Persuasion is all around us in our daily lives. There was a time where persuasion was utilized to provoke an interest or attraction on an idea or business. While this is still the case throughout the years, that concept has evolved into something much more complex thanks to the use of technology and the media. From the Ancient Greeks and Aristotle’s emphasis on rhetoric to propaganda in the past till today. We see how the application of persuasion has changed to be more unethical from Aristotle’s time, through the beginning of propaganda, to today’s digital age.
It was during the fourth century B.C.E, where after the continuous fighting and wars, Greece had seen a more peaceful time and when the philosopher Aristotle wrote Rhetoric. Poleis set up smaller communities where each were designated in focusing on their own regional matters. However, poleis formed a rivalry, resulting in The Persian Wars and later introducing imperialism. This would awaken a new society that would need to come to terms in order to save their nation. Wanting peace, the Greeks decided on a government that would ensure peace (Floyd-Lapp 1). The new government system lead to a division in which persuasion was needed for officials to gain a following. At that time persuasion was used mainly in politics, but it was not yet known to the public of the rhetoric in political affairs. Aristotle believed that those skilled in persuasion should seek a career in politics. In fact, he would have encouraged those with the skill to use it for political advantage, even if it lacks integrity. Additionally, Aristotle knew that it was important for citizens to be aware of this, as it was in their best interest (Floyd-Lapp 3). Because of him, the study of rhetoric became an important part in Greek education, and eventually the core of liberal arts during the great Enlightenment and Renaissance age (4).
Aristotle’s work comes into play in explaining why rhetoric works with the development of comprehensive theories of persuasion or the three modes of persuasion. Aristotle describes Ethos, pathos, and logos as the three modes that affect a person’s judgment (Pratkanis and Aronson 53). Ethos are facts that are coming from a deemed credible source. The listener decides whether or not to trust the speaker based on their credibility. Pathos appeals are reliant on audience emotion to persuade. The emotion targets the audiences judgment and opinion. Lastly, logos appeals regards how much the audience knows, and based on their knowledge, they are able to decide whether or not to trust the speaker.
New ideologies in science, politics, religion, etc. sparked debates and the need for power which is still seen today all across the world. This led to the development of propaganda and when the three modes of persuasion were put more into practice. It has been seen all throughout history that political figures try to convince people by using dishonesty and propaganda for a political role or a following. Somehow everyone soaks up what they say and deem it true. People have a tendency of believing that public figures know it all and that he or she is a reliable source- ethos (or because of pathos or logos). With the development of the television and its’ news sources, it has become easier for words of these political figures to spread across the world. With the development for the internet, it has become increasingly easier for big named companies selling products to chime in on the race for power. Companies like Time Warner, The Walt Disney Company, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Viacom, and Bertelsmann all have the advantage of the power that comes with communication. Similar power to what a dictatorship would have (Bagdikian 3).
In the documentary Psywar, Sut Jhally, from the Media Education Foundation, contended, “what advertising tells us about happiness, is that the way to happiness is through the consumption of things” (Noble, Psywar 1:08:20-1:08:31). Up until the 1920s, advertising was all about the product itself, how it was made and how long it lasted, rather than what it could do for the needs of an individual. Edward Bernay was the first to develop propaganda which did not focus on the worth of a product. He suggested that a link be made with a product and the unconscious desire of the public. He believed that this would skyrocket consumption and production of a product.– he was right. Bernay took propaganda techniques, which was used for military psychological warfare during world war II and applied it to everyday life in a complex systematic way.
Consequently, the start of public relations had begun because of Bernay. His ideas of making a connection of product to a person’s unconscious desire encouraged many, if not all businesses during that time, till today, to do the same in hopes of greater benefits. This is how tobacco companies were able to get women to buy tobacco products. They advertised their product with the idea that women would be more empowered and liberated. During that time, there was an uproar in feminism and women empowerment, which made women the perfect targets for their marketing scheme( 1:12:00-1:14:00). The tobacco industry went on to advertise “healthy benefits” of smoking. They claimed that smoking can keep you thinner. Though this part was true, they failed not notify users of the consequences during that time period. This and more has been happening all in an indigenous ploy to attract more buyers. Since then, this form of subliminal advertisement, or propaganda, has become worse since the start of the digital age.
Studies done by researchers in the last decade found that today’s mass media can have an effect on us under some identifiable conditions. With this better understanding of persuasion, researchers have found that there are direct, and indirect effects of mass media (Pratkanis and Aronson 28). This is frightening to me as someone who utilizes the internet on an everyday basis because the media is indirectly telling me what to think. Not only that, but there is evidence that companies or corporations can track you through something called “single source” data and use what you have recently viewed or have purchased on the internet (29). This reminds me of some creepy syfy movies I have seen where mind control takes place.
The internet and the media has its “benefits”, but it’s the way that people in today’s digital age are too susceptible and oblivious to what’s going on that outweighs the “benefits”. Anthony Partikins and Elliot Aronson, the authors of The Age of Propaganda argue carefully that, “People can be persuaded both when they are in a mindless state and when they are thoughtful, but exactly how they are influenced in either of these two states differs considerably.” They go on to explain the routes of persuasion which are peripheral, when a person pays little attention in processing a message, and central, a person contemplates the message seeks further information (35).
This is especially frightening to me because in the peripheral route to persuasion, a person might only agree with the messenger if there is a significant cues that leads the listener to trust the speaker. For example, Aristotle’s theories of persuasion mentioned in the third paragraph (ethos logos and pathos). The listener ignores the argument and becomes persuaded by these cues. Central persuasion is when a person is being persuaded by the message the speaker is giving because the listener can articulate and come to a sense of understanding of what they are saying. Although this sounds a bit more promising than peripheral, the listener can still, undoubtedly, be persuaded if the speaker is persuasive and convincing enough to make the listener believe them. That is the power of persuasion.
“The computer and internet, added to one of the world’s largest quantity of mass media outlets. Have altered the way millions live their daily lives” (Bagdikian 2). In today’s digital age, knowing all that we know about subliminal mass media and propaganda, it’s appalling and frightening because these companies and corporations aren’t looking out for us, rather making us more susceptible to their mind control schemes so that we would want to purchase a product or service that we don’t actually need. Whatever you do or search online isn’t confidential because there are systems in place that track us. This has and will forever change our lives because we know we are being mind controlled in some way, but we ignore it. Centuries ago this type of power would have been considered witch craft.
Aristotle’s modes of persuasion has paved the way for a better understanding of the psyche in persuasion. He reiterated the importance of knowing the use of persuasion and the undeniable advantages of it. His ideas have been put into practice in a more complex and dishonest manner through the beginning of propaganda with subliminal advertising, til todays digit and the lack of privacy.