Time to Leave Wonderland: Facing Reality and Imagining New PossibilitiesKali Ma I Society & Culture I Commentary I September 17th, 2013
"If I had a world of my own . . . Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary-wise: what it is, it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?"[i]
Our world is insane. It is difficult to understand why humans live the way we do. Wars have become the fabric of our existence, blending into our lives as background noise that most people have simply tuned out; the destruction of our environment is now just part of the landscape in a global economy fueled by infinite growth on a finite planet - a premise clearly out of touch with reality. Most of us believe there is nothing we can do to change the status quo and often hear that this is "just the way things are," that we have no other options but to keep our heads down and struggle through life as best we can.[ii] It seems that we cannot imagine a different kind of life - an existence that is free of struggle, poverty, violence, and destruction. Yet imagination is key to creating a different reality. Imagination plants a seed for something different to sprout in the future; without it, nothing new can emerge. Most people long for a meaningful existence lived in peace, joy, and happiness with other people. Clearly, our current lifestyle is not what most of us desire - so why do we continue to live in misery?
In order to imagine and create a different future, we must first understand the true nature of our system and the root causes that have led to the present circumstances. Currently, there is a war on our consciousness and what we are able to envision as possible. The truth is that we do not live in a civilized society - we live in a barbaric social structure that preys on anyone and anything for profit. As a result of our hierarchical system, we have given our power away to a small group of people who are deciding the fate for all of humanity. When decision-making rests in the hands of the few, power becomes easy to wield and manipulate. In order to control our behavior without using overt force, the ruling elite has opted for a more covert strategy: managing our thoughts and perceptions, most notably, through the education system and the media.
From early on our consciousness is shaped by a system whose survival depends on our ignorance and obedience. Our schools are little more than indoctrination camps that "teach" us from a limited point of view, which in turn becomes our own outlook on life. "Education" essentially places invisible borders on our imagination that only allow for standardized "appropriate" and "legitimate" expressions of ideas and perspectives. Mass media, through its various outlets, continuously reinforces these limited perspectives and defines for us what it means to be a human in this world. Public relations - or the conscious manipulation of perception - is essential to limiting thought and imagination to certain appropriate parameters and plays a key role in media and corporate propaganda. Arguably, mass media's primary purpose is to serve as a gatekeeper to information and our perception of reality. When a few corporations own most of the media, what we hear, see and read is not based on what is in the public's interest, but rather on what is financially and politically profitable for the corporate owners. [iii] Inevitably, discussions become superficial and limited to perspectives that never threaten the status quo and power of the ruling elite.
As Professor Noam Chomsky notes, "[P]ropaganda is most developed and sophisticated in the more free societies" like Britain and the United States. [iv] This is because, according to Chomsky, "It was understood roughly a century ago that people have won enough freedom so you just can't control them by force. Therefore you have to control beliefs and attitudes, it's the next best thing." Any information that challenges the propaganda and false narrative spun by the ruling elite is ignored, dismissed, marginalized, or mischaracterized by the media and our education system. The concentration of power in the hands of the few is no "conspiracy theory", but rather, as researcher Andrew Gavin Marshall explains, "a network of institutions, corporations, banks, think tanks and foundations with indirect political influence . . . which establish ideologies, indoctrinate individuals and implement objectives" through their prominence in society.[v] Their intent and objectives are clear: to shape our thoughts and perception of reality. As Edward Bernays - the "father of public relations" and arguably one of the most influential individuals of the 20th century - states:
"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." [vi]
Bernays, the nephew of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, believed that human beings are controlled by unconscious, irrational desires and that individuals in power could (and should) manipulate those desires for profit and to influence public opinion and behavior. [vii] Bernays was not just a thinker, however - he successfully put his ideas to work for the U.S. government and some of the biggest corporations in the world.[viii] His PR tactics and manipulations of the media on behalf of United Fruit Co. (now Chiquita Banana) were instrumental in pushing the U.S. government to overthrow the democratically elected, left-leaning Guatemalan government which, at the time, sought land reforms that would have threatened United Fruit's corporate interests. [ix] But we rarely question the underlying premise of such actions: what gives the United States this absolute, inalienable right to overthrow and invade sovereign countries to protect the vaguely defined "U.S. interests," which in reality is code for business interests and imperialistic ambitions of the wealthy ruling elite? While we are often told that military interventions in foreign governments are undertaken to protect us from some evil, whether it is communism or terrorism, the reality is often quite different.
Major General Smedley Butler, a 34-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and one of its most decorated members in history, wrote a booklet in 1935 titled War Is A Racket in which he explains that war is conducted "for the benefit of the very few" and lays out in detail how incredibly profitable war is for various business interests:
"Out of war a few people make huge fortunes . . . The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes twelve percent. But war-time profits -- ah! that is another matter -- twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent -- the sky is the limit . . . Uncle Sam has the money. Let's get it. Of course, it isn't put that crudely in war time. It is dressed into speeches about patriotism, love of country, and "we must all put our shoulders to the wheel," but the profits jump and leap and skyrocket -- and are safely pocketed."[x]
The most recent incarnation of imperialistic, profit-driven militarism has been taking place in the Middle East and other countries around the world through more covert means. By now, many people know that the war in Iraq was not fought for some noble cause to liberate the Iraqi people or to rid the world of (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction or to defeat "the terrorists";[xi] rather, the war was fought for geopolitical, strategic reasons and to secure oil interests for Western corporations.[xii] Since 2003, private companies have raked in over $138 billion in defense contracts, with KBR (a former subsidiary of Dick Cheney's Halliburton Co.)[xiii] securing almost $40 billion in federal contracts related to the Iraq war. [xiv] As history shows, protecting seemingly oppressed people and Americans from some bogeyman abroad most often serves as an excuse or pretext for the real goal - imperialism and the promotion of business interests. [xv]
But the ruling elite still needs support from the people for their military adventurism; otherwise they risk losing their power. Obtaining the people's consent for certain policy decisions planned by those in power can be accomplished in any type of government as Nazi official Hermann Göring explains in his exchange with military psychologist Gustave Gilbert in the Nuremberg Diary:
"Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."[xvi]
We must then make a distinction between leaders and the people - they are not the same. Many of us cannot imagine that our leaders would be capable of manipulating us or working against our interests because we have been indoctrinated to identify ourselves with our government and even see it as some kind of benevolent, yet stern, parental figure. The truth, however, is that the people's interests and those of government are fundamentally at odds; the government is a tool of the ruling elite and represents and enforces their interests, regardless of which political party is in power. It is millions of ordinary people around the world (including Americans) who are sacrificed for the opportunistic and imperialistic policies of the ruling elite who continues to profit from deception, death and destruction. When it comes to war, the people always lose; whether directly through death or displacement or indirectly when tax dollars are allocated to defense spending at the expense of education, healthcare, and basic infrastructure necessary for a well-functioning society.
While we all bare varying degrees of responsibility for perpetuating the status quo and supporting certain harmful decisions such as war, we must place this responsibility in context. Many of our decisions are procured through deception and are, therefore, based on uninformed consent. Shifting our thinking and breaking out of the manufactured reality is not easy because our perception of truth has been warped and manipulated since birth. Unfortunately, too many of us are living a kind of split existence: we hold beliefs and cling to ideologies that are incompatible with what we actually experience in our lives. Essentially, many people have lost the ability to interpret and analyze reality and information for themselves. This is precisely the purpose of engineering reality - to eliminate critical thinking and indoctrinate us into deferring to the version of reality presented by the power structure and its various ideologies. That way, our behavior becomes easy to control and manage.
Control of the many by the few is nothing new in history; it is just that today the ruling elite has employed a different strategy to protect its own interests and depends on a distracted, ignorant, apathetic, and docile population to remain in power. Nonetheless, it is still our responsibility to seek truth and apply our critical thinking and analytical skills to understanding the world around us.
First, we must become aware of the origin of our opinions: are they based on credible facts, observations, common sense, and the study of various perspectives? [xvii] Or are we simply repeating the dominant narrative fed to us by authority figures, the media, or some ideology? Once we start to question our own beliefs, we begin to dissolve the false, manufactured reality that masquerades as ultimate truth. Undoubtedly, it takes courage to face the truth about ourselves and to see the world for what it is, not what is convenient or profitable for us to believe it is.
Our goal must be to create a world that works for human beings - the people - not a small "elite" who through its insatiable greed for profit and power is destroying life as we know it. By understanding the true nature of our current system we can begin to imagine new possibilities and clearly identify the problems we face and what it takes to resolve them.[xviii] Otherwise, our actions simply remain reactionary, empty faux-resolutions made within a sophisticatedly engineered reality - in other words, an illusion.
[i] Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney Productions 1951).
[ii] Some argue that it is simply "human nature" to live in conflict, competition, and struggle. Yet, human beings have the ability to express a variety of traits and behaviors: from cooperation, trust, love, and empathy, to competition, hate, fear, and aggression. Which traits and behaviors express themselves does not depend on some absolute, fatal human trait, but rather on the prevailing social structure. For instance, if our survival depended on cooperation with one another, most people would express behaviors that fostered cooperation such as peace, trust, empathy, and a willingness to live in harmony. But because our hierarchical system is based on competition and a stressful struggle for survival, most humans express more anti-social behaviors such as competitiveness, general distrust and aggression which only further alienates us from each other and breeds more of this negative behavior.
[iii] Free Press, "Who Owns the Media?" http://www.freepress.net/ownership/chart; Eviya Ivanovska, "General Electric, Walt Disney Corp, and the 6 Big Corporations Which Influence Media in U.S.," last accessed September 4, 2013, http://www.policymic.com/articles/6047/general-electric-walt-disney-corp-and-the-6-big-corporations-which-influence-media-in-u-s .
[iv] Noam Chomsky, Interview with Abby Martin on Breaking the Set, video and full transcript available at http://www.mediaroots.org/mr-transcript-dr-noam-chomsky-on-imperialism-drones-propaganda/ .
[v] Andrew Gavin Marshall, "Global Power Project, Part 3: The Influence of Individuals and Family Dynasties," http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2013/06/26/global-power-project-part-3-the-influence-of-individuals-and-family-dynasties/ .
[vi] Edward Bernays, Propaganda, (1928) p. 9. Full text available at http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/bernprop.html.
[vii] Tim Adams, "How Freud got under our skin," The Guardian, March 10, 2002, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2002/mar/10/medicalscience.highereducation . To learn more about Edward Bernays and public relations, check out the four-part BBC series "The Century of the Self" available at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-century-of-the-self/.
[viii] The New York Times, "Edward Bernays, 'Father of Public Relations' And Leader in Opinion Making, Dies at 103," March 10, 1995, https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/08/16/specials/bernays-obit.html.
[ix] Brendan Fischer, "A Banana Republic Once Again?," December 27, 2010, http://www.prwatch.org/node/9834; Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, "Big Fruit," The New York Times, March 2, 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/02/books/review/Kurtz-Phelan-t.html (Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World - Peter Chapman - Book Review); Declassified CIA documents detailing the U.S. government's role in the Guatemala coup can be accessed at http://www.foia.cia.gov/collection/guatemala.
[x] Major General Smedley Butler, War Is A Racket, (Roundtable Press 1935). The full text is available at http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/warracket.html.
[xi] BBC News, "US will liberate Iraq, says Bush," January 3, 2001 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2625981.stm; Associated Press, "CIA's final report: No WMD found in Iraq," NBCNews.com, April 25, 2005, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7634313/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/cias-final-report-no-wmd-found-iraq/ .
[xii] Antonia Juhasz, Why the war in Iraq was fought for Big Oil, CNN.com, April 15, 2013, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/03/19/opinion/iraq-war-oil-juhasz/index.html?hpt=hp_c2 ; Noam Chomsky, "It's Imperialism, Stupid," Khaleej Times, July 4, 2005, http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20050704.htm .
[xiv] Anna Fiefild, "Contractors reap $138B from Iraq war, CNN.com, accessed September 1, 2013, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/03/19/business/iraq-war-contractors. A visual graphic outlining these profits can be viewed at http://im.ft-static.com/content/images/22d56a5e-900c-11e2-9239-00144feabdc0.img?width=855&height=678&title=&desc .
[xv] We must keep this history in mind as the U.S. government prepares for yet another military intervention, this time in Syria. For a discussion on some of the likely geopolitical factors driving the Syria intervention, see Nafeez Ahmed, "Syria intervention plans fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapons concerns, August 30, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/aug/30/syria-chemical-attack-war-intervention-oil-gas-energy-pipelines .
[xvi] G. M. Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Company 1947) p. 278. The quote continues after Gilbert challenges Göring on his assertion by stating that, "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars." To this Göring replies, "[V]oice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country." p. 278-279. (Gustave M. Gilbert was an American military intelligence officer and prison psychologist who interviewed various Nazi officials during the Nuremberg Trials in Germany. The Nuremberg Diary is a compilation of Gilbert's in-depth interviews and conversations with those officials including Hermann Göring, Hitler's former deputy and architect of Germany's Gestapo police state.)
[xvii] An excellent alternative source for U.S. history is Howard Zinn's best-selling book A People's History of the United States, which can be accessed at http://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html.
[xviii] Because we often lack true information, we end up blaming the wrong people and circumstances, which only leads to more problems that complicate our situation even further. This is why truth is so important - it allows us to take constructive, effective, intelligent actions as opposed to irrational ones based on false, distorted, and deceptive information.