Propaganda has a bad reputation because it has sometimes been used to achieve evil ends. But it’s purpose is simply to support any cause, good or evil. Propaganda itself is ethically neutral. All persuasive writing is propaganda.
Propaganda is the art of influencing others in order to benefit some cause or agenda. It focuses on the facts that support its cause while ignoring those that speak against it. This is classical Sophism, presenting a convincing argument that may not be valid. The terminology of propaganda will often make an appeal to the emotions so that logic is overlooked.
Bad propaganda deceives people and creates bias and intolerance. Good or neutral propaganda presents more of an impartial case while still working toward the cause.
For example, “Most violent offenders were victims of violence in childhood” can be used to support an argument to treat children who are victims of violence as if they will one day become offenders. But, the statement does not say that most victims become offenders. It says that most who become offenders were victims in childhood. The percentages of those who recovered and lived a normal life versus those who grew up to become violent offenders is ignored.
The goal of propaganda is to change attitudes in the audience. Present the worst case health effects of smoking to get people to quit. Present examples of government reform to encourage voting.
Propaganda is more about motivation than technique. If you don’t know how to write, motivation won’t help. If you know how to write and can’t seem to get going, the right propaganda can get you working. You might be tricked into thinking you can earn 100 grand for a novel because of examples of popular authors who make big bucks. The odds are against most writers pulling in that kind of money. Will you be upset at being mislead if you only make 10 thousand a book and can quit your day job?
The Case in Favor of Propaganda
All advertising is propaganda because it encourages you to buy a product or service. With most ads, the deception is obvious. “This product won a prize you’ve never heard of” means it was the company’s own award and their new product beat their old ones. “Seventy Five percent of dentists surveyed recommended this toothpaste” means the options on the survey were their toothpaste and the least popular one on the market. The only ads that don’t seem to present any deception are for products that are so ridiculously overpriced that the cost is the scam. So, don’t feel bad about promoting something you honestly know is good.
Here’s a list of some effective propaganda techniques.
1. Repeat the same few points over and over. For example, to help you write more, my blog posts repeatedly mention the multiple draft method of writing.
2. Link your cause to a general cause that everyone likes. Freedom Fries.
3. Promote your cause as the lesser evil. “Would you like to have our military in the streets or a foreign invader?”
4. Use transference. “You like pizza don’t you? Tofu is a lot like pizza. You should like tofu.”
5. A statement of fact with no support. Be so enthusiastic about your cause that you can see no reason to provide evidence. “The multiple draft writing method simply cannot fail.”
6. Appeal to the need to fit in. Everybody else likes your cause. The reader should too.
7. Use testimonials. “Since I started using this vegetable shortening as chip dip, I’ve achieved massive weight gain and you can too.”
8. And, as I mentioned at the start, be biased. Present the case for your cause. Ignore the case against it.
Maybe you still don’t like the idea of using propaganda. When there’s nothing wrong with the alternative, a balanced article is more informative and gives the reader freedom of choice. Use what works best for each writing project.