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Propaganda: Making Alternatives Disappear

by Rainer Mausfeld Tuesday, Jul. 05, 2016 at 2:03 PM

The main responsibility of a government in a "democracy" is protecting the minority of the ownership class against the majority of the non-owners...The neoliberal indoctrination systems serve in the manufacture of ignorance.


Why Are the Lambs Silent? Part 2

By Rainer Mausfeld

[This article published on 4/22/2016 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

The main responsibility of a government in a “democracy” is protecting the minority of the ownership class against the majority of the non-owners. A representative democracy does not represent the will of the people. The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the attitudes and conduct of the masses is an essential element of democratic societies. We do not often hear such sentences. They were heard recently thanks to the Aachen Peace Days. “Why are the lambs silent? – Democracy and Neoliberalism – Strategies of Generating Tolerance and Lethargy” is the title of an extraordinary, one-and-a-half hour lecture of Professor Rainer Mausfeld, a psychologist and cognition researcher at the University of Kiel on April 22, 2016 in the 17th Aachen Peace Days. After the address on “Democracy, Psychology and Outrage Management, it was the second address in the series “Why are the lambs silent” on control techniques.

The Enlightenment has more to offer than humanitarian universalism. One of its essential elements – alongside prejudice criticism – is moral universalism. This means: moral rules drawn up for judging others should also be valid for our own actions. That is a truism or platitude. We all would nod approvingly in classes. When we read the newspaper, it disappears again. The truism has tremendous consequences. Exceptionalism makes a rule out of a violation. It says: the rules in force for me are not in force for others. I do not follow the rules I make for others. Terrorism is an example. Our bombing Arab countries is not terrorism but a struggle for freedom and human rights. When “we” execute done murders and 180 civilians in Yemen are killed at the time of the Paris assassinations, these deaths are not mourned by us…

There is always the project of counter-enlightenment against the project of enlightenment. At that time that was the preservation of monarchy, the influence of the church and so forth. The principled preeminence of one’s group is a very important point of the counter-enlightenment: we are something special. This is embodied in racism, chauvinism, nationalism and exceptionalism – all positions that say what is valid for us is not valid for others.


The political distinction between left and right comes from the time of the Enlightenment. Commitment to the goals of the Enlightenment was leftist. What turned against the Enlightenment was rightwing. When we ask about the core of identity, we recognize no common interests exist between left and right… Reflecting on the common core is very important.


There was a time of mutual symbiosis between democracy and capitalism. That was the New Deal. This symbiosis broke to pieces between 1950 and 1970… Now there is talk of war. Warren Buffet, the super-investor, declared very openly in 2006: “Class war prevails. But my class, the class of the rich,” is waging this war and we are winning.” Robert Reich, former Labor secretary under US president Bill Clinton, says: there is a war against the poor. In 2012 Jean Ziegler said: “The third world war began long ago for the peoples of the South.” People speak openly of war. What rages at the moment is a war, a war of the rich against the poor. This war is almost invisible. It is a war against which we hardly revolt because we hardly realize it if we are not completely poor. DIE ZEIT also writes of the “war against the poor” (8/21/2002). The Guardian writes: “Greece is the latest battlefield in the war of the financial elite against democracy” (7/7/2015). A UN economic advisor for Africa (Yach Tandon) wrote a book “Trade is War.” We are only calm because the war has not completely upended us. While we face precariousness, the main war is happening elsewhere.


We have two tasks or challenges in facing war. A famous Chinese war philosopher said: If you do not know the enemy, you will lose all the battles. As a second rule, if you do not know yourself, you will lose all the battles. That is the much harder task. Regarding the first task, you will surprise yourself: you do not know the enemy. Nothing is so momentously underrated as the project of neoliberalism. If we have a war of the rich against the poor, this means: soft power must be made increasingly subtle, polished and clever. We must refine the indoctrination mechanisms again and again to maintain an appearance of democracy. Tremendous efforts are now made to ensure no one notices. Facts are made invisible, attention is guided. Remember what Hannah Arendt, the great political philosopher said: “Freedom of opinion is a farce when information about facts is not guaranteed.”


Making facts invisible is the easy part of media and politics and belongs to the daily routine. The more difficult task – that has to be recognized – is making thought possibilities invisible, the disappearance of alternatives. There are experts who say: our time has no alternatives. How can alternatives disappear? The first way is very real. Alternatives are simply eliminated and cannot exist. How can alternatives to capitalism and neoliberalism vanish? This can happen through system change, regime change – the exchange of governments. That principle goes far back in history: Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Brazil 1964, Bolivia 1971, Chile 1973, Operation Condor 1970ff, El Salvador 1980ff, Contra-war in Nicaragua 1981ff, invasion of Grenada 1983, military coup in Honduras 2009 and so forth. Democratically elected governments have always been eliminated – through coups, through the military, through invasion and so forth. That is the removal of democracy “for the well-being of democracy.”

Guatemala is an interesting case. The US population did not want any intervention in Guatemala. Guatemala’s president Arbenz carried out a land reform and introduced social projects… That alarmed the American elites. What did the American government do? It commissioned Bernays to conduct a propaganda campaign – with the message that democracy was threatened. That was one of the first campaigns of this kind. That campaign was done in such a sophisticated way that the population in a few months was ready for war – only through propaganda and soft power.


How are cognitive alternatives removed? I quote from a 2013 book by Philip Mikowski (“The Undead Live Longer – Why Neoliberalism is Stronger after the Crisis”) that I strongly recommend. The neoliberal indoctrination systems serve an “industrial-scale manufacture of ignorance.” So the founding fathers of neoliberalism formulated very consciously. Ignorance is what is most important for the population. “Ignorance is the guarantor of the neoliberal order. The neoliberal self feels good in this ignorance.’ Cognitively this means: Alternatives are not conceivable any more – even for the left. They stay in the existing framework and say: we must raise the minimum wage 50 cents. We must prevent what is even worse – pension at 80 perhaps. That is regarded as revolutionary.


Looking at the original sources like the Pentagon’s strategy paper is rewarding. This says: the US strives for an absolute dominance in the whole spectrum, a “full spectrum dominance,” in water, air, outer space and in the opinion market. Opinion should be dominated worldwide (Joint Vision 2020: “The label `full spectrum dominance’ implies that US forces are able to conduct prompt, sustained and synchronized operations with combinations of forces tailored to specific situations and with access to and freedom to operate in all domains – land, sea, air, space and information.”). In addition there are handbooks. Obama also openly addressed this. He spoke of our ability to shape world opinion (5/28/2014). That is the goal of the elites.


“Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups and individuals in a manner favorable to the originator’s objectives. All this is publically accessible and can be looked up in handbooks. This is accessible with Amazon. It does not have to be secret since the flock of sheep is so dull. Hide the real and show the false is the principle. Handbooks explain what has to be managed.”


Here is a very instructive example. At an event, the chairman of the board of the Associated Press, one of the great American news agencies, Tom Curley, gave away secrets and said: the Pentagon sits in all our editorial meetings. He said: the Pentagon has 27,000 PR advisors – as they are called – dispatched to editorial rooms – with a budget of .7 billion per year. This was published in the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper (2/12/2009) in Switzerland and in the Herald Tribune (2/5/2009). “Winning hearts and minds” is central. “Psychological operations” is the fastest-growing area (NBC News, 2/5/2009) based on 100 years experience in developing techniques of population control – opinion management…


Another area that could be found witty or funny is meta-propaganda. Meta-propaganda is propaganda about propaganda. In the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung) newspaper, we could read “Russia’s secret campaign against the West,” “The unequal war around interpretation sovereignty.” In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper: “Powerless against Russia’s propaganda.” In Spiegel Online: “War against Russian propaganda – the End of Defenselessness.” In fact Russia makes propaganda like all big states. But it is hardly comparable with the propaganda of the US with its 100 years of propaganda experience that operates with a depth and subtlety that we can hardly imagine (from the public: “The Nazis could also do that well,” “Goebbels was a fan of Bernays.”).


The realm of the emotions is a realm that is now pursued very systematically. The feeling that nothing will change anyone must be produced in the population… A feeling of loss of control arises. This development began with the triumphant advance of neoliberalism from 1970.


Listen again to Mirowski: “Know your enemy before you dream of creating a better world.” A whole chapter follows in which he says: the left has not done this. According to Mirowski, the left has completely misunderstood neoliberalism. What is the neoliberal project? Go back to its origin. Thatcher said: The economy is not central. Creating the neoliberal subject, conquering the self, the whole realm of the soul and emotion is uppermost. This means the economizing of identities. The building blocks of identity are provided by the market. What you are results from an identity basket (“express yourself”). This also goes back to Bernays…


How do you do this? You choose from an identity basket… And identity is freed from social bonds and solidarities through which people join together. The principle goes back to the 1930s and 1940s. Since there was a great project, how could the solidarity of workers as class solidarity be neutralized? The identity of workers should come through membership with their firm, not through their class affiliation. The word WE must be redefined. WE are not the workers. Rather WE are the Bayer Company and WE found a soccer team. WE win when the soccer team wins against BASF. So false identities are constructed… The people regularly live from false identities. The people have no class consciousness any more – unlike the elite. The elite have a class consciousness. Its fighting strength arises from that awareness.


The consumerist reduction of the term freedom goes along with this. Freedom is now something very different. Freedom is the individual choice of lifestyle – “express yourself.” People can decide where they go, what they buy and what apps they download. We are confronted with decisions that we do not want to decide politically. What is the threat to freedom now? You see how language is perverted. The interruption from the possibilities of the identity production machine – a perversion of the freedom idea – is now a threat to freedom.


Now the harder part comes – when you do not know yourself. The dominant elite have an incredible knowledge about the nature of our psyches, our spirit and our dispositions. The dominant elites have a much greater knowledge about us than we have. A gigantic asymmetry exists. If we do not remove this asymmetry, we have no chance. Our immune system is damaged. The other side dodges our immune system. The elites have knowledge of manipulation.


Obama’s election campaign “Yes, we can” was done so brilliantly that the American Advertising Association awarded it a prize. Hope in the people was guided in a wrong direction and neutralized.


From our nature, we have an inclination to prefer the status quo to all alternatives. We are status quo preservers. We have the tendency to blame the social victims of the status quo for their situation. These are human dispositions that have been investigated a hundred times. We have a tendency to judge negatively those who want to change the status quo. We are built that way. The status quo inclination can be enlarged through fear, uncertainty and threat – and through systematic diversion. Getting the population to preserve the status quo is very easy – even when this goes against their economic interests.


“People who are accustomed to feel powerless feel the power structures to which they are subjugated as fair and legitimate” (van der Toorn, 2015). Though absurd, that is the way it is. “In a certain way, the powerless serve as accomplices of their own subjugation.” “The poor have a national identification to overcome their low self-esteem and demonstrate at the same time a tendency to system justification at the cost of self-respect” (Kang & Chang, 2015).


We could do experiments with 19-month old infants and demonstrate: the infant has a sense for distribution justice – when he does not participate himself and only others are involved. As soon as he is involved, he says: everything to me and nothing to others. This means: double standards are part of our human nature. We must know this tendency and learn to deal with it. We see moral offenses of others very well but are remarkably tolerant with ourselves.

We are physically concrete. A picture seizes us physically much more than an abstract idea. Our moral sensitivities react very intensely to pictures. That is a quality that can be marvelously exploited.


In cognition research, we see a person by nature is equipped with moral sensitivities. We are moral beings. We have qualities of our spirit that are suited for manipulation purposes. These can be called weak spots, as with Trojans and viruses in software. Whoever knows weak spots can straighten things out in the system. Whoever knows weak spots can manipulate us.


The enlightenment project is fraught with tremendous problems because of a certain tension to our human nature. We must recognize this as a fact. The question is what is an alternative to the universal humanism of the Enlightenment? There is an “alternative.” It is business as usual – the continuity of the trace of blood in history – the trace of blood and the ecological, social and psychic devastations that capitalism, racism, chauvinism, nationalism and exceptionalism have wreaked in the history of civilization.


What can we do concretely? Progress will be very hard. We have pessimism of the intellect but optimism of the will. We do not have more than this. Optimism of the will means: we must be ready to express our will and determination to change inhuman conditions – as part of a counter-project against the neoliberal indoctrination and the deformation of the self. Cognitively this means: overcoming the explicit goal of neoliberalism, induced ignorance. Socially this means: overcoming the far-reaching fragmentation of social relations. Emotionally, this means: overcoming the induced fragmentation of the self and false identities. This is very hard. This is deeply in our marrow and we do not know how deep it goes. We must recognize the nature and functioning of neoliberal indoctrination and the asymmetry of knowledge that the elites have over us and that we try to reduce (great applause).

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