If one accesses the alternative news and analysis platforms such as The Duran, Brian Beletic et al it comes as a shock to realise just how ill informed people are who rely on the mainstream media – even when this is known to be a given.
If I read you correctly Bryan, you’re saying that even we who believe we’ve seen through the phony independence of corporate media are still influenced by the same. In which case I agree! Targeted propaganda works on subconscious levels of the mind, the more pervasive influences of ideology even more so. Our only hope is to arms [sic] ourselves with relevant facts, triangulate, and never stop asking cui bono?
Hi Phil … a lot of heavy lifting is required to retain some degree of objectivity that is relatively free of the dominant ideology …
Yes, objectivity does call for heavy lifting in the face of dominant ideology. That exchange with Bryan, re my January 23 post on French mercenaries killed in Ukraine, is atypical. Not only do we know one another of old but, having met as freshers in the same cohort on the same degree – BA Communication Studies, 1979-82 – we encountered takes on ideology more nuanced and useful than mainstream vulgar readings of a worldview – communist ideology … conservative ideology … feminist ideology … – consciously adopted.
The latter take ideology to be (a) freely if perversely chosen, and (b) an emotional investment in seeing things a certain way, preventing our seeing them as they are. I’ve no quarrel with (b) 1 but attendant on (a) is the assumption, so widespread it seldom has to be spelled out, that ideology is a personal defect.
Well, she’s a raging Trot! There’s no point listening to her …
Sensible people by contrast are unswayed by ideology. They do see things as they are.
It fell to a revolutionary to lay the basis for the more sophisticated understandings I speak of. Antonio Gramsci was founder of the Italian Communist Party, jailed by Mussolini, and source of the much quoted: when that which must happen cannot, then we live in the age of monsters. His efforts to learn from the failure of the Biennio Rosso, when communist orthodoxy had held objective conditions ripe for revolution, led him to the notion of false consciousness.
In a way, Marx had beaten him to it with his own much quoted formulation; in any age the ruling ideas are those of its ruling class. But Gramsci’s work laid the basis for that project, a century old now, of laying bare the mechanisms through which the many see our social world in ways glaringly – if we would but step back to take in a bigger picture – beneficial to the few.
Why do turkeys vote for Xmas? I target media, news media in particular. 2 On many matters the reporters, columnists and editors of ‘quality’ media serve us tolerably well but this truth enables a greater lie. Corporate media need to show themselves trustworthy even when doing so may embarrass those in high office. (Not only does their long term capacity to influence opinion and manufacture consent depend on this. So too, on pain of losing market share, do their business models.) But the trust so gained helps them mislead us, more by omission than commission, on matters critical – above all the vilifying of states and leaders in the way of empire designs – to the power they ultimately serve.
Media do not operate in a vacuum though. In a post three years ago I wrote, apropos a Media Lens offering:
Through ideology we make sense of the world. Its agency is within us all but one external agent is singled out time and again in my writings, and those of Caitlin Johnstone, Jonathan Cook, Off-Guardian, Media Lens and others. I speak of news media. For reasons ably articulated by Noam Chomsky, 3 our media deceive us deeply but – this is the scary part – do so through subjectively honest journalists and editors. There are exceptions … but for the most part these are men and women who do not set out to deceive us. Media corruption is total, and totally toxic, but more systemic than conspired.
I’m barely scratching the surface of ideology, but this will do for my purposes. Now here’s the thing; those who see turkeys voting for Xmas typically respond in two ways. One is to fall into the slough of despond and give up on humanity as irredeemably stupid. The other is to do what Bryan calls the heavy lifting and commit to combating ideology, in ourselves and in others, at its weakest and most egregious points. I of course regard the latter as the healthier response.
That’s why I value Caitlin Johnstone. She has a rare talent (combined with a big heart, without which talent is a small and shrivelled thing) for voicing counterintuitive truths – counter that is to deep rooted views, gross or subtle, that ‘west is best’ 4 – in ways that seem plain common sense. (No small feat when ‘common sense’ is more usually drenched in dominant ideology.)
Few can do that. Most who try soon become tub-thumpers, or unreadably turgid.
But voices like Caitlin’s are faint calls from the margins, while the ideology of any status quo, even one as corrupt as ours, is by definition an incessant murmur flaring up now and then into deafening roars. An occupational hazard for those who seek to pierce its veil is the visit, in the wee hours, of the voice of despair. Heavy lifting is one thing but at times the task can seem that of Sisyphus, his eternity spent rolling a huge boulder up a hill in deepest Hades, only to see it roll back down again in hellish perpetuity.
That’s what they want you to think, stupid! That resistance is futile …
But the matrix is not quite the all-encompassing, perfectly and self-perpetuatingly interlocking web of power-endorsing meaning it presents as. It has its flaws. Yes, it skews our ability to see things as they are but it can never float entirely free of reality. Indeed, the one time I took issue with Caitlin was when she opined that people had finally seen through the propaganda blitz on Syria, and this had stymied the regime change plans of the West. 5
I beg to differ. What stymied those plans was Russia’s armed intervention.
This points to a broader truth. As Hitler learned to his ultimate cost, blitzkreig relies on brutally shocking speed. His armies used it to great effect in Europe, slicing through the defences of one country after another to proclaim victory in a matter of days or even hours. But then he tried it in the vast spaces of the Soviet Union, and the rest is history.
It’s the same with the propaganda blitz. Its victories require, as Media Lens have shown, full-on emotive assault, not with warplanes and Panzers but with opinion-manufacturing media, and not just on our ability to reason but on the very space – literal and psychological – in which to do so. As I saw over Syria, and succumbed to over 9/11, awareness of those media’s systemic corruption does not of itself – this is what Bryan and I were getting at – confer immunity to the propaganda blitz. But speed is of the essence. Without it, critical faculties have time to reassert themselves, critical voices to find both outlet and receptive ears.
Ask Russia. Facts incontrovertible but for all practical purposes sliced out of the picture, on pain of ostracism as a Putin apologist, by propaganda blitz on “his unprovoked war” 6 …
Not the only refutation of the claim, in truth preposterous, that Russia’s SMO was unprovoked – just the least wordy!
… are only now gaining a hearing because there’s the space for them to be heard. Russia trailed from the get go in in the propaganda war over Ukraine but victory in the field, now assured, is helping her gain ground – as Zelensky loses the same – in the arena of ideas. 7
Coincidence? I think not. With a US provoked war the West had thought would be a walk in the park about to enter its third year – and with Ukraine’s dismemberment, like Europe’s economic defenestration, a given – the ability and even the will to demonise Putin is weakening. Much as the demonising of Assad went from full throttle to ignominious silence once Russian control of Syrian skies kicked that regime change project into the long grass. And much as IDF inability to swiftly cow Gaza is negating, as the world looks on with rage, horror and disgust, the gains of decades of exorbitantly funded hasbara. 8
I’ve been writing for years – long before February 2022, let alone October 2023 – of my hopes and fears re Western decline in the face of Eurasia, and with it the global south, rising. I opened this post with a generalised understanding of ideology but then homed in on a particular subset of the stuff; namely corporate media propaganda and its inability to detach entirely from reality. But as military failure in Syria, Ukraine and Gaza erodes the power, once seemingly limitless, of media blitzkrieg to shape our views of those conflicts, so will Western economic decline erode that seemingly self-perpetuating matrix of dominant ideology – in a corner of the world whose blood-soaked half-millennium in the sun is fast drawing to a close.
To what end, and by way of what horrors? Too early to tell but, like Arnie, I’ll be back.
* * *
- Yet some do quarrel with the fundamental premise of an ideology/reality dichotomy – or, which here amounts to the same thing, a subjective/objective one. Postmodern excesses, aberrant products of that more sophisticated investigation of ideology traceable back to Gramsci, led in the 70s and 80s to claims either that there is no truth – as self-negating an assertion as ever was made with a straight face – or that truth is in principle closed off to empirical methods.
- I target media, news media in particular … Yet media more broadly interpreted do vital service for a sophisticated ideological status quo, Borglike in its adaptability to co-opt the seemingly oppositional. I’m currently watching the passably diverting Mr Robot, its hero a cyberhacker addicted to opiates but a warrior for justice against corporate evil. He has his red lines though: “I won’t work for Iran or North Korea …” Get it? In the face of stiff competition US capitalism is the bloodiest in history if we widen the focus to its activities across the globe. But we’re not invited to do that, are we? Narrow the focus and Iran and North Korea – remind me again how many countries they bomb, invade or starve with lethal sanctions – strike the Western mind, old school or ‘woke’, as patently worse. I saw similar when the US version of House of Cards, its sociopolitical comment sharper than Mr Robot’s, dutifully descended into caricature when a Russian President clearly Putin visited and behaved like the boor we all in our heart of hearts believe Russians to be. The subliminal propaganda of the entertainment industries is critical to the manufacture of opinions superficially radical but ultimately serving the Borg. Drama bucking the trend would jar inelegantly with that vast and intricate matrix I call ideology, and so strike us as unreal; propaganda even. After all, we know – from the countless opportunities news media offer us to study his speeches and unedited interviews – Vlad’s a jerk, right?
- Two Chomsky quotes serve here. One addresses the advertising model:
Media are large corporations selling privileged audiences to other corporations. Now the question is: what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this arrangement?
The second arose in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. When Marr objected that as a corporate journalist he takes no orders from his employer, nor does he self-censor, Chomsky replied:
- A definition of imperialism is given in footnote 3 of the already cited post on French mercenaries killed in Ukraine.
- The West’s regime change plans for Syria long predate the pretext of the 2011 Daraa protests. Not only do we have US General Wesley-Clark’s word on this. We also have the independent corroboration of France’s former foreign minister, Roland Dumas. I cannot stress too much how those who rule us hide out in the open, massively aided by media which can be relied on to keep such inconvenient truths (a) off the front pages and (b) memory-holed.
- Here too Chomsky is on the nail: “of course the Ukraine war was provoked. Why do you suppose every media report feels obliged to call it “unprovoked?
- As with its plans for Syria (footnote 5) US entrapment of Russia over Ukraine was flagged years in advance. See the 2019 Rand Report cited extensively in my post of January 2022: Kazakhstan: why is the steppe on fire?
- While still writing this post, news reached me of the ICJ having found for South Africa and against Israel over genocide in Gaza. A Guardian piece today by Steve Crawshaw, time stamped as 16:24, has the header, This momentous ICJ ruling may be brushed aside by Israel – but the US and UK can’t afford to ignore it. Well I’m sure the US and UK will find ways to do just that but they’ll cost even further loss of moral stature, if such a thing is possible. But the moral equivalence falsely drawn in the kicker – whether through self-serving avoidance of the facts or conscious mendacity no longer interests me – reminds me how doggedly empire-serving the Guardian truly is:
If this judgment is not heeded, how can Putin ever be held to account? Justice with double standards is no justice at all.