Tag Archives: prejudice

Prejudice as Propaganda

It doesn’t take a very thorough study to recognize that one of the most successful and vicious methods of indoctrinating the masses is to enforce prejudice. This can be seen in extreme cases like the Holocaust, or in more subtle cases like exposure in the modern media. To a huge extent, television and mainstream film do a pretty good job of enforcing stereotypes, or at least limiting the amount to which they are challenged. I don’t have anything against straight white men, but I don’t want them controlling most of the important decisions that affect the rest of the population.

Take the upcoming election, for instance. Unless they live in a hole, it is likely that the majority of Americans know the two main candidates for the Democratic party were an African American and a woman. The press addressed this repeatedly. But do you think as many people could intelligently tell you about their platforms? What specific policies they value? Probably not.

Historically speaking, prejudice has been an effective way of boosting the esteem of the in-group and of perpetuating the “us versus them” dichotomy. Hitler used already existing anti-Semitism and anti-Bolshevism to promote German superiority and boost nationalism after the country was left injured by WWI. These prejudices were nothing new, which is why Hitler was able to get away with them to the extent that he did.

In America, this is especially true as well. There are plenty of examples, many of which are common knowledge, many of which aren’t.

The treatment of Japanese during WWII is one example of this. In school we are taught about Japanese Relocation. We see the pamphlets that were designed to distinguish Japanese citizens from “your Chinese friend.” We hopefully recognize this behavior as discriminatory and a human rights violation.

But then there are the aspects that aren’t addressed, or at least not as much. I can remember learning that the Americans took “trophies,” or body parts, from enemy soldiers they killed. I don’t remember learning that based on the photographic record of the war, not one of these “trophies” came from a European soldier. And I don’t remember learning about how deeply rooted anti-Asian prejudice was in American society–including a tax on pigtails in the 1800’s to prevent immigration from Asia, or popular conspiracy novels about Chinese and Japanese immigrants taking over America as a colony (Renny Christopher, The Viet Nam War/The American War). Maybe I received a particularly bad education, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a relatively large percentage of the population was unaware of this.

Then there is the genocide in America–the extermination of 95% of the Native American population as a way of supporting American colonization, resulting in the ostracizing and marginalizing of the remaining population.

Think about the way that war is justified. During WWII it was argued that the Japanese had no concern for human life. During the Vietnam War, the same argument was made about the Viet Cong. And today we have heard the same thing about the Iraqis.

Promoting prejudice has been and continues to be a major form of propaganda, and although in the U.S. it currently takes on more subtle forms, it needs to be addressed as a major ideological issue.

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The Nature of Dichotomies

One noticeable pattern when it comes to formulating an argument is the use of binary thinking. In its most extreme it boils down to an “us versus them” mindset, at its least as “both sides” of an issue.

This is something that I know I’ve been guilty of. It’s probably impossible not to be. How often are political issues framed as conservative versus liberal, or Republican versus Democrat? In the mainstream media, one might argue almost exclusively. Clearly it isn’t this simple–there are always more than two ways of looking at an issue. And even between any two perspectives there is a spectrum.

This isn’t a new revelation. But at the same time, it’s difficult to perceive the world in such a complex way. Social psychologists have suggested some possible reasons for this. One is the need for self-image maintenance–the need to feel individual or unique, or in cases of prejudice, to boost self-esteem. Another reason is simply the need to sort information in a way that can be processed quickly. Easier to come to conclusions based on two possibilities than, say, a potentially infinite number of possibilities that would be involved otherwise.

But what happens when the majority of opinions are overlooked? It’s not surprising that people feel alienated and misrepresented by what is considered mainstream. And no wonder people are conflicted. How can we expect otherwise?

A set of dichotomies is applied to so many of the topics we hear about. You’re either for or against, say, abortion. Or war. And that’s what gets reported. The same thing when it comes to countries. It’s the U.S. versus whoever the given enemy is at the time. By overlooking commonalities, the humanity is removed from an entire group of people. And this is no way to resolve a dispute.

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