Propaganda is normally associated with governments that are attempting to persuade or influence people for a particular political objective.  More formally it is defined as "the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist"1.

While there are certainly similarities with many forms of persuasive communication, propaganda by itself doesn't necessarily denote a positive or negative activity.  Such a jugement is always made from the perspective of the viewer.

We could argue that advertising, public relations, and government information are all forms of propaganda intended to influence or shape the perceptions of individuals.  

However, there is a much more insidious form of propaganda that is largely ignored; that which we inflict on ourselves.

Since the purpose of propaganda is to "shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response", then this is precisely the activity we, individually, engage in when we only listen to perspectives that support our beliefs.  When we seek out only supporting views and ideas, we eventually create a psychological environment that effectively convinces us that we have "proven" our position and therefore all other perspectives are self-evidently false.

The problem with this is that it automatically creates the environment whereby all alternative viewpoints are seen as contrary propaganda which is to be rejected outright or viewed with hostility.  There is no possibility of dialogue when each side views the other as an unrelenting enemy.

Differences of opinion escalate to personal assaults on intelligence and integrity, while nothing less than total annihilation of the opposition is acceptable.  Conservatism and liberalism are no longer simply political ideas, they have become evil incarnate depending on which viewpoint one holds.

In short, we, as a society, have become stupid. Instead of thinking for ourselves, we let others do our thinking for us and achieved a level of propagandizing that the most extreme totalitarian regimes could only dream about. Day after day we have 24 hour "news" channels that do everything except present relevant information, so we voluntarily subject ourselves to self-brainwashing and indulge in reassuring ourselves that only "we" are right and everyone else must be wrong.

This also provides the convenience of being able to label the opposition so that we don't even have to listen to their ideas, but we confidently assume that we already know their side.  Opposed to war, then you must "hate America".  Think health care needs to be addressed, then you're obviously a socialist.  Think guns are OK, then you must be a fascist.  From tax and spend liberals to smaller government conservatives, these are all cartoon images.  

As individuals, we are certainly not that two-dimensional and perhaps it might be worth behaving as if we realized it.  It's okay to disagree.  Every decision is not life or death.  The world doesn't really hang in the balance.  Get over yourself and cut each other some slack.

... and stop watching the news. Like the proverbial soap operas, you can easily walk away for a week or two and return only to discover that you have't missed a thing.

1 Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, PROPAGANDA AND PERSUASION, 4th ed. Sage Publications, p.7