An interview with a fictitious lobbyist and propagandist, Mukul Agam (MA) about his profession and his trade secrets:
Vikas: Lets start by you telling us what is meant by propaganda?
MA: Propaganda in simple terms is a tool of mass deception. When an idea which benefits the influencer is circulated widely amongst the masses to reframe their perception and reorient their behavior, it is propaganda. To give you an example I have just been hired by a person who wants the world to know that he is a very holy person and actually a reincarnation of some saint. My job is to carry the message of his piety to masses, make them see him as holy and influence the power and gifts he receives.
Vikas: That sounds dodgy that you are trying to influence people for someone’s benefit at a cost to society at large. Is it right thing to do?
MA: I am a professional and we are doing a job, there is no morality there. Like Apple manufactures phones, Honda makes cars and a politician engineers divides we, to use that media basher Noam Chomsky’s term, manufacture consent. We manufacture opinions which are shared and agreed upon by masses without critical examination.
Vikas: Ok can you give me examples of any such opinions that are accepted universally without questioning?
MA: Of course there are hundreds of such examples: Consensus around all kinds of wars ( be it holy wars like crusade/jihad/wapsi or just wars like war on terror/war on Iraq) is generated through propaganda. Democracy is a big value which is forever promoted by western propaganda (though it is never successful is countries with rampant illiteracy). Capitalism as a system of economic production is also a western propaganda (which is unsustainable as its cost on environment is now being calculated). “Consumerism is good” is propaganda by corporate entities. In Indian context, Pakistan is an enemy of India and vice versa is a classic text book propaganda play on both sides( helping so many political careers).
Vikas: Ok lets do a deeper dive. How is this achieved? How can you influence behavior of so many people?
MA: There are certain rules of propaganda that I am about to share with you. When messages are crafted and propagated using these precepts, they acquire reach and power.
1) Your audience is not people who do critical thinking but who do emotional reasoning. So NEVER NEVER Intellectualize the message by making it complex. Pare it down to one message, one slogan, one idea. If it is a layered message it will not move the masses.
2) You are not targeting the minds of people but their hearts. So the message has to be rich in its emotional content. The best emotion to use is fear. Scare them by painting some negative consequences. Other useful mass emotions to use are: nationalism, uncertainty of future, external threats, loss of freedom, greed…remember appealing to negative emotions and scenarios is ten times more effective then appeal to positive emotions like: growth, curiosity, goodness, kindness…..
3) In terms of propagation of message, it has to be reinforced 1000s of times for it to take hold in public psyche. So use every outreach channel: posters, flyers, newspapers, TV, Internet to distribute it and keep repeating the message ad infinitum. There is no concept of overkill of the message in propaganda. So never hold back on a message delivery.
Vikas: How much time do you think it takes for any such promoted message to take hold in public opinion?
MA: See it depends on the topicality of the idea. Say I have to sell a war which is situational, or I have to sell a nation as a rogue nation or an enemy, that can be done in 1-2 years. However lets say I have to create a universal need perception, for example that smoking is macho or that drinking pop soda gives your happiness, maybe 2-5 years frame is appropriate. However if I have to frame alternate values and systems based on them, in public mind: greed is good (capitalism), possession is status (consumerism) or such ideological concepts then sometimes it stretches across generations.
Vikas: MA finally why don’t people spot these fabrications and deceits? Why do they give in to these manipulations?
MA: You know what is the first thing taught to a new recruit in our industry: “The person who thinks he is smart and cannot be maneuvered is your easiest target. His guard is lowered. That virtually means the whole of population.” So more confident people are that they are safe from our messaging easier they are to influence.