There is the common mistaken belief that propaganda is a political tool only used during wartime, but it is in daily use by governments, political parties, social interest groups, marketing, and professional organizations.

The most influential expert in propaganda in the 20th century was Edward Bernays who was also instrumental in renaming it to Public Relations. The irony of this Jewish writer’s works being admired by the Nazis and, the negative connotations of the term propaganda post war, were reasons enough.

The six basic tools of propaganda are easy enough to find online, but I thought it might be fun to compare these techniques with what has been happening with various factions in the atheist community for the past few years.

Name Calling

Name calling or demonization. A group you wish to attack is demonized by using non flattering names.


In war time we used “The Hun” (WWII) or “Geeks” (VIetnam), and in our own community terms such as “Slymepitter”,  “chillgirl”, “madfem”, “MRA”, and “baboon”

Glittering generalities

Used to appeal to deep seated beliefs without evidence by using slogans or even logos. These serve to form cohesion since we all  want to show we belong to a group with others who share our beliefs and a logo or slogan shows our commitment.

e.g. Atheistplus

“We are atheists plus!”

Slymepit (Phawrongula)

“Hypocrisy, destruction, and random stupidity from the baboon squad.”


The technique of taking an emotional support of something already dear to us and transferring the feeling to something else we want to support. e.g. An appeal to our feelings of injustice due to racial bigotry could be transferred to blindly support a group.

eg. Atheist plus

“We are…

Atheists plus we care about social justice,

Atheists plus we support womens’ rights,

Atheists plus we protest racism,

Atheists plus we fight homophobia and transphobia,

Atheists plus we use critical thinking and skepticism.”


Find a leader who is willing to support your cause and have them support it openly.

e.g. For marketing any sports figure will do.


Richard Carrier, PZ Myers


Thunderf00t, Abbie Smith

Plain folk

Where the a non famous speaker espouses a position giving the impression they are like you and me.


In marketing anyone supposedly off the street talking about any product.

In our own community I suppose the plain folk talk happens at atheist meetups.

Card Stacking

Never give your opponent the principle of charity. Always be careful to always show their side in the best possible light while distorting the position of their opponent as to show them in the worst possible light.

All sides have been guilty of this one.

I can’t state that propganda tactics are being used consciously by anyone but I can say that whenever tribalism takes place these techniques naturally fall out.


4 thoughts on “Propaganda

  1. Great idea for a post! You are right – I was familiar with many of the six techniques but really hadn’t thought about how more than 1-2 might apply in “the great rift.” We often think about propaganda being used primarily to change minds, particularly to influence those who have not made up their minds yet. But it is also quite useful for maintaining group cohesion and advancing tribalism. It ends up being a useful way to deepen the divide for those who benefit from such a divide.

  2. Until recently, I had been disengaged from the online Atheist and Skeptic communities since about 2007. Since jumping back in during the summer, it’s been really difficult to understand what’s going on. Part of what I see is a manifestation of a bigger counter-feminist insurgence that goes far beyond the Atheist and Skeptic domains, and now it is becoming more visible as a problem in scientific professions. For all of the alleged “group think” faults that may be had by AtheismPlus and its defenders, I think their core mission is good. Their behavior is affected by a very big, self-organized counter-feminist harassment machine that is mercilessly attacking women in all corners of American life. I’m sure that there are plenty of young members of AtheismPlus who are trying to develop their thinking in an increasingly hostile climate, and it isn’t surprising if they become aggressive (and not always rational) in response. I tend to believe that most people in the Atheist and Skeptic circles are not tribalists, and that some of what looks like tribalism results from an environment of threat.

    The counter-feminist movement is a problem. It is particularly active in the tech industry and seems to be erupting in silicon valley software startups. The counter-feminist community is cable of launching twitter and email attacks on women (or girls) who’ve done nothing more than tweet a modest opinion. In the press we usually see these harassment campaigns focused on “feminist activists,” but the reality is that a lot of women are being cast as “activists” simply for stating opinions on twitter. The victims of these harassment campaigns are usually not expecting it and are not prepared for it.

    From a strictly Skeptical perspective, I think some of the SkepChick activities are really appropriate because the counter-fems promulgate a lot of factually erroneous memes and myths. Mythbusting is an important part of Skepticism, and as such I think feminist issues belong in the conversation.

  3. The BBC documentary series, The Century of Self, is worth watching for the information on Bernays and Freud, though I have not done much reading in this area lately.
    It is worth learning about the mechanics of propaganda, so that you can identify it (if nothing else). I have noticed that some people are resistant to familiarizing themselves with this material, whilst concurrently claiming that propaganda and more insidious manipulation is widespread. Speculation leads me to wonder if this contradiction is born some individuals’ desire to portray every fact that does not fit with their worldview as ‘propaganda’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s