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“Words, words, words”  -  Hamlet

 
LadyJane
 
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LadyJane
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12 November 2013 11:15
 

The word propaganda, according to Webster’s, means information and opinions spread to influence people in favour of or against some doctrine or idea.

Is this yet another word to which we have attached negative connotations, due in large part to WWII, to the point of re-writing its definition?


Edward Bernays from Propaganda (1928):

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.  Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.  We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.  This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.  Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.”


He quotes H.G. Wells from The New York Times:

“Modern means of communication - the power afforded by print, telephone, wireless and so forth, of rapidly putting through directive strategic or
technical conceptions to a great number of cooperating centers, of getting quick replies and effective discussion - have opened up a new world of political processes.  Ideas and phrases can now be given an effectiveness of any personality and stronger than any sectional interest.  The common design can be documented and sustained against perversion and betrayal.  It can be elaborated and developed steadily and widely without personal local and sectional misunderstanding.”

[ Edited: 12 November 2013 13:15 by LadyJane]
 
 
SkepticX
 
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12 November 2013 11:25
 

Language usage changes, and dictionaries tend to be slow to accommodate (though I’m sure if we put in the time we could find a lot of words in a 1928 dictionary that have changed significantly in their usage.

 
 
saralynn
 
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12 November 2013 13:10
 
SkepticX - 12 November 2013 10:25 AM

Language usage changes, and dictionaries tend to be slow to accommodate (though I’m sure if we put in the time we could find a lot of words in a 1928 dictionary that have changed significantly in their usage.


“I’m so pretty!  Oh so pretty!  I’m so pretty, and witty and GAY!!!”

 
LadyJane
 
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12 November 2013 13:29
 
SkepticX - 12 November 2013 10:25 AM

Language usage changes, and dictionaries tend to be slow to accommodate (though I’m sure if we put in the time we could find a lot of words in a 1928 dictionary that have changed significantly in their usage.

I don’t know what you think I’m referencing here, sir.

The definition at the top of the page comes from my current copy of Webster’s, the date of which I cannot say as it is missing the first several pages and held together with duct tape.  I can assure you it was well after 1928.

I was pointing to the book Propaganda - History Is A Weapon by Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud).

I have no problem appreciating the notion that words evolve.  I chose this word because it has appeared at this forum several times recently in ways that are inconsistent with its actual meaning.  And, I wouldn’t want to perpetuate any buelshite.

Eh?

 
 
KathleenBrugger
 
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12 November 2013 19:55
 

My first reaction is that propaganda is a dirty word, so I was surprised by the definition you gave (I’m impressed that you still own a physical dictionary!).
I just looked it up in Word’s dictionary plugin, the “New Oxford American Dictionary, which gives this definition:

1 chiefly derogatory information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view : he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda.
• the dissemination of such information as a political strategy : the party’s leaders believed that a long period of education and propaganda would be necessary .
2 ( Propaganda) a committee of cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for foreign missions, founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.

Seems like the “hearts and minds” strategy we were supposedly engaged in in Iraq and Afghanistan is propaganda in a positive way: if we treat these people with kindness and help them then they will want to emulate us. Isn’t that what various functions of the State Dept try to do, like Voice of America?

I just read Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and she talked about the effect of reading Harlequin romances as a teen-ager in Kenya. These books were a form of positive propaganda for her and her classmates, they learned that there was a place in the world where women could have love affairs, be free, have adventures, and exert control in their lives (never thought I’d ever write anything positive about Harlequin romances).

 
 
nv
 
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nv
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12 November 2013 23:10
 
LadyJane - 12 November 2013 10:15 AM

The word propaganda, according to Webster’s, means information and opinions spread to influence people in favour of or against some doctrine or idea.

Is this yet another word to which we have attached negative connotations, due in large part to WWII, to the point of re-writing its definition?

It’s an odd word, isn’t it? If you’re on one side of the issue at hand, a negative connotation can take hold while it might ring with positivity if you’re on the other side of the issue. It reminds me of “muckraker,” which can also sound either positive or negative depending on where you stand. Words are crazy things. I wish I were fluent in an ancient tongue so I could get an idea of what it might have felt like to live long ago.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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12 November 2013 23:23
 

Those are some great examples, Kathleen, and thanks for answering my question.  Malala Yousafzai might be another positive example.
Propaganda is everywhere and the use of this word is what prompted me to start a discussion about it addressing why it is we always find ourselves associating it with something sinister.

Wikipedia mentions public health recommendations, among other things, which is something that has occurred to me often while in doctors offices surrounded with “Get Your Flu Shot” or “Stop Smoking” posters.  I can see that adults with critical reasoning skills are able to navigate their way through Wikipedia while understanding propaganda in a historical context.  What about the youngsters that do not yet possess these skills and perhaps never continue reading any further than the negative example of Nazi propaganda?

I would be interested to know how to maintain the integrity of the history found in the pages of Wikipedia…in the future.

This is what compels me to collect dictionaries…in every language.

 
 
SkepticX
 
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12 November 2013 23:47
 
LadyJane - 12 November 2013 12:29 PM
SkepticX - 12 November 2013 10:25 AM

Language usage changes, and dictionaries tend to be slow to accommodate (though I’m sure if we put in the time we could find a lot of words in a 1928 dictionary that have changed significantly in their usage.

I don’t know what you think I’m referencing here, sir.

I was referencing Edward Bernays from Propaganda (1928). I presume the dictionaries of the day reflected current usage, or at least fairly nearly current.

 

LadyJane - 12 November 2013 12:29 PM

I was pointing to the book Propaganda - History Is A Weapon by Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud).

I have no problem appreciating the notion that words evolve.  I chose this word because it has appeared at this forum several times recently in ways that are inconsistent with its actual meaning.

My point is that actual vs. current is a pretty hazy grey area.

 

LadyJane - 12 November 2013 12:29 PM

And, I wouldn’t want to perpetuate any buelshite.

Eh?

Heh ...

Certainly not!

cool smile

 
 
icehorse
 
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13 November 2013 00:02
 

hmpf… I always just assumed that propaganda connoted “manipulation” to some degree. learn something every day.

so do we have a consensus? is it neutral?

 
 
sojourner
 
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13 November 2013 01:28
 

Oh wow, if you aren’t into the prescriptivist / descriptivist language debate already then I highly recommend you read these articles (with much linkage to other good articles in the first one,) I feel like they’d be right up your alley.


I know I’ve used the word ‘propaganda’ in a post recently - in my post, more a reference to the modern Merriam-Webster definition:

pro·pa·gan·da noun \ˌprä-pə-ˈgan-də, ˌprō-\

: ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc.


To that end, I see a big, if hard to define, difference between propaganda and persuasion, where propaganda appears at least vaguely unethical by my standards but persuasion does not. But I’m open to discussing historical usage.


Just for the record, btw, that post wasn’t in reference to anyone on this forum. If I ever am referencing goings-on here I’ll point that out specifically, as you did in this post, for the sake of clarity. Some of my posts are inspired by things I see in my world - happenings in the special needs community, things in the news, etc. - so I’m sure some of them do read as sort of pointed. That particular post was inspired by my feeling severely irritated by something on Twitter, someone being malicious, to my mind, to someone else I admire. I don’t see ‘propaganda’ (via the modern definition) on PR, thank God.

 
 
KathleenBrugger
 
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13 November 2013 13:06
 

Perhaps icehorse gave the answer as to why the word has a sinister connotation—it implies manipulation. We want to believe we come to all our conclusions and decisions freely, without any coercion or influence, particularly influences that might be subconscious. Maybe advertising has something to do with our negative attitude also, the collective force of ads could be seen as propaganda for a consumerist, materialistic American way of life and we realize how much we are being manipulated every day.

Thinking about my examples, they seemed to be two different kinds of propaganda: intentional and unintentional. The public health signs you mention, LadyJane, are an example of intentional. Another example of unintentional: sociologists have been struggling to understand how the birth rate in Brazil dropped from an average of 9 kids per woman to 2 in one generation. One of the possible causes is the “propaganda” effect of their popular soap operas that show women with only a couple of children living a prosperous and glamorous life.

You bring in another aspect of propaganda in your question about preserving history on Wikipedia. That brings up images of George Orwell’s 1984, where the protagonist’s job is to constantly rewrite history to keep up with the daily party line. One of his crimes is keeping a written journal. This definitely puts another spin on the print/ebook debate. Our memories are notoriously poor, so if something isn’t recorded in some durable form, it doesn’t matter whether we remember it or not. I didn’t exist. I’m a videographer by profession and I’ve learned that in this YouTube age, if something isn’t filmed it never existed (in the eyes of history anyway).

 
 
LadyJane
 
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13 November 2013 13:31
 

This thread appears to acknowledge that there are both positive and negative forms of propaganda.

The definition and history of its use are not to be defined by our opinions.  These are facts we share.
When we observe examples of propaganda in the world, and must decipher what they mean based on a combination of feelings and intent, we are reminded that everyone is perceiving these same examples differently. We only carry the opinions of our (often misguided) perceptions - so starting on the same page with the definition seems like a nice idea to me.

I have no desire to engage in a prescriptivist/descriptivist language debate.  I am guessing it would be like a politically correct nightmare and another dichotomy where there need not be one.  Too many unnecessary rules.  Most patrons here are quite capable of communicating effectively and any negative propaganda is primarily eliminated by Nhoj and Martin so we are free to discuss what we like. 

Words are like toys…they want to be taken out of their boxes and examined.

 
 
sojourner
 
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13 November 2013 14:27
 
LadyJane - 13 November 2013 12:31 PM

This thread appears to acknowledge that there are both positive and negative forms of propaganda.


I suppose, in that much of life consists of people peddling various sundry frameworks, which we often buy or discard dependent upon our role within them. Oppressed victim to savior, dupe to wise sage, villain to hero, hero to innocent, etc…. Not necessarily at a large scale, it could simply be that guy at the office who frames our antics in a way that casts us either as charming sidekick or annoying time-waster. Thus are the egoic games of life, I guess. I have an intellectual distaste for such things but of course engage as much as anyone, so that’s probably hypocritical and silly of me. But it is part of why I continue to value spiritual practice as an atheist. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and all that, but I keep hoping there’s something in life that isn’t Caesar’s.


Good post Lady Jane. I admire your historical knowledge and your ability to say a lot with a few words, you make for a lot of intelligent contributions around here.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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13 November 2013 23:34
 

Thanks.  I trust that the compliment is not intended to “persuade” in any way.  Har, har.

 
 
sojourner
 
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14 November 2013 01:27
 

Ha! Nah, I suck at persuasion, so I don’t generally attempt it.

 
 
LadyJane
 
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14 November 2013 17:05
 
nonverbal - 12 November 2013 10:10 PM
LadyJane - 12 November 2013 10:15 AM

The word propaganda, according to Webster’s, means information and opinions spread to influence people in favour of or against some doctrine or idea.

Is this yet another word to which we have attached negative connotations, due in large part to WWII, to the point of re-writing its definition?

It’s an odd word, isn’t it? If you’re on one side of the issue at hand, a negative connotation can take hold while it might ring with positivity if you’re on the other side of the issue. It reminds me of “muckraker,” which can also sound either positive or negative depending on where you stand. Words are crazy things. I wish I were fluent in an ancient tongue so I could get an idea of what it might have felt like to live long ago.

The thing about words and phrases is that we often take them for granted and it is well worth pursuing, and endlessly fun, to find out where they come from.  In so doing, I have found that with many words and sayings, we have strayed great distances from where they originate and it makes me want to protect them for some reason.

I finally had a chance to read about the Muckrakers, sir, and was preoccupied by the most delightful distraction of one Miss Nellie Bly.  She reminds me of the importance of exposing things for what they are and to applaud, rather than vilify, the whistleblowers of today.  When things get repeated they have the ability to take on a “truth” of their own and, if no one is paying attention, that can be a very dangerous thing.  I especially enjoyed how she feigned insanity to gain admittance into Bellevue’s Psychiatric Hospital for an inside edge.  Or, at the age of twenty one while investigating the plight of working women, traveled to Mexico and criticized the government.

Things get misrepresented all the time.  Religion is one of those things.  Communism is one of those things.  When you are a child you are helpless to fight it.  As adults we need to consider things deeply and as objectively as possible.  In sorting these things to my satisfaction I too had, what I will now refer to as, a “Nellie Bly moment” when (in my early twenties) I jumped on a plane (by myself), flew to Cuba and rented a jeep.
That was as far as my plan went…

 
 
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