Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: Synthetic Terror


Taking terror and surveillance at face value overlooks some of the biggest events and strongest ideological forces which have some bearing on the question of domestic surveillance.  (Keep in mind, surveillance reform does not require agreeing with the arguments below; I offer them to provide context.)

Surveillance, Synthetic Terror, and Empire

History is the lie commonly agreed upon.

History is a set of lies agreed upon.

Events in the real world and in the society of man are, for the most part, planned.  They do not just happen.  There has been a cause for each of the major events of the past half century.
        L. Fletcher Prouty, former Chief of Spec. Operations, 1992

Terror has another component - a false or synthetic component - to borrow a term from conspiracy expert and historian Webster Tarpley.*  (For obvious reasons and out of respect for all those who died on 9/11, this terror is clearly not synthetic.)  Although our government may not have expedited 9/11 in an explicit and linear sense, 9/11 was, to some significant degree, a false flag operation.  Each individual, should he or she want to, can choose to evaluate the evidence on his or her own.  In terms of American false flag terrorism, the tradition is established; consider Operation Gladio, which we did implement, and Operation Northwoods, which we did not.  There's also the alleged Operation Gladio B - which brought US military and intelligence officials in direct communication with Osama Bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the US Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan from 1997 to 2001.**

While 9/11 is among a few definitive forces in recent history, it is not the definitive force.  A tremendous amount of obsession, anxiety, and fervor has been spent on 9/11 truth.  And yet, like a battered spouse, many Americans are only beginning to navigate the precisely intended psychological trauma of 9/11.  As addressed below, many people, even highly trained and terribly intelligent people, will never mature so much as to trust their own eyes.  It is not easy to allow disruptive, revolutionary, and seemingly reprehensible ideas to become your own.  As sociologists Ginna Husting and Martin Orr have argued, such ideas can strip "the claimant of the status of reasonable interlocutor".***

Regardless, in the following decade after 9/11, the American public largely interpreted the event at face value and immediately and naturally experienced a profound existential fear.  As such, the American 'culture of fear' deepened; and policy makers developed the Patriot Act with its Section 215, the Protect America Act of 2007, and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 with its Section 702.  These laws enable many NSA programs in question.  Without 9/11, surveillance on its present scale has a great deal less strategic justification.  Ironically, the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have engendered a new generation of terrorists that indeed justify surveillance.  

Managing the American Mind

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of 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.
        Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928****

The use of propaganda as a means of social and ideological control is distinctive of totalitarian regimes.  Yet the most minimal exercise of common sense would suggest a different view: that propaganda is likely to play at least as important a part in democratic societies (where the existing distribution of power and privilege is vulnerable to quite limited changes in popular opinion) as in authoritarian societies (where it is not).
        Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, 1995

Among the more significant political achievements of the 20th century has been the engineering of American opinion - arguably among the freest people to have ever lived.  This work dates back to the Committee on Public Information when journalist George Creel, Bernays, and others sought to enhance support for WWI.  Bernays later leveraged the ideas of his own uncle, none other than Sigmund Freud, to develop modern public relations.  

If Bernays is the 'the father of public relations', Alex Carey fathered the analysis of corporate propaganda.  In the work quoted above, he also wrote that "The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."  None of this thinking is particularly revolutionary today - further illustrating the success and invisibility of propaganda.  Consider this Business Insider (!) piece.  

Documentaries such as Why We Fight and The Power Principle also address 20th century propaganda.  Slavoj Zizek's Pervert's Guide to Ideology and Adam Curtis's The Century of the Self provide even more penetrating insights.  If you are especially patient and open-minded, Michael Tsarion has a long lecture titled the Age of Manipulation, which also addresses this subject.  Noam Chomksy covers this same subject in Propaganda Control and the Public Mind.

This propaganda machine keeps us politically and ideologically ignorant and infantized.

An Invisible Ideology

In its very invisibility, ideology is here, more than ever.
        Slavoj Zizek, A Soft Focus on War, 2010

Corporate propaganda has become an ending assault our individual and collective psyche.  If you believe the work of Adam Curtis, Slavoj Zizek, or Michael Tsarion, the management of the American mind has gone far deeper than simply political opinion.  Propaganda has all but reached into our souls.  As much as classical Liberalism is the dominant political ideology in the US - a point that many seem to misunderstand - the true and functional ideology for most Americans is obey, un-think, work, borrow, and spend.  As argued throughout this extended blog, only in such an ideological and propagandized context can the NSA operate as it does.

Part 3, Illegitimate External Control, addresses how domestic surveillance deepens the ignorantization and infantization of the American people.  

* People like to diss Tarpley because he makes very large claims.  I suggest you read former CIA clandestine service case officer and OSINT expert Robert Steele's Amazon review of Tarpley's core 9/11 text.

** Indeed, with the exception of the Korean War, every major American war since and including the Spanish-American War has both a) exhibited a suspicious justification and b) yielded either strategic value to the larger effort of advancing American empire or financial value to interests of the defense industry or other corporate or capital interests.  (Obviously that is a bold statement that deserves argumentation, which I hope to present in a later blog.)  

As US Marine Corps Major Smedley Butler put it: "War is a racket."  To me, the desire and aim to pursue wealth and strategic gain through warfare seems largely reasonable (though ugly) in the competitive and Darwinian landscape of today.

Nevertheless, I am NOT an enemy of business, US Armed Forces service members, or national defense; nor am I even against private industry playing a role in national defense.  That is not to say that business people, soldiers, and defense sector employees and leaders should not consider the historical context in which they live.

Highly successful American business people are among the most interesting, dynamic, and inspiring people on Earth.  But corporations and capitalism still has a very, very complicated legacy.  They are products of the milieu of Political Modernity, civil society, democracy, and the Age of Enlightenment; they have transformed the global culture and wealth of many on our planet but story hardly ends there.

*** In my speculative view, Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges, and Oliver Stone - all highly productive dissenters who have helped enhance public knowledge - seem perhaps all too aware of Professors Husting and Orr's thinking.

*** Bernays later continues: "This [manipulation] is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.  Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society."  He insinuates - perhaps rightly - that large societies cannot operate both smoothly and democratically.  This question comes up in a separate blog I'm soon to publish called Speculating on A Nascent Totalitarianism.

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