Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)

by Gene Howington,  Guest Blogger

The Parthenon

In the beginning, there was the word. And when addressing propaganda, the word was either persuade or coerce. This is the essential nature of propaganda: to change (or re-enforce if you are already sympathetic) your mind on a particular issue. As the first article showed, the most basic tool of propaganda is connotation/implication. Before venturing into the depths of the lingua tactical of propaganda, I thought it might be useful to illustrate some non-verbal and indirect methods of propaganda.

First we must realize that propaganda is the cultivation of an image. An image that relies upon idea(s) the speaker wants associated with certain people, organizations or actions. To that end, propaganda is essentially image control: seeking to create mental associations in the viewer be they emotional or rational and spreading that image/association through out a given populace.  Keep in mind that literacy was for the bulk of human history limited to specialists such as scribes and/or the upper class who could afford education.

Very few people in the ancient world could read, but most of them could see.  What better way to communicate the power of those who run a society to those who cannot read than by using a non-verbal symbol to send a message?  Perhaps a symbol like a great building or monument. Something that says “we’re here, this is what we are about, this is our place and look what we can do” to the great unlearned masses. This form of propaganda is also as old as civilization. You could argue that it is older than modern civilization, stretching back to the late Neolithic period.

A temple area with megalithic pillars at Göbekli Tepe.

Consider Göbekli Tepe, a set of Neolithic religious structures located in what is now southeastern Turkey.  At approximately 12,000 years old, Göbekli Tepe predates Egyptian culture by five or six thousand years. But is it propaganda? Let’s examine the basic criteria of propaganda as applied to this structure to see if it qualifies.

Carved relief of a lion at Göbekli Tepe.

Does it send a message? Yes. In its most basic form, it is a statement of religious ideology. At the deepest levels of the sites, many of the upright pillars are decorated with the nature based symbolics commonly found at Neolithic religious sites such as lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles and other predator and prey species. You can even see the message change over time as their religion changed. Moving up through the layers of the dig, newer decorations include human figures. As an aside, many archaeologists place considerable significance on this change in message taking it to mark the transition from a culture where nature inclusive of man is worshiped to a system of belief where man is elevated above nature.

Is it designed for public consumption? Yes. All the evidence points to Göbekli Tepe being a religious retreat. Being the only stone structure for many miles around at the time, I think it is safe to assume that it was not only known to the locals but to nomads and pilgrims of like minded worship.

Is the message one of persuasion and/or coercion? Yes. It can be interpreted as both. As persuasion, it is a statement of the ideals of their religion and the basic value of worshiping as the builders of Göbekli Tepe worshiped. As coercion, it was a statement of the power of their faith that they could build a massive structure from stone at a time when most people were either nomadic or living in small hunter/gatherer villages. To provide a bit of context, Göbekli Tepe predates the invention of pottery, metallurgy, writing and the wheel.  The complex also predates the Neolithic Revolution when archaeologists start seeing the beginnings of agriculture and animal husbandry. Look what we can do and what we’re about, indeed.

The Egyptians took this idea of buildings as propaganda to a whole new level. The scale of their building remains one of the great wonders of the world. The temples, pyramids and palaces they built were not just statements of faith or housing for the Pharaohs. They were projections of power for the ruling dynasties, often run as great public works projects to bolster the ancient Egyptian economy and as statements to the greatness of the Pharaohs. The ruling class went to great strides to out do one another as well. This trend of using architecture as a form of propaganda stretches back to the very beginning of the Egyptian dynasties.

The Pyramid of Djoser

In the 3rd Dynasty, the first of the pyramids were built by the Pharaoh Djoser and his commoner architect Imhotep.  Until that time, all of the Pharaohs had been buried in mastabas – rectangular flat roofed stone buildings. Imhotep’s innovation was to stack six mastabas of ever decreasing size to create the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, a royal burial complex to the northwest of the then Egyptian capitol of  Memphis. This started a competition among the subsequent Pharaohs as to who could build the most impressive burial sites. They saw this as not only fulfilling their religious obligations, but as statements of personal power, each trying to make a greater statement to history about the glory of their rule. This practice pyramid building reaches a nadir with the 4th Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu building the Great Pyramid at Giza, the plateau used as a royal burial complex just outside of Cairo which was used in conjunction with the Valley of the Kings by the later dynasties.

The Great Pyramid of Khufu

However impressive the Great Pyramid is, the practice of building to project imperial power reached its full potential  with the 19th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II.  Instead of trying to compete for sheer size to send his message against the rather imposing legacy of Khufu, Ramses went for volume. He built a lot, by far more than any other Pharaoh, and he even took credit for buildings he didn’t build by literally having his mark carved on them. To give him credit, many of these buildings he co-opted for his greater glory Ramses was indeed responsible for massive additions to and an upgrades on.

Abu Simbel

In addition to his large burial complex, the Ramessuem at Thebes, Ramses is credited with building numerous temples, monuments and even entire cities.  The city of Pi-Ramesses was built to replace the capitol at Thebes. He is also credited with building a lavish tomb for his favored consort, Nefertari, and the temple complex at Abu Simbel which was an act of pure ego carved into the living stone of two mountains in southern Egypt.

Did these buildings send a message? Yes. The Pharaohs are Living Gods and their power over Egypt is absolute. Were they designed for public consumption? Without a doubt. Is the message one of persuasion and/or coercion? Yes. Look up at the great works of the Pharaohs in awe and despair for you will never be their equal. Unless you’re really special. Like the man who started the Egyptian architectural tradition, Imhotep. It should be noted that the man “who made all of this possible” was one of the few commoners in ancient Egyptian history to be accorded the status of godhood upon his death.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis

The Greeks were also great builders, but none of their buildings says propaganda quite like the Parthenon. Built nominally as a temple to the goddess Athena, the patron of the city-state of Athens, the Parthenon is located on the Athenian Acropolis – a rocky outcropping that dominates the skyline of Athens.  I say nominally built as a temple because the evidence tends to point to the fact that it was never really used as a temple by any given sect let alone the cult of Athena Polias (which was the official cult of Athena as patron of Athens).  In addition to serving as a display case for the massive statue of Athena crafted by Phidias, the Parthenon served primarily as a treasury. Does this building send a message? Yes. We are Athens and look to our glory. Was it designed for public consumption? Being on the most visually prominent spot in all of Athens in addition to being the largest Greek building of its time, the answer can only be a resounding yes. Is the message one of persuasion and/or coercion? Also a resounding yes as the building is a testament to both the glory of the Athenian patron goddess and the economic power of Athens.


Rome specifically and with great forethought used buildings as propaganda, especially in the provinces. It was, in fact, a key element in the projection of Roman power. Everywhere the Romans went, two things were sure to follow: stone roads and buildings. Think of the messages the provinces got when Rome built coliseums, market complexes, government buildings, military fortifications and aqueducts. Even in Gaul, modern France, where there was a sophisticated network of wooden roads built by the local Celts, Rome conquered and then Rome built and they built in stone. Europe is littered with the ruins of the projection of Roman power.  In  South Shields, England at Tyne & Wear, the Roman fort of Arbeia stands today (partially restored) as testament to how far Rome could project her power. Most of the provinces were the home of timber and thatch construction. The stone buildings of the Romans were sending a message that “Rome is here, get used to it, and we can build crazy things you can’t, by they way did you notice our well-organized professional military that came with them”. They were not only functional, but aimed to make an impression on the locals. The message was clearly a mix of both persuasion (look at the lovely bathhouse!) and coercion (nice fort you’ve got there).

The U.S. Supreme Court

Just so, consider the monuments and public buildings of the modern United States.  The Capitol building was partially burned by the British on August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812. To shore up confidence at home and to tell those Brits who was in charge here, the Capitol was not only reconstructed but expanded in the period from 1819 to 1826. Look at the style of construction of the Supreme Court and Congress. The Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Mount Rushmore, they are all monuments to men who left their mark on history certainly, but what else do they say? Are they not projections of power and creating the image of a society as great as that of the Romans and Greeks whose architecture and scale they mimic?

There are clearly more ways to send a message than words alone.

What do you think?

Kudos to commentator Darren Smith for tangentially suggesting this supplemental topic.

~ submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The Propaganda Series;

Propaganda 105: How to Spot a Liar

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Streisand Effect and the Political Question

Propaganda 104 Supplemental: The Sound of Silence

Propaganda 104: Magica Verba Est Scientia Et Ars Es

Propaganda 103: The Word Changes, The Word Remains The Same

Propaganda 102 Supplemental: Holly Would “Zero Dark Thirty”

Propaganda 102: Holly Would and the Power of Images

Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Child’s Play

Propaganda 101: What You Need to Know and Why or . . .

Related articles of interest;

Mythology and the New Feudalism by Mike Spindell

How about Some Government Propaganda for the People Paid for by the People Being Propagandized? by Elaine Magliaro

96 thoughts on “Propaganda 101 Supplemental: Build It And They Will Come (Around)”

  1. Oooo. Quoting Ayn Rand at me.

    I’m so not surprised that you go to your favorite sociopath for definitions – which are wrong by the way, there is nothing about pragmatism that precludes absolute parameters to problems, only that solutions must be practical and goal oriented which is merely good logic and common sense.

    Seriously, you need to quit reading her tripe, Bron.

    It’s bad for you, but since it caters to your propensity to worship self, I don’t expect you to realize that.

  2. Gene H:

    I like this explanation of pragmatism better:

    “The Pragmatists declared that philosophy must be practical and that practicality consists of dispensing with all absolute principles and standards—that there is no such thing as objective reality or permanent truth—that truth is that which works, and its validity can be judged only by its consequences—that no facts can be known with certainty in advance, and anything may be tried by rule-of-thumb—that reality is not firm, but fluid and “indeterminate,” that there is no such thing as a distinction between an external world and a consciousness (between the perceived and the perceiver), there is only an undifferentiated package-deal labeled “experience,” and whatever one wishes to be true, is true, whatever one wishes to exist, does exist, provided it works or makes one feel better.”

    Enjoy your Platonic ambulation.

  3. inadvertent clicking of keys has odd effects like elimination of sentence segments.

    “at leasat among those of near avoiding ” should be
    “at leasst among those of near equal strength thus avoiding serious damage to oneself”

  4. Nothing like coming late and skimming the results. (Good article, GeneH).

    Here’s a brief look at nature and how its behaviour patterns repolicates in us.

    Where territorial marking is needed, chiefly among carnivores, how is it done. By using a waste product, urine, the most effect for the least effort, ie economy.

    Similarly, conflict among herbivores which entail strength contests, the use of minimum effort is tried at first, and then ascends. Similarly among carnivores a fight to the death is not a first alternative (at leasat among those of near avoiding the risk of self-damage.

    Similarly with nomadic people, the wandering ways were divided so as to avoid needless conflict.

    And then among settled people, the posting of boundary markers, which, as GeneH points out, amount to very clear propaganda.
    These latter messages are clear: Here are many strong persons, well-organized, well-fed, who can easily spare this non-food producing effort to advise you puny wanderer that you enter here at great risk.

    And, of course, the more obvious effort entailed in size or elaboration, then the greater the threat and the propaganda’s effect.

    At that point, perhaps I have rejoined the thread timewise.

  5. Bron,

    You really need to take responsibility for your own reading comprehension problems.

    Also, while we’re at it, your propensity to make of the meanings of words is rearing its ugly head again.


    pragmatism \ˈprag-mə-ˌti-zəm\, n.,

    1: a practical approach to problems and affairs
    2: an American movement in philosophy founded by C. S. Peirce and William James and marked by the doctrines that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief

    with . . .

    chaos \ˈkā-ˌäs\, n.,

    1obsolete : chasm, abyss
    2a often capitalized : a state of things in which chance is supreme; especially : the confused unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct forms — compare cosmos b : the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system (as the atmosphere, boiling water, or the beating heart)
    3a : a state of utter confusion b : a confused mass or mixture

    A practical approach to problems and affairs is hardly chaotic by definition and the usual course of affairs calls for organization which is by definition antithetical to chaos.

    It becomes apparent that if anyone is operating off of a confused mixture of guiding principles, it might be the person who thinks selfishness is a virtue and that words can mean whatever he wants when it is convenient to his “argument”.

  6. James in LA:

    I guess you like the chaos of pragmatism as well?

    Be a good steward but design a master race. It must suck to be inside your twisted thoughts. A jumbled chaos of random disconnected thoughts with no guiding principles.

    You go girl.

  7. Gene H:

    sure whatever you say. It is a pragmatists chaos of rational and irrational so it is no wonder you are in basic agreement.

  8. Bron,

    “I also dont think destroying a symbol has any juju”

    Then you don’t understand psychology very well. Symbols have associated meaning. When you destroy a symbol, you attack/destroy/impair the ideas associated with that symbol. Consider the choice of Saudi Arabian terrorists in attacking the World Trade Center. They not only destroyed two buildings, but they attacked the meaning associated with those buildings related to confidence in our systems, national pride, etc. That is why the target had value as propaganda for their cause. Were they simply going for body count, other targets presented better opportunity.

    Then again, we all knew that your operational principles come from a mad woman with a fundamental and disastrous lack of understanding regarding basic human psychology. Really, you need to get away from Ayn. It’s an unhealthy relationship.

  9. Dredd,

    Sorry, hasty mousing.

    The symbol of an oil derrick though could be considered propaganda. If you’ve ever driven through Texas or Oklahoma, you see the image everywhere. But that isn’t the structure proper. I’d consider its use in that context an example of symbolism that attaches to the endeavor of oil production itself – the corporate – and it has been used as such in advertising for many years. The act of creating an advertising brand from the structure is what gives it any propaganda value.

  10. I believe that French artillery crews in Egypt used the great Sphinx for target practice and shot off its nose.

    Actually, I can assure you, that was Obelix’ fault, It’s rather long ago that I read that, but I’ll definitively never forget it.

  11. Dredd,

    I don’t think oil platforms meet the criteria, primarily because they aren’t for public consumption. Most are in areas not easily accessible and the message they send (if any) isn’t really what I’d call persuasive or coercive either. Destructive environmentally perhaps, but not persuasive or coercive. Industrial structures rarely count as propaganda for those very reasons. There are exceptions of course, like the Hoover Dam which serves an industrial utilitarian purpose and sends a message, but by in large I don’t think most industrial structures say anything more than their function.

  12. Bron/Ekeyra,

    I’ll say it again slowly and with emphasis for the understanding impaired or those with SRD (selective reading disorder) . . .

    That they are aspirational in nature and may not be practically attainable given the scale and diversity of human activity and motivation does not detract from the basic idea that they all promote – peace, good stewardship and action based on reason and forethought – are all good things in any reasonably good ethical estimation.”

  13. Bron
    1, June 4, 2012 at 9:37 am
    Michael Murry:

    From Merriam Webster’s online dictionary:


    1. : to ruin the structure, organic existence, or condition of ; also : to ruin as if by tearing to shreds
    Bron, to destroy the organic structure of a thing means to kill it.

    To ‘filter’ shit through that WOULD then would be a very base and basic example of the definition of the theory of Christ and the supposed proposition of the Catholic church.

    tI is also the crux of John Nash’s economic theory which could be described as ‘kill the best, enjoy the rest’ (the best being an ‘ideal’)….

  14. Woosty,


    I always get nervous when Jung enters the conversation. 😉

  15. Bron lives in sheer terror of messages written in stone. His hell appears to be portable, following him around as it does.

  16. Michael Murry:

    From Merriam Webster’s online dictionary:


    1. : to ruin the structure, organic existence, or condition of ; also : to ruin as if by tearing to shreds

    ruin the structure does not mean to cease to exist. It means to take a big flat slab of granite and to turn it into little pieces of stone. It can be used to imply total elimination but that is not a necessary condition.

    I actually thought you were a good deal smarter than that, but apparently not.

    I also dont think destroying a symbol has any juju but I do think that the symbology of using a stone with ideas on it that are for shit to use to filter shit is apt or congruent.


    1. congruous


    2. marked or enhanced by harmonious agreement among constituent elements

    shit is definitely in harmony with shit.

  17. Blouise
    1, June 4, 2012 at 1:41 am
    🙂 lovely

    1, June 4, 2012 at 1:56 am
    Woosty, the Wolf of Gubbio story?
    Malisha thank you for the remembrance of this story….it wasn’t the fractured fairytale that I was referring to but it definitely fits into the ‘but what about the poor wolf’ perspective I was treated to ….I think we are talking about different wolves………hence the ‘need’ for the propaganda highlighted in the new paradigm parable I was exposed to on Sunday. btw, these aren’t so much ‘Christian’ per se…..they are pretty ubiquitous. Anyway thank you!

  18. Interesting, Gene, although an image of Hitler’s planned Germania, aka Berlin, may have added a perfect look at monumental expression and power, and the odd desire for immortality.

    Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the power of Aethetics

    There he sits, deep in thought, studying a grand model of his home town of Linz. The model shows shows the city as it will look after being transformed into the culture center of Europe. It had been delivered the day before and lightening arrangements were installed to enable him to envisage how the buildings would appear at various times of the day as well as by moonlight. The date is 13 February 1945. The place is the bunker under the Reich chancellery in Berlin. The Russians are at the Oder, a hundred miles away; the British and Americans are near the Rhine some 300 miles to the West. Yet Hitler spends hours absorbed in his model. He worries that the bell tower in the center of town may be too tall; it must not eclipse the spire of the cathedral at Ulm further up the Danube since that would hurt the pride of the people living there. But it must be high enough to catch the first beams of the sun in the morning and the last in the evening. ‘In the tower I want a carillon to play–not every day but on special days–a theme from Bruckner’s Fourth, the Romantic Symphony,’ he tells his architect. During the weeks and month to follow, the model will continue to offer him solace, even as his Reich–and it was his Reich–collapses around him.

    Strictly, I would have preferred the title, Hitler and the Aesthetics of Power. Just as I follow the German Philosopher Rüdiger Safranski (ü=ue), in making a difference between the Romantics and Romantic nationalism:

    In the novel [Dr. Faustus, 1947] Thomas Mann had repudiated the Romantic’s desire for a higher interpretation of the crude events, but that is exactly what he offered a higher interpretation of crude events. If this desire for a higher interpretation indeed is a romantic problem, then this novel is itself part of the problem to which he thinks he offers a solution.

    [my translation, no English translation available, translated title: Romanticism, a German affair]

    Consider also the similarities between the Communist (Stalin?) control of artistic expression–Lenin’s Mausoleum?– and the National Socialist’s in following Hitler’s dilettantism.

    I also thought, about cathedrals, and believe me I am not a fan of the destruction created by the French revolution, and the “cathedrals” of banks and insurance companies, but yes I often can’t keep my mind from meandering.

  19. “… the stones should be destroyed and used to filter shit.” — Brontosaurus brain:

    If you destroy something, it no longer exists, and therefore you cannot use it for anything.

    Also, the primitive belief that destroying a physical symbol destroys an idea associated with it goes by the name of sympathetic magic — or Voodoo.

    You have many intellectual problems, Brontosaurus brain. I’ve briefly highlighted only two of them. I have better uses for my time than going through the whole bushel basket for you, but suffice it to say that you need help learning to think.

Comments are closed.