Understanding Propaganda and Ethnocentrism in the Search for Truth

We are victims of propaganda everyday from advertisements, politicians and some news sources.  So, I think it is vitally important for us to be able to recognize propaganda.  In addition, everyone’s thinking is influenced by ethnocentrism and awareness of this natural bias will help us have greater understanding of the world and its people including ourselves.

According to Wikipedia.org, propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented.  Propaganda is used to sway our thinking by using manipulated half-truths that appeal to our emotions and bypass our rational thought.

While propaganda is external, ethnocentrism is internal.  Dictionary.com defines ethnocentrism as the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture, a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own.  It’s a natural belief that the way you live your life is the best and right way to live and that people who live differently are not as good as you.  Ethnocentric thinking is often diminished by military service and attending college where one may be exposed to many different cultures.  Following are some activities for overcoming ethnocentrism.

In Overcoming Ethnocentrism by Tony Mathews (8/23/2017) he suggests,

  • we can lessen the effects of ethnocentrism by recognizing that we all tend to be ethnocentric
  • we can recognize our own egocentric pride
  • we can cultivate friendships with people from different cultural groups
  • we can resist efforts on the part of people in our own cultural group to put down or perpetuate negative stereotypes (through jokes and snide remarks) of another cultural group
  • we can realize that we have an opportunity to exert a positive influence in building bridges between cultural groups


Now that we have some tools for recognizing our internal ethnocentric thinking, we can look at the elements of propaganda and how their external influence affect our thinking.  The link uvm.edu provided the following list of propaganda techniques to recognize.

  1. Name calling and stereotyping – labeling others or ideas with a pejorative name (tree-hugger, special-interest group)
  2. Glittering Generality – words used to dupe us into accepting things without careful examination (organic, natural, scientific)
  3. Deification – when an idea is made to appear holy or sacred and therefore above the law, while opposing ideas are seen as treasonous or blasphemous (God-given, right to..)
  4. Transfer, Guilt, Virtue-by-Association – when a symbol which carries respect, authority, sanction, and prestige and is used with an idea or argument to make it look more acceptable (American Flag, University Seal)
  5. Testimonial – when a respected celebrity or alternatively someone who is generally hated claims that an idea or product is good or bad is used to convince us without examining the facts more carefully
  6. Plain folks – this is a way that a speaker convinces an audience that an idea is good because they are the same ideas of the vast majority of people like yourself (The will of the people, most Americans)
  7. Band wagon – when the speaker tries to convince us to accept their point of view or else we will miss out on something really good (act now, be the first on your block)
  8. Artificial Dichotomy – when someone tries to claim there are only two sides to an issue and both sides must have an equal presentation in order to be evaluated.  This is used to dupe us into believing there is only one way to look at an issue when there may be many alternative viewpoints.  It simplifies reality and therefore distorts it to the advantage of the speaker
  9. Hot Potato – an inflammatory often untrue statement or question used to throw an opponent off guard or embarrass them (“Have you stopped beating your spouse?” or “When will you pay the taxes you owe?”)  The fact that it may be utterly untrue is irrelevant, because it still brings controversy to the opponent.
  10. Stalling or Ignoring the Question – this is used to play for more time or to avoid answering pointed questions (more research is needed, I am calling for an investigation)
  11. Least-of Evils – used to justify an otherwise unpleasant or unpopular point of view (war us hell but appeasement leads to worse disasters)
  12. Scapegoat – often used with guilt-by-association to deflect scrutiny away from the issues transferring blame to one person or group of people without investigating the complexities of the issue.
  13. Cause and Effect Mismatch – confuses the audience about what is really cause and effect.  The causes of most phenomena are complex and it is misleading to say just one of the following (Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria, Tuberculosis is caused by unregulated capitalism that creates poor working conditions, Tuberculosis is caused by a lack or effective antibiotics)
  14. Distortion of Data, Out of Context, Card Stacking, Cherry Picking – used to convince the audience by using selected information and not presenting the complete story.
  15. Weak Inference, False Cause – when a judgement is made with insufficient evidence, or that the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the evidence given (ducks and geese migrate south for the winter, therefore all waterfowl migrate south for the winter)
  16. Faulty Analogy, Slippery Slope – when a comparison is carried too far (the economy is following the path as right before the great depression, therefore we will experience a stock market crash soon, smoking pot will lead to heroin addiction)
  17. Misuse of Statistics – Average results are reported, but not the amount of variation around the averages. A percent or fraction is presented, but not the sample size. Absolute and proportional quantities are mixed in. Graphs are used that, by chopping off part of the scale or using unusual units or no scale distort the appearance of the results. Results are reported with misleading precision.
  18. Fear – “Of course the people don’t want war.  But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.  Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.  That is easy.  All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to great danger.”  Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials
  19. ad hominem Attack, Deflection – attack the messenger, instead of the argument or evidence that is presented.
  20. tu quoque Attack– when you respond to your opponent by accusing them of committing a logical fallacy or propaganda technique instead of addressing the claim of your opponents argument and evidence.
  21. Preemptive Framing – framing an issue before other people get a chance to (“The only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed, is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they were totally embarrassed” -Donald Trump.  When in fact the Dems did not lose big, nor was it their fault that they got hacked.)
  22. Diversion – when a major issue comes up that is embarrassing or threatening, so a diversion is created so attention is directed away from the issue.


Hopefully, being aware of ethnocentrism and the techniques of propaganda will help us to navigate current news and to become savvy consumers who can discern the real truth.

Published by


Concerned Citizen

2 thoughts on “Understanding Propaganda and Ethnocentrism in the Search for Truth”

  1. Education ( especially in the liberal arts tradition) is key to people having the tools to see through propaganda and to recognize ethnocentricism in themselves. An informed populace makes for a healthy democracy!


  2. Education is power… When I was an undergraduate at Rutgers, I was required to take two sememesters of intellectual heritage which provided a valuable foundation in critical thinking from the history of Western civilization. Maybe I take that thinking for granted, like its common knowledge when, in fact, it is not.


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