I’ve been dipping into the introduction to a slim book entitled Propaganda by Edward Bernays. It’s the story of a long slow con, the main text written by one of its key proponents, who cites the enormous benefits of propaganda to the politician and the corporation.
The book has me wondering about the rise of shifting shape of propaganda over the last century. I’m no expert but here are a few thoughts.
Many would agree that Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) was spot on in identifying paradigm shifts in science. His insight is so powerful it has been used as a metaphor with much explanatory power in history and the social sciences ever since.
I’m hardly alone in recognising a fairly recent paradigm shift that is affecting the entire world, one rooted in the economics of neoliberalism.
When I was immersed in Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery I kept thinking that the protagonist, Simone Simonini was a typical unscrupulous self-serving totally amoral toad who was happy to do the bidding of various secret services who, in order to accumulate power, were keen to besmirch the Jews and the Freemasons, both groups used as scapegoats.
The events in The Prague Cemetery took place in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Much has changed. Not least a scientific revolution, or paradigm shift in which the new science of Quantum Theory has challenged the old Newtonian physics and a new age of science and technology born. Everyone recognises that.
In contrast the neoliberal paradigm shift is subtle, covert and involves the manipulation of collective thought and emotion. Propaganda is no longer simply about convincing citizens to go to war, or to buy a particular model of washing machine, and it no longer solely serves to promote the various hegemonic ideologies of the day, for example beefing up nationalistic pride.
From Abbott’s “team Australia,” and “death cult” slogans, the overt use of propaganda is screamingly obvious to anyone who paid attention in Year 10 English. These are simply the techniques used by all politicians since 1915, when governments, “systematically deployed the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent,” (Propaganda p 11) in the build up to World War I. The author of the introduction to Propaganda, Mark Crispin Miller, states that propaganda was used before and with success, particularly by Napoleon, but not systematically and it was this systematic use of propaganda that enabled governments to so successfully manipulate their people.
The hidden use of propaganda functions differently. More covert still, it operates far behind the scenes and is obvious only to those who really look. This is the sort of propaganda deployed by the likes of Eco’s Simonini.
When people dismiss conspiracy theory holus bolus as quackery for the paranoid and teenage boys with runaway imaginations, they overlook, as many conspiracy theorists themselves also overlook, that conspiracy is a methodology not a theory. All conspiracy theories are a product of this methodology. Conspiracy, in other words, is a modus operandi, a conspiracy theory generator on the one hand, and much much more besides.
Existing within the thick complex fabric of the world, at work in this country and that, responding to matters arising while seeking to influence those matters, choosing how best to proceed to achieve short and long term goals, employing any shady Simonini to do their bidding, are what might be called the Conspirators. I suppose we can imagine their existence in the inner sanctums of ASIO and embedded in various think tanks and elite groups such as the Leo Strausseans.
It could be argued, and with some force, that the vast social, cultural, political and economic web unfolds chaotically, unpredictably, guided by numerous agents who respond to conditions and make decisions, that this vast complex is impossible to control since there are unexpected consequences at every turn.
Yet this very chaotic complexity has opened up new opportunities for a certain kind of navigation, in part involving the manipulation of dissent. It’s as if Simonini’s ilk have stumbled on a smoke screen generator, one so persuasive and deceptive it can be used at will to both burn up the energies of dissenters and deflect the attention of the populace from unpalatable, if or when scrutinised, policies. Toxic policies that are neatly packaged in spin so as to appear entirely virtuous.
Diversion tactics are hardly new. Nothing these Simonini people do is new. What is new is that in Simonini’s day such types operated on behalf of one nation’s secret service or another, to serve various geopolitical ends and to enhance the power of one country over another, or one group, such as the Catholic Church.
Today, in a globalised world where it can be easily argued that 147 corporations run (or rule) the world, geopolitics itself is a smoke screen. All social unrest, including war and terrorism, and the consequences of war – refugees and asylum seekers, are smoke screens. Anything that occurs and is reported on in the media and seems terribly important at the time, is part of the haze.
This haze is cognitively toxic. For those who do not recognise the toxicity, the damage is invisible. For those who enter the haze with values and beliefs that are counter to it, who contest the injustices, the haze might be deadly.
Today, for humanity, there can be only one fundamental reality and everything is in service to it. Profit. The social or common good is long gone. We have passed the tipping point and entered a new age of the corporation and all that remains is the tying up of a few structural loose ends.
The new paradigm is one in which the Conspirators have taken centre stage in a dark theatre thick with haze, haze so dense spotlights create mirrors. We have entered an age in which, as many of us are saying, 1984 and The Castle are being used as instruction guides, and heinous acts are choreographed, everyone is watched and our leader’s read from double speak scripts.
An age in which in Australia a joker card (Abbott) is played with a straight face that makes the progressives among us rise up alarmed that we are sliding backwards into gross societal unfairness.
Welcome to the age of the Conspirator, the conman and the adept. A new age of narcissism and happy pills. An age of spells and labyrinths and trickery.
An age where mental health equals fantasy. An age ruled by giants who look down, foot poised, on a colony of sugar ants. An age in which defecation is used as syrup to further corrupt our souls.
Happy 2015! What a jolly time of it the powers that be are having – Obama and Cameron posturing like ancient philosophers on the problem of radicalisation and how to combat (combat?) hardline ideologies. LMAO – Mirror mirror on the wall…
Islamic fundamentalism grows in catch up with Christian fundamentalism and neoconservative/neoliberal fundamentalism.
There, I’ve answered it for you in a nutshell. But let me explain, in case you don’t get it yet Mr O and Mr C, (although I’m certain you get it very very well):
In a reality of linear and concrete thinking, where in Scripture this and that is taken to be literally true, fundamentalism will always beget fundamentalism.
Meanwhile hardline neoliberal policies of post GFC austerity beget a downtrodden populace, a populace with a dim yet tangible sense that they’ve been conned. (You will have heard the term bankster Mr O and Mr C?)
As ever, the two extremes, Christian and Islamic, foment each other, and as the pot is stirred by Western Supremacism (your way or the highway, eh), the utterly disaffected become so pissed off they’ll take up a bomb or a gun. It’s an obvious response. Happy days, say the Crusaders.
Radicalisation exists because we have a word for it, our gluttonous media slavering over every ounce of it. Hat’s off to the think tanks for this latest bit of spin in this new wave of propaganda. My, how adept you must think you are! Adept at creating thought wars, the battleground a dense fog, a miasma. Must be a fun job that.
Woo hoo say the corporations, circling vultures, waiting to swoop and eat their fill as cities fall and people flee. There’s the arms trade, there are the government contracts, there’s the private militia/security business, there’s the reconstruction, and there are the billions of dollars of profit to be made out of asylum seeker detention centres. It’s a bonanza.
Yet two women kiss and canoodle and are thrown out of a cafe in Vienna, and the owner is forced to apologise after over a thousand people take to the street outside in protest. If humanity is capable of mass action in the face of a cafe kiss, then little wonder you are afraid of us, so afraid you stamp us down with anti-protest laws and beefed up surveillance and security.
Let the woman in the hijab be. Let Islam, a religion of peace and grace, be. Let fundamentalism slip away on the wings of an open heart free of fear and hatred. And let neoliberalism fall, as all empires fall, and we can say farewell Mr O and Mr C, and welcome in a new and better age of fairness and goodwill.
I was troubled this morning to read of the 10,000 people who lost their lives in the UK in 2013 as a result of fuel poverty. Fuel Poverty Action is taking action. ”They’re targeting Energy UK, the lobbyists for the tax dodging, huge profit making, Big Six energy companies.” http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/guest-blog-no-more-deaths-from-fuel-poverty/ And I was troubled for a second time in the face of the injustice that has caused citizens to take to the streets of Ferguson; in a nation where the police are in service of corporations and not the citizenry. https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=482387718569407 And at risk of bathos, here in Australia, our government has just axed the budget of our much loved and non-commercial ABC and it’s sister television station SBS, both known for their cutting edge news and documentaries, their efforts to present balanced and alternative views, and their coverage of serious issues.
All this news caused me to pause. I knew instinctively that all three dreadful bits of news were connected. I needed to do a reality check. I had to remind myself of why these things are happening and happening in Western democracies. I thought again of that fabulous book Democracy Inc by Sheldon S Wolin. I share with Chris Hedges a passion for Democracy Inc. for it explains what is happening to democracy and why. It isn’t a light read. But sometimes things are too damn important to treat lightly. The more of us who take the trouble to give the book a go the better, for it does more than offer an explanation. The book occupies the ground otherwise too easily labelled conspiracy theory and what is going on behind the scenes is in fact a conspiracy and not theoretical at all!!
Here’s the way I see the con.
1/ The Sting. The GFC was caused by the banks who were then bailed out by governments with tax payers’ money. Government is now in debt to the banks. Citizens pay the banks (again) via austerity measures. Bankers are laughing all the way to their own front doors. Read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia for a punchy and entertaining portrayal of what went on.
2/ The Second Sting. Behind the veil of budget deficit every small fragment of social democracy that can be privatised is being privatised. Once privatised the operating systems will be corporatised (asset stripped and so on) and services rendered both expensive and inadequate. The minimum will be provided, for the maximum profit. For an insight into how corporations operate as vulture capitalists read Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom.
In the corporatised scenario citizens often pay for services that used to be provided for by government. Citizens also pay for the same services through their taxes, which go into the government outsourcing coffers to pay the new corporate service providers. So we pay for the same service twice. And the corporations are dizzy with delight.
3/ The Third Sting is the corporatisation of government itself. Imagine that our elected representatives are not representing us at all. They have been swallowed by the corporate sector. They have been bought, groomed, placed or otherwise corrupted to serve the interests of Capital and not the people. They wear false cloaks and false smiles. They hold our babies and steal our wallets. The best encapsulation of this sting is the revolving door, where individuals move back and forth from plum jobs in government to plum jobs in the corporate sector.
Studies have shown that the Corporation is psychopathic The hallmark of a psychopath is a distinct lack of empathy. As an entity a corporation is also a breeding ground for psychopaths. For people who lie, who deceive, who con, who cheat; heartless bastards whose capacity for cruelty is vast, whose capacity for blithe indifference equally vast.
It’s been six years since the GFC turned the screws on social democracy and created this latest horror show. Dystopia is upon us and many are accusing their governments of blatant fascism. We can and we must fight this beast. Not by following the ruthless cruelty of organisations like Islamic State, which are both corporate democracy’s nemesis and mirror, ( in effect a Fourth Sting fomented by corporate democracy to engender widespread fear and tighten security and surveillance laws). Instead, we must protest and campaign and educate and keep on shining a spotlight on reality. To that end I will from time to time hold up my own thin candle and shout.
In Ancient Greek mythology it was the Titan Cronus who overthrew Uranus by castrating him with a sickle. A sickle given him by his mother Gaia to rescue his youngest brothers who had been kept in darkness. Cronus then ruled the world instead, his reign the so-called Golden Age. Nevertheless it was an age of dictatorship, of total rule, one reflected today in the emergence of an insidious totalitarianism at root in corporate globalisation, in which democracies are managed by power elites with corporate interests at heart. Where far-right religions, corporations and governments merge to form a single power elite. Where all social and welfare services are run by private enterprise, from debt collecting, prisons, probation services, detention centres, care homes, counselling services, schools, utilities, transport services – just about everything you can think of run for profit not for us. The taxpayer no longer pays for government to provide all the elements of social democracy. Instead the tax payer lines the corporate purse. To prevent dissent this elite makes every effort to opiatise the people by any means, from anti-depressants, through the use of media to spin propaganda, to the atomising of lives through ideological manipulations so that all that matters to us is the small world we live in, our family, our work, our neighbourhood. Then through education to the inculcation of false beliefs as absolute truths, such as the notion of the selfish gene. And through the glamour of celebrity and promotion of narcissism at every turn. As well we are enslaved by high mortgage debt and lowering wages as we watch our rights to complain erode. Trapped and powerless, we acquiesce. Failing that, and for those free thinkers among us, the security and surveillance measures are there to the ready. It seems the power elite have things all figured out.
To save those compassionate souls among us from complete meltdown, this dystopia is assuaged by a veneer of humanitarianism. The charitable impulse most of us feel is hijacked by quasi-corporate ngos, providing us with a sense of doing small things to make a difference, giving us feelings of well-being and goodness, and an illusory sense of power and influence. We can donate, sponsor a child, watch the awesome efforts of Save the Children or the Red Cross with our credit card in hand. We can accentuate the positive, focus on the rhetoric of the United Nations and feel ennobled to be part of a world that truly cares, never seeing the complicity, inevitable and sad, of the corporations and the humanitarian organisations, some (but not all) natural disasters aside, often responding to situations created either through structure or agency by the machinations of the military-industrial complex. Sometimes a corporation itself will make an overt humanitarian move, such as Gucci with its Chime For Change campaign to empower women around the world. Not to mention the philanthropy and generous donations and funding of worthy causes, such as displayed by the Bill Gates Foundation.
Adopting a simple theosophical view, for all the technological advances of our times, the present globalised world seems to me the consequence and the cause of a devolution of consciousness, a wrong orientation, as if humanity is in retrograde motion, the bulk of us concerned primarily with material achievements and narrow selfish satisfactions.
Whether or not the word totalitarianism is used, there exist many across the world responding to its reach, resisting its impositions, struggling to wrest free. There are two distinct means by which people seek autonomy, one cold-hearted and destructive and on the devolution fast track, the other aware, warm-hearted and constructive and both constrained by the resistant pull of devolution and doomed therefore to struggle and suffer. Both approaches make use of the sickle, that communist symbol of the peasantry.
The destructive response to globalisation is a sickle-abusing power grab. Here disenfranchised factional or nationalist groups arm themselves with ideological and military weaponry and go on the rampage. Their resistance is instinctive, their sense of injustice whipping up rage and desires for revenge that are both delusional and psychotic, laying waste to city upon city, community upon community, destroying that which if they stopped and thought rationally for long enough they would realise they are seeking to protect. Destructive groups play into the hands of the corporate totalitarians. While groups such as IS may believe they are taking back power rightfully theirs, they are unwittingly serving the agenda of the power elite, a power elite that sets about fostering these very factional nationalistic groups for its own purposes. It is ironic that extreme outraged calls for some sort of justice are simply doing the work of the totalitarians, providing failed state upon failed state whilst justifying increases in security and surveillance measures in the so-called free democratic west. These wanton destroyers are unwittingly complicit in the agenda of the War on Terror, a mob of blood-lusting brutes sent forth on a killing frenzy, creating more carnage than all the Hollywood blockbusters combined.
While apparently lacking in the drama, almost the heroism of the destructive response, I believe there is only one constructive solution available to us and one we must pursue with vigour. It is the path of the people’s collective. It involves cooperation, goodwill, egalitarianism and a will to transcend personality differences for the good of the whole. Yet also a need for courage, resilience and perseverance. Constructive acts that seek to demonstrate to the super rich and powerful, that we are not taking their shit any more. That we will fight, we will campaign, we will protest Occupy style, and we too, will carry a sickle in our hands.
The sickle is a tool for harvest, for the constructive response to our times must be one aligned with the land and must be focused on local economies. Whether it be the Permaculture inspired Transition Towns, the creation in Bristol of the Bristol Pound, or the people’s collective of Marinaleda, we need to celebrate each move in the direction of constructive responses to global power that seek change outside the corporate-city walls. Snip the ties that bind us at every turn to the global corporate machine. Reclaim what is rightfully ours – our autonomy. The sickle will save us, if we use it as a tool to empower and not destroy. And perhaps in pushing against the wheel as it turns in retrograde, at least apply a brake.
There was a time when I believed wholeheartedly in the possibility that humanity would transcend its divisions and polarities, with all the attendant hatreds and racism and sexism; that consciousness would expand collectively and that we would embrace unity in diversity and be good neighbours within and across borders. That, I suppose, was my utopian phase. Now I consider it delusional. For there can be no disillusionment without a pre-existing illusion and this is precisely how I now feel. That while the narrative of a bright new age of alternative possibilities and ways of living was advanced in certain circles and within universities (Social Ecology, Permaculture just two examples), and seekers of spiritual growth were out with their shopping baskets shoring up their own egos (authentic spirituality a noble and exceptionally difficult quest along a potholed road – see Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism), a different sort of new age was already drawing a blanket of darkness over the slumbering masses – dystopia.
One aspect of our dystopian reality is war.
It can’t be stated often enough – the US Empire’s war strategy is to fund some separatist group (foster, create, invigorate, train) to stoke civil war. It is not a new technique. They were doing it in Afghanistan in the 70s and of course further back in Central and South America. I would say that since the end of WWII the US power elite has forged ahead with its own devious expansionist tactics designed to impose its own corporatist agenda (it might even be said that neoliberalism itself is an economic model and an ideology duly harnessed for the same purposes).
Today I rely on an article, written by Bill van Auken for the World Socialist Web Site. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/07/23/pers-j23.html It was the following quote that prompted today’s blog piece.
”More to the point, the political substance of the charge against Putin—that he is responsible for the disaster [MH17] because he failed to quell the uprising in eastern Ukraine—is far more relevant to the actions of Washington itself. After all, the Obama administration has politically supported, funded and armed Islamist insurgents in Syria, stoking a civil war that has produced human tragedy on a far wider scale, with over 100,000 Syrians dead and an entire country in ruins. It pursued a similar war for regime-change in Libya, backed by NATO bombings, that killed 50,000 Libyans and has yielded similarly catastrophic consequences.
Nor is the same moral standard applied to the US, which supplies Israel with billions of dollars in military aid every year, when it comes to Israel’s mass killing of Palestinians.”
There are no moral standards in dystopia, except when imposed upon outsiders to serve some purpose of the power elite. Which of course leads to blatant hypocrisies such as depicted above.
There are times I wish I could slip on the veil of make believe and exist in a la la land of my own construction. Or turn my back on reality, shrink my awareness until all I see are the simple day to day circumstances of my own life, but I can’t. I can’t focus my awareness solely on fostering positive life-giving alternatives even as I do strive to live an ethical, small footprint life. Instead, I shall continue to go about naming spades. Why? – Because someone has to.