How to Eat an Elephant - Propaganda - Chapter 01 - Shownotes


Chapter 01 - Organizing Chaos


page 9 (pdf 3)

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

"We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of."

"Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet."

"Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons—a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses."

page 10 (pdf 4)

"It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world."

No mincing of words here.

"It is not usually realized how necessary these invisible governors are to the orderly functioning of our group life."

"In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases."

Voting is the illusion of power. TODO

"Our Constitution does not envisage political parties as part of the mechanism of government, and its framers seem not to have pictured to themselves the existence in our national politics of anything like the modern political machine."

Depricating the constitution. TODO

"But the American voters soon found that without organization and direction their individual votes, cast, perhaps, for dozens or hundreds of candidates, would produce nothing but confusion. Invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice to two candidates, or at most three or four."

Justify the 2 party system. Us-vs-them mentality follows. Easier to control one or two parties than lots of free thinking individuals. TODO

"In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything. We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issues so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions."

Disdain for the common man. The common man can't study and make up his own mind. Is this because the so-called invisible government also pushes its endless "entertainment" and (make) work? The common man can't study because they have no time and/or are distracted by things like Hollywood. TODO

page 11 (pdf 5)

"From our leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public ques- tions; from some ethical teacher, be it a minister, a favorite essayist, or merely prevailing opinion, we accept a standardized code of social conduct to which we conform most of the time."

Media (or an "ethical teacher") delivers the order that the common man conforms to. TODO

"In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if every one went around pricing, and chemically testing before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would become hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea."

Strawman argument. You don't need to chemically test everything, though I think most people DO compare prices. In the modern world this is much less an issue, but even in the early 20th century people could have used heuristics to narrow thier choices. What do your neighbors and community at large say about product X? You could easily buy a different brand of soap or bread every week and make up your own mind. TODO

But no, we need a "vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds..." TODO

"It might be better to have, instead of propaganda and special pleading, committees of wise men who would choose our rulers, dictate our conduct, private and public, and decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and the best kinds of food for us to eat. But we have chosen the opposite method, that of open competition. We must find a way to make free competition function with reasonable smoothness. To achieve this society has consented to permit free competition to be organized by leadership and propaganda."

Notice how there is no alternative that the people might be in control of their own actions. It is either propaganda or "wise men" making all the decisions for the unwashed masses. TODO

page 12 (pdf 6)

"Some of the phenomena of this process are criticized—the manipulation of news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians and commercial products and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused. But such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life."

He doesn't even hide it: "the manipulation of news". This tactic may be "misued", but there is no other way (according to a propaganda proponent). Surely there is at a minimum some conflict of interest here. TODO

"As civilization has become more complex, and as the need for invisible government has been increasingly demonstrated, the technical means have been invented and developed by which opinion may be regimented. With the printing press and the newspaper, the railroad, the telephone, telegraph, radio and airplanes, ideas can be spread rapidly and even instanta- neously over the whole of America."

From newspapers, to radio, to television, to the internet, to social media. "Opinion may be regimented." TODO

page 13 (pdf 7)

"Modern means of communication—the power afforded by print, telephone, wireless and so forth, of rapidly putting through directive strategic or technical conceptions to a great number of cooperating centers, of getting quick replies and effective discussion—have opened up a new world of political processes. Ideas and phrases can now be given an effectiveness greater than the effectiveness of any personality and stronger than any sectional interest. The common design can be documented and sustained against perversion and betrayal. It can be elaborated and developed steadily and widely without personal, local and sectional misunderstanding." - H.G. Wells

Phrases like climate change, build back better, black lives matter, equal rights, diversity, inclusion. The whole of the world recognizes these slogans because a concerted and centralized media that delivers them. (note: I make no judgement on any of their validity, they are only examples). TODO

"Sustained against perversion and betrayal." Right or wrong, these slogans and ideas are browbeaten into us to the point where their actual meaning and their implied meaning becomes a gulf that can not be traversed. TODO

For example the slogan diversity is used to imply that all races/nationalities/sexes/etc should be mixed. If you take this to its logical conclusion though, it leads to homogeneity. TODO

Consider a simple example of race. If you mix all the races, eventually the whole planet would end up with olive skin, brown hair, and brown eyes. If you mix all the cultures, eventually you end up with one homogenized global culture. A painting is beautiful because of the interplay between the colors. If all the colors were mixed the painting would be one (brownish) color. TODO

Maybe this is good, maybe not, but the point here is that it is not diversity. TODO

"The groupings and affiliations of society to-day are no longer subject to "local and sectional" limitations. When the Constitution was adopted, the unit of organization was the village community, which produced the greater part of its own necessary commodities and generated its group ideas and opinions by personal contact and discussion directly among its citizens. But to-day, because ideas can be instantaneously transmitted to any distance and to any number of people, this geographical integration has been supplemented by many other kinds of grouping, so that persons having the same ideas and interests may be associated and regimented for common action even though they live thousands of miles apart."

This, particularly today in the internet age, seems to run counter to what Bernays has been saying. If the people in the village could generate their own ideas and opinions, why can't they do the same thing on a larger scale thanks to mass media? I think the answer in the early 20th century was that the people didn't have a voice in mass media. The media was controlled by a few powerful outlets. Today, with social media (that itself is not without manipulation and criticism) people can and in fact are generating their own ideas and opinions. The modern "problem" is that the masses don't necessarily for the "correct" opinions of the propagandists. TODO

Over several pages Bernays lists many dozen clubs, newspapers, and conferences as evidence of "how many and diverse are these cleavages in our society." In the age of the internet, the numbers are laughably low. There is no actual argument and it feels like Bernays is simply trying to overwhelm the reader with data. Who cares how many formal and unformal organizations there are? They are simply groups that have common interests. TODO

There are MANY "clubs", churches, newspapers, etc people of common opinion that are not geographically close can be targetted, whereas before you had geo limits on communication between communities. Mass media allows the demographics to emerge. TODO

A person in society is a member of many smaller groups what they learn in one they can introduce/support in another. (Like a game of telephone, the 'viral' spread of ideas.) TODO

page 17 (pdf 11)

"Thousands of women may unconsciously belong to a sorority which follows the fashions set by a single society leader."

"Unconsciously" is very telling here. TODO

"'Life' satirically expresses this idea in the reply which it represents an American as giving to the Britisher who praises this country for having no upper and lower classes or castes: 'Yeah, all we have is the Four Hundred, the White-Collar Men, Bootleggers, Wall Street Barons, Criminals, the D.A.R., the K.K.K., the Colonial Dames, the Masons, Kiwanis and Rotarians, the K. of C, the Elks, the Censors, the Cognoscenti, the Morons, Heroes like Lindy, the W.C.T.U., Poli- ticians, Menckenites, the Booboisie, Immigrants, Broadcasters, and—the Rich and Poor.'"

Here I want to point to "The Four Hundred", a class that may not be well known to many these days. It was basically the wealthiest and most powerful of the social elite. TODO

"Yet it must be remembered that these thousands of groups interlace. John Jones, besides being a Rotarian, is member of a church, of a fraternal order, of a political party, of a charitable organization, of a professional association, of a local chamber of commerce, of a league for or against prohibition or of a society for or against lowering the tariff, and of a golf club. The opinions which he receives as a Rotarian, he will tend to disseminate in the other groups in which he may have influence."

This shows how an idea may propagate between these disparate circles. Though by this very logic, they aren't very disparate at all. TODO

page 18 (pdf 12)

"This invisible, intertwining structure of groupings and associations is the mechanism by which democracy has organized its group mind and simplified its mass thinking."

Again this runs counter to what Bernays has been saying. These ideas, theoretically, would propagate via individuals who were influenced by the other individuals around them. While I can't argue that a mass thinking would emerge, the basis of this book is that a select few set the agenda. The interplay of independent ideas would likely be in somewhat of a flux, possibly settling for a time and then, with new information or inventions be upended temporarily. This stands in stark contrast to an idea repeated over and over again in the media until those that said idea benefits needs to be altered. In which case the media simply changes the tune and drives into the public mind the new parameters. TODO

" To deplore the existence of such a mechanism is to ask for a society such as never was and never will be."

Another strawman arguement. TODO

"Emil Ludwig represents Napoleon as "ever on the watch for indications of public opinion; always listening to the voice of the people, a voice which defies calculation. 'Do you know,' he said in those days, 'what amazes me more than all else? The impotence of force to organize anything.'""

"... impotence of force to organize anything." TODO

"It is the purpose of this book to explain the structure of the mechanism which controls the public mind, and to tell how it is manipulated by the special pleader who seeks to create public acceptance for a particular idea or commodity."

From the horses mouth: "It is the purpose of this book to explain the structure of the mechanism which controls the public mind..." TODO



Tags:  #Propaganda ,   #Influence ,   #Media ,   #Manipulation