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When Propaganda Backfires: The Best Predictor of the Future Is the Past.


It wasn’t “reefer madness:” it was just madness.

By: David Zwanetz

The state-sanctioned actionability of psychological propaganda on its populace to achieve for lack of a better term-“mind control”-has been a tactic employed by federal regimes long before the most famous contemporary examples of Hitler and Stalin. Whether armed with good or bad intentions, the overarching idea and definition of propaganda is that the government should be allowed to somehow misuse or betray the trust of the people, potentially subverting the tenets of a democratic or free society, so long as it serves to further a goal that is usually sold as beneficial to the masses (even if the masses might not realize it or revolt and possibly dispose of their leaders once they did). States seeking to seize power through undue process have frequently turned to the art of propaganda-and it most definitely is an art-and with improvements in media technology and audience reach being at all-time highs, propaganda exists in more creative and powerful forms than ever.

Kingdoms, theocracies, democracies and other forms of government have used print media to skew public perception in their favor for over 4,000 years, well before the invention of the printing press or modern cuneiform, for that matter. One of the oldest recorded examples of what could be considered an “act of propaganda” is a carved rock depiction of three victorious campaigns led by a famous ruler of ancient Persia, Darius I. Though Darius was indeed a magnificent and highly-skilled ruler by all accounts, it was acts of government-sanctioned propaganda that led him to a place in history above few others in terms of greatness. The only problem with Darius’ legacy was, none of the battles for which he was credited for winning actually took place.

The Parthenon sculptures held in the British Museum-sometimes referred to as the ‘Elgin marbles’-overemphasize the supremacy of Athenian military forces above their enemies, hoping to instill doubt and make potential invaders think twice before considering an attack.

In more modern times, during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the local populace took up arms against their colonialist rulers; after the fact, British media publications were proven to have fabricated reports of heinous acts being committed by native “savages” upon British settlers. The domestic push for suppression of the Indian rebellion was justified by such media reports, which fostered the empire’s narrative that British Colonialism was not only justified, but necessary.

The ever-evolving forms of propaganda actively sanctioned by-it’s safe to say-all governments worldwide (though some to lesser degrees than others), has been perpetuated into most areas of daily life. Whether you are mindlessly watching commercials at home in a half-comatose state, listening to the radio on your train ride to work, driving past a never-ending array of billboards or simply walking down a commercial street, your brain is constantly being bombarded with advertisements, which are in themselves, propaganda. The main difference between advertising and propaganda is the source of the provocateur.

If Nike chooses to spend tens of millions of dollars of its own money to subtly trick their advertisement viewers into buying their latest model of hi-top, that’s their business. It’s their right as a capitalist entity to engage in mind control, so long as they are willing to file the proper paperwork and shell out magic amounts of money.

If the federal government chooses to shell out exorbitant sums of taxpayer money for the end goal of deceiving the public into believing something other than what is real, that’s a whole different story. Whose business is that? If you guessed “yours,” you are correct. In probably what was the most famous case of American government-sponsored propaganda, lawmakers were urged to enact draconian punishments against “marijuana” users at the behest of corporate interests (we went into detail of these events a few blog entries ago)-a drug which, ultimately, has never killed a single person (ever!), and is far safer than the most common of prescription drugs. Meanwhile, far more biologically toxic and commonly available molecules such as aspirin, stimulants, barbiturates and opiates remain in heavy pharmacist rotation, despite their comparatively destructive side effects-side effects which are simply not found in marijuana.

Though it has not been directly proven, anti-marijuana research was probably funded by the hand of newspaper tycoon and paper mill giant, William Randolph Hearst. Conspiracy theory has it that Hearst saw the invention of a new type of hemp paper, which grows much faster than trees, as a potential threat to his forest industry magnate, and sought ways to make sure that America would continue to use trees for their newspapers at any cost, even if it meant telling lies. Instrumental to Hearst’s plan was the appointment of the first chief of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger. Staunchly anti-vice of every type, Anslinger proved to be the perfect puppet for Hearst. During his 32-year reign as commissioner, he managed to not only criminalize marijuana without factual justification, but create a stigma so dark and pervasive around the harmless plant that it exists to this day. Anslinger was aided by research publications in prominent medical journals by noted pharmacologist Dr. James C. Munch; though many of their joint findings were later proved wrong and in some cases, completely fabricated, both men were driven by one common desire: fame. It turns out that vanity is a human weakness shared by all.

When someone (some would say “anyone”) who considers themselves a great individual gets their first taste of real power and success, they are not likely to let it slip from their grasp very easily. Perhaps it is man’s instinct to always desire more, even when by all economic accounts they already have more than 99.99% of their fellow human beings. Greed becomes particularly sinister when lies are reported as facts at the bidding of a federal government. No longer are elected officials “public servants”, but rather “private servants”, meaning they no longer work for the people who elected them, but perhaps for the people who gave them the most money. Corruption and propaganda is nothing new in government, but without the due diligence of a nation’s citizenry, fact checking and critical thinking, the door is opened for tyrannical leaders to assume a supreme dictatorshipa form of government that, for the record, has never really worked.