Monday Merton: Beware Propaganda and Emotions


What influences our moral judgments? What prompts us to take action?

According to Thomas Merton, our society is far more reactionary and emotional, settling for the practical, short term fix rather than the carefully reasoned moral path forward. He also asserted this in the early 1960’s, when most our of current technologies primarily existed in the minds of science fiction writers or imaginative futurists.

The simplicity of reading, reacting, and sharing information on social media encourages reactionary, emotional responses where headlines may or may not convey the heart of the story, let alone offer cogent arguments and action steps.

While I generally prefer to share quotes that are a bit more uplifting and positive, Merton’s critique has helped me step back from the edge in my own consumption of news and social media:


“Action is not governed by moral reason but by political expediency and the demands of technology–translated into the simple abstract formulas of propaganda. These formulas have nothing to do with reasoned moral action, even though they may appeal to apparent moral values–they simply condition the mass of men to react in a desired way to certain stimuli.


Men do not agree in moral reasoning. They concur in the emotional use of slogans and political formulas. There is no persuasion but that of power, of quantity, of pressure, of fear, of desire. Such is our present condition–and it is critical!”


-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 59