Lying About Goals is a Propaganda Tactic

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash

One thing that propagandists and hustlers do is to peddle one approach to reaching a goal without admitting that both the Left and Right have the same goal. Worse, from a propaganda standpoint, all sides have various values and goals in play. Whether the subject is gun control or climate change or the economy, neither side has a single overarching value or goal driving their thinking. This is not an article about gun control, but I will use it to illustrate this point.

The Goal of Gun Control

What can we do about gun violence in the United States? Is there a gun violence problem, or is it something else? Plenty of people have opinions. Unfortunately, those opinions are often worthless for a variety of reasons. Lack of relevant knowledge is the main reason you can disregard an opinion.

On a philosophical level, I think everyone agrees that you should have some understanding of a topic before forming a strong opinion. We also know that people don’t always operate that way. Some opinions take hold without a good logical or factual foundation. Opinions on guns and crime are no different.

Which of these statements have you bought into, whether you are for or against strict gun control laws.

  1. Americans use guns to defend themselves or other people over 2 million times per year.
  2. The United States is so safe because so many citizens are armed.
  3. Most Americans oppose new gun control laws.
  4. Having a gun in the home makes the home safer.

Now, do you know why those statements are correct or incorrect? Do you want the statement to be true or not true? Or, does your opinion spring from having valid data on violence, crime, and accidents?

You can’t evaluate anyone’s claims unless you understand the subject. Some people don’t want you to do that, understand the subject. Their goal is to “sell” an idea. The idea might concern the cause of the problem — and these ideas are often even more important than ideas about solving the problem. I’ll return to that point in another article.

Note that both the Left and Right do this. They argue in favor of one goal or against another. They do not admit that the real goal might be the same. Gun control opponents and gun control supporters may have other goals, but public safety is definitely one of them.

The Real Goal, or “a” Real Goal

What if the gun control debate is really about public safety. Newer gun control laws might improve public safety by keeping guns away from criminals and deranged people. Or not. Maybe it makes better sense to keep current gun laws or even roll back some of the current laws. If more law-abiding citizens are carrying guns, public safety will be enhanced.

Sometimes, the goal is really the same but the approach differs. Jane Citizen and Joe Citizen are concerned about public safety, but they legitimately disagree on the issue of gun control.

Value and Goal Confusion

Gun control seems to have the valid goal of increasing public safety. Now, people disagree over whether new gun control laws will actually help. They don’t question the goal, only the means. Others doubt the “real” goal is to enhance public safety.

Sometimes when people feel triggered, they are responding to an idea that undermines one of their values. Gay marriage, gun control, socialism, male privilege, feminism, and a long list of other topics can be triggering in this way. All of those ideas challenge the values of some group, often a large group.

But, values are involved in all solutions to all social problems. If you want to make healthcare “free” (taxpayer-funded) you are attacking someone’s values. If you want to pass a law defining marriage as one man and one woman, you are threatening someone else’s values.

These real and perceived threats to our values can be turned against us. If you are against gun control, you can divert attention from the public safety angle to talk about values that are under attack. If you ever doubted that ideas can be weaponized, the gun control debate should convince you.

Lying About Goals

This propaganda tactic is so common and (should be) so obvious that it doesn’t merit a long discussion. Politicians and pundits often resort to misrepresenting the other side, or just lying about their goals. You’ve heard the claims before:

> Democrats want to disarm us and turn us into slaves.

> Republicans want to recreate the Wild West.

> Liberals want to make everyone dependent on the government.

> Conservatives want to destroy the welfare state.

In reality, no one can back up any of those statements with reference to data, legislation, or party platforms. At most, only 25% of Democrats would support a ban on handgun ownership, according to a Gallup poll. This means that support for a total gun ban has to be no higher. It is equally misleading to say that Republicans oppose gun control. See the same link for verification.

The “Different Goals” Problem

The most common form of different goals problem comes when one side or another only seems to have a certain goal when they are actually working on something else. Dan Democrat hates “rednecks” and wants to hobble their lifestyle as much as possible. Attacking gun ownership through legislation makes sense for him. Rob Republican constantly worries about his Constitutional right being eroded by an increasing out-of-touch and authoritarian government. Rob does not want his gun rights curtailed.

In summary, many people actually have the same goal regarding a social problem. Both sides of the gun control debate might actually want to enhance public safety, but that goal can be undermined by people who actually have other, competing goals. Those interest groups have plenty of tools at their disposal, including lying about the other side’s goal and making statements that are impossible to evaluate.



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Chester Davis

Chester Davis


Sociologist, blogger, and sci-fi writer who cares about sociological thinking, science fiction, sustainability, social change, and nonprofits