…people are poor and blank. …
On a blank sheet of paper free
from any mark, the freshest
and most beautiful pictures
can be painted.” (Mao Zedong)
One of the primary tasks for leaders and ruling classes is to upkeep their regime so that it lasted for as long as possible. This, in the first place, requires stability and calm in the country, better – docility of the people. In distant past, when all countries lived under autocratic regimes (various kinds of monarchy), and in more recent historical epochs, when clergy or party leaders where at the helm, the main instrument for maintaining order were special military formations, police and appropriate legal, judicial and penitentiary systems.
In most countries the system of government changed over the recent few centuries. Of approximately 200 states in the world some 30 have official hereditary monarchies (though actual powers of the monarchs differ) plus there are several countries under dictatorial regimes. With the transition to democratic, liberal systems of government the necessity emerged to mange millions of people using minimum of coercion. Behavior programming to forge new attitudes, ideology, and most importantly – drives and motivations – emerged at the foreground. In other words – propaganda and manipulation of consciousness. Media gained importance, specifically the newest approaches to massive indoctrination where masterfully done films, television programs, talk shows, popular shows and demonstrations are used to inculcate the ideas promoted by the authorities. Also of great importance are educational systems practiced at schools and other institutions to forge a certain beliefs and values in the younger generation.
Such systems utilize the laws of crowd psychology, such as the inclination to act like the others do and to feel less responsible when acting collectively. Examples of collective action are parades, where people move in one rhythm arranged in rows and columns, torchlight processions, collective prayers, etc. Sometimes, methods of indoctrination appeal to base instincts which, being unacceptable on the conscious level, are normally ousted into the subconscious. Suggestion or inculcation of ideas which are foreign to one’s mind is principally different from persuasion where arguments, ideas or concepts are taken critically and can be either accepted or declined. It has to be noted that manipulation of consciousness is also used as a method for achieving practical goals, such as advertisement, dissemination of misinformation, etc.
Being fed the very same information together with biased interpretations, people are becoming manageable and controllable regardless of their cultural and class differences – from responding to calls for religious sacrifices to participation in wars with nebulous and questionable reasons and goals. It is well known that people in a brainwashed crowd will shout “hurrah” to their oppressive dictator and, on the contrary, show contempt for the fighters for their freedom.
WE THINK WE LIVE in a democracy, which is the type of society in which ultimate power lies with the people. Our leaders are supposed to be our servants, accountable to the people and fulfilling the wishes of the people, making decisions for the greater good of all. Of course, for the people to exercise this power responsibly and wisely, they need to have an accurate picture and understanding of what is going on in the world, so that they are able to steer society in the best direction. (Driving with poor eyesight is a recipe for a crash!) The lifeblood of democracies, therefore, is the free and undistorted flow of information, and the transparency of society’s workings (except of course where those workings directly endanger national security).
The rate and density of information flow has been rising exponentially since the end of the Second World War. The arrival of television networks, electronic printing presses, satellites, cheap data routers, the computer and the internet have meant that information flow and processing have never been faster, easier, cheaper or more far-reaching. Whilst this potentially increases news flow, diversity and opinion, in reality the counter-pressures of market forces and corporate conglomeration, which has led to a virtual media monopoly where only a handful of multinationals now own and control the vast majority of mainstream media outlets, have meant that there has actually been an overall contraction in information diversity and opinion. Mainstream media is now almost invariably mass-produced, corporate-friendly, nationalistic and unchallenging, hooking the audience with a riveting milieu of banality, fear, violence, hatred, and sex.
With control over the West’s mass media falling into the hands of a small group of multinationals (only 5 control just about all the US media), the potential for information flow to be spun by the interests of big business (and governments, which have a symbiotic relationship with big business) has never been greater. In fact, research directly demonstrates that news stories or opinions which are anti-capitalist, anti-nationalistic or anti-government are far less likely to make it into print or be covered by television than those that support capitalism, nationalism and our present governments. And reporters who do not tow the line with the media owner’s opinions are likely to find themselves quickly out of a job!
So we know that the information channels that most people use in our democratic societies are becoming less free and undistorted, a process that is eroding the heart of democracy itself — the people’s power. In fact, you could say that the level of democracy is inversely proportional to the extent to which information is controlled and spun. One positive thing that has come out of the recent US/UK illegal invasion of Iraq, and the murder of a hundred thousand of its civilians, is that people (at least outside the US) are beginning to wake up to the level of public manipulation. In the US, for example, 70% of people recently polled believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the World Trade Centre disaster. This is undeniably false and even Bush eventually and begrudgingly admitted that there was no connection, but this was only after stringing the people along on this one because the government needed public support.
Our leaders don’t care about democracy. Why should they? After all, being accountable to the people only reduces their power, and as George Orwell said, “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. The object of power is power.” The same holds for corporations… why would corporations care about people when their bottom line is the maximisation of profit? Sure, there are many instances when caring about people does maximise profits, but rest assured that when the two clash, and they often do behind the scenes, profits ALWAYS come before people, unless prevented from doing so by legislation. However, as government and big business are bedfellows, with ex-politicians often sitting on the boards of big companies, the business community is able to unduly and undemocratically influence that legislative process, steering our legal system towards a corporate and controlled state. Governments and corporations work hand in hand to erode democracy because that is in their interest. That is their nature. But for how long can democracy be eroded before it becomes a dictatorship? How much democratic savings do we have left in the bank before we wake up to the fact that we are merely a pseudo-democracy? (Some might argue that we are this already.)
If we want to live in societies that are democracies only in name, bearing all the attributes of dictatorships, then we only need to carry on in the direction we are headed: trust the government, wave our flags, support our boys and girls murdering in far-off countries, read the newspapers, watch the television, and vote every few years. Then we can congratulate ourselves that we are the “free world”, looking with scorn on the barbarity of dictatorships in many developing countries. If that is what we want, then we will have it soon, sooner than we can possibly imagine. (There are huge military programs underway in the US for mass civilian control for when the people finally realize that they no longer have the freedoms of a democracy… but by that time it will probably be too late.)
If we the people decide that democracy is not worth giving up, that power is safest in our hands rather than in those who have the pathology to be driven towards power in the first place, then we need to be more proactive. First of all, we need to fully realize that whenever any group of people has a disproportionate influence over government policy, democracy has suffered a severe blow, period. There are no exceptions. If criticism of government or corporate activity in the US, for example, is automatically labeled”unpatriotic” or “un-American”, then the America that is being defended is decidedly not a democracy and therefore not worth defending. Secondly, we need to understand exactly how the people are manipulated into doing the bidding of their leaders and the multinationals, so glaringly against their own interest. We need to understand the methods of manipulation. (I deliberately use the term propaganda sparingly as it is more difficult to define and understand.)
METHODS OF MANIPULATION
- Control The Media: This is the first and most important step in the control of information. Media ownership is central to the manipulation of the people. Manipulate the people, and you manipulate their vote. You either control the media by owning it or by doing favours to those who own it. In the United States, large corporations own the media and these, in turn, receive favours from the Government in the form of influence over legislation and special tax breaks. Worryingly, only five mega-media corporations now control almost all of the US media, which is why the American people are among the most ignorant and brainwashed in the world.
- Television: Television has done more harm to society than any other medium. It has shrunk attention spans with its 5 second sound bites, presenting us with a diet of dissociated facts and trivialities, completely out of any historical or sociological context, usually with an emotional charge to keep us watching. In its fairground approach, serious questions and reasoning is replaced by slick emotional imagery, discussion is reduced to a screaming match between two opposing extremists in a ludicrously polarized debate, and the reality of even serious matters such as war is reduced to entertainment. It would not be an exaggeration to say that television, in its present form, is the nemesis of true democracy. (Although it has the potential to be something far different.)
- Perpetual War: A country at war with an enemy (external or internal) is generally a country that is united in fear, and one in which the people are happy to hand over power to their leaders. As Orwell wrote: “The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.” Until recently, the Soviet Union and communism represented this danger for us in the West. Upon its collapsed, however, there was a rise in civil liberties until the US was able to start a new war to camouflage its imperialist and dictatorial ambitions: The War Against Terror. Since the start of this war, huge swathes of freedoms have been taken back from the people under the guise of “national security” and “protection”. The War on Terror has the added advantage of being unwinnable and therefore perpetually serves those who want power. Herman Goering said at the Nuremberg Trials: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
- Language: Orwell knew better than most the power of language in defining our reality and our behaviour. He wrote in Nineteen Eighty Four, “War is Peace”; doublespeak ominously mirrored by Bush during the Iraq war when he said, “The war in Iraq is really about peace.” The assault on Iraq was continually referred to as “liberation”, and the US military called it “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. Of course, liberation and freedom had little to do with the real reason that the US and UK invaded that country, but the rhetoric at least allows concerned citizens an excuse to deceive themselves into supporting blatant imperialism. Other doublespeak terms used by the military include “collateral damage” for civilian casualties and “the axis of evil” which gives the impression that countries with different ideologies to that of the US are somehow plotting together to hurt the US (when in fact most of these countries have almost no diplomatic relationships with each other). Control language and you control people’s thoughts. In 1984, Orwell asserts that the control of language (and the elimination of selected vocabulary) is a prerequisite for the control of the People: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it… The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought as we understand it now.”
- Patriotism: At first patriotism might seem a show of solidarity of people and country, but it is actually one of the main methods that people are manipulated into serving their government in ways that may not be in their best interest. Tolstoy wrote: “…the subjection of men to government will always continue as long as patriotism exists, for every ruling power rests on patriotism — on the readiness of men to submit to power… ” As long as people are patriotic, they will overlook the sins of their government, both towards their own people, and towards other those in other countries. When Blair is questioned whether he has any regrets over Iraq, for example, he avoids the question and appeals to patriotism, “I think our boys have done a fantastic job,” implying that anyone who questions the legitimacy of the Iraqi invasion questions the legitimacy of “our boys”. This tendency for evil policy to ride through on a wave of patriotism is particularly prevalent in the US.
- Dissociation of the Facts: This is a classic method used by governments and the media to maintain the fantasies that they use to control the thought of their people. For example, the Blair government insisted that the London bombings were the result of irrational religious fanatics, period, because that gets them off the far more likely hook that they were an evil and direct consequence of its murderous foreign policy. In this way, “blow back” from its actions denied. Dissociation of facts is particularly easy with a media source like TV (see 2 above).
- Religions and Cults: The promise of eternal life and the threat of hell (the carrot and the stick) approach of most religions and cults has led to more murder, misery, torture, sexual abuse, child abuse, suicide, guilt, shame, anger, perversion, hostility and slavery than any other form of manipulation in history. The Roman Catholic Church has even apologised recently for its abusive past (not that this will have much effect on its behaviour). Anything “fundamentalist” just means that ideology is being put in front of people… a recipe for individual and mass abuse.
- Robotic Education: It is a fallacy to believe that only the uneducated can be manipulated. Some believe that the educated are actually the easiest to manipulate because they have been trained to to process so much information that they often become less critical. The educated also tend to need an opinion on everything. Educational today is tailored to manufacturer individuals to support government propaganda. Whereas students in the past were revolutionary and questioned society, today it would seem that that revolutionary edge has been tempered by an acceptance of the corporatisation of society, the poison of patriotism, and the soporific effect of institutionalised entertainment and titillation.
- Corporate Slavery: Corporations are mini dictatorships that force people to work long hours for relatively little of the overall profits. Today, most people work for corporations, and so most people are used to dictatorial environments and are left with little time to concern themselves with the state of society and the world. This makes people very susceptible to government manipulation because they are so used to being manipulated at work, and to being slaves to a system. Some believe that the ethos of working long and intense hours, something that even slaves in former times were not subject to, is a good thing for society as it raises everybody’s standard of living. This may be true to some extent, but it is still an underhanded manipulation of society, and in a democracy the people should be at least conscious of this fact.
- Fear: This is one of the best ways to control people… fear of violence, destitution, disapproval, ridicule, change etc. Fear is used to manipulate people into receiving dangerous and expensive medical treatments, into buying 4×4 vehicles, into buying expensive cosmetics and clothes so that we are loved for being beautiful (and not hated for being old and ugly), into giving money to cancer charities (most of which squander it on chemotherapy poisons that can be statistically worse than no treatment at all), into attending church so we don’t go to hell and into being a corporate slave so that we don’t find ourselves thrown out on the street by our mortgage company. In fact, fear is the best motivation in governmental, corporate and religious manipulation. (see also 27).
- Repeat A Lie: Joseph Goebbels said: “Never admit a lie – simply keep repeating it.” This works wonders for governments intent on misleading its citizens. This is the reason why 70% of Americans believe that Iraq was behind 9-11 despite all evidence to the contrary. The Bush propaganda machine just keeps repeating it over and over. And over here in the UK, Blair just keeps repeating that weapons of mass destruction exist and that it was a “good thing” to illegally invade a sovereign state. When no WMD were discovered in Iraq, Blair just started repeating another lie that the world is safer as a result of his disastrous Iraq invasion.
- Hide Truth in a Barrage of Lies: This is a very useful method of not getting caught making a lie. The lies that go along with the truthful piece of information spin that truth so that it is no longer any use. When questioned on this method, governments can always hold up their hands in mocked surprise telling us that they give us the truth all along. During the Iraqi war, for example, truth and fiction were deliberately mixed together by the US and UK governments in a very confusing way, with innuendos of fictitious Iraqi military capacity. The government here in the UK is trying to contend that the 45-minute claim in the intelligence dossier actually referred to more conventional weapons, and therefore everyone was telling the truth.
- Unnecessary Secrecy: Every government needs to have some level of secrecy in military matters to protect its boarders and its people. But when this is used to withhold information from the people which is not necessary for national security then the position of governments to classify information is being abused. This is now happening on a daily basis in so called democracies as governments take a dim view of the people’s right to know. This focus on secrecy, often justified by war, is also extending into the corporate world where big business is demanding the right, for reasons ranging from terrorism to competitive edge, to keep its policies and workings secret from the public. When the public is kept in the dark, democracy itself is dimmed.
- Vilifying Our Enemies: This is the classic method of manipulation that justifies hash treatment for both internal enemies and external enemies. Drug dealers, murderers, foreign dictators, asylum seekers and people in other countries are often dehumanized to justify their inhumane treatment and often murder at the hands of our governments, society and ourselves. Iraqi soldiers in the Kuwait war, for example, were falsely accused of mass murder of babies on incubators, which justified their mass murder at the hands of the American military. Dehumanization also blocks us making any attempt to try to understand the motives and feelings of our perceived enemies, something that if we did might reveal our own and/or our government’s complicity in our enemy’s actions. There is a pernicious assumption in our society that trying to understand the motives of someone who has performed an evil act or wants to perform an evil act is the same as condoning that act. Those who wish to manipulate us would far rather we label all acts in response to our society’s control mechanisms, either here or abroad, as acts perpetrated by evil and irrational people, rather than evil and irrational acts perpetrated by desperate people. Only the second perspective gives a chance to reconcile with our enemy, something that our controllers would certainly not want (see 3 above).
- Evasion of Responsibility: Leading politicians know exactly how to duck and dive their way out of sticky situations by setting up a string of fall guys and girls. Nobody is as expert at this as Blair who has survived several disasters of his prime ministership, any one of which could have terminated his appointment. Master manipulators are great at throwing up smokescreens; at being evasive. The people, therefore, are continually manipulated into thinking the problem is everyone except the leader or corporation involved.
- Control Reporters: One of the simplest ways to control the information going to the media is to control which reporters have access to the source of information. You can be sure, for example, that no pacifists were invited along with the military to report on the invasion of Iraq. Another way that reporters where psychologically manipulated during recent middle-east conflicts was by having them embedded — in other words completely dependent and therefore grateful to the US/UK forces for protecting them in hostile environments. You hardly criticism the hand the feeds and protects you!
- Advertising/PR: When we live in an environment saturated with corporate advertising and PR, we grow used to their presence. We almost expect to be manipulated into purchasing or consuming something or other. The way that most advertising is conducted is to hook us on an emotional response rather than employing our cerebral cortex — the idea being that more primitive responses of the brain are more predictable and so the outcome of the advertising/PR is more assured. What we don’t realize is that these techniques are being used to sell us more than just products or services. They are being used by governments and corporations to sell us ideas and worldviews that support those governments and corporations aims. (Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in the build up of the Iraqi war by the Bush government to manipulate the American people into supporting him — but few people realize this.)
- Debt: A people and a nation in debt is far easier to manipulate than one that isn’t because its members are so busy paying off their mortgages and rents that they don’t have the time, the energy or the inclination to challenge the status quo. The average person is deliberately kept just short of bankruptcy so that he remains a slave to the system. (Slaves only question the system if they can imagine freedom; a slave who has no concept of freedom does not need much control or cohesion.) Manipulation via debt also applies to nations where it is used ruthlessly by the developed countries to enslave undeveloped countries and steal their resources.
- Consumerism: Strange how shopping has become the favourite pastime for most young people these days. Hook people on consumerism and they will believe that the dissatisfaction that they feel is because they don’t have the latest car or mobile phone. The pursuit of materialism blunts the democratic process for two reasons: firstly, the corporate model becomes the predominant model in society; and secondly, rampant consumerism is unecological and destructive to communities both in here and abroad — something that if people freely thought about they would realize is not in their interest (which is why advertising has to engage them emotionally). Consumerism has become such a pillar of modern social control that it is hardly even questioned any more.
- Fantasy and Entertainment: Almost everyone is glued to their televisions many hours each day, and many young people play an inordinate amount of computer games. Film and pop stars are now our main role models, with a level of decadence and excess that only very few of the people could and ever will match. Entertainment has become Huxley’s soma of the people, dulling their desire to challenge the status quo and giving those who would manipulate us a far easier task. The main way to keep ratings high on national television is to appeal to the primitive emotions of fear and anger. This sensationalism is one of the main reasons for the negative effect of this medium on the people and to its alarming distortion of reality.
- Drugs and Alcohol: An extension of entertainment, drugs and alcohol give the people an “outlet” for their dissatisfaction and unhappiness, often sublimating their desire to democratically make changes in the society in which they live. The consumption of excessive alcohol, painkillers and anti-depressants has reached epidemic proportions. Some drugs, such as hallucinogens, can heighten our perception of what is going on in the world provided they are taken in the right context and not as an escape, but by far the majority of people are taking recreational drugs to cloud their perception of reality. A population that uses these sorts of escape valves is far less likely to challenge the status quo.
- Romance / Sex Fixation: Romance and sex have always had a huge and healthy part to play in society. But when these two desires are railroaded by corporations then our natural instincts are being used to powerfully manipulate our behaviour into supporting the designs of others. There is nothing romantic about murder, but that has not stopped even war, which is mass murder, from becoming romanticized in our popular media.
- Assumed Authority: Most people have an unhealthy respect for those in authority. This makes them controllable by those who assume that authority. Many young people today dislike people in authority, but this is usually only a psychological stage through which they are going to being adult members of society. In fact, hatred for authority is little different to love for it. We have to realize that in a democracy, anybody in “authority” is just a human being acting as a particular servant to the people. (Authority in corporations is a different matter as these are not democratic institutions.) Blindly following authority, however, can have devastating consequences. Each year in the United States, for example, 113,000 people die from the side-effects of medical drugs or errors in medication, but still most are unwilling to challenge their doctor’s opinions because they are not only afraid of challenging authority, they love to acquiesce in it.
- National Self-Centeredness: It is very easy for us in the West to be blind to the reason why “foreigners” get so upset about our military expansion and intervention in world affairs. We forget that if another country, say China, behaved in the way the US behaves internationally, we would be preparing for war. Nations are naturally self-centered, and what we might label as “defence” or a “war on terrorism” is very likely to be labeled as “attack” and “imperialist expansion” by those outside our borders. If, for example, Iran insisted on having a military base in Mexico, there would be national outcry in the US (and no doubt the rest of the Americas) and yet the US does not understand a similar response from other countries to the copious US military bases worldwide. In this way, people, corporations and governments are blind to their own actions because they have a short-sighted perspective. The people are thus manipulated into supporting “defence” when it is really offence. Denial is also involved with those with a strong sense of nationalism. George Orwell once wrote, “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side. He has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
- Bogus History: George Orwell said “He who controls the past commands the future.” History is being rewritten at every available opportunity by governments, corporations, religions and filmmakers in order to manipulate the worldview of the people. From the holocaust deniers to those that try to justify the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan at the end of WWII (despite the fact that Japan has already surrendered), history is continually rewritten to support particular ideological frameworks and of course national triumphantism. Today, few understand the hatred of the Middle-Eastern countries towards the West, conveniently attributing it to something as irrational as Islamic Fundamentalism. In reality, the West and especially the US was shamelessly manipulating this region of the world for most of the 20th Century and entirely out of self-interest. If anyone needs to understand this hatred, the irrationality of religious fundamentalism is most certainly not the place to start.
- Insults: It is remarkable that in the 21st century, name calling is still one of the major techniques of political “discussion” at the highest level. Branding someone as a “communist” or a “socialist” is still considered a terrible slur, especially in the US. Like appeals to patriotism, insulting someone in this way is used ad nausea by government, corporate and other fascist representatives who have been presented with undeniable facts for their wrongdoing against the people. The Founding Fathers of the US would no doubt be liable to this insult if they were alive today for their people-oriented constitution.
- Physical Intimidation: Of course, if none of the above techniques are working, “democracies” can resort to physical intimidation. I have a friend who was beaten by police in the US for just being on the street during a political protest… she wasn’t taking part and was just watching the marchers pass. In the United Police State of America intimidation of the people is used to keep society in line, and it is absolutely incorrect to believe that physical abuse of captives only happens in far off dictatorships and socialist countries. The US illegally holds and tortures Afghan prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention. This is an astonishing example by the so called flagship of democracy to set to the rest of the world and to its own population. The message to the world is Might is Right (and so is torture).
All these methods and situations are used to manipulate society. Of course, it has been argued that some manipulation is necessary in order to have people fulfill their “function” or “role” in society: give their life to the corporate world, have 2.2 children, obediently pay off their mortgage, and silently go off to war like lambs to the slaughter to “defend” their country. Otherwise, God Forbid, the corporate world would crumble, people might have no children… or 10 out of wedlock, the banks might lose the interest that they charge on imaginary money (fractional reserve banking) and a lot less innocent women, men and children might be murdered in far off countries (or by state-sponsored medical poisons). What some call the positive or essential role of this manipulation or propaganda still takes away power from the people and puts it into a societal structure that benefits the few at the expense of the many. This clearly contravenes the ideals of democracy in which the people hold the power and make the decisions.
If democracy is something worth preserving (it might not be ideal but history bears testimony to the disasters and terrible suffering that inevitably happen when the people do not hold the power) then we have to reduce the level of manipulation on our lives so that we begin to act consciously in our interests rather than unconsciously in the interests of the few (politicians, big business, the military, banks etc.)