Auto-Deprogramming

I don’t think I’ve ever related it here on the Web, and I’m a little short of current events to comment on at the moment, so I think I’ll relate how I began deprogramming myself from the pro-Establishment propaganda that I, like all individuals growing up in our society, was subjected to as a child.

It happened in my early- to mid-teens. This was well before the Internet had made it possible for anyone to easily seek out alternatives to the pro-Establishment mainstream media. Radio had always fascinated me, and as luck would have it that had led to an interest in shortwave radio.

At the time, shortwave was the only practical means of affordably distributing audio programming worldwide, so there was no shortage of foreign broadcasters beaming their angle on world events, in English, to the USA. All one needed was a shortwave receiver and some knowledge how to use it (it was not as simple as tuning in domestic broadcast stations, though it was not particularly difficult, either).

Many of the broadcasters transmitted what was basically state propaganda. It was quite obvious: the governments in those countries were always uncontroversial, always doing only good things, and always with widespread popular support. According to their own state media, of course.

That got me thinking as to how, if I had been unfortunate enough to be born into one of those unfree societies, I might manage to detect and compensate for my indoctrination, assuming I was equipped with a shortwave receiver.

The answer I came up with was based on my observations of individuals around me: they were not all equally honest and moral. Some would tend to tell the truth even if it put them at a disadvantage. Those same individuals also tended to treat others with the most respect. Others tended to lie more often, and the liars typically treated others poorly. It seemed reasonable to presume that these same overall traits could color entire societies and their governments as well.

Therefore, it would be possible to identify the more credible sources of information on shortwave: they would be the ones that admitted self-criticism onto their airwaves. They would be the stations that sometimes admitted painful truths that were inconvenient to their own nations’ governments.

So after a period of introductory listening, one would be able to compile a mental list of information sources, ranked by their evident credibility. Further accuracy could then be achieved by listening to news from as many sources as possible, and comparing the reports for consistency, taking into consideration each source’s estimated reliability and the fact that there’s always a disinclination to report things embarrassing to one’s own side.

I then filed that away as an interesting thought experiment and didn’t think much more about it for several months, until I noticed a first sign that indoctrination and suppression of inconvenient facts was present in my own society.

Maybe it was Radio Australia occasionally mentioning genocide in East Timor being committed by Indonesia, a US (and Australian) ally. That claim later got corroborated by a BBC report. Both sources had been judged credible per the above criteria; plus, the stories aired by Radio Australia were directly inconvenient to their own government. Evidently the line I had been fed about how human rights was the prime motive behind US foreign policy was incorrect. If so, something else must be the prime motive.

Maybe it was the program on Austrian history on Radio Austria International (another source judged reliable) which mentioned how the USSR had occupied Austria and turned it into one of their satellite states for a few years. Then Stalin had been talked out of it and agreed to let Austria basically go its own way, provided that it promised to not take sides in the Cold War. Wait! I had always been told that communism was permanent, and that no country that had “gone communist” had ever gone back. That was how the more extreme Cold War measures were typically sold, and here was evidence that the selling point was itself a lie.

Or perhaps it was one of many news reports from a Western European source which indicated that the nations of Western Europe had significantly more generous welfare states than the USA did. Evidently the line that the USA was almost maxed out on how much social spending a society could sustain without collapsing was incorrect as well. And then there was the little matter that the nationalized broadcasters in Australia, the UK, and many other countries actually seemed to be doing a better job at reporting the news than the capitalist ones at home in the USA. Weren’t nationalized enterprises inevitably supposed to be less efficient than private ones? Yet another lie that I had been told had just been detected.

Whichever was the first sign, others quickly came. The die was now firmly cast: I knew that propaganda was very much a part of my own society and that it had to be watched out for and compensated for.

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