Propaganda in Our Digital Era
V. Susan Ferguson, Contributor
Propaganda, the Formation of Man’s Attitudes is the brilliant work of the French philosopher Jacques Ellul. Written in 1965, Ellul offers us disturbing and painful insight into the mechanics of propaganda, insights that are today even more indispensible to understanding our world. In the ‘digital era’ the Internet has made propaganda easier, faster, more efficiently confusing than ever before.
Propaganda Becomes a Necessity of the Modern Era
In a world of disequilibrium, disconnected from primordial metaphysical principles, a world that condemns contemplative introspection and thrives on speed and change, propaganda becomes a necessity according to Jacques Ellul. With no meaningful understanding of our place in this world and our connection within the greater cosmos, modern man needs endless propaganda — as Ellul says, “to help us face our condition.” If we did not feel this lack, if we were in harmony with the Cosmic Laws that govern our universe, we would have no need for propaganda. Neither would we feel compelled to read the endless, often absurd, explanations that conspiracy websites provide that over time, on reflection, amount to little or no real value.
Propaganda, and likewise these ‘insider’ websites that claim to explain everything, only exist because we need them. Ellul explains that this need for propaganda is practically universal in modern civilization and increases as any country “progresses toward civilization.” This need for propaganda is intrinsic to the current digital era. We have left the industrial era and now live in a Technological Digital Age. I often wonder if all colonized planets go through these stages.
The Mix of Truth & Lies
As a subtle yet effective form of propaganda, conspiracy websites serve to distract, to defuse anger and frustration that stem from the despair of a profound sense of helplessness in the Digital Era that is marked by an obsession with quantity in these twilight days of the Kali Yuga.
Conspiracy websites pretend to give their readers the “insider’s truth”; however, they are, in fact, a myriad mix of manufactured, confused and confusing information that deludes, giving the reader a false sense of participation in decisions that are being made without his or her knowledge and consent. The reader is often left feeling cynical, filled with distrust, and impotent — thus rendered ineffectual and non-intrusive. Distracted in this manner, the real players are left free to rule. Haven’t you ever wondered why these websites are allowed to thrive in our western culture?
Fear as a Business
Fear-based insecurities are the biggest component. Ellul states:
“Propaganda is the manipulation of the subconscious by technical means…hypermodern police methods…have as their end the establishment of a ‘neurotic complex’ based in feelings of insecurity. Our technical world not only creates these feelings spontaneously, it develops them with malice aforethought for technical reasons and by technical means which, in their action on the human being, reinforce the structures of that technical world.”
Technology has rendered us disconnected from the eternal Real, from any understanding of Dharma, which is symptomatic of this cycle of time. We exist in a perpetual state of disequilibrium. Technology has moved from the machine to the digital era. Digital simply means numbers and quantity, not quality. Our lives have been reduced to digits, numbers, quantities and what cannot be quantified is of no value. Only that which can be perceived by the five-senses is taken to be real, thus the material world is the only real world. The laws of matter are based on numbers and “spiritual power is in no way based on numbers…all true knowledge is based in an intuitive intellect (buddhi in Sanskrit) — and the identification with its object.” [Rene Guenon]
Rene Guenon further states:
“Absorbed by action to the point of denying everything that lies beyond it, they do not see that this action itself degenerates, from the absence of any principle, into an agitation as vain as it is sterile. This indeed is the most conspicuous feature of the modern period: need for ceaseless agitation, for unending change, and for ever-increasing speed…It is dispersion into multiplicity that is no longer unified by consciousness of any higher principle…an ever more pronounced materialization…all that proceeds from matter can beget only strife and conflict…”
Human life has ceased to be an integral whole and has become “a disconnected set of activities having no other bond…Today the human being is dissociated from the essence of life. Instead of living time, we are split up and parceled out by it.” [J. Ellul] Our lives are measured by the machine, by technology, and by a tsunami of ‘apps’ that leave us even more isolated and powerless. Helpless, we watch the children mesmerized by hand-held devices that offer them only momentary relief from an endless cauldron of confusion. The Kali Yuga is the Age of Confusion and Conflict indeed.
Consumption is not Wisdom
Jacques Ellul states:
“The disequilibrium between the traditional affirmation and the new criterion has produced the climate of anxiety and insecurity characteristic of our epoch and of our neuroses…The human being does not feel at home in the collective atmosphere…”
Thus we need techniques, propaganda, entrainment, self-help books, seminars, and conspiracy websites to “calm our fears, and reshape our heart and brain.” We need to be indoctrinated in insidious ways into mass consciousness, the herd, and as Ellul says, this “entails a tremendous effort of psychic mutation.”
We feel helpless. Without the high-priced indoctrination that takes place in our major universities to literally pre-educate the elite and make them true believers in the current technological paradigms, which are based in matter, consumption and power — we can never have any influence. Ellul makes the harsh point that the problems of global politics and economics are, in fact, over our heads. What can we actually know? These complexities involve “choice and decisions that demand maturity, knowledge, and a range of information” that we simply do not and cannot have. Can any of us really have useful opinions on foreign policies? Certainly military decisions have always been and must remain in the realms of utmost secrecy. If they don’t want the enemy to know, why would they tell the public?
In wartime, secrecy is not questioned; it is accepted. Many of us believe our opinions can prevent war, but as you may have noticed — we are already at war. The very technology that claims to transform our lives into a Utopian paradise has thrust us into global cyberwars. Once lauded as miraculous conveniences, online access for our banking, shopping, medical services, etc. has left us more vulnerable than ever. These days, cyberspace is like walking down a dark alley, and this vulnerability to criminal hackers is not ultimately fixable.
Our insecurities have multiplied with every advance in technology that initially promised to make our lives better. We are more alienated from an integral harmony with our universe and trapped in an ever-increasing sense of disequilibrium, disharmony. Seeking answers, we turn to conspiracy websites with their half-truths and so-called ‘insider’ information no matter how absurd these reports may be. The more absurd the better, for as Ellul brutally says, at least this gives us the illusion of participation and most of us prefer to express “stupidities to not expressing any opinion.” In desperation to participate, people are ready “to accept a propaganda that will permit them to participate and which hides their incapacity beneath explanations, judgments, and news, enabling them to satisfy their desire without eliminating their incompetence.”
“…a corps of men who do nothing but study the ways and means of changing minds or binding minds to their convictions.”
Alex Carey states:
“The common man…has never been so confused, mystified and baffled. His most intimate conceptions of himself, of his needs, and indeed the very nature of human nature, have been subject to skilled manipulation and construction in the interests of corporate efficiency and profit…propaganda has become a profession. The modern world is busy developing a corps of men who do nothing but study the ways and means of changing minds or binding minds to their convictions.”
The people who are actually in power know how these conspiracy websites work in their favor. They have read all the books on propaganda, including Jacques Ellul, Edward Bernays, and others. They know how it works and how ‘true-believer’ websites can distract and divert unwanted anger and energy that might be problematic for them. Thus, these websites are allowed to thrive — perhaps they are even in fact created and supported by a ministry of the propaganda think-tank.
We helpless individuals, who realize we have no control over decisions that are profoundly altering our lives on every level — economic, environmental, and political — are driven to despair. We require what Ellul calls “an ideological veil” to blunt this harsh reality, and propaganda found in any ‘insider’ conspiracy website offers “a remedy for a basically intolerable situation.” My intuition tells me that these websites are actually being used to refine techniques and make indoctrination through subtle insidious propaganda even more effective, to calm the “bewildered herds” as Edward Bernays would say.
About the Author
V. Susan Ferguson is the author of Inanna Returns, Inanna Hyper-Luminal; her own commentary on the Bhagavad Gita and the Shiva Sutras; and Colony Earth & the Rig Veda. Her website is Metaphysical Musing.
Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, by Jacques Ellul, 1965; Vintage Books, NY, 1973.
“The theme of Propaganda is quite simply…that when our new technology encompasses any culture or society, the result is propaganda…Ellul has made many splendid contributions in this book.” — Marshall McLuhan, Book Week
The Technological Society, by Jacques Ellul, 1954; Vintage Books, 1964.
The Crisis of the Modern World, Rene Guenon, 1946; Sophia Perennis, Hillsdale NY, 2001.
The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times, by Rene Guenon, 1945; Sophia Perennis, Hillsdale NY, 2001.
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