All of this is true, that you are being lied to. Fooled, tricked, misled. You are being deluded, hoodwinked, cheated, defrauded, disenfranchised. You are being conned, duped, influenced, brainwashed. Your arms are twisted. Your hands are tied. Your back is against the wall. You are cornered, trapped, caged, coerced. Patted down, beat up, worked over. Deceived, manipulated. Your thoughts are controlled, your ideas are not your ideas. What you know about the world and how it works is false, dangerously so, fatally so.
As sure as privacy is a thing of the past, you will learn to unremember independent thought. Groupthink is a reality and your thoughts are it. You are a party to mass delusion. There are entities that will not abide ideas that they themselves did not source. You have never had a dangerous thought in your life. Your speech betrays your long conditioning by a despicable cadre of public relations experts.
When you have information you can trust, you can navigate it to form your own opinions and map out a way of being in the world. When you plot a course based on lies and deceptions, your steps are unsure, your movements irrational, your trajectory a farce.
You are bombarded with loaded information at every turn. Your life is utterly mediated. In print. On screen. Across radio waves. In classrooms. On billboards. At the office water cooler. People are even hired to walk around and nonchalantly extol products, films, brands. They are paid to subvert personal taste and desire merely by being overheard. You know the names of 100 poisonous products that you voluntarily put in and on your body each day, but cannot name the songbird singing outside your window, or the tree he is sitting in. And this according to plan.
Is it okay? Are you comfortable with it?
Into the struggle to scale down America's rampant militarism strides the propaganda of the Pentagon. Into the struggle to heal the hurts of industrial civilization stride million dollar corporate greenwash campaigns. Into the struggle to know our selves, our desires, our needs, step unscrupulous public relations firms.
We are meant to feel like inadequate, unattractive outsiders unless we buy the right future junk. We are meant to feel contempt for science, for facts, for recognizing the consequences of our actions: all is right in the world the white font on a bright green background happily declares. We are meant to believe that security and peace come through the prosecution of endless war and the long, righteous arms of American imperialism.
This is really happening. Is it a conspiracy? How do we negotiate our daily lives when such juggernauts of influence bear down on us so consistently, so forcefully, without reproach of conscience?
Propaganda, from the Latin word that means "to propagate", didn't always carry a negative connotation. Propaganda is the targeting of receivers' emotions for the purpose of disseminating ideas and promoting specified actions. It differs from rational discourse in that it appeals to feelings and not reason. It is selective information, yes, but it doesn't have to be bad, or dishonest. Just like not all violence is evil--think of a lioness killing an antelope to feed her pride--not all influence is wrong. Bertolt Brecht, a playwright of conscience who lived in times of aggression and deceit not unlike our own, was a type of propagandist in his extraordinary work. So was George Orwell. So was Emma Goldman. Heroes, all, and we can name our contemporary analogues.
Now, however, power structures of incalculable evil stretch over the entire planet and out into space. We live at a time when interconnected sociopathic oligarchies actively and explicitly threaten the existence of our species, and that of many others. And yet these contemptible few constitute such a small part of the population that their authority can be toppled by an informed movement of dedicated individuals. (Witness the fact that a mere ten percent of the population of Egypt ousted the dictator Hosni Mubarak last month.) In order to maintain the global authoritarian order of industrial civilization, it is necessary for the majority to believe that all is well. Join the imperial army to bring about peace. Pay the companies that make you feel inadequate, that poison you, to make you feel better. The only kind of environmentalism that will be tolerated must be ineffectual. (The kind of environmental activism that actually works is deemed "eco-terrorism", and you're not a terrorist, are you? Are you?)
We are beaten down, prodded, invaded, demeaned, pushed around, infected with and waterboarded by propaganda aimed at breaking our will to challenge it. Is it a conspiracy? Is it okay? Is this really happening?
To echo Noam Chomsky, whose Manufacturing Consent (written with Edward S. Herman) is an essential text in the comprehension of contemporary media propaganda, consciousness raising is the first step in lifting oneself out of oppression. The biggest challenge to overcoming propaganda may be the failure of its targets to recognize themselves as such. The propaganda of the Pentagon, of profit-driven greenwashers, of the PR firms, is the brittle, easily overcome ammunition of a cowardly, paranoid, hate-driven authoritarian minority. Recognize it for what it is and the tide begins to turn.
I am a propagandist. Proudly. I am not fair. I am not balanced. I am not neutral. Because all this is really happening. Enlist.
[Written for The Ithaca Post to publicize an event sponsored by the Park School of Independent Media at Ithaca College that featured investigative writer John Stauber and civil rights advocate Lisa Graves speaking on PR and the Pentagon. Stauber and Graves are the founder and current director of the Center for Media and Democracy based in Madison, Wisconsin.]