The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Monday, November 1, 2021

The Propaganda Trap: How to get out of it?

 You probably saw the Hitler clip from the 2004 movie "Downfall." And you may have noticed the detail of Hitler's left hand trembling out of control. It is based on historical data: Hitler's hand was really trembling in that way, a typical symptom of Parkinson's disease. And he was also subjected to fits of rage, just as shown in the movie. Surely, many people must have noted his erratic behavior and thought he had mental problems. Yet, nobody could find a way to remove him from power, ensuring that maximum damage was done to everybody. It was the result of German propaganda: a giant machine that fed on itself and that could not be stopped before it was too late.


The story of the 20th century includes several "mad dictators" who did great damage to the people they ruled, and not just to them. Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany are the best-known examples. I wrote several posts on Mussolini (here), who clearly suffered of an extreme case of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome, but was not mentally impaired, just a run of the mill psychopath who cared nothing about the suffering of the people he ruled. 

Hitler, like Mussolini, was convinced to be a military genius and he often overrode the suggestions of his competent military staff. And he was a psychopath, too, with all the typical traits of cruelty and indifference that characterize psychopaths. But, unlike Mussolini, there were evident problems with Hitler's brain, especially during the last years of his rule. He had clear symptoms of Parkinson's, and he was subjected to fits of rage that rapidly went out of control. He regularly consumed methamphetamine, barbiturates, opiates, and cocaine, as well as potassium bromide and Atropa belladonna. His symptoms worsened after the assassination attempt against him in 1944. 

I already wrote about how dictatorships are born. What is surprising in this story is not so much that there exist people who are at the same time stupid and evil, in addition to being mentally unstable. It is not even so surprising that Italy and Germany, two European countries inhabited mostly by normal and decent people, fell into the hands of two of these madmen. In the beginning, they didn't look like madmen: they looked like the right person at the right moment. What is truly weird is that these countries could not get rid of the madman in charge, not even when it became clear that he was a madman. 

You know that Adolf Hitler ruled Germany until he killed himself in 1945. But, already in 1943, it must have been clear to everyone with at least a few neurons in their brain that the war was lost and, worse, there was a madman in charge. But nothing was done. Nothing could be done. 

If you want to get some idea of the situation in Germany during the last year of the war, you may read the book by Florian Huber "Promise Me You'll Shoot Yourself." It is a book that tells you of something not normally discussed: what did ordinary Germans think of the situation and how it was that they couldn't free themselves from the evil spell that their own propaganda had generated. To the point that a large, although unknown, number of them committed suicide. Choosing death was the ultimate strategy to avoid facing reality. 

In a sense, it was unavoidable: the Germans had chosen a path that led them exactly where they arrived.  Propaganda is a wondrous machine that feeds on itself: once you start it, there is no way to stop it. It can make some things unspeakable, and if they are unspeakable they cannot be spoken. The story of the "White Rose" is especially tragic: a group of students of the University of Munich who tried to say the things that could not be said. As a result, they were sentenced to death and executed by beheading in 1943. Surprisingly (but perhaps not so surprisingly) the executions didn't seem to generate any outrage with the German public. An even starker evidence of how deeply the Germans were beguiled by their propaganda.

So far, we are not (yet) in the hands of an evil psychopath, but many things seem to be moving in that direction. So, the question of how to get rid of a dictatorship seems to be equivalent to asking how to get rid of propaganda. But the Western propaganda machine, today, is enormously more sophisticated, effective, and pervasive than the German propaganda was at the time of the Nazis. Fortunately, if we speak against the government's truth, we do not face execution by beheading (so far). But we are simply ignored, and if not ignored we are demonized and ridiculed. 

Is there any hope to stop the evil machine? It looks difficult, even impossible. So far, propaganda has been stopped only by the complete collapse of the governments that created it, as it happened in Italy and in Germany. Are there better ways? Maybe. Propaganda has been with us for more than a century: it has changed, it has morphed into different forms. But one thing remains central: propaganda exists because there exists a centralized control of the information flow in society (we call it the "media"). As long as this control exists, propaganda will remain with us, all-powerful as it is. 

But, right now, the Internet has created a gigantic system of information flow that escapes central control -- so far, at least. As long as we can bypass the media we are immune (within limits) from propaganda. Otherwise, the only way to get rid of it is collapse. 

So, what we are seeing is a gigantic struggle for the control of the Internet. Will the center win? Or will it be the periphery? Our future hangs on this question. 


Sophie Scholl, a member of the "White Rose" group who was sentenced to death and executed in 1943 at 21, for having spoken against the government propaganda of the time. Her story shows how harsh the information war can be. And her example remains a source of inspiration for us. 


  1. "Will the centre win? Or will it be the periphery? Our future hangs on this question....

    It is a lose-lose situation - nobody will win, the damage is already done and becoming bigger and deeper - since Jevons in the 1860s...

    It is not what or how much anybody has done or can do, but rather how much fossil fuels are burned in the process - what matters...

    Manufacturing billions of disposable syringes every month is not an achievement for humanity but rather an utter failure...

    Humans needed to realise since James Watt that every drop of the finite fossil fuels they burn is a setback to their future, a stronger evidence they are no better Intellect than animals, and that will cause them dearly...

    This is no matter how the Centre pretends triumph over the masses toady, or the peasants realise they are already able to decode and demystify what a colossal harm the Centre is doing to them and the future of humanity.

    Watch this exercise of Reckoning in the outgoing 20th Century Physics...

    Today, a shattered bottle on the road, E=mc^2 is watched on screens - make one immediately understand that the bottle is a Coke Cola and E=mc^2 is Einstein - but hardly - both are broken...

    The seas of fossil fuels put behind both, by the agency of our Western Civilisation's propaganda machine, since coal peaked in Britain in 1913, are astronomical and cannot be fathomed...

    Therefore, no one should really be made hypnotised that Karl Marx, Nikola Tesla, Keynes, Hitler, Stalin, Saddam, China, Russia, 'Science', etc are other than fossil fuels being burned to waste...

    The Social Contract that burns finite Energy reserves for continuity over humanity - will sooner or later discontinue.

    The Western Civilisation has failed the test of history like no other Civilisation before it - destroying all finite Energy reserves, just to end up no more than a Syringe-Nany, empty, no substance and extremely psychotic Propaganda machine.

    "Energy, like time, flows from past to future".


  2. Propaganda is programming

    Well, we could talk about contemporary White Rosers, like Eduardo Snouden, but on this Google-platform, that would probably not be welcome. I think that shows us all too clear how we are stuck in the claws of the beast.
    As you say: "But, right now, the Internet has created a gigantic system of information flow that escapes central control -- so far, at least."
    However, I think that self-censorship is pervasive, since we know that many people/algorithms read what we write.

    A very interesting book about the philosophical underpinnings of the German ideology of the 1930s is "Nietzsche and the Nazis", available for free as audio book on another gargle platform:
    I think the ideology is eerily similar to the Religion of the Market and Progress that we have now. We are willing to sacrifice a lot of humanity to "Make The Economy Grow". Our individual needs and wants are subordinate to the needs of the Market. A very collectivistic culture that pretends to be individualistic. It is rather "atomizing", as in isolating people from each other. Digital connection, physical separation.

    What do you think are the main memes in contemporary propaganda?


  3. I am not optimist about contemporary propaganda. In my home town I see long lines of people waiting to be vaccinated. They are brain-washed by everyday reports about "COVID deaths" and by pro-vaccine lobby in institutions. Nobody asks the question how we got several vaccines in such a short time. Don't we need several years to properly test any medication or vaccine? It seems to me that this Covid experiment is intended as a test about how well masses receive the contemporary propaganda methods. It's not so much human health experiment but more a human behavior experiment on a scale never before seen in history.

  4. I received this comment from Lucas Fierz who had problems with posting it. So, I am posting it on his behalf.

    End of december 1944 Heisenberg gave a lecture about physics in Zürich and my father as his host invited him afterwards to the Kronenhalle-Restaurant, where he boasted about the "recent beautiful progress" of the German Army in the Ardennes offensive, much to the consternation of his Swiss collegues who considered Hitler's war as lost.

    My German cello teacher Susanne Hirzel was still as almost a child member of the "White Rose", she was caught and judged by Freisler, but somehow escaped death sentence because of very young age. She tells her story in a book "Vom Ja zum Nein". But in Germany from 1945-1965 she had to learn to never mention her participation in the "White Rose", because she would have been despised as a traitor...

    Perhaps one should consider such attitudes more as a product of the collective German psyche, and not merely a product of propaganda.

    1. It's possible that Germans are somewhat more prone, more susceptible to propaganda but all people in the industrial society can become objects of "mass formation". That's because only in industrial society there are conditions that produce "mass" anxiety. Also, highly educated and intelligent people are more prone than uneducated, and this fact is counter-intuitive. All the details are in the link provided. It's over one hour long but very instructive. You won't regret watching Professor Mattias Desmet!

    2. I think it is true even without looking at the clip (I'll try to do that, later). Educated people are the easiest to fool

    3. Scientists, in particular, are naive to the extreme.

    4. I am watching the interview at your link. You are right!!!

  5. Dear Ugo et al.,
    Here another perspective regarding getting out of the grip of the Propaganda.

    I am very much a fan of Vaclav Benda & Vaclav Havel and their concept of Parallel Polis:

    We need to build as much as we can of a parallel society, below the radar of the existing official structures. This is of course more difficult in a digital age, but locally here it works quite ok.

    I appreciate the doubleness of having this kind of discussions openly on a gargle platform, but it is better than not having these discussions. And I expect that we are only part of the background noise...

    Kind regards,

    1. Could be. It is the idea that the Jews had. But it didn't work so well for them

    2. Indeed. Good point. It did not work out well in the shoah. On the other hand the current power position of the Jewish global diaspora seems strong. However, that is still a sensitive position...

      I think from a network point of view, it is similar to the Chinese diaspora all across Asia who maintains trade relationships already for centuries. Once in a while a genocide/pogrom erupts blaming them, e.g. in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia etc. Nevertheless, the network is still vibrant in most places and recovers surprisingly quickly.

      I think the Parallel Polis only works when the dominant culture has "plausible deniability" that they don't see what is going on. And that the visibility is low.

      The other extreme is to choose a very distinct and different and poor lifestyle, like the Amish, as Orlov describes in his book "Communities that abide". They are usually not seen as a threat by the dominant culture.

      Currently I only see that happening in religious monasteries and eco-villages. Most people outside think they are lunatics since they dont watch TV.

      I have no connections into Roma any longer, but I suspect they also chose this strategy. What do you think?


    3. Goran> are you sure you want to quote Havel and Benda on this very topic, lol? Havel's bourgeois and collaborating family ran a very profitable biz during nazi occupied Prague: cinema, dance hall, .. while (many) others suffered and/or took active part in the underground resistance. Havel himself got some notoriety as "absurd theater" writer during mid 1960s when alternative culture was envogue domestically and abroad, later he organized part/wing of the dissent structure to official gov for which he had been receiving very nice funding from abroad the West. Yes, he was briefly jailed as opposition figure. After the revolution, he quickly pressed for return of his family fortune, actually there was lengthy legal battle about it with his sister in law (brother's share of fortune).. His "legacy" is taken seriously only by minuscule portion of the people.

      I won't comment in detail on Benda, because this was a comic character, and it is so hilarious you most likely could not believe the real stories of his "work and life" lol. Personalities apart, I'll throw you an appetizer, Benda was predominantly focused and very active with helping old German and Vatican circle to regain past influence and properties..

  6. Ugo said:
    "It is not even so surprising that Italy and Germany, two European countries inhabited mostly by normal and decent people"

    This is so wrong I want to cry.
    Most western countries are populated by spoiled, retarded evil children that refuse to grow up and would sell or kill their own family for their own comfort.
    The fact that you are still trying to defend the German people when they are busy recreating the Third Reich shows you as incredibly naive.

    Do you know there were people in the concentration camps that refused to believe they will be gassed, despite the evidence of their own senses? They really could not accept that humans can be that evil. You are just like that.

    Unless we accept the capacity for evil we ALL have, there is no chance we can stop any future genocide. I doubt we can stop this one, whatever we do but at least we can face it as grown ups instead of whimpering: "but most people are good!"

    One more thing - you cannot fight propaganda and evil with nice words and good deeds. Protests won't work when you are in the minority.
    The only question we should ask ourselves is if we can remain human while fighting monsters?
    I don't have an answer to that.

    1. NB, I met many people from different countries in my life. And most of them were normal and decent people. I would say that I met evil people only in the US, but that's probably because so many people are on drugs, there (including junk food). But on the whole I thin that it is TV that turns people evil and, just as a quick note, Germany was one of the first countries in the world to have a public TV. Maybe that's the reason?

    2. ¿La tv pública es peor que la comercial? La democracia en los media es proporcional a la democracia de la sociedad en que se insertan. Como todas las instituciones. Cada vez queda menos de lo que llamábamos lo "público", que algunos asimilábamos a "lo común". Sin embargo, es por ahí por donde vendrán las soluciones. Más sociedad civil, más autogestión y cooperación para gestionar una sociedad necesariamente menos compleja. ¿Difícil? Más difícil va a ser mantener los BAU sin que nos hierva el cerebro.

  7. Francamente, resulta difícil responder la pregunta del título. Sin embargo, sí que puede resultar recomendable recurrir otra vez ( ¡ alabado sea ! ) a Nicolás Maquiavelo. Si se estudiara El Príncipe en las escuelas la gente sería mucho más consciente de lo que le sucede, y porqué le sucede. Y, seguramente, más resistente a algunas ideas que sólo quieren domesticarle. Un poco de "virtú" comunitaria no nos vendría mal ahora.

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  9. No lo he dicho bien. Dice que Internet remite la información independiente a las burbujas de las redes sociales. Es decir, a la marginalidad. Los media clásicos siguen controlando la información masiva.

    1. It is what the conflict is about

    2. Un apunte: los medios impresos, al menos en mi país, son tremendamente ruinosos. Han caído en manos de Bancos y fondos de inversión. Las suscripciones se han hundido, y se sostienen por la publicidad, comercial e institucional. ¿Porqué aguantan, entonces? Tal vez porque todavía establecen la agenda, y porque nutren a los perezosos y tacaños noticiarios de las televisiones; que es donde se informa, en realidad, la mayoría de la gente "común".


    The search for the white rose.

  11. Hi,

    Not so much about propaganda but I'm interested in the Dunning-Kruger syndrome that you mention. Could it be that humanity as a group can suffer from this collectively?

    I ask this because some of the situations we face as a species seem fairly unsolvable to me, given the time and planetary resources we've used to get ourselves into the situations that we find ourselves, and the lack of and ability to commit similar quantities of resources to the task of getting ourselves out of these situations.

    Our assumption seems to me to be that because we MUST come up with a solution, there therefore

    a) must actually be a solution and that.
    b) we will find and implement it.

    Few people seem prepared to even consider that some of the situations that we collectively face are predicaments to be prepared for rather than problems that the obvious greatness of humanity will solve

  12. Hello Ugo and commentators . First the ads are now showing in the USA, many are clothing ads.
    Second this series on exterminations, really should consider the extinctions of non humans going on now. And consider that as part of the issue of too many humans pushing too far into the natural world. Perhaps it would be more appropriate at your Holobant blog, but this is the darker site and discussions about die offs probablyshould stay here.
    Anyone can find the sixth extinction numbers online but the fact is that we depend on insects, birds, and other animals for all kinds of services needed by our food plants and livestock. And without those species things look pretty grim for the farmers and for us.
    This eventually leads back to wealth and inequality, too.

    1. Still trying to get rid of the ads. Maybe there is a lag in the way blogger reacts to changes in the template. Now I tried something else, let's see if they disappear. If someone has suggestions to help, they are welcome

  13. ¿ Nihil novum sub sole ? El análisis sobre la generación de consenso de Chomsky/Herman sigue completamente vigente. Hace más de treinta años que se sabe, pero la mayoría somos indiferentes a los procedimientos que las élites emplean para continuar con su dominio, por visibles que sean. Parece, pues, que funciona bien. Incluso con Internet, el "sistema" es terriblemente eficiente asimilando toda crítica, incluso las radicales. Más desde que la "aristocracia del saber", la inteligentzia, la academia y los científicos, se rinden y prefieren acomodarse a la sombra de las "oligarquías del poder". La vida no es fácil si eres un outsider. Las soluciones? Difíciles de concretar, pero vendrán de la mano de más Sociedad Civil, más descentralización, más autonomía; en resumen, más relocalización. Y a eso nos dirigimos. Es ahora cuando más se necesitarán las luces de esa "aristocracia del saber", un cambio de dirección que puede que ya se esté dando. Son muchos ya los científicos ( véanse los últimos informes del IPCC ) que ya están avisando de la necesidad de un cambio civilizatorio radical, y rápido, si queremos que la especie sobreviva.

  14. I was reading this article today about the 'crowd surge' at this concert.

    and this column came to mind via some association operating in my brain below my consciousness. Upon brief reflection I wondered if there is a 'self-organizing' principle present in both the only 'variable' that is quite different is the time over which the principle operated. the "school of fish" for lack of a better term factor is the same, communicativeness ditto, just time and situation. cheers

  15. I think that was a clever option for the Germans to not acept their unconditional surrender, because there were power groups inside UK( Churchill "Plan Unthinkable", for to halt the war against Germany and then attack the Soviet Unión.

  16. "the Western propaganda machine, today, is enormously more sophisticated, effective, and pervasive than the German propaganda was at the time of the Nazis." Terrifying. Money printing buys a lot of political and media control.