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The Big Answer


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Propaganda and the Public Mind

a book by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian

(our site's book review)

Chomsky Offers Insights into the Institutions That Shape the Public Mind in the Service of Power and Profit

The Amazon blurb says that: Renowned interviewer David Barsamian showcases his unique access to Chomsky’s thinking on a number of topics of contemporary and historical import. Chomsky offers insights into the institutions that shape the public mind in the service of power and profit. In an interview conducted after the important November 1999 “Battle in Seattle,” Chomsky discusses prospects for building a movement to challenge corporate domination of the media, the environment, and even our private lives. Whether discussing U.S. military escalation in Colombia, attacks on Social Security, or growing inequality worldwide, Chomsky shows how ordinary people, if they work together, have the power to make meaningful change.

In Propaganda and the Public Mind, we have unique insight into Noam Chomsky's decades of penetrating analyses . . . drawn together in one slender volume by a brilliant radio interviewer, David Barsamian. —Ben Bagdikian, The Media Monopoly

"To anyone who wonders if ideas, information, and activism can make a profound difference in the twenty-first century, I say: 'Read this book.' Propaganda and the Public Mind challenges us to think more independently and more deeply about the human consequences of power and privilege." —Norman Solomon, The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media

". . . the Washington Post and New York Times [pretend not to be aligned with the ruling powers, and] this mask of balance and objectivity is a crucial part of the propaganda function. In fact, they actually go beyond that. They try to present themselves as adversarial to power, as subversive, digging away at powerful institutions and undermining them. The academic profession plays along with this game," says Chomsky.


The 20th Century Has Witnessed the Growth of Democracy, Corporate Power, But Especially Propaganda's Omnipresence

Social scientist Alex Carey says that "the 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance:

Oligarchs have found democracy as a barrier to wealth creation since they have to pay taxes and obey regulations—they'd love to bury democracy 6 feet under
Oligarchs have found democracy as a barrier to wealth creation since they have to pay taxes and obey regulations—they'd love to bury democracy 6 feet under

And of course there are the Kochs, who use their billions of dollars to peddle influence to anti-democratic politicians, causes, think tanks, redistricting tasks, adding loopholes and amendments to legislation or creating new legislation that specializes in protecting corporate power against democracy, supporting anti-democracy, anti-Earth, and anti-environmental condidates. The Kochs support a vast network of pro-corporate, anti-people, anti-environment rich people who believe in growth and profits at the expense of anyone and everyone.

It tells a lot about these people when you see that once they acquire 10 billion dollars, they're consumed with the desire for 20 billion dollars. It doesn't seem to occur to them that if the first 10 billion doesn't satisfy them, more of the same surely won't either. An addict is an addict. The fact that now that they have everything they could possibly want or need and yet they're rabidly obsessed with getting more regardless of how much harm it does to the environment and to humanity—this is the addict's red flag warning. In the pursuit of wealth, they've lost their humanity. See Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

Addicts' pursuit of a higher high regardless of who gets hurt is as indicative of pathology as the oligarch's quest for more wealth regardless of how much they acquire and who gets hurt in the process
Addicts' pursuit of a higher high regardless of who gets hurt is as indicative of pathology as the oligarch's quest for more wealth regardless of how much they acquire and who gets hurt in the process

It Was Critical for the Oligarchs to Shape the Public Mind in the Service of Power and Profit—It Was the Key to Advertising as Well as Political Rule

"Advertising. . . . the goal is to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices and the business world spends huge efforts on that. The same is true when the same industry, the PR industry, turns to undermining democracy. It wants to construct elections in which uninformed voters will make irrational choices," says Chomsky. And the most obvious corroboration for this—the classic case—is the 2016 election and the millions of people who voted for Trump ON PURPOSE to flip their middle finger at the establishment! (And they didn't check the wrong box or pull the wrong handle—it was really on purpose.)

Chomsky tells us that "Business power is strong, but it’s a very free country by comparative standards, and it's hard to call on state violence . . . to crush people's efforts to achieve freedom, and rights, and justice. So, therefore, it was recognized early on that it's gonna be necessary to control people's minds. I should say that's not a new insight either—you can read it in David Hume, and the Enlightenment authors already recognized what might be called the earliest stirrings of democratic revolutions in England in the 17th century. There already was a concern that they weren't going to be able to control people by force, and we therefore have to control them by the means of controlling what they think, what they feel, their attitudes or attitudes toward one another. All sorts of mechanisms of control are gonna have to be devised, which will replace the efficient use of force and violence, that was available for much greater extent, earlier on, and which has, fortunately, been declining, although not uniformly, but declining through the years, particularly here, leading to the need for other methods of control. . . propaganda."

Controlling the public mind is needed to get the sheep voting against their own interests so the elites greedy exploitative plans can be effected; here they've employed the thought police (think 1984)
Controlling the public mind is needed to get the sheep voting against their own interests so the elites greedy exploitative plans can be effected; here they've employed the thought police (think 1984)

"Controlling the public mind" was necessary to keep the sheep from mucking up things as the elites were busy staying in control of the nation and its business. So sheep had to be distracted, which means there needed to be great quantities of media to consume, such as radio, TV, magazines, newspapers, books, and—more recently—the internet. They also needed to be atomized, kept apart via irresistible distractions—especially TV, which people often watch alone or with a family member, and social media.

The author says the reason for the elites to keep people apart is if they get together they might talk about the nation's business and they might organize and protest and want their "democracy" to actually function as opposed to being a hollow pretense. Then they'd form unions and cause trouble and boycott and cost the elites money, which cannot be allowed. Elites have to keep this bewildered herd consuming—too busy buying and consuming media to actually think, because when they think that is when the troubles begin. They realize we elites are conning them, that their democracy is a fraud, that their votes are a joke, that we're in control of their lives, not them. They even see how we use them for cannon fodder, which injures or kills some of them, which they tend to take personally. This gets worse when they see through our lame excuses for warmongering, all of which boil down to oligarch greed—NOT national security like we've told them.

Resist neocon warmongers using us as cannon fodder to promote wars that line their pockets with blood money—refuse to participate
Resist neocon warmongers using us as cannon fodder to promote wars that line their pockets with blood money—refuse to participate

The Public Are to Be Observers, Not Participants, Consumers of Ideology as Well as Products

"For submissiveness to become a reliable trait, it must be entrenched in every realm. The public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products," says Chomsky. "The United States is near the limit in its safeguards for freedom from state coercion, and, also in the poverty of its political life. There is essentially one political party, the business party, with two factions. Shifting coalitions of investors account for a large part of political history. Unions, or other popular organizations that might offer a way for the general public to play some role in influencing programs and policy choices, scarcely function apart from the narrowest realm. The ideological system is bounded by the consensus of the privileged. Elections are largely a ritual form. In congressional elections, virtually all incumbents are returned to office, a reflection of the vacuity of the political system and the choices it offers. There is scarcely a pretense that substantive issues are at stake in the presidential campaigns. . . . Half the population does not bother to push the [voting] buttons, and those who take the trouble often consciously vote against their own interest."

Half the population is so apathetic to the meaningless election rituals that it does not bother to push the voting buttons, and those who take the trouble often consciously vote against their own interests
Half the population is so apathetic to the meaningless election rituals that it does not bother to push the voting buttons, and those who take the trouble often consciously vote against their own interests

This latter is due to intense campaigns involving hot-button culture war issues like abortion or school prayer which have successfully tricked naive Republicans to vote against their interests since the Reagan days. The other reason they vote against their own interests is they are fooled by hollow slogans like Make America Great Again (which the public is acually too foolish to realize really means Make American Oligarchs Richer Again) and by bald-faced lies like calling an upper-class tax cut a middle-class tax cut.

Trump's 'Make America Great Again' actually meant 'Make American Oligarchs Richer Again'
Trump's 'Make America Great Again' actually meant 'Make American Oligarchs Richer Again'

Actual Freedom of Speech Has Been Around Only Since the 1960s—Not 1776 or 1777 or 1781 or 1787 or 1788 or 1789 or 1791

Note: In 1776 in the United States we got the official beginning of nationhood, with the Declaration of Independence issued on July 4. Before the U.S. Constitution was the law of the land, there were the Articles of Confederation to serve as a crude stop-gap. The Continental Congress adopted these Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. Actual government under the new (1787) U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. It had been written in mid-1787, signed on September 17, 1787 and ratified on June 21, 1788. The first 10 amendments—the Bill of Rights—were ratified on December 15, 1791, so freedom of speech and of the press weren't even in the documents until 1791. However, in practice, the amendments had little impact on judgements by the courts for the first 150 years after ratification.

"Until World War I, there was only a slender basis for freedom of speech in the United States, and it was not until 1964 that the law of seditious libel was struck down by the Supreme Court [so you could no longer be jailed for voicing opinions the government disliked]. In 1969, the Court finally protected speech apart from 'incitement to imminent lawless action.'" Before that, words against the government were punished, sometimes severely. Freedom of speech wasn't real. It still isn't: Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion. "We should also bear in mind that the right to freedom of speech in the United States was not established by the First Amendment to the Constitution, but only through dedicated efforts over a long period by the labor movement, the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s, and other popular forces. . . . [Most people don't know that] Rights are not established by words, but won and sustained by struggle." (Source: Force and Opinion, Noam Chomsky)

In Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky points out: "Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. [However,] If you're in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." This type of freedom was a hard sell for most of our country's history, but it seems to have gotten formalized in 1969's freedom of speech Supreme Court case, using the acknowledged right to dissent esablished by the struggle Debs had in the early 1900s.

War2
Anti-war poster

"Following the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison secures passage of the Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In theory, the First Amendment protects the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and the freedom to redress grievances by petition; in practice, its function is largely symbolic until the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Gitlow v. New York (1925). . . . The Sedition Act of 1918 targets anarchists, socialists, and other left-wing activists who opposed U.S. participation in World War I. Its passage, and the general climate of authoritarian law enforcement that surrounded it, marks the closest the United States has ever come to adopting an officially fascist, nationalist model of government." (Source: Freedom of Speech in the United States , Tom Head, Thoughtco)

In theory, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and the freedom to redress grievances by petition
In theory, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and the freedom to redress grievances by petition


But in practice, the government is busy undermining this document at every turn; here the NSA burns it up
But in practice, the government is busy undermining this document at every turn; here the NSA burns it up

Our Presidents Love to Jail Those Spreading Truths Not Towing the Party Line

Presidents and attorneys general of both parties have been reluctant to use the Espionage Act when secret information has been leaked to the press because they have recognized that it is overbroad. They have understood that government classifies far too many things as secrets, even as it has often failed to protect information that truly needs to stay secret. Until Obama. Obama was the first president to go after people by using this law meant for WWI loyalty purposes. He was a very vengeful guy. See The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama.

Eugene Debs, the head of the socialist party, said in 1919, "You need to know that you are fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder." That's all it took to get him convicted [under the Espionage Act] and sentenced to 10 years in prison, even though he rejected communism. Wilson wouldn't let him out, but the next president, Warren Harding, let him and the other socialists out soon after taking office, prompted by the newly formed ACLU. In the end, this amnesty movement provoked an intense and healthy three-year-long national debate over the meaning of the First Amendment, the start of an ongoing conversation over the best way to reconcile the right to free speech with the demands of national security. What else did Debs say? "America’s greatest enemy was not the Kaiser, but those American businessmen who had taken the country to war, and were making inordinate profits from the venture." Debs also repeated the standard socialist talking point that "wars were a nasty by-product of capitalist greed."

There are hundreds—perhaps thousands—of more enlightened thinkers like Chomsky who have said these things (above). These are the truth about U.S. oligarchs' greed, exploitation of the citizens, propaganda in the media, profiteering, warmongering, power, and wealth. But Debs called himself a socialist—like Bernie Sanders, but in 1919, it was a scary word to the powers-that-be, as it tended to rain on the predatory capitalists' parade. It is a word that no longer strikes fear or loathing into our hearts since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is no more. Besides, it is a popular word in Europe, probably because they have some socialist policies that are working for them, and because America's brand of capitalism is screwing the little guy while the shadow government oligarchs make out like bandits (because they are).

America's brand of capitalism is screwing the little guy while the shadow government oligarchs make out like bandits (because they are)
America's brand of capitalism is screwing the little guy while the shadow government oligarchs make out like bandits (because they are)


Americans do not value democracy nearly as much as they used to—perhaps if decent candidates were available to choose from . . .
Americans do not value democracy nearly as much as they used to—perhaps if decent candidates were available to choose from . . .

Debs had genuine—and correct—ideas about all this but was thrown in jail JUST FOR STATING THEM! The First Amendment existed in 1919, but it was only words, not a right. As mentioned, rights are not established by words, but won and sustained by struggle. And this Chomsky book, Propaganda and the Public Mind, challenges us to think more independently and more deeply about the human consequences of power and privilege, as did Debs, Bernie, us, and hundreds of others. Debs was convinced that the best path to realizing socialism was the democratic process. And Chomsky wrote the most important book of the 21st century: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power. The book defines the phrase a MUST READ.


U.S. Greed and Hypocrisy Means the Game Is Rigged against the Nonrich and the Environment

The problem with capitalism is twofold. First, when corrupt and greedy people practice it, it starts getting corrupt for everyone and tries to make a very few winners and a whole ton of losers. Second, when you boil down its main strategy, it comes down to one word: growth. On this crowded planet with resources rapidly running out, this is wrong. We need sustainability, not growth. For a deep look at the origin of this frantic win-lose obsession, see Flat-gradient Nurturance versus Steep-gradient Nurturance. And see An Inconvenient Truth for the truth about our continuing to follow suicidal environmental policies right over the cliff.

See An Inconvenient Truth for the truth about our continuing to follow suicidal environmental policies right over the cliff
See An Inconvenient Truth for the truth about our continuing to follow suicidal environmental policies right over the cliff

There's an article in the NY Times about Richard Clarke. He is in charge of U.S. counterterrorism. The article contains no examples of how he has protected us from terrorists. But it does contain lots of examples of U.S. terrorism. But because it is us doing the bombing, it is called counterterrorism. If other countries did the very same thing, we'd call it terrorism. And when Saddam Hussein was gassing his own people (Kurds) with horrible gases—mustard gas and nerve gas, it was a crime against humanity, and yet the U.S. and its pet the U.K. totally ignored it and kept supporting Saddam. Terrorism is in the eyes of the beholder, according to our actions.

Because it is us doing the bombing, it is called counterterrorism—if other countries did the very same thing, we'd call it terrorism
Because it is us doing the bombing, it is called counterterrorism—if other countries did the very same thing, we'd call it terrorism

The U.S. State Department, in the immediate aftermath of the gassing incident, took the official position that Iran was partly to blame. A preliminary Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study at the time reported that Iran was responsible for the attack, an assessment which was adopted subsequently by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Perhaps they both did it as part of an effort to demonize their enemy, since it happened at the end of the Iran-Iraq War. Each blamed the other. Again, terrorism is in the eyes of the beholder.

An even better Chomsky book on propaganda is Media Control: Second Edition: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda.