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Home______Manufacturing Consent, IV: The Bewildered Herd

This article provides background to the earlier articles on manufacturing consent in the United States, a phenomenon with a scale unprecedented among wealthy nations. Somehow, consent toward corporate values has become assimilated into Mother Culture of America. Few people even think to question how they get the memes that form their opinions, view points, and beliefs about matters social and political. This, Part Four, touches upon early views of social engineering, as well as upon recognition that it has become a major instrument of government. (For articles on memes, see Memes, Genes, & God, 31 December 2003; Memes, Type X, Irrationalists, & Religion, 26 February 2004; Beyond Memes, 6 March 2004.)

Two hundred years ago, the idea of democracy was ripening, and would blossom into the French and American Revolutions, although not everybody thought it a good thing. The masses were regarded with suspicion, and aristrocracy with favor. Some, though, simply looked at the situation objectively. Eighteenth Century philosopher David Hume found "nothing more surprising" than

" to see the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and to observe the implicit submission with which men resign their sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is brought about, we shall find, that as Force is always on the side of the governed, the governers have nothing to support them but opinion. 'Tis therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular." (Essays Moral, Political, and Literary)

Walter Lippmann, early Twentieth Century political and social pundit, wrote that "the public must be put in its place" so that we may "live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd," which serves to be "interested spectators of action," and not participants. As a "responsible" pubic intellectual, he saw his duty as guiding the voice of the herd in case government does not have sufficient sway over the public. (The Phantom Public)

Gore Vidal, a prominent, current, novelist and intellectual, has a different take on the situation: "To deny inconvenient opinions a hearing is one way the few have of controlling the many. But as Richard Nixon used to say, ' That would be the easy way.' The slyer way is to bombard the public with misinformation. During more than half a century of corruption by the printed word in the form ' news' --propaganda disguised as fact--I have yet to read a story favorable to another society's social and political arrangements. Swedes have free health care, better schools than ours, child day-care center for working mothers. . . but the Swedes are all drunks who commit suicide (even blonde blue-eyed people must pay for such decadent amenities). Lesson [for the bewildered herd]? No national health care, no education [with high national budget priority] , etc. . . . ."

"Of the billions now spent each election cycle, most is donated in checks of $1,000 or more. But less than one-tenth of one percent of the general population make individual contributions at this rate. These happy few are prepared to pay a high and rising price for the privilege of controlling our government. In the 1998 election cycle, the average winning House candidate cost the owners about $600,000. The average winning Senate candidate a bit over $5 million. Multiply both figures by two if you want the cost of dislodging an incumbent from office (in a system where, last time around, over 97 percent were re-elected). To finance a race in big media markets like New York, or California, it's a bit more expensive: as of election day 1998, something like $36 and $21 million respectively."

"The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity--much less dissent."

"Of course, it is possible for any citizen with time to spare, and a canny eye, to work out what is actually going on, but for the many there is not time, and the network news is the only news even though it may not be news at all but only a series of flashing fictions. . . ." (The Decline and Fall of The American Empire)

Nothing manufactures consent like fear. It guarantees that the bewildered herd will be tamed to conform to the expectations of the governing elite. A common threat marginalizes dissidents, activates supporters, and sways the undecided. It silences all opposing voices. If terrorists strike again in America, the November elections will be decided on only one issue, the war against terrorism. The economy, joblessness, health insurance, worker pensions, social security, environment, the budget deficit--these and other issues will be rendered null and void for practical purposes.

"Bewildered herd" refers, of course, to you and me, who have a voice only once very four years. Do you feel bewildered? I don't.

(See The Manufacture of Consent, Part One, 21 February 2004; Part Two, 23 February 2004; ">Part Three, 6 March 2004; Part Five, 28 March 2004. )


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