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Subject: The Doors of Perception -Date: Thu, 15 Nov 2001 00:24:32 -0800
Why Americans Will Believe Most Anything...
Dear Members and Friends -
Aldous Huxley's inspired 1956 essay detailed the vivid, mind-expanding, multisensory insights of his mescaline adventures. By altering his brain chemistry with natural psychotropics, Huxley tapped into a rich and fluid world of shimmering, indescribable beauty and power. With his neurosensory input thus triggered, Huxley was able to enter that parallel universe described by every mystic and space captain in recorded history. Whether by hallucination or epiphany, Huxley sought to remove all controls, all filters, all cultural conditioning from his perceptions and to confront Nature or the World or Reality first-hand - in its unpasteurized, unedited, unretouched, infinite rawness.
Those bonds are much harder to break today, half a century later. We are the most conditioned, programmed beings the world has ever known. Not only are our thoughts and attitudes continually being shaped and molded; our very awareness of the whole design seems like it is being subtly and inexorably erased. The doors of our perception are carefully and precisely regulated. Who cares, right?
It is an exhausting and endless task to keep explaining to people how most issues of conventional wisdom are scientifically implanted in the public consciousness by a thousand media clips per day. In an effort to save time, I would like to provide just a little background on the handling of information in this country. Once the basic principles are illustrated about how our current system of media control arose historically, the reader might be more apt to question any given popular opinion.
If everybody believes something, it's probably wrong. We call that Conventional Wisdom.
In America, conventional wisdom that has mass acceptance is usually contrived: somebody paid for it.
This is a list of illusions, that have cost billions and billions to conjure up. Did you ever wonder why you never see the President speaking publicly unless he is reading? Or why most people in this country think generally the same about most of the above issues?
HOW THIS WHOLE SET-UP GOT STARTED
In "Trust Us; We're Experts," Stauber and Rampton pull together some compelling data describing the science of creating public opinion in America. They trace modern public influence back to the early part of the last century, highlighting the work of guys like Edward L. Bernays, the Father of Spin. From his own amazing chronicle Propaganda, we learn how Edward L. Bernays took the ideas of his famous uncle Sigmund Freud himself and applied them to the emerging science of mass persuasion. The only difference was that instead of using these principles to uncover hidden themes in the human unconscious, the way Freudian psychology does, Bernays used these same ideas to mask agendas and to create illusions that deceive and misrepresent, for marketing purposes.
THE FATHER OF SPIN
Bernays dominated the PR industry until the 1940s, and was a significant force for another 40 years after that. (Tye) During all that time, Bernays took on hundreds of diverse assignments to create a public perception about some idea or product. A few examples: As a neophyte with the Committee on Public Information, one of Bernays' first assignments was to help sell the First World War to the American public with the idea to "Make the World Safe for Democracy." (Ewen)
A few years later, Bernays set up a stunt to popularize the notion of women smoking cigarettes. In organizing the 1929 Easter Parade in New York City, Bernays showed himself as a force to be reckoned with. He organized the Torches of Liberty Brigade in which suffragettes marched in the parade smoking cigarettes as a mark of women's liberation. Such publicity, followed from that one event, that from then on, women have felt secure about destroying their own lungs in public, the same way that men have always done.
Bernays popularized the idea of bacon for breakfast. Not one to turn down a challenge, he set up the advertising format along with the AMA that lasted for nearly 50 years proving that cigarettes are beneficial to health. Just look at ads in issues of Life or Time from the 40s and 50s.
During the next several decades Bernays and his colleagues evolved the principles by which masses of people could be generally swayed through messages repeated over and over hundreds of times. Once the value of media became apparent, other countries of the world tried to follow our lead. But Bernays really was the gold standard. Josef Goebbels, who was Hitler's minister of propaganda, studied the principles of Edward Bernays when Goebbels was developing the popular rationale he would use to convince the Germans that they had to purify their race. (Stauber)
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Bernay's job was to reframe an issue; to create a desired image that would put a particular product or concept in a desirable light. Bernays described the public as a 'herd that needed to be led.' And this herdlike thinking makes people "susceptible to leadership." Bernays never deviated from his fundamental axiom to "control the masses without their knowing it." The best PR happens when people are unaware that they are being manipulated.
Stauber describes Bernays' rationale like this: "the scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in a democratic society." Trust Us p.42
These early mass persuaders postured themselves as performing a moral
service for humanity in general - democracy was too good for people; they
needed to be told what to think, because they were incapable of rational
thought by themselves. Here's a paragraph from Bernays' Propaganda:
A tad different from Thomas Jefferson's view on the subject: "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate power of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise that control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not take it from them, but to inform their discretion."
Inform their discretion. Bernays believed that only a few possessed the necessary insight into the Big Picture to be entrusted with this sacred task. And luckily, he saw himself as one of that few.
HERE COMES THE MONEY
A few examples:
Though world-famous within the PR industry, these are names we don't know, and for good reason. The best PR goes unnoticed. For decades they have created the opinions that most of us were raised with, on virtually any issue which has the remotest commercial value, including:
So that's exactly what Bernays did. With a policy inspired by genius, he set up "more institutes and foundations than Rockefeller and Carnegie combined." (Stauber p 45) Quietly financed by the industries whose products were being evaluated, these "independent" research agencies would churn out "scientific" studies and press materials that could create any image their handlers wanted. Such front groups are given high-sounding names like:
Temperature Research Foundation
Sound pretty legit, don't they?
CANNED NEWS RELEASES
Does this really happen? Every single day, since the 1920s when the idea of the News Release was first invented by Ivy Lee. (Stauber, p 22) Sometimes as many as half the stories appearing in an issue of the Wall St. Journal are based solely on such PR press releases.. (22) These types of stories are mixe d right in with legitimately researched stories. Unless you have done the research yourself, you won't be able to tell the difference.
THE LANGUAGE OF SPIN
* technology is a religion unto itself
* if people are incapable of rational thought, real democracy is dangerous
* important decisions should be left to experts
* when reframing issues, stay away from substance; create images
* never state a clearly demonstrable lie
Words are very carefully chosen for their emotional impact. Here's an example. A front group called the International Food Information Council handles the public's natural aversion to genetically modified foods. Trigger words are repeated all through the text. Now in the case of GM foods, the public is instinctively afraid of these experimental new creations which have suddenly popped up on our grocery shelves which are said to have DNA alterations.
The IFIC wants to reassure the public of the safety of GM foods, so it
avoids words like:
Instead, good PR for GM foods contains words like:
It's basic Freudian/Tony Robbins word association. The fact that GM foods are not hybrids that have been subjected to the slow and careful scientific methods of real cross-breeding doesn't really matter. This is pseudoscience, not science. Form is everything and substance just a passing myth. (Trevanian)
Who do you think funds the International Food Information Council? Take a wild guess. Right - Monsanto, DuPont, Frito-Lay, Coca Cola, Nutrasweet - those in a position to make fortunes from GM foods. (Stauber p 20)
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD PROPAGANDA
- dehumanize the attacked party by labeling and name calling
Keep this list. Start watching for these techniques. Not hard to find Look at today's paper or tonight's TV news. See what they're doing; these guys are good!
SCIENCE FOR HIRE
Stauber tells the amazing story of how leaded gas came into the picture. In 1922, General Motors discovered that adding lead to gasoline gave cars more horsepower. When there was some concern about safety, GM paid the Bureau of Mines to do some fake "testing" and publish spurious research that 'proved' that inhalation of lead was harmless. Enter Charles Kettering. Founder of the world famous Sloan-Kettering Memorial Institute for medical research, Charles Kettering also happened to be an executive with General Motors.
By some strange coincidence, we soon have the Sloan Kettering institute issuing reports stating that lead occurs naturally in the body and that the body has a way of eliminating low level exposure. Through its association with The Industrial Hygiene Foundation and PR giant Hill & Knowlton, Sloane Kettering opposed all anti-lead research for years. (Stauber p 92). Without organized scientific opposition, for the next 60 years more and more gasoline became leaded, until by the 1970s, 90% or our gasoline was leaded.
Finally it became too obvious to hide that lead was a major carcinogen, and leaded gas was phased out in the late 1980s. But during those 60 years, it is estimated that some 30 million tons of lead were released in vapor form onto American streets and highways. 30 million tons.
That is PR, my friends.
In 1993 a guy named Peter Huber wrote a new book and coined a new term. The book was Galileo's Revenge and the term was junk science. Huber's shallow thesis was that real science supports technology, industry, and progress. Anything else was suddenly junk science. Not surprisingly, Stauber explains how Huber's book was supported by the industry-backed Manhattan Institute.
Huber's book was generally dismissed not only because it was so poorly written, but because it failed to realize one fact: true scientific research begins with no conclusions. Real scientists are seeking the truth because they do not yet know what the truth is.
True scientific method goes like this:
1. form a hypothesis
Boston University scientist Dr. David Ozonoff explains that ideas in science are themselves like "living organisms, that must be nourished, supported, and cultivated with resources for making them grow and flourish." (Stauber p 205) Great ideas that don't get this financial support because the commercial angles are not immediately obvious - these ideas wither and die.
Another way you can often distinguish real science from phony is that real science points out flaws in its own research. Phony science pretends there were no flaws.
THE REAL JUNK SCIENCE
Stauber documents the increasing amount of corporate sponsorship of university research. (206) This has nothing to do with the pursuit of knowledge. Scientists lament that research has become just another commodity, something bought and sold. (Crossen)
THE TWO MAIN TARGETS OF "SOUND SCIENCE"
It's a funny thing that most of the time when we see the phrase "junk science," it is in a context of defending something that may threaten either the environment or our health. This makes sense when one realizes that money changes hands only by selling the illusion of health and the illusion of environmental protection. True public health and real preservation of the earth's environment have very low market value.
Stauber thinks it ironic that industry's self-proclaimed debunkers of junk science are usually non-scientists themselves. (255) Here again they can do this because the issue is not science, but the creation of images.
THE LANGUAGE OF ATTACK
The next time you are reading a newspaper article about an environmental or health issue, note how the author shows bias by using the above terms. This is the result of very specialized training.
Another standard PR tactic is to use the rhetoric of the environmentalists themselves to defend a dangerous and untested product that poses an actual threat to the environment. This we see constantly in the PR smokescreen that surrounds genetically modified foods. They talk about how GM foods are necessary to grow more food and to end world hunger, when the reality is that GM foods actually have lower yields per acre than natural crops. (Stauber p 173) The grand design sort of comes into focus once you realize that almost all GM foods have been created by the sellers of herbicides and pesticides so that those plants can withstand greater amounts of herbicides and pesticides. (The Magic Bean)
THE MIRAGE OF PEER REVIEW
Publish or perish is the classic dilemma of every research scientist. That means whoever expects funding for the next research project had better get the current research paper published in the best scientific journals. And we all know that the best scientific journals, like JAMA, New England Journal, British Medical Journal, etc. are peer-reviewed. Peer review means that any articles which actually get published, between all those full color drug ads and pharmaceutical centerfolds, have been reviewed and accepted by some really smart guys with a lot of credentials. The assumption is, if the article made it past peer review, the data and the conclusions of the research study have been thoroughly checked out and bear some resemblance to physical reality.
But there are a few problems with this hot little set up. First off, money.
Another problem is the conflict of interest thing. There's a formal requirement for all medical journals that any financial ties between an author and a product manufacturer be disclosed in the article. In practice, it never happens. A study done in 1997 of 142 medical journals did not find even one such disclosure. (Wall St. Journal, 2 Feb 99)
A 1998 study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that 96% of peer reviewed articles had financial ties to the drug they were studying. (Stelfox, 1998) Big shock, huh? Any disclosures? Yeah, right. This study should be pointed out whenever somebody starts getting too pompous about the objectivity of peer review, like they often do.
Then there's the outright purchase of space. A drug company may simply pay
$100,000 to a journal to have a favorable article printed. (Stauber, p 204)
Fraud in peer review journals is nothing new. In 1987, the New England
Journal ran an article that followed the research of R. Slutsky MD over a
seven year period. During that time, Dr. Slutsky
had published 137 articles in a number of peer-reviewed journals. NEJM found
that in at least 60 of these 137, there was evidence of major scientific
fraud and misrepresentation,
* reporting statistical analyses that were never done (Engler)
Dean Black PhD, describes what he the calls the "Babel Effect" that results when this very common and frequently undetected scientific fraudulent data in peer-reviewed journals are quoted by other researchers, who are in turn re-quoted by still others, and so on.
Want to see something that sort of re-frames this whole discussion? Check out the McDonald's ads which often appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Then keep in mind that this is the same publication that for almost 50 years ran cigarette ads proclaiming the health benefits of tobacco. (Robbins)
Very scientific, oh yes.
KILL YOUR TV?
Really feel like you need to "relax" or find out "what's going on in the world" for a few hours every day? Think about the news of the past couple of years for a minute. Do you really suppose the major stories that have dominated headlines and TV news have been "what is going on in the world?" Do you actually think there's been nothing going on besides the contrived tech slump, the contrived power shortages, the re-filtered accounts of foreign violence and disaster, and all the other non-stories that the puppeteers dangle before us every day? What about when they get a big one, like with OJ or Monica Lewinsky or the Oklahoma city bombing? Do we really need to know all that detail, day after day? Do we have any way of verifying all that detail, even if we wanted to? What is the purpose of news? To inform the public? Hardly. The sole purpose of news is to keep the public in a state of fear and uncertainty so that they'll watch again tomorrow and be subjected to the same advertising.
Oversimplification? Of course. That's the mark of mass media mastery - simplicity. The invisible hand. Like Edward Bernays said, the people must be controlled without them knowing it.
Consider this: what was really going on in the world all that time they were distracting us with all that stupid vexatious daily smokescreen? Fear and uncertainty -- that's what keeps people coming back for more.
If this seems like a radical outlook, let's take it one step further: What would you lose from your life if you stopped watching TV and stopped reading newspapers altogether?
Would your life really suffer any financial, moral, intellectual or academic loss from such a decision?
Do you really need to have your family continually absorbing the illiterate, amoral, phony, uncultivated, desperately brainless values of the people featured in the average nightly TV program? Are these fake, programmed robots "normal"? Do you need to have your life values constantly spoon-fed to you? Are those shows really amusing, or just a necessary distraction to keep you from looking at reality, or trying to figure things out yourself by doing a little independent reading?
Name one example of how your life is improved by watching TV news and reading the evening paper. What measurable gain is there for you?
PLANET OF THE APES?
Or observe the intellectual level of the average movie which these days may only last one or two weeks in the theatres, especially if it has insufficient explosions, chase scenes, silicone, fake martial arts, and cretinesque dialogue. Radio? Consider the low mental qualifications of the falsely animated corporate simians hired as DJs -- seems like they're only allowed to have 50 thoughts, which they just repeat at random. And at what point did popular music cease to require the study of any musical instrument or theory whatsoever, not to mention lyric? Perhaps we just don't understand this emerging art form, right? The Darwinism of MTV - apes descended from man.
Ever notice how most articles in any of the glossy magazines sound like they were all written by the same guy? And this writer just graduated from junior college? And yet has all the correct opinions on social issues, no original ideas, and that shallow, smug, homogenized corporate omniscience, to assure us that everything is going to be fine...
Yes, everything is fine.
All this is great news for the PR industry - makes their job that much easier. Not only are very few paying attention to the process of conditioning; fewer are capable of understanding it even if somebody explained it to them.
TEA IN THE CAFETERIA Let's say you're in a crowded cafeteria, and you buy a cup of tea. And as you're about to sit down you see your friend way across the room. So you put the tea down and walk across the room and talk to your friend for a few minutes. Now, coming back to your tea, are you just going to pick it up and drink it? Remember, this is a crowded place and you've just left your tea unattended for several minutes. You've given anybody in that room access to your tea.
Why should your mind be any different? Turning on the TV, or uncritically absorbing mass publications every day - these activities allow access to our minds by "just anyone" - anyone who has an agenda, anyone with the resources to create a public image via popular media. As we've seen above, just because we read something or see something on TV doesn't mean it's true or worth knowing. So the idea here is, like the tea, the mind is also worth guarding, worth limiting access to it.
This is the only life we get. Time is our total capital. Why waste it allowing our potential, our personality, our values to be shaped, crafted, and limited according to the whims of the mass panderers? There are many truly important decisions that are crucial to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, decisions which require information and research. If it's an issue where money is involved, objective data won't be so easy to obtain. Remember, if everybody knows something, that image has been bought and paid for.
Real knowledge takes a little effort, a little excavation down at least one level below what "everybody knows."