What is often called propaganda is not. Propaganda is just one type of information modeling of social consciousness, which is used by any social group that claims power or wants to retain it.
Social consciousness and political preferences are determined in addition to evolutionary factors – geography and natural conditions, historical heritage, culture, religion, etc. – by information. – information. Information itself and its influence on social preferences, the way it is delivered and presented, the grounds and angles of view for its evaluation depend to a large extent on formed ethical values, accepted social rhetoric and institutions, including the degree of their transformational elasticity. In different societies with different socio-political and economic structures, the impact of information can have polar results – from gaining freedom to becoming slaves. In other words, information modeling, its goals and results depend on who is modeling, where he is modeling, and who is the addressee of this modeling.
In this regard, I will try to trace the connection between the main types of information modeling and the basic forms of socio-political regimes.
I distinguish three types of informational exogenous modeling of the political consciousness of the population in order to achieve the target “conditional behavior”. That could be created as a scale:
Propaganda-conviction >> Engagement-manipulation >> Pressure-signaling.
This way of informational modeling of political consciousness is characteristic of societies with democratic political regimes, with more or less liberal established social institutions and a developed or actively fledgling civil society.
Propaganda in such societies has the main purpose of convincing the target population – citizens free in their will – to support a political group claiming to power through positive voting for it in free elections.
Political groups use the promotion of their ideologies and policy positions in accordance with the norms of free competition in order to win open democratic elections. Such norms exclude violence and calls for violence, outright deliberate lies, legal pressure and the use of administrative state resources in the process of political competition. These norms are ensured by the active control of civil society and by the steady functioning of liberal constitutional institutions, including, among others, the permanent and strictly regular election of power groups.
Thus, any political group in power, on the one hand, must make a sustained effort in political competition to win new democratic elections, including through the promotion of its successes, the effectiveness of its decisions and the attractiveness of its proposals. On the other hand, the group in power is limited in obtaining special levers related to the control of state resources, the use of which would distort the process of political competition. Accordingly, the political group in power is in more or less equal functional conditions of competition with other participants in the political competition.
In this regard, propaganda is an essential tool for convincing voters to cast their votes for a particular political group, in which it is possible to use various interpretations or assessments of the facts in one’s favor, while following established rules. This process is similar to marketing – advertising – of products and services in a free market by all means not prohibited to convince consumers to buy it, with similar rules and regulations governing advertising and trade.
This is another type of information modeling of political consciousness of the population. It is characteristic of societies with authoritarian power, seeking maximum legitimization of their actions by the majority of the population.
Maximum legitimization is impossible in tyrannies, where power ignores public support as a factor of its stability. Therefore, regimes using the engagement model are usually in the modus vivendi of moderate autocracies.
Legitimization of authoritarian decisions is virtually impossible through free expression of the will in open democratic elections, since an authoritarian regime usurps power and suppresses political competition. This happens through the forcing and reduction of relevant norms and rules inherent in democratic regimes, and, accordingly, gaining an unconditional advantage – dominance – in the political field. Such advantage lies in the virtually unlimited use of state resources for its own benefit.
Accordingly, on the one hand, there is no point in persuasion for an authoritarian regime, since there is no political competition. However, on the other hand, for the regime, as a rational mercantile actor, the support of the majority of the population is important, since it is the foundation of its stability and a factor of prolongation of the term of retaining power. For this purpose, the regime forms an appropriate “alternative” information environment and ideological narratives that interpret information and mediate social assessments.
Such an informational environment is formed using mainly informational manipulations – compilations of facts in accordance with the agenda established by the regime, less often outright lies, and also with the obligatory indoctrination of the threat of an external enemy and simultaneously of national greatness. As narratives for interpreting information and modeling the public opinion required by the regime, ideological dogmas and a system of unambiguous evaluations are developed, without implying critical consciousness or the possibility of an alternative view. In this way, the regime makes the population an emotional and positive co-conspirator of its actions, involving it in a conditional “national-patriotic” or other ideological unity.
It should be noted that involvement, as an informational simulation, is possible in autocracies where power was originally obtained through democratic procedures: free political competition and open elections. This means that the actions of the political group that gained power were based on the actual preferences of the population that elected it. Later, by transforming a democratic regime into an authoritarian one and usurping power, the controlling political group continues to rely on public opinion. However, now it does not repulse it, but on the contrary, forms it in its own interests with unlimited use of controlled state resources, out of competition and through unacceptable, concerning the norms of democracy and civil society, technologies.
Thus, regardless of the level of aggressiveness – rhetorical or physical – and regardless of the degree of repressive pressure on dissenters, moderate autocracies strive for homogeneity and equilibrium in their relations with the population, involving the population as much as possible in the paradigm of the world picture created by the regime and stimulating the population to approve the regime’s actions.
Pressure – signaling
Unlike the first two types of informational modeling, where public opinion, mood and preferences are somehow formed through incentives for personal loyalty and voluntary approval, signaling pressure is not aimed at gaining the support of the population.
Signal pressure is characteristic of totalitarian dictatorships and tyrannies, where the population is an unconditionally subordinate agent whose approval is irrelevant to the actions of the dictatorial regime, the absolute principal. Power groups in tyrannical dictatorships rely on physical effective superiority over the population and the subordination of the population to their will regardless of public opinion. In tyrannies, the polarization of power and population, irrespective of the number of preference groups and the difference of interests in society, is at the maximum level: the population is oppressed and powerless, power is the absolute domain and oppressor.
The relations between the authorities and the population in such regimes are the most atavistic and go back to Mansur Olson’s concept of the Nomadic vs. the Sedentary Bandit. Within such a sociopolitical configuration, it makes no sense for the authorities to bear the high costs of mediating the “personal” opinion of the population, since public support is not a survival factor for such a regime. But an important basis for the sustainability of a tyrannical dictatorship is the indoctrination of the unconditional comprehensive superiority of power over the population. To this end, the tyrannical dictatorship signals its dominant position to the population in every possible way, from brutal carpet repression to informational presentation.
In terms of information modeling, the totalitarian dictatorship does not care too much about the quality of the information-ideological content it presents and its positive perception by the population. The main task of such informational modeling is to signal the unconditional, unquestionable and absolute superiority and dominance of the authorities, regardless of the credibility, relevance and reliability of the information received.
As an example, we can cite the ruffling of the fur of competing males for power in chimpanzee communities, when perhaps not the strongest male can create the most threatening appearance, which can cause his leadership to be acknowledged by both community members and competitors.
Thus, information policy in totalitarian dictatorships is aimed at permanently signaling the unconditional comprehensive dominance of the ruling group and its affiliates over the population in order to achieve maximum social passivity and subordination.