Monday, April 28, 2008

notes on history. (note: i am not a historian.)

We've been studying World War II at school, which has gotten me to thinking about victory gardens, social persuasion, and the power of propaganda for good.

Whenever I read accounts of the war effort at home, I am confounded by the fact that the government simply asked people to constrain their use of certain goods and resources, and most of them just did it. Huh? How much would political popularity plummet if we were asked to only buy three pairs of shoes a year?

Not buying as many items as usual isn't so difficult, but growing a huge plot of vegetables is work - and still, people did it. 20 million people started gardens of their own and up to 40% of the produce nationwide came from them. Michael Pollan can ask us nicely and eloquently to throw some tomato seeds in the ground, but his message will only reach a relatively small percentage of people and most of those who do read it will probably be too busy to actually act on his request.

Which makes me wonder: why DID propaganda work?

Not all of the posters were as heavy-handed as this one [see many more here], but I still look at this and laugh, wondering how anyone could buy such a thing.

Obviously, propaganda can be used for very bad things, but I don't really have a problem with it being used for positive things like recycling, growing your own food, buying less, driving less and so on. So why wouldn't it work today? Is it because we're not at war? (Even though, technically we are.) Is it because our economy is strong and we don't want to give up our niceties? (Oh wait, it's not, and we're already doing that.) I can come up with lots of theories and speculation, but I don't know the real answers. I just wonder if a little guilt with a little persuasion wouldn't have to be a terrible thing.

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