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Dissident Voice

Pseudonymity and Genocide


Nearly 10,000 residents dance in local Dolan Maxrap folk style in Awat county in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on 9 October 2018. Photo: China News Service

In February, I asked, "Does the West Repeating Claims of China Committing Genocide in Xinjiang Reify It?" China is continually being raked over the coals by western governments and state/corporate media on whatever charge or pretext can be thrown in the hopes that something sticks to incriminate China. China's economic ascendancy, socialism with Chinese characteristics, has thrown the capitalists of the world into a tizzy. However, to allege something so heinous as a genocide is beyond the bounds of bizarre.

If an identifiable group were being destroyed, especially a group that in 2018 constituted 12.7184 million people, that would surely be impossible to hide — even in a region as large as the autonomous province of Xinjiang. Furthermore, if one is going to allege such a horrific crime, one should not do so without irrefutable evidence.

One French journalist based in China, writing under the byline of Laurene Beaumond, criticized western media for alleging genocide1 against Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.2

She asks,

So what is this parody of a process against China from a distance, without any concrete proof, without any valid testimony, by individuals who have never set foot in this region of the world?3

Concrete evidence should be demanded of all accusers.

This genocide is alleged to have occurred although the population of Uyghurs is vastly increasing in Xinjiang. Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper under the People's Daily, cites statistical data from 2010 to 2018 that show:

the Uygur population increased from 10.1715 million to 12.7184 million, an increase of 2.5469 million, or 25.04%; the population of Han ethnic group increased from 8.8299 million to 9.0068 million, an increase of 176,900 people, or 2.0%.

Data source: Fifty Years in Xinjiang (China Statistics Press, 2005,) table 2-3, The Statistical Yearbook of Xinjiang 2019. N.B., 万人=10,000 people

If factually accurate (and I have seen no refutation of the statistics), then this is an utter refutation of a genocide taking place! The only other conclusion is that the modern Chinese are absolutely incompetent genocidaires.

Western media accusations are relying, for the greatest part, on a thoroughly discredited German "academic": Adrian Zenz.

Le Monde does not seek to buttress the allegations of genocide in Xinjiang. Instead it questions the bona fides of Laurene Beaumond. Le Monde says this person does not exist.

Global Times says she exists, but the name is a pseudonym.

This is problematic. It can be taken for granted that if one wants to work in western media then previous writings highly critical of the western Establishment and its media would shut the door quite tightly for any writing gigs in the West. But writing under a pseudonym poses ethical considerations. The monopoly media is often criticized by independent media and free thinking readers for trotting out anonymous sources. When a source is anonymous, when substantiation is lacking for what is said or written, then that source and its claims deserve to be met with skepticism.

In my mind, CGTN or any scrupulous media, should only allow persons to write under a pseudonym under stringent conditions, for example, if the writer's life would be endangered. Also, the media would have to vouch, up front, for the bona fides of the writer or story source. This is especially so given the seriousness of a genocide allegation.

There is a solution, and it will require a bold step by "Laurene Beaumond." She must come forward, declare her genuine identity, and present her credentials to clear all this up. CGTN needs to develop a transparent policy on the use of pseudonyms, and I'd suggest an apology might be in order for publishing this under a pseudonym.4

The heinous allegation of genocide demands a forthrightness to dispel it as disinformation. The insidiousness of disinformation is such that it has been held to be a crime against humanity and a crime against peace. Professor Anthony J. Hall made this clear:

Disinformation originates in the deliberate and systemic effort to break down social cohesion and to deprive humanity of perceptive consciousness of our conditions. Disinformation seeks to isolate and divide human beings; to alienate us from our ability to use our senses, our intellect, and our communicative powers in order to identity truth and act on this knowledge. Disinformation is deeply implicated in the history of imperialism, Eurocentric racism, American Manifest Destiny, Nazi propaganda, the psychological warfare of the Cold War, and capitalist globalization. Disinformation seeks to erode and destroy the basis of individual and collective memory, the basis of those inheritances from history which give humanity our richness of diverse languages, cultures, nationalities, peoplehoods, and means of self-determination. The reach and intensity of disinformation tends to increase with the concentration of ownership and control of the media of mass communications.

Practice open-minded skepticism; demand evidence; demand to know who the people involved are; scrutinize the history and backgrounds of the people, media, and places. In other words don't allow yourself to easily be lied to.

  1. Several media speak of "allegations" or "accusations" of genocide in Xinjiang. E.g., CNN, BBC, Frankfurter Allegemeine, Al Jazeera, Berlinske, CTV, CBC, Forbes, etc. Japan is more cautious. It is highly recommended for those seeking insight to read the report compiled by the Qiao Collective, an all-volunteer group comprised of ethnic Chinese people living abroad, on Xinjiang that warned of "politically motivated" western disinformation.
  2. The linked article carries an editor's note: "Freelance journalist based in France, with a double degree in art history and archeology at the University of Sorbonne-IV and holder of a master's degree in journalism, Laurène Beaumond has worked in various editorial offices Parisians before settling down in Beijing where she lived for almost 7 years.
    The article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily those of CGTN Français."
  3. "Qu'est-ce donc cette parodie de procès que l'on fait à la Chine à distance, sans aucune preuve concrète, sans aucun témoignage valable, par des individus qui n'ont jamais mis le pied dans cette région du monde…?"
  4. After all, Global Times demanded an apology from Le Monde for doubting the existence of "Laurene Beaumond." No writer exists under this name, so, in fact, Le Monde was accurate on this account.
The post Pseudonymity and Genocide first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 17 Apr 2021 | 2:37 am

Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case


Australia's Labor Party's recognition of Palestine as a State on March 30 is a welcomed position, though it comes with many caveats.

Pro-Palestinian activists are justified to question the sincerity of the ALP's stance and whether Australia's Labor is genuinely prepared to fully adopt this position should they form a government following the 2022 elections.

The language of the amendment regarding the recognition of Palestine is quite indecisive. While it commits the ALP to recognize Palestine as a State, it "expects that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government". 'Expecting' that the issue would be made an 'important priority' is not the same as confirming that the recognition of Palestine is resolved, should Labor take office.

Moreover, the matter has been an 'important priority' for the ALP for years. In fact, similar language was adopted in the closing session of the Labor conference in December 2018, which supported "the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders," while adding this important clause: The ALP "calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a State".

Unfortunately for Labor, they lost the May 2019 elections, where the Liberal Party maintained the majority, again forming a government under the leadership of Scott Morrison.

Morrison was the Prime Minister of Australia when, in 2018, the ALP adopted what was clearly a policy shift on Palestine. In fact, it was Morrison's regressive position on Israel that supposedly compelled Labor to develop a seemingly progressive position on Palestine. Nine days after former US President, Donald Trump, defied international law by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and subsequently relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Morrison flirted with the idea as well, hoping to enlist the support of the pro-Israel lobbies in Australia prior to the elections.

However, Morrison did not go as far as Trump, by refraining from moving his country's embassy to the occupied city. Instead, he developed a precarious – albeit still illegal – position where he recognized West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, promising to move his country's "embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after, final-status determination."

Canberra, however, did take 'practical' steps, including a decision to establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and proceeded to look for a site for its future embassy.

Morrison's self-serving strategy remains a political embarrassment for Australia, as it drew the country closer to Trump's illegal, anti-Palestinian stance. While the vast majority of United Nations member states maintained a unified position regarding the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, asserting that the status of Jerusalem can only be determined based on a negotiated agreement, the Australian government thought otherwise.

As Palestinians, Arabs and other nations mobilized against Australia's new position, the ALP came under pressure to balance out the Liberal party's agenda, seen as blindly supportive of military occupation and apartheid.

Since the ALP lost the elections, their new policy on Palestine could not be evaluated. Now, according to their latest policy conference conclusion, this same position has been reiterated, although with some leeway, that could potentially allow Labor to reverse or delay that position, once they are in power.

Nonetheless, the Labor position is an important step for Palestinians in their 'legitimacy war' against the Israeli occupation.

In a recent interview with Professor Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, the international law expert explained the need to "distinguish symbolic politics from substantive politics".

"In the colonial wars that were fought after 1945, the side that won usually was the side that won what I call the legitimacy war, which is the 'symbolic battlefield', so to speak, and maintain the principled position that was in accord with the anti-colonial flow of history," Falk said.

Practically, this means that, often, the militarily weaker side which may lose numerous military battles could ultimately win the war. This was as true in the case of Vietnam in 1975 as it was in South Africa in 1994. It should also be true in the case of Palestine.

This is precisely why pro-Israeli politicians, media pundits and organizations are fuming in response to the ALP's recognition of Palestine. Among the numerous angry responses, the most expressive is the position of Michael Danby. He was quoted by Australian Jewish News website as saying that ALP leaders, Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles, have done more than adopting the pro-Palestinian position of former British Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by also adopting "his Stalinist methods by suppressing debate on the foreign policy motions".

Israel and its supporters fully understand the significance of Falk's 'legitimacy war'. Indeed, Israel's military superiority and complete dominance over occupied Palestinians may allow it to sustain its military occupation on the ground a while longer, but it does very little to advance its moral position, reputation and legitimacy.

The fact that ALP's position advocates a two-state solution – which is neither just nor practical – should not detract from the fact that the recognition of Palestine is still a stance that can be utilized in the Palestinian quest for legitimizing their struggle and delegitimizing Israel's apartheid.

Falk's theory on 'substantive politics' and 'symbolic politics' applies here, too. While calling for defunct two-states is part of the substantive politics that is necessitated by international consensus, the symbolism of recognizing Palestine is a crucial step in dismantling Israel's monopoly over the agenda of the West's political elites. It is an outright defeat of the efforts of pro-Israeli lobbies.

Politicians, anywhere, cannot possibly win the legitimacy war for Palestinians, or any other oppressed nation. It is the responsibility of the Palestinians and their supporters to impose their moral agenda on the often self-serving politicians so that the symbolic politics may someday become substantive. The ALP recognition of Palestine is, for now, mere symbolism. If utilized correctly, through pressure, advocacy and mobilization, it could turn into something meaningful in the future.  This is not the responsibility of Labor, but of Palestinians themselves.

The post Recognition of Palestine is 'Symbolic' but also Critical: The Australian Case first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 16 Apr 2021 | 10:09 pm

Safe Ballpark?  SF Giants Demanded “Release of Liability” for COVID Infection from Food Service Workers


The San Francisco Giants Opening Day was Friday, April 9.  The Giants had been doing a full court press (sorry to mix in basketball metaphors) for days on end about how safe the stadium would be for the fans' first game back to the stadium since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But, on Wednesday evening, the Giants' food service subcontractor Bon Appetit emailed food service concession workers a directive to "Please be sure that you complete this 2021 Release of Liability before arriving at Oracle Park."

Some choice words from this release:

…I agree that, on behalf of myself and my personal representatives, heirs, spouse, guardians, executors, administrators, successors, assigns and next of kin, I and they hereby waive, release, discharge, hold harmless and agree not to sue the released parties noted below with respect to any claim, liability or demand of whatever kind or nature, either in law or in equity (including, without limitation, for personal injuries or wrongful death) that may arise in connection with, or relate in any way to, exposure to or contraction of COVID-19 following my use of a credential, during the providing of my services, or during my participation in any related activities arranged, promoted and/or sponsored by the released parties, including, without limitation, those claims that arise as a result of: (I) the negligence of any of the released parties, and/or (II) the inherent risks associated with visiting any venue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whew.

That was written in ALL CAPS, just in case somebody might not have gotten the point that food concession workers — and all their friends, families and acquaintances – would be on their own if they came down with COVID-19 from working at the ballpark.

And who are the "released parties?"

  • The office of the Commissioner of Baseball.
  • Each of the Major League Baseball (MLB) Clubs.
  • Every director, officer, owner, stockholder, trustee, partner, employee, agent, independent contractor and consultant of the above.
  • The owners and operators of the venues in which games in 2021 will be played, and all of their sponsors, contractors, vendors, operators, agencies and advertisers.
  • Licensees and retail, concession, broadcast and media partners of MLB parties.
  • Press and other media.
  • Vendors that may provide testing or medical services.
  • Entities and individuals providing accommodation and transportation to or from baseball venues.
  • Other entities and individuals who enter baseball venues.
  • The parent, subsidiary, affiliated and related companies and officers, directors, employees, agents, licensees, contractors, sub-contractors, insurers, representatives, successors, assigns of each of the foregoing entities and persons.

About the only entity not covered by this release would be little green men landing on the field in a space ship in the middle of a game.

And by the way, the signers of this release were expected to acknowledge that there may be issues that they do "not know or suspect to exist in his or her favor at the time of executing the release," but that's just the way it goes.

Oh, sure, no problem, right?

That's not the way the leadership of UNITE HERE Local 2, the union which represents most ballpark food concession workers, saw it. On Thursday, the day after workers got this release and the day before Opening Day, Mike Casey, the former President of Local 2 and  current President of the San Francisco Labor Council, made some calls to Giants and Bon Appetit biggies, letting them know that their demand for this release of liability was about to become a very public issue.

Ballpark workers, after all, are working under a contract with Bon Appetit that is supposed to protect them from the "negligence" of their bosses. All these workers were being asked to do was to throw their contract in the trash can when it came to anything to do with protecting them from disease and death.

Can you imagine how it would go over if the Giants demanded that fans attending the game had to sign such a release?

Fortunately, Casey was able to convince the powers-that-be that this was a fight they did not want, and that the wise course of action was to dump the release, stop asking workers to sign it, and to trash any releases that had already been signed.

Case closed? Not really. This attempt to try to slip a fast one over on us only demonstrates the utter disrespect that Major League Baseball, the Giants and our bosses too often show to their workers.

It also reminds us that the Giants tried to fire us during the pandemic, only to be beaten back and forced to apologize. It also calls to mind how sports team owners made billions during the pandemic, while doing next to diddly-squat for their laid off workers.

Clearly there are struggles ahead, especially as we try to negotiate a new ballpark contract in the coming months.

Not to mention the upcoming reopening of the Warrior's Chase Center, where Bon Appetit also runs the food service concessions, and where workers have yet to achieve a first contract.

Play ball.

• First published by 48 Hills.

The post Safe Ballpark?  SF Giants Demanded "Release of Liability" for COVID Infection from Food Service Workers first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 16 Apr 2021 | 5:59 pm

Exiting Afghanistan: Biden Sets the Date


It had to be symbolic, and was represented as such.  Forces of the United States will be leaving Afghanistan on September 11 after two decades of violent occupation, though for a good deal of this stretch, US forces were, at best, failed democracy builders, at worst, violent tenants.

In his April 14 speech, President Joe Biden made the point that should have long been evident: that Washington could not "continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result."  As if to concede to the broader failure of the exercise, "the terror threat" had flourished, being now present "in many places".  To keep "thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year makes little sense to me and to our leaders."

For such a long stay, the objectives have been far from convincing.  The US presence in Afghanistan should focus "on the reason we went there in the first place: to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again.  We did that.  We accomplished that objective." A debacle is dressed up in the robes of necessity, the original purpose being to "root out al Qaeda" in 2001 and "to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States planned from Afghanistan."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is marshalling European leaders to aid in the withdrawal effort.  "I am here," he stated at NATO's Belgium headquarters, "to work closely with our allies, with the secretary general, on the principle that we have established from the start, 'In together, adapt together and out together'."  There have been few times in history, perhaps with the exception of the Vietnam War, where defeat has been given such an unremarkable cover.

Little improvement on this impression was made at a meeting between Blinken and Abdullah Abdullah, chair of the Afghanistan High Commission for National Reconciliation.  According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, the secretary "reiterated the US commitment to the peace process and that we will use our full diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian toolkit to support the future the Afghan people want, including the gains made by Afghan women."

At the US embassy in Kabul, Blinken made an assortment of weak assurances about "America's commitment to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan and the Afghan people."  Despite the troops leaving the country, the "security partnership will endure."  There was "strong bipartisan support for that commitment to the Afghan Security Forces."  There would be oodles of diplomacy, economic investment and development assistance.  And, as for the Taliban, joyfully lurking in the wings to assume power, Blinken had this assessment: "It's very important that the Taliban recognize that it will never be legitimate and it will never be durable if it rejects a political process and tries to take the country by force."

A better, and more accurate sense of attitudes to Kabul could be gathered in the remarks of a senior Biden official, as reported in the Washington Post.  "The reality is that the United States has big strategic interests in the world…. Afghanistan just does not rise to the level of those other threats at this point."  Afghanistan, in time, will be discarded like strategic refuse.

Critics invariably assume various aspects of the imperial pose: to leave the country is to surrender a policing function, to encourage enemies, to reverse any gains (shallow as they are), to lay the grounds for the need for potential re-engagement.  An erroneous link is thereby encouraged linking US national security interests with the desperate ruination that has afflicted a State that has not seen peace in decades. For its part, the US contribution to that ruination has been, along with its coalition allies, far from negligible.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell preached that the withdrawal was "a grave mistake," a reminder that such foolish decisions had been made before.  "Ten years ago, when President Obama let politics dictate the terms of our involvement in Iraq, those failed decisions invited the rise of ISIS."  For McConnell, battling terrorism remained a central purpose for keeping boots on the much trodden ground of Afghanistan.  "A reckless pullback like this would abandon our Afghan, regional, and NATO partners in a shared fight against terrorists we have not yet won."

In March, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told a National Security Council Principal Committee meeting that withdrawing would see women's rights return "to the Stone Age".  Leaving was also not advisable, given "all the blood and treasure spent".  (Others at the meeting felt that Milley's arguments had the soft stuffing of emotion rather than firm logic.)

The Washington Post, in a vein similar to that of McConnell and Milley, resorted to the conventional betrayal thesis: leaving was "an abandonment of those Afghans who believed in building a democracy that guaranteed basic human rights".  It would also mean nullifying "the sacrifices of the American servicemen who were killed or wounded in that mission."  Little thought is given to the shallow, corruption saturated regime in Kabul that can barely claim any semblance of legitimacy beyond the sponsorship of external powers.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, takes a more prosaic, utilitarian line.  Leaving Afghanistan will, he explained at a hearing of a Senate Intelligence Committee on global threats, drain the intelligence pool.  "When the time comes for the US military to withdraw, the US government's ability to collect and act on threats will diminish.  That's simply a fact."

The pessimists from the National Review are also full of warning.  Jim Geraghty is almost shrill in worrying what the media headline, "Taliban Rule Afghanistan Again" will do in spurring on "global Islamist jihadism," claiming that, "[a] bad withdrawal only sets up the need for more combat in the future."  Kevin Williamson is at least accurate on one point: Afghanistan, for the US, is a clear picture of "what failure looks like.  What success is going to look like, we still don't know."  Nor, it would seem, ever will.

The post Exiting Afghanistan: Biden Sets the Date first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 16 Apr 2021 | 7:48 am

I Entered My Country’s House of Justice and Found a Snake Charmer’s Temple


Colectivo Culturas Vivas, Senderos latinos / Latino paths, Honduras, 2019

Colectivo Culturas Vivas, Senderos latinos / Latino paths, Honduras, 2019

On a Sunday night on 21 March 2021, gunmen stopped Juan Carlos Cerros Escalante (age 41) as he walked from this mother's home to his own in the village of Nueva Granada near San Antonio de Cortés (Honduras). The gunmen opened fire in front of a catholic church, killing this leader of United Communities in front of his children. Forty bullets were found at the scene.

Jorge Vásquez of the National Platform of Indigenous Peoples said that Juan Carlos Cerros had been threatened for his leadership of the Lenca peoples and their fight to protect their land. Carlos Cerros was killed, Vásquez said, 'because of the work we do'. None of his killers have been arrested.

Two and a half weeks later, on 6 April, Roberto David Castillo Mejía entered the Supreme Court in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Castillo, the former president of Desarrollos Energéticos Sociedad Anónima (DESA), the company behind the Agua Zarca dam project on the Gualcarque River, came to face charges that he was the mastermind in the 2016 assassination of Berta Cáceres, the leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisation of Honduras (COPINH). The next day, on a plea from the defence, the Court agreed to suspend the trial for the fourth time.

Before the suspension, the legal team representing Berta and her family presented new evidence that established a wider conspiracy that involved the Atala Zablah family. The lawyers filed paperwork that showed confirmation of a payment of $1,254,000 from DESA to Potencia y Energia de Mesoamerica S.A. (PEMSA). This money went from DESA's chief financial officer, Daniel Atala Midence, to David Castillo, who then funnelled it to the military officer Douglas Bustillo, who coordinated the assassination of Berta.

In 2013, DESA had initiated the construction of a hydroelectric dam without consulting the Lenca community, who consider the river to be a sacred and common resource. Berta Cáceres opposed the Agua Zarca dam and defended the land of the Lenca people. As Vásquez said of the murder of Carlos Cerros, Berta too was killed for the work she did. She was killed, her family says, by a conspiracy that involved the Atala Zablah family, the main financial backers of the dam project. The Atala Zablah family's company, Inversiones Las Jacaranda, raised their money – despite pleas from Berta – from FMO (a Dutch development bank), FinnFund (a Finnish development investor), and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (a multilateral development institution).

Bertha and Laura Zúniga Cáceres at a mural made by el Colectivo Culturas Vivas, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2021.

Bertha and Laura Zúniga Cáceres at a mural made by el Colectivo Culturas Vivas, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2021.

'We are in a lot of uncertainty', Bertha Zúniga Cáceres, the daughter of Berta Cáceres, told me; 'the justice system in Honduras has never cared about this'. The 'this' in her statement relates to the role of DESA and its executives. The authorities have been shielding the Atala Zablah family and the ruling party, which had itself tried to collude in the cover-up.

In 2009, the US government actively participated in and egged on the oligarchy to undertake a coup d'état against the left-leaning government of Manuel Zelaya. Since then, Honduras has been governed by the far-right National Party, whose current leader and Honduran president is Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH). After Berta Cáceres was assassinated, President Hernández's minister of security Julián Pacheco Tinoco wrote to Pedro Atala Zablah, one of the leaders of the Atala Zablah family and a board member of DESA. He wanted to assure Atala Zablah and his family that the government would not pursue the case with any seriousness; the case, he said, would be seen as a 'crime of passion'. Zúniga Cáceres tells me that 'neither did the army act alone nor did the company act alone either'. There is, she says, 'coordination between the economic and military power centres, which is the essence of the dictatorship under which we live in Honduras'.

This week, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research published a dossier on the 2009 coup and on the regime of JOH. It looks at how these processes have created a climate of impunity for class violence by the elites – such as the Atala Zablahs – against leaders such as Berta Cáceres and Carlos Cerros, brave people who defend the dignity and land of all people in Honduras. We researched and wrote the dossier with COPINH and Peoples Dispatch (special thanks to Zoe Alexandra). The dossier, Pity the Nation: Honduras Is Being Eaten From within and without,  comes in three parts:

  1. Part 1 details the fact of the 2009 coup, authorised by the United States government of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
  2. Part 2 unmasks the structure of extreme right terror sown by the coup regime, which has its tentacles deep in the world of narco-trafficking.
  3. Part 3 provides three examples of the broad attack on the Honduran Left: the assassination of Berta, the attack on the trade unions, and the forced disappearance of Garifuna leaders in July 2020.

The third section ends with a quote from Miriam Miranda, a leader of the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH): 'We are tired of the lies from the government of Honduras. [Government reports] have no substance. They don't say anything. They make a joke of us, the Garifuna people. We do not want lies. We want the truth. We want life to be worth more in our country. We have to build new paths. We will continue fighting so that this becomes a reality'.

In Yoro, Honduras, the people speak of the lluvia de peces, or the rain of fish, which they commemorate with a festival during the rainy season. Miracles such as this, it is hoped, will rescue people from the tribulations of hunger. Roberto Sosa (1930-2011), one of the great poets of Honduras, was born in Yoro, but he moved away from the miraculous toward the politics of the people and the Left. In 1968, he published his finest collection of poems, Los pobres (The Poor), which won the Adonáis Prize. The headline for this newsletter comes from one of the poems from this collection, La Casa de la Justicia. Here's an extract:

I entered
the House of Justice
of my country
and found it to be
a temple
of snake charmers.

….

Grim judges
speak of purity
with words
that have acquired
the brightness
of a knife. The victims – in constrained space –
measure terror in a single blow.

Roberto Sosa's line, 'I entered the House of Justice of my country and found it to be a temple of snake charmers', has been quoted often in the immediate aftermath of the 2009 coup and in the years that have followed. After the coup, Sosa said that Honduras had been turned 'into a jail country' (en un país cárcel). 'Today, the entire country is militarised', Sosa said, but he took refuge in the 'massive and organised resistance that has not stopped demonstrating against the coup government, a resistance that does not retreat'.

There is no retreat even today. None for the people of Honduras.

The post I Entered My Country's House of Justice and Found a Snake Charmer's Temple first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 16 Apr 2021 | 6:23 am

 Slavery and the Age of Ego


The continual expanse of western enslavement culture has never been directly about race, class, or any other perceived external divisions, rather it's an ego sickness at its root. When the ego drive is running the show we are slaves to its impulses, subsequently the external world we've constructed expresses that which is within: a slavish and reactive social milieu. We are trapped in an ego-centered state of confusion believing in false identities of who we are within this contrived social strata dictated by centralized authorities, which today are namely nation states, banking systems, and corporate conglomerates. Together these authorities conjure an immersive pseudo-reality for the human animal where it is fooled into believing the agendas of the authority are for their own good and necessary for their survival.  Stockholm syndrome essentially is an ego state itself, or an accepted pattern of thought mistaken for absolute truth.

Slavery is an outgrowth of ego sickness, which is at the core of all that is wrong with humans in this time Hinduism refers to as the Kali Yuga, a spiritual nadir in an ongoing cycle where selfishness, materialism, and cruelty are the manifested symptoms of the era, an apt description of our time regardless of one's personal belief in Hinduism. Further, the idea that human cultures go in cycles exhibiting different patterns of thought at different times collectively doesn't seem that far fetched either. In this time of ego many can see nothing else, yet indigenous cultures lived for long periods of time over wide expanses of land in relative peace and were not building standing armies or plotting how to plunder their neighbors. What is happening now isn't a remark on our species as much it's a commentary on our current mental disposition.

The majority are now slaves to the ego roles traipsing around in their heads, the jealousies, the pride, the perceived insults, all the petty things that can't be let go of become persistent phantasms haunting their waking minds, giving them reason to fear, to create division in the name of security, and adhere to defensive mechanisms in order to deal with the fear of the "other", or that which is identified as separate from us and may pose a threat to the intransigent ego identity role.

The ego's way of dealing with fear is to swat at it from afar and continue to build up defensive structures. This is why the rich and powerful distance themselves so often from the realities they create. The ego role they have assumed is one of a successful person doing something beneficial.  This delusion is easier to maintain if they can avoid receiving sensory input that disrupts their self aggrandizement fantasy.

The illness of ego manifests a buffet of neuroses where unconscious scripts play out running on the well worn grooves established in the default mode network of the brain, acting as an imperialist, expanding and defending all territory by which it defines itself both psychological and material. In its quest for more ego creates blinders for consciousness that filters out that which is profane to the desires of the ego dream. Therefore little can be seen but what is convenient to its objectives, and it is why those who are so caught up in their characters they are playing can't see the harm they cause others while their own suffering and romance with deception continues.

The seeds of ego delusion are usually planted by people who claim to do so out of love or education. And just about everyone in our society now installs ego identities in children molding the identity of the child to suit the whims of the parent and culture. This is extremely common, and in later years we can all sense the voices of authority from childhood still echoing in our minds.  Sometimes these voices are benign, but other times they are constricting and later confused as our own thoughts.

In Erich Fromm's book Escape From Freedom, he notes this phenomena of becoming programmed by social conditioning:

Most people are convinced that as long as they are not overtly forced to do something by an outside power, their decisions are theirs, and that if they want something it is they who want it. But this is one of the great illusions we have about ourselves. A great number of decisions are not really our own but are suggested to us from the outside, we have succeeded in persuading ourselves that it is we who have made the decision, whereas we have actually conformed with expectations of others, driven by the fear of isolation and by more direct threats to our life, freedom, and comfort.

If the power of suggestion and social conditioning didn't work, then advertising wouldn't be such an extraordinarily profitable industry, billionaires wouldn't own media outlets, and governments wouldn't run public school systems and hold ongoing press conferences that are always seeking to put their own unique egotistical spin on reality in an attempt to make their fabricated reality, your reality.

Behind every ego identity in our culture of slavery is a history of conditional love typically dependent on an individual performing in a certain manner in order to be fully accepted and valued by authority figures. Many people give a cat or dog more unconditional love than they give to the people who they claim to care for or are seeking to "help." There may, in fact, be something authentic about their love, but it's mixed with the poison of ego needing others to be a thing for them so they can fully accept them, which is how they were conditioned as well. So children set out on a life long mission trying to prove something to an authority so they may at some point accept themselves as valid and worthy of being loved, resulting in a mindset that conflates obligatory subservience with love.

How many have marched off to wars, not because they believe in it, but because they couldn't stand to face what their family would think or how others might judge them if they refused to take part? How many have stayed in corrosive relationships or stayed in a religion because they might lose acceptance or face judgment if they should try to change? How many have conformed to the expectations of those around them in any way because they didn't want to be disliked? And due in large part to intentionally created indoctrination efforts by authority people are conditioned to be reliant on approval from power, to not accept themselves as enough on some basic level and use an ego construct(s) to fill in the gaps where their authentic self is not enough.

Once the ego construct is established it makes people truly vulnerable to predation because they become blind. Suckers. Chumps. Wooly-minded. Prone to insults and taking things too seriously or being easily fooled by empty flattery. The ego mind gradually replaces the context of every situation until eventually an immersive trance is all that can be seen or understood. Once consciousness is compromised people are easily infected by a motley collection of mental viruses which consume the mind with paranoia, becoming an unthinking reactionary to stimulus; narrow, uncomfortable, and befuddled.

The ruling class and those wishing to ascend to their ranks suffer from egos that deem themselves to be superior to others, and on the other end of the ego spectrum the learned helplessness of the lower classes is lost in a delusion equally as harmful where trust is placed in those they believe to be their superiors and buy into the idea they are less than, often relegating themselves to a state of perma-adolescence. The ego self is always comparing and contrasting, judging, and believing itself to either be superior or inferior to others, never an equal in innate worth, and can become violent to others or themselves when this belief is challenged, and as such, judgment stemming from ego is the ultimate source of bigotry.

Surreptitious Slavery

Just like people cannot easily see their own ego drive they also can't see the nature of the society their ego is invested within. The system that most people endorse and identify with, the nation states, the monetary institutions and so on, all that has a long dark history of being an exploitative slave based system rife with inequality, corruption, imperialism, warfare; i.e., rule by manipulation and force. But in the trappings of ego-centered thinking history is reduced, ignored, or forgotten, and the present possibilities are limited to a narrow set of artificial contrivances stipulated by those in power.

And so long as people implicitly trust this system and the game afoot then those in power may easily propagate confusion, which is a forerunner to divisiveness, and they do this by selling everyone their own personalized ego roles which ruling power already knows are reliant on validation from power itself and will greatly narrow the perspective of the average person.

For instance, police or military personnel, assuming they are not mostly corrupt in some way, will believe to some degree that the state is legitimate and they are the good guys there to help people. When this belief is deeply identified with they will forgive evidence to the contrary as exceptions. No matter how many contradictions there might be they all get mentally shuffled and classified as incidents that aren't indicative of the overall good they do. It may be obvious to everyone else that the problem is coming from an imbalance in power, but if one's identity gets validation or authority from power itself then they will never clearly see what's happening until that ego persona they are clinging to is understood outside of the context of their culture. However, those in power can easily see the dependence they create and how that can be used as leverage to elicit the behaviors ruling power desires.

Media punditry, celebrities, the expert class, and public authority figures further serve to buttress the illusions of power via bully pulpits where a voice emanating from a centralized authority can be made to seem like it's ubiquitous and infers a kind of consensus to the populace when there may be little, effectively manufacturing consent. Once people are physically or mentally dependent upon centralized power then the ruling authority can easily misrepresent or ignore truths that may be obvious to outsiders but can not be seen from inside the ego dream. The lies can be absurd and outlandish but as long as a mind has been properly conditioned in their given ego role, and that role implicitly trusts power on some level, then they will believe close to anything so long as power tells them it's true.

Slavery is commonly thought of in first world countries as a dramatic and easily recognizable abuse, a barbaric direct ownership of other humans to serve the purpose of producing material gain or monetary profit for the owner. So when contemporary minds who've been told their whole lives they live in a free country hear the word slavery applied to their present condition they find it to ring of hyperbole, perhaps worthy of an eye roll, because in first world countries we are not direct commodities that are traded openly in chattel slave markets. The capitalist democratic freedoms we're told we've won through bloodshed over the centuries ultimately must be questioned though, because to a whole lot of people this thing called a free country doesn't feel very free.

The freedoms granted to us are that we are paid money for our labor time no matter how slight, along with the ability to choose from a small number of employers willing to hire us, most of which are abusive to the environment or contributing to abusive labor somewhere on the planet. And, of course, it's not acceptable to be directly traded as a commodity in modernity and there are rules that prevent degrees of abuse that used to be common but are harder to get away with now. This thin veneer is all that separates the outright slavery of old from the wage slavery of today. In the end we still spend the majority of our lives doing what a master commands of us, just like the centuries of old.

The modern neoliberal version of slavery is perhaps best defined by a Rick and Morty episode where Morty hears what Rick is doing to another species and bluntly calls him out for using "slavery with extra steps." And it's that simple really what we're doing now, using slavery with extra steps which obfuscates the ugly truth allowing for a normalization of ongoing exploitation and control. People are put in a binding coercion where their options become limited to only the choices the powers that be provide, the human herds are corralled into predefined pathways where they may choose from shitty labor from employer A or shittier labor from employer B, that or go homeless, hungry, and become a beggar, which creates a reward and punishment system of manipulation in the labor system, meaning you do what your boss tells you or they have the power to make life difficult for you, but if you do it well enough they might throw you a Scooby snack for a job well done. You may even win back a small fragment more of the profit you made for your boss/owner, but rarely is that amount enough so that you don't have to rely on an employer anymore to live. Coercive labor no matter what semantics or legal framework is put around it is always slavery with extra steps. Power never actually changes what it's doing.  It just replays the same script with different language while functionally doing exactly what they've always done.

In a free world who would freely choose to clean hotel rooms for years of their life if they were not made desperate enough to endure the labor? There is no doubt very few would continue to do that job if they had enough money/access to resources where they could choose to forego that kind of work. The conservative rebuttal is that you can work your way out of the worst forms of capitalist labor so it's not a big deal that people are relegated to those jobs for a time. But that's not how it works out in reality.  Over the centuries in every monetary system there is always life-wasting labor and people made desperate enough to do it for the long haul. For example, an average yearly wage of a "hotel housekeeper" is a bit over $22k a year.  A person cannot live on that amount alone in most of the US especially in many of the expensive areas where service industry jobs often are. They will work their bodies tired while having little to show for it in pay and will likely be fatigued enough from labor that struggling to free themselves from their current predicament becomes a Sisyphean task, so most come to accept their lot in life and try to simply survive. And in an overwhelming amount of cases there is little to no democracy in the workplace, nor is there much negotiation in terms of what is paid.  There is simply do what you're told under the conditions they provide and be sure to wear a polite smile about it. The unhappy servants will be replaced with people who can feign happiness in their subjugation and pretend they like being there.

What seems to easily confuse the masses nowadays is the clean look and smiling faces of corporate culture who aren't readily beating or torturing workers like brutish slave systems of old.  Of course, the powers that be are more sophisticated exploiters now. They smartened up and realized that perception is important to maintaining power, so they are careful to administer the control mechanisms now in ways that don't show outward bruising. Just as governments have learned over the centuries about the benefits of maintaining a good public image that doesn't make them an easy target for retaliation over those they control.

And so it is why power no longer publicly hangs or tortures people as much these days for not obeying the demands of the upper classes, as philosopher Michel Foucault made note of in his book Discipline and Punish.   He highlighted the idea that rulers eventually learned that while public torture had its advantages by spreading fear, which served as an effective tool of control; it also gave many people ample reason to rebel against power, thus making the gruesome public displays of punishment more trouble than they were worth. And the same can be said for slavery. They didn't end chattel slavery because it was too brutal or that the powers that be suddenly became compassionate. It was because it was easier for them to rule over people by instilling the belief in them that they were free in a capitalist system than it was to keep them in a more conventional slave role.

The popular Frederick Douglass quote stating "Power concedes nothing without a demand" is lacking some nuance. Power never concedes anything. They just keep doing the same thing while gaslighting the people into believing the new boss is different than the old boss. And when people are caged in their own minds they're in a condition which is not capable of making demands to power that would have the effect of actually freeing themselves. So more accurately, power concedes nothing, but if the public becomes unruly over a particular issue and makes a demand then power may be forced to reframe what they are currently doing.  However, just for them to reframe what they are doing requires a fight from the people. And to continue on with the Douglass quote which rings more true if put in the context of  just convincing power to rebrand their current abuse: "and these (the abuses of power) will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress." And closer to the truth is if you make things too difficult for ruling power, they will find an alternative that more efficiently oppresses those they rule over by disguising what they had previously been doing out in the open. In reality there has been zero social progress over the ages, just rulers who are better at fooling people into believing they're free and shifting where and how the pain of oppression is taken out.

The neoliberal version of slavery provides an illusion of freedom and democracy that makes people willing slaves living under the false pretense of equality that anyone can become part of the upper class, and supposedly with a little hard work it can then be their turn to use money to make others their servants. Capitalism plays right to the ego where each participant is encouraged to believe good fortune is right around the corner. In the process capitalism and social hierarchies of all kinds divide and isolate the people who are all scrambling after their own fortune and glory competing with one another while the people ignore that the game being played is detrimental to all.

In a letter Charles Bukowski penned to his publisher John Martin he speaks the simple truth about wage slavery:

You know my old saying, "Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors."

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don't want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does. As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can't believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

…They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn't they? 1

A World Without I, You, Us, or Them

Ending this slavish way of being means to no longer be seduced by the schizophrenic ego patterns we've come to accept as normal. There is no easy fix here, only an inward journey to see ourselves and our mental attachments in meditative silence can break the spell cast by our accumulated thoughts. Policy decisions and economic reforms won't cure the underlying motivations towards self aggrandizement of those who rule over us, nor will it end the base servility of the masses. Rather ending the cycle of dependence can only come through the acceptance of truth, ending the lies about who we are, and consequently debunking the lies we tell ourselves about others in reference to our false selves.

The often asked question to address the melange of social and environmental dilemmas humans face is "What is to be done?" And to answer that question, at least in part, is that nothing should be done. What is likely to bring about authentic action is to do nothing first. Meditation, or just doing nothing but creating a gap in the ongoing cycle of thought, has the potential to cut through the ego mind in stillness, but it takes discipline, patience, and courage to see and understand the convenient rationalized lies we've been accepting for far too long. A rushed impulse to fix the world will damn it at a faster rate. So just be. Be empty. Be open. Defend nothing. Kick the ego crutch out and allow innocence and emotional vulnerability to reemerge which the ego mind blocked off long ago stifling our true selves so far down we forget what's important, as evidenced by so many who have succumbed to social pressure to become socially programmed automatons. So this work of doing nothing allows us to see past our own subjectivity in order to accurately prioritize what is important so that real change can occur in a very genuine way.

On the path to liberation there will no doubt be hucksters along the way, false idols who will tell you they are there to help and some of them truly believe that; however, who they really want to help is primarily themselves. So many devilish costumes have been unwittingly sewn from threads of good intentions. Politician, activist, union representative, journalist, doctor, entrepreneur, engineer, philanthropist, teacher, lawyer, investor, scientist, cop, banker, soldier, marketer, entertainer, artisan, statistician, expert, and clergy, have collectively served more to prop up the system and legitimize it than do any real good with each group along the way doing things that are truly wicked at times.

The decades roll by and the do-gooders swear to each successive generation they are there to help, giving the people false hope while the rolling tyranny continues its march through time. Those good intentions inevitably decline into being part of the problem they set out to initially solve when do-gooders sell out to their own ego drive as they always seem to do. In Camus' The Plague he wrote about the harm of good intentions: "The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding." The ego hides in the cracks and crevices between good intentions and their implementations, and it is under the premise of good intentions that power always operates while people fall into subjugated ego roles becoming more dependent on the supposed benevolence of authority. And to quote spiritual teacher Shunyamurti: "…you don't have to be a rescuer, but what you do have to do is rescue yourself from the illusion."

Further, a truly free society that actually has unconditional love at its core won't need do-gooders because people will genuinely just do good all on their own most of the time, meaning instead of something like environmental damage being the norm it would be the exception because there would be a different understanding, and understanding is all that is keeping humanity from changing from its current locust consumption mentality into that of a sustainable grasshopper. And a society based on love rather than ego drive cannot collectively arise out of self-serving intentions, no more than a flower can grow from being showered with gasoline. At best a superficially good thing done for the wrong reasons may produce a temporary respite from suffering, but due to the direction of the self-oriented thinking the cumulative results over time will almost certainly produce a more selfish society and greater inner discomfort in those maintaining their do-gooder ego when the nagging truth about what they are really doing needs to be further buried from their conscious mind.

Selfishness is so corrosive because it gnaws away at trust over time, thinning relationship ties due to the consistent encroachment of self- serving interests in each interaction. Eventually, if followed to its ends, a me-first based society or person will devolve into the embodiment of Narcissus, who falls in love with their ego image and turns a blind eye towards potential danger while consumed with vanity, which always ends in more suffering.

Transcending all forms of slavery requires reaching a point of understanding beyond self-serving pursuits, where the discomfort of our own emotions is confronted in real time in a honest forthright manner allowing for openness and space in the moment so we may see with clarity and act with wisdom. We may either face the haunting spectre of ego in the ghost house of our minds or resign to the fate of an even scarier material world our impulsive ego-led minds will inevitably create.

 

  1. Bukowski, Charles. Reach for the Sun, Vol. 3.
The post  Slavery and the Age of Ego first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 16 Apr 2021 | 5:45 am

Killing Yemen



The Yemeni city of Marib is in the thick of fighting between Houthi rebels and loyalists of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's government. Marib is the capital of Marib Governorate, lying roughly 100 miles northeast of the country's capital in Sana'a. It was established after the 1984 discovery of oil deposits in the region and contains much of Yemen's oil, gas, and electric resources. Marib is the last governorate under the control of the Hadi government, but it has been under increasing attack by the Houthis since early 2020. If seized by the Houthis, the resistance group can use that advantage in negotiations and even continue further south.

Origins of War

Hadi administration's territorial weakness reflects the failure of the 6-year long Saudi-UAE war against Yemen. The origins of the war can be traced back to 2011 when Arab Spring protests erupted in Yemen. Authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had survived in power since 1978, was forced to resign. He stepped aside in favor of Hadi, who was his vice president from 1994 to 2011. Hadi's interim government was legitimized by way of a February 21, 2012, referendum in which his was the only name on the ballot.

From the day he assumed power, Hadi began a process of brutal neoliberalization. He steamrolled Yemen into membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 2012, bringing about egregious amounts of austerity and untrammeled liberalization. Hadi's first wave of privatizations included 11 of the 12 main sectors of the Yemeni economy with 78 of the 160 subsectors included for immediate liberalization. His open embrace of the World Bank exposed Yemeni companies to competition in the "free market," a move that promised tens of thousands of layoffs.

The Hadi government combined a neoliberal orientation with the undemocratic imposition of a new politico-legal structure. Early in Hadi's mandate, the government arbitrarily rewrote many of Yemen's laws, including setting in motion a process of federalization designed to benefit specific constituencies and forever weaken those regions known for resisting Yemen's economic subordination to Saudi and Qatari interests. Faced with these unprecedented abuses of executive powers, millions of Yemenis supported the Houthi movement.

Houthis represent a religious revivalist movement within the Zaydi branch of Shi'i Islam led by the sons of Badr al-Din al-Huthi, a notable Zaydi scholar, in the Sa'ada province on the Saudi border. In the 1990s, Zaydi resistance to Saleh was spearheaded by Hussein al Houthi. Radicalized by the US War on Terror and invasion of Iraq, Houthis founded Ansar Allah, or "Supporters of God", and engaged in a tireless guerrilla war against Saleh, whom it decried as a puppet of Washington and Riyadh. Thousands joined the Ansar Allah's ranks, taking its estimated number of fighters from 10,000 to 100,000 by 2010.

American and international monitoring groups sent down to "assist" in the post-2011 transition openly condemned the popular AnsarAllah, referring to it as an "armed group" in the attempt to delegitimize it. There were even formal efforts to side-line AnsarAllah in the subsequent National Dialogue Conference (NDC) held between March 18, 2013, and January 24, 2014.

The outright persecution of Houthis proved to be counterproductive, resulting in the formation of a temporary and unstable alliance between the ousted Saleh and AnsarAllah. Even after resigning from the presidency, Saleh retained a lot of support within the security services. In September 2014, Houthi militias, in alliance with Saleh, took over government buildings in the capital while the army stood by.

It is important to note that when the forces allied with AnsarAllah entered Sana'a' they did not formally remove Hadi as interim President. Rather, they established committees that demanded the immediate establishment of a timeframe for elections, an immediate halt to the frantic selling off of Yemen's assets, and review of all new laws instituted during the Hadi period.

The Saleh-Houthi association unraveled after two years. On December 3, 2017, Saleh announced he was switching sides, leaving his two-year long alliance with the Houthis and joining Hadi and the Saudis. The Houthis quickly routed his forces in the capital and blew up his house. The next day they stopped him at a checkpoint and killed him too, announcing that they had also avenged al-Houthi – killed by Saleh's military in 2004.

Genocide

Hadi fled to Aden and appealed to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for military assistance. Saudis and Emiratis proceeded to assemble an alliance of Middle Eastern and African states – Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Eritrea, Morocco, Senegal, Somalia and Sudan – acting in the name of Hadi's government – exiled in Riyadh. The first Saudi air strikes were launched on 26 March, 2015 to prevent Aden falling to Saleh's Republican Guards. This was the beginning of genocide.

The Saudi intervention in Yemen was propelled by the monarchy's domestic concerns. The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), staked his prestige to a Saudi victory. Just prior to the war, King Salman took the throne and appointed his son MBS as defense minister. MBS appeared on Saudi television the day after the bombing began; he was in the military operations centre, on the phone, talking to pilots, looking at maps — trying to show that he really was in charge.

Within days of starting the war, Saudi Arabia imposed a total land, air and sea blockade, along with targeting vital agriculture and food supply infrastructure that sustains life for the 29 million Yemenis – all of which constitute war crimes under international law. Yemen imports 80% of its food. The Saudis intercept and impound some aid ships for periods up to 100 days. Other ships are never allowed to dock in Yemen. The delays the naval blockade creates cause food prices to soar, making them unaffordable to most Yemenis.

Half of Yemen's hospitals and medical clinics have been destroyed or forced to close since the coalition bombing began. Public health personnel and hospital facilities have been attacked, leading to the closure of health facilities. According to the organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), 92-95% of medical equipment in Yemeni hospitals and health facilities no longer functions. Over 50% of Yemenis do not have access to healthcare, and the other half has access to a "compromised healthcare system" that lacks the personnel, medicine and medical equipment necessary to treat the population's basic health needs. The coalition bombs cranes used in Yemeni ports, making it impossible to unload medicine.

In a nutshell, the effects of the imperialist war against Yemen have been devastating: cholera and hunger have arrived on a scale that has not been seen since the last century, with some 20 million experiencing food insecurity and 10 million at risk of famine. An estimated 110,000 have been killed in the fighting, with a death toll of 233,000 overall, mostly due to indirect causes such as lack of food and health services.

Saudi Arabia has justified the saturation bombing of Yemen by claiming that the Houthis are an Iranian proxy. Given that the Saudis and local allies control the Gulf of Aden, Iranian ships laden with weapons cannot travel all the way to northern Yemen and Sana'a. The same applies to the airspace, which is entirely controlled by the Saudis. While Iran may have managed to send some support and advisors, it is absurd to describe the Houthis as Iranian-backed. Moreover, the Saudi usage of the Iranian bogeyman stokes the sectarian flames of the Shite-Sunni narrative and elides a deeper analysis of the problems plaguing Yemen after the 1990 unification.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Yemen, the genocidal impact of the war has combined with an epidemiological crisis to generate a perfect storm for Yemenis. However, Yemeni lives don't matter for the rulers sitting at the helm of our brutal system. War profiteers are least concerned about what happens in Yemen as long as they are able to sell a full range of arms that kill human beings and destroy nations. Without concerted action, the genocide in Yemen will continue, with the profits accruing to the arms industries.

The post Killing Yemen first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 16 Apr 2021 | 2:25 am

Jacques Ellul: Controversies in the Rise of Propaganda


Orientation

Controversies within propaganda theory

When I was preparing for a course I had created, "Brainwashing, Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century" I came across the name Jacques Ellul over and over again. Many of the quotes from his book Propaganda amazed me, considering the book was written almost 60 years ago. Still, when I decided to read the book, I had some reservations, thinking it would be dated in many places. In this article I hope to show that not only is it not dated, but it is still among the top theories in propaganda today.

Before we can begin to compare the propaganda theory of Jacques Ellul to other theories, we must address issues within propaganda theory. After doing that we will be able to see how the seven theories of propaganda (including Ellul's) line up in relation to the controversies. How do we define propaganda? Is propaganda always bad?  What is not propaganda? Most people think propaganda is fundamentally irrational. But can propaganda be rational too?

How far does it reach? Does propaganda exist in all countries or are some more likely to use it than others?  Does propaganda try to change society, or does it reinforce what is already there? Is propaganda limited to the printed word and to images, or can it include monuments, music, coins, postage stamps or billboards? Does propaganda's intent to change attitudes or behavior, or both? Are some social classes more susceptible to propaganda than others? Are people more vulnerable to propaganda in collectivist societies than individualists' societies or is it the reverse?

Is all propaganda covert or is some of it out in the open? Is propaganda about facts, interpretations or evaluations? Can propaganda be truthful in fact or is it all lies?  How do propagandists treat their audience? What is propaganda's relationship to political ideology? In other worlds do liberals, conservatives, fascists and socialists all use propaganda or do some use it more than others? Are propagandists Machiavellian, cynical manipulators behind the scenes or do they really believe in their propaganda? How fast does propaganda work? Is it a gradual process or does it impact its audience suddenly, like a conversion experience? Typically, propaganda is thought to exist in "authoritarian" states. But what about bourgeois representational "democracies".

My sources for this article are Jacques Ellul's great book, Propaganda, two terrific books by J. Michael Sproule Channels of Propaganda and Propaganda and Democracy and Jowett and O'Donnell's textbook Propaganda and Persuasion.

The seven schools of propaganda

Moving from the right wing of the political spectrum to the left there are at least seven schools of propaganda:

  • Reactionary conservative political:

In the 1930s and 1940s this would include Thurman Arnold, Huey Long, Father Charles Edward Coughlin, the Radio priest. In the 1950s there was Joseph McCarthy and William F. Buckley. Contemporary examples might be Bill O'Reilly and the shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck. They are also consistent with neoconservatives or religious fundamentalists.

  • Commercial practitioners:

In the 1920s there was Ivy Lee, and George Creel and most famously, Edward Bernays, who for propaganda reasons changed his advertising campaigns from "propaganda" to "public relations". These are typically advertisers.

  • Mass communication scientists:

These are the liberal institutions that do polling, most famously the Gallup Poll. Theorists include Paul Lazarsfeld, Elton Mayo, the later Walter Lippmann and Harold Lasswell. Often these are mass media academics who accepted grants from the state or from capitalists such as the Harvard Business School or the Carnegie Corporation.

  • Critical thinking movement:

In the center-left of the political spectrum is the critical thinking movement. Unlike all other schools, this movement says that the issue is less the presence of propaganda than it is the lack of critical thinking schools that can see through the propaganda. Theorists include the later John Dewey, Monroe Beardsley and Robert Ennis. Most often these theorists are college instructors.

  • Reform oriented liberals:

These are the writers and journalists that back in the day were called "muckrakers". They think that all that is needed is for propaganda to be exposed. After that the critical thinking skills of the masses would take over. The first theorists included Upton Sinclair, the early work of Walter Lippmann, Alfred Lee (the director of the short-lived organization that conducted propaganda analysis), Robert Staughton Lynd and Vance Packard.

  • Sociological school:

This is the school of Jacques Ellul that I shall highlight in this article. Ellul thought that propaganda is the inevitable byproduct of a division of labor in society. He believed it is due to modernization and mass technology. Others with a sociological orientation included Charles Merriam and Graham Wallas.

  • Radical left:

These folks, like the extreme right-wing, think propaganda is the result of class warfare driven by capitalists. The anarchist, communist left was slow to develop theories of propaganda. One of the first was Start Ewing. Noam Chomsky is the most famous example, but his theory was developed in 1988, too late for the research referred to in this article. Besides college instructors, the radical left includes self-educated anarchists and feminists as well as others from different social movements.

The time span for this article is from World War I through the early 1970s. My focus is on mass media and does not include interactive technological breakthroughs such as the internet and various social media such Facebook and Twitter. The forms of media propaganda referred to here will be soapboxes, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, polls, books and film. I think you will find that mass media is a foundation for whatever additional forms of electronic media propagandizing that follow.

Most Provocative Points of Ellul's Propaganda Theory

  • Unlike other theorists, Ellul argued that propaganda served both the upper classes and the lower classes for different reasons.
  • Unlike other theorists, he understood propaganda as inevitable in modern societies. There is no getting around it.
  • Unlike most other theorists, he saw masses of people as complicit in their own subordination. He saw them neither as victims of circumstance nor heroic masses.
  • He distinguished between hard, fast, political propaganda and soft, slow sociological. He called political propaganda "agitation". Education is not outside propaganda. It is sociological propaganda.
  • He identified two techniques of propagandizing the masses. First kind is mithridatization which acts like a sedative and sensibilization which is about riling people up.
  • Unlike most other theorists of propaganda, Ellul followed Joseph Goebbels and said that the best propaganda is based on facts. It becomes propaganda with the interpretation of facts. Propaganda based on lies is a sign of weakness.
  • Most propaganda theorists thought the working class was most impacted by propaganda. Ellul argued that it is the upper-middle classes that create the propaganda and that is most likely to believe it.
  • Ellul distinguished horizontal propaganda, which was made inside the group, from vertical propaganda, which uses centralized power. An example of horizontal propaganda was the educational groups of Yankee soldiers organized by the Chinese communists.
  • For Ellul, propaganda does not come from the ruling class, but from the upper-middle class.
  • Industrialist capitalist "democracies" need propaganda because they depend on public opinion, which is disorganized. It requires propaganda to compete with socialist societies.
  • Unlike other theorists, Ellul makes a distinction between ideology and myth and argues that myth is more powerful.
  • His concept of crystallization claims that the individual has latent drives and stereotypes which are vague (based on the work of Karen Horney), and they then become the foundation of propaganda.
  • Unlike other schools of propaganda, Ellul argues that quantitative study of propaganda isn't effective. One cannot tell how many people are reached and how effective white vs black propaganda is. At what point do you say it failed? At what point does the payoff justify the cost?
  • According to Ellul, psychological propaganda in foreign countries does not work. Propagandists are too ignorant of the attitudes, centers of interest, presuppositions and suspicions of the foreign population.

Definition, Purposes, Fields of Operation and Pervasiveness

Definition

As might be expected, there are considerable differences among the schools over whether propaganda is sinister or benign. Both the reactionary conservatives and the radical left sees propaganda as a product of primarily economic forces. The radical left sees the use of propaganda by capitalists to maintain control of their wealth. The radical right thinks propaganda is necessary to fight against the forces of communism. Both consider propaganda as immoral as the message, source and means are used by either communists or capitalists to perpetuate their power.

The muckrakers are critical of propaganda and see it as used in a wider span of areas, such as advertising, religion and sports, not just in the service of economics. They believe propaganda is immoral because its message, source and means are used to protect the status quo as it pollutes public opinion and undermines democratic thinking. The critical thinking movement agrees with the muckrakers.

Both the commercial practitioners and the mass communications theorists see propaganda as benign and moral. Bernays sees "public relations" as an outgrowth of more successfully circulation of commercial products to a larger audience. They think there is nothing wrong with that. For people like Bernays, propaganda is only immoral when it fails to disclose the source of information.

Mass communications theorists see propaganda as a benign alternative to force and for this reason, they believe it is moral. They think the polls are designed so political leaders can better control their population in order for the population not to resort to violence. The critical thinking movement interestingly points to the collusion of masses of people in propaganda. If the average person had good critical thinking skills, no one would pay attention to propaganda. Surprisingly, Ellul, as a sociologist, does not see propaganda as a product of class forces. He thinks, as I said above, propaganda is inevitable in any mass society just because people need to know what is going on politically and economically, and they can no longer find out through face-to-face contact. For him, propaganda might not be very moral, but it is necessary.

Manipulable use of the word "propaganda"

There are six forms of information control. On a spectrum they can be lined up according to the extent to which they have control over people. On the extreme right, we have brainwashing. Moving towards the left we have propaganda, then rhetoric (or persuasion), then mass and public entertainment. On the extreme left, and the least controlling, is "dialectic". I will not define these words here except to say that most of them have negative connotations and so all propaganda theorists have a stake in mixing them together.

For reactionary conservatives, propaganda is mixed with brainwashing on the right and dialectic on the left, Since the CIA used the term "brainwashing" to describe what the Chinese did with Yankee soldiers during the Korean War, communist propaganda is mixed up with brainwashing techniques. At the same time, reactionary conservatives lump in the dialectical view of history as some vast mechanical system used by the communists to explain the world. For them dialectic is a vast, controlling philosophy.

Commercial practitioners like Bernays wanted no part of the word propaganda and turned it into "public relations" which was presented as a form of persuasion, or mass entertainment. Mass communication theories also avoid the term propaganda and suggest that news is simply "information" and movies are entertainment. The critical thinking movement also avoids the word "propaganda" by using the social psychological terms "mass persuasion" or "coercive persuasion". All three propaganda theories on the left are not bashful about using the term propaganda to describe dominant power. The radical left uses the term dialectic as an alternative to propaganda. The muckrakers and the critical thinking advocates are more sensitive about distinguishing propaganda from what they advocate, which is rhetoric and dialectic. Both rhetoric and dialectic are used by journalists and in argumentation and critical thinking classes.

Purpose

The purpose of propaganda also has a wide variation of stances. The purpose for both the extreme left and extreme right is to unmask either the communist or capitalist threat. For the commercial practitioners the purpose of propaganda is to sell products. For the Mass Communication theorists, propaganda is to act as a safety valve to let the leaders know what the public wants or doesn't want. For critical thinking theorists, their purpose is to expose the informal logical fallacies that typically go with interpreting propaganda. This might include ad hominem arguments, "either or thinking", bandwagon and conflict of interests within the authorities. For the muckrakers, exposure is the name of the game whether it be the corporations or the state. Ellul has something interesting to say about this. He says the purpose of propaganda is a) to support existing elites in their competition with other elites and b) it is used by the masses that need propaganda to help them understand the complexities of large-scale social life.

Fields of operation

All three theories on the right of the political spectrum in the fields of operation argue that propaganda is only political. Bernays and his followers would sinisterly deny that propaganda is political, even though Bernays himself used propaganda to convince the American public to go to war (World War I) and to support the United Fruit Company against the Guatemalan government in the early 1950s. Mass communication theorists did not really focus on the impact of propaganda outside of politics. All four of the other theories argue that propaganda is present in advertising, television, and movies.

Discontinuous vs pervasive

How well can propaganda be combatted? Not surprisingly, reactionary conservatives, commercial practitioners and mass communication scientists think that propaganda is discontinuous rather than pervasive. The reactionary conservatives think propaganda is limited to the competition between left and right political wings. All other social institutions are neutral. For the commercial practitioners, propaganda is used by advertising companies and in the competition between them, there is no single message that is communicated. In other words, propaganda cancels itself out and the consumer wins! The mass communications theorists think that science is an island immune from the impact of propaganda. The critical thinking movement argues that educational institutions are less likely to be impacted by propaganda. All left wing propaganda theorists think propaganda is pervasive, but it can be combated by political agitation.

Orchestrated or competitive

How systematic are the propaganda mechanisms? As might be expected, right-wing reactionaries think that communist propaganda is seamless and all-controlling. The commercial practitioners think propaganda is very systemic in communist countries, grinding down the population into mindless robots. But in capitalist "democracies" the competition between Republicans and Democrats cancels each other out and the voter is free to decide. In advertising, commercial practitioners deny any orchestration. Advertising techniques are a set of gimmicks and recipes. For mass communication theorists, competition between fields of science allows no overall propaganda that crosses fields. Critical thinking theorists, muckrakers and radical leftists think that propaganda is systematic and orchestrated. Ellul's sociologist theory has the most to say about this. For him, propaganda is carefully drawn from sociology and psychological research about the needs and psychological mechanisms of the public. There is knowledge about groups and its laws of formation and dissolution. Propaganda is also based on the Pavlov's laws of association.

Is mass media a tool of control or is it neutral?

Reactionary conservatives say mass media is a passive tool used by liberals and communists. It accuses mass media of a "liberal bias". Both commercial practitioners and mass media communications theories see mass media as a pure clearing house for finding out either what consumers want economically or what they want politically (through polling). For critical thinking advocates, all forms of mass media are designed to make people take cognitive shortcuts. Muckrakers think that mass media owners have their own self-interests in making money and they are not completely beholden to the ruling class. As left liberals they might point at neoconservative media like Fox News as controlling mass media. Like reactionary conservatives, radical leftists think of mass media as having no independent power and are the tools of ruling class or conservative forces.

Epistemology, Irrationality and Psychological Mechanisms

Is propaganda about lying?

Both the right-wing reactionaries and the left-wing socialists naively think that propaganda is about lies and that truth has no element of propaganda in it. For commercial practitioners' propaganda is white propaganda – white lies, tall stories, euphemisms and cliches. Mass communications theorists say propaganda is lies about facts. They agree that propaganda could never be based on the truth. Muckrakers also tend to believe propaganda is usually about incorrect facts. Critical thinking theorists think that propaganda can be about lies or about the truth. Ellul's understanding was the most sophisticated. He followed what Goebbels said about propaganda. The best propaganda is based on facts. Where the propaganda enters is in how the facts are interpreted. Like stereotypes, no propaganda could stick in people's minds if there wasn't more than a grain of truth to them.

Is propaganda about rationality or irrationality?

So, is propaganda rational or irrational? Right-wing reactionaries think that communist propaganda is super-rational and fail to take into consideration the emotional side of humanity. Left-wing socialists think that the appeal of reactionary conservatives, whether religious fundamentalists or fascists, is emotional and irrational. Appeals to God and country, blood and soil have no rational basis. Commercial practitioners and mass communication theorists both agree that propaganda is irrational. Commercial practitioners argue their techniques are to appeal to infantile fantasies, as we will see. Mass communication theorists think that anything outside their realm of science is potentially irrational. They think that privately people are more likely to be rational than as a mass. Both critical thinking theorists and muckrakers understand that propaganda can be both rational and irrational. Ellul agrees, adding that propaganda is mostly rational and that irrational propaganda (citing his book written in 1960) is a thing of the past.

What is the relationship between message, source and medium?

Reactionary conservatives are old-fashioned. They focus on the message and who the source is (is the source a front group for communists?) but they don't' take a stand as to whether the propaganda is from books, radio or television, or movies. Radical leftists are in the same boat except that they seek out which capitalist corporations might be behind the message. Commercial practitioners think the message, source and medium are not problematic. All are neutral and individuals are free to make up their own minds. Mass communications theorists are not critical of the message or the medium. They think of mediums as interchangeable. However, they do care about the source of the message and how well the message was received by the masses.

Critical thinking advocates are critical of messages and the political leanings of the sources. They are sensitive to which medium the message comes through because fast mass media will not allow people to digest the information and take it apart critically.  It is the muckrakers who are the most critical of all three. As journalists, they are very aware that movies have enormous propaganda potential for storytelling. Television and radio communicate more quickly and there is little time to think. Books, newspapers and magazines have less propaganda potential because the audience can regulate the information at their own pace. The sociological school of Ellul is more critical of the message and the medium but pays less attention to the source.

Does propaganda want to change attitudes or change actions?

Commercial practitioners were among the first theorists to understand that it is much too difficult to try to change people's attitudes. It was only later that the reasons came out. Attitudes are based on long-standing socialization processes involving family, friends, religious training and elementary education. These socialization processes are too deeply ingrained to change with any short-term propaganda. Therefore, these practitioners target reinforcing existing attitudes but with a slight twist that might provide an impetus to buy something.

Reactionary fascists like Goebbels also understood this and simply reinforced what the German masses seemed to believe. Ellul agrees that propaganda is not about changing attitudes but rather about strengthening what is already there. Mass communications theorists were not really interested in getting people to act, but they hoped that by studying attitudes of masses in polling, leaders could better match the wants of the masses so that they did not lead to destructive collective behavior. The radical left has been historically the most naïve about this, thinking that working class people's attitudes could be changed towards socialism. 

Propaganda mechanisms used

As far as the precise mechanisms used to propagandize people, only three of the seven theories have mechanisms identified. Commercial practitioners largely depend on both Pavlov in his laws of association and also Skinner's rewards and punishment scheduling. Lastly, they used an early version of Bandura's social modeling, having models who are attractive, powerful and seem to have expertise in the products they are advertising. This social modeling will cue the shortcuts of peripheral brain routes. Mass communications theorist Herbert Lasswell had a lot to say about techniques. In addition to working in mass communication he was also involved with the State Department. Lasswell identified three kinds of symbols:

  • Symbols of demand – the aspirations of the group seeking to produce events
  • Symbols of identification – defining the needs of the protagonist and the antagonist
  • Symbols of expectation – presenting facts as immediate or future objectives

Mass communication theorists also used Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory, which involved manipulating the desire for cognitive consistency.

Ellul also relied on conditioned reflexes but then added two other processes:

  • Mithridatization which acted like a sedative
  • Sensibilization which acted like a stimulant

To paraphrase, Ellul (183) mithridatization (the sedative part) is a toxin antitoxin process whereby a person is rendered immune to a poison by tolerating gradually increased doses of it. Closing up, he becomes insensitive to propaganda as a result of past shocks. He no longer looks at posters. He no longer reads the newspaper, but skims distractedly over it. Yet he continues to obey the catchwords of propaganda.

In a mass communication society, the individual no longer has either the independence or the choice of activities sufficient to release his tensions in an appropriate way. He is forced to keep them inside. Goebbels writes that propaganda should reduce frustrations and artificially resolve real problems and anticipate the frustrations to come when they cannot avoid them. Propaganda is like a cure that would numb the liver of an alcoholic in such a way that he could continue to get drunk without feeling pain in his liver, even though it would still kill him. Propaganda suppresses the warning signals that his anxieties, maladjustments, rebellions and demands once supplied. Now he is no more himself than he is when he reacts biologically to a tranquilizer. Propaganda will appear to be a true remedy, but for a sickness deliberately provoked to fit the remedy. Propaganda will intervene as the fake instrument for reducing these tensions by external action. They will flee contradictions by escape through the contemporary ideology of happiness.

If mithridatization is cooling people out, sensibilization is riling people up. Sensibilization is the increase of sensitivity or susceptibility to stimulation. Ellul says the individualist is more sensitive, not to the content but to the impetus it gives him for the excitement it makes him feel. He needs refreshment, a booster shot. When he goes to political movies it gives an outlet.  Propaganda offers release on a grand scale. Just like in Orwell's 1984 two-minute hate rants, it will permit hatred and provides an object of hatred. It points out enemies to be slain – Jews, bourgeoisie, or communists. Authoritarian governments allow satirical journals attacking the authorities or a wild holiday paid for by the dictator (The Friday of Sorrows in Guatemala). The bureaucrat becomes the scapegoat, while the party remains above reproach. Letters to the editor by the public serve a similar function in Yankeedom. The sensibilization process has a freshness and novelty which correspond to new situations and gives the individualist the impression of having invented new ideals. It provides humanity with a high ideal and permits him to give into his passions while seeming to accomplish a great mission.

How quickly does propaganda work?

All schools of propaganda agree that propaganda works slowly. However, reactionary conservatives imagine that propaganda can also work suddenly as in a religious conversion. Commercial advertisers know that success is not getting someone to buy a new product but to influence an audience to change brands within a product the person buys regularly. They well understand that their propaganda does not stay with the masses for long. Mass communications theorists agree. Speaking politically, muckrakers understand that propaganda cannot dictate what a person thinks. However, through censorship, they can limit the parameters of what an audience can think about. In other words, political propaganda in Yankeedom cannot convince you to vote Republican or Democrat. However, by their refusal to allow third parties into debates they can define the parameters of what audiences think about. The viability of the capitalist system, the imperialist wars overseas and the prison industrial complex are issues outside the Republican-Democrat parameters, so they get no airtime.

For its time, the most sophisticated dynamical version of the relationship between the speed at which propaganda works is Ellul's distinction between sociological propaganda and political propaganda. Political propaganda works quickly, attempting to spread a doctrine, dividing and excluding people, as in wars and revolutions. The language is emotional loaded with virtue and vice words. Political propaganda works best in public settings where people are at the same place and the same time. People are swept out of everyday life into a kind of adventure. Political propaganda may be overt at the culmination of a campaign, but much of political propaganda is covert beforehand.

At the other extreme, sociological propaganda attempts to unify rather than divide people. It works slowly and methodically. No crisis is at hand and society is moving along at a normal pace. Whereas political propaganda spreads a political doctrine, sociological propaganda spreads a way of life. While political propaganda works best in public, sociological propaganda does not require being in the same place and the same time. Masses take in sociological propaganda over months and even years. Sociological propaganda such as advertising, movies, sports and education is overt in part because it is not perceived as propaganda. The language of sociological propaganda is not inflammatory. It acts as a sedative, using euphemisms, clichés or vague terminology. The purpose is to support the existing system rather than overturn it. Please see Table A for a full comparison.

How Are the Dominant Institutions and the Public Perceived?

Dominant institutions: Controlling or neutral?

Reactionary conservatives are paranoid, thinking that dominant institutions have been taken over by socialists or communists. The radical left-wingers of propaganda theory think that the state, mass media, the educational system and religious institutions are all determined by capitalists' drive for profits. They follow a version of Marx's dominant ideology theory where the ideas of the ruling class became the predominant ideology of the workers.

Both the commercial practitioners and mass communications theorists think these dominant institutions are just fine. Commercial practitioners think these institutions are simply quantitative outgrowths of free speech. Mass communication scientists think state, media, education and religious forces all compete and so there is no central control. Critical thinking theorists will be moderately skeptical of these social institutions, but they say the main problem is people's emotionalism and suggestibility. Muckrakers are cynical about these institutions because they organize themselves to influence the public in a certain direction before the public can formulate and articulate its own needs. This takes place through think tanks, lobbyists and foundations.

Ellul argues that all the dominant institutions are there to perpetuate their own existence and this applies to both capitalist and socialist societies. Surprisingly, Ellul says that it is not the ruling class that is responsible for mass propaganda. They are too remote to understand how to influence the lower classes. Instead, it turns the job over to the upper-middle class. But as Ellul points out, the upper-middle class does not do a good job with it. The lower classes do not read newspapers or magazines. The lower classes are more susceptible to TV, especially to shows depicting upper-middle class life. The lower classes have their own music and sports which the upper-middle class does not understand or belittles.

Masses: passive, active, neutral?

Up to now, we haven't clarified how well or badly propaganda works with the masses. Are masses passive, active, neutral or passive and active together? Reactionary conservatives do not trust masses because they are distrustful of mass society. For them, masses are dupes of communist ideology. They believe they are also dangerous when manipulated by communists. It is only at the individual level that the average person thinks more clearly, so they follow a version of Gustav LeBon's crowd theory.  The commercial practitioners look at the targets of their advertising campaigns as passive and hedonistic. They also agree with Veblen's emulation theory that masses want to "keep up with the Joneses". But at the same time, they cynically present the masses as freely choosing consumers. Ellul is rather hopeless about the masses, seeing them as disorganized and passive.

Mass communications theorists are more hopeful about the masses. They are passive but can become active once the facts are given to them by the polls. For critical theorists, there is a big difference between publics and masses. Publics have more potential because they meet in face-to-face gatherings. Masses cannot see each other face-to-face and can be active only if they have overcome the reasoning fallacies. Muckrakers think of the masses as temporarily foolish but as potentially active, capable of cooperation, but simply lack information about how dominant organizations obstruct their judgment. The job of muckrakers is to expose dominant institutions. The radical left understands the public most dialectically. They see the masses as victims of capitalist institutions. But they can become active and revolutionary when not oppressed by capitalist forces.

Dynamics between dominant institutions and masses: mechanical or dialectical?

There are two ways to imagine how the relationship between the dominant order and the masses can be conceived: either mechanically or dialectically. Both the radical right and the radical left have a mechanical understanding of the relationship. Both have what is called a hypodermic needle picture. The reactionary conservatives think that people are helplessly injected with communist propaganda unless combated by the forces of anti-communism. With the exception of mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich, leftist until the 1970s saw masses of people brainwashed by capitalist institutions which could only be overcome by the agitation of socialist organizers.

The commercial practitioners talk out of both sides of their mouths. They present the masses of people as being in control of their desires (the consumer is king) while the advertising agencies are simply doing the bidding of the public. So, the masses are the ones injecting the passive advertisers. But behind closed doors, advertisers think the masses are stupid. However, in practice they are always surprised that their advertising campaigns often fail. Mass communication scientists, critical thinking advocates and muckrakers all agree that the dominant institutions have the power, but the power is not so extreme that it can be called a hypodermic needle. Mass communications theorists understand the people in polls do not always go along with these institutions. The critical thinking movement argues that by utilizing more critical thinking tools masses can resist propaganda. Muckrakers also see people banding together and forming alternative media sources. Ellul sees the relationship between propagandists and masses as mutually constitutive. Masses need propagandists in order to understand more simply the complexity of the world. Propagandists need the masses to fight wars and produce profit.

Who is Most Susceptible?

Which social classes are most susceptible?

Earlier I said that reactionary conservatives had a rather cynical attitude towards the lower classes, dismissing them as dupes. However, they also think that it is the middle-class and upper-middle class intellectuals who promote communism, get carried away with the ideology they create and spin unrealistic prospects for a utopian future. Ellul agrees. He also says the social class most susceptible to propaganda is the upper-middle class for they are the ones who are creating the symbol systems and they are the most enthralled with them. He believes that they are more interested in the social issues that the propagandists target and because they are convinced of their own superiority in understanding them. They are more vulnerable to propaganda because they think they are beyond it.

The commercial practitioners also think the middle and upper middle classes are better targets because they have the money to buy the products. Advertisers spend much less of their money targeting the lower classes because the profit margins are too low. Mass communication theorists think the lower classes are more vulnerable because they are not interested in science and are irrational. Critical theorists think working-class, and especially poor, people fall for propaganda because they are less likely to have gone to college and been more likely to learn critical thinking skills. Radical leftists think working-class people are most vulnerable because they do not have the leisure time to understand precisely how they are being manipulated.

Are collectivists or individualists more vulnerable to propaganda?

Reactionary conservatives think that the individualism of industrial capitalist societies make people more vulnerable to propaganda because city living creates rootless individuals who are alienated from the religions that once gave them comfort. Conservatives don't think that religion in itself is a form of propaganda. Ellul agrees, saying masses of people are more vulnerable to propaganda than the face-to-face public relations of people living in collectivist societies.

Commercial practitioners agree that the lack of mass media in agricultural or tribal societies make them less vulnerable. People in pre-industrial societies do not seem to have the "infinite needs" of individualists in industrial capitalist societies, most of which is created by advertisers in the first place. Mass media communications theorists, on the other hand, think propaganda is more prevalent in collectivist societies (religious beliefs, superstition) and that democratic processes in industrial capitalist societies would train them to be less vulnerable. Critical thinking theorists think collectivists' lack of training in critical thinking would make them more vulnerable to propaganda.  Both the muckrakers and the radical left think the individualists of industrial capitalist societies are more vulnerable because they think they are too smart to be propagandized.

Who is easiest to mobilize: the committed, the indifferent or the undecided?

All seven propaganda theorists agree that people who are already committed to a position cannot be propagandized. They have too much of a stake in what they already believe to change. At the other extreme, it is too difficult to move people out of a position of indifference. When people don't care, something dramatic has to happen like a natural disaster, a stock market crash or a revolution to make them care. Propaganda is not strong enough by itself. The people who are most likely to be moved to change propaganda are those who are mobilized but haven't made up their minds. This is one reason why politicians in Yankeedom work harder to appeal to voters in swing states. They don't bother with people who have demographically been shown not to vote, nor with states that have a history of voting consistently for Republican or Democratic candidates.

What is the Relationship Between Democracy and Propaganda?

Superficially it would seem that democracy and propaganda are at opposite points on the spectrum. Societies that were democratic would not have propaganda and those who had propaganda were in some ways not democratic. But the problem is that the seven theories of propaganda do not agree about what democracy is.

Most agree that democracy is defined politically as the right to vote. However, both commercial practitioners and the radical left think of democracy as economic, rather than political. Commercial practitioners think democracy is about consumption, having infinite choices in commodities is what democracy is all about. The radical left think democracy is about controlling the workplaces and deciding economically what is produced, how it is produced and where it goes. Mass communication theorists are the most middle of the road, thinking that democracy is having two political parties and voting for them. Critical thinking advocates think that democracy is less about parties and more about issues. Thus, critical thinking texts often have a section with perhaps, ten or twelve of the typical issues Republicans and Democrats argue about in Congress. The job of a critical thinker is to use critical thinking skills to write about or debate the issues. Muckrakers go further and argue that party debate or examining the issues are both done by individuals. For them democracy is about learning how to participate in small groups, coming to group decisions. An example of that is something called "participatory budgeting" where at city council meetings citizens come together to decide on the priorities of a city budget.

Both Ellul and reactionary conservatives think that democracy doesn't work, but for different reasons. Ellul simply thinks democracy is impossible in a modern society and the word itself is used for propagandistic purposes to give people the illusion of choice. For the reactionary conservatives, democracy is looked upon as an unfavorable turn of events at the end of the 19th century. For political conservatives there is a natural hierarchy, placing people with superior talent and good breeding at the top and their inferiors at the bottom.  Democracy is understood as the rule of a mob that should never rule. Ortega Y Gasset would be the appropriate theoretician for this view.

Please see Table B for a summary of the seven propaganda theorists and their books spanning from the 1920s to the 1960s.

* First published in Socialist Planning After Capitalism

The post Jacques Ellul: Controversies in the Rise of Propaganda first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 15 Apr 2021 | 11:46 pm

Murder of Daunte Wright Ruined Derek Chauvin Show Trial


The fix was in. The U.S. state was determined to demonstrate to the world that its system was able to render "justice" to its captive African/Black population.

So, unlike in the handful of cases where charges were brought against police officers for killing a Black or Brown person, the prosecutors this time did not pretend to follow the demands of the ill-informed public to bring charges of first degree or second-degree murder that would set a bar for conviction so high, it could not be met. That is a favorite strategy of prosecutors when conviction is not what they are looking for.

The prosecutors in the Derek Chauvin case did the opposite. They stacked the charges in a way that would make it impossible to escape a conviction. And everyone fell in line because the stakes were so high. Could the Shining City on the Hill, whose leadership was now associated with the "decent" Democrats, render justice for the killer of George Floyd? The answer to that question was going to be an emphatic yes. The press committed to gavel-to-gavel coverage and everything was ready for one the greatest show trials of U.S. history.

But the intractable, racist nature of the relationship between Black people and the U.S. settler-colonial state reared its ugly head again and everything went off script right in the middle of the international production. That is because another young Black male was gunned down, ironically in the same metropolitan area where Floyd's life was snatched from him.

Everything was now confused again. What would justice mean for Floyd and any other Black individual murdered or assaulted by agents of the state even if Chauvin is convicted? Would the call for "justice" now just mean a demand for a trial since it is clear cases of Black murder will continue, as they have since the inception of this nation? Is that not what made the U.S. "exceptional" as the first republic ever established on the basis of race in human history?

The ruling class response to Covid-19 demonstrated how cheap life is in the United States, but the lives of Black people are even lower on the scale of human value. Yet, the charade continues. U.S. authorities gun down Black people in the United States, while its armies kill Black and other colonized peoples and nations around the world in the name of advancing democracy.

Everyone knows, really, that the murder of George Floyd was no more an aberration in U.S. society than the election of Donald Trump in 2016 was. Extreme, systematic, murderous violence has always been at the heart of the white supremacist settler project. The Chauvin show trial was just supposed to help us to forget that for a moment.

It did not matter that no one was held accountable for the murder of Freddie Gray, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, or the now countless murders where local prosecutors failed to bring charges and the government under the Obama and Trump administrations made political decisions not to launch federal investigations.

This case was different. It could not be ignored or explained away. The world had seen the gruesome snuff film of George Floyd that evoked global revulsion. An inflection point had been reached in which the U.S. brand was potentially damaged beyond repair—so a sacrifice was required.

With the killing of Daunte Wright, a mistrial may not be the result and Chauvin will probably be convicted. That conviction, however, will not have the effect that the plan had originally imagined. Out of the confusion around what is to be demanded when the killings continue, is the slow awakening to the unavoidable reality that unless African/Black people are able to self-govern and exercise authentic collective self-determination, the degradation and dehumanization that is built into the white supremacist DNA of settler-colonialism will continue to produce Breonna Taylors, Eric Garners, mass incarceration, and crimes against our collective humanity.

And how do we shift that power? Malcolm X gave us a direction from the radical Black human rights tradition. He said you must be ready to pay the price required to experience full dignity as a person and as members of a self-determinant people.

And what is that price?

The price to make others respect your human rights is death. You have to be ready to die… it's time for you and me now to let the world know how peaceful we are, how well-meaning we are, how law-abiding we wish to be. But at the same time, we have to let the same world know we'll blow their world sky-high if we're not respected and recognized and treated the same as other human beings are treated.

That outcome cannot be scripted by Hollywood or the state propagandists.

The post Murder of Daunte Wright Ruined Derek Chauvin Show Trial first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 15 Apr 2021 | 8:22 am

Public Funds For Charter Schools Is Socially Irresponsible


Public money comes from the new value workers produce. It does not come from somewhere else. This value is presently controlled not by those who produce it but by the financial oligarchy and its state. When socially-produced wealth is not controlled by those who actually produce it, endless problems arise. There is no way for the economy to benefit all individuals and serve the general interests of society when it is dominated by a handful of billionaires.

Socially-produced wealth belongs to the public and must be used for social programs and public services that benefit the socialized economy and the general interests of society. This includes education, healthcare, municipal services, and more. This can be achieved when major economic decisions are made by a public authority worthy of the name. A government beholden to the rich and their political representatives leads only to more retrogressive developments.

Since public money does not come from, or belong to, narrow private interests, it must not be used for privatized education arrangements such as charter schools. That is socially irresponsible.

Privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools are contract schools run by unelected individuals. They are not state agencies like public schools. They differ significantly from public schools, legally, organizationally, ideologically, and otherwise. Besides being governed by unelected individuals, charter schools cannot levy taxes, frequently hire uncertified teachers, and do not operate according to the same laws, rules, and regulations as public schools. Many courts have ruled that charter schools are not public entities.  In addition, charter schools support fewer high-needs students than public schools and lack the transparency of public schools.  Charter schools intensify segregation and are often plagued by instability and corruption as well. Further, more than 150 charter schools close every year, usually for financial malfeasance, mismanagement, or academic failure. Between 1999 and 2017, more than one-quarter of charter schools closed after operating for only five years.  Such instability has left hundreds of thousands of minority students out in the cold. Many other problems could be listed.

Although they are not public agencies, privately-operated non-profit and for-profit charter schools siphon tens of billions of public dollars every year from the public purse, which leaves public schools worse off. In cities like Rochester and Buffalo, New York, charter schools collectively siphon over $225 million a year from under-funded public schools. And it does not help that the "results" delivered by privately-operated charter schools, especially cyber charter schools, are often unimpressive, if not abysmal.

All of this is inevitable when schools are run on the basis of "free market" ideology. Social responsibility and the "free market" simply do not go together. "Good business sense" and social responsibility negate each other. They are oxymorons, and attempts to blur the distinction between them should be opposed. Corporations pursuing maximum profits as fast as possible—unlimited greed—has nothing to do with serving the general interests of society. Social responsibilities like education must not be subjected to the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the "free market." The modern idea that humans are born to society and have rights by virtue of their being is alien to "free market" ideology.

Contrary to what neoliberals and privatizers claim, privatization does not serve the common good or improve "outcomes" for everyone. It just funnels public wealth produced by workers into the hands of narrow private interests, leaving fewer funds for the public and the economy.

The public, not narrow private interests, must have the first and last say over the use of public funds. Wealth produced collectively by workers must not escape their control. Socially-produced wealth must remain in public hands and not find its way to private entities. Publicly funded private entities and so-called public-private "partnerships" distort the socialized economy, increase inequality, diminish the voice of workers, and exacerbate a range of other problems. Around the globe, privatization in its many forms is intensifying problems in many sectors and spheres.

A modern economy and society cannot develop in a healthy, balanced, and self-reliant way when decisions are made mainly by competing owners of capital seeking to maximize profit as fast as possible. Education and all the affairs of society must be determined by working people, not by those who strive to use the new value produced by workers to enrich themselves.

Fight for public funds for public schools. Stand for social responsibility and oppose the flow of all public funds to charter schools. The powerful private companies that run charter schools must not receive any public funds or assets. Society needs a government that takes up its social responsibility to meet the broad educational needs of a modern society based on mass industrial production.

Charter schools are legal in 45 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Currently, about 3.3 million youth attend roughly 7,400 charter schools across the nation. This is a small fraction of all students and all schools in the United States.

The post Public Funds For Charter Schools Is Socially Irresponsible first appeared on Dissident Voice.
translate | 15 Apr 2021 | 7:40 am
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