Furthest Right

How propaganda works

Implicit attitudes on race are assessed by tests like the Implicit Association Test. (You can take the test here.) Subjects are presented with photos of blacks and whites in succession and asked to pair positive or negative words (e.g., “intelligent,” “law-abiding,” “poor,” “success”) with the photos.

Eighty percent of whites take longer to associate positive words with blacks than with whites. This is interpreted as indicating that whites have implicit negative stereotypes of blacks.

The interesting thing is that there is a gap between whites’ explicitly positive attitudes about blacks and their implicitly negative attitudes. Even white liberals show implicit negative attitudes toward blacks, although their implicit attitudes are less negative than those of conservatives.

In fact, white liberals are more hypocritical about race than conservatives: There is a larger gap between implicit attitudes and explicit attitudes toward blacks among white liberals than among white conservatives.

What’s happening is that the conscious, explicit brain is thinking positive thoughts about blacks because it reads the New York Times. And it is suppressing the negative thoughts that are deep below the surface in the implicit part of the brain.


Fascinating analysis. It’s more interesting to study this in non-taboo areas (e.g. not race) because it affects all aspects of our political and social experience.

You can apply this idea — there’s a split between implicit and explicit knowledge, or internalized and externalized experience — in how we approach all of what we know. We know we can’t trust our politicians, but we must elect one. In public, we have to say nice things about people we think are stupid. And we know most people are stupid, but we uphold the fiction that they’ll magically elect us someone good.

Our society is split between a false social reality and a personal “closer to actual reality” reality as a result. This is how propaganda works: it forces reactions that reinforce social reality, but at the same time, spreads paralyzing neurosis within as we realize the image doesn’t match up to what we know, inside.

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