Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Roots of "Public Opinion"

Almost everything that is "accepted" as "public opinion" is, in reality, carefully crafted propaganda.

Take Bacon and Eggs for breakfast. One would think that this is a cultural thing since antiquity. Edward Bernays, the "father of Public Relations", came up with a campaign showing survey results of doctors recommending hearty breakfasts, and came up with publicity touting bacon and eggs. This was to promote the sales of bacon.

Bernays wrote the book "Propaganda", wherein he wrote:
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.
From the customer reviews in the Amazon link:
During World War I, he was an integral part of the U.S. Committee on Public Information (CPI), a powerful propaganda apparatus that was mobilized to package, advertise and sell the war to the American people as one that would "Make the World Safe for Democracy." The CPI would become the blueprint in which marketing strategies for future wars would be based upon.

Bernays applied the techniques he had learned in the CPI and, incorporating some of the ideas of Walter Lipmann, became an outspoken proponent of propaganda as a tool for democratic and corporate manipulation of the population. His 1928 bombshell Propaganda lays out his eerily prescient vision for using propaganda to regiment the collective mind in a variety of areas, including government, politics, art, science and education. To read this book today is to frightfully comprehend what our contemporary institutions of government and business have become in regards to organized manipulation of the masses.

Sound familiar?

The book Trust Us We're Experts outlines the way by which media-touted "experts" push the agenda of the corporations that hire them:
Fearless investigative journalists Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber (Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! and Mad Cow U.S.A.) are back with a gripping exposé of the public relations industry and the scientists who back their business-funded, anti-consumer-safety agendas. There are two kinds of "experts" in question--the PR spin doctors behind the scenes and the "independent" experts paraded before the public, scientists who have been hand-selected, cultivated, and paid handsomely to promote the views of corporations involved in controversial actions. Lively writing on controversial topics such as dioxin, bovine growth hormone, and genetically modified food makes this a real page-turner, shocking in its portrayal of the real and potential dangers in each of these technological innovations and of the "media pseudo-environment" created to obfuscate the risks. By financing and publicizing views that support the goals of corporate sponsors, PR campaigns have, over the course of the century, managed to suppress the dangers of lead poisoning for decades, silence the scientist who discovered that rats fed on genetically modified corn had significant organ abnormalities, squelch television and newspaper stories about the risks of bovine growth hormone, and place enough confusion and doubt in the public's mind about global warming to suppress any mobilization for action. Rampton and Stauber introduce the movers and shakers of the PR industry, from the "risk communicators" (whose job is to downplay all risks) and "outrage managers" (with their four strategies--deflect, defer, dismiss, or defeat) to those who specialize in "public policy intelligence" (spying on opponents). Evidently, these elaborate PR campaigns are created for our own good. According to public relations philosophers, the public reacts emotionally to topics related to health and safety and is incapable of holding rational discourse. Needless to say, Rampton and Stauber find these views rather antidemocratic and intend to pull back the curtain to reveal the real wizard in Oz. This is one wake-up call that's hard to resist.

From Publishers Weekly
Recent surveys show that "national experts" are the third most trusted type of public figure (after Supreme Court justices and schoolteachers). Hard-hitting investigative journalists Rampton and Stauber (Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!) ask whether that trust is misplaced. They assert that, with highly technical issues like environmental pollution and bioengineered foodstuffs, "people are encouraged to suspend their own judgment and abandon responsibility to the experts." The authors examine the opinions of many so-called experts to show how their opinions are often marred by conflicts of interest. Peering behind the curtain of decision making, they catch more than a few with blood money on their hands. From spin doctors with dubious credentials to think tanks that do everything but think and scientists who work backwards to engineer desired experimental results, Rampton and Stauber present an astonishing compendium of alleged abuses of the public's willingness to believe. Particularly sobering is their summary of the historical use of "experts" by the tobacco and mining industries, which, they reveal, have suppressed and manipulated information in order to slow industrial reform. Their allegation that industry flaks may be purposely clouding the current debates swirling around "junk science" and global warming issues should provoke readers to reexamine these matters. Rampton and Stauber's impassioned call for skepticism goes beyond rhetoricAthey also offer practical guidelines for separating propaganda from useful information. Agent, Tom Grady.
A review on
Over the past decade, corporations and public-relations firms have seized upon a remarkable new way of influencing opinion called the "third-party technique." The method is simple-just put your words into the mouth of someone who appears impartial, such as a doctor, professor, watchdog group, or an "expert" of some kind. Written with biting humor and penetrating insight, Trust Us, We're Experts! exposes the current and very effective methods of opinion manipulation practiced by the corporate powers that be.

This webpage has an interesting set of videos:
The Century of the Self: The Untold History of Controlling the Masses Through the Manipulation of Unconscious Desires
The first of four videos, "One: Happiness Machines":
The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud's ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn't need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.

Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.

His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today's world.
Video #4 of this series is called "Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering". It is about how politicians have used propaganda to appeal to the masses.

I believe all this is the root of
today's consumerism which I've written about before. I also wrote that the real purpose of public education is to produce good little consumers.

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