Game of Cults: The Eye-Opening Psychology of Propaganda and Mass Communication

The history of propaganda

If you study the conflicting ideologies of communism, capitalism, and fascism, you’ll see that they all share one trait—disdain for the public.

And maybe that’s… reasonable.

In surveys, 80% of people believe they are above average in intelligence, yet spend a day out with your fellow man, and you may begin to question what constitutes “average” intelligence.

Of course, average intelligence follows a standard distribution, with 68% of the population falling to the right or left of a mathematical average. Furthermore, most people don’t know their IQ or where they fall on the spectrum of intelligence.

Even back in the days of Ancient Greece, Aristotle noted that democracy would devolve if the general public was allowed to determine society’s course.

Before the Great War, Leninist Russia deployed an aggressive propaganda campaign, mainly on its people. This was to help the proletariat understand the benefits of communism, given the elite felt the public was too stupid to understand their plight and its cause.

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In those days, illiteracy was high, and concepts were complex given the differences between communism and a monarchy where serfs were labor-tied to the land.

The Party used a national propaganda campaign to re-orient its internal view of the USSR. We will revisit their external demoralization campaigns later. You’ll be shocked to see how these active measures are effective and are currently destabilizing Ukraine and the United States.

The Great War resulted in all participating nations adopting aggressive internal and external propaganda campaigns.

After the War, the various nations reviewed the impact of propaganda.

Here is one person’s review:

 “On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials, and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas.

These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.

If this principle is forgotten and if an attempt is made to be abstract and general, the propaganda will turn out ineffective, for the public will not be able to digest or retain what is offered to them in this way.

Therefore, the greater the scope of the message that must be presented, the more necessary it is for the propaganda to discover the plan of action that is psychologically the most efficient.

The worst of all was that our people did not understand the very first condition that has to be fulfilled in every kind of propaganda: a systematically one-sided attitude towards every problem to be dealt with. In this regard, so many errors were committed, even from the beginning of the war, that it was justifiable to doubt whether so much folly could be attributed solely to the stupidity of people in higher quarters.”

Those words were lifted from the chapter on propaganda in Mein Kampf. Adolf Hitler’s observations on the effectiveness of the Allied propaganda on Germany.

He was an adept student and took propaganda to a new level before and during the Second World War.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt also paid attention. National propaganda was ramped up, first to sell the New Deal and Great Society and then to support the war effort.

In the United States, propaganda strategies used during the war were geared toward consumerism and the subversion of other governments. In the last article, I discussed how Edward Bernays became a leader in the use of propaganda after the war. He was so well known that Hitler tried to hire him to help with National Socialism.

While these political ideologies are diametrically opposed in some cases, they all agree that the most effective method of communicating and conditioning a massive population is to influence the individual through groupthink.

This is cult behavior at a national level—an orchestrated process to get you to have a particular sentiment about your country and those within it.

Look at what we are dealing with right now in the culture wars. First off, that name is designed to trigger the Us versus Them mindset. The idea is that there are those who want you to change your ideas or beliefs from the current status quo.

Because we create a pseudo-environment integral to our identity, those challenges are perceived as attacks upon ourselves.

 “War on…”

 “Save the…”

You can fill in the blanks.

All of this is propaganda, and when you move to your pre-frontal cortex to analyze these ideas instead of feeling them in your amygdala, you can be rational and understand that this is where our representatives and leaders want us.


Because when we devolve into an emotional mob, we become an interest-based voting block, one that isn’t all on the same public commons but a virtual one. Something that can be statistically evaluated and counted on to deliver votes or act in a concerted way.

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It’s easier to appeal to the sentiment of a mob than to rationally address all the nuances of an individual’s concerns. The reality is most people don’t consider themselves all in on any political party, and few agree with all of their party’s platforms. Therefore, to make reelection easier, propaganda is used to influence you.

Lasswell’s model of communication

Another of Bernays’s peers was Harold Lasswell. Lasswell was instrumental in codifying and systematizing propaganda for use in mass communication.

Lasswell’s model of communication involves five simple questions to help you refine your communication.

  1. Who?
  2. Says What?
  3. In Which Channel?
  4. To Whom?
  5. With What Effect?

Have you ever given this level of thought to your marketing?

Most advertising copy and messaging are copied. These swipe files and templates are your undoing.

Your messaging needs to be on-brand and original. Before its message can be heard today, it needs to be seen and trusted.

If your messaging is identical to every other author in tone and delivery, you become background noise.

The prevailing wisdom is to focus on getting the attention. Do some gimmick to stop the scroll.

Okay. But then what?

Another gimmick?

Instead, use Lasswell’s model to determine a deliberate communication strategy.

His model was the prevailing method used throughout the 1950s and 60s for television.

One more thing…

​​​​​​​If you’re running any advertising right now, apply Lasswell’s questions to the program.

Does that communication align with your brand promise?

Read: How a Simple Poll Can Enhance Reader Sentiment and Book Sales