The 20th century witnessed the concurrent rise of sophisticated psychological manipulation techniques and the technology necessary to disseminate them broadly. The French philosopher Jacques Ellul set out to study modern propaganda in the 1960s. What he found should be a warning to us all. In one of the most insightful and revolutionary works written on the subject, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Ellul diverges from previous scholarship in that he considers propaganda to be a sociological phenomenon, one in fact that we cannot live without in modern technological society. Propaganda exists to adjust a normal person to an ever-changing social and technological environment which is profoundly abnormal given the vast majority of our evolutionary history.
It was past midnight and Dalia was on her way to pick her father from Logan airport. They hadn’t seen each other in over two years. As her beaten down white Toyota Corolla made its way through the brightly lit airport road it was hard for her to imagine that in only a few minutes the man who had been absent in her life during the past few years was going to be sitting in the seat next to her. His luggage was going to be placed into the trunk of her car, and in the cup holder he would place his bottle of sparkling water that he purchased from the vending machine at the terminal in Heathrow. The trapped smell of his cologne, cigarettes and the January wind from his coat would fill the space between them. Dalia had never been away from her father for so long. Only once she spent a weekend at a family friend’s house during a wedding in Yardley, Pennsylvania. But that was the longest she had gone without him. Partially it had to do with the fact that she never had a reason to be away from him, but mostly due to the fact he wouldn’t let her be without him. She had arrived at the airport; it was cold and chilly. The air traveled through every seam of her jacket, up her legs where the cold air tickled her skin to the bone. Dalia looked out the window of her car and put on her glasses; without them she couldn’t tell apart the women from the men. She sat there awkwardly in the car, searching for her father’s face.