Most people in the U.S. believe that we don’t have propaganda here. “That only happens in places like Russia.” However, we live in one of the most heavily propagandized societies in the history of the world.
The media is owned outright by a handful of wealthy individuals with their own agendas and no responsibility to accurately inform citizens. There is no requirement for any information presented by the media (including “news”) to be true. And, it turns out; sophisticated psychological techniques are being used to sell political ideologies, as well as consumer goods.
Elite sectors of societies have always been faced with the problem of how to maintain control over people when the minority of the opulent are so severely outnumbered. The privileged need to get common people to support elite agendas, rather than their own interests. Ancient societies held power by a combination of military force and mythology, with god-kings ruling by divine right.
With the hard won gains of people’s rights based on democratic ideals, things became more complex. Official violence was often not a viable option. By the early 20th century, the concept of divine right rule had zero credibility, and democratic sentiments were becoming more widespread. Americans were very aware of elite ambitions for power and concentration of wealth. The privileged classes desperately sought solutions to their waning influence.
The era of psychoanalytically-based spin was born in the early 20th century, spearheaded by students of mass psychology like Edward Bernays (the Father of Spin), who was a nephew of Sigmund Freud. Many others were involved in the pioneering of what came to be called Public Relations (PR). Influential French sociologist Gustave Le Bon studied the “crowds” to develop ways to control them. Discussions were very frank about the need to control the “irrational masses.”
Successful strategies were designed by the newly formed public relations industry, which was able to manipulate people through their desires and deep psychological motivations. The growing electronic mass media allowed for openings into the public mind and the insertion of a predigested reality. An isolationist nation was persuaded to enthusiastically support two world wars, while huge quantities of consumer goods were sold to the public. Media ownership became more concentrated.
During the 1960s and 70s something went wrong. Millions of people began to catch on to the social controls and the dark intentions of the military-industrial complex. A massive social upheaval interfered with the ambitions of the powerful.
The elite backlash was tremendous, but nearly invisible to the public. The PR methods developed in previous decades were intensified. The extreme capitalist owning class decided that in order to maintain their positon of power in our society, they were going to need to change the way people think. A number of well-funded think tanks were launched to study how to shape public perceptions and find ways to control and manipulate public opinion using the tools of psychology and sociology. The mass media was bought up.
Through many highly effective strategies, the owners of the means of public discourse have largely accomplished their goal. Working people now commonly vote against their own self-interests in support of intentionally branded candidates who seem to embody archetypical values that they believe represent their own.
Now, we have a president-elect who is a billionaire and dedicated to promoting social animosities among subsets of society. He seems sanguine about destroying the remainder of our environmental protections, and unmoved by the notion of social justice. For reasons that cannot be understood without exposing the manipulations of mass media, he is enthusiastically supported by millions of his future victims. They support a demagogue with no personal stake in improving anyone’s life; yet they believe, against all objective evidence, that he is a common man like them.
Media literacy is a necessary component of successful activism. Demonstrating how public opinion is created, and who pays to manipulate it, can help people see through the constant stream of deception. Alerting people to the routine methods employed to deceive can short-circuit the intended manipulation. Understanding the strategic purpose of the mass media means never being surprised when “news” reports don’t match reality. When we follow the money to see who is influencing what gets reported we can publicly expose the tactics and goals of professional manipulators.
It is crucial to educate people about media mass deception, if we hope to gain sufficient support to overcome the corporate-governmental steamroller that we are facing. A small change in public opinion can change the political landscape.