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Sleepwalking Through Servitude: Propaganda, Consumerism and Perpetual War

The prevailing orthodoxy of today — an orthodoxy perpetuated by propaganda, PR, the media and the power behind them — is unquestioned obedience to the gods of money, consumerism and perpetual war.

I had the good fortune to hear the Ukrainian folk group Dakha Brakha in London this week.  Their extraordinary set was punctuated with references to the Russian annexation of Crimea, ending with their male singer, Marko Halanevych, holding up the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine.  It was a moving conclusion to a spelling-binding concert that got me thinking about propaganda. 

Ukraine is caught up in the continuing struggle between two power-bases (but no longer two ideologies).  NATO, spearheaded by the U.S, has pushed ever-farther east, effectively backing the Russian bear into a corner.  The policy is the height of folly, yet it is hardly ever questioned or debated in the West.

When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, a clear message was sent.  Why was it not heeded?  Why was a buffer zone not left between Russia and the West?  Why did we keep pushing?  Because, for NATO to exist and for arms orders to be placed, a threat must exist; real or imagined.  And the paradox is the same principles apply to the other side; for there to be a corresponding elite and the apparatus of war, a corresponding threat is needed. 

Propaganda and PR to Manufacture a Threat

If there isn’t a real threat, it’s easy to manufacture one.  And the key to manufacturing a threat is, of course, propaganda.  What else could make young people march off to slaughter their peers?  To make us believe blatant lies and be hoodwinked again and again? 

The Soviet Union used it, Putin uses it, the United States uses it, corporations use it.  Anyone with power and money can use it.  It goes under different names — public information, public relations or reputation management.  It’s all propaganda, and the end result is the same: manipulation of the masses.

The tactics used by all sides are simple: keep the general populace scared, poorly informed, and in awe of the state.  Mastery and control will follow.  

When the Soviet Union fell, a huge void was created — it was like the boogeyman disappeared overnight.  Without the threat of “commies” under the bed, the West scrambled to find a new enemy.  Enter Al Qaida, WMDs and Isis. 

9/11 and the ideal propaganda platform it produced gave America carte blanche to prosecute her ‘war on terror,’ to expand her empire and to undermine civil liberties and the U.S. Constitution itself.  All the while, Russia was moving laterally, outflanking the West and confounding it, not by force-of-arms, but by digital guile and subterfuge. 

Propaganda takes many forms.  It can be loud, brightly colored, blatant and overt, as it was in the Soviet Union, or it can be beguiling, covert and subtly embedded in the warp and weft of daily life.

In America of late, it’s just been brazen.

Here are Adolf Hitler’s basic principles of propaganda:

  • Avoid abstract ideas — appeal to the emotions
  • Constantly repeat just a few ideas. Use stereotyped phrases
  • Give only one side of the argument
  • Continuously criticize your opponents
  • Pick out one special “enemy” for special vilification

Sound familiar? 

If you can distract, divide, stifle, ridicule and undermine at the same time, all the better. 

Despots, dictators and demagogues use these same principles the world over.  They are simple, easily remembered (that’s helpful…) and extremely effective.

The Illusion of Information and Propaganda

Technology helps them.  We now endure an avalanche of information every day.  Statistics, facts and figures, news events, the three best ways to eat a watermelon.  It gives the illusion of being informed, of being plugged into the pulse, the ebb and flow of daily life on the planet and of life carrying on as per safe, pre-ordained rules.

It’s comforting in a way.  Even when the news is bad, and it does seem to be bad most of the time, feeling like we know what’s going on is reassuring. 

And that simple human frailty, of wanting to feel reassured, comforted and led, is the back door to our psyche.  It has been exploited by our rulers since the time of the Pharaohs, and it leaves us wide open to one of the most powerful technologies known to man.

As Goebbels knew, intelligence and information gathering are key to creating effective propaganda, and there is no more effective intelligence-gathering agent than a smartphone. 

We willingly carry around devices (strange how that word sounds so like divisive…) that have the ability to monitor what we say, how we look when we’re saying it, what our heart rate and blood pressure are, who we are talking to, what we read, buy, listen to, where we go, how we type, how and what we write, how we move and increasingly, how we think and what we are going to think.

2018 is Orwell’s 1984

It’s a nightmarish scenario.  It’s Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, all rolled into one — Big Brother is watching us as we greedily guzzle our daily ration of Soma.   It’s terrifying.

Orwell, a prophet if ever there was one, spoke of “every time having its own prevailing orthodoxy”.  The prevailing orthodoxy of today — an orthodoxy perpetuated by propaganda, PR, the media and the power behind them — is unquestioned obedience to the gods of money, consumerism and perpetual war (war for our own security, of course).

In this, we are all aiders and abettors; if people weren’t so human, the system wouldn’t work. But we are. We are suggestible, tribal, lazy, and for that reason, easily fooled.

It is time for us to take back our consciousness: to wake up and to live as dignified human beings, not as pawns in some kind of diabolical dance-to-the-death. 

It’s time to say enough.


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1 Comment

  1. Ruth Ann Scanzillo October 27, 2018

    I love this piece. Might I add: It’s also time to take back our conscience. To me, consciousness-numbing can also dull our discernment and, when we lack discernment, we slip into an ever-widening grey area which can mean the death of morality.


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