Paul Joseph Goebbels was a bad man… a very bad man.
He was one of Hitler’s closest friends and in charge of the Nazi propaganda effort.
He was a professional liar.
Perhaps that’s why, as the good guys tore down his door, he had his six kids injected with morphine and then crushed cyanide pills into their mouths. As they died, he and his wife walked outside and took their own lives.
Pushing deadly propaganda will do that to a man.
Lie. Repeat. Lie. Repeat.
It’s obvious that Goebbels was quite good at his bad job.
He convinced millions of folks to follow a grand set of lies.
He pulled off what many thought impossible thanks to a simple mantra.
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth,” he taught his subordinates.
Sad, isn’t it?
But look around. The idea did not die when Goebbels’ lifeless body buckled to the ground.
In fact, we’d argue it’s more alive than ever.
But scientists have been quite careful to detach this psychological trick from the Nazi master of lies. These days, they call this mind trick the “illusion of truth” effect.
It’s quite a simple idea. It’s just as Goebbels said. Say something enough and eventually folks will believe you… no matter how heinous the idea.
It worked in Germany, and it works in the lab.
Scientists at Vanderbilt University recently tested the idea. They asked participants the same questions over and over. They were typical true or false questions with easy answers. Alaska is the largest state, may have been one. Delaware is the smallest state, could have been another.
Most folks knew which statements were true at the start of the test.
But after asking the same wrong question over and over… something peculiar happened. The truth was lost. Suddenly, Delaware would become the nation’s smallest state in many minds.
The evidence was clear. The more something was repeated… the truer it became.
Dr. Lynn Hasher was one of the first to discover the effect. “Repetition makes things seem more plausible,” she wrote while doing research at the University of Toronto. “And the effect is likely more powerful when people are tired or distracted by other information.”
We pause there… and weep.
Hasher’s words echo through our mind like the final words of a dying friend.
Repetition… more plausible… distracted by information.
It’s scary stuff, especially if we have the guts to look around.
And we did.
We found that a quick web search of “Trump wall” gives us 779 million results.
Tapping a few more letters on our keyboard, we see the oh-so-trivial phrase “no Oscar host” gives us 124 million results.
Indeed, we’re a tired and distracted nation.
But this bevy of the same information hitting us over and over again isn’t limited to the web.
Turn on the TV. It’s the same stories over and over.
The sound bites may not have started as the truth… but they are now.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
The problem has even made its way into our email inbox. Earlier this week, several folks sent me a link to the same sad story.
It’s a repeat of so many stories we’ve read over the last year or two.
Men are bad, it leads the reader to believe.
But what’s scary – and what Goebbels would be so proud of – is how this story has been built and expanded.
For two years now, we’ve been told “toxic masculinity” is bad. The names of many men have hit the headlines as their poisonous deeds are exposed and magnified.
According to Google, the term “toxic masculinity” is on the web in more than 9 million places.
It’s been repeated on the nightly news… in newspapers… in movies… and even in Washington.
It’s been repeated so much, many Americans now believe this twist of words. They’re convinced that it’s not bad behavior that’s the culprit… it’s those damned men. All of them.
And with one successfully propagated lie comes another.
Expanding the Definition
Get this. The story that’s being repeated in so many places this week doesn’t even mention “toxic masculinity.”
Nope, it’s been replaced with a new lie.
“The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression – is, on the whole, harmful,” it says, with our emphasis added.
Goodbye, toxic masculinity… Now we’re going after the evils of traditional masculinity.
But what’s craziest is who said those dangerously powerful words above.
It was the American Psychological Association.
The group defines this so-called traditional masculinity “as a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”
Boys… we’re in trouble.
We’re now dubbed as sick or dangerous if we hold “traditional” views… like seeing the value of getting strong or setting out on an adventure with our son.
Like we said… repeat an idea enough and it becomes the law of the land.
Men are bad. Men are bad. Men are bad.
The “illusion of truth” effect is powerful stuff.
The Nazis made it famous. But our modern culture is ensuring it remains alive and well.
Be a man. Think for yourself.