Propaganda and the Mind

“Right discernment” is an important aspect of the Buddhist Eightfold Path. Training and educating the mind in discernment is a crucial function of reason, and it usually formally begins in elementary school with the familiar “compare and contrast”. How are the same things different? And how are different things the same? Discernment is, functionally, critical to individual and collective survival — to discern what belongs to life and what does not, what is real and what is not (or is only the shadow of the real), what is true and what is not, what is dangerous and what is not, etc.

Yet, despite this, the propaganda system works, at the same time, to cripple, maim, and defeat this faculty of discernment, undermining thereby the basis for collective and individual survival. So, the whole condition of life in Late Modernity is to place the mind in a double-bind. Under the circumstances, I am not surprised by the problem of “21st Century Schizoid Man”

If mind is today in crisis, and reason has become defective, a great deal of this can be attributed to the pernicious effects of propaganda on the mind. It is, ultimately, self-destructive, as the history of all merely totalitarian states that relied on propaganda amply illustrates.

David Bohm’s “rheomode” of thinking (as discussed in earlier posts) is simply a new iteration of this function of discernment — of “compare and contrast”. And the fact that it had to be stated again in this way and in this new iteration is simply a judgement on the failure of mind and reason today to fulfill its proper function of discernment. “Right discernment” is the meaning of the rheomode.

One example of a failure of discernment we have used many times here in The Chrysalis is “the Whole” and “the Totality” which are, today, confused in the mind. Here, we simply employ the method of “compare and contrast” to see how what is treated as the same is different, and what is different is also similar. Discernment does not just mean focussing and identifying difference, but also in what way the different are also the same. The “Whole” actually precedes the “Totality”. As Jean Gebser revealingly pointed out, the word “whole” has to do with life and health, while the word “total” appears to be derived from the opposite — death (Germanic “tot” or “Tod“). And yet the nature of the whole lies latent or implicit in the meaning of “total”.

This paradox of the Whole and the Totality evidently relates to the two modes of perception of Dr. McGilchrist’s “Divided Brain” described in his book The Master and His Emissary. The Emissary deals with totals while the Master is attuned to wholes. Evidently, we are here dealing with the root paradox of existence — the paradox of the One and the Many. And as a consequence of this muddle-headedness, we also fail to discern between a mere reductive assimilation and what is an effective integration. We confuse the two.

The nature of the paradox of the One and the Many is that it acknowledges and honours the simplicity that exists in complexity, and the complexity that exists in simplicity. The simple is implicit within the complex, and the complex is implicit in the simple.

In any event, a mind incapable of effective and right discernment between what is real and what is not, what belongs to life and what belongs to death, or what is true and what is not, or what is dangerous and what is safe, would not survive for long by this mischaracterisation and misrepresentation to itself of what is real. Yet propaganda exists for the purpose of this mischaracterisation and misrepresentation.

There is today, quite evidently, little respect for the integrity of mind and consciousness despite all the lip-service about the sanctity of life and the sovereign individual. Any kind of progress in the human condition or the effectiveness of mind has come through continuing refinements in the faculty of discernment. And if the mental-rational consciousness structure is now functioning in “deficient mode”, as Gebser describes in The Ever-Present Origin, it is very much an issue of this failure of the faculty of discernment. (I prefer to speak of “discerning reason” rather than “critical thinking”, even though they imply much the same).

Proper education in discernment would involve engaging with both modes of attention of the divided brain. If the “Emissary” provides the text, the “Master” provides the context. If the Emissary provides the detail or the fact, the Master provides the field view without which the fact or detail would have no significance or meaning. This is probably the simplest way to describe that relationship.

Far too many are today deformed by this assault on the reason and its faculty of discernment.

6 responses to “Propaganda and the Mind”

  1. erikleo says :

    I watched a documentary on tv last night about Samuel Beckett and have been reading some notes about his work today. How is it that he saw the human condition clearly but couldn’t go beyond the pessimism. Is it that he got stuck in the Buddha’s First Noble Truth of dukkha? I’ve noticed this tendency in a lot of writers; they look at the horror of life and seem to draw the conclusion that that is all there is. Any comments?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Not too sure, since I know little about Beckett, although I see he was influenced (like Nietzsche) by Schopenhauer. There is a tendency, though, in some writers to offset the excessive optimism of the Enlightenment with the tragic and pessimistic, or that human beings lived to pursue pleasure and avoid pain (that probably led to the “denial of death”).

      Since “man is made for joy and woe”, as Blake put it, this imbalance probably led some to emphasise, by contrast, the woeful. This is idea that “man is made for joy and woe” seems reflected in Castaneda’s don Juan’s remark that the art of the warrior “is to balance the wonder of being alive with the terror of being alive”.

      In some respects, that resembles also the ultimate paradox of Buddhism: that “nirvana and samsara are not the same; nirvana and samsara are the same”. This strikes me as being equivalent to Blake’s paradox of “Eternity in the hour”.

      • erikleo says :

        Happy New Year (One wonders what this decade has in store!) ReferrIng to my post about Beckett I don’t think the typical literary author realises you can change mentally or spiritually; to some extent you can direct your attention and not be mesmorised by the horror!

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Adam Curtis’s films are quite good guides to this problem of propaganda and the mind. The first film, *The Century of the Self*, explores the nature of propaganda. The follow-up film *Hypernormalisation* examines the effect upon society and the mind of propaganda.

    Worth taking both films in if you haven’t seen them (both available on youtube).

  3. Scott Preston says :

    My blessings may not have the power to effect anything. But in any case, I wish the readers of The Chrysalis a very Happy New Year, and thanks for being on board with me during this journey.

  4. Yeffen Ray says :


    Force and matter, everything, light and dark, at the same time., It, the universe is a transcendental and infinite expansion. And permeates expansion and simultaneously an infinite unifield. It is omniscient at every point, at every moment, (infinite omnipresent possibility) omnipotent, transcendental transfiguration, good and/or woe. The one theic, complementary force (E=mc2) emerging simultaneously, dispensing polarity. This polar many, living and not living, fullness and emptiness, time and space. The effective and the indifference, simultaneously.

    The Art Of Memetics | Meme | Emotions –


    For Review of The epistemological problem paragraph…



    Peterson needs…

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