Politics is all about preventing the bewildered herd from actually having a
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Politics is all about preventing the bewildered herd from actually having a say

Getting out to vote today? Can’t be bothered? I can sympathize with the latter, but the pretence of democracy we live becomes even more removed from reality if we don’t cast a ballot.

Of course, going out to vote doesn’t mean one’s given a whole lot of thought to the options. Some of us are “(insert name of party here)” supporters, come what may. Others vote the bums out. Others are victims of sloganeering and propaganda. Check that, even the most informed of us are still subjected to propaganda. The word is synonymous with politics.

As with all elections of late – for decades, in fact – there was little of substance discussed in the campaign. This one was noted, however, for its added mudslinging, as the Liberals, PCs and NDP all attempted to convince us they were the least worst of the mainstream parties.

I argued here that none of the above was a better option than those three parties, each of which is rife with deficiencies. None is fit to govern, but the next government will come from their ranks. The consequences will fall to us, and we’ll be to blame, largely due to decades of being willing participants in an effort to treat us as dumb cattle called upon every four years to provide a veneer of democracy to our political system.

To be sure, the combination of corruption, money, corporatism and outright stupidity is nothing like what’s on display in the U.S., but we’re still very much part of the propaganda model in which “the bewildered herd” – i.e. most of the citizenry – must be carefully controlled by the specialized, deserving elites who run things, in the words of journalist and mass culture commentator Walter Lippmann.

In his 1922 treatise Public Opinion, he praised the propaganda model that had grown out of the outright lies and deception of the First World War – specifically the moves undertaken by the U.S. government to sway the public’s anti-war stance to get the U.S. involved – as the right thing to do in order to prevent the herd/public from actually influencing policy.

In pointing out longstanding efforts to manufacture consent, Noam Chomsky, perhaps the greatest living intellectual and activist, has many times cited Lippmann’s work and how it was adopted by corporate interests and their political mandarins.  In his book Media Control, for instance, he addresses directly the treatment of citizens in a purported democracy.

“Now there are two ‘functions’ in a democracy: The specialized class, the responsible men, carry out the executive function, which means they do the thinking and planning and understand the common interests. Then, there is the bewildered herd, and they have a function in democracy too. Their function in a democracy, [Lippmann] said, is to be ‘spectators,’ not participants in action. But they have more of a function than that, because it’s a democracy. Occasionally they are allowed to lend their weight to one or another member of the specialized class. In other words, they’re allowed to say, ‘We want you to be our leader’ or ‘We want you to be our leader.’ That’s because it’s a democracy and not a totalitarian state. That’s called an election.  But once they’ve lent their weight to one or another member of the specialized class they’re supposed to sink back and become spectators of action, but not participants. That’s in a properly functioning democracy.”

In perpetuating that line of thinking, the media, an offshoot of the entertainment industry these days, is part of the indoctrination process. They help foster the agenda and keep people on an acceptable path.

“The bewildered herd is a problem. We’ve got to prevent their roar and trampling. We’ve got to distract them. They should be watching the Superbowl or sitcoms or violent movies. Every once in a while you call on them to chant meaningless slogans like “Support our troops.” You’ve got to keep them pretty scared, because unless they’re properly scared and frightened of all kinds of devils that are going to destroy them from outside or inside or somewhere, they may start to think, which is very dangerous, because they’re not competent to think. Therefore it’s important to distract them and marginalize them.”

The U.S. system is much more broken that way, but we’re all guilty of using stereotypes and economic assumptions that have largely come from decade upon decade of corporate public relations efforts and hijacking of government.

In the absence of an overly-hyped bogeyman – communism, the Soviets, the war on terror and similar overblown threats – Canadians have typically been offered up a steady diet of platitudes and attempts to buy our votes with our own money.

Here, the bewildered herd is asked to think only of personal gain. That was clearly on display in the Ontario election that wraps up today. The appeals to voters largely centered on short-term issues, most of them the priorities of bureaucrats and public sector unions looking to line their pockets at the public’s expense. As a rule, people don’t vote in society’s best interest, or even in their own long-term interests.

Adopting the business model that’s taken hold in the last three decades – today’s stock price, shareholder value and this quarter’s profits above all else – our political system has been shaped by constant lobbying from those who see society through only the lens of finances. It’s what’s made citizens no more than consumers.

Politicians, of course, have a built-in capacity for short-term thinking: the election cycle. They make promises and float policies designed for immediate impact – spend for votes today. That’s problematic in and of itself, as it gives little regard to the idea that actions taken now will have impacts years, sometimes decades down the road.

Making matters much worse, however, is the equally troubling issue of taxation. The promises they make come with a price, but 30 years of neoconservative lobbying and influence have made taxes a four-letter word, meaning many politicians will try to win votes by promising to spend today while simultaneously pledging to cut taxes. That often means deficits, a situation that’s ideal for politicians intent only on re-election: the bill won’t come due until later, when they’re off living comfortably on gold-plated government pensions.

That kind of thinking is what got us into today’s mess. In the course of a couple of generations, we’ve undone centuries of efforts to create a society based on the common good. Much of the we’re-all-in-this-together ideals that came out of the Great Depression and the Second World War, for instance, has been replaced by relentless individualism.

Long-term thinking is not just for issues such as climate change, though we’re not prepared to tackle even that challenge, despite the consequences. No, it’s all about living for today. But long-term planning is crucial for a host of issues that clearly part of today’s political reality, encompassing all levels: long-term resource consumption, human migration, transportation demands, retirement and pensions and the like. Our failure to do so has led to rampant consumerism, environmental crises, unchecked immigration, urban sprawl, financial speculation and a host of other ills that plague our economic, political and social systems.

None of those issues has been addressed in the campaign that ends with today’s vote, propaganda notwithstanding.

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  1. The most effective way to integrate the public with an improved political process would be through some form of Proportional Representation. Sadly giving most voters an actual say in our representation is something defenders of the status quo have been discrediting for more than a century (while 90+ more progressive nations have modernized their systems). This is, naturally a key issue for the Green Party (both federally and provincially), because Proportional Representation enables long term planning, an integral part of the Green Party, whose Green Vision seeks to extend policy consideration seven generations ahead with a comprehensive socially progressive fiscally responsible planning. Unfortunately the media largely overlooks the Greens. The public, by contrast, is beginning to listen.

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