Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

High Jacking the Discourse: Politics of Vacuity.

3 October 2012

Dictators ham-handedly suppress free speech and expression. What that does is drive the dissent underground. On the surface calm and order reigns. But underground is seething with discontent. Citizens may appear cooperative and responsible, but every citizen not co-opted into establishment is a potential rebel. Rebels are numerous. That is why when dictatorships fall, they surprise all outside observers with the rapidity of their fall. What looked solid and enduring literally moments ago on the civilizational scale suddenly shatters into a pitiful, writhing mass. This has bothered many astute thinkers who are seized with the global domination and control project; but are wary of short lived and messy methods of anti-democrats. What they want is to reconcile democracy, that is free speech and feeling of being a free agent, with the desirability of invisibly guiding the masses towards a *perpetually stable & profitable* future envisioned for themselves.

One way to successfully do it is to deflect and channelize dissatisfaction away from the rulers towards an external entity. If that entity is promoted as an evil, an object worthy of moral and legitimate hate, then citizenry’s attention gets focused on it to lose awareness of difficulties at home or at least in relegating them down in the list of priorities, which require attention. The fall of the Nazis signalled the end of British Empire as well. It also signalled an end to churning out weapons and materials necessary for prosecuting that war. Fall of empire and halt to war economy created massive dislocations and difficulties for the toiling masses as well as the ruling classes. War infrastructure built at colossal costs could not be allowed to go waste.

A twin solution was imagined. First, invent an enemy, if there was none, so that weapons build-up can continue unabated to protect the homeland. The creation of Red Menace or Evil Empire out of the Soviet Union took care of that. When Soviet Union failed and disintegrated, it once again created a dangerous vacuum. Nature abhors vacuum, and so do rulers. Another enemy had to be found. Green replaced Red as the new enemy. Islamist Terror became the new buzzword for fear-mongers and that began a new war on terror without end, because there are no enemies or territories to conquer and so there is no final victory or end in sight.

The other solution was to create an insatiable demand for goods and services. That is to innovate an ever increasing spiral of needs to satisfy which the wheels of industry would have to turn incessantly. That is how citizen became a Consumer and a cult of Consumerism was established. To be an able consumer is not easy. One has to be perpetually dissatisfied with what one has. But that is just the necessary condition. It is by itself not enough. One must feel that happiness lies in possessing what one already doesn’t have, and feel happy when one has it, but only temporarily. So that next shopping binge is just round the corner.

If Consumer stops being consumer, then the businesses would be in permanent depression. That shouldn’t happen. The entire field of advertising and marketing is driven to ensure non-stop consumption. Even if shopping doesn’t cure depression -it actually doesn’t-, the idea that consumption would make inadequate self wholesome again has to be driven home. So what if such falsity can in fact induce depression. A whole industry has spawned around depression that offers cures from Anti-Depressants, Natural Foods, Vitamins and Mineral supplements, Group and Counselling therapies, to Yoga, Meditation, or Miracle cures.

Now what has fear-mongering  and consumerism got to do with free speech and expression? It may appear nothing, but in fact it has hell of a lot to explain. The connection of fear is more direct. The mind that is gripped with fear is unable to think clearly. Post 9/11 President George W. Bush urged his countrymen to go out and shop. Shop? Bush had tutors who advised him what he should say. His presidency had a plan. But what about US citizens? There were a few critical voices, but that was it. No public outrage at this coarse and callous suggestion. What would explain that except good sense taking leave of frightened minds. What would explain the silence and dotard credulity when Bush took US to *war on terror* first with Afghanistan (Taliban had agreed to hand over Osama Bin Laden if US provided proof of his culpability in the twin tower attack), later with Iraq (over Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction), and since then his successor, Obama, has expanded that war to Libya, and now Syria. But public in USA is holding its deafening silence while many lands are laid waste and highly volatile. The minds softened by fear are fed stories that would ensure mute acceptance.

Consumerist approach is far more subtle, but therefore far harder to notice how manipulation of the emotions and intellect works. First consumer feels he is in charge, he is the one calling the shots. He is cocooned in a world where literally hundreds of make believe choices exist, but few real alternatives. Professor Barry Schwartz captures this conundrum in his talk Paradox Of Choice.

But even he only skims the surface by restricting himself to the loss of happiness this abundance of choice has engendered. He doesn’t or chooses to not see that loss contentment is a precondition for having a hungry consumer. A contented human being makes a bad shopper. Such spurious choices are not confined to the world of commerce, but have long ago spawned in other spheres of human activity such as economics and politics. The Presidential candidates too are offered as competing products. But just like fake product differentiation that Schwartz talks of so eloquently, even the candidates’ discourse churns around fake issues. Is there any serious debate over real issues like sadistically violent foreign policy, money printing (quantitative easing) designed to help financial institutions and corporates,and not the common woman or man, growing inequality and falling incomes of ordinary people, breaching of ecological limits and effects of climate change -foremost on food security, fossil fuel depletion and sustainable alternative energy sources, and so on? No. Instead the language of presidential debates has been high-jacked by inanity. Wednesday night would bring Obama face to face with Romney. Something that gets maximum eyeballs in USA that is raised on grand spectacles. One would have expected the front ranking New York Times setting the pace and tone for the debate by raising tough questions, the answers to which would matter greatly to citizens. But Michael D Shear is found to be agonizing over Debate Challenge? What to call your opponent? Read this.


As Mitt Romney and President Obama huddle with their debate coaches this weekend, they will each have to make a simple — but potentially critical — decision ahead of Wednesday’s face-off.

What do they call each other?

Will it be “Mr. President” or “the president” when Mr. Romney refers to his rival on the stage? Will Mr. Obama talk about the policies that “the governor” wants to pursue? Or will he talk about the impact of those policies from “my opponent”?

Or will there be less formal moments, when “Mitt” and “Barack” slip out?

Millions of people will be watching the two men in one of the very few direct interactions they have had during the 2012 campaign. Among the things being scrutinized: how much respect will each contender pay to his rival?

……In all, Mr. Obama used Mr. McCain’s first name 25 times. By contrast, Mr. McCain referred to Mr. Obama as “Senator Obama” or “the senator” each time.

…..That same year, Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and Mr. McCain’s vice-presidential nominee, asked her rival, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., “Hey, can I call you Joe?” while shaking his hand at the debate’s opening….. “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” Ms. Palin said. “There you go again pointing backwards again.”

…..When a moderator asked Hillary Rodham Clinton why people thought Mr. Obama was more likable, she answered, “I don’t think I’m that bad.”….. “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” he said. “No doubt about it.”


If this sounds like totally US fare, then think again. The discourse is manipulated through out the developed world, and the infection is fast spreading elsewhere.

Gillian Tett writing in Financial Times has these gems to share.


A few weeks ago, I took part in a seminar in New York with Alistair Darling, former British chancellor, to discuss the outlook for the financial world. Just before I went on stage, however, the chief executive of a global bank approached, looking worried. “What do we call him?” this American financier whispered. “Alistair? Mr Darling? Mr Chancellor? Sir?”

“Definitely not chancellor,” I muttered, and explained that in Britain nobody in government hangs on to their title after they have left office. But there was no easy answer: “Mr Darling” sounded very formal, “Alistair” rather chummy“Darling” too disrespectful and “Sir” simply alien to British ears. “It’s very confusing,” the banker concluded, looking worried.

…..But American officials and politicians wear their titles with a sense of earnest pride that surpasses anything seen in the UK. Thus in Washington, Barack Obama is constantly addressed and referred to as “Mr President” or “The President”Ben Bernanke is “Chairman Bernanke” (of the Federal Reserve) and Timothy Geithner is “Secretary Geithner” (of the US Treasury). Senators, congressmen and governors are addressed with these titles, too.


While Tett’s pedigree is not known to me, she must be important enough to get an invite for a seminar and to have been consulted by a chief executive of a global bank on such an *important and delicate issue*. But more importantly what has one learnt about the outlook for the global financial world? Zilch! This is what consumerism does. It elevates the inane to profound so that one loses complete track of issues that would and therefore, should matter to us. The only way to retrieve the lost debate is steadfastly refuse to conduct discussion within the confines of the pseudo choices they have imposed. Just ignore those and their power fades away. But that ignoring has to be a mindful choice and should lead to the next step. That is imagining real alternatives to the world that we have come to regard is the only and best way to live. A regard that has grown out of careful conditioning. All these things would not have really mattered to rest of the poor world. But alas, empires, classical or neo-classical, do not operate in vacuum. And the masters of the universe have everywhere their powerful collaborators, who are learning the discourse of mind control fast.

Adam Curtis created a four part documentary for BBC called The Century of Self. It lays bare the evolution of the project for mind control.

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