Most people in democratic opposition groups do not understand the need for strategic planning.–Gene Sharp
Table of Contents : Summary / Organizational Characteristics / Human Characteristics / The Reign of the Psychopaths / Notes and References (hard copy portion
…by Moti Nissani
Summary: This essay highlights some institutional and individual characteristics which underlie the collective irrationality and heartlessness of American (and world) politics.
On the institutional level, it notes the tendency of improperly regulated organizations to promote their short-term interests at society’s expense. As well, such organizations are inclined towards self-destructiveness, gross inefficiencies, inflexibility, and inertia.
They outlive their usefulness, accumulate power, and promote anti-humanitarian actions by stirring phony controversies, contributing money to political campaigns, providing jobs to former and would-be government officials, and turning elections into circuses and politicians into puppets and clowns. They routinely murder anyone posing the slightest threat to their privileged position and power ambitions, rig elections, break election promises, and co-opt dissidence.
They get away with this by skillfully manipulating the worldview, opinions, and beliefs of the public. Under the best of circumstances, voters would be faced with a formidable task in trying to (1) make sense of the great diversity and complexity of contemporary issues, (2) realize the absence of meaningful alternatives, and (3) disregard their own dependence on callous organizations.
Given the decisive influence of America’s mass media, “think tanks,” movie and book industries, government, hired experts, and cradle-to-grave educational system on our worldview, given the proclivity of these information sources to promote the status quo by idistorting reality, the climb from the cave of political illiteracy takes exceptional qualities. Moreover, individual failings also contribute to our tendency to vote and act against our convictions and interests.
Given present educational realities, under social pressure and when given a chance, the majority would take advantage of a principled and well-meaning fellow human being. All people are susceptible to propaganda and indoctrination. We often cling to discredited beliefs. We tend to think and act as others do. We tend to obey immoral commands as long as these commands originate from respected authority. We rarely think or decide quality on our own.
Overall, we are not as informed, rational, wise, resistant to social pressure, and charitable as we would like to think. Above all, we can trace humanity’s predicament to the preponderance of psychopaths in the world’s corridors of power. It will take a revolution to begin the process of healing our institutions and ourselves and bring the soul-less Reign of the Psychopaths to an end. It will take an Athenian-style direct democracy to conduct this revolution and prevent the psychopaths’ return to power.
WHY DO WE LIVE IN AN UPSIDE-DOWN WORLD?
By now, the corporations that dominate our media, like alcoholic fat cats, treat this situation as theirs by right . . . The American audience, having been exposed to a narrowing range of ideas over the decades, often assumes that what they see and hear in the major media is all there is. It is no way to maintain a lively marketplace of ideas, which is to say it is no way to maintain a democracy.
–Ben Bagdikian,1 1987 Among all the excuses which are alleged to Charon for not entering readily into his boat, he [David Hume] could not find one that fitted him; he had no house to finish, he had no daughter to provide for, he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge himself . . . “Upon further consideration” said he. . . . “I might still urge, Have a little patience, good Charon; I have been endeavoring to open the eyes of the Public. If I live a few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition.” But Charon would then lose all temper and decency. “You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy, loitering rogue.”–Adam Smith,2 1776
Eduardo Galeano argues that we live in a looking-glass world in which justice has been “frozen in an upside-down position.” Many others have echoed that sentiment throughout the ages. In 2013, for instance, Michael Parentiwrote:
Through much of history the abnormal has been the norm. This is a paradox to which we should attend. Aberrations, so plentiful as to form a terrible normality of their own, descend upon us with frightful consistency. The number of massacres in history, for instance, is almost more than we can record. . . . There were the centuries of heartless slavery in the Americas and elsewhere, followed by a full century of lynch mob rule and Jim Crow segregation in the United States, and today the numerous killings and incarcerations of Black youth by law enforcement agencies.. . .
More than half the Iraq population is either dead, wounded, traumatized, imprisoned, displaced, or exiled, while their environment is saturated with depleted uranium (from U.S. weaponry) inflicting horrific birth defects. . . . Let us not overlook the ubiquitous corporate corruption and massive financial swindles, the plundering of natural resources and industrial poisoning of whole regions, the forceful dislocation of entire populations, the continuing catastrophes of Chernobyl and Fukushima and other impending disasters awaiting numerous aging nuclear reactors.
The world’s dreadful aberrations are so commonplace and unrelenting that they lose their edge and we become inured to the horror of it all. . . The repetitious patterns of atrocity and violence are so persistent as to invite the suspicion that they usually serve real interests; they are structural not incidental. . . . It is not enough to condemn monstrous events and bad times, we also must try to understand them.
Before we can heal our afflicted world, we must understand it. Theories in the humanities and social sciences often trace complex realities to an all-inclusive single cause. Although such theories do occasionally make lasting contributions to knowledge, their ambitious reductionism-despite its intellectual appeal and momentary fame-invariably fails. B. F. Skinner was right in pointing to the operant character of some of our actions, wrong in thinking that it was by far the most important. Plato was right in thinking ideas are important, wrong in thinking that they are the only entities which really count.
The same can be said about most grand theories in psychology, metaphysics, politics, and other disciplines. Reductionism has performed wonders in physics, but has no place in history. Only eclectic theories (which mirror to a certain extent the complex realities they seek to explain) come close to explaining these realities. Hence, this essay will forego grand theorizing. Instead, it will highlight a few of the causes which may shape humanity’s current predicament, accounting, among other things, for:
- Ongoing, structural, environmental degradation, declining health, and possible extinction
- Diminished freedoms and an ever-growing power of the state.
- Growing income inequalities, abject poverty, and a broken justice system
- Perpetual wars, which further degrade human lives and health, the biosphere, and the tree of liberty, and which consume immense resources which could, in the absence of wars, immeasurably improve the quality of life on earth.
For an eclectic trying to trace our predicament to its sources, the selection of topics is particularly difficult, for he sees some merit in just about any explanation he comes across. He must resign himself to presenting a highly simplified and fragmented picture. There is, for instance, no mention in this essay of important cultural theories or the nature/nurture controversy. Collective irrationality and immorality can be explained in almost identical terms wherever they are found. This essay will therefore explore a random collection of social ills.
This comprehensive approach allows cross-fertilization; insights gained, for example, from environmental politics clarify our imperial policies. Moreover, this more comprehensive approach has practical implications. Nowadays humanitarians conduct numerous battles on numerous fronts. They fight against American support for Third World dictatorships, environmental pollution, genetic engineering, nano-technology, soil erosion, wholesale extinction of species, built-in obsolescence of consumer products, monopolies, corporate irresponsibility, corruption, erosion of civil liberties, arbitrary and unconstitutional assassination and no-fly lists, unemployment, unsafe working conditions, homelessness, and starvation; and this list does not even come close to describing the multitude of humanitarian concerns.
If this essay succeeds in showing that all these social ills spring from the same roots, a different strategy would seem to be in order. Instead of wasting their meager resources in admirable but, in the long run, futile holding actions against so many surface manifestations of a single disease, humanitarians might consider a joint attack on the disease itself at its weakest point, thereby sapping both its roots and surface manifestations.
Organizational Callousness We may begin with a simple, and widely acknowledged, principle: when forced to choose between a course of action which benefits their short-term interests but harms society, and a course of action which benefits society but harms their short-term interests, and when free to make this choice on their own, organizations tend to choose actions that benefit them and harm society. Organizations in nominal democracies”(where some of their extreme anti-humanitarian and harmful actions often come under half-hearted attack) defend their right to pursue their socially harmful interests with various tactics.
The most notable tactic is the Phony Controversy: the covering of straightforward issues in a thick fog of technical details and contentions. In some ways, history is one long story of organizational callousness. The Athenian Empire fell in part because it sought its own short-term interests instead of the more general interests of democracy and the Greek World. The Roman Empire fell in part because its army pursued its narrow, private interests, instead of the public’s. The Catholic Church broke up during the Reformation, in part because it was concerned with its organizational welfare instead of the public’s.
That same church is now losing ground again because it places its wealth and the interests of some of its pedophilic practitioners above the interests of Christendom itself. The international bankers and Great Britain temporarily lost most of their American colonies in part because some British organizations sought their own gains at the nation’s expense. In 1970s’ Soviet Union, the simple steps needed to effect badly needed agricultural reforms were not being taken in part because such steps conflicted with the narrowly conceived interests of the Communist Party, of a few other powerful organizations, and of a few individuals. A former high-ranking Yugoslav official explained past collectivization of peasant holdings in communist countries in similar terms:
The fact that the seizure of property from other classes, especially from small owners, led to decreases in production and to chaos in the economy was of no consequence to the new class [communist party]. . . . The class profited from the new property it had acquired even though the nation lost thereby.3
One could talk about the Charles Dickens’ variety of child labor, and one can be reasonably certain, without studying the historical record, that this barbaric practice was vigorously defended by most organizations and individuals who derived short-term benefits from it. One could talk about worker exploitation, of the type depicted by Victor Hugo and John Steinbeck, and again be sure that it was brazenly championed by virtually all organizations, and by many individuals, whose short-term gains it served. One could fill endless volumes with quotations of such ignominious defenses, but in this context one will have to do. Here, then, is what a former employee of the East India Company (and a Christian Minister to boot) had to say about the sufferings of millions upon millions of David Copperfields, Tiny Tims, and Tom Joads:
A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do[es] not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders.4
A respected military strategist: An officer who is considered brilliant but somehow lacking in service loyalty . . . may as well pack up his things and go elsewhere. He will not rise very far. It . . . follows that some officers will reach very high rank . . . who would not be called brilliant by anyone . . . the officer who is really objective about his own service as compared with the sister services is not going to rise to high enough estate to make that objectivity of much service to the nation. That means that if the Navy is currently committed to aircraft carriers as its “capital ships,” the naval officer destined to get on will automatically believe in carrier aviation. . . . An article in an Army journal may well stress the need for more helicopters . . . but it is far less likely to question whether new antitank devices have not made the tank obsolete. That would not look at all good if a congressional appropriations committee got hold of it.5
When left to themselves, organizations not only tend to pursue their short-term interests at society’s expense, but they often do so at the expense of their own long-term welfare and survival. A few examples should suffice to demonstrate this suicidal proclivity. The first alarms about the Earth’s ozone layer were sounded in 1974. Seventeen years later, recurring 50 percent seasonal depletions over Antarctica and a 5 percent year-long depletion over the mid-Northern Hemisphere have been reported. Though the causes of these depletions remain uncertain, the chief suspect was CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), a group of manmade chemicals.
Moreover, these same CFCs also accounted for some 25 percent of the global warming trend (another major environmental peril). Notwithstanding the stakes (humankind’s future), for the manufacturers and commercial users of CFCs the situation was clear enough. The observed depletions, they said, are “likely due to poorly understood natural causes.”6 As usual, the U.S. government lined up behind them. In a 1990 international conference, for instance, the United States of America cast “doubt on prospects for a global accord to protect the ozone layer”7 (and to slow down the suspected trend of global warming) by declining to help developing countries cut the use of CFCs.
The 1970s whaling industry provides an even more tangible example of built-in suicidal tendencies. We need not concern ourselves here with questions of morality, aesthetics, justice, or ecological balance to see the whalers’ folly in needlessly destroying forever the very resource upon which their industry is based. Finally, consider perpetual warfare and the ongoing destruction of the biosphere..
Now, in this case, if all the genocide- and ecocide-promoting bureaucracies keep winning, they and their decision makers, like everyone else, would be wiped out in the most literal sense of the word: crushed, killed, evaporated, hurled, combusted, poisoned, fried, or irradiated. Even if they have well-stocked deep underground shelters that would enable them to survive the worst devastation imaginable, they would have to remain underground, like rats and moles, possibly forever. That they pursue policies which might cause them such grave injuries borders on the incredible. However, the preceding examples strongly suggest that such a patently irrational course of action is eminently probable.
Improperly regulated bureaucracies obey a peculiar logic. With time, they become progressively less efficient, flexible, and responsive. Organizational inefficiencies in virtually every other large established organization on earth, illustrate various stages in this process of decay. Those still reluctant to accept the strange conclusion that organizations are far less rational than most of their individual members-that, for instance, the number of employees in the Environmental Protection Agency is unrelated to this organization’s achievements or mission-might wish to recall Parkinson’s tragicomic warning:
To the very young, to schoolteachers, as also to those who compile textbooks about constitutional history, politics, and current affairs, the world is a more or less rational place. They visualize the election of representatives, freely chosen from among those the people trust. They picture the process by which the wisest and best of these become ministers of State. They imagine how captains of industry, freely elected by shareholders, choose for managerial responsibility those who have proved their ability in a humbler role. Books exist in which assumptions such as these are boldly stated or tacitly implied. To those, on the other hand, with any experience of affairs, these assumptions are merely ludicrous. Solemn conclaves of the wise and good are mere figments of the teacher’s mind.8
Institutional Rigidity History tells us that the future is often unpredictable. President Truman, who began American involvement in Vietnam by aiding French colonial rule, could not foresee that this decision would lead the U.S. to fight a full-scale genocidal–and losing–war. He could not foresee the massive demonstrations against this war in the U.S. nor the decline in morale and performance of troops. The history of science and technology is similarly replete with anecdotes showing that crystal gazing can be dangerous to one’s professional reputation.
A Report on the Motor Car published in 1908 by a British Royal Commission concluded that the most serious future problem of this infant technology was going to be dust thrown up from dirt roads (not air pollution, climate change, traffic deaths, oligopolies, or resource depletion).9a A number of physicists of the very first rank believed, until they were proven wrong by the actual turn of events, that atomic bombs could not be made. Given this disconcerting historical record, and given the information available at the time such predictions are made, the complexity of the situation, the fact that every action taken in such intricate settings has unintended consequences, and our limited understanding of people, institutions, and societies, it must be assumed that at times even the most rational and disinterested government will adopt faulty policies.
This inherent unpredictability suggests10 that good statesmen should view such policies as the deployment of 450,000 American troops in the Arabian Peninsula, support of the South Vietnamese dictatorship, the re-colonialization of Africa, the 2013 encirclement of Russia and China, development of missiles with multiple warheads, use of nuclear reactors to boil water, and generation of massive quantities of plutonium, in the same way that accomplished scientists view hypotheses. At her best, a scientist chooses the most promising hypothesis and proceeds to test it. She may be brilliant, charismatic, energetic, and hardworking, but if she cannot learn from her mistakes, if she cannot draw the correct lessons from chance occurrences and new realities, if she cannot modify or discard her hypotheses, she is unlikely to go far.
The similarity between politics and science at their best, coupled with science’s enviable record, strongly suggests that we should treat national policies as scientific hypotheses and view their implementation as a series of experiments which are designed, in part, to refute them. Whenever possible, we should commit an entire nation, or an entire industry, to the new policy only after it proves successful on a small scale.
We should give preference to flexible and inexpensive policies which can be readily abandoned. We should, of course, hope that the original policy was wise, and we should not be too quick to abandon it. At the same time, early detection of, and adjustments to, failing policies should be institutionalized. We should be more inclined to forgive politicians their missteps and less inclined to forgive their inability, or unwillingness, to learn from them.
These theoretical considerations explain in part the predictive superiority of astronomy over astrology. In the political arena, they cast light on direct democracy’s superiority over totalitarianism. However, everyday observations of the political scene tell us that we have not gone far enough in implementing these ideas in our society and institutions (or in our daily lives-see below). The obvious tendency of our institutions for precisely the opposite-institutional rigidity-undoubtedly contributes to the collective irrationality of our policies.
Two writers in a celebrated government report:
Over the years, government has tended to wait until crises occur and then has reacted to them-rather than study and analyze issues beforehand.”11
Though government inertia is widespread, its presence is particularly frightening in relation to such things as nuclear warfare, nuclear power, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. If here too decisions are unlikely to be made until the problems are so acute that they are obvious to the average citizen, the correct decisions would not be made on time to avert holocaust. We could perhaps afford such delays with sticks, stones, shovels, even catapults, but we cannot afford them with modern technology.
The intimate links between money and organizational callousness are well-known: “To get elected these days, what matters most is not sound judgment or personal integrity or a passion for justice. What matters most is money. Lots of money.”12a This commonsense insight is backed up by a considerable amount of research. For instance, in one study money emerged “as the first and most essential element in political party activity and effectiveness in the 1980s.”13
The bidding price of Congressional seats keeps rising. In 1986, campaign expenditures for incumbents were $0.3 million in the house and $3.3 million in the Senate.14a Twenty-two years later, by 2008, winners of House of Representatives races spent on average $1.4 million, while their senatorial counterparts spent $8.5 million. Apart from “the exceptionally wealthy,” says former chief Washington correspondent of a major daily, “raising political money has become a throbbing headache that drains vital time and energy from the job of governing.
This chore leaves many members part-time legislators and full-time fund-raisers.”14b Common sense suggests that political donations are worthwhile investments. Indeed, studies show a “disturbing correlation between . . . campaign contributions and how members of Congress . . . vote on bills important to special interest groups.”13bIn 1990, a mainstream analyst commented on a scandal which led to an open hearing in the U.S. Senate. In this hearing,
The slimy underbelly of American politics slithered into full view, [exposing] how U.S. senators grub for campaign funds from moneyed interests seeking to buy influence. . . . It was the best lesson the nation has yet had on the costs and the consequences of a campaign-finance system that has corroded government at the highest levels. . . [Such scandals] are all threads in the dark tapestry that now smothers our political system, like a smelly blanket under which lawmakers lie in bed with those who would procure their favors for cash. There is a name for those who solicit such attention, and it is not “senator.”15
In early 2013 Bill Moyer chimed the latest verseof the perennial sunshine-bribery lament:
The House of Representatives, where Congress gathers to hear the President, used to be known as “The People’s House.” But money power owns the lease now and runs the joint from hidden back rooms. You’re looking at the most expensive Congress money can buy. The House races last fall cost over one billion dollars. It took more than $700 million to elect just a third of the Senate. The two presidential candidates raised more than a billion a piece. The website Politico added it all up to find that the total number of dollars spent on the 2012 election exceeded the number of people on this planet — some seven billion . . . That’s Speaker of the House John Boehner, of course. He’s led his party to protect Wall Street from oversight and accountability. The finance, insurance, and real estate industries gave him more than three million dollars last year. Eric Cantor is the Republican majority leader in the House. Among his biggest donors–Goldman Sachs, masterminds of the mortgage-backed securities that almost sank the world economy. . . . And so it goes: The golden rule of politics. He who has the gold, rules.
My dictionary defines bribe as “a price, reward, gift or favor bestowed or promised with a view to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct especially of a person in a position of trust (as a public official),” and corruptionas “impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle” or as “inducement (as of political official) by means of improper considerations (as bribery) to commit a violation of duty.” We only have to add the premise that the duty of a politician is to look after the public interest to conclude that these definitions fittingly apply to American politics. Let me conclude this section with the sober reflections of two political scientists:
[The] political finance system . . . undermines the ideals and hampers the performance of American democracy. . . . Officials . . . are . . . captives of the present system. Their integrity and judgment are menaced-and too often compromised-by the need to raise money and the means now available for doing it. . . . The pattern of giving distorts American elections: candidates win access to the electorate only if they can mobilize money from the upper classes, established interest groups, big givers, or ideological zealots. Other alternatives have difficulty getting heard.16
A subtler way of influencing government decisions depends on social contacts. For instance, bankers and politicians might hobnob at the same dives or parties. Needless to say, in such settings a promoter’s virtually inexhaustible money supply is highly serviceable. The cozy relations among the various organizations whose internal logic dictates promotion of harmful technologies and policies are cemented by another strong tie: the continuous and massive flow of personnel among them. This applies, in particular, to senior-level officials who spend at least part of their time in Washington, D.C.17 For example, the 1987 U.S. Secretaries of Defense and State had been, prior to assuming government posts, vice-president and president of the corporation that was awarded a lucrative government contract for the development of the MX missile.18 The Obama clique, which transferred more than $100,000 from every American household to international bankers, was comprised, to a very large extent, of these very bankers. To students of organizational logic, such arrangements appear strictly equivalent to the following: awarding a bid for guarding the communal coop to the most notorious pack of chicken-eating foxes. A recent example is provided by the Obama Clique’s choice for the new head of the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), a choice which “put the fox in charge of [the] hen house:” Matt Taibbi writes:
Let me just say in passing that, given the record of the past 6000 years, I would have been shocked if the likes of Mary Jo White had not been nominated. To conclude, many organizations which derived short-term benefits from government largess were hard at work bending the government to their will. They did this through public relations, propaganda, and mind-manipulation directed at their members and the public at large, and through cultivating special relations with government (relations which included campaign contributions, socializing, favors of all kinds, and a flow of personnel from government ranks to the private sector and vice versa). All this seems to justify the conclusion that the USA and most other countries in the world are run by and for international bankers. Elections and Officials I have already discussed the unwholesome influence of money. In a rational world, a candidate’s campaign chest would have little bearing on his electability. This chest’s decisive influence strongly suggests that our electoral process is a caricature of rationality. Aldous Huxleyput it well:
Human beings act in a great variety of irrational ways, but all of them seem to be capable, if given a fair chance, of making a reasonable choice in the light of available evidence. Democratic institutions can be made to work only if all concerned do their best to impart knowledge and to encourage rationality. But today, in the world’s most powerful democracy, the politicians and their propagandists prefer to make nonsense of democratic procedures by appealing almost exclusively to the ignorance and irrationality of the electors. “Both parties,” we were told in 1956 by the editor of a leading business journal, “will merchandize their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods. These include scientific selection of appeals and planned repetition. . . . Radio spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven power. . . . Candidates need, in addition to rich voices and good diction, to be able to look ‘sincerely’ at the TV camera.” The political merchandisers appeal only to the weaknesses of voters, never to their potential strength. They make no attempt to educate the masses into becoming fit for self-government; they are content merely to manipulate and exploit them. For this purpose all the resources of psychology and the social sciences are mobilized and set to work. Carefully selected samples of the electorate are given “interviews in depth.” These interviews in depth reveal the unconscious fears and wishes most prevalent in a given society at the time of an election. Phrases and images aimed at allaying or, if necessary, enhancing these fears, at satisfying these wishes, at least symbolically, are then chosen by the experts, tried out on readers and audiences, changed or improved in the light of the information thus obtained. After which the political campaign is ready for the mass communicators. All that is now needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look “sincere.” Under the new dispensation, political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate and the way he is projected by the advertising experts are the things that really matter. In one way or another, as vigorous he-man or kindly father, the candidate must be glamorous. He must also be an entertainer who never bores his audience. Inured to television and radio, that audience is accustomed to being distracted and does not like to be asked to concentrate or make a prolonged intellectual effort. All speeches by the entertainer-candidate must therefore be short and snappy. The great issues of the day must be dealt with in five minutes at the most-and preferably (since the audience will be eager to pass on to something a little livelier than inflation or the H-bomb) in sixty seconds flat. The nature of oratory is such that there has always been a tendency among politicians and clergymen to over-simplify complex issues. From a pulpit or a platform even the most conscientious of speakers finds it very difficult to tell the whole truth. The methods now being used to merchandise the political candidate as though he were a deodorant positively guarantee the electorate against ever hearing the truth about anything.
The “peculiar rules of engagement” in the 1988 presidential campaigns included:
Boil the “message of the day” down to snappy one-line “sound bites” that look good on the news and are reinforced by color visuals; avoid saying something that may drown out the rehearsed message; when forced to play defense, either change the subject or use one-liners to turn your opponent’s words back on himself-political jujitsu.”19
A skeptical attitude towards elected officials is embedded in American folklore. “I’d rather meet [Satan] and shake him by the tail,” said Mark Twain, “than any other statesman on the planet.” “All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls” said John Steinbeck.20 Nor can we draw much solace from the professional backgrounds of our “successful” climbers. In the nature of the case, the judicial branch of government is comprised of lawyers. In 2011, over 42 percent of Congress identified themselves as lawyers, businessmen or bankers. Similar statistics probably apply to senior officials in the Executive Branch.
In his famous funeral oration, Pericles reportedly told his fellow Athenians that “although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.”21 Pericles’ views have been satirized and laughed at ever since, and not without good reasons. Indeed, the working-and remarkably successful-philosophy of sophists, tyrants, and demagogues in both the ancient and modern worlds was more nearly based on the opposite premise-that while just about any Rothschild, Lazard, or Rockefeller can originate national policies, only few politicians and voters can adequately judge them.
Free elections do not by themselves vouchsafe rationality: Democracy, taken in its narrower, purely political, sense, suffers from the fact that those in economic and political power possess the means for molding public opinion to serve their own class interests. The democratic form of government in itself does not automatically solve problems; it offers, however, a useful framework for their solution. Everything depends ultimately on the political and moral qualities of the citizenry.”22 “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,” Thomas Jefferson said, “it expects what never was and never will be . . . the people cannot be safe without information.”
Citizens can judge a policy, provided they know what it is; they can judge a politician, provided they know what he or she stands for. In the remainder of this section I shall trace humankind’s peril to one of its roots-the unreliability of the majority’s chief sources of information.
Information: The Corporate Media
The picture which emerges from this site bears little resemblance to orthodox historical writings. This divergence places me in an uncomfortable position. Both this essay and conventional sources of information presume to describe and interpret the same events. Hence, either I am hallucinating or the majority’s main sources of information are scandalously inadequate. Before checking into the nearest asylum, I decided to examine the situation in a variety of fields. To my relief, I found out that the views of some independent specialists in just about any political domain are strikingly at odds with traditional views.
Some information specialists (those studying our sources of information directly) note similar discrepancies in surveys of mass media and education as a whole. If these dissenters are right, then the first steps towards political literacy involve overthrow of long-held beliefs, not merely their amplification and refinement; uncovering misrepresentation and humbug, not merely pointing to shallowness and insufficiency. There is no royal road to political literacy and no substitute for open-mindedness. Here I can only try to bolster my case by citing a typical case history: media suppression of evidence that tobacco kills:
On February 24, 1936, Dr. Pearl delivered a paper to the New York Academy of Medicine. His paper concluded that tobacco shortens the life of all users, a piece of genuinely spectacular news affecting millions of readers and listeners. The session was covered by the press, but they either remained silent about the news or buried it. . . . In 1954, the American Cancer Society released results of a study of 187,000 men. Cigarette smokers had a death rate from all diseases 75 percent higher than nonsmokers. . . . It was increasingly clear that tobacco-linked disease is the biggest single killer in the United States, accounting for more than 300,000 deaths a year, the cause of one in every seven deaths in the country, killing six times more people annually than automobile accidents. But though the statistics are conclusive to medical authorities, [by 1986 they were still] treated as controversial or non-existent by the news media. . . . The print and broadcast media might make page 1 drama of a junior researcher’s paper about a rare disease. But if it involved the 300,000 annual deaths from tobacco-related disease, the media either do not report it or they report it as a controversial item subject to rebuttal by the tobacco industry. . . . Newsweek, for example, had a cover story January 26, 1978, entitled “What Causes Cancer?” The article was six pages long. On the third page it whispered about the leading cause-in a phrase it said that tobacco is the least disputed “carcinogen of all.” The article said no more about the statistics or the medical findings of the tobacco-cancer link, except in a table, which listed the ten most suspected carcinogens-alphabetically, putting tobacco in next-to-last place. A week later, Time . . . ran a two-column article on the causes of cancer. The only reference it made to tobacco was that “smoking and drinking alcohol have been linked to cancer.” If there was ever any question that . . . in the media . . . advertising influences news and other information given to the public, tobacco makes it unmistakably clear. The tobacco industry since 1954 has spent more than $9 billion on advertising, most of it in newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television have effectively censored news and entertainment to obscure the link between tobacco and death. During that period more than eight million Americans have died from tobacco-linked disease.23a
For the most part, then, the American mass media are doing a poor job of informing people about policies and policy makers and of educating them about the issues. To be sure, the flaw is not outright lies, but the quality of presentation, the range of opinions, extensive coverage of one side in a controversy-business, government, the comfortable establishment-and little coverage of all others. The media define political reality and proceed to present the range of permissible opinions.
Given the slow evolution of our political world view, the implications are disheartening: Our picture of reality does not burst upon us in one splendid revelation. It accumulates day by day and year by year in mostly unspectacular fragments from the world scene, produced mainly by the mass media. Our view of the real world is dynamic, cumulative, and self-correcting as long as there is a pattern of evenhandedness in deciding which fragments are important.
But when one important category of the fragments is filtered out, or included only vaguely, our view of the social-political world is deficient.23b In more general terms, the media foster the self-serving illusion that history unfolds on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. The sensationalism, trivia, and flashy headlines deflect us from the path of unprofitable questions like “why” or “what for.” With history’s slow and indecipherable ways under cover, consumers are unlikely to break their comforting addiction to intellectual mud baths. Another deficiency is irrelevance, as Aldous Huxleyexplains:
In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalistic democracies-the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions. . . . Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in the calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate and control it. In their propaganda today’s dictators rely for the most part on repetition, suppression and rationalization-the repetition of catchwords which they wish to be accepted as true, the suppression of facts which they wish to be ignored, the arousal and rationalization of passions which may be used in the interests of the Party or the State. As the art and science of manipulation come to be better understood, the dictators of the future will doubtless learn to combine these techniques with the non-stop distractions which, in the West, are now threatening to drown in a sea of irrelevance the rational propaganda essential to the maintenance of individual liberty and the survival of democratic institutions.
Thus, it is only a meager residue of non-conformity, vision, and originality that must run the gauntlet of censorship (self-righteously described by its Western practitioners as an “editorial process”)-a time-honored bit which not only reins in junior journalists, broadcasters, book writers, and artists, but their senior colleagues as well. It goes without saying that the situation has gone from bad to worse since Mark Twain wrote the following words:
The editor of a newspaper cannot be independent, but must work with one hand tied behind him by party and patrons, and be content to utter only half or two-thirds of his mind . . . writers of all kinds are manacled servants of the public. We write frankly and fearlessly, but then we “modify” before we print.24
It takes much more than an occasional airing of the truth to break away from the resultant climate of opinion, for we have by now grown accustomed to a daily diet of irrelevancies and half-truths. By switching channels or websites, subscribing to a different tabloid, and shunning people who are openly critical of conventional beliefs, we too unknowingly discourage efforts to drag us out of the cave of political illiteracy.25
Bankers, generals and other organizational promoters of evil employ various tactics to shape public opinion. For instance, the ongoing and massive Defense Department’s public relations campaigns, which have been planned and executed much better than our recent wars and military missions, had been detailed long ago (1970) by Senator Fulbright:
Of considerable importance to the Defense Department in selling the military point of view is the stream of American citizens who pass through terms of military service. We have become a nation of veterans-now  more than 28 million. This means that more than one-fifth of our adult population has been subjected to some degree of indoctrination in military values and attitudes. And all have been, whether they liked it or not, that dream of the public relations man-a captive audience.26a
Thus, even before organizational promoters of such things as ecocide and genocide their attention to the public at large, they enjoy the support of a “large and sympathetic audience.”26b As another time-honored public relations tactic, consider Royal or Presidential commissions, e.g., the Dr. David Kelly or the 9/11 commissions. Seasoned observers can readily forecast, with only a small margin of error, the commission’s recommendations, because only proven conformists, careerists, or upholders of the status quo-and hardly ever those likely to question fundamental assumptions-are asked to serve, and because the penalties of speaking truth to power (calumnies, demotions, assassinations) are too high.
Experts are hired, promoted, and fired, in part, on the basis of conformity to organizational discipline and goals. The consequences are predictable:
The traditional view of expert opinion is . . . radically mistaken. An expert is traditionally seen as neutral, disinterested, unbiased. . . . On the view proposed here . . . an expert is best seen as a committed advocate. . . . It is notorious that the opinion of an expert . . . can often be predicted from knowledge of which group has his affiliation.9b
A 19th century philosopher:
Party interests are vehemently agitating the pens of so many pure lovers of wisdom. . . . Truth is certainly the last thing they have in mind. . . . Philosophy is misused, from the side of the state as a tool, from the other side as a means of gain. . . . Who can really believe that truth also will thereby come to light, just as a by-product? . . . Governments make of philosophy a means of serving their state interests, and scholars make of it a trade.10a
A retired American arms manufacturer, explaining his objection to the early 1980s’ proposal of mobile MX missiles:
Can the Soviets steal the schedule and reprogram their guidance systems . . . to negate the whole idea? It is not very likely, but in the weird world of nuclear strategy, anything that is at all possible has to be considered. I have been around nuclear strategists for many years and I know how they think. I am certain that if the MX missiles are deployed in a mobile configuration, someone will write a paper suggesting that the Soviets could break the scheduling code. Someone else would write a paper suggesting that since we don’t know whether the Soviets could break the code or not, we should, for maximum security, assume that they could. This would open a new window of vulnerability, and off we would go to a new level of escalation.27
This is even truer today, and especially so when it comes to disciplines that directly affect the Banking-Militarist Complex. As just one example, an article in the left-of-center bankers’ press explains “how the federal reserve bought the economics profession:” The Federal Reserve, through its extensive network of consultants, visiting scholars, alumni, and staff economists, so thoroughly dominates the field of economics that real criticism of the central bank has become a career liability for members of the profession. . . . This dominance helps explain how, even after the Fed failed to foresee the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, the central bank has largely escaped criticism from academic economists.
All this runs counter to textbook lore, in which scholars are often portrayed as bowing to nothing but the truth. To be sure, some experts still live up to this ideal, but these courageous individuals operate outside, or on the fringes, of the political and scholarly systems. Most scholars yield to the practical needs of professional survival in an imperfect world. Take, for instance, the case of a respected cardiologist who was contracted by a certain pharmaceutical outfit to test the safety of a new drug.
Despite his comparative affluence and professional independence, despite the potential risks to thousands of heart patients, he doctored the experimental data to conform to the outfit’s commercial interests. At the time, 50 other researchers were guilty of similar misconduct, suggesting that, even in this limited area of drug testing, cold-blooded fraud is more prevalent than one would like to think.28 Admittedly, this is the fringe. Most pundits are too decent or prudent to engage in outright lucrative fraud, and they are rarely asked to do so. They are only expected to defend the highly improbable, but not inconceivable, views which happen to suit organizational interests. When they don’t, they suffer much and accomplish little.
When they do, they retain their jobs and promotional opportunities, receive the approbation of their colleagues, supervisors, and society at large, and do not even lose caste in the academic community. In short, they have nothing to gain (except self-respect) and much to lose from rocking the boat. Under such conditions, the record shows, indistinct shades of morality are usually put aside.
For at least a century, the typical, virtually standardized, educational curriculum presented a grossly inaccurate picture of science, mathematics, culture, American society, history, and politics. Besides these institutionalized distortions of the past and present, the curriculum gave short shrift to subjects essential to comprehending contemporary politics, e.g., logic, the scientific method, radical ecology, or Russian literature. It made little effort to foster individualism, a love for justice, compassion for the underdog, critical thinking, and open-mindedness. It showed little interest in the quality of interaction among students. It highlighted trivia and bypassed critical issues.
For instance, it seems more important for our children to know that millions of Americans live in abject poverty and helplessness and be aware of the arguments that could be raised for and against this state of things, than to know the name of the 44th American President or the correct spelling of “quibble.” Our educational system aims at meaningless test scores, conformity, and information storage. It attempts to shape students’ behavior and beliefs, not to give them the tools they need to form their own opinions.
A 1982 proclamation of the Texas State Board of Education reveals the usually unstated goals of America’s prevailing educational theories and practices: “Textbook content shall promote citizenship and the understanding of the free-enterprise system, emphasize patriotism and respect for recognized authority . . . Textbook content shall not encourage life-styles deviating from generally accepted standards of society.”29 To give plutocracy a chance, students must know something more than comforting fairy tales about their country’s history and politics.
They must understand how their government is supposed to work, and how it really works. They must be acutely aware of their country’s strengths and failings. They must be familiar with the characters and philosophies of key historical figures, not with contrived caricatures. They must not be shielded from the truth-any truth-regardless of how uncomfortable this truth might be. They must be able to spurn the financial and emotional rewards of conformity and obedience to authority. At least under extreme circumstances, they must be willing to place the public good above their narrow self-interest. A truly democratic educational system, in other words, would try to combine individualism and compassion, rationality and public-spiritedness. It would never compromise the truth.
It would replace hymns to successful knaves and make-believe heroes with dispassionate efforts to recapture the past and present, complete with their fools, scoundrels, and idealists. For the sake of analysis, I have treated each of the foregoing information sources independently of the others. In the real world, they all form a single web:
Indoctrination is to democracy what coercion is to dictatorship . . . In a totalitarian society, the mechanisms of indoctrination are . . . transparent. . . . Under capitalist democracy, the situation is considerably more complex. The press and the intellectuals are held to be fiercely independent, hypercritical, antagonistic to the “establishment,” in an adversary relation to the state. . . . True, there is criticism, but a careful look will show that it remains within narrow bounds. The basic principles of the state propaganda system are assumed by the critics. . . . An independent mind must seek to separate itself from official doctrine, and from the criticism advanced by its alleged opponents; not just from the assertions of the propaganda system, but from its tacit presuppositions as well, as expressed by critic and defender. This is a far more difficult task. Any expert in indoctrination will confirm, no doubt, that it is far more effective to constrain all possible thought within a framework of tacit assumption than to try to impose a particular explicit belief with a bludgeon. It may be that some of the spectacular achievements of the American propaganda system, where all of this has been elevated to a high art, are attributable to the method of feigned dissent practiced by the responsible intelligentsia.30
Cloak and Dagger
Occasionally, in ancient Rome or Greece, or 21st century UK, USA, India, and most other countries, a champion of the people poses a threat to the Machiavellian system itself. In such cases, overwhelming evidence suggests, the top oligarchs resort to character—or literal—assassinations. They routinely malign, incarcerate, humiliate, ignore, poison, or blow the brains out of anyone, anywhere on earth, who threatens their control—whistle blowers, congressmen, judges, U.S. presidents, DC madams who know too much, environmental activists, businessmen who dare tell the American people the truth about the Mexican Gulf disaster, sport celebrities naïve and idealistic enough to join the neo-colonial armies yet smart enough to read and understand the dissident literature, journalists who uncover the Banking-Militarist Complex’s collusion in the “war” on drugs, American peace activists, singers with a huge fan base who figure out how the system works—and dare share this information with the public, movie directors who had come to know a member of the Rockefeller family a bit too well—and who are bold enough to tell the world what they had learned, British princesses who speak up against landmines, union leaders, the bankers’ very own head of the International Mafia Federation, countless foreign heads of states who would not betray their countrymen. Once upon a time, fascists kept such calumnies and strangulations below the surface, following their master Machiavelli’s sage advice. But now, as befits the emerging in-your-face style of fascism, some of these atrocities are carried out in the open.
There is a common misconception in progressive circles camp that America had once been the land of the free and the home of the brave, and that its decline only commenced with President Reagan. In reality, what is happening in 2012 is merely a culmination of a centuries-long gradual march towards fascism. Two contemporary case studies of political murders and calumnies are available here and here. For now, let me give a couple of quotations from the greatest book ever written in English about media mendacity (Upton Sinclair’s self-published The Brass Check, 1919):
There was a certain labor leader in America, who was winning a great strike. It was sought to bribe him in vain, and finally a woman was sent after him, a woman experienced in seduction, and she lured this man into a hotel room, and at one o’clock in the morning the door was broken down, and the labor leader was confronted with a newspaper story, ready to be put on the press in a few minutes. This man had a wife and children, and had to choose between them and the strike; he called off the strike, and the union went to pieces. This anecdote was told to me, not by a Socialist, not by a labor agitator, but by a well-known United States official, a prominent Catholic. I cite this to show the lengths to which Big Business will go in order to have its way. In San Francisco they raised a million dollar fund, and with the help of their newspapers set to work deliberately to railroad five perfectly innocent labor men to the gallows. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, the great Woolen Trust planted dynamite in the homes of strikebreakers, and with the help of their newspapers sought to fasten this crime upon the union; only by an accident were these conspirators exposed, and all but the rich one brought to justice. Do you think that “interests” which would undertake such elaborate plots would stop at inventing and circulating scandal about their enemies? Most certainly they did this in Denver. I was assured by Judge Lindsey, and by James Randolph Walker, at that time chairman of Denver’s reform organization, that the corporations of that city had a regular bureau for such work. The head of it was a woman doctor, provided with a large subsidy, numerous agents, and a regular card catalogue of her victims. When someone was to be ruined, she would invent a story which fitted as far as possible with the victim’s character and habits; and then some scheme would be devised to enable the newspapers to print the story without danger of libel suits. In extreme cases they will go as far as they did with Judge Lindsey—hiring perjured affidavits, and getting up a fake reform organization to give them authority. Lindsey, you understand, has made his life-work the founding of a children’s court, which shall work by love and not by terror. Love of children—ah, yes, all scandal-bureaus know what that means! So they had a collection of affidavits accusing Lindsey of sodomy. They brought the charges while he was in the East a reporter went to the Denver hotel where his young bride was staying, and when she refused to see the reporter, or to hear the charges against her husband, the reporter stood in the hallway and shouted the charges to her through the transom, and, then went away and wrote up an interview!
Joseph Stalin reportedly said: “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” Now that the bankers everywhere in the Western World are ingeniously re-introducing their version of Stalinism, following the same script in each and every country (just to dispel any doubt about this being a coordinated attack), the Trojan Horse in modern Western elections is the counters themselves. Such outrageous rigging provides the Banking-Militarist Complex another safety valve, and again makes a mockery of those who believe in electoral politics.
There is a vast gap between what a politician or a party promise before the elections and what they deliver after the elections. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, promised peace but, once elected, served the bankers and, through guile, false-flag operations, and propaganda, led their country to catastrophic wars. Politicians lie and get away with it, again making a mockery of the people’s will and of ballot-box reformers. Woodrow Wilson’s betrayal was, perhaps, the most disastrous of them all.
He not only dragged the American people to war–against their will and on behalf of the bankers–but also broke his campaign promises not to sell his country to the bankers: During the Democratic Presidential campaign, Wilson and the rulers of the Democratic Party pretended to oppose the Aldrich bill. As Republican representative, Louis T. McFadden, explainedtwenty years later, when he was Chairman of the House Banking And Currency Committee, When Woodrow Wilson was nominated. . . The men who ruled the Democratic Party promised the people that if they were returned to power there would be no central bank established here while they held the reins of government. Thirteen months later that promise was broken, and the Wilson administration, under the tutelage of those sinister Wall Street figures who stood behind Colonel House, established here in our free country the worm-eaten monarchical institution of the, ‘King’s Bank,’ to control us from the top downward, and to shackle us from the cradle to the grave. We may note in passing that, to his credit, Wilson would later rue his betrayal:
I’m a most unhappy man. I have ruined my country; a great industrial nation is now controlled by its system of credit. We’re no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.
Two more contemporary examples of broken promises: 1. Obama’s promise to end the neo-colonization of Iraq. 2. John Perkins documenting the assassination threats, blackmail, and bribes used to turn decent elected officials into renegades. Co-Option
“The best way to control the opposition is to lead it.”–Lenin
The men in the shadows often support phony dissident organizations, e.g., the so-called “Tea Party” in the USA. Or, with their limitless supply of money, they might infiltrate and achieve partial control of a formerly genuine reform organization, e.g., the Sierra Club. They are thus able to control their own opposition.
Also, an individual who discovers for the first time the sorrows of the biosphere might join, say, the Sierra Club, and might never realize that this suit-and-tie organization has sold out decades ago. If she uncovers the deception, she might give up in disgust, mistakenly believing that it is just “human nature” to deceive, look out for number one, and ignore long-term perils. And even if she manages to find her way to a genuine environmental organization, she might have only few years left to put her wisdom to good use. Tony Cartalucci provides one example:
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its “Earth Hour” for instance, include Fortune 500 corporations: Walmart, Unilever, Coca-Cola, draconian intellectual property racketeer Christopher Dodd representing the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) as a director, Bank of America, Google, and others. . . . [They demand] financial tax schemes that they themselves created and are best positioned to benefit from while making no discernible impact on the very real environmental threats we collectively face. . . While the WWF claims having big corporations as partners is “good news” for the environment, implying that [the corporations] are shifting toward environmental responsibility — in reality it is exactly the other way around. Corporations are co-opting genuine concern for the environment to further enrich themselves.
This applies, in particular, to some “alternative” media. Many of these accept commercials and thus are, to a certain extent, at someone else’s beck and call. Other media have been created, funded, and sustained in order to throw confusion into the dissident camp. They magnify deliberately certain issues (which pose no threat to the Banking-Militarist Complex), thus deflecting attention from more pressing issues (e.g., Who is behind the ongoing destruction of the middle class, the Iraqi and Palestinian genocides, the USS Liberty Massacre and cover-up, Pearl Harbor, USS Maine?
How in heaven’s name did the Rockefellers and Rothschilds manage to exclude themselves from the list of the richest people in the world? What is money? Is the Rothschild/Rockefeller Cartel doing God’s work, as it claims, or Satan’s? Did this cartel accumulate its wealth and power honorably, or by sleight of hand? Who really owns British Petroleum, Monsanto, and just about any giant western corporation?).
These phony media and websites often accept the absurd contention that our rulers never ever engage in conspiracies (relying on that standard, absurd dismissal: “He is just a conspiracy theorist”). For them, there is no point in investigating 9/11, for the simple reason that our rulers never plot in secret! Well, yes, the Russians, or the Chinese, or the Romans might have, but our lily-white bankers conspiring? Are you out of your mind? Such sites often refer to bankers’ propaganda organs (e.g., CNN, New York Times) as legitimate interpreters of reality. And again, seekers of truth must laboriously sift through their contrivances before beginning to see the world as it is.
Other Organizational Failings
Many other forces contribute to our collective irrationality and heartlessness. Without a doubt, some of these organizational forces escaped my notice.
From 1953 to 1991, Soviet leaders were intermittently pursuing peaceful coexistence. From 1985 through 1991, especially, and at a great personal risk to themselves, they were preaching and practicing the philosophy of global interdependence. At the same time, and at a grave risk to humanity, American leaders were deftly playing the time-honored game of Machiavellian politics.
Armed with the belief that the enemy was nuclear war, environmental decline, poverty, and economic chaos, the Soviet Union was making unprecedented concessions in an effort to convince American voters and politicians that it was sincere and reasonable. The United States expressed delight with these developments, but utterly failed to extend a helping hand to Soviet humanitarians or make a single meaningful concession of its own. A similar situation prevails in most nations-between those who practice civil disobedience and those who run them over; between principled political aspirants who speak about the issues and the opportunists who obfuscate the issues-between the Upton Sinclairs and Rockefellers, the Gandhis and Churchills, the McGoverns and Nixons, the Berrigans and Reagans, the Bradley Mannings and Obamas.. Callousness played a key role in history’s stage long before the Persian Wars of the ancients and will surely continue to do so long after our own Persian War. Take, for instance, the city-state of Athens.
Following the conclusion of the Persian Wars, the still present Persian threat prompted some Greek states to enter into a voluntary alliance with Athens. Shortly thereafter, the Athenian confederacy was turned into a benign but much resented empire. Secessions were suppressed by force, strategic decisions were made in Athens alone, and money collected from member states for the common cause was used for strictly Athenian purposes. A historian of this period, writing in 1900, attempts to explain this failure of Athenian democracy (a failure which contributed to Athens’ downfall):
Most Athenian citizens were naturally allured by a policy of expansion which made their city great and powerful without exacting heavy sacrifices from themselves. . . . The empire furthered the extension of their trade, and increased their prosperity. The average Athenian . . . was not hindered by his own full measure of freedom from being willing to press, with as little scruple as any tyrant, the yoke of his city upon the necks of other communities.”31
Or take 1914 Europe. The prospects of World War I, Bertrand Russell says,
filled me with horror, but what filled me with even more horror was the fact that the anticipation of carnage was delightful to something like ninety percent of the population. I had to revise my views of human nature.32
One laboratory study33 examined the practical effectiveness of humanitarian strategies. In this artificial setting, American college students can make money by delivering messages through a computer. They are led to believe that monetary gain depends on the cooperation of a similarly placed fellow “student” (in reality, a computer program). However, if neither side cooperates with the other, a mutually paralyzing deadlock results and both suffer monetary losses. The other “student” employs a pacifist strategy.
He always concedes the first round to the subject. He does so even though this concession puts him at a serious disadvantage-if the subject wins the first round the subject can, by administering painful shocks to the pacifist, win all other rounds. In subsequent rounds, the pacifist insists on fair play, thereby forcing the subject to either concede equality or use painful shocks to retain an unfair advantage and make a few shekels. When the pacifist is shocked as a result of his principled stand, he steadfastly eschews retaliation (he can shock the subject too).
So we have here a situation in which a cooperative person always concedes an advantage in order to demonstrate his good will and avoid a mutually detrimental deadlock. He then presses for equality. If he fails to attain equality, he receives painful electric shocks. Although he can retaliate, he never does. In this setup, all subjects believe themselves to be under pressure from two teammates (in reality, a computer program) urging a callous strategy.34
Also, all subjects are led to believe that the pacifist is a Quaker who is morally committed to nonviolence. In the first four rounds, 87 percent of the subjects behaved callously. In later rounds, and especially after direct appeals from the pacifist, this fraction declines to 59 percent. That is, under social and monetary pressures, close to two-thirds consistently dominate and hurt a cooperative and nonviolent person.
The results for these . . . experimental manipulations suggest that when the pacifist fails it is not primarily because he fails to project a clear image of his intentions. Naively we had assumed that the various manipulations would only serve to strengthen the pacifist’s case-the personal profile information, ttegy. Behind this lay the assumption that the pacifist would more than likely benefit from anything that served to bring his character, his claims, and his commitments into sharper focus. Our results suggest that this assumption needs to be questioned or at least seriously qualified. While the pacifist appeal can persuade some adversaries away from their initial positions, and it does influence a small proportion to do so, particularly under the condition of personal communications, it also fails to influence many [subjects] who plan to dominate. But beyond these obvious alternatives it may have another effect; it may encourage exploitation among [subjects] who otherwise do not entertain such plans prior to interacting with the pacifist. . . . Reassured by their knowledge of the pacifist that they could dominate with impunity, they did not soften their demands but planned for continued exploitation. The paarently invite exploitation and aggression even among those who do not begin with such intentions.33
“There is no nonsense so arrant,” says Bertrand Russell, “that it cannot be made the creed of the vast majority by adequate governmental action.”35The evidence for our susceptibility to suggestion, propaganda, and indoctrination comes from various sources. It is a matter of common experience. Most Russians used to believe in the curious brand of Marxism they imbibed from their social environment. Hitler came to power, in part, by appealing to his listeners’ emotions. Closer to home, propaganda is a key element in our elections, government pronouncements, news broadcasting, various cults, and education. Similarly, “our” religion is almost always a function of just one variable: the indoctrination we received in early childhood. A character in a Steinbeck’s novel puts it thus:
Let’s say that when I was a little baby, and all my bones soft and malleable, I was put in a small Episcopal cruciform box and so took my shape. Then, when I broke out of the box, the way a baby chick escapes an egg, is it strange that I had the shape of a cross? Have you ever noticed that chickens are roughly eggshaped?36
Experimental evidence similarly confirms our susceptibility to manipulation, suggestion, propaganda, and indoctrination. Our behavior can, for instance, be influenced by subliminal perceptions. Thus, messages played too fast on a tape recorder to be assimilated on the conscious level can reportedly reduce the incidence of shoplifting. Some genuinely ill individuals can be cured, and some healthy individuals made ill, through the power of suggestion. In Australia’s Northern Territory, I have been told, a spell cast by a reputed medicine man is potent enough to ail, wither away, or even kill, tradition-bound Natives. Hypnosis seems to give one person impressive powers over another. Yet, about 15 percent of the adult population can become deeply hypnotized.37
An even more striking example is provided by post-hypnotic suggestion. In one demonstration to which I was a witness, the subject was instructed to open the nearest window as soon as the hypnotist lights a cigarette. Following his release from the hypnotic state, the subject took an active part in the ordinary conversation which followed. When the hypnotist lit a cigarette, the man was visibly distressed. He apparently wished to open the window, but this wish placed him in an awkward position. It was too cold outside to open a window and just then he was engaged in a conversation which could not be politely interrupted. Yet, he excused himself and opened the window. Similarly, partially declassified CIA documents, and a recent BBC production, show that, during a hypnotic session, some subjects can be successfully programmed to commit murders.
As we have seen, our susceptibility to indoctrination is exploited by the power elite. As much as we hate to do so, we must concur with Aldous Huxley’s views:
It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free-to be under no physical constraint and yet to be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national State, or of some private interest within the nation, want him to think, feel, and act. . . . The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him, the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free.
As far as politics is concerned, and regardless of educational background, class, or party, most of us are sadly misinformed. We often have strong feelings about politics. We are convinced that we understand what is going on, that our political actions are in line with our convictions and interests. But in all this we are often mistaken. To perceive political realities, we must do much more than acquire new information. We must, rather, open-mindedly weigh the evidence and, if need be, discard old beliefs and adopt new ones. In the world as it is constituted now, political liberation presupposes a series of conceptual shifts. As we shall see, both psychology and history show that human beings are not very good at letting go of strongly held but unreasonable beliefs.
Let us examine failed prophecies first. As a rule, a prophet takes care to make his prophecies vague enough, or to project them far enough into the future, so that they cannot be proven wrong in the prophet’s lifetime. Sometimes, however, prophets throw professional caution to the wind and make testable predictions. And here is an interesting question: What happens when prophecy fails? Often, the answer is: Nothing.
A group of psychologists38 observed members of a small occult sect who were convinced that the world was soon coming to an end. After that fateful day came and went, most believers still clung to their faith. As in the case of Mohammed’s followers, these occultists managed to rationalize the knockout blow to their creed. All this suggests that one common response to a disconfirmation of belief is not its abandonment, but “increased fervor among the true believers.”38 Though conceptual conservatism permeates every aspect of our lives, it is particularly noticeable in science. Unlike ordinary voters and policy makers, scientists are trained to be objective and flexible, to detach their egos from their theories, to think it possible that they are mistaken.
Yet, in some ways, the history of science is comprised of endless tales of the innovative individual’s struggle against his own, and then against his colleagues’, conservatism and self-interest. Take, for instance, the history of childbed fever, a disease which once claimed countless lives in maternity wards. After many false starts, Ignaz Semmelweis discovered a simple preventive measure. “If you do not wish to kill your patients,” he told his fellow gynecologists, “you must disinfect your hands before handling a patient. You cannot, in particular, dissect a cadaver or examine a sick patient and then proceed to deliver newborns with soiled hands.”
Now, one could scarcely imagine a more conclusive proof than the one proffered by Semmelweis, a greater urgency, a smaller sacrifice or inconvenience, or a better educated public than the one to which his pleas were directed. Yet, Semmelweis and his plea had been ignored for years and years and young women kept dying at childbirth.39 If stories like this have been repeated hundreds of times, if this conceptual malady afflicts science (which is often regarded as humankind at its intellectual best), then it goes without saying that the same forces play an important role in politics too. There is a more pronounced ideological component in politics than in science. Political decisions are enmeshed in practical considerations.
They are not made by professional truth-seekers but by professional power-seekers. They are not judged by experts but by depressingly misinformed and insufficiently educated lay people. It stands to reason, therefore, that conceptual conservatism plays a critical role in the irrationality of our political decisions. Perhaps the strongest experimental evidence for conceptual conservatism comes from recent studies.40In one such study, scientists from two major research universities were given a false formula which led them to believe that balls are 50 percent larger than they really are. They were then asked to transfer water from two actual balls to a box.
Their own measurements dramatically discredited the formula in both instances. While they were getting, say, four quarts using the water transfer method, the formula was wrongly leading them to expect six. Under such circumstances, not one of these highly qualified participants flatly rejected the formula. In response to questions about the volumes of balls, including balls identical in size to the ones they have been working with a short time before, over 90 percent based their replies on the false formula, not on the evidence of their senses. These results are counterintuitive. When asked to predict theirs or others’ behavior, most psychologists and lay people grossly underestimated the tendency to cling to the discredited formula. In addition to confirming the near universality of conceptual conservatism, these findings suggest that human irrationality is often attributable to the psychological difficulty of replacing one belief with another:
The . . . outcome-all subjects clung in practice to an observationally absurd formula and none rejected it outright even on the verbal level-is surprising. Even when we deal with ideologically neutral conceptions of reality, when these conceptions have been recently acquired, when they came to us from unfamiliar sources, when they were assimilated for spurious reasons, when their abandonment entails little tangible risks or costs, and when they are sharply contradicted by subsequent events, we are, at least for a time, disinclined to doubt such conceptions on the verbal level and unlikely to let go of them in practice.41
All this talk about open-mindedness and conceptual conservatism applies to all of us. Would you consider and weigh evidence that sinister conspiracies are real? That the Titanic, Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, or the assassinations of Lincoln, Gandhi, the three Kennedys, and Pat Tillman are examples of such conspiracies? That most of the founding fathers of the USA feared democracy? That the USA is not a democracy at all? That the much-admired Roman Empire was absolutely nothing, on every count that matters except raw power, when compared to Athenian democracy?
That Andrew Jackson and Dwight Eisenhower were mass murderers? That the greatest American war and peace hero on record was Smedley Butler? That international bankers are blood-sucking leeches? That the near-universal fractional reserve banking is a fraud? That our actual government is invisible? That the international bankers (our real rulers) massively falsify key economic data and manipulate the gold, silver, stock, and bond markets? That the biggest genocide ever took place in the United States?
That the country responsible, by far, for the greatest number of genocides in history is the USA? That, over the long term, nuclear power, besides its obvious lethality, is a fraud because it generates less power than it consumes? That global warming may (or may not) spell the end of humanity by 2047? That we have had, for at least 20 years, the technology to produce over 100 mpg cars, thereby vastly improving our health, our bank accounts, and the health of the biosphere, but that we haven’t produced such cars, anywhere in the world, because doing so would have reduced short-term profits for oil companies and the international bankers who own them? That children must not be exposed to a single commercial? That self-respect requires chucking television, Hollywood, and best-selling books?
Imagine that you have volunteered to take part in a study of visual discrimination. When you show up, eight other subjects are already seated. You sit down in the only empty chair and the session gets under way. The session consists of eighteen rounds of tests. At each round, all nine of you are shown a single line along with a group of three lines of varying lengths. Each of you is then asked, in turn, which of the three lines is equal in length to the single line.
The seating arrangement is such that you usually hear the answers of all but one of your fellow subjects before your turn to answer arrives. To your surprise, they often give answers which your senses tell you are wrong, and which, if you were alone, you would have rarely given. This was a study in conformity, not visual discrimination. You were the only subject; the other eight were accomplices who were instructed beforehand to give wrong answers. About one-fourth of all subjects successfully withstands this form of social pressure; one-twentieth completely succumbs; the remainder ranges in between (conforms to the majority’s manifestly incorrect opinion only in some experimental rounds).
This study confirms everyday intuitions: although all people are susceptible to social pressure, a few can overcome it successfully, a few cannot, and most can overcome it only in part.42 Also, while in Rome we do as the Romans do, not merely as a matter of conscious policy, but partly because of a strong, subconscious tendency to go along: “The optimistic assumptions that underlay the [Bay of Pigs] invasion were not seriously challenged . . . partly because . . . all the members of the advisory group surrounding the President . . . felt it better to . . . conform to the dominant optimism.”43
Obedience to Authority
Imagine yourself taking part, along with another subject, in a study of memory and learning. The session begins with explanations of the study’s goals and your tasks. Your respective roles- teacher and learner-are determined by drawing lots. You land the teaching position. During the experiment, the learner is strapped into an “electric chair” from which he cannot escape, with electrodes attached to his wrist. His task is memorizing word associations. Your task involves teaching him these associations and giving him electric shocks of increasing severity when he fails to remember them.
Throughout the experiment you are seated in front of an impressive shock generator, with 30 switches which go up in intensity from 15 to 450 volts. The shock level these switches produce is marked in words on the shock generator, beginning with “slight shock,” going through “moderate,” “strong,” “intense,” “extremely intense,” all the way to a point beyond the reading, “danger: severe shock.” As the session unfolds, the learner keeps making irritating mistakes. If you ask, the experimenter demands that you go on raising the shock level, up to the very highest.
At 150 volts (the tenth switch), the learner demands to be released. The experimenter, if you ask, tells you that the session must go on. If you continue beyond this level, the learner’s protests grow increasingly vehement and emotional. At 285 volts the protests “can only be described as an agonized scream.” At 300 volts, the learner tells you that he will no longer take part in the session, nor provide answers to the memory test. The experimenter tells you to continue and to regard silence as the wrong answer. If you go on, the learner keeps screaming violently up to 330 volts. Beyond that point he is completely silent. For all you know, he might be dead. Nevertheless, the experimenter urges you to go on. This, more or less, is the protocol of Stanley Milgram’s celebrated study of obedience to authority. The teacher is the subject, while the learner is a skilled actor who actually receives no shock. Two out of every three subjects go all the way to 450 volts. They do so even though they were under the impression that they missed being in the other person’s shoes merely by chance. They go to the very end despite the warning signs on the shock generator and despite the pleas and anguish of a fellow human being.
With numbing regularity good people were seen to knuckle under to the demands of authority and perform actions that were callous and severe. Men who are in everyday life responsible and decent were seduced by the trappings of authority . . . into performing harsh acts.44
Most subjects did not relish the suffering they inflicted on fellow humans. They gave the learner the weakest shock possible when the choice was left to them. They showed no signs of malice or spite. They were transparently ill at ease during the experiment; often trembling or sweating excessively. They protested and continued only after the experimenter demanded that they go on. For the most part, their conduct is traceable to obedience, conceptual conservatism, and conformity, not to sadism.45 In one variation, both the teacher and learner were the experimenter’s accomplices.
The subject was in charge of recording experimental “results.” Here the subject’s dilemma was not between defying authority or actively inflicting pain, but between defying authority or helping one person inflict pain on another. In this case, over 90 percent cooperated to the very end. The similarity between these experimental situations and the predicament of organization men is self-evident. Just like the passive recorder in this experimental variation, these men play a minor, and often passive, part in organizational misdeeds. The similarity between this situation and the predicament of all of us who indirectly contribute to organizational misdeeds by paying taxes, buying certain products, voting in an obviously-rigged system, or declining to become informed about the issues, is equally self-evident.
One incomplete analogy to the complicity of so many people in crimes against the American constitution, international laws, the Geneva Convention, or environmental crimes is provided by Nazi Germany. The victims of Nazi atrocities often cooperated with the authorities. At any given point, cooperation seemed rational. At every point the victims could rebel, but rebellion seemed to involve greater risks than going along. According to one thoughtful observer, the most frightening idea about the Nazi holocaust is not that something like that could be done to us, but that we could do it to others. Also, the holocaust suggests the ability of modern power to induce actions “jarringly at odds with the vital interests of the actors.”46 Like the guards and prisoners of Treblinka, “we collaborate day by day in maintaining the institutions of the warfare state which seems . . . plausibly set to destroy us.”47
Other Human Failings
The foregoing account of individual failings is obviously incomplete. Nothing has been said, for instance, about selfishness, hero worship, greed, and compartmentalized thinking. Little has been said, in particular, about weakmindedness, inability of most people to consistently think or judge quality for themselves, and lack of familiarity with logic, the scientific method, and empirical rules of evidence; about our inability or unwillingness to consistently apply the little we are familiar with to either politics or our daily lives. “It is not their character so much that I have a contempt for, though that contempt is thoroughgoing,” said Woodrow Wilson of his opponents, “but their minds.”48 et, something seems to be lacking in this essay’s indictment of human behavior, for it contradicts our everyday experience.
Most of us are capable of kindness, courage, and compassion. We come up at times with extraordinary insights into ordinary problems. Almost everyone has some admirable qualities and can do certain things better than many of his or her fellows. Can all the bad things psychologists tell us about human behavior be reconciled with such common observations? Maybe they can. As we shall see below, everyday observations tell us little about a special kind of deviancy: psychopathy Also, in the final analysis, the misbehavior of the vast majority might be largely attributable to ignorance. Our educational system and cultural influences could be designed to strengthen the rational component of our nature and “vaccinate” us against unkindness, irrationality, conceptual conservatism, unwarranted obedience, and conformity. Moreover, such steps are sorely needed to achieve the dream of direct democracy, make us freer and happier, and make the future of both democracy and civilization more secure. But, as everyday experience and opinion surveys suggest, most of us might already be human enough to achieve these goals. We may act as we do because we lack two things: direct democracy and the truth about the things that really matter.
Once we put ourselves in charge, and once we wrest this truth from its self-appointed guardians, our obvious failings notwithstanding, it is conceivable that we shall begin acting for our interests and principles, not against them; for people power, not for politicos forced to serve somebody else. Long ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn asked: “What . . . will happen in our country [the former Soviet Union] when whole waterfalls of Truth burst forth?” He then went on to say: “And they will burst forth. It has to happen.”49 “How could he make such a rash forecast?” I asked myself upon reading these lines in the mid-1970s. Soviet totalitarianism and lies, I thought then, were good for a few centuries. And yet, if only for a few years, truth did triumph on Russian soil. So, before the scientist in me begins hedging, let me quickly say: Waterfalls of Truth will one day burst forth on the entire world too. It has to happen.
The Reign of the Psychopaths
We have so far managed to account, perhaps, for ordinary crimes and suicidal proclivities. We have not yet explained their institutionalized universality, viciousness, and self-destructiveness. How can you account for the state-sponsored assassination of virtuous men like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King? How indeed can you account for the systematic assassination of our best and brightest in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or Imperial America? How can you account for the needless incineration of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How can you account for the blood-soaked exterminations of the original peoples of the Americas and Australia, or for the more contemporary genocides in Vietnam, Iraq, or Palestine?
How can you account for the gradual–and totally unnecessary–degradation of the biosphere? How can you account for starvation to death in a world of plenty? How can you account for institutionalized, vast—and ever growing—income inequalities? How can you account for the spending of so much on killing machines and so little on human dignity? How can you account for the existence of private central banks the world over whose sole real function is to parasitize the people of the world and rob them of their wealth, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? In short, how can you account for this upside-down world? The sinister government-sponsored shadow that is engulfing the planet, that turns the lives of billions into a nightmare, and that may bring, within a couple of centuries, life itself to an end, can perhaps be brought into sharper focus by means of just one example. Christof Lehmann recounts:
The fact that a Japanese government invites foreign dignitaries to the Yasukuni Shrine is bound to bring up memories of the 1937 massacre in Nanjing, China, where an estimated 200,000 Chinese civilians had been massacred and more than 20,000 Chinese women had been raped by Japanese Imperial Forces. Thousands of them had been raped to death. . . . Two of the Generals who are honored at the Yasukuni Shrine entered into a competition about who would be the fastest to behead a row of one hundred helpless civilians each. [These generals] restarted the competition after having beheaded dozens because one of the two ”war heroes” complained that the competition was ”unfair because his sword was not properly sharpened.
How can we explain such unspeakable conduct? How can we explain the prevalence of such barbarities and self-destructiveness in the USA, UK, and elsewhere? How can you explain the meteoric rise to power of Douglas MacArthur? How is it that governments, international banks, corporations, armies, and intelligence services routinely engage in such behavior, in stark contrast to the behavior of ordinary men and women? Must there not be, besides ordinary organizational and human failings recounted in this essay, some additional cause? The affirmative answer to these questions consists of two points. First, a small minority of the human race, perhaps about 4%, consists of psychopaths. Unlike ordinary people, psychopaths lack compassion, empathy,
and conscience. They are incapable of feeling remorse, guilt, or shame. Some of them are power-hungry, avaricious, manipulative, and self-centered. Although they appear human and, at times, possess superficial charm and appealing unselfconsciousness, they lack a moral compass. At their worst and most ambitious, they can be best seen as wicked life-sucking parasites—the real-world version of Dracula.Second, such monsters control the world. The literature on psychopaths is vast and entirely congruent with these two points. Here I shall only quote a professional who worked extensively with victims of psychopaths (Stout, Martha, The Sociopath Next Door, Broadway. 2005, cited in Andrew M. Lobaczewski, Political Ponerology):
Imagine – if you can – not having a conscience, none at all, no feelings of guilt or remorse no matter what you do, no limiting sense of concern for the well-being of strangers, friends, or even family members. Imagine no struggles with shame, not a single one in your whole life, no matter what kind of selfish, lazy, harmful, or immoral action you had taken. And pretend that the concept of responsibility is unknown to you, except as a burden others seem to accept without question, like gullible fools. Now add to this strange fantasy the ability to conceal from other people that your psychological makeup is radically different from theirs. Since everyone simply assumes that conscience is universal among human beings, hiding the fact that you are conscience-free is nearly effortless. You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your coldbloodedness. The ice water in your veins is so bizarre, so completely outside of their personal experience, that they seldom even guess at your condition. In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world. You can do anything at all, and still your strange advantage over the majority of people, who are kept in line by their consciences will most likely remain undiscovered. How will you live your life? What will you do with your huge and secret advantage, and with the corresponding handicap of other people (conscience)? The answer will depend largely on just what your desires happen to be, because people are not all the same. Even the profoundly unscrupulous are not all the same. Some people – whether they have a conscience or not – favor the ease of inertia, while others are filled with dreams and wild ambitions. Some human beings are brilliant and talented, some are dullwitted, and most, conscience or not, are somewhere in between. There are violent people and nonviolent ones, individuals who are motivated by blood lust and those who have no such appetites. . . . Provided you are not forcibly stopped, you can do anything at all. If you are born at the right time, with some access to family fortune, and you have a special talent for whipping up other people’s hatred and sense of deprivation, you can arrange to kill large numbers of unsuspecting people. With enough money, you can accomplish this from far away, and you can sit back safely and watch in satisfaction. . . . Crazy and frightening – and real, in about 4 percent of the population.
There is overwhelming evidence that such people, the conscious-less people who face no moral qualms whatsoever on the road to their horizon, enjoy a tremendous advantage in the race to the top of the political, military, and economic pyramid. Machiavelli took this advantage for granted, citing such historical examples as King David and Cesar Borgia. It could be conjectured that in the normal course of human evolution, the ever-present minority of scheming, power-hungry psychopaths probably posed little danger to the group as a whole. Among hunter-gatherers, e.g., Eskimos of a few centuries ago, such psychopaths were perhaps useful when callousness and cruelty against other tribes improved their own tribe’s chance of survival.
In such societies, everyone knew everyone else, and ambitious psychopaths, when they dared pose a risk to their own tribesmen, or when they dared break sacred moral conventions, were castigated, controlled, exiled, or executed. The same logic seems to have guided direct democracies such as ancient Athens. Indeed, many Athenian laws can be viewed as an attempt to control the ascent of cutthroats.
Thus, in Athens and fellow direct democracies, all major decisions were made by the majority of citizens, not by a few representatives. Law courts in Athens consisted of ordinary citizens, and there was no such thing as a as a professional judge. Leadership positions were determined by lot. People who were deemed a risk to the democracy could be exiled (ostracized) for a period of ten years. Instead of relegating political power to the people themselves, contemporary societies relegate power to a few. And yet, these societies are too large to directly identify and curtail enterprising psychopaths. Most societies have also allowed the concentration of enormous wealth and power in a few hands, and the impoverishment and disempowerment of the vast majority. Today’s most powerful countries can be thus viewed as psychopath breeding grounds. Most of those who make it to the top of the power pyramid are the backstabbers; the hypocrites; the greedy; the assassins, the criminals; the parasites; the corrupters; the ones who can, unblinkingly, kill their own spouse, children, grandmother, dog–or a million toddlers; the ones irresponsible enough to bring to an end the short, happy life of our species.. Thus, most of the people who control our lives are alien entities, far removed from our inner and everyday experiences.
Even when possessing a soul, our captains of banking, industry, information dissemination, commerce, war-making, and surveillance had to mimic psychopaths to make it to the top. Ever since the introduction of large-scale agriculture, with the exception of most surviving hunter-gatherer societies and a few direct democracies, humanity has labored under the Reign of the Psychopaths. Combined with modern technology, now this Reign not only poses grave risks to our freedoms and to everything that’s decent, but to our very survival. Our only chance of escaping slavery and cataclysm is following the footsteps of the ancient Athenians and revolutionizing the Reign of the Psychopaths out of existence. If we succeed, we must likewise minimize this Reign’s chances of return by embracing the ancient Athenians’ democratic wisdom.
NOTES AND REFERENCES (hard copies; internet links are given in the text)
1. Quoted in: The Metro Times (Detroit), July 13-19, 1988, p. 11. 2. This passage is taken from a 1776 letter by Adam Smith to William Strahan, recounting a conversation with David Hume seventeen days before Hume’s death. See: Hume, David. Essays: Moral, Political and Literary (an 1898 reprinting, edited by Green, T. H. and Grose, T. H.). 3. Djilas, Milovan. The New Class (1957), p. 56. 4. T. R. Malthus, 1798, cited in: Meek, Ronald L. Marx and Engels on Malthus (1953), p. 15. 5. Brodie, Bernard. War and Politics (1973), pp. 481-483. On the question of brilliance, another analyst observes: “I was struck by how little ‘edge’ most of the generals seemed to have to their characters, how bland most of them seemed, not only in comparison with the captains and colonels beneath them, but also compared to successful men and women in other fields.” (Fallows, James. National Defense, 1981, p. 122). 6. Newsweek, July 11, 1988, p. 22. 7. Detroit Free Press, May 10, 1990, p. 12A. 8. Parkinson, C. Northcote. Parkinson’s Law (from Preface to the 1957 edition). 9. Collingridge, David. The Social Control of Technology (1980). a) pp. 16-17. b) pp. 12, 183. 10. Popper, Karl. The Open Society and its Enemies, vol. 2. Hegel and Marx, (1966; 5th edition). a) Arthur Schopenhauer, quoted in Chap. 12, I, p. 33. 11. Robert Cahn and Patricia L. Cahn. In: United States Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of State. The Global 2000 Report to the President of the U.S. (1980), vol. II, p. 685. 12. Public Citizen. a) Fall 1983, p. 6. b) Spring 1984, p. 6. 13. Malbin, Michael J. (ed). Money and Politics in the United States (1984), p. 105. 14. Smith, Hedrick. The Power Game (1988). a. p. 156. b. p. 155 15. James P. Gannon. The Detroit News, November 16, 1990, pp. 1A, 6A. 16. Adamany, David W. and Agree, George E. Political Money (1975), pp. x, 7, 42. 17. Adams, Gordon. The Politics of Defense Contracting (1982), p. 77. 18. David Cortwright in a letter to Sane supporters. 19. Newsweek, September 12, 1988, pp. 22-23. 20. Steinbeck, John. Cannery Row (1945), Chapter XXIII. 21. Paraphrased in Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, bk. II, 39. The translation is Karl R. Popper’s (The Open Society and its Enemies). 22. Albert Einstein (1948), quoted in: Nathan, Otto and Norden, Heinz (eds). Einstein on Peace (1960), p. 502. 23. Bagdikian, Ben H. The Media Monopoly (1987; second edition). a) pp. 169-173. b) p. xvi. c) p. 4. 24. Life on the Mississippi, Chapter XIV. 25. Like so many other uncomfortable truths about the American ailing republic, my portrayal of the media is “controversial.” See, for example, S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman in: Pfaltzgraff, Robert L., Jr. and Ra’anan, Uri (eds). National Security Policy (1984), pp. 265-282. See also: Bozell, L. Brent, III and Baker, Brent H. (eds). And That’s the Way It Is(n’t) (1990). But I shall not tire the reader with the media’s countless apologists. Laying their various claims to rest would, for one thing, requires an entire bookshelf. The debate between the media’s defenders and critics provides just one more illustration of our old ugly friend, the phony controversy. Long ago, my students taught me a valuable lesson: a shift in one’s way of viewing the world is rarely achieved through abstract logical refutations; besides courage, intelligence, and open-mindedness, the key requirement is familiarity with a few representative episodes which cannot possibly be reconciled with textbook myths. So, instead of armchair discussions of intellectually dishonest apologetics, let me mention a small fraction of the distortional episodes which came to my attention during the single week of 1988, when my journey into media land began: I. A study by John D. H. Downing, Chairman of the Communication Department, Hunter College, reported parallels between Soviet press coverage of the Afghanistan War and American mainstream press coverage of the Civil War in El Salvador. “Neither superpower’s media may be said to offer a remotely satisfactory account of these Third World wars in which they are deeply embroiled” (Chronicle of Higher Education, July 27, 1988, p. A7). II. Fact #1: General Electric manufactured nuclear reactors. Fact #2: General Electric acquired National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in 1986. Prediction: NBC’s coverage of nuclear power will be even more biased than is generally the case in the U.S. media. Test #1: you might wish to monitor NBC’s coverage of the nuclear power controversy in the intervening years. Test #2: a retrospective analysis of any previous coverage. Here you can begin with an NBC program about France’s secretive, government-owned, nuclear power industry (Detroit Metro Times, July 13-19, 1988, pp. 10-13). Note that the issue is not the desirability of nuclear power, but the inevitable praise this NBC program lavished on the French massive project. NBC’s one-sided coverage is evident, for instance, not only from the divergence between this program and the views of vehement opponents of nuclear energy, but from the sharp contrast between this program and such balanced academic reviews as Global 2000 Report to the President of the U.S. or most introductory ecology texts (e.g., Miller, G. Tyler Jr. Living in the Environment, 6th edition; 1990). An update: Despite growing signs that nuclear power is the “largest managerial disaster in U.S. business history” (Miller, p. 404), for NBC, nuclear power remains “a long-time solution to the energy problem” (Extra, November/December 1990, p. 7). And here is an additional prediction, made in 2013: Although the worst fears about nuclear power are coming true (e.g., Chernobyl, Fukushima, Hanford), the bankers’ media still, by and large, take a favorable view of this murderous and fraudelent technology. Many more representative episodes, and an unanswerable indictment of the U.S. mainstream media, can be found in: Parenti, Michael. Inventing Reality (1986). Herman, Edward S. and Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing Consent (1988). Chomsky, Noam. Necessary Illusions (1989). Lee, Martin A. and Solomon, Norman. Unreliable Sources (1990). Many people fail to realize that the mass media had been captured long, long, ago. The best-written, most comprehensive and passionate, study of this tragic capture is Upton Sinclair’s The Brass Check. There is absolutely nothing original in the works of media scholars of the following century, including my own writings and the writings of Chomsky, Bagdikian, or Solomon. All of us merely re-discovered, updated, and explicated Sinclair’s insights. 26. Fulbright, J. W. The Pentagon Propaganda Machine (1970). a) pp. 45-46. By 2011, the number of veterans still stood at some 21.5 million. b) p. 12 27. O’Keefe, Bernard J. Nuclear Hostages (1983), pp. 228-229. 28. Nature (1983), vol. 302, pp. 558, 560A. 29. Quoted in Galbraith, John K. (1983) The Anatomy of Power, p. 24. 30. Chomsky, Noam. Towards a New Cold War (1982), pp. 67, 80, 81. 31. Bury, J. B. A History of Greece (1900), IX, 5, p. 366. 32. Quoted in: Farley, Christopher and Hodgson, David (compilers). The Life of Bertrand Russell (1972), p. 31. 33. Shure, Gerald H. et al. Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 9, no. 1, March 1965, pp. 106-117. 34. Unfortunately, owing to this social pressure, this study fails to distinguish the relative contributions of conformity and callousness. 35. See his essay “An outline of intellectual rubbish.” In: Egner, Robert E. and Dennon, Lester E. (eds). The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (1961), p. 87. 36. Steinbeck, John. The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), p. 115. 37. Darley, John M. et al. Psychology (1988; 4th edition), p. 166. 38. Festinger, Leon et al. When Prophecy Fails (1956). 39. De Kruif, Paul. Men Against Death (1932), chap. 1. 40. Nissani, M. and Hoefler-Nissani, D. M. 1992, Cognition & Instruction, Vol. 9, #2.76. 41. Nissani, M. Psychological Reports, 1989, vol. 65, pp. 19-24. 42. Asch, Solomon E. Psychological Monographs, 1956, vol. 70, no. 9. 43. Dillon, G. M. (ed). Defence Policy Making (1988) p. 76. 44. Milgram, Stanley. Obedience to Authority (1974), p. 123. 45. I cannot go here into the underlying causes of conformity and obedience. For my part, I am convinced that the contribution of conceptual conservatism in both cases has been underrated (see Nissani, M. American Psychologist, vol. 45, pp. 1384-1385, 1990). But regardless of causes, the laboratory and real life evidence for conformity and obedience seem strong enough to justify their inclusion in this essay. 46. Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), pp. 152, 122. 47. Lisa Peattie in: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1984, p. 34. 48. Quoted in: Ferrell, Robert H. American Diplomacy (1975; third edition), p. 501. 49. Solzhenitsyn, Alexander I. The Gulag Archipelago(1974), vol. I, p. 298.
This essay is the latest addition to Revolutionary's Toolkit.