Mind control

It’s mind control of a sort.

Perhaps not intentional mind control, but mind control nonetheless. I’m reminded of a qualification that Jeffrey Reiman inserted in his book-length blast at the criminal so-called justice system and at economic and political power relations in U.S. society:

A conspiracy theory would argue that the rich and the powerful, seeing the benefits to be derived from the failure of criminal justice, consciously set out to use their wealth and power to make it fail. There are many problems with such a theory.[1]

Reiman prefers what he calls a “historical inertia” theory:

What is puzzling, then, is not how these policies came to be what they are, but why they persist in the face of their failure to achieve either security or justice.

The historical inertia explanation argues that current criminal justice policy persists because it fails in a way that does not give rise to an effective demand for change, for two reasons. First this failing system provides benefits for those with the power to make changes, while it imposes costs on those without such power. Second, because the criminal justice system shapes the public’s conception of that is dangerous, it creates the impression that the harms it is fighting are the real threats to society—thus, even when people see that the system is less than a roaring success, they generally do no more than demand more of the same: more police, more prisons, longer prison sentences, and so on.[2]

He goes on to make a similar argument to that of Herbert J. Gans who writes of how stigmatization of the poor serves elite interests.[3] Gans, too, offers a qualification:

If this outcome were engineered deliberately, one could argue that politically and culturally dominant groups are reluctant to give up a badly needed scapegoat. Usually, however, the reproduction function is an unintended effect that follows from other intended and often popular practices.[4]

Both of these authors are pointing to a recursive cycle in which stigmatizing the poor both enhances the apparent moral stature of elites by contrast and delegitimizes the poor’s right to social justice. I’m not terribly fond of Jürgen Habermas because he only sees the power of critique in bourgeois Europeans, but he also highlighted how rulers historically sought secrecy for their official acts on the pretense that no one else knew what they knew and and no one else was competent to second-guess them. The European bourgeois pried the right of critique out of rulers, and what is missing from Habermas’ analysis is that they now share with those rulers an interest in devaluing the capacity of others to critique what is now not merely political and foreign but economic and corporate policy.[5]

In this light, it is hard to ignore the tremendous damage done to educational systems by budget cuts in recent decades in the United States, an educational system that even in 1970, Charles Reich described as having two tiers, one for the well-off, and one for everyone else. The latter were to be trained to be cogs in the corporate wheel, consumers whose long hours would leave them too exhausted to demand more than to be pacified by the televised portrayals of prosperity that they would never personally enjoy.[6] More recently, Elizabeth Minnich critiques the system for reproducing the norms of heterosexual white upper class males, effectively excluding everyone else.[7] It is as if the elite were not satisfied with the stupification of subalterns. But as Jonathan Kozol explains in his chapter on San Antonio,

A lot of wealthy folks in Texas think the schools are doing a sufficiently good job if the kids of poor folks learn enough to cast a vote—just not enough to cast it in their own self-interest. They might think it fine if kids could write and speak—just not enough to speak in ways that make a dent in public policy. In economic terms, a lot of folks in Alamo Heights would think that Edgewood kids were educated fine if they had all the necessary skills to do their kitchen work and tend their lawns.[8]

To this, I can add the condition of mass media. At least since advertising came to dominate their financial models, newspapers have never been the paragons of muckraking that they are so often assumed to be. But media consolidation has made it worse as conglomerates with many interests besides journalism—such as in nuclear energy and weapons—but classically in monetary return on monetary investment have come to control more and more of our mass media.[9] Here again, newspapers have apparently not been doing a sufficient job in inculcating the masses in the dominant ideology that the vast majority of journalists should be paid a decent salary or that newspapers should be kept vigorous or even in business.

It is no longer even that television has replaced newspapers as a dominant source of news for those who still pay any attention whatsoever, but that corporate-controlled social media—I think of Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, even as I continue to participate in two of those networks—have come to displace the public square to such a degree that a great many activists seem to imagine that an on line petition or a Twitter hashtag or Facebook page “likes” constitute a message that the elite will not ignore.

It may be that I underestimate the resilience of the Occupy movement which was so brutally suppressed last year even as winter made continued occupation of physical public spaces untenable. But I also fear that to the extent that Bill Moyer (not Moyers) is right and that his “MAP model for organizing social movements” is applicable to the Occupy movement, it will fail to displace those in power, even as their failures—their incompetence, ineptitude, and self-serving greed—have become woefully apparent.[10]

Even with the Occupy movement, I am astounded—though I must confess this is nothing new, for I have been so astounded since I was in junior high school—at the stupidity of the masses. It is a stupidity I blame principally on our system of education but on our system of mass media as well, systems which inculcate passivity and acquiescence to the powers that be—the manifestation of mind control—rather than critical thinking. It is a stupidity that dooms us: this more than overpopulation and climate change may be responsible for the extinction of our species that Frank Fenner predicts.[11]

  1. [1]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004), 158.
  2. [2]Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, 159.
  3. [3]Herbert J. Gans, “The Uses of Undeservingness,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, 3rd ed., Thomas M. Shapiro, ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 85-94.
  4. [4]Gans, “The Uses of Undeservingness”, 90.
  5. [5]Jürgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: Massachussetts Institute of Technology, 1991); C. Wright Mills, “The Structure of Power in American Society,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, 3rd ed., Thomas M. Shapiro, ed. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005), 139-145.
  6. [6]Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown, 1970).
  7. [7]Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich, Transforming Knowledge, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University, 2005).
  8. [8]Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (New York: HarperPerennial, 1992), 216.
  9. [9]Herbert J. Altschull, Agents of Power: The Media and Public Policy, 2nd ed. (White Plains, NY: Longman, 2005); Noam Chomsky, Necessary illusions: thought control in democratic societies (Boston: South End, 1989); Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda (New York: Seven Stories, 2002); David Croteau and William Hoynes, Media and Society: Industries, Images, and Audiences, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2003); David Halberstam, The Powers That Be (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, 2000); Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 2002).
  10. [10]Bill Moyer, JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society, 2001).
  11. [11]Cheryl Jones, “Frank Fenner sees no hope for humans,” The Australian, June 16, 2010, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/frank-fenner-sees-no-hope-for-humans/story-e6frgcjx-1225880091722

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