My thesis is straight-forward, some degree of political propaganda is desirable in order to devise a social-political system that is the most conducive to the happiness of the most individuals possible.
Many of us are familiar with the idea and associate it with the famous doctrine of a Noble lie which has been initially introduced Plato and recently advocated by Levi Strauss. Frequently, the proponents of this view are reviled as dishonest because most people feel insulted when they are lied to. However, very few would argue that lying is insulting under all circumstances as most parents lie to their children for the welfare of their children. The justification that they would provide is that the person being lied to is not mature enough to handle the truth.
For this reason, knowingly communicating false information to children is acceptable and doing the same to adults is not. I propose that the line between the two is much less clear than conventional people tend to imagine. Although I agree that immature people should be lied to and mature should not be, I do not see any reason to believe that most adults are mature enough to handle the truth.
This leads us to ask the fundamental question regarding what exactly it means to be mature enough in order to handle the truth, or what it means to be mature to begin with. Mature people, as a general rule are responsible, reliable and self-sufficient. Most adults can be described as such with regard to their job, their duties as citizens, duties to their community and a variety of other tasks that do not require a formiddable intelligence. However, their minds are decidedly immature. Most adults learn very little in school and pursue education strictly to the end of acquiring a higher social standing or a more materially comfortable life. They memorize whatever they must to pass the exam with no concern for the fact that they will forget almost everything within months. Surely they retain some skills that they need in order to work proficiently, however they perform the skills not due to their insightful, analytical or creative thinking, but by virtue of route memorization and mindless physical work. Consider the tasks handled by a conventional businessman, accountant, clerk or a salesperson. In almost all of these occupations, one may succeed by merely memorizing a short list of operations and ensuring that is ingrained within one's mind by practicing it consistently. Innovation and critical evaluation of a currently accepted way of functioning is frequently discouraged and very few conventional businessman have either the ambition or opportunity to pursue new ideas. For this reason it is not at all surprising that senility and the Alzheimer's disease are common threats to most senior citizens.
Why would we wish to communicate the truth about to a mature person? Obviously for a variety of reasons and I may list only a few. Clearly, this world is a troubled place and many problems that we are painfully aware of lack a clear solution. It is desirable for sharp minds to assist us in the endeavor of furnishing the much needed solution. In addition to the social problems, people benefit from knowing themselves and their circumstances. Instead of acting on whim like mere animals, knowledgeable individuals can be clearly aware of what they desire from life and the precise course of action they must embark upon to receive what they wish for.
Why is it a mistake to communicate the truth to an immature individual? Because the person in question not only will fail to understand what has been said to him, but he will also abuse the knowledge. For example, many religious zealots misunderstood the teaching of their masters and massacred millions. The following is even a more down to earth example. We all may conceive of a typical Elemetary School teacher who heard about terrorist attacks across the country in the year of 2001. In his fear for his own life and that of his pupils, he may an advocate a very cautious and a fearful approach to life. He may preach to the children that they would always be best served if they never spoke to any person who has not been invited to dinner by his parents. Not only should the child do this, but he should also be very apprehensive about the motives of others and trust only if it is manifest that the person is not a killer.
The impressionable young minds may have been led to develop a deeply cynical view of people and an extremely apprehensive approach to life. This could be the first step to robbing the children of their natural youthful exuberance. Because the early years tend to carry a great influence with regard to how the life of a person is shaped, it is conceivable that the children will become timid adults because of the work of this teacher. How was the teacher intellectually immature? He failed to properly analyze the events that he was informed of. He comitted the fallacy of composition by deducing the conclusion that all people are dangerous from the premise that some are. Namely, he thought that all people may behave like terrorists because very few did. If it was the case that his community was fraught with criminal activity, his maxims would indeed be highly desirable. The case was far from such, criminality occurred thousands of miles away from where he lived and it was unlikely for his students to inhabit areas where criminality is rife.
To look for more of such examples we need not rewind any further than the aforementioned year of 2000 or 2001. Many of us do remember the host of irrational fears that plagued this country with regard to the Y2K calamity and possible terrorist acts. The irrational journalists, media propagandists and their viewers have been allowed freedom of thought and expression which granted them to full right to blow the situation out of proportion. Certainly it was not for the better or for the welfare of the human race as a whole.
What is the alternative to this? Obviously, we do not wish to regress to Plato's theory of Philosopher kings, Communism, Fascism or any totalitarian ideology. Political authorities who have full control with regard to what individuals of their community may and may not do or say are known to become corrupt. This is the basic problem of watching the watcher.
In the typical totalitarian system, there are three groups of communicators. Number one consists of the well informed and the powerful who know the truth and deceive the simpletons. In the other, self-explanatorily, the simpletons who neither know the truth nor are aware that they are deceived. The third are those who are not in the first group, yet are insightful enough to understand that the authorities continuously attempt to deceive them. They must believe that if they are to lie under certain circumstances, ensuing punishments will be dire.
A certain bureau must supervise the leading politicians, analogously to how the Congress and the Senate (in some cases) may supervise the president by forcing him to follow a contract. The politicians must not lie to this bureau, however, they shall be encouraged to deceive the masses. Journalists must not be prohibited from communicating freely, because otherwise, the common man will be led to believe that the United States is no longer an open society. However, if the prominent political figures make an effort to consistently propagate a set of certain views that are false but beneficial to society, they may prevail over the journalists. Or they may convince the masses that they should be believed and not the journalists.
The reliance on useful fictions should be minimal. They should be used with great caution and seldomly. The main purpose of such political propaganda is to eradicate false beliefs regarding the Y2K, fear of Anthrax, the likelihood of terrorist attacks and so on. If this strategy is overemployed, some political groups may create an atmosphere that yields the 'matrix effect', or a mass delusion. This is dangerous because false beliefs may inspire one to act in a way that is completely irrelevant to the immediate circumstances and great harm may be done. The behavior of young men who believe that acts of terrorism grants access to heaven is a dramatic case in point. In short, this engenders fanaticism which holds the power to justify a variety of attrocities. With consideration regarding the level of sophistication of the current military technology, it is not at all unlikely that the attrocities in question may engender greater massacres than those that Hitler's name is associated with. Inevitably, a reality check is necessary. However, the ethical maxim regarding the desirability of the truth in all cases is uncongenial. There is such a thing as a noble lie and I do not think that it is at all invidious.
Scholars should be invited to perform a specific political function: namely devising the relevant useful fictions and supplying them to the bureau that supervises the leading politicians of the nation. The bureau and the politician will hold a discussion where a plan will be concocted with regard to why, how, where and why the politicians will propagate the messages of the 'noble lie'.