The Role of Propaganda in Modern Democracy (aka My Colloquium)

So school’s out; I’ve graduated.  Yipee.  This has naturally led me to think about quite a few things and to reflect upon some of my experiences at NYU.  I’ve written before on the wide range of classes I’ve taken and some of the opportunities afforded to me by my academic program at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.  One of the few degree requirements (and as such one of the few guaranteed shared experiences among the students) is the colloquium.  The colloquium is Gallatin’s senior capstone, a two hour discussion on a topic of the students choice with three faculty members.  It is something that students look upon with a bit of dread, and it is a bit daunting – it is rare for a student’s academic career to hinge on a single event like the colloquium (not that many people fail, but it is still stressful).

Anyway, the first step in the colloquium process is to assemble a book list and rationale around the topic (which may or may not be related to the student’s concentration, or area of study).  You can read my rationale and book list at the end of this entry.

Now I had at some point read about 3/4 of the books on my book list, so the next month or so was spent reading the ones I hadn’t and brushing up on older ones.  At the end of my review, I wrote anywhere from a few sentences to one page on all of my books that I decided to bring in with me – a lot better than bringing all 20 of my books with me to my colloquium.

My colloquium took place on April 8, 2009 at 2 p.m. in a little conference room at Gallatin’s home, 715 Broadway.  It was a really interesting experience.  We only got through six or seven of the books (which is expected), but it was a really satisfying conversation nonetheless.  Ultimately I ended up theorizing that a possible role of propaganda in modern democracy could be to overcome flaws in our decision making that arise from psychological heuristics and other behavioral quirks (see Dan Ariely’s TED Talk “Are We In Control Of Our Own Decisions?” for some examples) –  which I didn’t really even mention in my rationale, but studied in a class at Stern called “Decision-Making Strategies in Marketing and Management” (also known as “Judgement and Decision-Making” – here’s an old syllabus).

Overall, my colloquium was quite enjoyable and something which I actually wouldn’t mind repeating.  It would be interesting to one day further explore these topics, especially as more and more research is performed across a variety of fields relating to this topic and other areas of decision-making.

Now if you’re interested, you can read my original rationale and book list: