Anybody can fall under the influence of brainwashing and propaganda. The best antidote to this fact is knowing it. The people who are the most convinced they can never be duped are the most easily duped.
Propaganda is successful only when it speaks to what we really want to hear but don’t dare confess it to ourselves. Propaganda doesn’t invent. It discovers.
Propaganda speaks to what Karl Jung called “the Shadow.” The Shadow consists of the dark, mean impulses and thoughts we push into our unconscious because to accept then would damage our sense of self. To process these dark impulses, we can channel them into socially legitimate pursuits. We can become surgeons, police officers, soldiers, or teachers. We can sublimate them into works of art. We can express them during confession or in therapy.
Every individual has these dark impulses. And every culture has them on a collective level. In order to do propaganda work successfully, you need to find these painful pressure points in the people you address it to. Sometimes, propagandists fail because they confuse their own pain points or their own shadow with somebody else’s.
Here’s an example of such failed propaganda. Russian propagandists have spent years trying to promote the following narrative in Ukraine: “Ukrainians! The West is trying to sow seeds of discord between brotherly Slavic nations by pitting us against each other. They do that to weaken us and keep us subjected!” This narrative failed completely because the fear of Western domination is part of the Russian Shadow but is completely absent in Ukraine.
Or take an example that’s closer to home, the BLM. It’s successful because it speaks to the people’s sense of discomfort around African Americans. People rightfully perceive this discomfort as shameful. It’s their Shadow. The BLM narrative helps them ease this discomfort by projecting it onto an imaginary evildoer: the racist police or the imaginary white supremacists. The BLM is the barrier between themselves and the nasty, dark feelings they intuit in themselves but can’t bear to acknowledge.
This is why the White Fragility book was so popular among white people. It helped them feel less alone with their darkest impulses. It was cathartic because finally what they were hiding from themselves could come out into the open. For those whose Shadow doesn’t contain racist feelings (but contains other equally dark impulses because everybody has a Shadow), this whole phenomenon was confusing.
Once you know your Shadow, you can figure out which kinds of propaganda are likely to have an effect on you and build up resistance to its seductive lure. The first step is always to say, “I’m human and hence susceptible to influence.” There’s nothing shameful in that.