster asking you to join the war. Propaganda is when an organization tells you the exact opposite of what they want the public discourse to be about.
Here are some of the defining qualities of a successful propaganda campaign:
Divide and Confuse - Create multiple fictitious or irrelevant sides to an issue, ideally two, and present the two as simply and as clearly different as possible.
Drown out with more Noise - Make more noise in a separate issue, or call to discussion a relevant, but wholly different matter than the one being discussed to never allow the core issue to be directly addressed.
Shock and Awe - Immediately fabricate views on tragic and emotional events, ideally by drawing from the first point, so as to appear to boldly be taking action, and to appear to “know what is going on and have things under control”. Never talk about the event, so much as talk about things surrounding the event.
Simplify Solutions, Complexify Problems - Never indicate that issues that shouldn’t be scrutinized are easy, convince the public its “very difficult” and that there are already plenty of experts. Conversely, always present your case as simply and as “common sense” as possible. Never allow complex solutions, even if better, to come to discussion because it invites scrutiny and further discourse.
Move Forward - Don’t acknowledge an event or past action as wrongful. Instead rephrase it as moving forward and getting past that, into a new administration and “without the baggage of the past preventing us from reaching for tomorrow”. Its best to spin it as the problem no longer being an issue, while simultaneously conceding that it was in fact “a big deal”.
All propaganda is immoral in my mind, because each time its used, it muddies the waters of public trust for public information. How do we really know about the various three letter organizations activities, when the federal and state governments are more than happy to cover up, distract, and even straight lie about what they are doing and why?
How can we have useful public discourse about climate change, nutrition, or GM foods because so much propaganda was used to discredit the Scientific Method?
How can we have intelligent and productive arguments about various social issues, when everyone immediately spins a tragedy as emotional ammo for their side, or refuses to acknowledge hold-overs from past eras, or simply can’t do any of these things because the current political climate pits us against each other. The current climate is so damaging and split, that one side believes the other could never tell the truth, and likewise the reverse is true.
How can we truly gauge the need to engage various state, oppositional, and ideological organizations when there is so much mis-information about who our enemies are, their intentions, and the true engagement potential of our own country? So many people make solving ISIS sound so easy, yet Obama says its hard? And if it is hard, why can’t we make the specifics public, and if we can’t, why all the misinformation instead? Limiting it to meaningless platitudes only enables others to make incredibly damaging and likely false claims about the current capabilities of ISIS and the most useful path forward. Of course, I have already talked before about how War is inherently undemocratic, but the point here is that all the propaganda makes it even more unlikely the public can have an informed opinion on the matter.
This is just to start. But I am trying to lay out a pattern here. Propaganda feeds on itself. Its so easy to maintain the status quo, and not difficult at all to contribute noise, division, downplay, shock, and various other attributes of propaganda to make the next campaign even more successful. Every organization has a huge incentive to leverage propaganda and add to it, but only a few organizations truly want to undo it.
Propaganda, in highly limited and highly specific cases, has proven useful in pushing “moral” goals. I am sure most people would agree that the propaganda used to spur Americans from their xenophobic norm to fight the Germans in WWII was definitely desired.
But, the propaganda itself was immoral. Maybe it did some good, and sometimes nations and people may choose to do “immoral” things to serve some other greater physical/material aspect, but it still causes all the issues of above, and makes it easier for someone to come along and hijack any good intentions with their own.