Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Let Us Reason Together -- Competing Propagandas (or "Blame Bernays") (6)

One of our constant problems as Americans -- as humans trying to muddle through somehow and as participants in our own Fate -- is the persistence and predominance of propaganda in practically every aspect of our social and political lives.


We are exposed to it all the time, through constant advertising, through the entire entertainment realm and much of the academic realm, through the yapping and yammering of "balanced news" broadcasts and opinion writinh, and through the many elements of the Alternative "News" business. Don't even get started on the "elections industry" and their cadres of consultants and pollsters and what have you.

We are seeing such an explosion of competing propagandas over such a wide variety of issues these days, from abortion to domestic and international surveillance, to climate science, to the situation at Fukushima Daiichi, and on and on.

There is much smoke but little -- and often no -- light. At times, every topic seems to be the exclusive purview of propagandists, polemicists and provocateurs. It's little wonder so many people tune it out.

Most people seem to have become inured to propaganda and propagandists and it's understandable that they rarely bother to hack their way through the thickets toward some kind of truth. Instead, as intended, they either ignore it all or they adopt one or another of the competing positions as the functional equivalent of "truth" and go forth, oblivious to any fact contrary to their belief.

In some cases, one is all but required to adopt a side in a controversy and root for one's team in the supposed "marketplace of ideas." And if no side is arguing anything approaching "truth," but all sides are mired in falsehood or irrelevancy, what is one to do?

Obviously, such a one cannot be allowed to play.

Edward Bernays figured this all out generations ago, and our "marketplace of ideas" is one of his many questionable legacies.

The level of propaganda -- and competing propagandas -- we're mired in becomes very obvious when something like the Summer NSA Story hits the "marketplace." There is almost no truth or objectivity in the story, though apparently a good deal of the relatively few documents so far released are authentic enough. The story, however, has all the elements of a spy thriller novel or movie, tailor made to sell a product on the one hand, and to develop loyalties to a team on the other. Much heat, very little light.

As intended.

Let's face it, "reality" is often enough a created fiction. We get mired in these fictions, which we think of at least temporarily as "reality." But they are created, they come out of a shop, quite a cynical shop in many cases, and they are not in any objective sense "real." The Snowden/NSA Story is one of those creations, I have no doubt. What is really going on will probably remain an Inscrutable Mystery for the rest of my life, but the outlines of what may be taking place on the backchannels is fairly clear.

The NSA is having its wings clipped. It isn't being destroyed or nor is its primary work being interfered with. Instead, it is being exposed (as it has been before) by an insider -- peripheral though he may have technically been -- for its gross overreach of mission, an overreach that is being marketed as "The NSA is Spying On You; the NSA is Spying on Everyone!!!!!™ Well. Yes. And?

We knew this. Some of us knew that there are multiple layers of surveillance on practically everyone in the whole wide world, and it has been so for many, many years. We live in a surveillance society, and we know that this surveillance has only increased -- massively -- by law and practice since the events of 9/11/2001, which "changed everything." Yes, we know.

Having documentary proof that it is so is little more than gilding the lily. We now know the names of some of the programs and have (perhaps) seen sketches or charts of how they are organized and what sort of hardware/software may be employed. This is important historical knowledge for those who seek means and methods of thwarting some of this surveillance. It is historical in that what is in place and operating currently may well be quite different than what has been exposed, and it is knowledge useful only to a few adepts. And from what I've heard, they are complaining because the "knowledge" we've been given is far from sufficient to do anything about the surveillance tactics being employed. In other words, it appears that what we've been told is only enough to whip up OUTRAGE!!!!™, not even close to enough to thwart the surveillance/security apparat.

OK then. Every day that goes by, the hoard of material Snowden took with him becomes less and less current and timely. Much of what has been revealed was already many years old, and everything in the Snowden Hoard ages by the minute.

But even as history, the People should know what has been done to them, what has been done in their names, and who the major players are. We don't have more than a hint -- we've never had much more than that -- even after months and months of "revelations" and hot-as-the-sun debate and controversy over them.

That is a function of propaganda. There may be all kinds of truth carried along with the propaganda, but the point of it is to present a kind of pageant that persuades us to believe certain things and root for Our Team against the Other in the supposed contest between something and something else.

In my view, there is a contest, but it's not one that we're involved in.

From what I've seen so far, the contest is between factions -- "shops," if you will -- within the bloated intelligence community, a contest for dominance. Because of the way the NSA is organized and has typically operated outside the lines of its mandate, the NSA is seen as an internal threat to other aspects of the security/surveillance state, and so must be curbed. The way chosen to do it is to invoke a public debate about its means and methods and to generate reforms to be determined and implemented as quickly as possible to rein in a rogue agency.

This sort of thing has an extensive precedence, going back to the revelations of COINTELPRO, the Church Committee, and all the rest. Modest reform comes, but it is very quickly subverted. It doesn't last, and it has to be done again and again. Really, the only way to overcome the threat to democracy and liberty posed by out of control security and surveillance apparats is to abolish them altogether and start over, and so far as I know, no state has done that except in utter defeat after war and conquest.

The only upshot I can see from this Story of the Century is that the NSA will be pruned of its extraneous operations which will be folded into other agencies, some of which will be newly hatched, like poisons out of the mud, and the Security/Surveillance State will go on as if little or nothing had taken place.

I will add, however, that the State we're talking about will be less and less a matter of constitutional self-government and more and more a matter of corporate governance through a staff of employees that masquerade for a time as an elected government, and then, after a while, drop the charade and become what they are: "staff."

Meanwhile, the propaganda is relentless.

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