The Card-Stacking Strategy Critical Thinking

A useful distinction, one made in this 1937 essay and by Aldous Huxley in 1956, reveals the difference between “emotional” propaganda and “rational” propaganda.

I am interested in philosophy, because I am curious about the world, creationism, and everything, and philosophy answers many hard questions.

I plan on taking a course or two in philosophy, because I want to improve my critical thinking skills.

Read on, and I will share with you seven of my favorite propaganda detection tools.

The cool thing is that, unlike my power drill or lawnmower, these tools need not be returned. Used well, they will help you keep the citizens you serve from being fooled, confused or dazzled.

List the accumulated justifications for war: weapons of mass destruction, destroying a dictator, regime change, establishing democracy, fighting terrorism, securing the flow of Middle Eastern oil. Look for a candidate staging a speech in a stadium.

Those for the war would support such card stacking; those against would argue those justifications fell like a house of cards. Look for words like “journey” and “battle” and “movement” and “march” and “mandate for change.” Tyrants are especially good at this: Hitler used cinema to capture and romanticize huge rallies in support of the Third Reich.

When Republicans made fun of the Corinthian columns that served as a backdrop for Obama’s speech as “too Roman,” they tied Obama to imperial ambition. In politics these are often called “endorsements.” These come not just from politicians, but from celebrities –- athletes and entertainers –- who shed their blessings on a candidate or a cause.

Oprah Winfrey has testified on behalf of Barack Obama; Joe Lieberman on behalf of John Mc Cain. Crucial in political propaganda, the supporter of a candidate or a cause must persuade the audience that the chosen one, no matter how wealthy, is a man of the people, or a loving mother, or the kind of person you’d want to share a beer with.

The American Heritage Dictionary still prefers the neutral definition: “The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause.” I like the 1937 definition better: “Propaganda is expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinions or actions of other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends.” That last phrase, “predetermined ends,” is most important.

Those ends could be the establishment of the Third Reich or the reconstruction of New Orleans; building a detention center in Guantanamo or a new baseball stadium in St.


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