What I find interesting is that it’s not just coming from complete mainstream normies; a lot of the pushback I get in my online notifications comes from people who’ve succeeded in seeing through other Western propaganda narratives on fronts like Russia, Syria, or Julian Assange. They’re just as brainwashed about China as any uncritical consumer of TV news, but because they get their information from people like Tucker Carlson and other so-called “right-populists” who have disputed those other narratives, they assume they are safe from mass media indoctrination.
And a liberal who gets their information from the New York Times will look over at the Tucker Carlson viewer and tut-tut about Fox News propaganda, then go back to reading a fear-mongering article about how the Kremlin is militarizing Russian society. And both the Tucker Carlson viewer and the New York Times reader will look at nations like China and North Korea, and shake their heads about how propagandized the people who live there are.
Western mass media consumers are no less propagandized than North Koreans or any of the other nations we’re told to pity because their government indoctrinates them with state media, in fact they are arguably more propagandized, which is why Noam Chomsky said that any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the US media. The way the public is manipulated into consenting to all the agendas of the powerful without even knowing that they are being propagandized has arguably been the most astonishing feat of social engineering anywhere in the world.
Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast by commentator Carl Zha on the mistranslations and propaganda distortion the Western media have been engaging in regarding the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and at around the 24-minute mark Zha began discussing a peculiar point I’ve been noticing lately: the Chinese government is actually very bad at perception management. I can’t speak to how effective it is domestically, but when it comes to spinning controversies on the world stage, Chinese state media comes across as incredibly incompetent and ham-fisted compared to the skillful manipulations of Western spinmeisters. I’m 100% certain I could do a much better job running CGTN than its current operators if that were the sort of gig I was interested in, that’s how bad it is.
People have told me that China’s ineptness at propaganda has to do with where it has historically placed its priorities, with its cultural disdain for the use of eloquent words as a substitute for action, and with the fact that a government that is free to use more overtly authoritarian force doesn’t need as much skill at manufacturing consent because consent is not as important. Whatever the reason, the fact that it’s so far behind the West on that front shows just how sophisticated the science of modern Western propaganda has become.
That’s what we’re all dealing with here as we try to figure out what’s going on in our world: More than a century of progress in the science of mass-scale psychological manipulation.
It’s important to be aware of how advanced Western propaganda has become because propaganda only works if you’re not aware it’s happening. As soon as you’re aware that someone is trying to manipulate you, all your critical faculties become engaged and all the information you’re presented with is intensely scrutinized at arm’s length. But if you don’t know you’re being manipulated, it slides right past your cognitive guard dogs unchecked.
A big part of coming into true maturity as an individual is understanding on a deep, visceral level that propaganda isn’t something that only happens to other people. It doesn’t only happen in nations we’re told are backwards and totalitarian. It doesn’t only happen to people on the other side of the political spectrum. It happens everywhere, including right where we’re standing. Every issue about which public perception is of interest to the powerful is being manipulated by the powerful: eastern and western, left and right, mainstream media and alternative media. There’s perception manipulation happening everywhere.
The best we can hope to do in such a situation is refine our skillset at making sense of the world by continuing to learn, by watching the patterns and noticing the plot holes and discrepancies and where they’re appearing, by building up sources of information which tend to be more reliable on important issues than others, and by continually doing inner work on ourselves to remove the distortions in our own cognitive processes.
If we can manage to do that, we’ll still be marinating in the propaganda narratives of the powerful all the time, but at least we’ll have some idea which way is up, and we’ll begin to perceive which direction humanity must begin heading if we’re to become a species that is guided by the light of truth.