Know Your Propaganda

We are built to rationalize.  That is, our minds often unfairly defend our most deeply held beliefs; when we sense such beliefs being threatened, our minds distract us, refuse to comprehend alternatives, and grab onto weak excuses as if they were timber.  La-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you.

This makes it especially hard for those of us who want to overcome our biases to identify and question such beliefs.  But like many parasites, our unfairly held beliefs are most vulnerable when they are young, i.e., when we first acquire them, and when they must come up to a surface, rather than staying buried deep.

For our deeply held beliefs that are passed down via genes, it can be very hard to even notice them, much less see when they are integrated into our other thoughts.  But beliefs that are passed down culturally are more vulnerable – there must be some visible social process whereby new generations learn these beliefs from older generations.

Now beliefs that we learn implicitly, from gestures and expressions of others, can still be a lot of work to identify; you may have to watch a lot of behavior up close to notice the belief transmission.  Fortunately, many deeply held beliefs are transmitted out in the open, in explicit words, and even written down in books.

Case in point: most of us attended public instead of private schools because our governments wanted to indoctrinate us into certain beliefs (and acts).  And to keep control, such schools make teachers stick to textbooks.  So one way to explicitly identify our possibly-unfair deeply held beliefs is to study the textbooks we learned from as kids.  If we could collect lists of important non-obvious beliefs we were taught as kids, and the supporting arguments we were given at the time, we could force ourselves to more directly confront the propaganda that formed us.

Yes our minds might still unconsciously bias us in their favor, but we’d have a much better chance to apply more neutral standards we’ve learned over the years.  In this confrontation, we’d know to rely less on unarticulated intuitions that might just reflect teachings from when our minds were weak and vulnerable.

When propaganda is written down, saved, and organized, we have a better chance to confront and overcome it.  It is sad and suspicious that we are not in the habit of knowing and confronting our propaganda in this way.  Many say such confrontation is dangerous and harmful, that we gain important advantages from our self-deceptive acceptance of inaccurate propaganda.  But what evidence do we have that we are better off believing the lies we were told as kids?  That belief sure sounds like the sort of self-serving propaganda we expect to have been told.

Surely as adults, at least some of us should face facts, know our propaganda, and ask how well supported it is.  Perhaps we will decide others are better off not knowing what we have learned.  But some should confront the beasts that lie within us.

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