from Medium Website
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." 1
Many philosophers over the years have noted,
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, realized that persuasive speakers can lead their audience into making unwise choices, and therefore believed that the 'art of influencing opinion' should be widely taught.
Unfortunately in Britain and the US, there is no formal teaching of
how powerful people manipulate our opinions.
Most people associate propaganda with dictators, or with historical events such as World War 1 and World War 2.
However, propaganda is actually one of the most powerful forces within 21st Century Britain and the US, despite being rarely mentioned by the mainstream press.
The overall aim is to control people whilst they think they have freedom of action - this is sometimes called 'engineering' or 'manufacturing' consent. 3
The more specific goals
are to limit the terms of any debate, and to direct our attention
away from thinking critically about our military, corporate,
economic and political systems.
Much of the time, people are not even aware that their views are being manipulated. There is repeated, subliminal reinforcement. What we have ended up with has been labeled a propaganda-managed democracy. 4
People who do this work
have stopped using the word propaganda, because of its negative
association with war. It is now known as Public Relations (PR). When
governments distort information this is colloquially known as spin.
However, there are other sources of propaganda.
Many parts of our society contain elements of propaganda, and they can influence our thoughts and our ideas for many years.
What starts out as a deliberate attempt to mislead people, gradually becomes the received wisdom if it remains unchallenged. It surrounds us and works in a subconscious way to influence our thoughts about almost every aspect of our societies - how they are structured, which aspects of society get talked about critically, and who benefits.
The framework for every
important discussion contains unstated assumptions that go
unquestioned. This sets the limits for which opinions are considered
reasonable, and which are not.
When editors decide whose obituaries will appear in their newspaper, they tend to celebrate establishment figures, reinforcing a message that we should treat them and their views as important.
When this happens
repeatedly, day after day, year after year, readers and viewers will
tend to be influenced by these ideas, and come to share similar
In fact we are bombarded with propaganda, in magazines like Forbes, which is intended to encourage us to celebrate extreme wealth, 6 and even to define success by how wealthy we are.
The evidence showing that concentrations of wealth, and extreme inequality, create huge problems for societies is mostly ignored. 7
We are indoctrinated to believe that the rich have 'earned' their wealth, or that success is based on merit.
As one commentator noted:
This is all intended to
make us less critical of those with great wealth, and therefore less
critical of how our society works.
Our history books have a western perspective, distorting events, exaggerating positives and minimizing or ignoring negatives. 10
A great deal of our history is propaganda to whitewash reputations and to celebrate the role of the wealthy and the powerful, and to erase their crimes and exploitation.
Genocide of Native Americans
Erased from History
People such as Winston Churchill are portrayed positively, with no discussion of his extreme, racist approach to killing people in Britain's colonies.
Commentators talk unquestioningly about British and US 'values', like 'freedom' or 'democracy', without mentioning that the values that influence policymaking the most include,
I cannot stress this point enough.
The positive portrayal of
rich and powerful people, both historical and in the present day,
and the censorship-by-omission of all their crimes and
activities, and the huge amount of damage that their actions have
caused to people at home and abroad, is incredibly powerful
Similarly, many British country houses were built with money that came either directly from the slave trade, or from industries that used slaves, or from compensation given to slave owners when slavery was abolished. 12
The houses were status symbols when they were built, and they now stand as historical monuments to the people who built them.
Some churches contain monuments to wealthy donors who helped to pay for the building of the church, with no indication that their wealth came from slavery, or the drug trade, or colonial exploitation.
Streets are named after famous people, some of whom committed serious crimes, but their true history is rarely mentioned. This propaganda is remarkably effective and creates what is known as 'collective amnesia'.
Whole societies deny their history, and British and American citizens have become remarkably uncritical of their military, corporate, economic and political systems.
The displays at the Imperial War Museum are notoriously distorted, celebrating Britain's history of violence, and misrepresenting what actually happened and why. 13
Medals are celebrated, even if they were awarded for participation in colonial plunder and associated massacres, and the soldiers are presented as heroes. Powerful people involved in aggression and violence clean up their stories.
There is an unstated assumption that US and British politicians had good intentions in their foreign policies.
But this needs to be stated clearly, questioned and challenged, because the evidence shows that US and British leaders have not had good intentions in their foreign policies.
Even a display about propaganda by the British Library in 2013 did not have any discussion about censorship-by-omission. 14
Mainstream publishers rarely publish genuinely critical books. Before the financial crisis in 2008, they declined many books that explained the problems with the financial system. 16
Most critical writing is in books published by small publishers, and those books are rarely reviewed in the mainstream press.
Universities teach Economics, Finance, Politics, International Relations and War Studies in heavily distorted ways. The majority of academics in these subjects present only a narrow range of mainstream opinions and ignore the most critical views.
Critical academics have complained that most academic journals reinforce mainstream thinking by not accepting work that is too critical.
This has been
particularly notable in economics, where students at many
universities have been protesting, since the 2008 financial crisis,
that what they are taught is irrelevant to the real world. 17
The prize for economics is awarded to people who have promoted some of the most extreme economic ideas such as Milton Friedman. The economics prize was set up by the Swedish central bank to promote neoliberal (an extreme form of capitalism) ideas, 19 and to make economics seem more scientific than it really is.
These awards are mostly
given to people who are not strongly critical of how our societies
Most people are unaware they are doing it. When economics lecturers teach economic theories that end up benefitting the rich, some of them are unaware they are doing so.
Some journalists believe the propaganda that they have been exposed to by governments and corporations, so they repeat it.
Any time someone repeats
something that they have read in a mainstream newspaper, or seen on
television news or current affairs programs, there is a high
probability that they are repeating propaganda.
This becomes reinforcing, so that the acceptable range of views becomes very narrow.
This is known as the 'Overton window'. 20
In 2014, the singer P.J. Harvey was a guest editor on BBC Radio 4's Today program. All of her guests were critical thinkers. This was unique in 21st century BBC broadcasting.
Voices and opinions that are rarely heard finally had an opportunity to explain what is really going on. 21
Understanding the extent
of propaganda in Britain and the US is the key to understanding how
political and corporate criminals have been able to get away with
their activities for so long.