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THE TRIUMPH OF PROPAGANDA (SO FAR)

December 31, 2015

THE TRIUMPH OF PROPAGANDA (SO FAR)

It is not necessary that truthful statements need be true; it is only necessary that they be perceived as true by an audience of both gullible and prejudiced listeners. Thus false statements can be and frequently are perceived to be true. As can be seen on today’s political scene, some audiences just want to hear the words that flesh out their preconceived biases even if such listeners know statements made by politicians in support of their biased views are false. The truth of such assertions itself becomes unimportant; what is important is what is to be gained by lying and misrepresentation of (always true) fact. The process by which this is accomplished is known as propaganda.

Facts are manipulated for diverse purposes such as the myth of “free markets” in an economy of monopolistic pricing, WMD and other fear language by neocons and war hawks in order to induce public endorsement of war, the myth of how a raise in the minimum wage would endanger our economy when the exact opposite as a chronic drag on demand is true etc. Perversely enough, facts remain facts irrespective of the motives of the manipulators or the manipulated. Those of the rich and corporate class who perpetuate such myths are not interested in truth, they are typically interested first in profit, executive compensation and bonuses, market share and return to shareholders, contrary to their incessant ads (aka propaganda) that make big Wall Street banks and multinational corporations look like paragons of virtue (propaganda) rather than greedy recipients of bailouts and corporate welfare (fact).

We see this borne out in an area in which I am interested, i.e., wage and wealth inequality, an area covered well by Steve Fraser in his book, Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power. Fraser points out that poor people are not in the streets in an Occupy Wall Street reaction to the poverty visited upon them by the rich and corporate class, nor do poor people (with a few exceptions) write about their own plight; that rather most writing on poverty these days is left to privileged opinion writers and reporters. He opines that you don’t need to have experienced poverty to write about it, that what you need is to be injured, angered, or embittered in some fundamental way to have experienced pain and humiliation, noting that no class is immune to that. (Truth in Advertising: I have been in both poverty and privileged positions and active in the Occupy Wall Street movement of a few years ago – a movement that failed to end the corrupting influence of Wall Street banks and the corporate culture which they purchased with “campaign contributions.”)

Fraser further notes that, “From Karl Marx to Dorothy Day, the revolutionary or reformist spirit has often been embodied by materially comfortable people who, by some serendipity of character or circumstance, are preternaturally sensitive to material suffering.” The phrase covering this situation is a sense of noblesse’ o-blige’, a French term the dictionary defines as “the supposed moral and social obligations of the nobility,” a noble sentiment indeed, and one that was possessed by the Roosevelt cousins who though rich (but irrespective of politics) were sensitive as presidents to the needs of the poor and laboring classes. Though FDR was a Democrat and Teddy a Republican, I would have voted for both of them had I been around during their tenures when fighting the anti-trust battles (Teddy) and a hair-raising Great Depression/WW II (FDR). Both exemplified political views so needed today (along with a generous dose of Keynesian economics) when a narrow slice of America now controls the rest of us in a “tail is wagging the dog” situation leading to increases in bitter poverty by the despairing millions due to legislative insensitivity purchased with “campaign contributions,” the ignoble opposite of the sentiments of the Roosevelts as translated into policy.

Fraser writes of how in history concentrated wealth gradually made money king, turning owners of land, houses, and labor into renters and mortgage holders subject to the fluctuating economic needs of larger entities. This is an old story dating from Karl Marx, of course, but such deep roots are what motivate him to argue that at times in history such great disparities in wealth and power gave rise to social dissent and political upheaval, notably during the Gilded Age. He correctly refers to the contemporary myth of the financier as rebel and to the fairy tale of a buoyant stock market that lifts all boats, since those in poverty have no boats to lift. He speaks of the “ubiquity of market thinking,” the way in which commercial values have colored the emotional and psychological aspects of our lives. He notes that mass protest movements and revolutions start with a small but unifying outrage, like for instance, the cruel tax policies in eighteenth-century France, arrogant tax policies in Colonial New England, draconian pay cuts to workers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1877 etc.

However, today in America there is not legalized child labor, no military draft and no explicit segregation, so there is no single egregious economic issue to rally against, like the B & O and Pullman strikes in our labor history. The problem is instead that there are about a million subtle degradations to the quality of lives of Americans. Thus some Americans struggle under credit-card debt incurred from medical expenses; others are sinking due to student loans, and yet others have had their jobs outsourced or have been laid off because of their age. As a result, such an endless list of economic barriers and burdens makes organizing a mass movement against wage and wealth inequality a daunting task, but however daunting, I for one say we must undertake undoing such an unfair and inequitable system and persevere until there is a fair sharing of the fruits of our economy. (Accord: Two great economists, Piketty and Stiglitz). What, short of revolution, can we do to bring about an end to wage and wealth inequality in a jaded society where many of its members consider the present arrangement of rich v. poor to be normal and eternal when it is neither but rather what we make it?

What does history teach us? The present system has been with us for so long that we cannot perhaps remember what the past was like. Thus during the Gilded Age there may have been greener pastures for organized dissent than today because the farmers of the 19th century remembered how it had been before the banks appropriated their land and rented it back to them, small tradesmen recalled the modest shops they had had before they were bought out and turned into workers for hire. Newly emancipated black slaves had gone from bondage in the South to another sort of slave labor in the North, where they were forced to buy food from and pay rent to their employers, who possessed the legal right to jail them if they tried to quit without first paying off their exorbitant debts. Perhaps those today who have thrown in the towel and given up on change via organized dissent have no fond memories for comparison, a mindset the rich and corporate class reinforces daily with their incessant propaganda and other such drivel, the costs of which are deductible from their taxes and are thus paid for to such extent by you and me in a classic case in which we are paying for our own brainwashing. (!)

Let’s ignore the propaganda fed to us by the rich and corporate class and their congressional toadies and agitate for an end to this corrupt and inequitable system of wage and wealth inequality.  GERALD   E

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