Russell Baldwin | October 17, 2019 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Looking at Russian propaganda posters at the Tate Modern | Flickr

In my first blog, I described how a personal narrative is a compilation of all of the experiences, experiments, and information that one encounters in their lifetime. The knowledge regarding how narratives form and how influential they are to a person’s behavior is not new. Propaganda has a long history that begins as far back as the age of Athens (1). What is new is the expertise of the propagandists and the incredible reach of social media and other electronic communications methods. 

One of the things my first blog does is attempt to define propaganda: “Propaganda isn’t an easy thing to define, but most students agree that it has to do with any ideas or beliefs that are intentionally propagated.” Wait… Ideas? Beliefs? These are synonyms for narrative. Remember that ideas have a physical manifestation in the brain. So combining and expanding a little bit, propaganda is the process of using symbols, hints, images, memes, emotional appeals, repetition, slogans, slurs and other suggestions to create a powerful lasting narrative to influence people’s behavior. Propagandists quite literally create living quarters in our heads if we let them.

There is a joke I once heard that goes like this: A duck was paddling on the surface of a pond when he looks down into the water and sees two fish. The duck says, “Hey how’s the water down there?” The fish look up at him and say in unison, “What water?” The joke is more instructive than humorous. We all live in an existence defined by our narrative that we are not even aware of how we “swim” in it on a daily basis. Even when someone asks us a question that nudges us to recognize our bias, we often cannot see it. It is especially difficult when we have other “fish” who share our primary assumptions and beliefs to back us up in our position.

What does this joke have to do with propaganda? Everything. Imagine if you grew up in a household where your parents controlled everything you learned and experienced. Your parents taught you all the usual information about writing, math, biology, chemistry and physics. They taught you how to read and give speeches. The only difference is that when it comes to astrophysics, they taught you the earth is flat. They carefully omit or redact every textbook, video, physics and space reference and exploration history presented to you. They create the “water you swim in” with that piece of propaganda inserted. They have built a structure in your head that contains the narrative “flat earth” and missing is the more traditional astronomical arrangement. 

Back to the definition of propaganda as ideas “that are intentionally propagated”. There is almost no space in that description for differentiation between objective reality and fiction. Outside of direct experience, ideas can range from the fantastical to the everyday “taken for granted”. Between these two extremes exist many of the common narratives about our existence that we encounter all the time and many give little question to. Some examples of narratives that are not objectively buttressed by reality are political parties, religions, nationalities, and human races. These are also ideas that “are intentionally propagated”, therefore propaganda.

Some readers are probably objecting strenuously right now. Religion is propaganda!? Yes, in fact I would argue that not only does it fit the definition, it often leads to negative behavior. At the very least, it stifles investigation into other spiritual/wisdom traditions. Another common, taken for granted propaganda meme, is the story of Santa Claus and other childhood mythical icons like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny. Although seemingly innocent, these narratives erode two extremely important psychological bulwarks of sanity. The stories when revealed eat into the child’s trust of their parents and undermine their sense of reality. In addition, unfortunately, we live in a world filled with all different types of propaganda that shape our sense of who we are and guide our behavior. 

The two fish, the child that knows nothing about the earth other than it is flat and the child that is convinced that Santa Claus brought the presents have (at least) one thing in common. They all have physical structures in the brain where these ideas exist. While there is no challenge to the ideas, they will remain as an integral part of how they see the world. Of course, most fish will probably live their entire lives without realizing that there is anything outside of the liquid world. Many people too will remain unaware that fabrication underlies their closely held beliefs. We are now entering a phase of humanity where we must break through our shared delusion, repel propaganda and act on a newly developed clarity of vision based on a solid worldview.

I describe the concept of a narrative, and how I protect it, in my first blog. Another way to look at it is how I became aware or awake by minimizing or dismantling the false idea structures in my brain formed by propaganda. This is nothing new and there are scholars and teachers who look at it in different ways. One blog describes a “basic definition of awakening is that you realize what is real” (2). I highly recommend that the reader peruse the blog and see what works for them. I realize at this point some of you may feel a little betrayed. 

Possibly you have dabbled in meditation or feel you are “woke” already and that if you had known what the conclusion of the blog post is, you might not have read it. If this is you, congratulations, and I hope to see you on the activist trail. I wrote this blog to those people that understand science and are leery of metaphysics. Those people that are convinced they know the answers in the rational, logical way and think they are immune to propaganda because they know the facts. To these people I say, “question all your assumptions.” Delve into your closely held beliefs. Dig into those concepts of nationalism, religion, dogma and forever growth capitalism. You might find that these ideas are just the blood fed connections in your brain propped up by the fish all around you saying, “what water?”



Russell Baldwin is a full time Forensic Scientist in southern California. In 2015 he realized the extent of eco-damage that humanity has/is doing to the Earth and has become an activist.


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  • Russell Baldwin

    Wow, thank you all for the excellent feedback. I look forward to reading the suggested links and I will give feedback if you wish.

    And yes John, I am looking for any information that challenges entrenched belief systems. We are failing at the most critical task of planetary support and maintenance, so clearly many or our current ideas need to be torn down and replaced!

  • johnmerryman

    Narrative is itself a bias. We are mobile organisms with a sequential thought process, in order to navigate. Then tell stories of our journeys to one another and build cultures out of the collected knowledge. For one thing, the stories with the more powerful conclusions are the ones most repeated, so we think life should be leading to some figurative, or literal pot of gold at the end of the narrative arc.
    Also that we model time as the point of the present, moving past to future, when it is change, turning future to past. Tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns.
    Even physics codifies this flow as measures of duration, but duration is the present, as events come and go. There is no “dimension” of time, because the past is consumed by the present, in order to inform and drive it. Causality and conservation of energy.
    So time is an effect, like temperature, pressure, color, etc. We could use ideal gas laws to correlate volume with temperature and pressure, but on one calls them the 5th and 6th dimensions of space, because they are only foundational to our emotions, bodily functions and environment, not the sequence of thought.
    So the process goes past to future, while the patterns generated go future to past. Consciousness goes past to future, while thoughts go future to past. Lives go birth to death, while life moves onto the next generation, shedding the old.
    The feedback being the patterns define and direct the process.
    Here is an essay I wrote, as to how this affects our relationship with nature;
    Basically we reject what we have, for the dreams we want.

  • César Valdivieso

    The approach is very interesting because it clarifies many things.
      The majority of the inhabitants of planet Earth are raised in the belief that there are supernatural beings that have inspired some privileged humans to write “sacred” norms of behavior, some of them at odds with fundamental human rights and common sense. Also, the bulk of the world’s population has grown with the idea that the meaning of existence consists in consuming as many products as possible and getting rich in order to acquire them. A high number of “bright” economists and politicians were educated to promote the growth of economic values ​​to infinity, with the excuse that well-being is generated.
    What can be expected then from a large majority of ordinary people whose minds have been rooted in irrationality and consumerism and from leaders who do not accept that the resources and spaces of planet Earth are finite, limited and susceptible to be destroyed? The answer is simple: we are marching by leaps and bounds towards an environmental and social collapse of catastrophic magnitudes.
    I believe those of us who think that “are woke”, “that understand science and are leery of metaphysics”, and are convinced we “know the answers in the rational, logical way” and think we are “immune to propaganda”, must, for the sake of a healthy positive mind, to keep trying to open people’s eyes, even if all the scientific data continues to point towards collapse. But we must also be realistic and practical and use our capabilities to design in advance the truly sustainable world that will emerge from the ashes of what was destroyed by our ignorance.

  • Eric Lee

    A few words from ‘Master Zhen’ aka Donella Meadows, lead author of ‘Limits to Growth’ who kindly left us ‘Thinking in Systems: A Primer’, as free pdf: and, yes, I often have occasion to highly recommend reading it more than once.
    From Thinking in Systems:

    There is one leverage point that is even higher than changing a paradigm. That is to keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that no paradigm [belief system, ideology] is “true,” that everyone, including those that sweetly sing your own worldview, has a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe that is far beyond human comprehension. It is to “get” at a gut-level the paradigm that there are paradigms, and to see that that itself is a paradigm, and to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny. It is to let go into not-knowing, into what the Buddhists call enlightenment.

    It is in this space of mastery over paradigms that humans throw off addictions [their purpose-driven Calhoun-rat consumer life], live in constant joy [when not dealing with life debilitating situations], bring down empires, get locked up, or burned at the stake or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millennia.

    There is so much that could be said to qualify this list [see chapter six] of places to intervene in a system. It is a tentative list and its order is slithery. There are exceptions to every item that can move it up or down the order of leverage. Having had the list percolating in my subconscious for years has not transformed me into a Superwoman. The higher the leverage point, the more the system will resist changing it—that’s why societies often rub out truly enlightened beings.

    Magical leverage points are not easily accessible, even if we know where they are and which direction to push on them. There are no cheap tickets to mastery. You have to work hard at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of not-knowing. In the end, it seems that mastery has less to do with pushing leverage points than it does with strategically, profoundly, madly, letting go and dancing with the system.

  • JohnTaves

    Excellent article.

    Unfortunately the point of the article will be totally missed by population scientists in general, and Paul Ehrlich and the other administrators of the MAHB in specific. They won’t actually recognize, much less question, their assumptions. Population scientists are convinced they understand the fundamentals of the topic they are supposed to be experts on and cannot spot blatantly bogus assumptions even when I point them out. The administrators of the MAHB have told me several times that they are not interested in understanding population fundamentals. They have made it clear that they are committed to maintaining beliefs as if all beliefs are equally logical.

    I have written countless comments on this forum and have found nobody that is interested in questioning, much less recognizing their assumptions. The statements I make are generally simple. For example, I’ve stated that if your descendants average more than 2, everyone else on the planet can have zero babies, but still the population rises to the limit. Nobody has asked why this is relevant, nobody has challenged that statement, and of course, nobody has comprehended why this factual statement upends the belief system of our population scientists.

    When I do get a rare response, the response is to point out all the findings of our population scientists and the resulting belief system of those findings. They completely fail to recognize that if this statement shows their scientific techniques are inappropriate for the topic, it is idiotic to supply the conclusions from their findings in response to it. It’s like I said “your calculator is broken because it fails to add 3+4 correctly”, and in response I get “but we’ve calculated that we don’t owe money, so we are not in debt”!

    It will be interesting if Russell Baldwin wants to have his own beliefs and assumptions on this topic upended.