Monday, June 4, 2012

War Made Easy via a Featured Reader Comment: They've Got Us in a Foggy-State in Which They Can Even "Admit" to Owning Key Points in a Connect-the-Dots Portrait of Total Evil...

I have not bumped up a reader's comment in a while. Steven Augustine's observation during our earlier conversation about white working class voters and the resilience of the false consciousness meme deserves some more attention. There he wrote:
USS Liberty? Check. October Surprise? Check. The Maine? Check. The Mossadegh/ Lumumba / "interventions", et al? Check and double-check)... shit confirmed in the frickin NYT, ferchrissakes... and rather than see these "limited hangouts" as confirmations of an entirely predictable and much larger pattern, we shrug them off as aberrations of a supposedly dark age the Gubmint has long-since outgrown!
(sfx: phlegm-rich Satanic chuckle) 
Don't feel bad, though. Our minds have been terraformed (and our material realities constricted and metered) by some of the finest amoral minds recruited from Harvard, Princeton, Yale and MIT. In fact, if the Evil Ones haven't recruited your ass by now, you can't be very good at what you do, Negro!
One of the foundational concepts in the study of American public opinion is that attitudes are remarkably unstable. As such, they can be influenced by how questions are presented and framed. The American people are also relatively non-ideological. Here, they do not hold what students and observers of politics would understand to be a consistent worldview. There is an exception: on matters of race the American people do know how they feel, are willing to express their feelings, and their opinions are well-structured.

In total, the American people do have "values" which they ostensibly advance through the political process. But, the American people meander and muddle through the specifics of these issues, groping and feeling, trying to find their way with a relative lack of sophistication.

As I have shared here many times, I am resolute in my belief that the masses are asses. The question then becomes is the public's lack of sophistication, limited knowledge about public policy, and attraction to spectacle and empty political rhetoric cultivated or natural? Is the Culture War/Real America White right wing populism organic? Alternatively, is such zeal handed down from on high by elites? Likewise, are the symbolic politics of the Left substantive? Are the people really speaking back to Power? Does Power even care?

There is one area of public concern where this question is a settled matter. The American people are manipulated by political elites into supporting unnecessary wars and conflicts abroad. When I discuss this question with my students, and offer up the obvious--at least to my/your eyes that the political leadership class in a democracy is dependent on propaganda for legitimacy--they look shocked and upset. As I turn the knife a bit and include how their consumerist impulses are manufactured and manipulated by the dream merchants, and not an expression of an authentic self, the hurt is tangible.

I learn a good deal from my students as well. When we talk about the War on Terror, 9/11, and America's imperial exploits, they more often than not confess their ignorance about such matters. These college age students feel powerless. They have a world of information, quite literally at their fingertips, but choose not to engage it substantively.

In response to Steve's observations about the truth hiding in plain sight, and the public's complicity on these matters, I have a standard list of explanations which I offer. Our politics are sick, and this sickness can be explained by a few things:

1. There are approximately 30 million illiterate people in the United States. The politics of spectacle, culture war, and faux populism are a response to this fact.

2. Americans have been socialized into being citizen consumers in a market democracy. Consequently, they are not active, responsible, forward thinking, or virtuous.

3. There is no liberal media. There is only a corporate media. Consent is manufactured; the terrain for "approved" discourse is narrow. For example, see the howls in response to Chris Hayes' very reasonable intervention regarding the overuse of the word "hero" in regards to members of the military that he made over the Memorial Day weekend.

4. Hard news is dead. Long live soft news.

5. Information is not knowledge. All of us in the Internet age have witnessed a revolution in how information is shared and circulated. The Facebook Millennial generation have come of age in this moment and know no alternative. Unfortunately, as a society we have not developed the critical skills necessary to synthesize citizenship, information, and knowledge. Moreover, as I wrote about here, for many young people "politics" and "activism" consists of clicking "like" on Facebook or wearing plastic wristbands or hoodies. This can be parallel or even pre-political behavior. It is no substitute for substantive political engagement that involves personal commitment, risk, and material resources.

6. The public schools have utterly failed. They are producing passive citizens who are drones for the neoliberal order. The universities are complicit: they fashion an experience which is prefaced on a logic where "the customer is always right," and critical pedagogy and learning are secondary to high course enrollments, sports stadiums, and trends such as "smart classrooms," iclickers, and the empty rhetoric of "student centered" approaches to learning.

7. The dreams of digital democracy and a vibrant Internet that brought together people of different views and beliefs has not come to pass. The blogosphere and online news media are balkanized. Epistemic closure is real. This is especially true on the Right. We are (more often than not) quite literally talking to ourselves and those other folks who already agree with us.

8. The life worlds, communities, and realities of conservatives and progressives, Red State and Blue State, are increasingly divergent, separate, and apart. How can we even come together to solve common problems when basic empirical facts cannot be agreed upon? Add in the bastard marriage of radical religion in the form of Christian Dominionism to Ayn Randian libertarianism and matters are made even worse.

The sum effect of these elements is crystallized in the following ideal typical example. The public actually believes that the enemies of the American government hate the American people--notice I separate the two--because of our "freedoms."

This con is no accident. What would you add to the above list? And can this "mental terraforming" be undone?


Plane Ideas said...


Just checking in until my return in November as usual you are rocking it!!

Apparently some of my young associates have posted here and caught the wrath of CNu and others that is always a good thing:-)

I sometimes miss the discourse but I needed a break ... Catch up with you and the crew in November..


Werner Herzog's Bear said...

Good list, I'd add something else: nationalism. This is a dirty word in American public discourse (we prefer to use "patriotism"), but American political life is nationalistic to an extreme degree. When our leaders want us to join in the next war or imperial adventure, they merely have to wrap themselves in the flag, and accuse their opponents of treason. I seem to remember that working very well during the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

chaunceydevega said...

@Thrasher. Your students need more teaching. Work more with them.

@Mr. Bear. Good to hear from you. How is the land of real pizza and good Chinese food. Nationalism? Americans? Us? No way. That American exceptionalism thing is real. God said so.

makheru bradley said...

American politics is the science of deception. Until a significant mass of people break the monopoly which the two-party system has on their minds, liberation from the tyranny of the oligarchic psychopathocracy is not only unachievable, it’s unthinkable.

D. said...

"American politics is the science of deception. Until a significant mass of people break the monopoly which the two-party system has on their minds, liberation from the tyranny of the oligarchic psychopathocracy is not only unachievable, it’s unthinkable."

And then what? After the collapse of the two-party system, what political system shall we use to deceive the masses with illusions of freedom, justice, and security?

Anonymous said...

"And then what? After the collapse of the two-party system, what political system shall we use to deceive the masses with illusions of freedom, justice, and security?"

Not exactly sure what this means. Irony, perhaps. Of course we do not need to replace the system that deceives the people with a new system that deceives the people. In fact it is not the 2 party system that has failed. Only one of the parties. There is no two party system. One party, the GOP, has totally defeated and coopted the other. The Dem party is now the left wing of the Rep party and now only engages in faux opposition. What has failed is the Dem party. It has failed to mount a real opposition to Reaganization and hence, in the culmination, delivers as its champion a Rep in Dem clothing, Obama. It is the Democratic party that has failed, and the necessity is not to scrap the two party system but to replace the Dem party with a true liberal/progressive opposition party. What was it that nomad character used to say?. Oh, yeah.

CNu said...

And then what? After the collapse of the two-party system, what political system shall we use to deceive the masses with illusions of freedom, justice, and security?

lol, whatever it is - you know there'll still be angry, impotent, defeated old "youknowwhos" whoopin they gums like they was bout to do sumfin....,

Tom said...

Cool that somebody still Remembers the Maine. When are we going to finish what we started with those Spanish bastards?

(irony notice: this comment may contain irony, and was manufactured in a facility that processes sarcasm)

Tom said...

There is an exception: on matters of race the American people do know how they feel,

are willing to express their feelings,

and their opinions are well-structured.

Hang on! How well do we know those things? The Implicit Association Test (which you just mentioned in a recent post!) seems to blow at least one of the first two completely out of the water for most Americans.

freebones said...

i tend to be an optimist, CD, and in my daily life i see signs that not much has changed. public schools and colleges have always been the same drivel, but they have always also produced a consistent tiny minority of informed and intelligent people who do good things in the world. i think getting older throws this into sharper focus, but it doesn't mean that hasn't always been the way.

i think such things are rather static. the world ebbs and flows. perhaps this is me being passive, but i think i can safely say that based on my opinions expressed on other posts, i am not generally a passive person. and when i am, it is genuine.

Anonymous said...

BuzzBuzz...Anybody got a fly swatter?

D. said...

@Anon 7:07

My point is that it doesn't matter what system you use: Two-party, third party, aristocracy, plutocracy, monarchy, they will all devolve into psychopathocracies so long as people are convinced that the box is real.

Anonymous said...

That may indeed be the case. I don't know. My point is it's not the two party system that's failing us in this case. Unless you call the complete failure of one of the parties collapse of system. It could be argued that when you have 2 rightwing parties, like we do now -one right, the other batshit crazy- you don't really have a 2 party system.

And I am certainly not alone in my assertion that the failure of the Dem party is the problem here.

"Clearly, the time has long since come for labor and progressives to bolt the Democratic Party and coalesce around a new genuinely progressive, working people’s party."

Where I differ from some is that I don't think third party is the answer. Keep the 2 party system. Just get rid of the faux opposition Democratic Party. We need genuine liberal/progressive opposition to right wing madness.

Anonymous said...

Not to forget that the billionaires are very active in making sure all of these conditions remain as so.

Anonymous said...

Right you are, sabrinabee . It's all about the economy. Politics is just the means by which the economy is enforced.

BTW, remember that faux opposition I was talking about? I wonder why Barama didn't show up to campaign in Wisconsin, such a critical election? You would think if he were really on the side of labor and the 99 percent, he woulda been out there stompin'. It's almost like he wants the conservatives to win, isn't it? BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA....
Get it? He's leading you to where he wants you to go by letting the people who's politics he secretly supports win. War. Social Safety Net. Healthcare Unreform. Bankster bailout. Bush Tax cuts. In addition the stuff that HE wants, independent of them -police state and assassination powers- are not really liberal or progressive values. Get the picture? This is somebody's president -my guess is the CIA's- but it's not the liberal's president. It's not labor's. And it IS NOT BLACK AMERICA's president. Get that notion out your mind. This is the mask of creeping fascism.

CNu said...

Economics is the publishing of political agendas that are hidden within known-false assumptions. If one accepts these assumptions then one accepts the hidden agendas.

A. Ominous said...

...why, nobody even told me...!

A. Ominous said...

Anyway. I often put it this way: if they can get you to believe in a bearded, anus-free, vaguely-Levantine Sky Giant... what *can't* they get you to believe in?