Posts By Mark Kernan

Obstruct Reality, Consciously Manipulate, and Deny the Denial: Propaganda, Irish Style

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The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Ask the vast majority of people who said that and it is a fair bet they will probably reply something like: Josef Goebbels, or maybe Stalin perhaps, Saddam Hussein might even come up, maybe even Henry Kissinger, or maybe even, in a lucid moment, they might reply Rupert Murdoch, or for that matter Denis O Brien.  The truth is they would be wrong on all accounts. Although they would at least be relatively close with the last two or three.

But no, none of them said it, but it is a sure bet that all of the above names would understand the sentiment.

The quote is the first sentence from a 1928 book called Propaganda. The writer was Edward Bernays who many regard as the founder of modern public relations.  As a bold and declarative sentence it leaves you in no doubt what so ever as to the logic underlying the words.

That is, the masses can be first organised and manipulated and secondly, even more important, they must be if “democracy” as it is largely understood today is to fulfil its function in maintaining market-driven politics. The logic therefore is that “the people”, the great mainstay of democratic theory and thought or so we are told, cannot and should not be trusted.

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The Power of the ‘Virtual Senate’

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To learn who rules over you, French philosopher Voltaire said, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise, or to paraphrase a little, not seriously criticise. But in 2014 in Ireland surely we can criticise who and whatever we want, isn’t that one of the cornerstones of democracy-free speech, freedom of expression, freedom to write whatever you want within certain legal and moral boundaries, defamation laws notwithstanding.  So who, or what, are we ruled over by. Who then can we not criticise, at least not seriously criticise anyway, not forensically, and least of all not in the papers and media outlets of record; the very same institutions that shape and set the agenda, and even manufacture opinion, and consent, to a largely passive audience.

This is not to say that criticism of a sort does not exist, often it is effective and succinct and written by commentators who are more than aware of the ideological parameters, rather it is to say that criticism when it actually does exist operates within very narrow boundaries of what can be said and printed, not to mention the narrow criteria upon which editorial decisions are made on what can be said, or perhaps even thought.  The more serious type of forensic criticism is filtered out, institutionally, ( obedience, conformity and compliance are not difficult to induce even in self-styled stroppy journalists) and sent packing to dissenting websites such as this one or perhaps to organisations such as Amnesty International, or to specialised human rights blogs for instance.

And so it is with the great behemoths of our day: the transnational corporation. If the Catholic Church or land-grabbing feudal fiefdoms were once the dominant institutions in our lives, then surely now, in the early 21st century, it is Apple, or Exxon Mobil, or Newscorp. They are so all pervasive as to be invisible, most of the time, as the truly dominant institutions must be.

Ideology always works best when it becomes normal, everyday, and commonplace ‘common sense’. For an example of how this ‘commonsense’ doctrine is mediated to us, one of thousands in our ‘newspapers of record’, take this ‘value-free’ economics article, particularly the first declaratory sentence.

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