Propaganda and Western Populations’ Complicity in Global Crimes
The 20th century was mired by the rise of propaganda, the further the wings of the public relations spread, the more the truth was veiled and human progress was undermined. Infitting with this was the move from modernity to post-modernity, where “grand narratives” and sciences of history were given up, for smaller projects, localised resistances. Paradoxically, as the world became more interconnected, truth got more relative and utterances were accepted on the basis of repetition rather than principles of verification or falsification. Arise the time of Goebells, Bernays, Campbell and Coulson.
The principles that structure governmental practice, especially in “democratic” societies, have to find ways of including people in decision making procedures, while providing them little to no agency. The most effective way of doing this is distortion and complication. If situations seem inexplicably complex, then trust for a professional class grows.
The tokenistic participation that defines modern democratic mobilisations was not a by-product of democratisation, it was the pre-requisite. From Plato to Hobbes to Mill, the history of orthodox political theory has been based on a fundamental mistrust in the capacity of the ill-informed public to make the “right” decision. So, they must be shepherded. Many a governmental, non-governmental, extra-governmental and public body have been set up throughout recent history to ensure that the public do not have access to the real, thereby following the will of power with the illusion of choice, agency and democracy.
The masses, from the point of view of power, were a “bewildered herd” too prone to emotivism, caprice and self-interest. Therefore, they could not be relied upon to rally in support of distant wars unless an existential threat were presented that broke them from their natural isolationism to a feeling of a mortal choice “us or them”. That is what happened in WWI in the United States, where propagandists working for the State department, masterminded by the likes of Edward Bernays, created the enemy of the Hun – a cannibalistic, sub-human, war driven society hell-bent on the destruction of the world as we know it (before that known merely as Germans). With slight variations to this characterisation, consent has been manufactured for wars to retain the colonies, to stop movements based on challenging the hegemony of imperial forces and even to overthrow democratic regimes who merely reserve to right to say “no” to the bully of the time. From Malaya to Syria – the world has been enchanted by propagandists who manage to make the self-interest of the few, the moral identity of the many.
Propaganda, however, did not simply enter the political sphere without critique. In the twenties, right after WWI a plethora of books challenging the propagandists emerged, challenging their narratives and coming to understand propaganda as a negative term, riddled with social elitism and a will to manipulate. However, after WWII, the systems were refined and the criticality towards Western war agendas were punctured. Only at times of utter barbarity did the people mobilise against the states interest – and even then – most of the time it is merely a way of opting out of mass murder enacting a gesture of “not in my name”. Despite a knowledge of complicity with global imperialism, Western populations have seldom challenged the cornerstone to their civilisation and only do so when it hits too close to home for them to feel comfortable.
Consequently, Western imperial conquests have evolved to relieve the possibility of mass mobilisations and civil disruption, they have developed euphemistic language that actually makes imperial commitment a moral imperative and developed military technology that vastly reduces the potential for the loss of troops lives, therefore curtailing the power of anti-war movements. If British blood is not spilled, very little dissentful ink is penned, as Libya is testament to. We live in times of truly Orwellian systems of power, only without the communist menace he so feared. Instead, we have the “end of history” systems of zombie capitalism advancing with domestic and International justice systems that even Kafka couldn’t have fictionalised. Recent turns in the US indicate a major shift towards assimilation and the eradication of internal dissent. Internationally, through the prism of Obama, imperialism has made vital gains that it could not have achieved under Bush. As John Pilger wonderfully elucidated, Obama is the definition of a post-modern man, Teflon coated, malleable and stylish – personifying how to win through contradiction, with the anti-war candidate battling for a second term with his tough, embattled persona – the killer of Osama, the bomber of Pakistan and the Butcher of Tripoli.
As a leftist, the 20th century saw us lose and gain a lot. One of the greatest losses of the left (other than an alternate economic system and power) in the late 20th century was scepticism towards the words of power. With the fall of the Soviet Union, leftist internationalism found corporate foundations and Western imperialistic states as the torch-bearers of International justice as laid out in the work of Hitchens, Cohen and Berman.
The challenge for the left is to win back the power of scepticism to a point where we can talk about the will of power without being considered conspiratorial and naïve. The only way we can do this is to unify on an understanding of the point of the International press on issues such as Syria.
As Jean-Paul Sartre said, the point of newspapers is to court us, to make us feel like everything is okay and our lives are justifiable. But, as another Arab secular nation is placed under the guillotine of imperial power, we must all ask ourselves: are we doing this for the reasons stated? The answer is clearly no. The real reasons we know only too well: to keep the oil in our cars and maintain our position around the top of the global layer cake. The press exist to deceive and court us, this is made emphatic in the writings of Orwell on Catalonia, Pilger on Vietnam, Sartre and Fanon on Algeria…the list goes on. In all of these writings, the voice of a true leftist Internationalism springs from the page. We must have a fidelity to these words, heed their wisdom and apply their insights to the situation we find ourselves in. So often, we expose the lies retrospectively when the collective wisdom should have meant we were impermeable to them.
Daniel Renwick: What is Imoerialism?
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