The Weapon of Criticism Part 2: Why Are Things This Way?
By Dennis Loo (4/5/14)
The two most common views about why the political and economic systems are the way that they are might seem to be polar opposites of each other, but they are in fact rather similar in their premise upon closer inspection.
Let’s first begin with the most common view.
Most people when asked about the exercise of political power in the US would say that the political system exists as it does because the majority of people want it to be that way. If the people didn’t want it to be this way, they say, then the public would not tolerate the status quo and the status quo would change.
This belief that the system continues because the public wants it this way doesn’t come from people’s studied observations, from interviewing people, or from polling data or other systematic collection of evidence. Instead it originates from assumptions within the dominant theory in the US. It arises from classical democratic theory’s precept that the political system mirrors what the people want. If people are using democratic theory as their paradigm - which is what the vast majority of people employ - then they are compelled by the paradigm’s assumptions to see things this way.
According to democratic theory, the people are supposed to be in charge therefore they are in charge. You see this in statements such as “what’s on TV is because there’s a large audience for it, otherwise it wouldn’t be there” and “if people really wanted something else, all they have to do is boycott what they don’t like and demand what they do like and they will eventually get what they want.”
In two comments on articles on this site, for example, people wrote:
Many people choose to be ignorant about social problems… Perhaps many of the individuals [hide behind] their ignorance as an excuse for not participating or taking action [about] the problem.
[People] do not want to believe that political officials, such as our president, would lie to them. It is much easier for some people to live a blind life than [to] face reality.
While Americans as a whole take second place to no one in the world in terms of their capacity for self-deception, the idea that the public is choosing “to be ignorant about social problems” and that it is easier to “live a blind life” rather than face reality does not make sense if the actual problem is that all too many people don’t know what they need to know, and don’t even know that they do not know what they need to know. People in general aren’t making a decision to plead ignorance about social problems. They are in fact in general ignorant about those social problems.
It’s one thing to know a little about some social problem (e.g., climate change) and it’s another thing to know with certainty that climate change is real and that it’s destroying the planet.
It’s one thing to know that plastic is ending up in the oceans and another thing to learn that ocean fisheries may collapse within a few years and the ocean itself could be killed by human activity by 2048.
It’s one thing to have heard that waterboarding is uncomfortable. It’s quite another thing to see a videotape of an actual waterboarding session or to see a dramatization of waterboarding.
It’s one thing to be told that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and it’s another thing to learn that not did Iraq and Hussein have nothing to do with 9/11, but that those in the White House who were making those claims connecting Iraq to 9/11 a) knew that these were lies and b) that even if Iraq had had weapons of mass destruction, that the US invasion of Iraq was the supreme war crime - attacking a country that did not threaten and had not attacked the US first.
It’s one thing to believe that the people being held at Guantanamo are the “worst of the worst” and another thing to learn that 92% of those held according to the US government itself are not al-Qaeda fighters, that 86% were turned in for millions of dollars in bounty payments, that only 5% of them were picked up on a battlefield by US forces, that with only a few exceptions, they have never even been charged with a crime, that the youngest held there was 13 years old, and that scores of prisoners were cleared for release years ago yet still languish there today.
It’s one thing to think that Obama is for assisting the undocumented and another thing to find out that he has deported more immigrants than Bush. It’s one thing to think that Obama is for due process and the rule of law and another thing to find out that he has a “kill list” and that he adds names to his list every Tuesday in the White House.
Most people think that they already know what they need to know and do not know that they are being systematically lied to. They assume that the mainstream sources of information are giving them the real news and they have no reason to think that they are being massively misled.
The other common understanding of how the political system operates is the notion that government exercises monolithic powers over the people. In this variant it’s not that the people are in charge but rather the opposite, the government (and corporations) are in charge and they exercise unchallengeable powers over the people. The people have no ability to challenge the powers that be, as the powers that be are invincible.
Both of these variants are caricatures of the truth. Many people who adhere to the first version who learn much more about how they are being systematically misled and lied to about what’s really going on tend to slide from the first version into the second version: “I had no idea that things were this bad and that I was being lied to this dramatically. I now see that revolutionary change is needed. But I doubt that such radical changes can be effected in the face of this all-powerful government.”
What these two conventional views share in common is a one dimensional and static understanding of the conscious dynamic role of people and the decisive role of people's consciousness.
If you think that the public is in charge because we all have a vote, then you don't really understand how political power is exercised. You are being seduced into thinking that you have control when all you really have is the facade of control. While there are many different dimensions to this, to put this very briefly and with regards to three aspects of it:
If the party nominees are fundamentally selected by Democratic and Republican Party bureaucrats, then the fact that the public gets to choose from one or the other nominee isn't rule by the people but the equivalent of what parents tell their children when they say that the kids can have the peas or the carrots, but they have to eat one. The child is being fooled into thinking that s/he is making the choices, but s/he is really not in charge.
If the public's knowledge about and framing of public policy questions is tightly controlled via six major media giants, corporate America, and public officialdom, and they are being led to seeing the issues in ways that suit those in authority, then how could the people possibly be actually politically in control?
If the public is being lied to and misled constantly and is in general abysmally ignorant about the really critical questions of the day, then how could the public make good decisions, even if the public was in charge, which they are not?
The people who really run things know very well that they have to create the false impression that they are doing the bidding of the people and that the people have to think that they are in charge, which is why government and corporate propaganda are so crucial. If authorities did not consciously and systematically mislead people, do you know what would happen? Authorities know exactly what would happen. A revolution would happen. If the majority of people were truly apathetic, selfish, narrow-minded philistines, then authorities would not have to claim that they were doing things for the right reasons. They could just say: "Might makes right and we don't really care whether we're following the rule of law or due process. We have the big guns and the most money so we make the rules. And screw you if you don't like it. Who's with us?!" This argument would work on the public if the public as a whole was as capable of self-serving thinking as some people think. As condescending as authorities are towards the public, they know that the public as a whole is not that narrow-minded and that stupid and philistine, which is why they (falsely) present what they're doing as motivated by the highest principles.
Those who think that the government is all-powerful share this erroneous view about the importance of what people think and know - in other words, they discount the conscious dynamic role of people and the decisiveness of what people think in relation to what the people will do based on what they think. They think that what the public thinks is immaterial and that how people come to know what they "know" is unimportant, just like the first perspective does.
The public is not primarily at fault for its being misled. The blame rests primarily with those who are manipulating public opinion.
Those in power know, by contrast to conventional wisdom, that what people think is decisive because they know that if the people knew the truth that they would do something about it, which is why authorities put so much effort into concealing the truth from the people.
If authorities and their ideology of everyone being self-seeking-materially-driven-individualists were true, then there really would be no need for media and public officials to expend so much energy and resources constantly to reaffirm, reinforce, and impose their worldview over the population. President Obama would not have to keep claiming that he upholds the “rule of law,” “due process,” “transparency,” the “right to privacy,” and “Constitutional rights” if intellectuals, professionals, and other opinion-leaders and the average American did not care about the rule of law, privacy, Constitutional rights, and transparency.
While there are certainly a significant number of Americans who would be perfectly happy if the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments were eliminated as long as they still had their Second Amendment right to bear arms, the majority of people would not abide by this. It is precisely for that reason that Obama and others in the government continue to make a point of saying that they are against the invasion of privacy, for the use of warrants, for upholding the rule of law and due process, and against torture and the killing of innocents, even as they do precisely the opposite of those things.
It is this disjuncture between what authorities claim to be doing compared to the reality of what they’re doing that provides an opening for those who want to see a radically different world. It’s an opening that provides an opportunity to radically change things because those who rule over us now cannot continue to rule without continuing to be able to fool most people into thinking that they are doing the exact opposite of what they are actually doing. By pointing out in sharp and varied ways this disjuncture, growing numbers of people can be awakened to political life and come to see the truth and their potential role in altering the course of history.
Authorities can keep telling people “who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” but reality has a way of not going away. Those whose power rests upon their ability to mislead people and their “monopoly over the means of legitimate violence” (Weber’s concise definition for state power) can pull the wool over people’s eyes and they can scare and kill people, but they cannot change the reality of what they are actually doing to people and to the earth. Those who have had the wool pulled from their eyes – or have pulled the wool away themselves – have a huge responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to wake other people up to these truths.
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)