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  • Writer's pictureBarry Shirley


Hi Guys. In this March 2021 blog (Issue15) – I would like to contemplate the subject of resisting so called ‘fake news/deliberate falsehoods’ (otherwise known as propaganda) and how aspects of mindfulness can help. I realise I have already covered part of this subject in Issue 11 (October 2020) but I think it is so important to be as discerning as you can be and this current issue should be read in conjunction with Issue 11 (‘Using Hindu philosophy to understand the concept of fake news”).

As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into all the worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. These blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched).

What is ‘fake news’ or propaganda, as it is historically known? An excellent article from The Guardian (from over 2 years ago - 31 Jan 2018) by Natalie Nougayrede suggests the following; “Most of us tend to focus on how disinformation spreads across our societies – the bots, the trolls, the technological machinery of ‘fake news’. We spend perhaps too little time thinking about the very essence of propaganda: the ingredients that go into a dish meant to captivate us, play on our emotions, and control what we think. If you are able to break those ingredients down, you become less vulnerable.”

How do you resist ‘fake news’ or propaganda? A lot of people can instantly recognise propaganda and can use their so-called ‘bullshit’ meter to detect it! They, perhaps, have got used to it and more easily engage a fact checking mechanism.

However, a lot of people, for whatever reason, simply cannot do this, and the ‘fake news’ or propaganda may be particularly appealing to their long-held beliefs. Whilst there is a larger debate, the implications of recent US events (i.e. storming of the Congress building), alarming as it was, could easily affect us here in Australia if we are not too careful.

The Guardian journalist indicated that, in the 1930s an American professor at Columbia, Clyde R. Miller drew up a list of criteria that he believed defined propaganda. It is quite relevant to today’s environment, where populism and demagoguery have risen to prominence. His criteria have seven common propaganda devices which I have reproduced in very reduced form below (his words).

1. Name calling is a device to make us form a judgement without examining the evidence on which it should be based. Here the propaganda appeals to our hate and fear.

2. Glittering generalities is a device by which the propaganda identifies his program with virtue by use of “virtue words”. Here he appeals to our emotions of love, generosity, and brotherhood. He uses words like truth, freedom, honour, liberty, social justice, public service, the right to work, loyalty, progress, democracy, the American way.

3. Transfer is a device by which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept. For example, most of us respect and revere our church and our nation. If the propagandist succeeds in getting church or nation to approve a campaign on behalf of some program, he thereby transfers its authority, sanction and prestige to that program. Thus, we may accept something which otherwise we might reject.

4. The Testimonial device is employed to make us accept anything, from a patent medicine to a program of national policy. The propagandist secures statements or letters from prominent people with the expectation that the crowd will follow the leader.

5. The Plain Folks device is used by politicians, labor leaders, businessmen, and even by ministers and educators to win our confidence by appearing to be common people like ourselves – “Just plain folks among the neighbours”. In election years especially, candidates show their devotion to our little children.

6. The Card Stacking device is employed by the propagandist when he tells us only part of the truth. He uses under emphasis and over emphasis to dodge issues and evade facts. He draws a red herring across the trail to confuse and divert those in quest of the truth.

7. The Band Wagon device is used to make us follow the crowd, to accept the propagandist’s program en masse. The theme of this type of propaganda may be summed up in the statement, “Everybody’s doing it; come along and follow the great majority, for it can’t be wrong”.

He then added, “Observe that in all these devices our emotion is the stuff with which propagandists work. Without it they are helpless; with it, harnessing it to their purposes, they can make us glow with pride or burn with hatred; they can make us zealots on behalf of the program they espouse.”

NB: This was written in the 1930’s during the rise of Nazism and Fascism (when propaganda was used to deadly effect) and has interesting parallels to the current threats to democracy and centrism.

Eastern and western philosophy should provide us with some answers to the dangerous allure of populism, patriotism, nationalism, tribalism and modern demagoguery (and just plain old ignorance). In this regard Greek philosophy (mainly Aristotle and Plato) gives us the word ‘nous’ as the basic understanding or awareness that allows human beings to think rationally and also for that faculty of the human mind to determine what is true or real.

There is much discussion in the various philosophical works as to how perception operates and there was much argument as to how nous could in fact be more of a spiritual or divine aspect. Plato seemed to suggest that nous simply meant ‘good sense’ but later emphasised that it was of an innate nature, beyond sense perception.

‘Plato’s’ cave is a famous allegory presented in his work, ‘Republic’ and illustrates how people who believe in empirical knowledge can be trapped in a ‘cave’ of misunderstanding.

Plato writes about how Socrates described a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are, in fact, the prisoners’ reality but obviously are not accurate representations of the real world. One prisoner is supposedly freed from the cave and (long story short) whilst in sunlight sees that what is in the cave is not reality and realises that those in the cave would not necessarily believe him and would want to stay in there.

The following text is taken from Wikipedia which in turn reflects an article by Marc Cohen (2006) “The Allegory of the Cave”. -

“The allegory contains many forms of symbolism used to instruct the reader in the nature of perception. The cave represents superficial physical reality. It also represents ignorance, as those in the cave live accepting what they see at face value. Ignorance is further represented by the darkness that engulfs them because they cannot know the true objects that form the shadows, leading them to believe the shadows are the true forms of the objects. The chains that prevent the prisoners from leaving the cave represent that they are trapped in ignorance, as the chains are stopping them from learning the truth. The shadows cast on the walls of the cave represent the superficial truth, which is the illusion that the prisoners see in the cave. The freed prisoner represents those who understand that the physical world is only a shadow of the truth, and the sun that is glaring the eyes of the prisoners represents the higher truth of ideas. The light further represents wisdom, as even the paltry light that makes it into the cave allows the prisoners to know shapes.”

There are many interpretations of this, but I think the life lessons that can be taken away are;

1. Don’t mistake sensory knowledge (empirical knowledge) for the truth (e.g. a lot of people in the world think like this),

2. Don’t take anything at face value, don’t assume anything and don’t jump to any conclusions.

3. Dare to think clearly, rationalise, reason, use logic and if need be analyse your long-held beliefs.

Aristotle’s famous quote regarding a warning against overgeneralising or jumping to conclusions is; “One swallow does not make a summer; neither does one day. Similarly, neither can one day, or a brief space of time make a man blessed and happy.” And, is a warning against bad induction (i.e. making a universal claim on the basis of too few particular instances).

In a general sense, I have covered clear thinking, logic, and various methods of proving facts in my previous post, number 11 – please refer to it for those aspects. Also, there is a very large body of research and philosophy on the concept of truth itself, which can be further researched on the internet.

It is suggested that fake news and propaganda is more harmful in this age of social media algorithms and can easily be labelled as evil. Also, given the fact that it can, not only change your opinion but can ‘brainwash’ you, cause mass hysteria and literally drag you from your armchair into extreme, unhelpful emotions. It can also cause radicalisation leading to violence to others, as we have seen in the USA recently, and constantly unfolding around the world, where people’s way of life is under assault.

The Hindu Vedic philosophy identifies three modes of nature (prakriti – from which all matter is made or arises) called the three Gunas, which might affect how receptive you are to the modern flood of information at any one time. These are called; Sattva, Rajas and Tamas which are said to cyclically drive our mental constitution constantly. With some basic knowledge of wellbeing you should be able to balance or consciously alter your guna levels to bring you nearer to an ideal state of mind (balanced).

In a basic sense: Tamas is a state of darkness, inertia (laziness), inactivity, materiality and a depressed state of mind; Rajas is a state of energy, action, change and movement including a dominant ego state; Satvva is as state of harmony, balance, joy and intelligence, light, clarity and calmness (and of consciousness). We will feel certain gunas or combinations of them during the day and our more harmful habits or emotions can be changed to better serve a Satvvic direction or at first a Rajasic/Satvvic combination. These elements are almost similar to Yin and Yang in Chinese philosophy – (i.e. competing and complimentary elements but neither good nor bad).

In terms of making falsehoods/propaganda to harm persons, eastern philosophy does not appear to make any distinction between good and bad or good and evil.

However, non-harm is firmly mentioned in Indian philosophy and is called Ahimsa. In particular, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali include the 8 limbs of yoga (union of mind body and soul) and include the Yamas and Niyamas which are moral codes, values, principles and ethics required of living a good life.

NB: Patanjali was a Sage in ancient India and the sutras were attributed to and compiled by him over 2000 years ago (also from much older texts).

Ahimsa (Sanskrit word composite) is one of the practices of self-regulation (the 1st Yama) and translates to non-harming or non-violence in thought word or deed (including to yourself). It is an ancient Indian principle of nonviolence which relates to all living beings and is also included in Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism beliefs. The various texts also suggest that violence has karmic consequences.

The Bhagavad Gita (ancient Sanskrit Hindu teaching at least 3-5 thousand years old) also mentions ahimsa a number of times as a noble quality (at Slokas10.5, 13.8 and 16.2). The Gita basically denotes an allegorical battle between the forces of ego and the higher self with Krishna as the Supreme Soul teaching the warrior Arjuna (representing the best but flawed aspects of humanity) how to defeat the ego forces and discover the higher Self.


  • You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”. – Abraham Lincoln – 16th President of the United States (1809 – 1865).

  • "However [political parties] – (paraphrased from earlier parts of his long address) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion." Farewell Address, September 17, 1796 – George Washington – 1st President of the United States (b1732 – 1799).

  • “In times of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” And: “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history”. George Orwell – (1903 – 1950) British Novelist – from his book’1984 ‘.

  • “Truth is the same always. Whoever ponders it will get the same answer. Buddha got it. Patanjali got it. Jesus got it. Mohammed got it. The answer is the same, but the method of working it out may vary this way or that.” - Satchidananda Saraswati - Indian spiritual master, author (1914 – 2002).

  • “It became very clear to me that there was such a thing as truth and there was such a thing as justice, and that they could be found and, being found, could be taught. It seemed to me that that was the most valuable thing that one could pursue. So, I resolved to pursue this when I was twenty-one”. – Leon Maclaren (1910 -1994) – British philosopher and founder of the School of Economic Science (and various Schools of Philosophy around the world).

  • “The Truth is inseparable from who you are. Yes, you are the Truth. If you look for it elsewhere, you will be deceived every time” - Eckhart Tolle – German born resident of Canada– Spiritual Teacher, Author (from his book ‘A New Earth’).


  • Be more discerning about the information you receive – make a choice only after deliberating.

  • Use logic, reasoning and not the ego.

  • Intuition may also be useful.

  • Go inwards (consciousness/spirit/soul) to the truth that does not need defending!

  • Try meditation, try yoga.

Compiled by Baz Shirley.


*See also:

Instagram: @bazabstractart - Facebook: Barry Shirley

And all my previous posts on:*

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