21st-century propaganda: A guide to interpreting and confronting the dark arts of persuasion—Gideon Lichfield, Quartz
To Huxley’s readers, most of whom had lived through the era of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, these methods would all have been familiar. But over time it came to seem, at least in the West, as if his “rational propaganda”—still possibly misleading, but nonetheless rooted in the language of reason and fact and enlightened self-interest—had won out as the primary form of political discourse.
And then 2016 happened. Voters chose Brexit and Donald Trump even though it was patently clear that Brexit hadn’t been thought through and that Trump wasn’t fit to be president. “Expert,” a term for someone who specializes in facts, became a pejorative. Politicians lied with seeming impunity, no matter how blatantly and how often the press caught them doing it.
So what went wrong?
In reality, maybe what’s anomalous is for facts and reason to have the upper hand.
The belief, or rather hope, that humankind is ultimately rational has gripped Western politics at least since Descartes, and inspired such 19th-century optimists as Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe,” Jefferson famously wrote.
But in recent years we’ve learned much about the human mind that contradicts the view of people as rationally self-interested decision-makers.