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A Propaganda-Proof People

Last week a friend emailed me the following:

“Hi Bryan,
“How are you doing?

“Just wondering, a friend of mine at work was pretty ticked off at you for a show of yours she listened to this weekend. She said that you were saying that Fox [N]ews fans are delusional, and that you didn’t reference what people should be watching or listening to instead.  Just curious if you have time, could you further explain?”

Uh-oh.  Looks like I might have some ‘splainin’ to do.  All right, let’s get to it.

Yep. I said that people who rely SOLELY on Fox News for their information, thinking that they’re no longer being propagandized are, in fact, deluding themselves.  

Of course the same is also true for those who depend entirely upon CNN or NPR or any other single source of information.

The problem is that there is no unbiased source of mass communication and the single greatest challenge for anyone who wishes to be informed today is to be capable of sifting through all the spin and propaganda to clearly comprehend the way things really are.

It’s not so much a matter of which information source we use as a matter of developing our ability to use critical thinking skills in order to correctly interpret that information.

As citizens, our greatest responsibility during times of crisis is to think clearly and independently.

My biggest beef with Fox News is that too many people think they’re getting all the information they need when, in fact, the information is just as spun and the debate is just as controlled as anything they’d get from the mainstream media.

Information Versus Truth

Too often we forget that information isn’t always the same thing as truth.

Talk radio listeners exacerbate the problem when they become content to simply repeat whatever talking points they hear Beck, Rush or Hannity saying.

Parroting someone else’s words creates a dependency that tends to make a person dogmatic in their viewpoints. Dogma coupled with an inability to articulate one’s own thoughts is a perfect recipe for defensiveness when one encounters a differing viewpoint.

Before retiring a few years ago, Charley Reese was a writer of unusual clarity.  Here’s what he had to say about thinking we know it all:

“But since our means of learning are limited so that we can never learn everything about anything, we should avoid being dogmatic. I don’t mean living in a constant state of uncertainty, but we should at least always concede the possibility that what we think is so isn’t so. I have trouble understanding people who get emotionally upset when they bump into an opinion they disagree with.”

Does that last sentence not describe the scorched earth approach taken by many of the top names in talk radio who feel they must shout down, marginalize or hang up on anyone whose opinion differs from their own?

If you dare deviate from what the talking heads of ANY of the mass media sources consider the acceptable parameters of debate on a given issue, prepare to have disapproval heaped upon your head.  

And the rancor won’t just be from the commentators, but also from those faithful viewers or listeners who have hitched their ideological wagon to a particular star.

Whether it’s the person who just knows that “our news media” would never lie or the one bearing their testimony of “Brother Beck” to you, your dissent, however mild, represents a threat to their worldview.

Charley Reese made a recommendation years ago that I took to heart and I offer it now to you:

“Take this little test: Pick out any national issue or any national political figure and ask yourself, What do I really know about this issue or this person? The honest answer in most cases will be not much that hasn’t been spoon-fed to you by liars and propagandists.”

Once this realization occurs a person can begin to actually study the issues for themselves and take responsibility for their own viewpoint.  

The beauty of this approach is that it is much more based in reality than simply taking talking points from a professional propagandist.

There is real effort involved in thinking for yourself, but the payoff is that you will never be at the mercy of another in knowing what to think about a given issue.

One last quote from Charley Reese to drive the point home:

“Remembering and imagining are not thinking. Emotional reactions or ideological reactions are not thinking. Belief in the ‘word magic’ of labels is not thinking. Faith is not thinking.”

“Thinking is the use of reason to determine the truth as best we can. To do that, we have to shuck emotions, desires and wishes and look at the world in its nakedness as it is, not as we wish it were or as someone else has told us it is.

“Reality is not affected by our desires or by our comprehension. We glean data from our senses of that world outside our bodies and use our brains to draw inferences from the data. We have to conform to it; reality will not conform to us.”

My point on my radio show was that we need a propaganda-proof citizenry now more than ever, but few Fox News viewers or talk radio listeners would ever admit they were being bamboozled.

Liberal Arts: The Remedy for Propaganda

This is where there is simply no substitute for a true blue liberal arts education.

It’s been nearly 60 years since Mortimer Adler and then-president of the University of Chicago Robert Hutchins set about publishing the Great Book series containing the greatest works of Western thought spanning a period of nearly three millennia.  

The published collection is a remarkable achievement in and of itself, but the purpose for which Adler & Hutchins set about compiling the Great Books of the Western World is as timely today as it was in 1952.

The first volume of the 54 book set is titled “The Great Conversation,” and in it the editors make a powerful case that the disappearance of the great canon of Western Thought from education portends a calamity rather than progress.  

They clearly saw that while America’s standards of living were continually rising in terms of material comforts, a majority of adults were becoming impoverished morally, intellectually and spiritually.  

The predictable result of this type of educational malnutrition is a trend where each successive generation is further impaired in its ability to think for itself.

In Hutchins’s words:

“We believe that the reduction of the citizen to an object of propaganda, private and public, is one of the greatest dangers to democracy.

“A prevalent notion is that the great mass of the people cannot understand and cannot form an independent judgment upon any matter; they cannot be educated, in the sense of developing their intellectual powers, but they can be bamboozled.

“The reiteration of slogans, the distortion of the news, the great storm of propaganda that beats upon the citizen twenty-four hours a day all his life long mean either that democracy must fall a prey to the loudest and most persistent propagandists or that the people must save themselves by strengthening their minds so that they can appraise the issues for themselves.”

Hutchins understood that study of the great books provides one with a more well-rounded grasp of humanity, history, politics, morals and economics that enable the reader to effectively exercise their own mental abilities rather than waiting for experts to tell them what to think.

It’s been nearly 60 years since Hutchins made the following prescient observation:

“The trials of the citizen now surpass anything that previous generations ever knew.  Private and public propaganda beats upon him from morning till night all his life long.  If independent judgment is the sine qua non of effective citizenship in a democracy, then it must be admitted that such judgment is harder to maintain now than it ever has been before.  

“It is too much to hope that a strong dose of education in childhood and youth can inoculate a man to withstand the onslaughts of his independent judgment that society conducts, or allows to be conducted, against him every day.  For this, constant mental alertness and mental growth are required.”

The editors of the Great Books in no way pretended that the series was a panacea by which all of our problems could be answered.  

Instead, they recommended them as tools to further one’s self-education by allowing the reader to come face to face with what the greatest thinkers of the past 3,000 years had to offer.  

Only those who have actively put in the effort of studying great thinkers like Herodotus, Plato, Descartes, Machiavelli, or the many others whose works comprise the Great Books can accurately attest to the insight such study provides to better understanding the current issues and crises of our own time.

It was once considered self evident that a liberal education (meaning a well-rounded one) was how a person gained the necessary thinking skills to be capable of perpetuating liberty.  

Today, in ideological circles, the very word “liberal” causes some to have palpitations and others to reflexively genuflect to the state as their master and savior.

The Great Books won’t teach a person what to think, but by studying the great ideas (even the ones that were wrong) our minds become trained in how to think and how to ask the right questions.  

This type of education doesn’t even require a formal classroom setting.  Most liberally educated people got that way by diligently spending a bit of time reading and studying daily in the privacy of their own study or bedroom.  

There are no shortcuts to self education and that’s why the concept is such a tough sell to generations that prefer to plop down in front of the TV or computer and be entertained.

Mortimer Adler said it best:

“Anyone who has done any thinking, even a little bit, knows that it is painful. It is hard work-in fact the very hardest that human beings are ever called upon to do. It is fatiguing, not refreshing. If allowed to follow the path of least resistance, no one would ever think…

“Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up the ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles.”

Instead of waiting for someone to tell us what sources to tap for information, we need to develop our thinking skills to the point that we can avail ourselves of many sources and accurately sift truth from error.  

This type of independent thought is what inoculates a citizenry against the effects of propaganda from any side of the political spectrum.

********************

bryanhyde1Bryan Hyde is a radio host, husband, father, graduate student at George Wythe University, and seeker of truth. He does professional voice work through his company One Clear Voice.

Bryan blogs at The White Rose Society and writes firearm reviews for The Truth About Guns. He and his wife Becky are raising their six children in Cedar City, Utah.

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A Propaganda-Proof People