Chris Hedges, Truthout: “ The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton’s draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.
Our economic crisis-despite the corporate media circus around the death of Michael Jackson or Gov. Mark Sanford’s marital infidelity or the outfits of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest incarnation, Brüno-barrels forward. And this crisis will lead to a period of profound political turmoil and change. Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower proto-fascist movements such as the Christian right…
How do we recover what was lost? How do we reclaim the culture that was destroyed by corporations? How do we fight back now that the consumer culture has fallen into a state of decay? What can we do to reverse the cannibalization of government and the national economy by the corporations?
All periods of profound change occur in a crisis. It was a crisis that brought us the New Deal, now largely dismantled by the corporate state. It was also a crisis that gave the world Adolf Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic. We can go in either direction. Events move at the speed of light when societies and cultural assumptions break down. There are powerful forces, which have no commitment to the open society, ready to seize the moment to snuff out the last vestiges of democratic egalitarianism. Our bankrupt liberalism, which naively believes that Barack Obama is the antidote to our permanent war economy and Wall Street fraud, will either rise from its coma or be rolled over by an organized corporate elite and their right-wing lap dogs. The corporate domination of the airwaves, of most print publications and an increasing number of Internet sites means we will have to search, and search quickly, for alternative forms of communication to thwart the rise of totalitarian capitalism.
Stuart Ewen, whose books “Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture” and “PR: A Social History of Spin” chronicle how corporate propaganda deformed American culture and pushed populism to the margins of American society, argues that we have a fleeting chance to save the country. I fervently hope he is right. He attacks the ideology of “objectivity and balance” that has corrupted news, saying that it falsely evokes the scales of justice. He describes the curriculum at most journalism schools as “poison.”…”Effective communication requires not simply an understanding of the facts, but how those facts will take place in the public mind,” Ewen said. “When Gustave Le Bon says it is not the facts in and of themselves which make a point but the way in which the facts take place, the way in which they come to attention, he is right.”…Walter Lippmann’s book “Public Opinion,” a manual for the power elite’s shaping of popular sentiments. Lippmann argued that the key to leadership in the modern age would depend on the ability to manipulate “symbols which assemble emotions after they have been detached from their ideas.” The public mind could be mastered, he wrote, through an “intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance.”…The public is bombarded with carefully crafted images meant to confuse propaganda with ideology and knowledge with how we feel. Human rights and labor groups, investigative journalists, consumer watchdog organizations and advocacy agencies have, in the face of this manipulation, inundated the public sphere with reports and facts. But facts alone, Ewen says, make little difference. And as we search for alternative ways to communicate in a time of crisis we must also communicate in new forms. We must appeal to emotion as well as to reason…The modern world, as Kafka predicted, has become a world where the irrational has become rational, where lies become true. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying and control of traditional sources of information. We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased. These lines diminish the power of reform, justice and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these lines are there…Corporate ideology, embodied in neoconservatism, has seeped into the attitudes of most self-described liberals. It champions unfettered capitalism and globalization as eternal. This is the classic tactic that power elites use to maintain themselves. The loss of historical memory, which “balanced and objective” journalism promotes, has only contributed to this fantasy. But the fantasy, despite the desperate raiding of taxpayer funds to keep the corporate system alive, is now coming undone. The lie is being exposed. And the corporate state is running scared…”Read ‘The Gettysburg Address,’” Ewen said. “Read Frederick Douglass’ autobiography or his newspaper. Read ‘The Communist Manifesto.’ Read Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man.’ All of these things are filled with an understanding that communicating ideas and producing forms of public communication that empower people, rather than disempowering people, relies on an integrated understanding of who the public is and what it might be. We have a lot to learn from the history of rhetoric. We need to think about where we are going. We need to think about what 21st century pamphleteering might be. We need to think about the ways in which the rediscovery of rhetoric-not lying, but rhetoric in its more conventional sense-can affect what we do. We need to look at those historical antecedents where interventions happened that stepped ahead of the news. And to some extent this is happening. We have the freest and most open public sphere since the village square.”
The battle ahead will be fought outside the journalistic mainstream, he said. The old forms of journalism are dying or have sold their soul to corporate manipulation and celebrity culture. We must now wed fact to rhetoric. We must appeal to reason and emotion. We must not be afraid to openly take sides, to speak, photograph or write on behalf of the disempowered. And, Ewen believes, we have a chance in the coming crisis to succeed.
“Pessimism is never useful,” he said. “Realism is useful, understanding the forces that are at play. To quote Antonio Gramsci, ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.’”