The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.
― Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda
I am a stickler for the truth. Or at least as much as any truth can be known. Writing about history, or just about anything, requires that.
To get at the truth, one must ask questions, and be willing to doubt platitudes and pat answers.
This is not happening in today’s America. Many conversations occur without any critical thinking at all. And that’s led to a dangerous explosion of conspiracy theories and other drivel that people fervently believe.
That’s what I am exploring here, albeit briefly.
Truth versus belief.
On a Zoom call the other day, someone remarked that she has the right to her beliefs and so did we, the other people on the call.
Of course we do.
We can believe the moon is made of green cheese. She can believe that lizards lurk under the suits and ties of Senators and Representatives, that elections are rigged, and the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
Just because you believe something doesn’t make it true!!!
Unfortunately, fantasy worlds characterize much of today’s America. In Fantasy and Reality: What is the Truth?, Dr. Karen Dill discusses research on the impact of fictional stories on people’s lives:
What this research shows is that we can be persuaded to believe false information that is inserted into a fictional story. Also, over time, we forget where we learned this information and our confidence in its truth increases … .
The theory explaining why people are persuaded by information in fictional stories is called transportation. People reading a book, watching a movie or TV show, or playing a video game become transported, swept up, or lost in the story, even feeling like they themselves are part of the story. This is one of the appealing properties of media. When a fictional story transports us, we are persuaded rather uncritically because transportation decreases counterarguing (questioning assertions) and increases connections with the characters and the sense that the story has a reality to it. Engaging with a story means we have suspended our disbelief, and this facilitates our persuasion to points of view embedded in the story … .
And not just in fictional stories from books or films … .
In some cases, life is so bleak or miserable that, in order to survive it, people turn to fantasy.
But that’s not the only reason that belief trumps truth.
Joseph Goebbels’s words quoted at the beginning of this post sum up much of what is wrong with this approach, at least in America today.
And that’s a dangerous thing, as we have seen.