Why Propaganda is Vital In Upholding The Illusion of a Democracy
By Cynthia Chung
“Whenever the government of the United States shall break up, it will probably be in consequence of a false direction having been given to public opinion. This is the weak point of our defenses, and the part to which the enemies of the system will direct all their attacks. Opinion can be so perverted as to cause the false to seem true; the enemy, a friend, and the friend, an enemy; the best interests of the nation to appear insignificant, and the trifles of moment; in a word, the right the wrong, the wrong the right. In a country where opinion has sway, to seize upon it, is to seize upon power. As it is a rule of humanity that the upright and well-intentioned are comparatively passive, while the designing, dishonest, and selfish are the most untiring in their efforts, the danger of public opinion’s getting a false direction is four-fold, since few men think for themselves.”
-James Fenimore Cooper
Democracy is something that has been completely taken for granted here in the West. There is an ongoing triumph over past laurels, without paying heed to the road we have strayed from. We criticize others for failing to uphold a standard we consider ourselves the leaders of, but democracy is not something simply “acquired” and subsequently “retained,” it is not a “possession.” This is because a system of democracy is at every moment of its existence defined by the character of its citizenry. Democracy only exists if it is upheld, and if a citizenry fails to do so, it renders itself defenseless to an ever-creeping tyranny.
For such a “creeping tyranny,” control is conditional to whether the citizenry is satisfied with an ever-growing “illusion of democracy.” Such a construct needs to give its subjects the impression that they have “free choice” in what shapes their future and their way of life, including: who will be their “friends” and who will be their “foes.”
And thus, War has always depended on a reliable system to spread its propaganda.
The Arthashastra written by Chankya (350-283 BCE) who was chief advisor to the Emperor Chandragupta (the first ruler of the Mauryan Empire) discusses propaganda and how to disperse and apply it in warfare. It is one of the oldest accounts of the essentialism of propaganda in warfare.
Propaganda is vital in times of war because it is absolutely imperative that the people, who often need to make the greatest sacrifices and suffer the most, believe that such a war is justified and that such a war will provide them security. To the degree that they believe this to be true, the greater the degree of sacrifice and suffering they are willing to submit themselves for said “promised security”.
It is crucial that when the people look at the “enemy” they see something sub-human, for if they recognise that said “enemy” has in fact humanity, the jig is up so to speak.
And thus we are bombarded day after day, hour after hour of reminders as to why the “enemy” is not human like us, not compassionate like us, not patient, just and wise like us.
No doubt, war has been a necessary response when tyranny has formed an army to fight for its cause, but I would put forth that most wars have been rather unnecessary and downright manipulated for the design of a small group of people.
During WWI, on Dec 25th 1914, something rather unexpected occurred and a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front took place between the French/British soldiers and the German soldiers. Some even ventured into “no man’s land”, given its name since none left it alive, to mingle with the “enemy” and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps. A game of football took place as well. It is said that these truces were not unique to the Christmas period but that they were much more widespread during the holiday season.
These fraternisations would understandably make it quite difficult to return to combat against one another…for no apparently good reason. Some units needed to be relocated since they had developed friendships with the opposing side and now refused to fight them.
The lesson was quickly learned and propaganda was heavily pumped down the throats of the Allied countries, and by the course of just a few years, they no longer viewed the Germans as human.
The Battle For Your Mind
“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.”
– William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”
Mass propaganda is the very reason why in this so-called “age of information”, we are more confused and divided from each other than ever…
It had been commonly thought in the past, and not without basis, that tyranny could only exist on the condition that the people were kept illiterate and ignorant of their oppression. To recognise that one was “oppressed” meant they must first have an idea of what was “freedom”, and if one were allowed the “privilege” to learn how to read, this discovery was inevitable.
If education of the masses could turn the majority of a population literate, it was thought that the higher ideas, the sort of “dangerous ideas” that Mustapha Mond for instance expresses in “The Brave New World”, would quickly organise the masses and revolution against their “controllers” would be inevitable. In other words, knowledge is freedom, and you cannot enslave those who learn how to “think”.
However, it hasn’t exactly played out that way has it?
The greater majority of us are free to read whatever we wish to, in terms of the once “forbidden books”, such as those listed by The Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1). We can read any of the writings that were banned in “The Brave New World”, notably the works of Shakespeare which were named as absolutely dangerous forms of “knowledge”.
We are now very much free to “educate” ourselves on the very “ideas” that were recognised by tyrants of the past as the “antidote” to a life of slavery. And yet, today, there is a fear of that very thing, that to “know” will label you an outcast from a “healthy” society. That the simple desire to know is the beginning of rebellion.
It is recognised, albeit superficially, that who controls the past, controls the present and thereby the future. George Orwell’s book “1984”, hammers this as the essential feature that allows the Big Brother apparatus to maintain absolute control over fear, perception and loyalty to the Party cause, and yet despite its popularity, there still remains today a lack of interest in actually informing oneself about the past.
What does it matter anyway, if the past is controlled and rewritten to suit the present? As the Big Brother interrogator O’Brien states to Winston, “We, the Party, control all records, and we control all memories. Then we control the past, do we not? [And thus, are free to rewrite it as we choose…]”
Of course, we are not in the same situation as Winston…we are much better off. We can study and learn about the “past” if we so desire, unfortunately, it is a choice that many take for granted. And thus, by our failure to ask the right questions and seek the appropriate answers, we find ourselves increasingly in the unsettling position of a Winston…we are enslaved by the very lack of our own will.
In Orwell’s “1984”, there are three main super states in the world: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia that are in one combination or another constantly at war with each other and have been so for the last 25 years.
In the case of Winston, he has only known Oceania (the British commonwealths and U.S.), he knows essentially nothing of either Eurasia or Eastasia, except that sometimes Oceania is at war with Eurasia and sometimes it is at war with Eastasia. In fact, even this memory, that the enemy is not constant, is not something Winston is supposed to recollect or acknowledge. Just by doing this very thing, he is committing a “thoughtcrime”.
Winston’s experience begs the questions, if one were born into a fascist, totalitarian state would they know it? Of course, the state itself would not describe itself as such. How would you be able to compare your “freedom” with the “oppression” of the enemy, when all you were given was what the state chose to give to you?
How do you know that what has come to shape your convictions, your beliefs, your fears really belong to you, and were not placed there by another?
We are all very sensitive to this unsettling question because ironically, that has also been placed in us. It was what started this whole business of “mind control”, you see, it had to be done…for our “protection”.
Warfare in the 21st Century
For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the pinnacle of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the pinnacle of skill.
– Sun Tzu
There are many different forms of warfare, but namely there is warfare that exists in the physical domain of aggression vs defense and warfare that exists in the mental domain of ideas.
The majority of tyrants from the ancient times to present day, have always had a network of powerful people behind them (whether they were aware of it or not) that opened up a path for them to sit on the throne so to speak. For example, we now know that there was a very direct support of Hitler coming from the Bank of England amongst other very influential institutions. That is, Hitler did not arise to power ‘naturally’ or by his mere merit.
The desperation of that economic environment in Germany was predictably formulated as a direct consequence of the Treaty of Versailles which was essentially a death sentence to the German people. And Hitler who had started to make a small name for himself was selected and endorsed as the ‘face’ of what had already been decided would be the fate of Germany.
Wars have almost always been the result of funding and organising from powerful groups with geopolitical interests, often of empire, who create an environment of disinformation and desperation amongst the people through economic and military warfare along with color revolutions.
However, once there was the creation of nuclear bombs, geopolitical warfare was changed forever.
Though we still use much of the same old strategies today, war is ever more located on the plane of ideas, and along with this the ever increasing focus on the manipulation of information and the populace’s perspective of who is good and who is bad.
The war that needs to be fought against the present tyranny is thus increasingly a mental war. In the case of the populace, all together they hold more power than they realise. The real crisis of today’s western thinking is that the people have forgotten how to think. Attention spans have gone down drastically along with a functional vocabulary. People are becoming more and more dominated by image based messages rather than content that requires more than a 10 minute attention span. Articles in the news keep getting shorter and shorter because people seemingly cannot be bothered with too much reading. Along with the serious decline in reading in replacement for quick entertainment (more successful than any book burning in history), people no longer bother to work for a comprehensive viewpoint. Information becomes an annoying barrage of ad campaigns, each yelling louder and more frequently than the other.
The solutions to our problems such as the oncoming economic collapse (in case you haven’t noticed we are doing everything the same as pre-2008), have their solutions in what Russia and China are presenting.
The initiation of war has almost always been presented as a false ‘necessity’, that is in response to the dominating geopolitical ‘balance’, which is basically meant to service the present system of empire, and the erroneous belief in zero sum game.
However, the idea that humans exist in a zero sum game, doomed to battle forever over a diminishing return of resources, was disproven time and again in modern history through the application of successful principles of national political economy. Notable examples of which include Colbert’s dirigisme of France’s 17th century (later revived during the presidency of Charles De Gaulle), the Hamiltonian system of America as exemplified by Abraham Lincoln’s Greenbacks, FDR’s New Deal, and JFK’s space program as well as its most recent expression of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
This system understands that fast money is parasitical and acts in direct opposition to the long-term investments required for projects that will revolutionise a nation’s infrastructure, including science-driver programs.
That debt for such long-term projects is not qualitatively the same as the present debt we see accruing today, and that debt towards investing for the future will always yield a higher return than the cost over time. This is why debt towards long-term investment on infrastructure and science driver projects, such as space exploration, will always be sustainable with a massive return quantitatively and qualitatively. Whereas, the gambling of fast money will very predictably lead to a collapse as was clearly indicated by the 2008 financial crisis, and which insanely has yet to be addressed with a serious bank reform.
The higher battle ground is being fought on the plane of ideas and which proposed ‘new system’ will replace the current collapsing one we are presently in. On the one side the hegemonic rule of a one world government who thinks that they can use force and oppression to rule and on the other side a multi-polar system of cooperating nation states committed to progress that will offer a real qualitative return for the future.
The Art of Doublethink
“WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH”
George Orwell’s “1984” (Big Brother Mantra)
A truly immersive system of propaganda, which necessarily will be full of contradictions to the truth, absolutely requires that its subjects are compliant with “doublethink,” that is, the ability to accept two contradictory thoughts in your mind without acknowledging that they are in fact opposites.
Orwell identifies this under two forms of “doublethink”, which are “crimestop” and “blackwhite”. “Crimestop” meaning the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of a dangerous thought.
Orwell further states “It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments…and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop in short, means protective stupidity.”
“Blackwhite”, is the act of contradiction of plain facts, applied to an opponent. And when applied to the Party, it is the willingness to say black is white when the Party discipline demands it so.
As Orwell describes it “it means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past…The alteration of the past is necessary for two reasons…The subsidiary reason is that…he must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off… [the precautionary reason] by far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party.”
Orwell continues “The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest.”
That is, it is the Inner Party members who are the most indoctrinated, the best at inducing “mind control” or “doublethink” on themselves, and at the same time believe that it is the best and right thing to do.
Orwell describes “doublethink” thus: “The process has to be conscious , or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence guilt…To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.”
What many fail to grasp when reading “1984” is that Orwell is not only the character Winston, he is also the character O’Brien. He is the Outer Party member-turned-revolutionary, and he is the Inner Party disciplinarian.
He is simultaneously the tormentor-programmer as well as the tormented-programmed.
Winston eventually breaks and releases the one thing that kept him human, his love and loyalty to Julia. In the end, an announcement is made that Oceania is ever nearer to winning the war and Winston looks up at a large poster of Big Brother and cries gin-filled tears of joy and relief, for he had finally come to love Big Brother.
He had become O’Brien.
So Who is the Said “Enemy”?
The enemy is our lesser selves.
Our most base fears, desires and obsessions. The voice that whispers in our ears telling us not to believe in anything genuine or honest, that the world we live in will ultimately destroy itself and thus it is all about looking out for number one. That it is our fate to be the playthings of higher powers.
This is the voice of a prisoner of Plato’s cave, neck shackled and looking at only shadows on a wall. This is not reality. This is the voice of someone who has been enslaved for most of their life. The voice of someone who has become so disempowered that they wholly accept whatever ugly condition is imposed upon them and will even work to defend it as necessary.
There is a way out of all of this, but you will have to become an optimist in order to see the solution.
“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
– Abraham Lincoln
- The Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a list of forbidden books, which were judged to be dangerous to the faith and morals of Roman Catholics, and had a suspicious gravitation towards works by platonic humanists. Among the banned works would include those of Dante, Erasmus and all of Machiavelli’s books. For more refer to my paper on this subject.
Cynthia Chung is the President of the Rising Tide Foundation and a writer at Strategic Culture Foundation, consider supporting her work by making a donation and subscribing to her substack page. This article was originally published on The Saker.
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