The Worst and the Best of Propaganda

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In this paper we discuss two issues addressed by Stanley in How Propaganda Works: the status of slurs (Section 1) and the notion of positive propaganda (Section 2). In particular, in Section 1 we argue contra Stanley that code words like ‘welfare’ are crucially different from slurs in that the association between the lexical item and an additional social meaning is not as systematic as it is for slurs. In this sense, slurs bring about a special kind of propagandistic effect, even if it typically concerns informal contexts rather than public debates. In Section 2, we consider positive propaganda and its relation to emotional effects. For Stanley, positive propaganda relies on the production of emotional effects, feature which risks to erode rational debates even if there is a good purpose behind. Instead, we argue that positive propaganda can work with no appeal to emotions. To this end, we focus on the use of ‘she’ as the default personal pronoun in academic writing and suggest that this measure can count as positive propaganda which rather than eroding rational debates by relying on emotional effects, closely resembles affirmative action aimed at counterbalance a pre-existing form of injustice and inequality.

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