“Ours is a problem in which deception has become organized and strong; where truth is poisoned at its source; one in which the skill of the shrewdest brains is devoted to misleading a bewildered people.” [Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Politics, 1913]
‘The sucker brigades’: that’s how Karl C Rove, political advisor, campaign architect and ‘teacher of tricks’ to the Bush dynasty, used to refer to the electorate, the general public, ordinary people – you and me.
It’s a witty insult, with a kind of poetic economy about it. We are the suckers; one of us is born every minute, and we must never, ever be given an even break. For so it is written.
But why ‘brigades’? It seems counterintuitive. But this oxymoronic quality is what makes it such an effective phrase. In two words it perfectly captures the reality: the ease with which the suckers can be marched off to die, induced to give their consent to atrocity, or triggered to wage war in the streets.
In coining his phrase, Rove was not saying anything new, just putting an old idea in a punchy new form. A hundred years ago, it was already apparent that the new mass media would be consciously used to manage perception, shape attitudes, and fundamentally alter the nature of democracy. The scientific study of the human mind would be key to their effective deployment. Edward Bernays, universally acknowledged as the progenitor of the modern public relations industry, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychiatry, and the theory and practice of modern public relations, advertising and propaganda was founded on Freudian psychology.
Bernays argued that the scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in society. At a time when the mass media consisted merely of radio, newspapers, printed posters and silent movies, he already envisioned – and went on to prove – that these tools could be used to ‘stereotype the public mind’.
“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind,” he famously wrote in Propaganda (1928), “it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.”
National Socialism embraced these ideas and techniques enthusiastically and to world-changing effect. While it may be a figure of speech to say that Goebbels designed his propaganda campaigns with Bernays’ book open on his desk, it is not an exaggeration: the Nazis were deeply impressed by American propaganda, which they believed had won the Great War.
The theme was no less avidly taken up by progressive scholars and theorists in the USA. Journalist and media guru Walter Lippmann explored theories of perception to show how a media system could be used to ‘stereotype the public mind’. (The metaphor of stereotypes is taken from printing, appropriately enough.) Lippmann was a public relations consultant to the Government and a colleague of Bernays on the Creel Commission, which generated the propaganda to mobilize American public opinion behind entering the First World War, proving that war could be sold in the same way as Coca Cola or Lucky Strikes. Lippmann argued that in a properly functioning democracy, a specialized class must run things, analyzing and executing, making decisions and exerting control through the political, economic and ideological systems. Specialists do the thinking and planning, and ‘manufacture consent’ (his phrase, not Chomsky’s) for their plans through the mass media. In his highly readable 1922 book, Public Opinion, Lippmann develops a sophisticated theory of stereotypes as the foundation – and the means of control – of human perception.
And so the 20th century became the century of propaganda. The guru of the neoconservative movement, Professor Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago, argued that the masses are not strong enough to look into the abyss, which they must therefore be protected from by the construction of a system of delusion. In this he is specifically arguing from Plato: in his vision, the majority of the population are confined to a modern version of the cave, where the mass media projects a wall of Platonic ‘noble lies’.
Strauss […] thought that ordinary people should not be exposed to reason. To rely on reason is to look into the abyss, for reason provides no comforting absolutes to shield one against the blank sky. Strauss opposed not reason itself, but reason stripped of its secrecy. Reason is for the few, not the many. The Enlightenment, the exposing of reason, was the beginning of the disaster. (Killing Democracy The Straussian Way, by Michael Doliner)
The apparent diversity of the Western media scene makes it the perfect vehicle for an invisible propaganda system. Even Chomsky understands that much, and promotes the idea in his influential book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988, with Edward Herman) while simultaneously illustrating in his own person the gatekeeping role of ideology.
Lippmann, a little more kindly than Rove, calls the naive public ‘the bewildered herd’. The herd’s role in a democracy is to be spectators, not participating except when they are periodically allowed to vote for one or another member of the specialized or ruling class in an election. The ruling class and its specialized bureaucracy must use the mass media to control public opinion, “so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.” (Public Opinion, 1922)
That is, until it is decided that a bit of raging and trampling serves the interests of the ruling class. When the herd’s power to destroy, distract and escalate division is required, it will be used, as we see now across the US in anti-Trump protests. If the ‘scientific manipulation of public opinion’ can overcome chaos and conflict in society, it follows that it can be used to unleash the same when required. The lifeblood of the oligarchy, after all, is a Hegelian dialectic of conflict creation and management. The last week of January 2017, following Donald J Trump’s inauguration and his declaration of war on the corrupt establishment, was Hate Week – and so was the next, and the next, and the one after that – as a criminal establishment rallied its sucker brigades against the new Goldstein, the traitor who left the club.
Lippmann mocks the naivety of a public which holds to the absurd belief that an accurate picture of the world can be gained passively and without the slightest effort. “For a dollar, you may not even get an armful of candy, but for a dollar or less people expect reality or representations of truth to fall into their laps.” (Public Opinion)
What we have instead can be called, without exaggeration, a Straussian ‘system of delusion’. Huge industries exist to manipulate public opinion. Governments hire PR companies to create fake ‘news’ reports which are aired without attribution in place of journalism. The Pentagon and NASA have their own film studios. In 2012, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) abolished the legal prohibitions barring intelligence agencies using the same propaganda techniques within its own borders as it does abroad. The media system in the West should properly be viewed as an arm of the intelligence complex. The CIA’s infiltration of both news and fiction media from the 60s onwards was code-named MOCKINGBIRD, and by 1981 CIA Director William Casey was boasting to Ronald Reagan: “We’ll know our disinformation campaign is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” If anyone doubts the collusion between intelligence agencies and media operatives to control the narrative, they should consider the meeting that took place at Clint Murchison’s hotel on 21st November 1963 – the evening before the Kennedy assassination – which included journalists as well as future presidents, mafiosi and CIA officers (as revealed by LBJ’s mistress, Madeleine Duncan Brown).
Awareness of this level of media infiltration and control has been building for a long time now. In an influential essay in 1996, author Alex Constantine wrote:
“It is beginning to dawn on a growing number of armchair ombudsmen that the public print reports news from a parallel universe – one that has never heard of politically-motivated assassinations, CIA-Mafia banking thefts, mind control, death squads or even federal agencies with secret budgets fattened by cocaine sales – a place overrun by lone gunmen, where the CIA and Mafia are usually on their best behavior. In this idyllic land, the most serious infraction an official can commit is a the employment of a domestic servant with (shudder) no residency status.
This unlikely land of enchantment is the creation of MOCKINGBIRD.”
Things have gone much further in the past twenty years. The level of deception and reality-creation we are talking about involves not only narrative accounts and carefully selected imagery: it also involves events enacted on the stage of reality, combining fiction and reality in varying proportions to realize Marshal McLuhan’s concept of global theater in an age of satellite technology. McLuhan envisaged communication satellites as enclosing the earth in a man-made environment – or ‘pseudo-environment’ to use Lippmann’s term – within which reality can now be shaped to the technocratic will. In his vision, the communication satellite “ends ‘Nature’ and turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed.” (From Cliché to Archetype, p. 9)
It is sobering to reflect that technologies of mass deception have evolved at just as fast a pace as have technologies of mass destruction. Deployed by an infotainment complex in which government, corporations and intelligence agencies can play out their noble lies in dynamic three-dimensional live dramas, technology has vastly expanded the possibilities of theatrical events to take control of the public discourse.
As the panoramic extent of the webs of deception, dissimulation and simulation which have been woven over the last hundred years becomes apparent, the observer must begin to see something very much like Jean Baudrillard’s ‘precession of simulacra’.
Front-projection gave way to green screen… remote-controlled planes gave way to CGI… digital technology arrived and the Matrix came ever closer to reality. The internet made a whole new range of psychological operations and experiments possible: public opinion could be divided through self-reinforcing social media bubbles, social psychology and cybernetics studied through the propagation of the Kony 2012 campaign, boundaries of credulity tested by the heavy promotion of Flat Earth theory, collective memory called into question through the ‘Mandela Effect’… Truth could be drowned out by disinformation, a hundred wild conspiracy theories disseminated to froth the waters every time some truth escaped. In time, the overloaded public mind could be conditioned to believe that truth itself was obsolete.
Within the last year, there has been another leap forward in technologies of simulation. Facial Re-enactment Software enables ‘real-time face capture and reenactment’. In tandem with voice-cloning technology and sophisticated face-mapping, the image of a real person can be made to appear to speak in an extraordinarily naturalistic form of high-tech ventriloquism. The technique produces a completely realistic and controlled simulation of speech and facial expressions. The Bin Laden videos which were released sporadically throughout the years following 9/11 until his poorly simulated ‘death’ in 2011 were transparent forgeries, using different voices and dialects, and some very poor ‘look-alikes’. In the dying months of the Obama administration, it emerged that The Pentagon had paid Bell Pottinger, a British PR firm, to make ‘terrorist’ videos – none of which were very convincing. In the future, as new technologies of simulation come into greater use, global theater will be much slicker.
The potential for reality creation using facial re-enactment software in the future is enormous, from the sabotaging of dissident voices to the creation of completely fictitious terrorist masterminds or political leaders. Strauss’s ‘Gentlemen’, trained to appear like leaders but doing and saying nothing that is not scripted by the ‘Philosophers’ – the permanent or shadow government – just got digitized.
The history of the ‘noble’ or propaganda lie is as long as that of literature or philosophy; we have seen it evolve through the phases of narrative form, from authorial narrative to polyphony and enactment, from epic poetry to high-tech multimedia global theater. So it’s no wonder that the herd is bewildered. A hundred years of perception management and psychological conditioning has created a population that resembles, intellectually speaking, the shuffling workers of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
I was certainly one of them, before I left my homeland in 2001 and watched two towers collapse on live television barely a month later, though it was another six before I had any inkling of the contradictions involved in that event. For a while there, I was marching too. Maybe I still am. Plato’s cave, in its modern manifestation, consists of caves within caves, nested together like Russian dolls.
Occultists, I have heard, call the rest of us ‘the unbegun’ or simply ‘the dead’. Another one, they say, is born every minute. You, or my twentieth century self, might object that you’re harder to fool than that. I wasn’t born yesterday, you say.
It’s true, you weren’t. You were born today. Without memory or history to defend you, adrift in sea of decontextualized events, you are born every minute.
And how would we describe the perspective which sees the public as an army of amnesiac children? Rove had his own term for the ‘paranoid style’ as well, as he brought his descriptive flair to bear on the growing group of unbelievers which has inevitably arisen in parallel to the power of global theater. No doubt it was Rove who instructed George W Bush to declare war on the ‘conspiracy theorists’ at the UN:
‘And let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the events of September 11th…’
Thus he put the sucker brigades on domestic duty — constant vigilance is essential: there are conspiracy theorists everywhere. At the same time, he — i.e., his script-writers — energized the opposition, creating a dialectic. At the same moment as it created the simulacrum of an international terrorist group, the group behind Bush had simultaneously rolled out its own pied piper truth-movement leaders.
Karl Rove, speaking in a more neutral lexicon in a moment of apparent frankness, provided a more nuanced description of this dialectic three years later. Again, he demonstrated his mastery of language in words so well chosen as to be instantly memorable. The journalist Ron Suskind recounts his conversation with an unnamed presidential aide, whom he later identified as Karl Rove, in his article “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” in the New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004 .
“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from a judicious study of discernible reality.’
I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism.
He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He continued, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” (Suskind, Ron (2004-10-17). Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush. The New York Times Magazine)
The ‘reality-based community’, in the new conditions, is no threat to the empire, which has the power to create reality. To believe that ‘solutions emerge from a judicious study of discernible reality’ is laughable in the Straussian-Platonic world of the noble, imperial lie. ‘Reality-based’, here, is a term of contempt.
Rove believes that these enemies need not be feared, because the lies are so complex and extensive that they create a trap. The ‘conspiracy theorist’ becomes so fascinated by the studious discernment of reality that it disables him. His conclusions are academic; they make no difference in the real world. Mesmerized by visions of an occulted and hideous reality, he is baffled as to how knowledge can be translated into political influence. The weight of the new reality is enough to induce a defeatist paralysis, and these gazers into the abyss become isolated in a society they cannot affect. No matter how strongly based their knowledge is, their problems of communication are exacerbated by media stratagems until getting through to the inhabitants of Constantine’s ‘enchanted land’ becomes virtually impossible. How do you teach chess to a beginner so absolute that he believes no such game could possibly exist?
The system of delusion relies on this cleverly constructed trap, which has kept the realists in their cage for a long time.
However, empires are also subject to contradictions. Eventually, they always succumb to hubris, and last year, 2016, Rove’s hubris became apparent. The trap failed, with the unforeseen emergence of a political candidate who embodies the skepticism and moral outrage of the reality-based community, while incarnating in spades the ability to act. However much or little Donald Trump achieves in office, something changed when he was elected. The trap began to fail.
The ‘reality-based community’ is, at last, finding effective political voices, whose timbre has terrified the specialized class to the degree that they don’t care what transparent fools they make of themselves with their contrived moral panic and jerry-built conspiracy theories, their squeals of ‘fake news’ and ‘Russian hackers’, their squads of paid accusers and volleys of twisted inventions. Although they are fighting back with everything they know, the organs of state-sanctioned reality are losing their audience, the New York Times clearing eight floors in its buildings, the Guardian constantly appealing for donations, ratings for shows on CNN and CBS going through the floor, the BBC exposed as a nest of pedophiles and necrophiliacs… Under those fancy news desks on television, we don’t see the trickles of urine sliding down panicked legs. But we smell something.
One reason why we are now seeing such a deliberate fracturing of society around a vicious, full-spectrum smear campaign against a democratically elected US president is to distract from revelations so explosive as to pose a serious threat to the fabric of the oligarchy. These revelations concern something that has long been suspected but is becoming increasingly apparent: that the political process in the West is controlled through deep corruption and blackmail; that the old monarchies and the neo-nobility, are, and have for long been, satanists and sadistic pedophiles, who use child-rape and human sacrifice not just for their own gratification but as a bond among their higher servants. Intimations of this reality have broken out on numerous occasions over the past forty years. The Franklin cover-up, Boys’ Town, the Finders case, the McMartin pre-school case, the Presidio child abuse scandal, Bohemian Grove, Project Monarch, Jimmy Saville, Edward Heath, the Dutroux affair, Satanic Ritual Abuse in the UK leading to the invention of False Memory Syndrome, huge pedophile rings broken up in Belgium, Norway, Canada, Australia, and now arrests in California and Philadelphia.
The amnesiac herd quickly forgets each time, but the ‘reality-based community’ does not. It understands how Sadistic pedophilia doesn’t just entertain the degenerate elite, but serves its need for political control through ‘Brownstone’ blackmail operations, run by the CIA in conjunction with its trauma-based mind control sex-slave operations. It is the control mechanism for the new world order.
The leaked DNC/Podesta emails and associated revelations concerning child-trafficking and sex-slavery constitute the greatest emergency the criminal establishment has faced since Kennedy. In its wake, new verbal amulets have quickly been issued to the public – ‘fake news’, ‘Russian hacking’ – new bells hung round the necks of the cattle. Befuddled and bemused, the herd forget all the dots before they can ever think to connect them.
By its moral cowardice, the herd vindicates the criminal elite’s contempt for the masses and ultimately justifies their predation. The willfully blind are no better than the predators who feed on them, goes the logic; they deserve what is coming to them. Obsessively fixated by every turn of phrase uttered by one man in the White House, wearing vaginas on their heads and imagined virtues on their sleeves, the cowards willfully ignore this holocaust of innocence. By their contortions to avoid the truth, they make monsters of themselves.
We are living in different moral universes which are becoming more and more alien to each other. Speaking from my own experience, it has become nearly impossible to communicate anything important across this divide, as one camp obsessively pursues discernible reality and the other runs from it in a state of hysterical denial and clings to manufactured myths. I find myself standing on a different continent, figuratively as well as literally, from most of the people I have ever known, worked with, grown up with; we are now separated by a yawning chasm, to the degree that it becomes difficult to hold any kind of meaningful conversation about the world. To them, whether they would say it to my face or not, I am a kook, a nutjob, a ‘conspiracy theorist’. Something has died inside me. I’ve gone a little bit crazy. While they, to me, are marching in the sucker brigades. Marching and saluting.
The word is turning, and the unbegun are falling further and further behind. Like Truman Burbank, they’re living in an imagined past, a static moment where everything is as it appears to be. While post-modernists might be seduced by clever talk of liminalism and post-truth, the Dajjal is already here, on every screen, in every pocket, weaving the Matrix around us. Without disciplined critical thinking, mutual criticism and debate, nobody will be gifted the privilege, or curse if you will, of escaping an engineered reality.
One thing is clear: If you ain’t conspiracy theorist, you’re marching in the sucker brigades.