The biggest lesson I learned from Vietnam is not to trust [our own] government statements.
Senator James W. Fulbright
De Amerikaanse socioloog en media criticus Herbert Irving Schiller betoogde in 1998:
One of the unique talents of American capitalism has been its mastery of salesmanship. This should not be surprising given that marketing has been an indispensable and pervasive feature of the economy since at least the Civil War.
Still, selling a deeply flawed economic system to the people with the same enthusiasm and success devoted to advertising a bar of soap is a challenging assignment. Just as dentifrices and deodorants are extolled as matchless and wondrous, capitalism receives equally rapturous promotion, beginning in children’s primers and continuing through succeeding educational and cultural channels across the social order.
One of the tricks of effective advertising is to identify the product with a highly desirable quality that has widespread appeal. A certain toothpaste, for instance, claims to offer a feeling of freshness. In selling the private ownership system to the public, this first principle of hucksterism has been applied with remarkable effectiveness.
In a nation whose origins began with an anti-colonial revolution, freedom and liberty are powerful words. Fully aware of this, generations of systemic hucksters have appropriated these words on behalf of profits and class-dominated governance. This has been the national experience since the First World War.
This cataclysmic event, along with its profound effects on the distribution of world power, has transformed and exponentially increased American propaganda — salesmanship for political goals — domestically and globally.
It ushered in an era of far-reaching American power — economically, politically, and culturally — which produced a giant global shift in influence from the old, worn-out European empires, to the new financial-cultural domain being created by American capital.
To make the emerging American system of domination palatable at home and acceptable abroad to nations which had struggled for centuries against colonialism, a new dimension of propaganda was a necessity.
As Dr. Snow perceptively points out in her text, two overriding objectives comprised the agenda for US propaganda in the postwar period: the defense of the existing capitalist world against threatened social change — socialism in Western Europe and elsewhere — and the capture of the ex-colonial world for private enterprise and foreign capital.
Anti-communism was the instrument that served both objectives as well as the means of gaining domestic support, or at least toleration, for American global interventions and takeovers. Anti-communism turned attention away from pressing problems at home and abroad by focusing hysterically on fabricated external threats. At the same time, it enabled a continually expanding US world presence to be explained as offering protection against communism.
For nearly half a century, the United States Information Agency (USIA) waged ideological war against communism in its worldwide broadcasts. Using the rhetoric of freedom and liberty — the CIA-operated stations in Europe were named Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty — American propaganda dwelled on the ominous and imminent threat of communism, while US corporations moved into one global space after another.
The influence of the USIA in this period cannot be over-exaggerated. Certainly, the commercial flood of US cultural products that engulfed the world in the last fifty years — movies, TV programs, recordings, publications, student exchanges, theme parks, data bases et al — was, by far, the most important means in transmitting ideology, anti-communism, and American socio-economic institutions. Yet the USIA did its bit to target those government bureaucrats, intellectuals, local managers, etcetera, who may have disdained US popular culture.
Once the Soviet system collapsed, however, the propaganda war took a new turn. Again, Dr. Snow is right on target as she charts the shift in the USIA’s efforts, away from anti-communism to full devotion to US corporate corporate initiatives, to extend the latter’s influence in what Wall Street designated as ‘emerging market’ states, mostly former colonial territories.
Snow makes amply clear that, in this latest propaganda campaign, the use of student and academic exchange programs, and the Agency’s mandate to work for mutual understanding between nations, have been perverted into crass missions to assist American companies in finding profitable business overseas.
Yet propaganda has its limits. Reality, at some point, always intrudes. As this is written, people in many Southeast Asian countries are discovering that the bitter truths about the much touted capitalism and its far-flung network of control, cannot indefinitely be made acceptable by propaganda. Despite the powerful transmitters at the disposal of capital, the harsh features of a market organized society, and its inherent connection to inequality sooner or later will be recognized and resisted.
Dr. Snow, in this essay, makes a contribution to this end.
Herbert Schiller zette dit uiteen in het voorwoord van het essay Propaganda, Inc. Selling America’s Culture To The World (1998), geschreven door de Amerikaanse hoogleraar filosofie Nancy Snow. In de introductie van hetzelfde essay wees de Amerikaanse politicoloog en historicus Michael Parenti erop dat:
For Generations, a fundamental function of US foreign policy has been to make certain that the natural resources, markets, labor, and capital of other nations were accessible to US corporate investors on the most favorable terms possible. In 1907, Woodrow Wilson offered this candid observation:
‘Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.’
In his 1953 State of the Union message, President Dwight Eisenhower observed, ‘A serious and explicit purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of a hospitable climate for investment in foreign nations.’ What no U.S. president has ever explained is: What gives the United States the right to dictate the destinies of other nations, mold their development, and intervene forcibly against them when they dare to mark an independent course?
With unfailing consistency, US intervention has been on the side of the rich and powerful of various nations at the expense of the poor and needy. Rather than strengthening democracies, US leaders have overthrown numerous democratically elected governments or other populist regimes in dozens of countries — from Chile to Guatemala to Indonesia to Mozambique — whenever these nations give evidence of putting the interests of their people ahead of the interests of multinational corporate investors.
While claiming that such interventions are needed to safeguard democracy in the world, US leaders have given aid and comfort to dozens of tyrannical regimes that have overthrown reformist democratic governments (as in Chile and Guatemala, for instance) and shown themselves to be faithful acolytes of the transnational corporate investors. In 1993, before the United Nations, President Bill Clinton proclaimed, ‘Our overriding purpose is to expand and strengthen the world’s community of market-based democracies.’ In truth, as Nancy Snow shows in this cogent and revealing pamphlet, the emphasis has been more on the ‘market-based’ and less on the ‘democracy.’
To the American public and to the world, however, as Snow notes, US policy has been represented in the most glowing — and most deceptive — terms. Peace, prosperity, and democracy have become coded propaganda terms. ‘Peace’ means US global military domination, a kind of Pax Americana. ‘Prosperity’ means subsidizing the expansion of US corporate interests abroad, at the expense of the US taxpayer and the millions of people in other nations who might be better served by loyal and independent development. And ‘democracy,’ Nancy Snow notes, means a system in which political decisions are made by the transnational and publicly unaccountable corporate interests and their government allies, ‘not based on a populist or participatory ideal of politics but one in which the public’s role is minimized.’
Global capitalist hegemony is attained by two means. First, there is the global military apparatus. The U.S. defense budget is at least five times larger than any other country’s defense expenditures. US naval, air, and ground forces maintain a police presence around the globe, using hundreds of military bases throughout various regions. U.S. advisors train, equip, and finance military and paramilitary forces in countries on every continent. All this to make the world safe for the transnationals.
The other instrument of U.S. intervention might be called ‘cultural imperialism,’ the systematic penetration and dominance of other nations’ communication and informational systems, educational institutions, arts, religious organizations, labor unions, elections, consumer habits, and lifestyles. Drawing upon both her personal experience and her scholarly investigation, Nancy Snow offers us a critical picture of one of the key instruments of cultural imperialism, the United States Information Agency (USIA). A benign-sounding unit of government supposedly dedicated to informational and cultural goals, USIA is actually in the business of waging disinformation wars on behalf of the Fortune 500.
Operating as a propaganda unit of a corporate-dominated U.S. foreign policy, USIA ran interference for NAFTA, in Snow’s words, ‘doing nothing to advance the more noble goals of mutual understanding and education,’ while leaving a trail of broken promises about jobs and prosperity. USIA’s efforts on behalf of NAFTA and other such undertakings have brought fantastic jumps in profits for big business, at great cost to the environment, democratic sovereignty, and worker and consumer well-being.
Nancy Snow also deals with the larger issues that go beyond the USIA, especially the way the US political system is dominated and distorted by moneyed interests, transforming democracy into plutocracy, and making a more democratic U.S. foreign policy improbable.
Still, as Snow reminds us, victories can be won when broad-based democratic forces unite and fight back vigorously. A recent example would be the defeat of fast-track legislation in Congress in 1997 in the face of a massive blitz launched by powerful business associations, the White House, and the major media. Snow concludes with a useful and instructive seven-point agenda for a citizen-based diplomacy, pointing out how readers can and should get involved… Nancy Snow shows herself to be a discerning, fair-minded investigator, a skilled writer and researcher, and a socially conscious citizen. No wonder she found herself unable to function within the U.S. propaganda machine. She’s too good for corporate America.
Hier tekent zich de onoverbrugbare kloof af tussen twee kampen, enerzijds onomkoopbare kritische intellectuelen, en anderzijds opportunistische media-propagandisten. De auteurs die ik al jaren citeer, behoren tot de eerste groep, de opiniemakers die ik in deze serie bekritiseer, maken deel uit van de tweede categorie. Dus wanneer de Amerikaanse dissident Michael Parenti stelt dat met ‘onfeilbare consistentie Amerikaanse interventies partij wordt gekozen voor de rijken en machtigen van uiteenlopende naties ten koste van de armen en behoeftigen,’ en de Nederlandse columnist Ian Buruma beweert dat ‘even if the end of Pax Americana does not result in military invasions or world wars, we should ready ourselves for a time when we might recall the American empire with fond nostalgia,’ dan weet iedere onafhankelijke waarnemer op grond van de simpele feiten dat Buruma propaganda bedrijft. Wanneer de Amerikaanse socioloog Herbert Schiller op grond van wetenschappelijk onderzoek concludeert dat ‘two overriding objectives comprised the agenda for US propaganda in the postwar period: the defense of the existing capitalist world against threatened social change — socialism in Western Europe and elsewhere — and the capture of the ex-colonial world for private enterprise and foreign capital,’ terwijl tegelijkertijd Geert Mak met grote stelligheid beweert dat de VS ‘decennialang als ordebewaker en politieagent [fungeerde] — om maar te zwijgen van alle hulp die het uitdeelde,’ en bovendien Woodrow Wilson prees omdat deze president verantwoordelijk zou zijn geweest voor 'the beginnings of order to international politics and the world economy,' dan bewijst mijn oude vriend dat hij propaganda verspreidt. Wanneer de latere president Woodrow Wilson als hoogleraar al meer dan een eeuw geleden verklaarde dat ‘Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process,’ en een in Nederland uitbundig geprezen journalist/auteur als Frank Westerman in NRC Handelsblad van 13 mei 2016 verklaart dat met betrekking tot zijn boek Een Woord Een Woord (2016) over ‘het terrorisme’: ‘De vraag die ik op de snijtafel wilde leggen is: hoe verhouden we ons tot geweld en hoe verhielden we ons tot geweld?’ en nergens in zijn hele werkstuk melding wordt gemaakt van het eeuwenlange westers ‘terrorisme’ in vele delen van de wereld, dan is de enig mogelijke conclusie dat ook hij een propagandist is. Wanneer in 1953 president Dwight Eisenhower opmerkt dat een ‘serious and explicit purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of a hospitable climate for investment in foreign nations,’ en Bas Heijne zijn NRC-lezers nog steeds op het hart drukt dat de VS een ‘in alle opzichten superieure’ cultuur is, dan weet een ieder met een greintje verstand dat hij een ordinaire propagandist is. Zij allen functioneren als propagandisten voor een neoliberale 'orde' die in werkelijkheid een meedogenloze wanorde is, aangezien volgens statistieken uit 2019:
THE WORLD’S RICHEST 1% HAVE MORE THAN TWICE AS MUCH WEALTH AS 6.9 BILLION PEOPLE.
ALMOST HALF OF HUMANITY IS LIVING ON LESS THAN $5.50 A DAY.
1. Lining the pockets of the world’s billionaires. The very top of the economic pyramid sees trillions of dollars of wealth in the hands of a very small group of people, predominantly men, whose fortune and power grow exponentially. Billionaires have now more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 percent of the planet’s population. Meanwhile, around 735 million people are still living in extreme poverty. Many others are just one hospital bill or failed harvest away from slipping into it.
ONLY 4 CENTS IN EVERY DOLLAR OF TAX REVENUE COMES FROM TAXES ON WEALTH.
THE SUPER-RICH AVOID AS MUCH AS 30 PERCENT OF THEIR TAX LIABILITY.
2. Wealth undertaxed. While the richest continue to enjoy booming fortunes, they are also enjoying some of the lowest levels of tax in decades — as are the corporations that they own. Instead taxes are falling disproportionately on working people. When governments undertax the rich, there's less money for vital services like healthcare and education, increasing the amount of care work that falls on the shoulders of women and girls.
TODAY 258 MILLION CHILDREN – 1 OUT OF EVERY 5 – WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO GO TO SCHOOL.
FOR EVERY 100 BOYS OF PRIMARY SCHOOL AGE WHO ARE OUT OF SCHOOL, 121 GIRLS ARE DENIED THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION.
3. Underfunded public services. At the same time, public services are suffering from chronic underfunding or being outsourced to private companies that exclude the poorest people. In many countries a decent education or quality healthcare has become a luxury only the rich can afford. It has profound implications for the future of our children and the opportunities they will have to live a better and longer life.
EVERY DAY 10,000 PEOPLE DIE BECAUSE THEY LACK ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE.
EACH YEAR, 100 MILLION PEOPLE ARE FORCED INTO EXTREME POVERTY DUE TO HEALTHCARE COSTS.
4. Denied a longer life. In most countries having money is a passport to better health and a longer life, while being poor all too often means more sickness and an earlier grave. People from poor communities can expect to die ten or twenty years earlier than people in wealthy areas. In developing countries, a child from a poor family is twice as likely to die before the age of five than a child from a rich family.
MEN OWN 50% MORE OF THE WORLD'S WEALTH THAN WOMEN, AND THE 22 RICHEST MEN HAVE MORE WEALTH THAN ALL THE WOMEN IN AFRICA.
THE UNPAID CARE WORK DONE BY WOMEN IS ESTIMATED $10.8 TRILLION A YEAR - THREE TIMES THE SIZE OF THE TECH INDUSTRY.
5. Inequality is sexist. With less income and fewer assets than men, women make up the greatest proportion of the world’s poorest households, and that proportion is growing. They are more likely to be found in poorly paid and precarious employment, supporting the market economy with cheap or free labor. They are also supporting the state through billions of hours of unpaid or underpaid care work, a huge but unrecognized contribution to our societies and economic prosperity.
In hetzelfde jaar werd bovendien het volgende bekend:
Oxfam said the wealth of more than 2,200 billionaires across the globe had increased by $900bn in 2018 – or $2.5bn a day. The 12% increase in the wealth of the very richest contrasted with a fall of 11% in the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population.
As a result, the report concluded, the number of billionaires owning as much wealth as half the world’s population fell from 43 in 2017 to 26 last year. In 2016 the number was 61.
Among the findings of the report were:
In the 10 years since the financial crisis, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled.
Between 2017 and 2018 a new billionaire was created every two days.
The world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, saw his fortune increase to $112bn. Just 1% of his fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
The poorest 10% of Britons are paying a higher effective tax rate than the richest 10% (49% compared with 34%) once taxes on consumption such as VAT are taken into account.
Uitgaande van het feit dat armoede dagelijks geweld betekent, en bovendien geweld oproept, is het geenszins overdreven te stellen dat de ‘corporate press' een uiterst gewelddadige neoliberale ‘cultuur’ steunt, die de wereld naar de afgrond voert. In The New York Review of Books van 26 maart 2020 schrijft de Amerikaanse auteur en hoogleraar in Human Rights and Global Public Health Helen Epstein in een recensie dat:
The United States is in the throes of a colossal health crisis. In 2015 life expectancy began falling for the first time since the height of the AIDS crisis in 1993. The causes — mainly suicides, alcohol-related deaths, and drug overdoses — claim roughly 190,000 lives each year.
The casualties are concentrated in the rusted-out factory towns and depressed rural areas left behind by globalization, automation, and downsizing, but as the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton demonstrate in their new book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, they are also rampant in large cities. Those most vulnerable are distinguished not by where they live but by their race and level of education. Virtually the entire increase in mortality has been among white adults without bachelor’s degrees — some 70 percent of all whites. Blacks, Hispanics, college-educated whites, and Europeans also succumb to suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths, but at much lower rates that have risen little, if at all, over time.
The disparity is most stark in middle age. Since the early 1990s, the death rate for forty-five-to-fifty-four-year-old white Americans with a BA has fallen by 40 percent, but has risen by 25 percent for those without a BA. Although middle-aged blacks are still more likely to die than middle-aged whites, their mortality has also fallen by more than 30 percent since the early 1990s. Similar declines occurred among middle-aged French, Swedish, and British people over the same period.
Case and Deaton (auteurs van Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. svh) show how this crisis worsened over generations, beginning with the Baby Boomers. College-educated whites born before World War II were slightly more vulnerable to suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths than non-college-educated whites, but these trends reversed among those born after the war, and then the fates of those with and without a BA continued to diverge.
Growing economic insecurity is a major cause of the problem. White manual workers once expected that the American Dream would come true for them. In Kathryn Newman’s remarkably prescient study of downsizing, Falling from Grace (1988), older people recalled that Elizabeth, New Jersey — where 18 percent of residents now live in poverty — was once a ‘place of grandeur, where ladies and gentlemen in fine dress promenaded down the main avenue on Sunday.’ The Singer Sewing Machine company employed over 10,000 workers, roughly a tenth of the city’s population. The company awarded scholarships to children, sponsored baseball games, and hosted dances and bar mitzvahs in its recreation hall. Each sewing machine had a label, and if returned with a defect, the man who’d made it would fix it himself.
The last American Singer plant closed decades ago, along with thousands of other factories. There were 19.5 million decently paying US manufacturing jobs in 1979, compared to around 12 million today, when the population is almost 50 percent larger. Over the same period, the wages of workers with a high school degree or less have fallen by about 15 percent, while the earnings of college-educated workers have risen by around 10 percent and of those with higher degrees by nearly 25 percent.
Today, what’s available to those without a BA are mostly poorly paid service jobs without health or retirement benefits, let alone baseball games and scholarships. The demise of unions means that these workers have virtually no bargaining power. One in five US workers is subject to a noncompete clause, meaning they can’t easily move from one company to another without switching fields completely. Until recently, even chain restaurant workers could be subject to such rules, so that a burger flipper at Carl’s Jr. who was offered higher pay at Arby’s couldn’t accept it without risking a lawsuit.
Andrew Cherlin and Timothy Nelson (Cherlin. Hoogleraar Public Policy University of California. Nelson hoofd-docent in Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. svh) recently interviewed dozens of American men without BAs, most of whom bounced from one dead-end job to another. One unemployed man had started out as an editorial assistant at a local newspaper but was laid off when it downsized; he became a parking attendant, but that job was eliminated by automation; he then worked for a catering company until it went out of business.
The personal lives of those without a BA mirror this instability. The vast majority of women with a BA have all their children in marriage, but most women without one have at least some, if not all, of their children out of wedlock, often with different men. American children experience more changes in stepfathers, stepmothers, and residences than children in any other wealthy country, and Cherlin maintains that American families may be the most unstable in the world. This no doubt contributes to many child development problems that are also common in the US, including difficulties sitting still and paying attention in school, disobedience, and destructive behavior. Children with these issues often find it difficult to enter, let alone finish, college, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of thwarted potential.
Some conservatives, such as Charles Murray and J.D. Vance, the author of the wildly popular memoir Hillbilly Elegy, attribute these economic and social upheavals to moral decline. If only poor whites would embrace religion, adopt the family values of their better-educated peers, stop blaming the government, and work harder, they’d be fine, they say. But as Case and Deaton point out, if it were really true that workers without BAs were slacking off, wages would have risen for those who weren’t, but this hasn’t happened. The jobs just aren’t there — or if they are, they don’t pay enough to support a dignified existence. About half of those who patronize America’s food banks live in households with a full-time worker — perhaps a janitor, Uber driver, cashier, nanny, or caregiver — who doesn’t earn enough for groceries. According to the Urban Institute, about a quarter of adults in homeless shelters have jobs.
But while poverty in America is all too real, it’s not the only reason for the epidemic of deaths of despair. Poor states like Arkansas and Mississippi have seen smaller increases in overdose deaths than wealthier Florida, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine. Deaths of despair continued their steady rise right through the 2008 financial crisis, when many Americans lost homes and jobs, and didn’t jump in frequency, as we’d expect if economic circumstances alone were the cause. Blacks without a BA earn between 20 and 27 percent less than whites without a BA, but even though addiction remains a problem in African-American communities, non-BA blacks are nevertheless 40 percent less likely than non-BA whites to die from suicide, alcohol, or drug overdoses.
If poverty alone cannot explain this epidemic, what’s going on? Case and Deaton suggest that it may have something to do with the ways in which non-BA whites have responded to the radical changes that have upended their world over the past century or so. The post-1970s economy inflicted suffering on non-BA people of all ethnicities, but the psychological toll on whites might have been worse because their expectations were so much higher. Financial hardship has long been part of historical reality for black Americans, often attributed, rightly, to discrimination. Perhaps for this reason, blacks are more likely to sympathize with poor and unemployed friends and relatives, and help out when possible. Europeans are similarly likely to see their personal misfortunes in political terms, blaming their governments and even taking to the streets to protest fiscal policies they see as harmful, as the French are doing now.
But white American men tend to be especially hard on themselves. They often find in their occupations the self-worth and community that other groups find in kinship and class consciousness, so their sense of personal worthlessness can be profound when jobs are unstable or disappear.
For Falling from Grace, Newman (Falling from Grace, Downward Mobility in the Age of Affluence. Katherine S. Newman, Professor of Urban Studies, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. svh) interviewed men laid off after a downturn in the computer industry during the 1980s recession. Even though the entire industry was affected, most men dwelled only on what was wrong with them. The problem, they explained to Newman, wasn’t a ruthless corporate culture or the laissez-faire government that had just hiked interest rates, causing the collapse of fragile businesses, but themselves. ‘If people…are not prospering, that’s their problem,’ John Kowalski, sacked from his company after thirty years of service, told Newman. Meanwhile, friends stopped calling; wives accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle glowered and complained; children shrank away in confusion.
The decline in blue-collar jobs has been far more sustained than the periodic glitches in the white-collar economy, but whites without a BA haven’t thus far used their considerable political clout to improve their situation. As has repeatedly been pointed out, many don’t vote, while others support corporate-backed Republicans hostile to the very programs many poor whites depend on, including food stamps, job training, social security, Medicaid, and unemployment and disability benefits.
During the run-up to the 2016 election, the sociologist Jennifer Silva interviewed people in the Pennsylvania coal region, which delivered Trump a two-thirds majority, to find out how they made political decisions. Pennsylvania’s coal mines, which once employed 175,000 people, now employ just 837. With those jobs went an entire way of life. The work was dangerous and dirty; thousands died in accidents or succumbed to black lung disease; miners depended on company stores and homes, and those who lost their jobs faced destitution; but they nevertheless had a profound sense of solidarity. Most marriages lasted a lifetime, and communities were held together by social clubs, churches, unions, and friendships.
Today, Coal Brook, the (pseudonymous) town that Silva describes in We’re Still Here, is a depressed wasteland of bars, chain stores, fast food restaurants, and drug rehab centers. Most of the white, black, and Hispanic men and women Silva interviewed struggled with drug or alcohol problems, had spent time in jail, and/or were unemployed. Virtually all said that voting was pointless because the system was rigged in favor of the rich. When Silva turned up for an interview on Election Day wearing an ‘Voted’ sticker, she was mocked as a gullible fool.
‘All politicians are bought off,’ declared Joshua, a twenty-eight-year-old white ex-con in drug recovery. ‘Once they get thrown into the machine they become puppets like all the rest… I’m not a fan of either [Trump or Clinton]. It’s like choose shit or a shit sandwich.’
Bree, a white waitress suffering from chronic pain whose black boyfriend was recently released from prison, felt similarly:
‘I love women, and I think they can do anything a man can do, but that woman should not be the President of this United States, so help me God, but neither should that jackass. So it’s like, who the frick do you pick? I’m like, you’re not giving us much of a choice here. Either way we’re going to be destroyed.’
Very few of the people of color interviewed by Silva bothered to vote at all, but some whites held their noses and voted for Trump. ‘Oh, he got us rednecks!’ said Steven, a sixty-two-year-old janitor. Danielle, a twenty-eight-year-old child abuse survivor with debilitating anxiety, put it this way: Trump is ‘so in your face, like fuck you, I don’t give a crap what you think of me. I think he belongs in this area because that’s what we are.’ Bree agreed: ‘At the end of the day, I would rather have President Dickhead than President Sellout.’
The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was the first to observe that what made the new ‘precariat’ class — as he called the intermittently employed, low-wage workforce — so vulnerable was that its solidarity had been ruined. When workers are made to feel replaceable and lucky to have even a lousy job, they become cynical, competitive, depressed, and easier to exploit. A growing number of researchers are finding that instead of turning to politics, many poor Americans are turning inward, focusing on their own personal struggles with trauma and pain. One of Case and Deaton’s most striking findings is what I’ll call the ‘pain paradox.’ On national health surveys, sixty-year-old white Americans without a BA are two-and-a-half times more likely to report that their health is fair or poor than same-aged whites with a BA. Even though working-class jobs involve less risk and physical exertion than in the past, each generation of non-BA whites since the Baby Boom has reported more pain, at younger ages, than the previous one. Non-BA blacks, who tend to do the most physically grueling jobs, are 20 percent less likely than non-BA whites to report pain at all ages. Even odder, non-BA whites actually report more pain at age sixty than at age eighty, whereas the reverse is true for blacks, whites with a BA, and populations in nineteen comparison countries.
The pain experienced by non-BA whites is so severe it’s keeping many of them from working altogether. In 1993 4 percent of forty-five-to-fifty-four-year-olds without a BA were out of the workforce for health reasons; today, 13 percent are. In Virginia’s coal region, the journalist Beth Macy found that in one county, 60 percent of men were either unemployed or living on disability payments.
This pain seems to be real. At no time do Silva or Macy suggest that anyone is faking it in order to live large on food stamps. But a combination of prescription and recreational drug use, sky-high smoking rates, depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems — which may worsen the actual feeling of pain, according to neuroscientists — along with poor access to good health care, seems to have amplified the effects of work injuries, accidents, and the physical and emotional scars of domestic violence and trauma resulting from military service.
Dit alles handelt over dezelfde Verenigde Staten, waarover Ian Buruma in 2017 beweerde dat ‘even if the end of Pax Americana does not result in military invasions, or world wars, we should ready ourselves for a time when we might recall the American Empire with fond nostalgia,’ oftewel in de vertaling van de NRC: ‘we [zullen] ons moeten voorbereiden op een tijd waarin we met weemoed terugkijken op het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington.’ Weemoedig terugkijken dus op een corrupt neoliberaal ‘imperialisme,’ waarin zelfs de eigen Amerikaanse bevolking niet meer gelooft, zoals onder andere blijkt uit het feit dat bijna de helft van Amerikaanse kiezers sinds een halve eeuw niet meer stemt. Ziehier de rol van de mainstream-propagandisten.
Het — in de terminologie van Bas Heijne — ‘accomoderen,’ oftewel ‘aanpassen aan de omstandigheden,’ mag dan wel één van de meest weerzinwekkende karaktertrekken van het westerse-, en zeker Nederlandse, journaille zijn, maar het is wel een onvermijdelijke reflex geweest. Ruim zes decennia geleden al constateerde de gezaghebbende Amerikaanse socioloog C. Wright Mills in zijn essay ‘De massamedia en de publieke opinie’:
De opkomst van de massamedia, vooral van de radio en de film, ging gepaard met een andere ontwikkeling: de enorme uitbreiding van de economische en politieke instellingen, en het ogenschijnlijk terugdringen van de directe menselijke contacten naar een tweede plaats. Instellingen komen onder gecentraliseerd gezag en mediamarkten gaan de plaats innemen van de groepen aan de basis. Er is ook in dit geval een parallel te trekken tussen de goederenmarkt in de economische sfeer en het publiek van de publieke opinie in de sfeer van opinie. In het kort kan men zeggen dat er sprake is van een beweging van versnipperde, beperkte macht en laissez-faire naar gecentraliseerde macht en pogingen om vanuit machtscentra monopolistische controle op te leggen. In beide centra, die van de economie en die van de opinie, is macht gedeeltelijk verborgen macht; het zijn zowel centra van manipulatie als van gezag.
De anonimiteit van de nationale onderneming komt in de plaats van het buurtwinkeltje; advertenties voor het grote publiek vervangen het persoonlijke contact tussen de winkelier en zijn klanten. De politieke leider houdt zijn speeches voor de radio waar hij, op het geschikte persoonlijke toontje, spreekt voor een paar miljoen mensen die hij nooit gezien heeft en wel nooit zal zien. Hele branches van bepaalde beroepen en industrieën zijn gewijd aan de ‘opinie-business,’ waar het publiek onpersoonlijk, in opdracht van anderen, gemanipuleerd wordt. In de eenvoudige democratische samenleving, met zijn vele groepen aan de basis, is er sprake van concurrentie tussen meningen en ideeën, gevoerd door mensen die in het raam van hun belangen en hun wijze van denken te pas komen. Maar in de massamaatschappij met zijn mediamarkten vindt die ‘concurrentie’ plaats tussen een menigte manipulatoren met hun massamedia aan de ene kant en de mensen die alleen maar opnemen wat hun medegedeeld wordt aan de andere kant. Het ‘gehoord worden’ van de mensen is systematisch onmogelijk gemaakt.
Meer dan enkele soundbites in een voorgeprogrammeerde context is het grote publiek niet gegund. De massa is er niet om ‘gehoord’ te worden, maar om te luisteren, niet om te protesteren, maar om te gehoorzamen. Een uiterst geavanceerde technocratie kan domweg niet anders. Mills wees erop dat daardoor ‘de opvatting’ is ontstaan:
dat de publieke opinie niet meer is dan een afdruk van of een reactie — van ‘response’ kunnen we niet spreken — op de inhoud van de massamedia. In deze opvatting is het publiek niet meer dan de som van een groot aantal individuen: ieder individu ondergaat passief de massamedia en is het nogal hulpeloze slachtoffer van de suggesties en manipulates waarmee die media hem overstromen. Die manipulatie vanuit gecentraliseerde controlepunten ontneemt de mensen als het ware iedere mogelijkheid om informatie te vergaren en om wijzigingen van hun opinies tot stand te brengen — wat alleen weggelegd schijnt te zijn voor het publiek van weleer, dat bestond uit kleine opinieproducenten en -consumenten die een vrije, harmonieuze markt tot hun beschikking hadden.
Beslissingen worden door de machthebbers genomen. Deze beslissingen worden vervolgens via de massacommunicatiemedia bekend gemaakt. Zij bereiken mensen die nummers op mediamarkten zijn,
en ‘worden uitgevoerd door de officiële functionarissen van het gezag,’ met als gevolg dat de:
publieke opinie bestaat dan uit reacties op wat via de media gebracht wordt. Persoonlijke discussie speelt geen rol in het proces opinievorming; ieder mens is een geïsoleerd wezen dat alleen maar reageert op de bevelen en suggesties van de gemonopoliseerde massamedia.
Onder gecentraliseerd gezag monopoliseren de opinie-manipulatoren eerst de formele communicatiemiddelen, vervolgens proberen ze ook dwingend op te leggen wat gelezen en waarnaar geluisterd mag worden Zij proberen de mediamarkten en de gemonopoliseerde media te verenigen om op die manier zeker te zijn van een gedisciplineerde response van de mensen in de mediamarkten.
Een recent schoolvoorbeeld hiervan is de wijze waarop de commerciële polderpers kritiekloos heeft geïntervenieerd in het MH17-onderzoek. Vanaf het allereerste begin, zonder ook maar over één bewijsstuk te beschikken stond de conclusie al vast: de Russen hebben het gedaan, zoals Bas Heijne al binnen vier dagen na het meerstorten in NRC Handelsblad suggereerde. Ondertussen worden kritische vragenstellers door de mainstream-journalisten ogenblikkelijk gecriminaliseerd als 'Poetin-Trollen.' Deze affaire toont aan hoe diep de totalitaire opvattingen van de ‘vrije pers’ zijn verankerd in het westers bewustzijn. Er is nog maar één waarheid, de waarheid van de macht. En zo zijn mijn collega's in de commerciële pers de grondleggers geworden van een opkomend fascisme. Zelfs de schijn van onafhankelijkheid wordt niet meer nagestreefd. Meer de volgende keer.