My thoughts about culture and our present conditions. As Dianne Moore says in Learning to Love a Wounded World, "This requires a willingness to feel everything…. the horror and the beauty of what is here…. the fear and the Love.”

Sociological Propaganda and the problems of moving to a participatory democracy

The following is a problem presented on a message board I visit, and I sat down and put together an answer this morning.  I put too much effort into it to discard it, but I don’t want to engage with anyone about it right now, so I’ll just post it here.

My argument is that if the masses are so easily manipulated by the media, why in the world would anybody want the masses to decide anything?

This, I find, is a curious contradiction among the left. On the one hand, they want the masses to decide, but one the other hand, they find the masses easily deceived. If the masses are ill-equipped to decide, why would we want them to decide anything?

In response to:

"If the masses are manipulated by the media, why would anyone want them to decide anything"

I’d like to suggest that
the if/then question essentially mis-formulates the problem (speaking
of frames) and suggests a somewhat different direction than I’d seek to
go with it.

First, the issue is participatory involvement in a decision making
process, not simply decision making by the masses (another frame
earlier in the thread). We’d still have the existing structure in
place, the Constitutional organization, we simply would be considering
how to structure a formal element of citizen participation into
process, not turning the whole thing into chaos.

Second, the Media is only a medium in a set of institutions that,
altogether, much like a Skinner Box, create the form for what some of
us are considering to be socially managed behavior. I’ll try to expand
on that further as I go along. In the Skinner Box version, the self
acting mouse finds its way to the goal and gets the reward, but the
maze of the box is a conceptually pre-designed constraint the mouse is
forced to work within. Essentially, the mouse "adapts" to the
constraints of the box, much as humans adapt to the constraints of a
given culture. In our case, what we call the "Media" is simply part of
the design of the maze. It — I’d say especially Main Stream Media —
tends to act more as a reflective verification process of the total
form, as well as perhaps an entertainment process, while the mouse
finds its way through to the goal, rather than an intentionally
designed manipulative process that directs the mouse through various
behavioristic devices. The box as a whole, then, is the formative
constraints we would call a management process. Similarly, those who
have played a computer game may have noticed that most games have a
certain overall design that one cannot actually do much to change, but
must adapt oneself to, usually by solving puzzles and developing eye
hand coordination and timing skills. These can be very absorbing, and
the player often finds them rewarding to do.

Again, a good patterned explanation for this concept can be found in Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy, Inc.

The essential problem itself is what I would call a managed society posing as democracy, using ideology to convince democracy is taking place.

Within that problem set we can begin unraveling the structures of
management itself in order to begin to understand how society can be

Within those structures we may find certain key ingredients, like
deeply rooted systems of designed authority in hierarchical
institutions, for instance. Training to begin to behave properly and
efficiently within these institutional systems starts in children’s
primary institutional settings, like elementary schools. I guess some
parents now put their kids in preliminary training for that, like the
nursery schools. Institutional behavior training may actually be one of
the more important elements of this process. It strikes me that almost
secondary to that training may very well be the educational materials
themselves, though of course they do also act as useful elements in
learning to do societies set of jobs and thus eventually serve to help
achieve rewards in actual 3D livelihood role playing later in life.

In actuality, in real 3D life, society’s systems of institutions and
their behavioral forms make up the bulk of the actual engaged lives of
most people now. That stands to me in contradistinction to the way most
of the people in the original Thirteen states were living over two
hundred and twenty years ago. Much of life then was individually self
actuated, and people had a range of skills to fall back upon in their
adaptation to the natural world, such as agriculture practices, and the
skills many small business persons tended to develop. Super organized
collectives, with a range of highly differentiated specialized skills
that we might identify now as "professions" did not begin to form until
the industrial revolution set in in the 19th Century, and that
dramatically changed social institutions.

So, what some of us call a "managed population" of individuals behaving
within these institutional contexts, others — I’m thinking here of
much of the literature I’ve read by Neoconservatives — tend to see as
the faceless masses, therefore as a much more monolithic and malleable
mode of conception. This resolves as a concept of masses of humanity
that can be conceived as organized to achieve purposes. That
organization occurs through modern management measures, like social
science-based statistics.

Logically enough, from that frame of reference, that herd type of
conception only all too naturally "requires" the kind of Machiavellian
leadership the Neoconservative writers tend to propose. This
conveniently enough involves an elite leadership which logically
necessitates a body of experts, who are the elite, and who we have all
come to accept as a natural part of life, thanks to years of
enculturated exposure to institutions structured in that mode — or,
once again, what we can call leadership by the "elite" as defined by Robert Dahl in his polyarchic democracy work.

Rather than "why would I want the manipulated easily deceived masses to
make decisions?", the question I would raise at this point would be:
how can an institutionalized, hierarchically educated and
"professionalized" population be structured so that those within these
institutions can also see themselves as individuals acting politically
in a democratic fashion to effect their government?

Let me suggest a direction someone might take to explore that question.

This, I find, is a curious
contradiction among the left. On the one hand, they want the masses to
decide, but one the other hand, they find the masses easily deceived.

I personally don’t have any working definition for some monolithic
entity that could even make such decision called "the left," so that
proposal is meaningless to me in itself. Contradiction? Not really. Not
when you start looking closely at the elements involved. However, I
won’t simply dismiss the "left" characterization, since I’ve already
mentioned the Neoconservative literature, but rather I’ll point out
that I am one who sees the problem more in terms of the concept
"sociological propaganda," as Jacques Ellul describes it in his various
writings about technologized society. In anthropology we would simply
describe it as "enculturation" into the rule sets we label in our
field’s own esoteric framework as "culture."

I think of cultural rule sets as dynamic. They activate dynamically in
an ongoing process by individuals in their daily activities, the sum of
which for most people not institutionalized make sense as a society
working out the problems of survival through its inherent
organizational sets. This compares to language, much as language is
dynamic, individually activated, acting as an interface in
communication between individuals in daily activities that as a whole
tend to make sense with in understood rule sets we all learn from
birth. Languages are, after all, rule sets we can identify by their
grammars, and grammars as rule sets undergo changes through time just
as cultural rule sets do. At least some of us who study this process
tend to regard this as an ongoing evolution. A process that involves
adaptational measures composed of both formal and informal rules within
human societies, rules we all recognized because we’ve been
enculturated to understand them. We use these proactively as our daily
interface with our various adaption strategies for survival in the
sometimes easily forgotten "natural" world. "Easily forgotten" because
sometimes our human constructed worlds are so vastly integrated with
specialized roles designed to be acted out within institutions that we
forget there is a natural world to which we are ultimately adapting,
but that’s another issue for another time.

I’ll just enunciate that enculturation is a process we all go through
from birth. We do it naturally in our own societies, and when older,
the process often involves an intellectual effort to adapt (acculturate
is used for that action) to a foreign rule set. We use what we are born
into, which can be broken down into rule sets, to form a conceptual
understanding of the world. Ostensibly, then, what one might mean by
the term "deceived" here, can otherwise be described as that full set
of socially constructed, enculturated understandings that evolves out
of a set of social institutions, which we don’t tend to question as
necessary, but accept as given.

So here we come to "propaganda" as Ellul used it, which comes to a
deceptive term differing from our common sense of it, because he means
it differently. He means it more at what I would call enculturation.
The intentional manipulative element by an outside force in the term
"propaganda" is perhaps where the logical and rational management of
society aspect comes in.

Deceived, therefore, isn’t really what happens in my view. What happens
is people behave and think logically within a set of conceptually based
constraints that make sense. Or as a friend of mine on a message board likes to question these
"constraints" with a little quote under his name suggesting their
nature in our thinking where he repeats in each post: "ideology is a disease." In this case, it’s a
disease that seems to make perfectly good sense. Therefore, I wouldn’t
call managed democracy as it occurs here in the United States the
result of intentionally engineered deception. Rather it’s something
managed, logically and rationally. It makes sense to the managers, it
makes sense to the managed. This is a different order of deception that
involves hegemonic agreement by citizens by accepting the ideas that
seem to make sense.

Now, this is where we go with the notion of getting people involved and
potentially out of the unconscious entrapment in the institutions that
satisfy most peoples daily needs. The hypothesis behind involving
people in decision making in their own governing suggests that the involvement itself existentially changes the way people approach the very concept of government.

The first thing to take into consideration is the framing of this
thought. It is not the sort of all or nothing, the masses decide
involvement option presented on this thread, but engagement would be
transformative, thus could create some sort of partnership with an
organized hierarchy of what has already become a very large and
institutionally organized society. An organization now within which,
for the most part, many individuals have no rational reason with
tangible resulting effects to bother to take an active role.

So the question that comes up would be, how can that be changed? What
structures can be put in place to change that? How can the role of the
citizen, therefore be redefined?

Managed democracy is centered on "containing" electoral politics to
produce a certain effect. That’s a kind of definition of management if
you will. Management involves containing the effects within a certain
set of commonly understood definitional rules everyone is willing or
sometimes forced to abide by. These rules can change to adapt to
various behaviors. For instance, we now have "corrals" (notice the very
framing of that concept) to herd and contain those who might want to
share their differences about the political process. Currently, the
level of active citizen engagement as it is now, with the rule
structure that minimizes the results of that engagement, makes that
extremely easy. The process has become systematized and formulated. An
election like we just had can then be seen more like an elaborate
ritual, I would say, than an act of self actualized citizens taking
part in a democratic process.

As an aside, I have directly experienced how that can be changed. I
lived in West Oakland, CA for a number of years and became involved in
ACORN. We as a group had a stake in changing our community. We
identified problems, organized ourselves and set about the task of
solving them. We got people out of their bunkered in houses to engage
with us. These are some of the very people who are now setting their
sights on trying to move Obama in more progressive directions, and they
have the organizing skills as well as the essential element of feeling
involved in a process they don’t feel totally helpless about. That’s
the kind of direction I’m thinking about here.

So, I would say simply that a critical element in that involvement
would be structuring into citizen involvement an all important stake of
some kind. Nothing kills an effort faster than discovering it was
utterly meaningless in the end because one is now helpless to do any
more. An example of that could be finding out that Obama will be
turning ever more towards the status quo in Washington and therefore
potentially against interests of the grassroots organized people who
felt they had a stake in his election, and therefore put so much heart
and soul into it. That can be that kind of death to an individual’s
will to be involved.

Structuring in a stake for individuals who participate, then,
hypothetically could be an essential element in changing democratic
political participation, and thereby changing what we call population
management that is now predominant in our elite managed "democracy".
Currently US citizens are being characterized by some writers on the
subject as predominantly supine observers who are entertained for
several months during an election period, than take a few minutes at
the polls to make a choice. A "stake" means they would continue to be
involved, and that involvement will have measurable results of some


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