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Seven Hallmark Tricks of the Manipulative Propagandist

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It's often frustrating to get your ideas out - the public at large can be uncaring, even outright hostile. However, some methods for breaking down those barriers are manipulative, rather than honest; they appeal to the baser instincts and desire for self-flattery. While the following seven tricks may be useful for politicians and preachers trying to score points, we strongly urge that you examine your messages and tactics to see that you don't one of them.

  • Name Calling, also known as ad hominem. This technique ignores the issue at hand to attack the person or organization behind it, usually by little more than hanging a bad label on an idea.
  • Card Stacking. Selective use of facts or outright falsehoods. This is very frustrating when your opponents do it to you; however, don't sink to their level by making up your own lies! The best way to confront this is to call them out on their distortion, and explain just how wrong they are.
  • Band Wagon. The claim that everyone like us thinks this way. Besides being coercively conformist, this technique implicitly excludes people who disagree with you, making them into alien "others" and blocking meaningful dialogue.
  • Testimonial. The association of a respected or hated person with an idea. Your ideas should speak for themselves; you don't need the appeal of authorities to promote them.
  • Plain Folks. This technique presents the speaker as an average person, one who can empathize with the audience. While you certainly should empathize with others, you can do this best by explaining your common ground, rather than presuming that you speak from the same interests and background.
  • Transfer. The assertion of a connection between something valued or hated and the issue at hand. Honest communication requires you to explain why you should value or not value something, rather than simply assert that it is so.
  • Glittering generality. An association of something with a "virtue word" that people will have a hard time opposing. Words such as "democracy", "freedom", and "patriotism" have very positive connotations, but without qualification are so abstract as to be meaningless. Be sure that if you use such a word or phrase, you explain carefully its context and meaning.
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