Good Luck Fellow Consciousness Seekers!
In his grand lament for the United States, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, Chris Hedges warns that the U.S. Is in a death spiral. After a savagely moralistic revelation of the dominant propagandized images that fill the majority of American’s media image-blunted minds, he argues that the institutions that rule us profit from the functional illiteracy that feeds a spectacular array of mass media popularized illusions that now pass for what was once a laudable goal: a literate and participatory democracy. He argues that those who still prefer books, and quiet contemplation, combined with thoughtful perception of the world around us over the mass production of techno images, are a minority. While that literate minority can still cope with complexity and separate illusion from truth, the majority retreats from a reality based world into one of false certainty (“there ain’t no anthropogenic sixth mass extinction and there ain’t no anthropogenic climate change taking place”) and magic.
If Hedges’ assessment is true, then that truth may also imply that those who outlive “our” ruling institutions, as Craig Chalquist identifies them in Conscious Apocalypse: Outliving Our Ruling Institutions
will have to rely on something other than luck if they yearn to do so deliberately and consciously. That implies to me that those who become conscious will have to do so by metaphorically “stepping” outside a cocoon of mind numbing mass media images so that they can see the illusions those images create rather than be ruled by them unconsciously. That conscious act, I imagine, will take some individual perspicacity, and, well, courage.
In a June 28, 2015 article in Truthdig, Hedges revives yet another round of those themes of illusion and propagandistic institutional triumph.
Chris Hedges, The Lonely American:
Totalitarian societies, including our own, inundate the public with a steady stream of propaganda accompanied by mindless entertainment. They seek to destroy independent organizations. In Nazi Germany the state provided millions of cheap, state-subsidized radios and then dominated the airwaves with its propaganda. Radio receivers were mounted in public locations in Stalin’s Soviet Union; and citizens, especially illiterate peasants, were required to gather to listen to the state-controlled news and the dictator’s speeches. These totalitarian states also banned civic organizations that were not under the iron control of the party.
The corporate state is no different, although unlike past totalitarian systems it permits dissent in the form of print and does not ban fading civic and community groups. It has won the battle against literacy. The seductiveness of the image lures most Americans away from the print-based world of ideas. The fascination with the image swallows the time and energy required to attend and maintain communal organizations. If no one reads, why censor books? Let Noam Chomsky publish as much as he wants. Just keep his voice off the airwaves. If no one attends community meetings, group events or organizations, why prohibit them? Let them be held in near-empty rooms and left uncovered by the press until they are shuttered.
The object of a totalitarian state is to keep its citizens locked within the parameters of official propaganda and permanently isolated. Propaganda and isolation make it difficult for an individual to express or carry out dissent. Official opinions, little more than digestible slogans and clichés, are crafted and disseminated by public relations specialists on behalf of the power elite. They are repeated endlessly over the airwaves until the public unconsciously ingests them. And the isolated public in a totalitarian society is unable to connect its personal experience of despair, anxiety, fear, frustration and economic insecurity to the structures that create these conditions. The isolated citizen is left feeling that his or her personal misfortune is an exception. The portrayal of society by systems of state propaganda—content, respectful of authority, just, economically secure and free—is mistaken for reality.
Totalitarian propaganda, accompanied by isolation, or what Arendt called “atomization,” makes it possible for a population not to “believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent in itself.” This propaganda, Arendt went on, “gave the masses of atomized, undefinable, unstable and futile individuals a means of self-definition and identification.”Corporate propaganda saturates the public, especially a generation wedded to new technology, with these lies. Its power, however, comes from the meticulous study of the moods, prejudices, whims and desires of the public, to manipulate the masses in their own language and emotions. Konrad Heiden made this point when he examined fascist propaganda in Nazi Germany, noting that propaganda must detect the murmur of the public “and translate it into intelligible utterance and convincing action.”
“The true aim of political propaganda is not to influence, but to study, the masses,” Heiden wrote. “The speaker is in constant communication with the masses; he hears an echo, and senses the inner vibration.” Heiden, forced to flee Nazi Germany, went on: “When a resonance issues from the depths of the substance, the masses have given him the pitch; he knows in what terms he must finally address them. Rather than a means of directing the mass mind, propaganda is a technique for riding with the masses. It is not a machine to make wind but a sail to catch the wind.”
Dissent will only be possible when we break the dark spell of corporate propaganda and the isolation that accompanies it. We must free ourselves from corporate tyranny, which means refusing to invest our emotional and intellectual energy in electronic images. We must build what the Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin called “voluntary associations for study and teaching, for industry, commerce, science, art, literature, exploitation, resistance to exploitation, amusement, serious work, gratification and self-denial.”
Good luck fellow consciousness seekers!