28/01/2008

Edward Bernays: "Assassin of Democracy"

Further to the posting yesterday, and the need for the master class - via the media - to continually control our thoughts, here’s a snippet that takes the topic a step further.

Back in 2002, Adam Curtis and the BBC released a four-part series called "The Century of the Self." The series tracked how American elites have aggressively used the modern behavioural sciences to persuade, coerce and manipulate the American public into accepting the corporate-government world's version of events as their own.

This seven-minute snippet, "The Assassin of Democracy", focuses on one of the most skillful and amoral all the experts in mass manipulation, Edward Bernays. Bernays got his first taste of the power of propaganda during World War I. He advised US presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Einsehower and served numerous corporations and business associations. One of his biggest fans was Hitler's propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, a fact about which Bernays bragged proudly.

In this clip, we see a pattern that Bernays used over and over again: namely, turn a harmless entity into a fearsome enemy through lies and manufactured news items. Then use the "threat" to justify attack. The subject of this video is Bernays’ campaign against the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1953, but you'll have no trouble seeing that this very same method is being used today.

In his best remembered work, Propaganda (1928), Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy:

“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 moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

Frightening stuff! And this 80 years ago! Makes you ponder just how much the master class has perfected its act since then.

1 comment:

mkemp said...

Just saw the multi-part "Century of the Self" documentary at a progressive film festival in my city - Charlotte, North Carolina. It's amazing to me how similar George W. Bush's war in Iraq is to the Bernays-influenced "war" with Guatemala. No, not amazing -- frightening. He was, indeed, the father of the kind of anti-Democracy we've seen taking hold in the U.S. during the Cheney... I mean, Bush administration.