Propaganda and Indoctrination



        For those of you who may have never heard of Professor Chomsky, the New York Times has called him ‘arguably the greatest intellectual alive.’ And this is ironic because the New York Times, ‘the paper of record’ i.e. they set the standard for all the rest of the newspapers in America, & according to the conservatives, it is the bastion of the liberal media, is a lapdog to the powers that be, in Chomsky’s opinion. By the way, this is a good place for me to confess that though I tried to capture Chomsky’s words verbatim from the film, sometimes I failed and so occasionally I will paraphrase his words but I have tried to be true to the spirit of his words. I will note whenever possible, my paraphrasing of his exact words. For example, he didn’t say ‘the powers that be’ in reference to the New York Times above. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of the documentary, I want to also inform you that “Noam Chomsky is one of the ten most-quoted writers of all time. The Chicago Tribune has called Professor Chomsky ‘the most cited living author,’ adding that among intellectual luminaries of all eras, he ranks eighth, just behind Plato and Sigmund Freud.” (Chomsky For Beginners, by David Cogswell, pg. 1) Moreover, on that list of the ten most-quoted writers of all time is Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, & Socrates. Chomsky in my opinion is a one-man revolution and if you are new to the world of liberal, progressive, & radical thought, you couldn’t pick a better place to start than with Chomsky. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that if you read no one other than Chomsky and did a thorough study of his prolific writings, books, lectures, interviews, videos, & audio tapes, you would acquire an education equivalent to a Ph.D. and you would be a very enlightened individual. Chomsky would probably disagree with such flattery and that’s one of the things that especially endears him to me i.e. he is a very humble man. Okay, let’s get down to the brass tacks of this piece of mine.

            The term ‘the manufacture of consent’ was coined by Walter Lippmann in 1922. Chomsky states, “Walter Lippmann coined the term ‘the manufacture of consent’ and he basically said that the common interests are above the heads of the public and that a separate, specialized class, would have to manage or regulate society. And this is the opposite of our common understanding of democracy.” Since Lippmann’s term is the title of this film and of Chomsky’s book, I am going to give you some background on Lippmann along with some pertinent quotes from him. I hope this will help to shed some light on the significance of this pernicious concept ‘the manufacture of consent.’ It’s absolutely mind-boggling that Lippmann is held up as some sort of champion of the ‘free press’ and ‘liberalism’ and after you read the following, you will see why I feel this way.

            “Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) was a political philosopher and journalist whose writings constitute a sustained and close commentary on American public affairs for a period of nearly six decades. He brought to the discussion and analysis of current social and political problems a degree of learning unprecedented in American journalism. Throughout his career he retained an independent, critical stance on foreign and domestic issues and combined a rigorous commitment to democratic principles with a deep sense of the pragmatic limitations of real political situations. He is certainly among the most thoughtful and cultured newspapermen of all times…

            The main focus of Lippmann’s thinking in the 1920’s was on the relation of knowledge to public opinion in mass society….Lippmann became doubtful whether citizens could be adequately and objectively informed of the knowledge required for self-government, conceived along Jeffersonian lines….An Enquiry into the Principles of the Good Society  advanced the principle of disinterestedness on the part of statesmen as a cure to the excesses of majority rule and as an antidote to the dangers of elitism.” (Alan Waters in Thinkers of the Twentieth Century, St. James Press, 1987)

            And now Lippmann’s words:

                        “That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.

            The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on the rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.

            Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise…It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.” (Public Opinion, by Walter Lippmann, Free Press, 1965; first published in 1922, page 158)

            And more from Lippmann:

                        “The lesson is, I think, a fairly clear one. In the absence of institutions and education by which the environment is so successfully reported that the realities of public life stand out sharply against self-centered opinion, the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality. This class is irresponsible, for it acts upon information that is not common property, in situations that the public at large does not conceive, and it can be held to account only on the accomplished fact.” (Public Opinion, page 195)

            Boy! Talk about fancy, double-talk. Lippmann sounds more like a lawyer than a journalist. And fortunately we have someone as brilliant as Chomsky to decipher this gobbley-gook. I could see Chomsky’s basic assertion that Lippmann was saying in a nutshell that the public is too ignorant to understand the larger issues affecting society. And one thing that jumped out at me in the last quote from Lippmann was ‘this class is irresponsible.’ He was clearly referring to this ‘specialized class’ who he felt were the only ones fit to run our society. But it seems to me that he revealed his true convictions in this sentence i.e. this ‘superior class’ is above the law and above the peons of our society which means the vast majority of us who aren’t multi-millionaires. Of course when you first think of the word ‘irresponsible,’ you probably think of an irresponsible teenager or an adult who doesn’t pay his bills or hold down a job. Well, check out this definition from Webster’s; irresponsible (not answerable to higher authority) Freudian slip? Or perhaps the unvarnished truth? And how apropos because as I believe Chomsky shows us in this documentary, what we call a democracy here in America is all but gone and we are sliding towards a variation of a fascist or totalitarian state—my description. I am going to come back to more quotes from Lippmann later on because I don’t want to belabor the point here. The next person Chomsky mentions in the film is Reinhold Niebuhr.

            Chomsky summed up Niebuhr thus; “the average man follows faith not reason because of his stupidity and therefore society needs to be run by cool, reasoning men. He was a big influence on the policy makers of the 1960’s. Now, I’m not sure to be honest with you if the next two phrases were Niebuhr’s but they are in the same paragraph of my notes from the film. And they are ‘Necessary Illusions’ & “Emotionally Potent Oversimplifications.” I wrote that these are needed to herd the sheep, in the margins of my notes. And the film showed an example of the S.D.I. (Strategic Defense Initiative i.e. Star Wars) program that Reagan launched with simplistic animations of a ‘protective umbrella’ over the U.S. and satellites that could shoot down incoming missiles. And these ‘necessary illusions & emotionally potent oversimplifications’ definitely contribute to the dumbing-down of the American public. The hypocrisy is phenomenal in that as Lippmann and Niebuhr charge the public with being too stupid to participate in the democratic process and at the same time, contribute to keeping the public ignorant. In other words, they’re blaming the victims. And speaking of ignorant, once again if it hadn’t been for Chomsky’s insight, I would’ve gone on thinking Niebuhr was a champion of the oppressed. I believe I even have a book or two of his in my garage somewhere? I wanted to refresh my memory regarding Niebuhr so I went to my Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia and here is a bit of what it has to say about him.

            “Niebuhr, Reinhold (1892-1971) American theologian….he took an active interest in labor problems, Niebuhr joined the faculty at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, where he taught from 1928 to 1960. Allied with the socialist movement in the 1930s, Niebuhr dealt with questions of political morality and with the failure of Christianity to confront social problems…the moral irresponsibility of those who fail to come to grips with the problem of power. Following World War II, Niebuhr’s earlier radicalism was replaced by what he called ‘conservative realism’; but, in Christian Realism and Political Problems (1953), he maintained that the church was actively sanctioning social ills by refusing to confront them. He persistently emphasized the reality of sin and its bearing on the tragedy of man and saw the modern world as one to which power and technocracy have brought confusion and meaninglessness….Always invigorating, usually controversial, Niebuhr was one of the most influential thinkers of his day.”

            As a matter of fact, somewhere in the back of my mind, I seem to recall that Niebuhr was a big influence on President Kennedy? And since nothing is so damning as a person’s own words, here are some of Niebuhr’s words:

            “God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.” (The Serenity Prayer, 1943) I knew there was always something that I didn’t like about that ‘prayer.’ It’s used at AA meetings and in the context of this essay & Niebuhr’s insults regarding public stupidity, I interpret it to mean, just accept your lot in life e.g. being screwed by the status quo.

            “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” (The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, 1944) Then why did you promote the undermining of democracy by saying people are too stupid to participate in democracy and as a theologian you preached the virtues of ‘faith’ and then have the audacity to turn around and say the public is too stupid and believes more in faith than in reason?

            “Life has no meaning except in terms of responsibility.” (Faith and History, 1949) And you consider yourself an exemplar of responsibility when you promote faith over reason and then blame people for being too ignorant to participate in the democratic process?

            “Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.” (The Irony of American History, 1952) I’d say the hypocrisy of American history rather than the irony. But then it is sort of ironic that Niebuhr chastises the public for follows faith not reason when as in this quotation he says ‘we must be saved by faith.’ I can see how the public policy makers loved him because by praising the virtues of faith in public, you make it that much easier to manipulate the public and cloud the issues affecting their lives with such ‘necessary illusions’ as hope and faith. And with ‘emotionally potent oversimplifications,’ you continue to keep the public distracted and off-balance e.g. George Bush the Lesser’s “you’re either with us or you’re against us,” and “I’m going to lead the country to understanding the value of life—the preciousness of life. Life for the living and life for the unborn.” (THIS WEEK, ABC, January 23, 2000)

            Next in the film, Chomsky says “indoctrination is the essence of a democratic state. In a totalitarian state it doesn’t much matter what people think because you have a bludgeon over their heads. But, in a democracy you need to control what people think. People may become so curious and arrogant that they don’t submit to a civil rule.” I am reminded of that glorious period of the 1960’s when people—mostly university students & hippies—were definitely not ‘civil’ and how wonderful a feeling it was! We rejected the crass materialism of the day and which has returned today, stronger than ever. We fought for civil rights, women’s rights, the protection of our environment, & against the U.S. invasion of Vietnam. Chomsky also protested in the 1960’s and risked going to prison for many years. Chomsky goes on to say “the standard way to control people’s thoughts was in the more honest days called propaganda. There are various ways to either marginalize the general public or reduce them to apathy. And the role of the mass media is to mobilize public support for the special interests.” Of course the major special interests which he is referring to are the banking, financial, and corporate interests. And our current occupation of Iraq clearly serves the interests of the corporate oil industry and the financial & banking interests because as I have learned, the dollar was devaluating significantly around the world. Saddam’s real threat to America as some scholars have said was because he threatened to start selling Iraq’s oil using the Euro dollar instead of the American dollar and that would’ve possibly plunged the U.S. into hyper-inflation. And so, as soon as we ‘conquered’ Iraq, our ‘leaders’ immediately switched the oil currency of Iraq back to the U.S. dollar.

            What’s more, as Chomsky points out, “investment, production, & distribution decisions are made by and are in the hands of a relatively concentrated network of corporations and they are also the ones who staff the major executive positions in the government & they’re the ones who own the media.” Indeed! And don’t think this just pertains to the oil industry, it applies to every major industry you can think of. Have you ever heard of the ‘revolving door’ between government and the corporate sector? I could give you a long list of examples but the most glaring one currently is Dick Cheney and his flagrant conflict of interest because he worked for Halliburton before he became vice-president and he now financially benefits to the tune of millions from that relationship because Halliburton was given the sweetheart deal of a no-bid contract for the majority of the ‘rebuilding’ of Iraq—should more accurately be called the raping of Iraq & the enrichment of the greedy hogs of corporate American oil. George Schultz and Bechtel, another major war profiteer from Iraq’s destruction. James Baker and the Carlyle Group of which King George the First is a member and which benefits not only from Iraq’s misery but also benefited handsomely from the devastation of 9/11 and Baker has the balls to legally represent the Saudi Royal family against the surviving family members of 9/11 who are suing the Saudis. Don’t forget that 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11th were Saudis and that Osama is Saudi and the Bush bastards are not only friends of the bin Laden family but whisked them out of the U.S. immediately after that terrible day when all other flights around the country were grounded. Coincidence? Yeah, right! Yep, I’d say Chomsky is right on the money and I’m also reminded of President Eisenhower’s warning regarding the military-industrial complex except today as Chomsky has shown us, it’s also the media serving these cold-blooded robber baron class. Recall that Chomsky has called the New York Times their lapdog. And also bear in mind the recent scandal of Judy Miller, who almost single-handedly led us to war in Iraq because she relied on Chalabi, that suspected double-agent for Iran, embezzler on the run from Syria, and hated Iraqi exile whom the Iraqis would never accept as their leader—though the Bush cabal tried to install him. Judy Miller was a star reporter for the New York Times, remember that bastion of the liberal media according to the rabid right-wingers, and she went to jail not to protect a whistle-blower protecting the public’s interest but rather to protect a White House whistle-blower who publicly revealed the identity of an undercover CIA agent who happened to be the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Why? Because Ambassador Wilson actually believed that the truth should be spoken and refused to rubber stamp Bush & Cheney’s phony pack of lies which they spun to suck us into the Iraq invasion and quagmire.

            In addition, Chomsky goes on to say that “within the economic system by law and in principle, they [the concentrated network of corporations] dominate. They control our resources. The need to satisfy their economic interests places very serious constraints on the political and ideological system. There are two targets for U.S. propaganda; 1)the political class who are relatively well-educated, make up about 20% of the public, & play some part in the decision making as managers or cultural managers e.g. teachers, writers, and so on. Their consent is crucial and they have to be deeply indoctrinated. 2) the other 80% of the public whose main function is to follow orders, not to think, and not pay attention to anything. And they’re the ones who usually pay the cost.” As soon as Chomsky mentioned the ‘cultural managers’ such as teachers, I immediately thought of my wife. She sincerely believes she’s doing good and she’s very dedicated to her work as an educator. And we’ve been arguing for years about our educational system. I tried my best to convince her that we should home-school our son but she’s been too-well indoctrinated with the critics of home-schooling’s mantra of ‘socialization.’ It’s been a very painful and frustrating experience to have to sit by and watch my own son be destroyed by our public educational system. And my wife, just as blind as the majority of teachers, laments how he has turned out i.e. self-centered, materialistic, angry, lacking in compassion or empathy for the downtrodden, cussing too much, etc. When we get into heated arguments I hurl at her ‘well, you wanted him to be socialized and he’s indeed just like the majority of the angry youth.’ I shouldn’t be surprised at this sad state of affairs even in my own family because I have been a lone voice of dissent from the common wisdom ever since I started educating myself in my twenties. I have been mocked, ridiculed, intimidated, etc. by strangers, my own relatives, friends, etc. for so long that it feels natural to me now. Because I read people like Chomsky and most people read the t.v. guide, the Reader’s Digest, or the National Enquirer, and other such ‘quality’ material. And because they have never heard of the great thinkers words or seen them on their televisions, I must be a nutcase in their minds and they smugly put me down and call me a loser, a quitter, a failure, etc. Yes indeed, I have paid and continue to pay a very high price for daring to challenge the myths and propaganda we have been raised on. And the dearest price has been the loss of my son’s respect. He won’t even read an essay I wrote for him trying to warn him of the manipulations of the military propaganda in an effort to save his life. So far he doesn’t have any desire to join the military but I also fear that they will be forced to reinstate the draft due to the chicken-hawks in the White House and their designs on world conquest for their corporate cronies bank accounts.

            Because you probably believe like I did when I was in high school and still ignorant of the lies & manipulations of these masters of the universe and their diabolical schemes, you might still think that it is only ‘evil empires’ like the former Soviet Union and Communist China who use propaganda on their citizens? Well fortunately, scholars like Chomsky show us that ‘our government’ is equally guilty of manipulating us with its own propaganda. I mean, Jesus Christ! Isn’t it as clear as the nose on your face that this junta occupying the oval office have blatantly lied us into invading & occupying Iraq? Let me remind you of the constantly shifting sands of deceit they used to sucker us into this ‘war.’ By the way, some ‘war,’ after ten years of sanctions and bombing, and after daddy invaded Iraq in 1990 and had its infrastructure almost totally destroyed so that it’s children & elderly have died because they have no power, no medicine, no clean water, lack food, etc. and over 500,000 Iraqi children have died because of it, and our weapons inspectors made sure there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction so our mighty military could be sure that it wouldn’t be able to put up hardly any resistance whatsoever, we attack? This is nothing to be proud of and in fact quite the opposite. It’s something all decent people are deeply ashamed of. Our conquest of Iraq and the bragging of that little Bantam rooster who couldn’t even serve out his military duty in the safe and stateside, Texas Air National Guard that daddy got him into, is like me boasting of having beat up a kindergarten student.

            To demonstrate how propaganda works U.S. style, Chomsky provides us with a ‘propaganda model’ in this brilliant documentary. Chomsky like any who dare to critique the powers that be, is often labeled a ‘conspiracy theorist’ but as he states, ‘no, what he does is institutional analysis.’ The intellectually lazy and dishonest try to dupe us and to marginalize those who reveal their dirty tricks with terms like conspiracy nut, anti-American, etc. Without reservation though, I challenge you or any who would like to argue against my opinions or my quotes from Chomsky to prove me wrong. And I am not ashamed one bit to clearly state that I’m riding on Chomsky’s coattails. This is a man who as I said at the beginning & to rephrase, an intellectual giant and the rest of us are mental midgets in comparison. And Chomsky religiously lists his sources, so any of you would be intellectual assassins put up or shut up! Prove him or me wrong if you dare and you must cite your sources or else you’re just a coward like that bushwhacker in the executive office who hides and shoots people in the back. To illustrate his ‘propaganda model,’ Chomsky starts off with saying that there are filters which are used in the propaganda assault (my word).

            “The elite media set the agenda. Some of the most prominent among them are the New York Times, the Washington Post, the major television stations such as ABC, NBC, & CBS, etc. They set the general framework and the local media around the country more or less adapt to their structure. The elite media set the agenda in all sorts of ways e.g. by the selection of the topics to be discussed; by the distribution of concerns to be covered; by the emphasis they place on topics; by the framing of issues (I strongly recommend reading George Lakoff on the critical importance of ‘framing of the issues’); by their filtering of the information they provide us with; by the bounding of debate (the limits as to what can be discussed); they determine, select, shape, control, & restrict what news items or stories we see, hear, or read in order to serve the interests of the dominant elite groups.” Again my friend, I added some of the details of the factors or items Chomsky listed in hopes of making it a little more explicit or clear to whomever may read this essay.

            Furthermore, Chomsky goes on to argue that the New York Times is the most important paper in the U.S. and arguably the entire world and it creates history. Because the New York Times again is the ‘paper of record’ and publishes ‘only the news that’s fit to print,’ which it proudly displays on every copy. It creates history in the sense that it is the paper which people go to when they want to know what happened in the past.” I want to inject here that when I heard this, I was immediately reminded of that nightmare world George Orwell described in his classic 1984. In case you’re not familiar with it, it’s a horrific portrait of a future society in which one of the primary ways of controlling the public is done by a government department called the Ministry of Truth. Those who work in this department, including the protagonist of the novel, Winston, spend their days rewriting history. They delete inconvenient facts from past editions of the official government news and insert new ‘facts’ which fit the current claims of the government. And the spooky & relevant quote from Orwell’s book is “Those who control the past, control the present. And those who control the present, control the future.” Can you see the power and the significance of this quote? In brief, those who control the media of a country, control what the people think and believe and its an easy matter after you have this kind of control, to get the public to do just about anything you want e.g. go to war against an imaginary enemy (Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc.); give up their rights (the Patriot Act); resign themselves to being permanently unemployed or underemployed (Globalization); etc. etc. etc. And the New York Times clearly has the power to shape the past because its editors decide which stories to print, how to shape them, etc. as Chomsky delineated above. And they maintain a storehouse of all their past stories. Researchers, scholars, government and business leaders go to the New York Times if they want to find something out about a past event. In fact, I just pulled a book off my bookshelves titled The New York Times Guide To Reference Materials: The Indispensable Handbook, Updated and Expanded, For Anyone Who Needs to Know How and Where to Look Up Almost Anything by Mona McCormick. Pretty arrogant wouldn’t you say? Sounds like they’re so full of themselves that they actually believe their own hype.

            In any case, Chomsky goes on to point out that “it’s important to have an impression of a liberal bias in the press so as to make people think there’s a counterbalance and not dare to think of going beyond the so-called liberal left which the New York Times is suppose to represent. And because of the pseudo-far Left that the Times is suppose to represent, nobody goes further to the Left because they’d be written off as nutcases from outer space because they have gone beyond what is acceptable in terms of debate and critique of our society and its institutions. I added on considerably to Chomsky’s words but its close to Chomsky’s intent I believe. For instance, in order to prevent the real truth seekers from getting too close, the elite media restrict the debate and therefore the presuppositions of the ‘liberal media’ are sacrosanct. In other words, if the New York Times, that ‘bastion of the liberal media’ is indeed liberal, adversarial, and all those bad things, how can I go beyond it? They’re already so extreme in their opposition to power that to go beyond it would be to take off from the planet i.e. to leave rationality, reasonability, & reality behind. (my description) The media thus say in Chomsky’s words “Thus far and no further!”

            Equally important to remember is the fact that “the major media are large corporations sometimes integrated with even larger corporations e.g. General Electric, Westinghouse, etc.” And a very important side-note here from me is recall that Ronald Reagan, that champion of the conservative cockroaches and who started the war on the poor and the environment with the Reagan Revolution, spent twenty years as a spokesman for G.E. before he got into politics. And in those 20 years he toured the G.E. plants around the country giving the same speech i.e. the Commies are Coming! And G.E. is this country’s largest producer of nuclear energy amongst other lovely things. I forget if they’re in the weapons industry but I heard recently that Lockheed-Martin is the largest weapons manufacturer. In brief, megalithic corporations like G.E. have a total lock on us i.e. they produce the weapons of mass destruction that threaten our very survival, they sell these weapons even to our ‘enemies,’ they poison our environment, they are funded by our tax dollars, they downsize us by moving overseas, they take away our pensions, and just about every labor law is gutted, and by owning the ‘elite media’ they keep it all hidden from the average American who watches their news and believes it as objective fact.

            I know this is all terribly depressing but you can either bury your head in the sand and hope it will all go away or that I’m just a paranoid nutcase or you can stand up on your hind legs and like in that classic movie Network from the late 60s or early 70s in which the central character, a television anchorman, told his audience in an apparent nervous breakdown on air, “go to your windows, open them up and shout, I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Obviously, I am kidding in a sense but I do believe we must get mad and we must inform ourselves as Chomsky himself counsels people who come to him for some magical answer. He tells them again and again, I can’t tell you what’s right. And he tells them that he could be wrong. He basically says that we have to do our own work and it’s tough but there’s no easy way. Next Chomsky touches on how advertising fits into the manufacturing of consent and this would be a good spot for me to go back and share with you a bit on Edward Bernays whom some have called the grandfather of the Public Relations industry in America, I believe? I am bringing him up because I believe that public relations and advertising are closely intertwined and responsible for a large part of our manipulation by the power elite! I am going to quote a lengthy portion on the subject of public relations from a book I have dissected and am using in my own book. And while I am using this book, I believe the author, John Taylor Gatto, may have a hidden agenda in support of Christian fundamentalists which I utterly detest. Nonetheless, Gatto is useful and does provide some great information and occasionally some brilliant insights.

            “Four hundred years after Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his treatise on scientific deceit, Edward L. Bernays began to practice the scientific art of public deception, trading heavily on his uncle Sigmund Freud’s notoriety. A decade earlier, Ivy Lee’s publicity savvy had rescued the Rockefellers from their Ludlow Massacre disgrace. Public Relations as political science was off and running on the fast track.

            Bernays was only a solitary word magician at the time, of course, but he was in an ideal position to capitalize quickly upon his rhetorical talent and to set his stamp on the new science’s future. In 1928, Bernays published two books in quick succession which planted his flag in the dream terrain of the ‘unconscious.’ The first, Crystallizing Public Opinion, the second, Propaganda. Adolf Hitler is said to have displayed both on a table in his office under a poster-sized picture of Henry Ford. The new world was blazing a trail into an even newer world than it imagined.

            Both of Bernays’ books argued that language could be used successfully to create new realities. Psychological science was so advanced, he claimed, it could substitute synthetic reality for natural reality, as urban society had successfully replaced our natural connection to birds, trees, and flowers with a substitute connection to billboards, cars, and bright lights.

            Crystallizing Public Opinion and Propaganda had much to say to the newly minted administrative classes burgeoning all over American schools and colleges. In Propaganda, Bernays redefined democratic society, in the interests of the mass-production economy. I’ve selected three short excerpts from Bernay’s classic which enriched him with corporate work in the seven decades of life he had left—he died in 1995 at the age of 105—after its publication.

            The first assertion of Propaganda was that common people had to be regimented and governed from behind the scenes. Here are Bernays’ actual words:

            The need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the

            Technical means have been invented and developed by which public opinion

            May be regimented.

            The next important contention was that the critical pollution of language necessary to make this work was already in use:

            We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested,

            Largely by men we have never heard of. We are dominated by a relatively small

            Number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of

            The masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public.

            Finally, Bernays attempts to provide a ‘moral’ justification for proceeding as he suggests:

            The conscious manipulation of organized habits and opinions of the masses is an

            Important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen

            Mechanism constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in

            This country.

            This attitude of manipulation as an important component of ‘democratic’ management entered the urban factory-school classroom in a big way at a time when psychology was taking over from academics as the tool of choice in America’s German-inspired teacher-training institutions.” (The Underground History of American Education, pgs. 354-55, John Taylor Gatto)

            And from the same website where I got the Walter Lippmann quotes:


This phrase quite simply means the use of an engineering approach—that is, action based only on thorough knowledge of the situation and on the application of scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support ideas and programs. Any person or organization depends ultimately on public approval, and is therefore faced with the problem of engineering the public’s consent to a program or goal…The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process the freedom to persuade and suggest. The freedoms of speech, press, petition, and assembly, the freedoms which make the engineering of consent possible, are among the most cherished guarantees of the Constitution of the United States…

Today it is impossible to overestimate the importance of engineering consent; it affects almost every aspect of our daily lives. When used for social purposes, it is among our most valuable contributions to the efficient functioning of modern society…The responsible leader, to accomplish social objectives, must therefore be constantly aware of the possibilities of subversion. He must apply his energies to mastering the operational know-how of consent engineering, and to out-maneuvering his opponents in the public interest.

            From The Engineering of Consent, by Edward Bernays, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, March 1947, pages 114-115 See also: pages 16-17

                        Well, I don’t know about you my friend but I feel like a rat in a lab experiment after learning this? And I am absolutely stupefied that both Bernays and Lippmann could call this manipulation of the public ‘democratic?’ That is some twisted & perverse logic more closely resembling Alice in Wonderland than scientific or rational thought. Something occurred to me as I was typing the date of the last quote from Bernays quote and that is that 1947 was also the year that marked the beginning of the National Security State i.e. Allen Foster Dulles wrote the National Security Act and we began the Cold War with Russia. Food for thought? Think about it in terms of the manufacture of consent. I’m not sure if it was Allen Dulles or his brother, John Foster Dulles in regards to writing the National Security Act? At this point in the film, Chomsky states that “what keeps the media functioning is advertising, not their readers (in fact, the newspapers devote something like 40% of the paper to advertising). What comes out is a picture of the world that satisfies the needs of the corporations and conglomerates. They exclude, marginalize, or eliminate dissenting voices just like any institution because dissenting opinions are self-destructive to institutions.” I would add though that dissenting opinions are in fact healthy for an institution, organization, government because if you surround yourself with nothing but yes-men, you are missing out on some opinions that can sometimes make the difference between failure and success.

            Chomsky continues “In a democracy, before we go to war, the media’s obligation is to provide background and offer peaceful resolutions or alternatives by presenting differing points of view in a public debate.  This didn’t happen in the Gulf War, 99% of the media just went along with President Bush. And every time Bush said there’d be no negotiations, there’d be a hundred editorials the next day lauding him for going the last mile in diplomacy. Bush said aggressors can’t be rewarded but he invaded Panama and was head of the CIA during the East Timor genocide and the media applauded. The media kept us from knowing we didn’t have to go to war and that means we went to war very much in the tradition of a totalitarian state. Equally important is the fact that the U.S. has vetoed almost every UN resolution against aggressor states (Gee! I wonder why? Could it be because the majority of those aggressive invasions have been committed by the U.S. & our number one ally, Israel?)

            “The purpose of the real mass media i.e. not the elite media, which is aimed at the top 20% of the ‘relatively well-educated’, but the media aimed at Joe six-pack, is to dull people’s brains. The main thing for the 80% of the public is to divert them, to get them to watch the National Football League. And to worry about the motherless child with six heads, astrology, fundamentalists stuff, etc. (The National Enquirer, the ‘largest selling paper in America’) In brief, the true purpose of the mass media for the lower classes is to get them away from things that matter. It’s important to reduce their capacity to think. Sports is another crucial example of the indoctrination system because it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. To keep them from worrying about things that matter to their lives, that they might have some ideas of how to do something about. High-school students are urged to root for their team even though they don’t know them and they mean nothing to them. This is a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority and group cohesion behind the leader i.e. training in irrational jingoism.”(note the often used sports metaphors in business and government e.g. the CEO or the president & etc. are often referred to as the coach or the quarterback and we’re the team. And also note the similar tactic used in ancient Rome with the Bread & Circus routine rituals of gladiators in The Coliseum used to distract the citizens from the political acts of the Emperor and the Senators e.g. taxing the hell out of the citizens, etc.)

            “Pol Pot, Cambodia’s bloody dictator and engineer of the Killing Fields which decimated somewhere around 750,000 of his own citizens, was covered in great and gloriously gory detail in our media but at the same time, the U.S. support of Indochina’s genocide against East Timor had no or barely any coverage or mention in the media. East Timor was our ally because they had oil and they were next to a very deep section of the ocean perfect for U.S. submarines to pass through in that region of the world. Indonesia invaded East Timor, the former Portuguese colony, because they were much more powerful and therefore could, and because they didn’t want a small, independent country which was very egalitarian and treated its citizens fairly, to serve as an example and possibly inspire other countries in the region. President Ford & ‘Killer Kissinger’ visited Jakarta, Indonesia and asked them to delay their invasion until after they had left because it would be embarrassing in terms of world opinion (remember, the U.S. is supposedly the ‘beacon on the hill i.e. the bright, shining example of all that’s good in the world). Less than twelve hours later, Indonesia invaded East Timor (December 7, 1975) and simply slaughtered East Timor’s citizens without stop for three weeks. The UN called for resolutions, sanctions, etc. but the U.S. was clearly not going to allow anything to interfere with Indochina’s campaign of genocide. And that great democratic leader, Daniel Patrick Moynihan proudly led the way in blocking the UN sanctions for our State Department. The U.S. supplied 90% of the weapons and right after the invasion, the shipment of arms was stepped up. This went on for years and Indochina’s military slowly starved the people of East Timor to death. When some who had been hiding in the jungle would come out under a white flag of surrender, they would be murdered—men and children. The women were taken to Delhi to ‘service’ the military of Indochina i.e. raped repeatedly!”

            “In 1978 when Indochina was running out of weapons and ammunition, the Carter administration increased sales to them as well as England and every other nation that could profit from munitions sales (remember that Carter is supposedly the champion of Human Rights & also note that weapons and drugs are the two largest businesses in the world). As the genocide reached its peak in 1978, the coverage in the U.S. media and in Canada’s media dropped to zero. Before this, there was some coverage but always from the point of view of the State Dept. and the Indonesian army, never from the people of East Timor and this was exactly at the time of Pol Pot’s genocidal campaign in Cambodia. And there was great protest and moral outrage in the press regarding Cambodia. The level of atrocities was comparable relatively but it was considerably higher in East Timor. From 1970 to 1975 there was also an atrocity for which the U.S. was responsible i.e. the bombing of Cambodia. CIA estimates were that our bombings killed somewhere around 600,000 Cambodians and the aftermath of our bombings killed approximately another million innocent civilians . The U.S. bombings of Cambodia played a significant role in building up peasant support for Pol Pot’s Khymer Rouge who implemented the genocide against their own people. And within a couple of weeks of the takeover by the Khymer Rouge, the New York Times was accusing them of genocide but mentioned nothing about the five years of bombings by the U.S. And  from then on it was a drumbeat, a chorus of genocide by our mass media. Time, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, etc. etc. etc. all jumped on the bandwagon decrying Pol Pot but not a word about East Timor. Our media lied outrageously about Cambodia, vastly exaggerated the numbers of dead e.g. anywhere from 1 to 4 million, doctored pictures, never provided any evidence nor was it required, claimed that Pol Pot bragged about killing over 2 million, etc. The lies would’ve made Stalin cringe. The difference between the genocide in East Timor and Cambodia was that East Timor’s killers weren’t Communists!”

            “Whenever the U.S. media did cover East Timor, it was a systematic, consistent whitewash of U.S. complicity. Indonesia killed a third of the people of East Timor and put them in concentration camps. Women were forced to use birth control and whenever any dared to protest, they were massacred. (Amy Goodman of America’s best alternative news media program Democracy Now!, was there & was severely beaten) The slaughter in East Timor exemplifies that the U.S. media isn’t merely subservient to corporate power but are complicit in genocide. The reason atrocities like this can go on is because nobody knew about them. If we did, we could protest and pressure them to stop. American people would be horrified if they knew of the blood that’s dripping from their hands because they allow themselves to be manipulated and deluded by the media. The courage of those in the Third World who continue to struggle and fight for freedom is awe-inspiring and they rely on the assistance from dissidents in the First World. Freedom and Democracy are prerequisites for survival.” (Chomsky is often charged with being a Conspiracy Theorist but he’s doing the complete opposite i.e. an institutional analysis) “The charge of being a conspiracy theorist’s effect is to discourage institutional analysis. Chomsky is marginalized in U.S. media because he primarily criticizes the U.S. but in other countries he’s given a lot of access to their major media because he’s not so much of a threat to them. And here’s the paradox, the freer a society is, the more necessary it is to induce fear (Note how effectively and how consistently Bush has used the tool of fear since Sept. 11th to manipulate public opinion e.g. to invade Iraq which had nothing to do with 9/11).

            “And Chomsky’s freedom to speak in other countries like Belgium, Holland, Canada, etc. is partly because their opinions don’t matter i.e. the U.S. is the world’s sole superpower! The U.S. is ideologically narrower than most other countries. The structure of the U.S. media is to pretty much eliminate critical discussion. FAIR’s (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) analysis of ABC’s Nightline revealed that of 1,530 guests: 92% were White, 89% were Male, & 80% were Professionals, Government Officials, or Corporate Representatives. Defenders of television like Jeff Greenfield of Nightline, say that people like Chomsky don’t work on t.v. because he’s not concise enough i.e. able to provide sound-bites of a sentence or two between commercials. The beauty of concision is that you can only repeat conventional thoughts. You don’t need any evidence e.g. Khomeni is nuts!, Quadafi is a murderer!, etc. Everybody just nods in agreement. They just spew the standard regurgitations of conventional pieties. On the other hand, if you say something like ‘the biggest international terrorism operations that are known, are run out of Washington D.C.’ or ‘what happened in the 1980s was that the U.S. government was driven underground’ (Iran Contra Scandal), or ‘the U.S. is invading South Vietnam’ or ‘if the Nuremburg Principles were applied, then every post-war U.S. president would’ve been hanged,’ or ‘the best political leaders are the ones who are lazy and corrupt,’ or ‘the Bible is the most genocidal book in our total canon,’ or ‘education is a system of imposed ignorance,’ or ‘there’s no more morality in world affairs fundamentally than there was in the time of Genghis Khan, there’s just different factors to be concerned with,’ people will demand that you give evidence. And a lot of evidence if you make such statements that startle them and which they’ve never heard before. But you can’t give evidence if you’re stuck with concision. That’s the genius of this structural constraint. In fact, if they’d let the dissenters on more often, they’d sound like they’re from outer space and that would serve the propagandists much better.”

            In another case, “The number of guests in sixteen years of the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour was over 10,500 & the number of interviews with Chomsky on this program was 1. He was given 11 minutes & 52 seconds to speak. Chomsky was asked why if everything is so bad here in regards to the U.S. media, he lives here? Because it’s my country, it’s the freest country in the world, and there’s more possibility for change here than anywhere else. And comparatively speaking, the U.S. is the country where the State is the most restrictive. The U.S. is a scandal in point of view of its wealth, it’s resources, its lack of enemies, etc. The U.S. should have a level of health, welfare, and so on that’s on an order of magnitude that’s beyond anybody else in the world and we don’t! The U.S. is last among twenty eight industrialized societies in terms of infant mortality. “

            Furthermore, “there’s virtually no correlation between the internal freedom of a society and its external behavior e.g. ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy & its citizens were amongst the freest peoples of the time yet it was an imperialist power that invaded other nations. “

            To return to the subject of the media, “the only way to make the media or corporations more democratic is to get rid of them. If you have concentrated power, you can slightly affect it by protest but you can’t really affect the structural power of the corporation unless you’re ready for a social revolution. It’s not to say one shouldn’t keep on trying. There are internal contradictions in institutions such as in the media i.e. the media’s support of the powers that be & on the other hand, the striving for journalistic integrity on the part of some journalists. For instance, Sarah McClendon who was an independent journalist who tore into Presidents at press briefings for over 40 years. Most reporters simply internalize the values of their corporate bosses and then regard themselves as acting freely. Self-censorship vs. formal censorship! The ways things change are because lots of people are working all the time in their communities, or wherever they happen to be and they’re building up the base for popular movements e.g. the end of slavery, democratic movements, Civil Rights in the 1960s, etc. History books give a very false notion of this i.e. there are a couple of leaders like George Washington, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, etc. who caused the changes to come about & this is not to say that these leaders aren’t important. But it’s all those who we never hear of or know the names of, who are building up the pressures against the social wrongs until a point is reached i.e. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat, and that spark ignites a wildfire. (my description of the phenomenon) “When you have active activists, then people like me (Chomsky) can appear and we can appear to be prominent but that’s only because somebody else is doing the work! His giving hundreds of lectures, spending 20 hours a week writing letters, writing books & etc. isn’t directed towards politicians, intellectuals, etc., it’s directed toward what are called ordinary people. (earlier in the film it was revealed that Chomsky comes from a blue-collar background & has always championed the working class) And what he expects from them is exactly what they are i.e. to try to understand the world and act according to their decent impulses. And that they should try to improve the world and many people are willing to do that but they have to understand that in these things, I feel what I’m trying to do is help people to develop courses of intellectual self-defense! (I believe this to be the central message of Chomsky?) It means you have to develop an independent mind and work on it! That’s extremely hard to do alone. The beauty of our system is that it isolates everybody. Each person is sitting alone in front of the tube. (note the age-old military strategy of ‘divide & conquer,’ food for thought?)

            What’s more, “it’s hard to have ideas or thoughts under those circumstances, some people can but it’s very rare. The way to do it is through organization. It makes sense to try and look at what the institutions are trying to do and then try to combat that. They want to isolate us and we’re trying to bring people together. (I am writing a book in which I’m analyzing the educational institutions, the media, the corporations, anti-intellectualism, & fundamentalists) The right answers are what you decide are the right answers. I can’t point you to particular media for the right answers. I could be wrong about everything I’m saying. But that’s something for you to figure out. There isn’t any reason why you should pay attention to what I think is right. I’m not God. The alternative media is what’s keeping people together. For example, Z Magazine has a staff of two, and no resources but because of the incredible amount of effort on their part, it’s a national magazine. Or South End Press, a small collective (six people) but they put out a lot of good books. The information is out there but it’s for somebody who’s a fanatic and will spend the time and energy comparing today’s lies and yesterday’s leaks and etc. to find out or discover.

            The 1960s didn’t change the way our institutions function but it has led to very significant cultural changes and they expanded in the 70s, 80s, & 90s. Changes or things that seemed outrageous in the 1960s are now taken for granted e.g. the feminist movement, the ecological movements, Third World Solidarity movements, etc. were student movements in the 60s and now they’re mainstream America. And even though more people realize the government and the media don’t reflect their views, they go outside the mainstream to inform themselves and to participate and be heard. And most don’t bother to even participate by voting or writing mainstream media, etc. Somehow people don’t see how profoundly contemptuous of democracy it is for them to hold these stage-managed elections where PR people determine what will come out of the politicians’ mouths and etc.

            The point is you’re going to have to work and that’s why the propaganda system is so successful because very few people are going to have the time, energy, or commitment to carry out the constant battle that’s required to get outside the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, Dan Rather, or somebody like that. The easy thing to do is when you come home from work, it’s been a long day, you’re probably tired so you turn on the t.v. and watch the news and say it’s probably right. You read the newspaper and the Sports section and that’s the basic way the indoctrination system works. Sure the other stuff is there but you’re going to have to work to find it. Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. And the driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain! It’s accepted as legitimate, even praiseworthy on the grounds that private vices yield public benefits in the classic formulation. It’s long been understood that a society that’s based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist with whatever suffering and injustice it entails as long as its possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and the world is an infinite garbage can.”

            I have to interrupt Chomsky here because what he’s saying hits home for me in such a personal and deeply felt way. As I said earlier about my family, friends, & even my own son not understanding or respecting what I have been doing for most of my adult life. And Chomsky is right on the mark when he said that most people are too tired after a day’s work and simply switch on the boob-tube for their ‘news.’ I have heard this excuse a million times from people I was trying to get through to on the importance of reading serious books about what’s going on. And I still think it’s bullshit that people can’t even take twenty minutes a day to read something challenging. They can spend eight hours in front of the t.v. but always claim they don’t have any energy for the crucial stuff affecting all our lives? I read recently that back around the turn of the century, factory workers in the woolen mills would hire people to read to them while they were working because they wanted to be informed and they’d read serious stuff. Why were they intellectually curious and why are people today so intellectually lazy? Chomsky is so right also in that we have become so obsessed with material things. Consider the popular bumper sticker ‘He who dies with the most toys, wins!’ I have had people say things to me like ‘you always talk about your education but what good has it done for you?’ or ‘so what are you going to do with a degree in philosophy, sit on the beach and meditate?’ And my friends both in L.A. where I mostly grew up and my friends up here in Portland, Oregon where I have lived since 1992, can’t understand why I’m not interested in Sports. They are obsessed with it and watch it ad nauseam, but won’t read a book or even an article I plead with them to read, if their lives depended on it. It’s very depressing and again is why I often feel like a stranger in a strange land to steal the title of Robert Heinlein’s book. And because of the general apathy, indifference, & ignorance of most of the Americans I know, I love to leave whenever I can and Europe is my favorite destination. My experiences in Europe have usually been very intellectually stimulating to say nothing of the thrill of seeing places that I had just read about in school or in books. I don’t mean to sound like a braggart but I am proud to say that I have been to Europe eight times so far and I’m always plotting my next escape to return there. Yes, the almighty dollar reigns supreme in this land of consumers not citizens. And I worry that we won’t wake from our zombie-like slumber until it’s too late and we have become a police-state totally. I just hope that I’m in Europe or somewhere else when they lock the doors for good? Finally, Chomsky is indeed correct in his assessment of why this state of ignorance can go on. Most Americans have swallowed completely and without any reflection whatsoever that we are the righteous, God-chosen people destined to rule the world and we do nothing but good in the world. And because of their blindness to the long and sordid history of our government, business leaders, & military, they can’t connect the most obvious dots which are staring us in the face today e.g. we’re losing jobs by the millions, we’re losing our pensions, our health insurance, we’re being forced to accept ever decreasing wages, our environment is being poisoned, we’re led into war after war by deceitful politicians and media talking heads, we live in the most violent society on earth, etc. etc. etc. I just don’t know what it’s going to take to wake up the slumbering giant of America’s people?

            In addition, Chomsky adds that “at this stage of history, either one of two things is possible; either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity, sympathy, and concern for others or alternatively, there will be no destiny for anyone to control. As long as some specialized class is in a position of authority, it is going to set policy favorable to the special interests it serves. But conditions of survival, let alone justice require social planning in the interests of the community as a whole, that means the global community. (tragically I fear that we won’t appreciate how precious Democracy and Freedom are until we’ve lost them, if only we would talk to those who have lived under dictators maybe we could wake up?) The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must. Namely to impose ‘necessary illusions’ to manipulate and deceive the stupid majority and to remove them from the public arena. The question in brief is whether Democracy and Freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided.

            In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, Democracy and Freedom are more than values to be treasured, they may well be essential to survival! (I am reminded of a quote by H.G. Wells that I often tell people about when arguing about our species continued existence i.e. “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” How true!) At this point, an interviewer, David Barsamian (he’s well worth checking out), asks Chomsky: ‘You deal with the genocide in East Timor, the murders in El Salvador, on and on, it’s pretty horrific stuff, what keeps you going? What keeps you from getting burnt out?’ Chomsky: “It’s mainly a matter of being able to look yourself in the mirror I think?” He was then asked if he’d ever thought of running for president and he smiled and chuckled slightly and replied “if I ever ran for president, the first thing I’d do is tell people not to vote for me.” This is where the film ends but I want to add a couple more points which I discovered in the special features section of the DVD.

            To illustrate the power of the mass media and its tragic consequences when its power is used in service to the military/industrial complex, recall the mostly hidden lesson of Vietnam. “Because we’re not a totalitarian state (yet!), we don’t have a fixed propaganda line but the presuppositions of the ‘liberal media’ i.e. the limits of our debates, are the propaganda line here in


Source by Rob DeLoss

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