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Becoming a Truth-Seeker in an Age of Propaganda

My well-used copy of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH

In C. S. Lewis’ novel THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH, published in 1945, he foresaw the age of propaganda. An unobtrusive organization, the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.), was engaged in implementing its program of  eliminating undesirables. Although not well-known to the public, the N.I.C.E. controlled parliament. It didn’t really matter whom you, as a voter. elected. Once elected, the MP would be beholden to the N.I.C.E. for their success. Similarly, the media organizations were also under the thumb of the N.I.C.E.

At one point the protagonist, the malleable Mark Studdock, in his quest to always be part of the progressive element at his college, is roped into writing propaganda pieces for the N.I.C.E. for its many initiatives destined to remove people’s freedoms and liberties. Studdock’s template propaganda pieces appear in customized form in all of the nation’s papers. Lewis presents a brilliant picture of how a well-educated, articulate, academic can write convincingly and compellingly on almost any subject. As a reader, who knew the true events behind the story, I could nevertheless only marvel how a clever writer could twist the context to make the facts fit the wholly deceptive perspective desired by the N.I.C.E. The malevolent Progressive Element in the N.I.C.E. goes on to stage fake protests, use the media to mislead the public to rage against the innocent, all for the purpose of eliminating those people who oppose their pragmatic agenda of efficiency and control. Lewis has a real knack for making the propaganda so persuasive that the reader would be taken in if he didn’t see the actions behind the rhetoric. To me this prophecy is happening before my eyes seventy-five years after this book was written.

How does one, then, become a truth-seeker in an age of propaganda?

Before beginning a discussion of a difficult subject about truth and propaganda, it is important to define the terms.

Truth is a very important word in the New Testament. In the Greek the noun, transliterated, is ALETHEIA.

ALETHEIA: “The reality lying at the basis of appearance; the manifested veritable essence of a matter”

W.E. Vine; Cremer

PROPAGANDA: “An organized programme of publicity, selected information etc. used to propagate a doctrine, practice, etc.; the information, doctrines, etc. propagated in this way, esp. regarded as misleading or dishonest”

Oxford English Reference Dictionary

As I work to be a truth-seeker, two important points stand out to me:

  1. Truth (Aletheia) is connected to reality. It is quite dangerous to ignore truth because reality, by its nature, will win out.
  2. Truth is not always easy to identify, since appearances may be misleading. Often appearances can be created by what people say.

With regards to propaganda, it is not the opposite of truth, but often is a caricature of it. As the definition indicates, propaganda uses publicity and selected information with an end in mind. They may want you to buy a product, vote for a particular party, censure some group, or believe a particular message. The publicity and selected information is chosen in order: to get the audience to accept the teaching or take the steps desired.

So how do I become a truth-seeker in an age of propaganda? I think there are four steps that are important for me to take:

  1. If I am given information driving me to a particular belief or action, argue against it. If the information is part of a propaganda initiative, the propagandists are likely telling me half-truths and omitting all counter arguments. If the information is true, I won’t find any compelling counter arguments and the information will become even more convincing.
  2. Look for data and make the discussion about data. Often the most convincing propaganda is based on emotion, perhaps appeals to sympathy. That is to say, the propagandist avoids asking whether the statement under question is true or false. Instead they focus on how someone has been hurt or denigrated by the assertion.
  3. Look at the presuppositions. In propaganda, often the assumptions behind the information is never discussed, much less critically evaluated. Yet the whole argument rests on the validity of these assumptions.
  4. Become a two-column person. By that I mean, assume there is data for and against any position. If none is presented, as is often the case with propaganda, seek it out. Don’t be satisfied to leave one column empty.