Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

George Orwell, Edward Bernays & Perpetual War

This is a long one, but worth keeping.

from Zerohedge

Another horrific act of terror, another shrill chorus calls the faithful to war. It’s a recurring phenomenon in this early Twenty-first Century. The horrible news crashes from the heavens like a meteor, violently jolting us from the Saint Vitus Dance of our produce-consume existence. Our screens with all the answers flash between splattered blood on the pavement and the victims’ smiling faces as they were in life. From the Middle East we hear little and see less of the shattered lives on the receiving end of our vengeance. Like giving a fifth of bourbon to a drunk prostrate on the pavement, our leaders advocate more slaughter as the solution to the world’s problems. Mass civilian casualties is the global order of the day, the constant in our lives.
Orwell’s essay on Perpetual War in “1984” is currently enjoying a revival in certain circles. Through the novel’s mysterious bogey man, Emmanuel Goldstein, Orwell avers that technological innovations have brought industry to such a level of efficiency that material abundance and leisure should be attainable to all. Widespread material comfort and spare time would allow the populace to develop intellectually and spiritually, and thus to achieve a kind of universal enlightenment. Orwell argues that with such leisure-based understanding, humanity would question the necessity for hierarchy and begin to threaten the arrangement that so benefits those at society’s pinnacle.
During the first half of the Twentieth Century those atop “1984”’s pyramid perceived this eventuality and identified a leisured, enlightened public as a threat to social stability and their dominant position. The ruling caste devised Perpetual War as a way of keeping industrial production humming. Orwell plainly states, “The primary aim of modern warfare… is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.”           Rather than distribute the fruits of modern industry to the masses, produced goods are blown up and sent to the bottom of the ocean, thus artificially maintaining scarcity. According to Orwell, both the terror and material scarcity attendant to such engineered, continuous conflict deprives humanity of the security and leisure necessary for the political awareness necessary to question society’s hierarchical arrangement. Perpetual War keeps the population struggling to eke out its meager existence and thus remain both ignorant and docile.
The hypothesis of Perpetual War has been blowing around the sentient class for decades. Author Chalmers Johnson, said it was the failed promise of the promised peace dividend at the end of the Cold War that lead him to question motives behind the American Empire. Going back further, Col. Fletcher Prouty argued that the Vietnam War was engineered as early as 1945 to be a profit-making, interminable war. Vietnam, Korea, The Cold War, The War on Drugs, and now The Global War on Terror were all virtually unending with exorbitant price tags, driving nations–particularly our own–deeply into debt. Our leaders constantly cry public poverty when it comes to rebuilding our infrastructure or keeping the lights on in our cities, yet there’s always funds for new carpet bombing, furtive drone campaigns, or boots on the ground abroad.
Orwell’s hypothesis of Perpetual War as a bulwark to maintain the status quo works quite well, up to a point. What he did not seem to recognize was the far more effective silencing mechanism, not of material scarcity, but of consumer abundance. Long before Orwell envisioned his “1984” nightmare, a small group of virtually anonymous men devised and implemented consumerism in a mere decade, the 1920’s.
With industrial Europe transformed into a battlefield during World War I, America became the manufacturing base for the Western Powers. After the war, U.S. industrialists and Wall Street bankers feared the loss of demand for elevated wartime capacity would plunge the national economy into ruin. At that time the American public purchased items based on need. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers decided to change that, and with Edward Bernays’ adroit effort in public relations, they conceived and gave birth to the American Consumer by creating, molding, and then catering to the individual’s desires.
The nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays was fascinated with his uncle’s work on the human subconscious and its applicability to commerce. For example, when tobacco industry executives came to him with the problem that half the population wouldn’t buy cigarettes, Bernays devised a scheme making it acceptable for women to smoke. Basing his research on psychoanalysis, he identified cigarettes as a phallic symbol. Bernays arranged for a group of young socialites to interrupt the New York Easter Day Parade by lighting up, declaring them “Torches of Freedom” for the whirring cameras and reporters. By portraying smoking as an act of women’s liberation, Bernays turned the tide, and Big Tobacco soon captured the other half of American market. Bernays and his cohorts continually repeated such manipulative feats for the next fifty years, and in the process supplanted the American citizen with the American consumer.
The ramifications of the shift away from a needs-based culture cannot be overestimated. Acting on rational thought, the citizen who bought only what he needed merely did his job to sustain life and got on with his day. But desires emanate from emotion rather than reason, so the consumer driven by impulse becomes a puppet in the hands of those controlling the media. Fearing the herd, the powers that be have instilled in us a false belief in our own significance and made us slaves to our ethereal, artificial and irrational whims.
The individual consumed and lead by base impulses ceases to think rationally, much less critically. Most importantly he sees himself, if he ever looks at himself beyond the bathroom mirror, as the embodiment of “product choice,” rather than the citizen of a republic obligated to being informed and participating in the public debate. The consciousness of the modern consumer is a passive, empty vessel, defined by corporate brands rather than a more autonomous self.
An entire culture of such unquestioning individuals consumed by their own fickle desire forms a docile, in-cohesive herd of chattel, incapable of debate, unifying, or demanding a redress of grievances. “We are silenced by our greed,” as Christopher Hedges so succinctly defines it.
A lively, engaged electorate might steady power’s hand, but the U.S. electorate, as well as the rest of Western society, have been distracted and in the end lobotomized by an ever-increasing workload, fueled by the febrile chase of gewgaws and numbing mass entertainment. As Orwell observed in “1984,” modern technological marvels should liberate humanity to reach a higher form of living, but instead have been bent by men in the shadows to enslave us. One of those men, Edward Bernays, brazenly opened his book, “Propaganda,” with the declaration:
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 molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.
Bernays and his cohorts manipulated the American electorate and shaped public opinion. Men like spymaster Allan Dulles, and the apostles of University of Chicago academic, Leo Strauss, ran foreign policy from behind the curtain and engineered decades of unending wars. All the while Americans have stood by idly cowed and duped into approving the global carnage, as those on top amassed more power.
The owners of humanity’s wealth have always held undue sway over government. At times during the Twentieth Century it seemed as if Western society might reach a more sustainable balance between top and bottom, but towards the new millennium the scales tipped radically toward the top. Transfer of production to the virtual slave nations of Asia, as well as public and private skyrocketing debt worked to shift earlier material gains away from the masses to society’s owners. Consumerism is the opiate to calm us while the doctors in the shadows kill us with endless global war and its concomitant debt.
Those on high profit immensely from the mayhem which embroils the globe. How we wound up killing in these far places and what exactly the policy is are questions we rarely ask. The carnage in the Middle East–much of it engineered by the Western powers–has been a bonanza for the for-profit Military Industrial Complex and the bankers enriched by the ballooning debt it generates. Every cruise missile or drone strike forges a new link in the public’s chains of debt-servitude. We should be asking, “Is there another way?” and collectively making life difficult for public officials who cannot answer.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

how to talk politics

More from Taranto:

If we were offering advice on how to talk politics at Thanksgiving (or in other ordinary social settings), it would come down to two points: 1. Think for yourself. 2. Be respectful, and prepare to back off or change the subject should things get heated.
The latter point runs counter to the spirit of the left-wing advice, which treats conversation as a contest and futilely aims at victory. The former runs counter to its substance—namely, prepackaged talking points. Liberals have no monopoly on truculence, but the need to be told what to think does seem to set them apart.
The left today is both doctrinaire and capricious; political correctness is unsparing in its demand for conformity to an ever-changing set of dogmas that frequently contradict each other, not to mention reality.
A real-life example comes from Politico, whoseEdward-Isaac Dovere claims that President Obama is doing a bang-up job combating the Islamic State but is constrained not to say so:
Obama has more he could say in response to the questions about ISIL he’s getting pummeled with since the Paris attacks. They’re just not, according to people familiar with his thinking, things that he wants to say out loud.
Things like, “Remember everyone panicking about how much surveillance we’re doing?” Or “How about all those people I’m killing with drones”? Those wouldn’t have quite the right ring for a president who’s come reluctantly, and with continuing reservations, to both. . . .
The president, according to people who know him, would rather not be Big Brother Obama or Kill List Obama, and he certainly doesn’t want to be seen that way.
That creates a tricky situation for the White House. Obama wants credit for his response to terrorism, but he doesn’t want to be attached to many of the ways he’s managed that response.
“Obama isn’t anxious to be known as the drone president,” said a Democratic strategist familiar with his thinking. “But to anyone who looks at the strikes they’ve taken and the raids that have been authorized, he clearly is fiercely going after these guys.”
It’s difficult to believe—and neither Dovere nor his sources explicitly claim—that Obama has been as effective against ISIS as a president unconstrained by politically correct ideology would have been. But it does seem plausible that his embarrassment over the actions he has taken makes him appear even more ineffectual than he is. If the World’s Greatest Orator can’t forthrightly explain his own policies, no wonder like-minded nieces and nephews who lack his rhetorical gifts are so intimidated by their Republican uncles.

Non-Islamic Jihadis?

This is what happens when schools stop teaching George Orwell's 1984. This rhetoric is unbelievable. My favorite excerpt:

Obama declared: “We are going to continue the strategy that has the best chance of working. . . . There will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward but the strategy that we put forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work.”

James Taranto

“Believe it or not, I just defended President Obama to a gathering of foreign nationals,” Ed Rogers, a Republican political consultant who writes for the Washington Post’s Insiders blog, reported on Friday:
Even though I’m no fan of his, it still stings when non-Americans run down our president. To be fair, I also got a lot of heat about President George W. Bush in his final year in office when I traveled abroad, and I defended him as well. But trying to defend your president from angry charges that he is too tough is easier than defending your president to foreigners who are worried and anxious about him being too weak. Actually, I travel a lot, and these days, no one in any foreign capitals I visit will defend Obama’s foreign policy. Based on what I see, when it comes to the president’s foreign policy, the Democratic national security elite don’t defend him, his former advisers don’t defend him and even current U.S. ambassadors don’t really know what to say. There are a lot of awkward pauses and attempts to change the subject.
Rogers’s post carries no time stamp but appears to have preceded Friday night’s Islamic State attacks in Paris, as it makes no mention of them. The next day noted a similar, post-Paris criticism coming by way of the left:
MSNBC Contributor and Washington Editor-at-Large for the Atlantic, Steve Clemons stated that French officials he had talked with criticized lack of US support against fighting terrorism, with one arguing that, “ISIS has been incubated for two years with an absence of US leadership, and that the United States needs to take the security of its allies more seriously” during MSNBC’s coverage of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Saturday.
Clemons was at pains to note “that I have a different view of that, that that’s not my view.” Yet can anyone deny that the Obama administration’s response to the Islamic State has been fatuous and incoherent?
In a January 2014 interview with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, the president famously disparaged ISIS as “the jayvee team.” He elaborated: “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”
Eight months later Islamic State terrorists were beheading American hostages, and Obama was talking tough. “You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women,” he said during a press conference at a NATO summit in Wales. “The goal has to be to dismantle them.”
Later, he contradicted that: “From the start, our goal has been first to contain and we have contained them,” the Daily Caller quotes him telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. In the same interview, he said: “I don’t think they’re gaining strength.”
Oops. That interview aired on “Good Morning America” last Friday, just hours before the Paris attacks. “If this is what ISIS looked like contained, I shudder to think what ISIS looks like uncontained,” CNN’s Jake Tapper quipped Sunday while interviewing Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. The same day Stephanopoulos asked Rhodes to defend the president against Republican criticism. “Well, look, George,” he said, “the president was responding very specifically to the geographic expansion of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.”
Rhodes went on to acknowledge “that there is a threat posed by ISIL . . . in their aspirations to project power overseas.” You don’t say. Of course in January 2014 Obama was dismissing the ISIS threat precisely on the ground that it wasn’t, in his words, “a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland.”
“Well, we’ll have to be nimble, George,” Rhodes told Stephanapoulos Sunday. Good luck with that. Reuters reports that at a press conference today in Turkey, Obama declared: “We are going to continue the strategy that has the best chance of working. . . . There will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward but the strategy that we put forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work.”
If anything, the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee inspires even less confidence. On Saturday night Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and an unidentified man met in an Iowa debate moderated by CBS’s John Dickerson, who asked surprisingly good questions and got appallingly bad answers.
Dickerson began by quoting Obama’s Friday remarks and asking Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state during the president’s first term: “Won’t the legacy of this administration . . . be that it underestimated the threats from ISIS?” She began with some generalities about the need for effective leadership, then made clear she would be reluctant to provide it:
But it cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said, which I agree with, is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS. That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs so that we can be supportive. But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential.
If American troops are risking their lives in Iraq, what in the world does Mrs. Clinton mean when she says “this cannot be an American fight”? Mrs. Clinton offered a clue when Dickerson pressed her on the administration’s underestimation of the Islamic State:
Well, John, look, I think that what happened when we abided by the agreement that George W. Bush made with the Iraqis to leave by 2011 is that an Iraqi army was left that had been trained and that was prepared to defend Iraq. Unfortunately, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, set about decimating it.
And then with the revolution against [Bashar] Assad—and I did early on say we needed to try to find a way to train and equip moderates very early so that we would have a better idea of how to deal with Assad because I thought there would be extremist groups filling the vacuum.
So, yes, this has developed. I think that there are many other reasons why it has in addition to what’s happened in the region. But I don’t think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility. I really put that on Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.
Try to follow that. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which Obama touted as one of his great first-term accomplishments, turns out to have been forced upon him by George W. Bush. Everything would have been fine anyway except that the Iraqis screwed it up. But now it’s up to the Iraqis to make things right, along with Assad, to overthrow whom Mrs. Clinton wanted “to train and equip moderates.” And who stopped her from carrying out that plan, George W. Bush?
Later came this revealing exchange:
Dickerson: Secretary Clinton, you mentioned radical jihadists.
Mrs. Clinton: Yes.
Dickerson: Marco Rubio, also running for president, said that this attack showed—in—the attack in Paris showed that we are at war with radical Islam. Do you agree with that characterization, radical Islam?
Mrs. Clinton: I don’t think we’re at war with Islam. I don’t think we’re at war with all Muslims. I think we’re at war with jihadists who have—
Dickerson: Just to interrupt, he didn’t say all Muslims. He just said radical Islam. Is that a phrase you don’t—
Mrs. Clinton: I think that you can talk about Islamists who—clearly are also jihadists. But I think it’s not particularly helpful to make the case that—Sen. Sanders was just making that I agree with that we’ve got to reach out to Muslim countries. We’ve got to have them be part of our coalition.
If they hear people running for president who basically shortcut it to say we are somehow against Islam—that was one of the real contributions, despite all the other problems that George W. Bush made after 9/11 when he basically said after going to a mosque in Washington, “We are not at war with Islam or Muslims. We are at war with violent extremism. We are at war with people who use their religion for purposes of power and oppression.” And yes, we are at war with those people that I don’t want us to be painting with too broad a brush.
George W. Bush again? Mrs. Clinton relies awfully heavily on what we hereby name the argumentum ad dubyam. Though we should note that Bush tended to refer to “terrorism”; “violent extremism” is an Obama administration euphemism.
Dickerson followed up by quoting a speech in which Mrs. Clinton emphasized the importance of knowing one’s enemy. “Can you explain what that means in the context of this kind of barbarism?” The short answer was no: “It’s very difficult when you deal with ISIS and organizations like that whose behavior is so barbaric and so vicious that it doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than lust for killing and power.”
Mrs. Clinton is quite right to emphasize that we’re “not at war with Islam” or “with all Muslims.” Perhaps it even overstates the case to say we’re at war with “radical Islam.” But it is an act of willful ignorance to deny that the enemy’s ideology is Islamic, or even (as per Mrs. Clinton) that the enemy has an intelligible ideology at all.
Yet Mrs. Clinton isn’t even consistent in her denial. It appears she doesn’t know enough to be politically correct. Note that the exchange began with Dickerson quoting her describing ISIS as “radical jihadists,” a term she used earlier in the debate. What exactly does she think jihad is a pillar of? She might as well say she loves Christians but can’t abide trinitarians.
Given all this, it’s hard to deny that Ed Rogers’s and Steve Clemons’s foreign interlocutors had a point in faulting the U.S. for its lack of leadership. Then again, when the U.S. was leading, 12 to 14 years ago, one suspects they were not among those who eagerly followed.