Propaganda: poison and counter-poison

Ariel Beresniak, a public health specialist, reflects on the concept of propaganda and its countermeasure, counter-propaganda, in the context of events like the Covid crisis and the Ukraine war.

8 mins read
Propaganda: poison and counter-poison

Ariel Beresniak, a doctor specializing in public health, looks back at the notion of propaganda and its antidote, counter-propaganda, based on events such as the Covid crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Propaganda is a set of persuasive methods organized by states to propagate an ideology by all kinds of means. These methods are used to indoctrinate a population. It’s a form of mental manipulation using tried and tested brainwashing techniques, mixing partial and biased information in order to sweep away the diversity of points of view and annihilate any attempt to exercise a critical mind.

The crisis management of the Covid pandemic made excessive use of the full range of propaganda techniques. The aim was to stupefy the population into accepting unprecedented measures to restrict freedom, which would have been considered unacceptable without psychological premedication.

Instead of reassuring the population and making them aware of their responsibilities in the face of a new virus, the French authorities applied a brutal strategy of manipulation in three phases: promoting fear through shocking figures and images, placing the entire population under house arrest, and releasing them on condition that they agreed to be vaccinated.

To implement this plan, a collective psychological program was set up, orchestrating sensory saturation with slogans, speeches and dramatic images entrusted to the complicit media. The denigration of dissenting opinions was entrusted to new types of disinformation agents posing as fact checkers. Finally, the confinement of the population was actively monitored by the police, who patrolled land, sea and air to track down walkers.

Propaganda is used by all authoritarian regimes to subjugate the population and prevent dissent. Minds are so saturated by the repetition of a single discourse that individuals no longer realize what is happening to them. The Fifth Republic of General de Gaulle gradually gave way to authoritarian executive power, backed by legislative and judicial powers that were forced to serve as lampoons.

Some denounce this authoritarian shift as a dictatorship hiding behind a mask of democracy. The response of the system’s courtiers is systematic and ready-made: go and see a real-dictatorship-as-in-North-Korea. The French President has clearly not completely adopted Kim Jong-un’s style, apart from his megalomaniac speech. The fact remains, however, that the concentration of power as it exists in France today falls within the very definition of a dictatorship, which is the concentration of power in one man or one clique. To deny that a dictatorship can have several levels would be like claiming that lead is not toxic because it is not arsenic.

The real experts in epidemic management had warned that the deprivations of liberty imposed on the French population could not have a positive impact on the pandemic, and could even prove highly negative, a fact now formally confirmed by the most serious international scientific studies.

Rather, the authorities’ real objective seemed to be a life-size experiment in total population control. All Western governments know that this is now possible!

As the virulence of the virus had diminished with each successive epidemic, and was becoming less and less frightening despite the dramaturgy organized by the state, Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine on February 24, 2022 was a real boon for the head of state, who was thus able to capitalize on new fears to renew the theme of his communication.

All the propaganda tools developed for the Covid crisis have been recycled for the Ukraine crisis. The most telling example is probably the Ukrainian flag that appeared for some time on the home page of the “Tous anti-Covid” vaccination pass application. The news channels that used to talk non-stop about Covid suddenly started talking non-stop about the war in Ukraine. Other tragedies, like the thirty or so other armed conflicts around the world, are ignored.

Hatred and discrimination against Russian nationals became the rule. Russian artists have been deprogrammed, bank accounts of Russian-sounding names have been blocked, direct flights to Russia have been cancelled, Russian sportsmen and women boycotted, while purchases of Russian oil and gas products have been suspended, leading to the biggest energy crisis since the first oil shock in 1973. Even animals were discriminated against, with Siberian cats banned from competitions. The mere suggestion that the reasons for the war in Ukraine might have more complex roots is considered a deviant opinion and its authors accused of playing into the hands of the Kremlin.

However, when state propaganda is permanent, it has deleterious effects on the population. It acts as a veritable poison. Destabilized, citizens lose their critical faculties and self-confidence, and feel diminished. The bans on movement during the COVID crisis have led to prolonged problems: loss of motivation, sleep disturbances (insomnia and nightmares), appetite problems, physical pain, anxiety, panic attacks, extreme fatigue, and even depressive syndromes which now affect a large proportion of the population of all ages, and even suicidal thoughts and actions, including in children, which were previously extremely rare. At the very least, the majority of the population experiences extreme prolonged irritability. This is why it would be naïve to think that the urban riots of March 2023 against the French government were solely due to the technocratic pension reform.

There is an effective antidote to the poison of propaganda, but its effectiveness means that prescribing it is forbidden by the authorities. The best antidote against the harmful effects of propaganda is counter-propaganda, which exposes the opposing theses.

Of course, a counter-poison taken in isolation can also be toxic, and the natural antidote to counter-propaganda is in turn propaganda itself. Some counter-poisons are not necessarily counter-propaganda, but independent information. The articles and videos of the few scientists who had dissenting opinions during the Covid crisis are a good example of salutary information to protect against the harmful effects of official propaganda.

How can you tell information from propaganda?

Information is intended to disseminate a reality or a point of view, and to ask questions. Propaganda, on the other hand, is designed to manipulate the mind by its relentless repetition, saturating the senses and imposing ready-made answers to predefined questions.

But what never deceives is that propaganda always forbids counter-propaganda.

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