Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 13, 2002
The desire to belong squelches dissent
WCR columnist Hank Zyp recently suffered a stroke and is recuperating in hospital. This will be his last column for the immediate future.
Reinhold Niebuhr, a highly respected Christian moralist and political commentator, wrote in 1932: "given the stupidity of the average man, it is the responsibility of cool observers to provide the necessary illusion so that faith is instilled in the minds of the less endowed."
Maybe Niebuhr was just making an observation, rather than a recommendation.
Something like the Bijak of Kabir made when he said: "What is the world like? A flock of sheep. One falls into the ditch, the rest jump in."
The point is that the public is considered to be malleable and compliant and easily manipulated.
Hermann Goering was the master of manipulating public opinion. It is easily done when you control the media. Saturate the outlets with your message and soon you have the people conditioned to repeat your lies as if they had just discovered it as their own truth.
Public opinion is a powerful tool because people have a deep seated desire to belong. They don't want to stand out as mavericks, but crave the security of blending into a homogenous mass.
You are free to argue about sport, but should you have any notions of your own in other realms, then you are best advised to keep them to yourself.
Dissenters are treated as traitors when the stakes are high enough and free thinkers are excommunicated. "Make no mistake" says George W. Bush : "You're with us or against us."
Noam Chomsky writes: "Liberal democratic theorists have long observed that in a society where the voice of the people is heard, elite groups must ensure that this voice says the right things." The less a state is able to use outright coercion to defend the interests of the elite, the more it must rely on public relations firms to sway the opinion of the great unwashed.
Walter Lippman called it Manufacture of Consent some 70 years ago and Chomsky wrote a book about it.
George Orwell, who was quite familiar with fascist Spain, wrote a few novels on the topic, which became popular manuals in high schools to warn kids about the evils of communism.
But the blight is in our midst as well. Harold Lasswell is quoted in the 1933 Encyclopedia of Social Sciences: "We must not succumb to the democratic dogmatism about people being the best judges of their own interests, but ensure that they endorse the decisions of their farsighted leaders."
In a leaked document from Santa Fe a couple of decades ago, the financial institutions expressed a concern there could be "too much democracy" for our own good. The Economist announced that this dreaded moment had arrived with the street protests in Seattle.
We gladly believe that the engineering of public consent is the devious state craft of fascist and communist regimes. But in the so called free world, it is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Yet most of us believe our minds are not played with. To be out of step with the think tank trend setters and PR spin doctors is tantamount to admitting you believe in UFOs.
Take the phrase that is repeated again and again -- "Since Sept. 11 everything has changed." As long as everybody can agree with this profundity, then it is not difficult to ram through another $50 billion for defence and set a few limitations on civil liberties.
There's nothing like fear of imminent danger to keep people in line. In the face of the enemy, real or imagined, only one point of view is permissible. Power becomes absolute and authority is unquestioned.
Nothing has changed, it only has become more so.
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