The metasystem of Education also helps to support the most powerful metasystem of all; the group that I call The Mind Benders. This metasystem overlaps Education and Religion and includes the advertising and public relations industries, the media and government information services and a huge group of charities and 'non governmental organizations,' all of which create and control the flow of public information and, for practical purposes, decide what most of us think.
They all depend on education because, as French political scientist Jacques Ellul argues, people must be educated to be susceptible to propaganda. In his words ....
"Primary education makes it possible to enter the realm of propaganda, in which people then receive their intellectual and cultural environment."
The metasystem of the Mind Benders is probably the most powerful single entity in the world and it is now the core of The System and the true ruler of humanity. It is a classic example of a metasystem because it has no central control and, even within the individual systems that form it, most of the people who think they are in charge are, for the most part, controlled by the systems they manage and by the metasystem as a whole.
We think of advertising as a human invention but, like most things, it has roots in the pre-human world. Flowers 'advertise' their nectar and pollen with bright colors and sweet smells and male birds advertise their eligibility for mating with bright colors and/or songs.
Even false advertising is natural. Brilliant red, yellow and black colors warn would-be predators that the coral snake is deadly and some harmless snakes show the same colors in almost the same pattern. Several varieties of syrphid flies scare away predators by mimicking the color and behavior of bees. The Monarch butterfly is safe from birds because it has a foul taste and the Viceroy, which is edible, is safe because it looks like a Monarch.
Propaganda is a close relative of advertising but while advertising is an overt attempt to convince us to buy or do this or that, propaganda tries to adjust our attitudes or our perceptions to make us want something.
Perhaps because propaganda has so often been associated with totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, the word has a pejorative connotation for some people and they tend to reject any suggestion that the 'free' societies of the west use it. It can be argued that no system-based society, free or not, could operate without propaganda.
The word propaganda derives from the Committee for the Propagation of the Faith, established by the Catholic Church at a time when most of Europe accepted that church as the authorized representative of God Almighty. The original College of Propaganda promoted Catholicism, of course, but this was at a time when most Catholics really believed that theirs was the one true faith. Modern propaganda convinces Americans, Canadians and others that their homeland is a good country to live in, that democracy is a good idea, and so-forth. It also instills less desirable beliefs, of course, but we must remember that some of the functions it serves are vital to the cohesion of society.
In general, propaganda is non-specific persuasion and it often tries to persuade people of beliefs that the propagandists consider to be true. In the middle ages Catholic propaganda convinced many people that if they did not accept the true faith they would spend eternity in hell but, as far as we know, the propagandists probably believed this to be true.
Much of the propaganda in the modern world is commercial. If I publish material that urges you to buy an Acme model XYZ gugglerump, or to buy any make or model of gugglerump from the Galumptious Gugglerumpery, that's advertising. If I publish an article about the wonderful device we call a gugglerump and how it can improve your life, that's propaganda.
As a general rule the makers and sellers of gugglerumps create and pay for advertisements and the media in which they publish their ads creates and publishes propaganda, and these are separate operations. Granted that the people who make and sell gugglerumps may help to prepare the article or even write it themselves, if it's good propaganda it will promote gugglerumps in general rather than any specific make of gugglerump and it will at least pretend to present an unbiased view. In most cases the media depends on, or hopes for, advertising from several makers of gugglerumps and the propaganda will usually include information or other material supplied by several or all of them. The metasystem unites the media with makers, sellers and perhaps repairers of gugglerumps.
Some people think of propaganda as 'a pack of lies' but a lie may be caught and, if it is, the propaganda will be nullified. The art of the sophisticated propagandist is to tell the truth, but only that part of the truth that he or she wants known. As the poet William Blake wrote in Proverbs (line 95): "A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent."
French scholar Jacques Ellul distinguishes two types of propaganda, with two subdivisions of each. 'Agitative' propaganda tries to convince us to change something and 'integrative' propaganda tries to convince us that there is no need for change. Either type can either be 'political' propaganda, which is disseminated by a political entity with a specific program, or 'sociological' propaganda which is disseminated by all of us, often unintentionally.
When a leader appears at a rally and his supporters cheer, that's both an example and a result of integrative sociological propaganda. The supporters cheer because they like their leader and, by cheering, they hope to encourage others to like him. When a union leader tells workers that the company makes too much profit and that they should demand higher wages, that's an example of agitative political propaganda. The distinctions between agitative and integrative and political and sociological propaganda are useful but, as we will see, they can be and often are blurred.
Sociological propaganda is generally benign but all kinds of propaganda are potentially dangerous because effective propaganda and advertising affect everybody, including the people who create them. The peacock with the longest tail probably does believe he is the best mate and a good car salesman believes that the car he promotes is the best and that his customer needs it. A bible-thumping preacher may actually fear his own damnation and Maya priests and kings subjected themselves to painful rituals in order to please their gods.
The danger of propaganda is that it tends to stray further and further from the truth because the people who create it are, even more than the rest of us, continuously immersed in it. Because they live in a maelstrom of propaganda their point of view is skewed and when they produce their own advertising or propaganda, they start from the skewed viewpoint.
It's tempting to think of advertisers and propagandists as Machiavellian geniuses who know exactly what they are doing and who intentionally lead us astray. Such people may exist, but they are not necessary to The System. Most advertising and propaganda are produced by people like you and me who have a job to do and who are themselves fooled by the misinformation that assails us all.
Suppose that, as a propagandist, I aim to puff the truth by about 10% in everything I write for my client. When I write about Acme gugglerumps I puff your need for a gugglerump by about 10%, I puff the quality of the Acme brand by about 10% and I puff the benefits to the economy when you buy a gugglerump by about 10%.
If I were the only one doing it that would be no problem because I know the truth and when I write the next ad or public relations release, for gugglerumps or some other product, I will start from the same base.
But I am not alone. After I write my ad I go out into the world where I am assaulted by literally thousands of other ads and promotional articles, all with a 10% puff factor. After a while I will accept that 10% puff factor as reality and when I write my next ad or release I will puff the facts 10% from my new perceived reality, thus producing a puff factor of 21%. Because thousands of other ad-writers are doing the same I will soon accept this as reality and, from then on, when I puff my perceived truth by 10% my actual puff factor will be over 30%.
If we had a stable baseline to compare things with we could see this happen, but there is no baseline. We live in a culture of puff and propaganda and, with positive feedback, it is running amok.
Some people think their education and study of 'news' keep them safe from propaganda, but that's not so. A hermit who lives in a cave on a remote mountain might be immune to modern propaganda but the rest of us are all affected one way or another. As a general rule, the more we are part of society the more propaganda we are subjected to and the more likely we are to be influenced by it. As Jacques Ellul says ...
"The uncultured man cannot be reached by propaganda. Experience and research done by the Germans between 1933 and 1938 showed that in remote areas, where people hardly knew how to read, propaganda had no effect. The same holds true for the enormous effort in the Communist world to teach people how to read. In Korea the local script was terribly difficult and complicated: so, in North Korea, the Communists created an entirely new alphabet and a simple script in order to teach all people how to read. In China, Mao simplified the script in his battle with illiteracy and in some places in China new alphabets are being created."
And, a page later in the same book (italics Ellul's)
"The number of propaganda campaigns in the West which have first taken hold in cultured settings is remarkable. This is not only true for doctrinaire propaganda, which is based on exact facts and acts on the level of the most highly developed people who have a sense of values and know a great deal about political realities, such as, for example, the propaganda on the injustices of capitalism, on economic crises, or on colonialism; it is only normal that the most educated people (intellectuals) are the first to be reached by such propaganda. But this is also true for the crudest kind of propaganda; for example, the campaign on Peace and the campaign on bacteriological warfare were first successful in educated milieus. In France, the intellectuals went along most readily with the bacteriological warfare propaganda. All this runs counter to pat notions that only the public swallows propaganda. Naturally, the educated man does not believe in propaganda; he shrugs and is convinced that propaganda has no effect on him. This is in fact one of his great weaknesses and propagandists are well aware that in order to reach someone, one must first convince him that propaganda is ineffectual and not very clever. Because he is convinced of his own superiority, the intellectual is much more vulnerable than anybody else to this maneuver, even though basically a high intelligence, a broad culture and a constant exercise of the critical faculties and full and objective information are still the best weapons against propaganda."
Most of us can find evidence of this in our own experience. There were always more communists in universities than in factories and even now, around the campus of Ryerson University in Toronto, posters announce meetings of communist and/or neo-communist groups.
That should be no surprise. A university is the perfect setting for the dissemination of propaganda because students go there to learn and to develop new attitudes and beliefs; and many of them are not well able to judge the ideas they are offered. If new beliefs are installed by propaganda techniques, Ellul says, the opinions of most people 'crystallize' and they will not accept new or conflicting ideas.
I saw a classic example of this in a seminar at the University of Toronto, where a researcher was talking about the economy of East Africa.
He said that while most of the men in the area he studied were unemployed many of the women traded in the markets and, on average, the women earned more money than the men.
A woman in the audience refused to accept this. She had never been to Africa but she knew, somehow, that men always earn more than women. She believed this so completely that she would not accept any research that did not agree with her doctrine. Galileo's inquisitors would have approved.
Most of what we think of as 'news' is actually another component of propaganda. Ellul suggests that most people who think they are following the news actually subject themselves to a kind of information overload that forces them to accept whatever interpretation the media itself chooses to give events.
"Except for the specialist, information, even when it is very well presented, gives people only a broad image of the world. And much of the information disseminated nowadays -- research findings, facts, statistics, explanations, analyses -- eliminate personal judgment and the capacity to form one's own opinion even more surely than the most extravagant propaganda. This claim may seem shocking, but it is a fact that excessive data do not enlighten the reader or the listener, they drown him. He cannot remember them all, or coordinate them, or understand them; if he does not want to risk losing his mind, he will merely draw a general picture from them. And the more facts supplied, the more simplistic the image.
"If a man is given one item of information he will retain it; if he is given a hundred data in one field on one question, he will have only a general idea of that question. But if he is given a hundred items of information on all the political and economic aspects of a nation he will arrive at a summary judgment -- 'The Russians are terrific!' and so on.
"A surfeit of data, far from permitting people to make judgments and form opinions, prevents them from doing so and actually paralyzes them. They are caught in a web of facts and must remain at the level of the facts they have been given. They cannot even form a choice or a judgment in other areas or on other subjects. Thus the mechanisms of modern information produce a sort of hypnosis in the individual, who cannot get out of the field that has been laid out for him by the information. His opinion will be formed solely on the basis of the facts transmitted to him and not on the basis of his choice and his personal experience. The more the techniques of distributing information develop, the more the individual is shaped by such information. It is not true that he can choose freely with regard to what is presented to him as the truth. And because rational propaganda thus creates an irrational situation, it remains, above all, propaganda -- that is, an inner control over the individual by a social force, which means that it deprives him of himself."
Most of what we call 'news' is a combination of public relations, propaganda and entertainment.
In 1995 David Korten, president of the People-Centered Development Forum, reported that North American public relations agencies had 170,000 people to manage and manipulate news while North American news media had only about 40,000 reporters to report it. In 1990 a study found that nearly 40% of the contents of American newspapers began with press releases or other information from public relations agencies.
This is especially true of business news and, as Americans learned after the collapse of Enron, Worldcom and other corporations, important information may be faked or distorted.
Even if the media tries to avoid bias in the news, some will leak through. Television news anchors are some of the most influential people in our culture and, like everyone else, they have political opinions. In the mid 1980's an experiment showed that whatever the objective content of a TV news story the anchorman's approval or disapproval of political candidates can be read from his facial expressions and that some voters are influenced by this opinion.
But that applies only to 'serious' news. A considerable portion of our daily 'news' is actually a form of soap opera, with no real news value at all. Rather than information about the state of the world and the activities of governments, most 'news' media tends to feature stories about pain and misery.
And most of it is irrelevant to most of us. John F. Kennedy Junior was a rich young American and the son of a popular president, but neither his life nor his death were of much importance to Canadians or to many Americans. Still, when his plane crashed off Martha's Vineyard in the summer of 1999, we were all deluged with newspaper and television reports of the 'tragedy.' Because he and his family were rich and famous we had to learn all the details of his pampered life and his death.
I don't begrudge him the pampering but I resent the media's pretense that his accidental death was more important than the death of anyone else.
O. J. Simpson is a has-been football player and some-time actor. When he was tried for the murder of his former wife North Americans were subjected to months of salacious 'news' stories about how he had abused her and about the brutal manner of her death. In fact neither Simpson nor his wife or her murder were of any importance to anybody except their friends and families, and the news media just used them to titillate the public.
The media also does us a dis-service with constant reminders of tragedy and loss. The destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept 11/01, was a traumatic event -- perhaps nearly as traumatic as a typical day in the American bombing of Hanoi or Baghdad, or an Israeli attack on a Palestinian town -- but, if they were given a chance, most Americans would get over it.
But they are not allowed to. A year after the event the news media had to re-open all the old wounds and remind families of the husbands and fathers they had lost. This was partly related to the campaign to prepare Americans for the planned conquest of Iraq, of course, but it was also an attempt to display and, if necessary, create suffering for the entertainment of the masses.
The media tries to find something sad or tragic or frightening about everything. If children are killed we have to hear about the misery and sorrow of the parents, just in case we think they do not care.
While I was writing this a ten-year old girl went missing in Toronto and at least one TV station ran the mother's impassioned plea for the return of her child. After the child's body had been found there was no valid reason to re-run the plea but the TV station kept running it. The announcer pretended to care about the family and the child but the re-run of that plea after the child's body had been found argues that the real intention was to titillate viewers.
Some news becomes important because the media decides to play it up. On days when there is no important news the media may puff a minor item to make it look important enough to be a 'lead.' If a puffed story leads the news many people will think it's important and in fact it may be, but not as news. Puff stories that lead the news on a dull day may actually create 'public opinion.'
And sometimes this is planned. We 'measure' public opinion by polls but, as psychologist John Zaller has observed, most people have no pre-formed opinion and when a pollster asks a question most people's answer will depend on what they have read or heard in the news in the past few days. In an example of positive feedback, the answers that people give to polls then become 'news.'
As the American columinst Walter Lippmann once wrote, "When the first six people we meet agree with us, it is not always easy to remember that they may all have read the same newspaper over breakfast." 
The media can create public opinion. In order to promote a new expressway, for example, the travel section of a newspaper might feature an article about the wonders of a city that is famed for its expressways. A business article might point out how important transportation is to the city, news stories might feature auto accidents with comments from safety 'experts' who tell us how dangerous narrow streets are, a tame 'think-tank' will produce an 'economic study' that will show the need for better roads, and so forth. This may sound like a plot by editors and publishers, but it need not be deliberate. If expressways are 'in the news' most editors would consider it good journalism to run stories that relate to expressways.
Then the newspaper or some other system might commission a poll of public opinion and, to prepare for the poll, there might or might not be a story about the expressway proposal. Either way, pollsters will go to selected areas of the city and ask the people who are most likely to benefit from the expressway what they think of it, and the answers can be guaranteed to support the cause.
The newspapers motives for this are obvious. We know that auto makers and oil companies will support the expressway, and therefore the newspapers advertising salesmen will be pleased if the paper supports it. The city's roads department, police and others will gain new duties and therefore new power from an expressway, and they will therefore be more cooperative and friendly to reporters from newspapers that support it. If the paper's owners have real estate interests or friends in the construction business they may have personal reasons to support the proposal.
All these people will have the best of possible motives, of course, but they also have personal interests. As soon as the expressway is suggested a metasystem will begin to form and the final decision to build it or not will depend more on benefits and disadvantages to members of the metasystem than the effect on the city as a whole.
If the media can create and control public opinion we might consider the people who control the media, rather than The System, to be the active agents. That's an illusion.
People who control media are active agents but they are able to act because they have been selected by The System. If they did not accept the values of The System and if they did not serve the needs of The System they would not prosper, and the media they control would have no power.
The reporters and editors who produce our 'news' are conscientious -- I was one of them for a while -- but they are selected by the owners of the media and thus, indirectly, by The System. If they did not accept the values of The System -- or at least do what they are told on the job -- they could not work for major media.
I didn't see this when I was working as a reporter but I have myself participated in deliberate manipulation of the news. In the late 1960's I shot free-lance newsfilm for several TV stations in southern Ontario. At that time a pressure group wanted the Canadian military to lend a Hercules transport plane to a group that was trying to get aid to one side in the Nigerian civil war.
A Toronto TV station assigned me to film the group's 'demonstration' outside the Air Transport Command station at Trenton, Ontario. By the time I got there several other TV crews were waiting, but there were no 'demonstrators.' On schedule, a car and a couple of small vans arrived. A PR man got out of the car and spoke to us, then to the guards outside the station. Then people got out of the vans.
For about five minutes the 'demonstrators' marched in circles, waved signs and chanted slogans in front of the gate while we of the press took pictures, choosing our camera angles to make a dozen people look like a mob. Then the PR man asked if we had enough.
The others said okay but I pointed out that there was a Hercules plane parked on the airfield across the road. If I used a long lens and if the 'demonstrators' marched in exactly the right place, I could get a shot of them marching with the plane in the background.
They did, until I got the shot. Then they all climbed into the vans and went home. The marchers didn't give a damn about the planes or about Nigeria, all they cared about was that they had all been paid to march in front of cameras.
I told the news editor about this when I handed in my film, and he told me that it had been 'arranged.' So much for the integrity of that particular TV station -- which happens to be one of the most influential private TV stations in Canada. Because my shot was very effective, it was also picked up for the national news that night.
The effect of propaganda is intensified if all the media offer the same news and the same interpretation of news and, especially in North America, news has become more standardized over the years. The trend began with the rise of syndicated columnists who present the same opinion to millions of readers at a time and the standardization has become more complete with the growth of chain media which presents the same picture -- as approved by the management of the chain -- to readers across the country.
At the end of World War II about 80% of American newspapers were independent operations but by 1989, 80% were owned by chains.
That made a big difference because many of the owners of independent newspapers were men who believed in public service and who were willing to stand up for their beliefs. Some of the people who control newspaper chains may have an active interest in manipulating the government and the public; and many of the managers of individual papers in a chain are bean counters who are judged by the profits they can wring out of their publications.
The systems we call governments probably did not plan to help media moguls to build chains of newspapers but they did help. Roy Thomson, who built one of the world's biggest media empires, commented that family-owned newspapers were not economic in Canada because the heirs had to pay inheritance taxes every time the property was passed on. American chains were helped by an IRS ruling that the cost of buying newspaper companies was a legitimate business expense. Because of that, a chain that invested its profits in the purchase of more newspapers could avoid taxes.
This does not suggest that either Canadian or American government officials collaborated in the creation of media chains. In any metasystem each party follows its own best interests but the end result of their work benefits both.
When dolphins help human fishermen they do it because the cooperative effort helps them catch more fish, not because it helps the fishermen. When spur-winged plovers clean the teeth of crocodiles they do it because they find food there, not because they want to protect crocodiles from dental caries. When oxpecker birds pick ticks from the backs of African water buffalo they do it because a tick full of buffalo blood is food for the bird, not because it might bother the buffalo.
When governments tax independent news media they do it for the money, not because they want to help chain media. When chain media supports politicians who support taxes on independent media they do it for their own advantage, not because they think those politicians are best for the country.
One way and another, the chains grew. Author Ben Bagdikian says that in 1997 twenty three corporations owned most of the newspapers, magazines, TV stations, book publishers and moving picture production companies in the United States. There have been several mergers and takeovers since then, and the number is now probably less than ten.
In the summer of 2001 the Canadian Radio and Television Commission took the process one step further with a decision that allowed Canada's two national newspapers to merge their news operations with two television networks. Journalists worried about the loss of jobs but the more important effect was that information was more completely controlled. In the next year Canadians learned that some of the 'editorials' for newspapers in one chain were written at the chain's head office and that all newspapers in the chain were required to publish the head-office editorials.
As Noam Chomsky says, "Liberal democratic theorists have long observed that in a society where the voice of the people is heard, elite groups must ensure that that voice says the right thing."
One advantage of chain media is that central control eliminates most random or uncontrolled voices.
In a natural human society every person has a voice, but propaganda is very much more effective if no conflicting information or opinion is available. In a world of independent thinkers there would be several opinions on every subject and in a world of small media all would be heard, to some extent, but chain media prints or broadcasts only authorized voices and authorized views of the world.
And because the media are owned by chains and take their news from wire services, all their news stories will agree on basic facts and on how they should be interpreted. There will be some conflict between media that support different political parties or that are backed by different financial interests but all are part of the same metasystem and the basic message will always be the same.
In the occupied village members of the Establishment may have quarreled among themselves but they always presented a united front to the slaves and serfs. In the world of The System the only opinions aired in public are those that serve The System, one way or another. Even letters to the editor of a newspaper or magazine are edited and, while the editor probably does not think in terms of authorized and unauthorized opinions, he will not print any ideas that he considers to be unreasonable. The ideas that he considers reasonable, of course, are those that are part of conventional wisdom and therefore acceptable to The System.
But the news media is just one arm of the metasystem of Mind Benders that controls us. Hundreds of millions of people around the world are avid sports fans and, now as in Roman times, spectator sports are a tool for the management of the masses.
In ancient Rome politicians and patricians kept the masses sedated with 'bread and circuses.' In the modern world spectator sports are so important that whole cities may be disrupted for one event, television stations will re-arrange their schedules around a professional ball game and most newspapers have whole sections devoted to 'sports.'
Spectator sports encourage 'fans' to display mindless loyalty and to react as members of a group rather than as individuals. Spectator sports also keep people focussed on the behavior, activities and needs of a sports league -- which is a system -- and inhibit more-important interaction between humans. The ability of men to ignore their wives and children while they concentrate on a TV broadcast of a game between two teams of professionals they have never met, has achieved joke status in some circles.
But if it is distressing to their families the loyalty of sports fans to their chosen team is valuable to The System. As Jacques Ellul wrote:
"When propaganda makes the individual participate in a collective movement, it not only makes him share in an artificial activity, but also evokes in him a psychology of participation, a 'crowd psychology.' This psychic modification, which automatically takes place in the presence of other participants, is systematically produced by propaganda. It is the creation of mass psychology, with man's individual psychology integrated into the crowd.
"In this process of alienation, the individual loses control and submits to external impulses; his personal inclinations and tastes give way to participation in the collective."
Major sports events also provide convenient news blackouts during which other news will be ignored and potentially embarrassing information can be buried.
As a reporter I didn't notice news blackouts until, more than 20 years ago, I witnessed an attack by local thugs on a camp of migrant fruit pickers in a small town in British Columbia. The thugs were easily identified but they were locals and the victims were not and the local RCMP detachment was reluctant to press charges.
Partly, perhaps, because a reporter had witnessed the attack, charges were eventually laid. Months later the trial was held on the day of a US presidential election. I came from Toronto to testify at the trial but the fruit pickers who had been attacked were not able to come. I had not seen the one man who was on trial, and the charge was dismissed.
I wanted to write a news report about the case but, as one editor told me, "if you had the second coming today, we couldn't run the story." The Crown Attorney and the police could argue that there was no attempt to cover anything up -- but the incident was kept out of the national news.
In this case servants of The System used an election to bury news but US presidential elections are held only once every four years. Major sports stories -- such as 'bowl' football games, the world series of baseball and the Stanley Cup of hockey -- add up to several blackouts a year and when a special blackout is required at a specific time, a 'world-championship' boxing fight or other event can be staged.
Celebrities can also be used to create a news blackout if they happen to get married or divorced, or do something else, at an appropriate time. If no established celebrity is doing anything interesting, The System can create a celebrity to order.
In Canada in the fall of 2002 a sports announcer whose contract was not renewed by a TV network was front page news for several days until the network agreed to his salary demands. For those few days the fate of one 'TV personality' (whom I had never heard of until after he was let go) distracted attention from the firing of a provincial cabinet minister for abuse of his expense account, from calls for police to investigate double billing for federal government contracts by supporters of the Liberal party which controlled the government, other irregularities in government contracts and the news that our Prime Minister had flouted government regulations and apparently saved business friends from a loss when he spent $100 million for two executive jets that the government did not need. These events were all reported, but they all took second billing to the continuing story about a sports announcer's campaign to keep his job.
If we were looking for a conspiracy we might assume that the network deliberately dumped the sportscaster to precipitate a crisis and that the news media took up the cause intentionally, but we are not looking for a conspiracy and we don't have to make any such assumptions.
Instead, we understand that in a well-ordered system, things happen. We like to think that humans cause events in our society and they do, but we don't have to believe in some Machiavellian plot. If the same decision will make life just a little bit easier for you and me and most of our friends, it should be no surprise to anyone if we all make that decision.
Celebrities are also useful to advertisers because we recognize them and, subconsciously, we trust them as we would trust friends. I know that a professional hockey player is not particularly well-qualified to judge the quality of a hair shampoo but a company that sells shampoo will pay him to recommend its brand in a television commercial. When I see the commercial I don't think of the hockey player as an expert on shampoos but if I were a hockey fan I might see someone I admire and I might take his advice even if I know that he is just saying what he is paid to say.
I use that shampoo because it happened to catch my eye at the drug store. It's not bad.
Some 'celebrities,' are famous only through commercials. If a product has questionable value a 'genuine' celebrity may be reluctant to endorse it or, whether the product is useful or not, a celebrity may demand too much money. In that case an advertiser can literally create a celebrity, simply by using the same actor every time in a series of commercials. An unknown actor might take a job like that for less than regular rates, because he will profit from the exposure.
Celebrities are created by propaganda and they are themselves an important part of the system of advertising and propaganda. In Ellul's words ........
"The cult of the hero is that absolutely necessary complement of the massification of society. We see the automatic creation of this cult in connection with champion athletes, movie stars and even such abstractions as Davy Crockett in the United States and Canada in 1955. The exaltation of the hero proves that one lives in a mass society. The individual who is prevented by circumstances from becoming a real person, who can no longer express himself through personal thought or action, who finds his aspirations frustrated, projects onto the hero all that he would wish to be. He lives vicariously and experiences the athletic or amorous or military exploits of the god with whom he lives in spiritual symbiosis. The well-known mechanism of identifying with movie stars is almost impossible to avoid for the member of modern society who comes to admire himself in the person of the hero. There he reveals the powers of which he unconsciously dreams, projects his desires, identifies himself with this success and that adventure. The hero becomes model and father, power and mythical realization of all that the individual cannot be."
Author Vance Packard describes another function of celebrities. He laments the loss of neighbors and friends as modern corporations move executives around the country but he notes that all Americans have familiar 'neighbors' in the persons of David Frost and Lucille Ball -- the stars of popular TV programs of the day.
We all need friends but if we are cut off from families and from real friendships -- as many of us are in the world of The System -- the well-known face and voice of the celebrity give us some sense of security. At the same time celebrities also reinforce our sense of insecurity because we know that compared to them we are insignificant and have no right to challenge The System.
That too, is an important function. The most important members of society are the makers who provide the goods and services we all need -- the farmers, the bakers, the garbage collectors and so-on -- but if takers are to rule the world they must keep makers under control. When a maker sees a celebrity spend more every month than the average maker earns in a lifetime, when he or she sees how the world respects and listens to a hockey player, a movie star, a supermodel or someone else who performs an essentially-useless function, the maker is reminded of his/her insignificance. People who get such reminders several times a day, every day, will honestly believe that they are less important than takers.
Again, as always, I stress that this is not a plot by individuals. It's the way The System works and most of the individuals involved are not aware of The System or their role in it.
The bacteria that produces the enzyme that enables Mixotricha paradoxa to digest cellulose plays a significant role in the construction of a termitary, but it does not know or care what a termitary is or why it should be built.
Plays, television and movies are also effective tools for the management of society. Like professional sports they keep the masses bemused and create heroes and, at the same time, are ideal vehicles for propaganda.
This is not a new idea. In 1895 French social psychologist Gustav Le Bon wrote.. "The imagination of crowds is most stirred when ideas are transmitted dramatically. For this reason, theatrical representations ....... always have an enormous influence on crowds.
During World War II and even as late as the Vietnam War some movies were mostly propaganda, produced in support of national war efforts. Few modern movies contain much obvious agitative or political propaganda but almost all contain a considerable amount of integrative and sociological propaganda. The industry actually boasts that its films "promote the highest types of social life, the proper conception of society, the proper standards of life and avoid any ridicule of the law, either natural or human, or sympathy for those who violate the law."
We like to pretend that 'entertainment' is value-free but, in fact, there is no such thing as 'value free' information of any kind.
Some of the most powerful propaganda is contained in fictional stories which may be presented as books, as movies or on television. Fiction is a wonderful medium for propagandists because there is no pretense of telling the truth. Fiction can distort facts as required and if the distortions are noticed they are dismissed as 'artistic license.'
Fiction can use rhythm, emotion and other techniques to insert messages directly into our subconscious minds and, if there is any danger that we will think critically about anything, fiction can distract us with action or a love scene or a description sprinkled with emotionally loaded images or adjectives.
When fiction presents an argument it also presents the counter-argument but it presents only the counter-argument that the author chooses. The result is that we see the point argued and won without hearing any real argument. Even the author of fiction may be fooled, because we can all convince ourselves of the truth of anything we really want to believe.
This does not suggest that novelists and film writers are part of a deliberate plot to manipulate us. There is no need for such a plot because in most cases when an American writer presents 'The American Way of Life' as the best in the world, he actually believes that to be so. Most of the propaganda we find in fiction is integrative and sociological and the people who present it may be trying to lead but, in most cases, they are not trying to mislead their audience.
But the propaganda in fiction is very powerful because even though we know that the story we see on the screen or read in a book is fiction we absorb it as though it were real and, in time, we may come to believe it is real. In The Myth of Repressed Memory psychologist Elizabeth Loftus explains how we can confuse fiction with fact.
World famous psychologist Jean Piaget did. As quoted by Loftus, Piaget recalls a clear memory of the time his nurse fought off a man who tried to kidnap him.
Piaget was five years old at the time, but when he was 15 the nurse admitted that the story had been a fabrication, made up to impress Piaget's parents. Piaget remembered the nurse telling his parents about the supposed incident, and for years he thought he remembered a real event.
Loftus once challenged her students at the University of Washington to implant false memories in friends and relatives. About one-quarter of them were successful.
Student Jim Coan convinced his 14-year old brother Chris that when Chris was five years old he had been lost in a shopping mall in Tacoma. It never happened but, with little effort, Jim was able to implant a memory that Chris could not identify as false.
We know that the stories we see in movies and on TV are fiction, of course, but we may remember the story and forget that it was fiction. Loftus says that in several speeches former U.S. president Ronald Reagan cited a specific act of heroism in which a U.S. Navy pilot won the Congressional Medal of Honor. The incident he referred to was portrayed in a movie but it does not appear on the records of any winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, psychologist Daniel Schachter of Harvard University says all our memories, whether we remember the source or not, are subject to what he calls 'leakage.' When we recall a scene or an event we may include details from a different scene or event.
One of the most common failings of memory is what psychologists call 'source amnesia,' in which we remember something but are not quite sure where or how we learned it. Once the source of a memory is forgotten we find it hard to distinguish between our memory of an event that we have actually perceived that of one we have only heard about.
Because we can accept fictional events as real, millions of North Americans live in a world in which the beliefs, attitudes and behavior of the characters in fiction -- most of which are warped to improve the story -- represent a slice of real life.
Some school-teachers tell us that fiction teaches us about the real world, but that's a myth. Fiction may pretend to model real life but in fact fictional characters behave as they must to fit a pre-ordained plot.
Even within the demands of the plot, fiction has to make its characters and the world behave in ways that will please an audience already shaped by misconceptions and sated by excess.
To be commercially successful, fiction must cater to the preconceptions of its audience and the stereotypes of the day. In the American south in the 1920's or South Africa in the 1960's a story or play that portrayed even one black man as noble or intelligent would not have been accepted by the general public. Now a story that depicts a black man as base, simple minded or cowardly would be rejected by all blacks and most whites.
Today's fiction reflects different stereotypes but they are still stereotypes and modern TV, movies and even books portray the world with such clarity and simplicity that most fiction is more vivid than real life.
And they portray the world that The System wants portrayed. It looks real to us because most of the characters portrayed in popular entertainment have dreams and ambitions similar to our own, but this is like the question of the hen and the egg.
To a certain extend the characters we see in popular movies look like us because they are modelled on us but, at the same time, we model ourselves on them. To hold our interest the characters in movies must be subtly different from us and, in a world ruled by The System, most of those differences reflect changes that will be good for The System.
Movies glorify career women over mothers, takers over makers and -- above all -- obedience to the world of fashion and popular entertainment.
And like so many other things, this is an evolutionation development. Movies that portray trends compatable with the general drift of society do better than movies that do not.
But whatever else it does, fiction has to offer extremes. More than 100 years ago the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes solved cases in which something was stolen or, sometimes, somebody's life was threatened. He sometimes carried a revolver and sometimes used it to fire a warning shot.
The fictional detectives of modern movies chase villains who are out to destroy the world, or at least to commit mass murder. Heroes and villains alike carry automatic pistols or machine guns, and everyone shoots to kill.
To some people this is the real world. Because the characters we see in movies and on television are part of a highly-charged drama we pay more attention to their antics on the screen that we do to real people in the real world, and the lessons we learn from fictional characters on movies and TV screens may carry more weight than the lessons we learn from real people.
Thanks to the wonders of modern media, many of us have a distorted view of the world. If we grow up with movies and TV, in fact, we may have trouble communicating with real people.
Psychologists tell us that about 70% of social communication is through body language and that most of the rest is through tone of voice. Rather than listen to what people say we watch them and listen to how they speak.
We learn to read non-verbal cues from our peers but when we get a significant portion of our human contact from actors on a TV screen, we can't learn to read real cues.
When a movie actor looks into an actress' eyes and tells her he loves her, he's usually lying. In fact he may hate her and in any case he is following a script.
But to millions of teen-aged girls his love is real and they watch every nuance of body language and facial expression. The actor is faking love but he is setting the standard by which real-life lovers will be judged and if they don't fake it they may not be believed.
A good actor will try to mimic the body language of true love but there's little chance that he will get it exactly right. He may do better as an actor if he parodies real body language, because the parody will have more impact in the fictional setting.
That's a real problem because most children see more intense human inter-action in the thirty hours or so of television they watch every week than they do in real life, and they pay more attention to TV than they do in real life.
When we sit with people to watch TV we are there to watch TV, not to sit with people. If we read a book rather than talk to friends, we choose the characters in the book as our friends.
If I live in the real world I will model my behavior and expectations on the real world and I may eventually learn to deal with the real world. If I live in a world of fiction I will learn from fiction and I will learn only to deal with the world of fiction.
If the people I meet have been exposed to the same amount of the same fiction as I have it might work out all right, in some cases at least. If I model my behavior on one fictional character, perhaps they will model theirs on another.
But what if real human reactions creep into the interchange? If I am too wrapped up in fictional emotions and reactions, will I be able to deal with the real thing? Or will I feel so uncomfortable with the real world that when one of my fictional heroes commits suicide, I may think about following his lead?
Some people actually do. More than two hundred years ago German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a novel in which the hero, named Werther, shot himself. The book describes the suicide in detail -- how Werther dressed for the event in boots, a blue coat and a yellow vest and, after his servant had left for the night, sat at his desk with a copy of a popular romantic play and shot himself. In the next few years so many young men shot themselves in obvious imitation of Werther that the book was banned in several countries.
Psychiatrists know that one suicide in a mental hospital is often followed by others and more than 20 years ago American sociologist David Phillips found that the pattern holds in the outside world. At the time the U.S. suicide rate averaged 1,200 to 1,700 every month, depending on the time of year and other factors. Phillips found an average increase of nearly 60 in the month after any suicide reported on the front page of either the New York Times or the New York Daily News.
Some suicides have more impact than others. In 1962 the death of Marilyn Monroe apparently triggered nearly 200 extra suicides in the next month. In April of 1994 singer Kurt Cobain shot himself. For the rest of the year a surprising number of teen-age suicides played Cobain tapes as they killed themselves and some left notes naming Cobain. Some psychologists call the phenomenon the 'Werther effect.' I see it as another example of Barnum's Law in action.
In a later study Phillips found that fatal automobile accidents also increased significantly after a publicized suicide. More significant, single-car accidents in which the driver was the only victim increased after a publicized suicide, and accidents in which the driver and at least one passenger were killed increased after a publicized murder-suicide.
Numbers were taken for a week before and a week after the date on which significant suicides were reported. Through most of that period the fatality rate varied from the expected average by about minus two to plus six percent from year to year.
But three days after the report of a suicide fatalities were usually more than 31% above the expected level and in a second peak showed an increase of nearly ten percent, eight days after the report of the suicide.
But if mass entertainment can drive some of us to suicide, Ellul says that it also helps reconcile people to the frustration and monotony of life in The System.
For many people life is dreary because they are tied to jobs that offer little scope for independence or creativity. This is frustrating but they may find relief in movies and TV shows. Unfortunately the shows that they are likely to find most satisfying are those in which anyone who gets in the hero's way can expect at least a beating and, often, a gruesome death.
Apologists for 'blood and thunder' shows remind us that the good guys always win and some cite a series of experiments at the University of Colorado that suggest that people who watch violent films experience a 'catharsis' and vent their anger vicariously.
A later series of experiments at the University of Wisconsin suggest that while people who watch 'unjustified' violence in movies may not display much aggression afterward, people who watch 'justified' violence are considerably more likely to be aggressive afterward.
That's a problem because when the good guy wins, it's the bad guy who suffers the most violence and psychological evidence suggests that this gives viewers a license to be aggressive against 'bad guys.' If we accept the message of some TV shows, this category might include anyone who offends or opposes us.
Most of our media is supported by advertising and we like to pretend that ad agencies use their power only to sell commercial goods, but we know they also plan election campaigns for politicians and 'manage' public opinion for private corporations and governments. Politicians pretend that their advertising managers have no political power but it's obvious that the man who controls the election must have a great deal of influence over the politician.
All advertising is powerful and the power of some un-advertised advertising techniques is alarming, to say the least. When Vance Packard recognized subliminal images in magazine advertisements he wrote a book about them. Hidden Persuaders was a best seller, but the images are still there.
In 1974 author Wilson Bryan Key reported in Subliminal Seduction that a survey found that most business and community leaders believe that subliminal advertising is illegal. In fact, he says, there is no law against it.
And there never will be useful laws against subliminal advertising because we are affected by many things we are not conciously aware of, including the smell of a store and the color of the walls and the temperature indoors and out. Advertisers study all these things and they have developed so many different techniques, and such subtle techniques, that it would not be possible or desireable to write laws to cover them all.
Perhaps with some encouragement from the marketers themselves, many people don't believe that subliminal advertising techniques could possibly work or that they are used. Key's The Clam Plate Orgy included reproductions of advertisements with secondary images that Key described as subliminal content, but the secondary images are not obvious and some people denied their existence. Writing in the early 1970's, Key said a survey found that 60% of Americans believed that subliminal advertising techniques existed only in science fiction and that 90% believed that they were illegal. In 1971 English psychologist N.F. Dixon wrote that more papers had been published on subliminal perception than on any other subject in psychology, but most textbooks either ignore or minimize it.
Subliminal advertising does exist and it is used. Any doubts about that were laid to rest in the summer of 2000, when news programs around the world reported and televised the subliminal content of one of then-presidential-candidate George W. Bush's TV commercials. When the commercial was slowed down the word 'rats' was seen to drift across an image of Bush's opponent, Al Gore. Bush said he did not know about the subliminal message and many people believed him, but there is no question that it was there.
Until that subliminal was discovered Bush led the polls by a wide margin but afterward he lost so much popular support that when he was declared winner of the election, some people questioned the win. Personally, I can't help wondering whether Bush slipped in the polls because he was caught using subliminals or because he stopped using them.
In this case Bush was caught because his advertising agency used an obsolete technique. Back in the 1970's Key wrote that 'modern' subliminal techniques use constant low-intensity messages, rather than a high speed flash and they are virtually impossible to detect.
In fact much of the power of advertising lies in what I think of as the 'superliminal' content that we don't see because it is so obvious. Superliminal messages are buried in the background of ads but, in the wonder-world of advertising, the background may actually be the foreground.
Think of the famous Marlboro cigarette ads that showed a good-looking cowboy riding a good-looking horse through beautiful country on a nice day. The ads didn't say much about cigarettes but millions of consumers imagined that when they lit a Marlboro they shared something with the cowboy in the advertisements.
The Marlboro ad is a special case because the superliminal content is obviously the central feature. Most ads have an overt message which may distract us from the superliminal content.
We see some examples of superliminal content in advertisements for cars, which always show cars in car-friendly places where potential customers would like to picture themselves. The ads show cars on un-crowded roads, driving through beautiful scenery or approaching a nice house -- never stuck in traffic or in some spot where there is no place to park.
This is quite reasonable, from the car salesman's point of view. If you want to sell cars you picture a world in which everyone needs a car -- preferably a big one -- and in which there is no apparent downside to the use of cars. It would not make sense for a car salesman to remind us of the cost of congestion in our cities, of the world-scale problem of air pollution or any of the other problems created by our use of automobiles.
As we said earlier, the art of propaganda is to tell part of the truth. Most advertisements for cars show a wonderful clean world with lots of fresh air and no traffic jams and this world exists, but most car buyers do not live in it. To the extent that advertisements do not show the real world, they are dishonest.
Are there other techniques we don't know about? It may sound paranoid but we have to assume that, in a multi-billion dollar business in which one agency's secret technique can give it an advantage over another, there are techniques that even most advertising people don't know about. The only things we can be sure of are that big ad agencies have millions of dollars a year to fund research and that they have good reason to keep their discoveries secret.
Even without secret techniques, the practice of advertising has side effects that advertisers may not plan or fully understand. One concern is that the best way to sell something is to make people unhappy with what they already have.
If I want to sell you a new car my first move is to convince you that your old car -- or whatever form of transportation you have now -- is not adequate for your needs.
It does me no good to prove that the car I am trying to sell is better than one that someone else offers unless I have already convinced you that you need a new car.
So first I have to convince you that you need a new car and so do the people who sell other makes of cars. The message is buried as a secondary part of each ad but it's always there and the effect is cumulative.
Because of that it's very powerful. With a dozen or more other car makers making conflicting claims I may not be able to convince you that the car I offer is better than the competition but between us all we can probably convince you that your present form of transportation is not adequate.
Meanwhile the people who sell appliances tell you that your refrigerator is inadequate and so-forth. The claims for different products may conflict but they all agree that whatever you have now it is not enough and that you will not be happy until you get more, and more expensive, material goods. Because the media is controlled by advertisers, this same message also pervades the supposedly non-advertising component of the media.
And, as in everything else, all this is controlled by positive feedback. Companies that use the most effective advertising techniques increase their sales and are thus able to finance more advertising and more manipulative techniques. Companies that avoid manipulation do not increase their sales and, as their relative advertising exposure declines, their sales will also decline.
Propaganda and advertising form a metasystem of their own and that system has now developed to the point where it controls the world with virtually no human interference. Humans still create and distribute propaganda but, because they are themselves controlled by it, they are agents rather than authors of the propaganda they create.
On one level the world is still ruled by soldiers, priests, kings and politicians but in most countries their power is illusory. Even in a dictatorship no one man can rule without the support of The System and, in most countries, that support is gained and held or lost through propaganda.
The pioneering American public relations man Edward Bernays wrote:
"Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country.
"We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.
"This 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 in a smoothly functioning society.
"Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet.
".... we are dominated by a 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. 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."
The nominal rulers of our society are people but in a democracy they are people who have chosen or developed the right propaganda. Because they are also victims of their own and others' propaganda the real ruler is the propaganda, rather than the people.
It's easier to manipulate a divided group than a cohesive one and, for most of the past century the metasystem of propaganda has been dividing most western cultures into factions.
We already had some factions in society -- rulers and ruled, rich and poor, makers, takers and others -- but they were relatively peripheral. The new factions are all-encompassing.
The factionalization of society is so good for The System that we might suspect a plot but, again, there is no need for one. Individual propagandists choose their own courses for their own reasons, and the ones that serve the needs of The System prosper.
The basis of human society is the family and The System began to attack families in the 1920's in a program intended to sell mass-produced goods to people who had been, up to that point, mostly self-sufficient. The key, advertising psychologists found, was to transfer control of the family from the adults to the children.
One of the leaders was John B. Watson, a professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University and one of the founders of behavioral psychology, who considered all but the 'gratifications of the marketplace" to be perverse and socially damaging.
In a book on child care Watson advised parents to "never hug and kiss" (children) "never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task."
In 1920 Watson left Johns Hopkins and later went to work for the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency.
In 1931 writer Edward Filene argued that in the modern world the "head of the family is no longer in control of the economic process through which the family must get its living," and that, rather than look to a husband or father for guidance, women and children must look to "the truths which science is discovering."
Writer and professor Stuart Ewen quotes psychologist Alfred Poffenberger on the need to advertise directly to children because adults had habits that were hard to break but children could be counted on to demand change. About the advertising of the era Ewen writes ...
"...the ads often painted a picture of adults as incompetent in coping with modernity, and raise the model of youth as a conduit to consumption. A 1922 ad from Paramount Studios documented the breakdown of parental know-how and gives an insight into the ways in which youth served as a cover for new authorities. Reinforcing the need for "keeping up with youngsters," the ad resolved that "the young folks do their parents every bit as much good as their parents do them."
The breakup of human culture may have reached a tipping point in the 1960's, with a combination of triggers.
One was the popularization of the hallucinogenic drug LSD. Another was the rise of the musical group called The Beatles with their new and incredibly popular 'psychedelic' music -- which tied neatly into the promise of the new psychedelic drug. Publicity about LSD also helped popularize marijuana, which has been a popular drug for thousands of years.
The American government had been trying to stop the use of marijuana since about 1918 -- partly because it was popular with Asian immigrants and was seen as part of the 'yellow peril' -- but with the Beatles and LSD on one side and a new distrust of the government on the other, American youth embraced it.
The distrust of government had been sparked by the Vietnam war and by evidence that the American military-industrial complex and the American government were both lying to the American people.
The war itself might have had little impact on America but the lies did, and the anti-war protest movement was born. This was significant because it produced an explosion of propaganda, and widespread dissemination of propaganda techniques.
Russian spies and agents-provocateurs may have helped in this. There is no question that the USSR had agents and/or sympathizers on American college campuses and if they did not play some role in protests against an American war on a Communist state, they should have.
But the Russian role was probably insignificant because the protest movement also included a lot of American psychologists who certainly knew how to develop propaganda themselves, and who were now in a unique position to experiment and develop new techniques. By forming its own counter-system the anti-war movement forced the American military-industrial complex to abandon the Vietnam war and, incidentally, produced a quantum leap in the science of mind-bending.
Between them the war and the anti-war movement created a rift in the American population and an opportunity for the development of a 'youth culture' that estranges teens from their parents' values and encourages them to accept ideas and standards only from agents of The System.
Nearly thirty years ago Austrian naturalist and psychologist Konrad Lorenz suggested that the modern antipathy of the young for the old goes beyond normal limits. It's not a conflict between two segments of one culture because modern teens are conditioned to see themselves as an entirely different nation from their elders. In Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins he wrote:
"The attitude of many of the younger generation toward their parents shows a good measure of conceited contempt but no understanding. The revolt of modern youth is founded on hatred, a hatred closely related to an emotion that is most dangerous and difficult to overcome: national hatred. In other words today's rebellious youth reacts to the older generation in the same way that a cultural group or 'ethnic' group reacts to a foreign, hostile one."
Lorenz wrote that paragraph in the early 1970's in a small town in Austria -- a time and place when the youth culture was relatively low key. If he saw modern North American culture, he might say that the split between young and old may be terminal.
Apologists for the youth culture suggest that we of the older generation can't understand the younger because we can't deal with the pace of technological change in the modern world. In fact, most of the younger generation has never seen a significant change in technology.
My father was born in 1888 and he died in 1965. When he was young most street-cars were horse-drawn, there were no cars, telephones and electric light were experimental and aircraft were a crazy dream but, before he died, he watched color television and travelled by jet plane. He lived through change on a scale that modern youth can not imagine.
On the other hand, modern youth lives in a world that older generations of Canadians find hard to believe. When my father was young any North American man who had a few years of grade school education could expect to find a secure job, to be able to support a wife in his own home and to support his children until they finished high school.
A young woman could expect to marry and to be supported in her own home while she raised her children. If her husband died, her family would help raise the children. If, for some reason, her husband left her she would still be entitled to support for the rest of her life or until she remarried.
When I was young our expectations were about the same -- with the exception that it was quite reasonable for an average man to expect to pay for his children's university education.
More than thirty years ago I was a reporter for a small city newspaper -- a job that did not demand a university degree in those days. My wife did not work and I bought a three-bedroom house, with more than 160 feet of river frontage, within a city, for slightly less than one year's salary. The water was clean enough to swim in, or to drink, for that matter. Because of a dam downstream the river behind my house was about a quarter-mile wide and, for a while, a friend kept his sailboat at my back door.
Now the average man with a university degree knows that he may not find a job and that if he does the job will not be secure. He knows that whether his job is secure or not his wife will probably have to work, that they may never own their own home and that their children will probably have to borrow money to pay for a university education.
The physical changes in my time have been relatively minor. My car is more efficient and dependable than my father's but it's not all that different. Some cars that were built before I was born are still in use and the electric cars that some visionaries see as the car of the future were more popular 100 years ago than they are now, or are likely to be in the foreseeable future. The latest wonder to amaze the younger generation is the hybrid gas-electric car, similar to at least one that was available in 1914. As I write this TV commercials advertise "the first truck in the world with four-wheel steering." It must be an old one, because the Nash company made trucks with four wheel drive and four wheel steering before 1910.
The first car I owned was made in 1937 and, given a choice, I would rather buy that car new than many modern ones. The first airplane I flew in had propellers but it may still be flying today, and within the past twenty years I have flown in planes that were built before I was born. Modern telephones have buttons instead of dials but buttons are an improvement, not a quantum change. Television was not common when I was young but the first commercial TV station in the world began broadcasting in 1928, nearly ten years before I was born.
The one big physical change in my lifetime is the development of computers and that affects me because I use one, but the work I do on a computer is essentially the same as the work I used to do on a typewriter. About the time my father was born writers were giving up pens for typewriters, which was a more significant change.
In earlier days writers could work in bars or in libraries or in orchards but, because editors now expect books and articles to be delivered as computer files, most modern writers have to do most of their work in offices. As a writer, I do not consider this an improvement.
Computers represent a bigger change for accountants and some others than for me, but most of us are not directly affected by them. Computer chips make our watches keep better time and our cars run better, but the old watches and the old cars were good enough for most purposes. Some computers monitor and control industrial processes and they do good work but in most cases they also displace people and, for most of us, their most important effect is to create unemployment. In this respect they are a continuation of a process that began a couple of hundred years ago.
Some men now work in space but they are not much more real to the rest of us -- or more relevant to our daily lives -- than were the science-fiction heroes of fifty years ago. The exploration of space is a gravy train for some systems and the people who serve them but, for the average human being, it's just another waste of tax dollars. I gained no benefit when men landed on the moon, and I expect none when and if men land on Mars.
The most important changes in the modern world are in our social structure, and they are not changes for the better. When my father was born in 1888 the root systems of armies, churches, the state and so forth existed but, except for the schools and churches, they had little influence on most of us. By the time I was born in 1937 we had plenty of both machines and systems but the mind benders had little power and neither machines nor systems ruled our lives. I can remember when my older brother and I used to listen to the radio -- this was during World War II and we followed a serial about the crew of a bomber called "L for Lanky" -- but that was for a half hour every Sunday. The rest of the time we played with other children and the dominant influences in our lives were our parents, our friends and our teachers. My brother had a record player but Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and other singers of the day sang about the same values my parents held.
The biggest changes I have seen in my lifetime are the destruction of the family and the increase in poverty. The other big change is that systems are bigger, more powerful and richer than ever before, and that they seem to be taking over the world.
Another excuse for the youth culture suggests that youth has always been rebellious. That is partly true, but the rebellion of the past is not to be compared with the rebellion we see today. This is more like civil war than rebellion and it's even more tragic than other civil wars because adults are biologically pre-disposed to yield, where possible, to the demands of children. When youth rebels with determination it is sure to win -- but if it wins this battle, it is sure to lose.
But the triumph of the youth culture is vital to The System because the beliefs and standards of the older generation evolved before the development of deliberate and powerful mind-bending techniques, and too many of them include human values. Like the youth culture itself the values and standards of the youth culture have been established by The System and, by instilling those values in modern youth, The System gains total control of a whole generation of humanity.
The prophets of the modern world are pop singers and their bands, and many of the top singers are children themselves. Typical teen bands do not present an adult-oriented view of the world.
Singers may have real power but their success depends on promotion by The System, and the ones that are chosen for success are the ones that set a tone that suits The System.
The substance of modern teen music is a mix of the message The System wants to promote -- that the highest aim for a human is to renounce family ties and to join some system-based group -- plus whatever schtick the figurehead chooses as his or her personal signature.
In a world of teens who have learned to resent adults, anger and hatred are good signatures. If "Satan's Sodomists" or some other band spews hatred and resentment it may not sell records to adults but, whatever they think of the music, some teens will be attracted to any band that adults dislike. Peer pressure will attract others and, because adults dislike it, the band and the attitudes it promotes can be a hit.
Musical groups may foster and exploit resentment but they always direct their venom against human authority, never against The System that they serve.
Large commercial corporations also contribute to the breakup of human society by moving employees -- especially relatively senior employees -- around the country and even around the world. The overt rationale for this is that an executive who has worked throughout the corporate system knows the corporation well, but there is another advantage.
In a human society people who grow up together may remain neighbors, or at least keep in touch, for life. Because they live in extended families most people in traditional societies have family support available to cope with problems. Even in hunting and gathering groups in which young men from one band tend to marry young women from another, men and women both grow old with most, if not all, their childhood friends.
Consider, on the other hand, the fate of many 'modern' men. As author Vance Package discovered, most up-and-coming executives with big American corporations can expect to move at least every five years or so, and some move every two years.
As they move about most of them will lose touch with most of their childhood friends and many members of their families and the younger generation -- moving every couple of years as they go through school -- may never get time to make firm or lasting friendships.
The result is that the executives learn to depend on their corporation -- which often pays for their moves, for club memberships and other perks -- as a primary source of standards and support, and their children learn to depend on The System rather than on other people. When executives travel frequently, wives and children learn to rely on The System, rather than a father or husband, for support.
I do not suggest that evil CEO's deliberately move executives around to break up families and to make the executives and their families dependent on the corporation but, whether the intent is there or not, the effect exists. As I noted before, flowers did not develop bright colors and nectars in a conscious plan to attract bees, but flowers with bright colors and nectars do attract bees and, because they attract bees, they flourish.
Another major split in modern society began with the development of the feminist movement. This is divisive because feminism encourages women to relate to each other and to The System, rather than to husbands and children. The movement dates back hundreds of years -- among others the English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote about the oppression of women by men -- but modern feminism got a boost with the publication of a book. The Population Bomb, by biologist Paul Ehrlich, painted a horrifying picture of a world that would soon be hopelessly overcrowded.
In his prologue Ehrlich says "The battle to feed all humanity is over. In the 1970's the world will undergo famines -- hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..."
Ehrlich speculated on the world in some unspecified future when the population might be sixty quintillion people -- about ten million times as many people as there are now. In this horrifying scenario the whole planet would be covered by a single building 2,000 stories high, in which each person would have about three or four square yards of floor space.
The Population Bomb was very successful and it helped to promote the new oral contraceptives which had been introduced in 1960. Many people saw birth control as the only possible cure for the predicted catastrophe and, with techniques that had been perfected to protest the Vietnam war, activists began to protest against motherhood and the traditional role of women.
But if women were not to be mothers what could they do? If they were 'freed from the bonds of motherhood' they could take full time jobs, for which they would be paid in cash.
On one level that was not much of a change because women have always worked. In the very early days of humanity our male ancestors hunted and our female ancestors gathered food, and the gathering was usually more productive than the hunting. Gatherers are vital to a hunter-gatherer society because in most situations they provide more food than hunters, and because humans can't live well on just meat.
Even among Mongol herdsmen and the Inuit -- both of whom are generally considered to be meat eaters -- the diet includes roots, berries and teas or soups made of bark, lichen, berries and grasses.
In most tribal societies women own the farms, until the farming turns to grain. At that point men take over the farms and women stay home, partly because grain takes a lot of preparation before we can eat it. While men worked the fields women worked at home, cleaning and grinding the grain and baking bread. In most pre-industrial societies women also dress hides, collect fibers, weave cloth and make clothing.
In industrial times women made, washed and repaired clothes, baked bread and prepared other foods. Through most of human history, the home has been a primary center of production.
And work at home does not have to be unpleasant. A few years ago I spent six weeks at the guest of an Inuit family in the village of Rankin Inlet, on Hudson's Bay. My host was well-off and the most comfortable room in his house was the sewing room where his wife and her friends made and repaired clothes for their families. It had at least 600 square feet of floor space and in addition to a couple of commercial sewing machines, a serger and a big cutting table it had a very comfortable couch and some easy chairs, a 36-inch TV set with satellite dish and VCR, a kitchenette and a bathroom. The sewing room was a workshop, but it was also a very comfortable social center.
Most of the women of Rankin Inlet make most of their own clothes, because they can make better clothes than they can buy. When my mother was a child, early last century, her family never bought women's clothes. Instead a professional seamstress came to the house for one month each year, to help my grandmother and her six daughters make everything they would need for the year.
When I grew up in the 1940's my mother still made most of her own clothes, most of my father's shirts and many of her children's clothes. The clothes she made were much better quality than we could buy and they were worth a considerable amount of money.
My mother also made most of the family meals from scratch and during the Second World War she knitted socks for soldiers and grew much of the family food in a "Victory Garden." We were not poor, but that was the way people lived in those days.
Women who work at paid jobs are more likely to buy clothes than make them, and to buy prepared food and restaurant meals rather than cook their own. Working women need more clothes, cars and services than women who stay home, thus creating more consumption for the systems of commercial business and more taxes for the systems of government.
Women who do not marry or who leave their husbands also increase the need for living space, because men and women who need only one apartment as a couple need two if they live apart. In some cases children who live with neither parent also contribute to the system, by living in government-supported foster homes.
The System began with the stratification of the village after the army took over, and it still thrives on stratification. Bringing women into the work force increases stratification because the wives and daughters of men who have good jobs get good jobs. That's no surprise because the best jobs have always been filled by members of the 'right' families, but giving some of those jobs to women increased the concentration of wealth and power.
Suppose that 2% of all jobs in a town are senior management, 10% are middle to upper management and 88% are labor or equivalent.
If married men hold all the top jobs and no nuclear family has more than one management job then two per-cent of the families in the town are top management, 10% are middle to upper management and 88% are labor or equivalent.
But if all the women work we can assume that all the wives of senior management and most of the wives of middle and upper management will also be in management. Because management families now include two managers only one per-cent of the families in town are senior management, five per-cent are middle to upper management and 94% are workers or equivalent.
The income spread is even wider than this implies because a family in which both man and wife are senior managers will have a very large income and even families in which man and wife are both middle management will be very well off. That leaves the 94% comparatively poorer, and poorer again because the increase in unemployment has forced wages down.
The rich get richer and the poor poorer. Even when the economy does well, the poor continue to lose ground.
Working mothers also create and justify a need for day care, which is another benefit to The System. The first commercial day care centers opened a couple of centuries ago but there were few of them and they could not be considered a factor in The System of their time. Day care in the western world is big enough to play a significant role in the service of The System.
Day care trains babies to fit into a system and it frees women from family duties so they can serve The System, but there is some question whether it's a good way to raise human beings. Some animals bear their young in litters of up to a dozen at a time but human children are born one or two at a time, and human mothers are not equipped to nurse more than two babies at once. Whether we assume that this is a result of evolution or because we believe in planning by mother nature or by God, we know that human babies are not born to be raised in litters. They need individual care.
One professional who studied day care and found it wanting is Dr. Burton White, a psychologist who has taught at Harvard, Brandeis and Tufts Universities. He was the founder of the Harvard Preschool Project and its director for the thirteen years it operated, the first director of the Brookline Early Education Project and the Senior Consultant to Missouri's New Parents as Teachers project.
And he condemns day care. In a printed article he says: "I would not think of putting any child of my own into any substitute care program on a full-time basis especially a center-based program"
In his internet site about the problems of day care Dr. White says:
"The people that I know who have studied the development of children over the years number in the hundreds because I've been around for a long time. I don't know two of them that applaud the notion of a transfer of the prime responsibility of child rearing over to any substitute. Most of the people I know do not like it. Very few of the people I know are willing to speak out in public the way I do. There's only two, there's Selma Fraiberg, and myself."
If other psychologists are reluctant to criticize day care that may be because many of them make their living from institutions that sponsor day care, and because they need the good will of The System.
In fact the effects of day care have been studied and the results of the studies have been published but they are ignored by people who promote day care. Psychological experiments and studies conducted in the 1960's and 1970's found that babies are not happy when they are abandoned by their mothers. To solve this problem one American 'expert' who supports day care says that children will have less negative reactions to day care if they begin when they are about three months old, before they learn to recognize their mothers. If they don't know their mothers, they won't know they have been abandoned. If they have never been accepted, they can not be rejected.
But that does not mean they are not harmed. Psychologist Selma Fraiberg says that babies who do not get attached to their mothers develop the condition she describes as "the disease of non-attachment" which prevents them from forming normal human bonds. With no experience of human ties, she says, they may have no conscience and are often unable to observe or criticize their own behavior.
Day care children may grow up aggressive and potentially violent. A study of five to eight year olds who had spent most of their first years at a very good day care center at the University of North Carolina found that they were more likely to hit, kick, threaten and argue than children raised by mothers. Other studies have found that day care children are considerably less responsive to, and more aggressive to, adults than are children raised at home.
You don't read much about the problems of day care in modern news media because most of the studies that found problems with day care date back to the 1950's, 60's and early 70's. Modern day care research tends toward experiments which prove that, for selected slum children, very expensive care and training by psychologists offers some advantages over home care by inadequate parents.
The experimental centers at which such studies are conducted bear no relationship to the average day care center, and the studies avoid any consideration of the damage that may be done to average children by the average level of day care. That's not surprising, given that most of the research is conducted by people who either make their living from day care or who plan to. They may not be consciously dishonest but they have an honest need to justify day care.
Some psychologists favor day care and some oppose it, but The System supports psychologists who favor day care. With the backing of The System and with funding for research, those psychologists have become better-known and their opinions are reported by The System's media. Psychologists who do not favor day are not supported by The System, and their work is seldom recognized.
The primary function of day care is to condition children to serve The System, rather than to live as humans, but day care is also a system in its own right and it cooperates with other systems. As an addition to the cash economy it offers a whole new industry for the government to license, supervise and tax. The licensing and the supervision are essentially meaningless but they create an additional function for government, which in turn creates demand for more services within government and thus enlarges the whole system of the government.
Still more important effects of day care kick in after children grow older and leave the center. Children who are raised at home will adopt the values of their parents and they may resist attempts by a propaganda machine to change them. Children raised by The System will accept the values The System gives them.
Because they are not raised by their parents, day-care children do not learn to respect their parents or to look to them for leadership. If children resent being abandoned, they may resent or even hate their parents.
They may have to obey the adults and adolescents who work in the day care center but, because day care employees are paid help who don't have much time to inter-act with any one child, the children don't learn to look to them for approval.
In fact because most day care workers are low-paid and because some of them may resent their jobs but have no power to change them, children may hold them in contempt.
Children don't know about pay but they see that their parents treat day-care workers as inferiors and that the workers themselves feel impotent, and any young pack or herd animal soon learns who must be respected and who need not.
Among social animals the young learn from the old, but only from some of their elders. They will imitate the behavior of high-status adults, but they will not imitate or learn from adults who have low status in their community.
With no adult models to admire, day care children learn to identify with their peer group to a much greater extent than do children who are raised at home. That creates a problem because whether they like them or not, children need adults.
Even among animals, some migratory birds have to be taught to migrate and many carnivores have to be taught to hunt. If they have no elders to teach them some birds will fly at the appropriate time but they may fly in circles, or in the wrong direction. Most carnivores have a natural instinct to hunt but, unless they have elders to teach them, most will not learn to be efficient hunters.
Human children need adults even more than other animals because so much of our behavior is learned, rather than instinctive. Instinct can't teach us how to make or use a bow and arrow or to plant yams or grain. Instinct does not teach us to make clay pots or stone axes, or to weave baskets or to catch fish with a net or a hook. We learn all these behaviors, and we learn most of them from our parents and other adults in our families.
And somehow we must learn the morals, mores, ethics, traditions and relationships that make our communities work. This has always been the responsibility of families but the family's ability to teach depends on trust and respect for the wisdom of adults. If young people don't respect adults they will not learn from them. If they are taught to respect The System, they will learn from The System.
In 1932 English novelist Aldous Huxley set out to portray the most dismally mechanistic and anti-human society that his fertile imagination could conceive. Brave New World started with the idea that humans could be 'hatched' in government hatcheries, rather than born, and that they could be raised by the state rather than by mothers. We don't have government hatcheries yet but more and more of our children are being raised in day care centers.
And we could some-day mass-produce children. In the world of The System some women choose to have no children while others have many, and some women choose to be impregnated by artificial rather than natural means. In the foreseeable future professional breeders could give birth 20 or more times each and, with modern techniques, they might produce twins or triplets every time for a total of 50 or more babies per breeder. This would be hard on the women, of course, but it would be a great benefit to The System and the women could be well paid. With selective breeding and perhaps gene splicing we might even produce a line of women specially adapted to high productivity. Even if they were not themselves ideal breeding stock, The System could use them as host mothers for implanted fetuses.
Does this sound impossible? Maybe, but I am personally acquainted with a professed lesbian who has three babies, all by artificial insemination. The fathers are homosexuals who paid the mother to bear their children and who contribute to the cost of raising them.
The breakup of families is a problem for people but it's a bonanza for The System. From The System's point of view the ideal human being would have a series of short marriages, each one followed by a messy divorce and a legal dispute over custody of children.
Lawyers, 'therapists,' 'counselors,' psychiatrists and others all benefit from the break-up of families. Most of these people think of themselves as individuals but many professions and trades have systems -- such as the lawyers' bar associations -- to promote their corporate interests. The various professionals and the systems that represent them form a huge metasystem.
The professions are not the only interests that gain from divorces. Governments gain because broken homes increase the need for welfare, courts, police and other government functions. Banks gain because people who used to borrow money from family members now borrow from banks. The System gains when parents are unable to pay for their children's schooling because young people who go into debt for their education begin their adult lives in debt, and can not afford to question The System.
The cash economy gains from the need of both men and women for expensive cars and clothes they hope will help to attract new mates. The mating period, when both men and women spend money to look their best, is repeated after each divorce.
Broken homes may also lead to re-marriage, which creates another human problem. Government figures on child abuse and child mortality do not discriminate between natural children and step-children but McMaster University psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson have extracted disturbing numbers from other data.
They found that in Hamilton Ontario a step-child is about forty times more likely to be abused than a child living with both natural parents. Across North America, they estimate, a child living with substitute parents in 1976 was about one hundred times more likely to be fatally abused than a child living with both natural parents.
In fact there is evidence that child abuse itself is a modern development, and probably confined to societies controlled by The System. American anthropologist Phillip Walker has examined the bones of more than 5,000 children from preindustrial cultures dating back to 4,000 BC, and has never seen traces of the types of bone bruises that are typical of 'battered child syndrome.' In some modern societies, he estimates these marks would be found on the bones of more than one in 20 children who die between the ages of one and four.
Walker concludes that battered child syndrome is caused partly by the collapse of the social control and support mechanisms once provided by families.
We need our families but many modern governments encourage the break-up of families with welfare programs that trivialize parental authority. In a traditional family, children can not claim full independence until they are able to make their own living. Until then they are dependent on the older generation, and the older generation is responsible for them.
Like most systems based on family relationships this one worked well for a long time, but it worked better for people than for The System. It worked for people because it tied independence to a natural standard. When a child was able to take care of himself he could leave the family home. Until then the family was responsible for him, and was expected to teach him. That was good for people because most of us learned to be independent; but it was not good for The System because The System does not want humans to be independent.
On the other hand the welfare system creates serious problems for humans, and real advantages for The System.
The most serious problem for humans is that the welfare system frees children from adult supervision, even if they need it. Some teen-agers are mature, of course, but these are not the ones who need welfare. The welfare system caters to dysfunctional children who do not want to learn anything from adults or take responsibility for their own lives, and who resent adult supervision. With welfare they can avoid all education, supervision and control.
This works well for the government because it increases the size of the welfare bureaucracy and therefore the government as a whole. Further, because the welfare system trains people to rely on welfare it ensures more work for government bureaucracies in the future. By training people to rely on welfare The System also teaches children to withdraw trust from families, which serve human interests, and to place it in a system that serves the interests of The System.
Again, we must remember that this is not a matter of conscious planning by either people or The System. The managers of systems steer their charges in the directions they think best, but the final judgment is made by natural selection. Systems that change in ways that are good for systems flourish, and systems that change in ways that are not good for systems do not.
Directions that are good for The System include the break-up of families because that leaves people with unsatisfied needs. If there is a hole in our lives we will look for something to fill it and advertisers will convince at least some of us that whatever they have to offer will solve our problem, whatever it is.
Churches offer the faithful a feeling of security and promise relief from emotional problems. Schools promise to train us for well-paid and supposedly satisfying professions. Governments offer us security and public works and commercial systems offer material goods that are virtually guaranteed to solve whatever problems we think we have.
Tobacco companies promote a habit that makes big profits for them, but that is now recognized as a serious health hazard. Some of the most profitable systems in the modern world sell patent medicines that don't cure anything but that promise to make us feel better. Other systems tell us that we can find happiness with a new car, new clothes, the right liquor or jewelry, or perhaps a tropical cruise or a trip to a theme park.
But even if The System could offer us peace and contentment it would not, because it lives on our needs and our hunger and its best interests demand that it intensify, rather than satisfy them.
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