Friday, November 2, 2012

Disdain

The word "disdain" perfectly sums up the recurring attitudes which underlie so much of what the rich and powerful do. It explains things perfectly. The word disdain represents an attitude of utter disregard, disrespect and even contempt for others, arising from a firm belief in ones' own superiority. This is clearly, obviously, how the rich and powerful of this world feel about the vast mass of ordinary people whose lives they dominate. George Carlin said it best:


Racism has always been the most common form of disdain employed by empire builders. When conquering a country, it is useful to declare the indigenous people to be hopelessly primitive, ignorant, untrustworthy, violent, and otherwise completely incapable of managing their own country. Thus, the conquering country can cast itself as the tough but compassionate benefactor. They can say that by taking over, they are doing the natives a favor, even as they impose a brutal and oppressive occupation on them. Many involved with the expansion of empires have been true believers, i.e. they really believed that people of other races in foreign lands were truly inferior, and thus did not deserve to be treated with any respect or even morality. It is well documented that in the U.S., such racist attitudes were considered to be true and supported by science, well into the 20th century. And today? Well, just ask a returning war veteran:



This certainly comes in handy when it's necessary to drum up support for yet another war. Throughout our history, leaders of the U.S. consistently used racial superiority as the rationale for many violent, ruthless and immoral invasions and attacks on those who stood in our way: Native Americans, Hawaiians, Mexicans, Indonesians, Chinese, etc. not to mention the enslavement of Africans. It is how this country was built.

The genuine purpose of war has always been the expansion of power, commerce and trade, access to markets, and control of resources, all on behalf of one's own country. This is no secret. The part not so apparent is that government's only meaningful function is mainly to support a rich and powerful class of people in their efforts to endlessly expand their personal wealth and power. Still, even that was not really a secret.

But In the early 1900's, something unusual happened in the U.S.: the rich and powerful turned their disdain on the American people en masse. The rationale for this was provided indirectly by Sigmund Freud, who at the time was just becoming renowned as the father of modern psychology. His theories on the unconscious mind were incredibly influential on the development of new ideas about human nature.


But it was his nephew, Edward Bernays, who pulled it all together, put a bow on it and gave it to the rich and powerful. Bernays' profession was producing propaganda, but he became successful by re-branding his job as "public relations." And he was also paying close attention to the work of his uncle Sigmund. He saw, in the theories of Freud and his followers, justification for the use of the most deceptive, unethical tactics imaginable in pursuit of a public relations mission. He had an idea about the big picture that was surely music to the ears of the emerging modern corporate giants: that it was actually necessary and beneficial to the population at large to secretly manipulate them in order to fulfill the interests of the rich and powerful, who knew better what was best for society.

You can't make this stuff up folks. Here's a few quotes:
First, from Wikipedia:
"Bernays' vision was of a utopian society in which the dangerous libidinal energies that lurked just below the surface of every individual could be harnessed and channeled by the corporate elite for economic benefit. Through the use of mass production, big business could fulfill constant craving of the inherently irrational and desire driven masses, simultaneously securing the niche of a mass production economy (even in peacetime), as well as sating the dangerous animal urges that threatened to tear society apart if left unquelled."

At this time in the early 20th century, the big businesses were entering a new era of modern industry that was capable of mass production on a huge scale. But the public at large wasn't quite ready to go along with mass consumption of more and unnecessary things. Bernays gave the corporations a rationale they could use to justify using methods that were secret, manipulative, exploitative, unethical and harmful, to condition the American public to become mass consumers.

This brings us back to that attitude of disdain. Bernays' fundamental rationale was that the average person was incapable of making responsible decisions for himself. The idea, based on Freud, that people were driven by unconscious desires, led to the belief that people in general were actually dangerous if left to their own devices. They must be conditioned into predictable, controllable behavior, for the sake of the whole society.

Did Bernays really believe this? Hard to say, but he was certainly good at promoting himself as an expert on the subject. He published numerous books. Here's a quote from his 1928 book, Propaganda:
"If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits."


Bernays wasn't alone. There was also Ivy Lee, another early master of PR who was shameless about using lies and deceit on behalf of his wealthy corporate clients. And there was Walter Lippman, a journalist and political commentator who also promoted the idea that it was impossible for ordinary people to act effectively on their own, and thus they must be guided by unseen elites.
But Bernays summed it up best in another quote from Propaganda:
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind."

By providing his services and philosophies to the wealthiest and most powerful people in business and government, Bernays essentially gave them the tools necessary to achieve the most stunning of accomplishments: establishment of a genuine financial oligarchy, right under the people's nose. What I observe over and over today is a direct result of Bernays: we in the U.S. live in a flimsy shell that looks like a democratic system, but it's nothing more than a fa├žade, created and kept in place through application of his principles. It seems evident from all this that in addition to his publicly available works, there must be manuals and guidebooks  for manipulation and conditioning of the public mind, based on Bernays' concepts. They are privately distributed and secretly utilized used by the business elites, in the shadows, on the masses for whom they feel nothing but disdain.

References and further reading:



The Imperial Cruise, by James Bradley. A stunning book with a controversial premise, but solidly grounded in factual history and well-documented. A disturbing reminder of the racism that underlaid American expansionism in the 1800's and early 1900's.
The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis the 2003 BBC documentary by Adam Curtis, is essential to understanding how public relations, spin, marketing techniques and flat out propaganda are used to hide the way corporations have dominated our lives and become the true shadow government. It is thoroughly researched and full of first-hand interviews.


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