My mind is racing, busy with too many thoughts: I want to talk about where we find ourselves today but do not know where to start.
For this post I will focus on one component that comes to my mind often. I believe it’s an important element that everyone should understand about our current situation.
That element is the unseen manipulation of our thoughts, opinions and actions.
Edward Bernay’s: Hand’s up if you have heard of this man before?
He is known as the father of public relations, a term that was created because the Nazi’s had made the word propaganda dirty. He wrote a book of the very same name, “Propaganda”, on the subject in 1928. And indeed went on to write many more on “Public Relations”, contributing greatly to it’s formation and it’s line of academic thought. He was also hugely influential in advertising, pioneering such campaign techniques as the “Tie-in”. (That’s the advertising technique that gets a celebrity that stars in a movie to wear certain types of clothing, eat at a particular restaurant, etc, etc).
In Propaganda he wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country”.
He believed that the masses (public) needed to be manipulated into making the correct decisions, they weren’t intelligent enough to make decisions for themselves and democracy would end up in disaster if they were allowed to have too much input. He saw Corporations (and Capitalism in general) as a way to keep Democracy stable. As long as the working classes could be controlled; the intelligent people could get on with the job of steering society in the right direction, because, of course, they know best. The way he sought to control them was to make them into happiness machines, to distract them with manufactured wants and desires. If propaganda could work in war time, surely it could work in peace time as well.
He worked his entire life to link democracy, corporations and capitalism in the minds of people and society in a way that would ensure the ruling classes would be able maintain control.
This is an important historical event to keep in mind because he succeeded. What we call Democracy today, with it’s ideals of ‘freedom’ & individual rights has grown out of this. In fact, those ideas are an important part of the manipulation that keeps us under control. “America, land of the free” (And the subsequent ‘Weston democratic’ ideas that we are free), is not a truth, it’s a concept, a powerful piece of propaganda which has been used to great effect. It’s used to justify the slaughter of innocents and convince us that we are superior to others. In many way’s we are more controlled than ever and the manipulation of public opinion is fair and standard game. It’s a science, it’s an academic line of thought and it’s an industrial juggernaut. Political pundits speak openly about it and even publicly praise politicians who do it well.
As Leigh Sales said recently of John Howard, after he skirted his way around the damning issues the Chilcot report brought up (UK report into the Iraq 2003 war, which found there was no justifiable reason for our country, the US and UK to go to war, a war that has killed at LEAST 1.3 million people.):
“Watching John Howard today should be instructive for pollies – he’s so on the front foot, taking every opportunity to defend his legacy.”
The media is as sucked in as the rest of us, if not more so. We have one of our ‘flagship’ reporters praising John Howard for being so good at public manipulation that he can get away with washing his hands clean of the blood that stains them.
The reality is that our freedom is an illusion, fed to us to keep us happy, productive members in a machine. For more about this I highly recommend a BBC documentary called The Century of the Self. It goes on to explore, among other things, the consequences the new consumer culture has had on our politics.
A philosophical question comes to mind here. Is there anything inherently wrong with the control of information and the manipulation of a citizenry in order to create a functioning society? At what point does it become immoral? Perhaps it depends on how that society functions, in regards to both it’s own people and others. Perhaps a benevolent ruling class, who looked after all of it’s people fairly and treated other societies with respect and fairness, could be forgiven morally for keeping certain information that could be misused or misinterpreted out of “average Janes” hands.
However, we do not live in such a society. Our society is broken, there is no real respect given to those things that society is built upon, cooperation, trust, reciprocity, empathy. Social capital is ignored. Economic capital (and a very narrow definition at that) is the be all and end all.
Competition is idealised and selfish, reproachable personality traits are seen, somehow, as traits to be admired and applauded. Meanwhile inequality gets worse and the mistreatment of people, including those in our own society, is horrible. We virtually enslave huge sections of the human population of the world to increase the standard of living for a tiny percentage to disgustingly opulent levels. Then we have the audacity to blame the poor for not “working hard” enough, for being bludgers, our own people used as a scapegoat to divide us. Not to mention how we treat the rest of our fellow earthlings & the Earth itself.
The real bludgers, the real parasites, live above us, manipulate us, exploit us and profit from the fruits of our labour.
As a little side note, if you haven’t watched the Matrix for a while (the first one in particular), give it another watch 🙂
Thanks for reading,