A claim like “There’s cultural genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang” is simply unreal to most Westerners, close to pure gibberish. The words really refer to existing entities and geographies, but Westerners aren’t familiar with them. The actual content of the utterance as it spills out is no more complex or nuanced than “China Bad,” and the elementary mistakes people make when they write out statements of “solidarity” make that much clear. This is not a complaint that these people have not studied China enough — there’s no reason to expect them to study China, and retrospectively I think to some extent it was a mistake to personally have spent so much time trying to teach them. It’s instead an acknowledgment that they are eagerly wielding the accusation like a club, that they are in reality unconcerned with its truth-content, because it serves a social purpose.
What is this social purpose? Westerners want to believe that other places are worse off, exactly how Americans and Canadians perennially flatter themselves by attacking each others’ decaying health-care systems, or how a divorcee might fantasize that their ex-lover’s blooming love-life is secretly miserable. This kind of “crab mentality” is actually a sophisticated coping mechanism suitable for an environment in which no other course of action seems viable. Cognitive dissonance, the kind that eventually spurs one into becoming intolerant of the status quo and into action, is initially unpleasant and scary for everybody. In this way, we can begin to understand the benefit that “victims” of propaganda derive from carelessly “spreading awareness.” Their efforts feed an ambient propaganda haze of controversy and scandal and wariness that suffocates any painful optimism (or jealousy) and ensuing sense of duty one might otherwise feel from a casual glance at the amazing things happening elsewhere. People aren’t “falling” for atrocity propaganda; they’re eagerly seeking it out, like a soothing balm.