Necessary Illusions by Noam Chomsky discusses how the government and the Mass Media use propaganda to convince the public that the USA is the leader of the democratic world and that they stand up for the best interest of the majority despite many facts that clearly indicate that in many cases they actually do the opposite. Chomsky provides an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that the US government isn't standing up for democracy either abroad or at home. He advocates mainly for those without political power.
It appears that many people don't like Chomsky.
In many cases these are the people that are in power and they may not like him because he is providing the public with information that challenges their authority; however there appear to be many others who don't like him despite the fact that he is advocating for their best interest. I wonder why they wouldn't like him.
Tell you what I'll get back to that one.
A while back I was at a party consisting mainly of kids in their late teens or early twenties. There was one girl who was talking about her hair in an area of mostly other girls. She was one of the coolest girls and she may have thought she was bragging. She talked about how she treated it and something about how to care for it. I don’t remember exactly but it was probably the crap that comes from marketing people. She casually mentions that she bought this top quality shampoo from her hair stylist and that it cost something like 24.95 dollars. There were a few strange looks on people’s faces when she wasn’t looking but no one said something like “What kind of idiot pays twenty five bucks for a bottle of shampoo.” Instead one of the guys politely said something like, “I once saw a show on TV that said that the shampoo that costs the most to manufacture is Prell.”
For a moment there was silence.
Keep in mind that at the time the cheap shampoo cost under a dollar and Prell was under three dollars at the most. This essentially meant that everyone would conclude that the cool girl was an idiot and it was clear right off the bat to everyone in the room including the cool girl. Instead of admitting she got taken in by a bunch of marketing crap and a stylist that probably sucked up to her she started refuting his claims. She claimed that he wouldn’t know what he was talking about etc. Then her best friend also stood up for her and started ranking on him for running his mouth; then there were several other girls ranking on him and; eventually even a couple of the guys started ranking on him.
Somewhere people from the marketing department are laughing their asses off.
It is hard to believe that something this foolish could happen to reasonably intelligent people and but this is essentially what happened although the details aren’t exact. Later after the cool girls were gone some of the guys admitted that they just went along with the ranking on the guy that pointed out the truth for the fun of it. There were a few jokes about it but the cool girls went on as usual without changing much if at all; perhaps they learned to avoid saying things quite so blatant but they still got caught up in the consumer culture without recognizing how much they’re being manipulated.
This isn’t that unusual I’ve seen several other examples where people took the marketing that the corporations do too seriously and this tends to be more common among kids before they learn how to tell the difference. At about the same time I first heard of Tommy Hilfiger. This wasn’t the first of the so called designer clothes lines around; but before Hilfiger the trade mark was usually a subtle name on the pants pocket or something that doesn’t stand out too much since that would have been considered tacky at the time. It wasn’t unusual for sports jocks to wear their name in large letters on their shirts or for their girlfriends to wear their boyfriends shirts at the time. Therefore it seemed natural when I saw a Hilfiger shirt for the first time to ask is Tommy Hilfiger your boyfriend. She gave me a look like I was an idiot so did her friends. It wasn’t until later that I realized what she was wearing and that it was a result of a marketing campaign. At first I thought they must be freebies to get free advertising from people that wore their clothes so they could build a reputation. After all no one would be stupid enough to pay high prices for the privilege providing free advertising for a designer clothes line. Or so I thought; it turns out that that was just the beginning. Now it is standard operating procedure to flood children with ads for things like that and other lines like Abercrombie and Finch.
Somewhere people from the marketing department are laughing their asses off.
When they grow up they often fall for more subtle versions of the same marketing tricks as indicated before but not as bad as when they’re children and the sweat shirts with excessive promotions aren’t nearly as common as they were when they first came out; but they still do a very effective job manipulating the public.
This type of behavior is similar when it comes to things like smoking and gambling. No politician would ever dare tell the public that all gambling has to be rigged in order for the institutions to survive; instead the public receives a nonstop barrage of advertising telling them they can win easy money ignoring the fact that if the gambling institutions paid out one hundred percent of the proceeds without rigging the odds they will go bankrupt. Many smokers say they aren’t influenced by advertising then why do they smoke? Rather than admit the truth; that they’ve been taken in; they often stand up for the beliefs that have been drilled into their heads by the people from the marketing department; who must be laughing their asses off.
Noam Chomsky is like the kid who innocently pointed out the truth to the cool girl who was so caught up in her beauty products and the marketing that often distorts the beliefs of naïve young girls. As I indicated in the post about authoritarianism the beliefs of most people, and how they come to adopt them, are generally established at a young age. This escalates with the education they receive throughout life including the peer pressure they endure from their friends. If they aren’t taught to use rational thinking skills at an early age in many cases they never learn to. When they reach adulthood they are often accustomed to believing what they’re told from the authorities. There is also a great deal of patriotism involved. Most people don’t want to believe they have been helping to support a regime that has been suppressing democracy for the benefit of a few of those with political power. This is especially true among many military people who have been raised in authoritarian manners and had this reinforced in boot camp and even participated in many of these wars that have been proven to be unjust. They certainly don’t want to be told that they have been fighting for a cause that is unjust or that it could have been avoided if the USA wasn’t instigating problems around the world before they led to war. Some of them have acknowledged this anyway and have joined peace movements anyway; however many others adamantly stand by the propaganda they were raised with even in the face of overwhelming evidence to contradict it.
Chomsky reviews mostly international events but the “Necessary Illusions” he described could be applied to many other subjects if you recognize the principles and how they are often distorted. Many of the strongest beliefs held by many people including prejudicial or religious beliefs are often based on coercion tactics that are sometimes calculated or in other times they are developed by other prejudiced people who truly believe them. Either way if they are false beliefs they should be reviewed and corrected; or the most important decisions many people make may wind up being based on lies.
There are many researchers who study the social and psychological aspects of these beliefs and the results of this research is often used to enable those in power to manipulate the public with “Necessary Illusions” that are often manufactured for the benefit of those in power. This includes an enormous amount of marketing research where they often consult with psychologists to understand how to get better results from their advertisements. James Garbarino has written about how they study how to target little children with their ads so they can start young; and he mentions an effort that was made to raise ethical concerns about this in the American Psychological Association. This didn’t pass. Alfred McCoy and Victor Marchetti and others have written about how the CIA has consulted with psychologists when they studied how to produce improved propaganda and interrogation techniques. This isn’t supposed to be done within the USA but there has been a significant amount of evidence to indicate that it has often happened anyway. There has also been an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that political parties are studying ways to manipulate the public for their benefit; this rarely involves discussing the issues starting with the basic principles of any given subject.
Many of the most important decisions in our society are being made based on “Necessary Illusions” which people choose to believe. Whether or not it is based on intentional propaganda or unintentional prejudices and superstitions they should be reviewed starting with the basic principles of any given subject and the educational information on these subject should be presented to the public in the most efficient way possible if there is to be a sincere democracy developed. Children need to be taught much better thinking skills so that they can sort through the details and this should be done before the herd mentality has a chance to develop. Right now it may be difficult or even impossible to teach many adults how much they’ve been deceived by many of the most powerful institutions that are more concerned with power for the privileged class; however children are much more inclined to learn since the superstitions may not have had a chance to form into absolute beliefs. Just a look at what many people accept from the Mass media should be a clear indication of the problem; there are thousands of people that come to time square to cheer on these morning shows like “Today” or “Good Morning” indicating there is a lot of public support for what the Media is doing yet they’re not providing much if any content that is worth a damn. There is an enormous following for some of these so called reality shows where people become concerned with the stupidest crap some of which has even gone by the Name “Jackass”; the more popular stuff isn’t much if any better perhaps it is even worse since more people follow it. Wayne Gale wasn’t far off when he referred to this as “Zombieland.” For many people with little or no thinking skills that is exactly what it is. As long as a large percentage of the public is making their decision based on what the Mass Media tells them or what their peers encourage them to believe or any other inaccurate belief system including religious cults then people won’t have nearly as much free will as they choose to believe. Would you consider it free will if someone told you “You can believe what you want but if you don’t go along with what the powerful institutions tell you to believe or what the crowd tells you what to believe we’re going to intimidate harass and destroy you until you conform”? Of course no one would quite phrase it that way if that is what they intended but in many cases this is how it works in practice.
That is essentially what the US government has been doing for a long time perhaps since they began with the signing of the constitution. This is considered sacred for many people but it wasn’t written by “We the people” as the constitution claimed; nor did the people even ratify it in most states; Rhode Island was the only state to submit it directly to the people for ratification. In the early days of the republic woman, blacks, Native Americans and even most white men who didn’t own property weren’t allowed to vote nor did they have the education they would need if they were allowed to vote.
Chomsky has reviewed the activities of the USA in his books that clearly indicate that far from the official belief that the USA is defending democracy it is actually creating a system that defends the rights of the powerful at the expense of the majority then uses propaganda to create the appearance of democracy. A close look at the details will raise serious doubts about this appearance if the facts are checked. For starters it might help to consider the strategy Stalin attempted to use at the beginning of WWII when he signed a nonaggression treaty with Hitler. It has often been implied that he tried to sit it out and let everyone else fight each other then he could come in after the war was over and everyone is much weaker from all the fighting. Sort of divide and rule tactic. This didn’t work of course. Hitler invaded him anyway and he wound up taking serious damage. The fact that he purged many of his best generals before the war didn’t help much either. This meant that after the war the USSR was in no shape to pose a threat to any one even if they wanted to; which Stalin probably did. They did rebuild of course but they never became as powerful as the USA despite the propaganda given to the American public. What has received much less attention is the fact that Stalin isn’t the only one that seemed to try this tactic. Intentional or not, the USA also used this tactic only they were much more successful. The USA sat out the war longer and when they did join the allies it was never on their own homeland; all the bombing was done overseas so the USA didn’t suffer any damage except to those that fought the war. They started out with much easier missions like liberating Africa which had the smallest amount of Axis troops. This was also true in the first World War. When the war was over they were in a much better position to dominate the post war era which they did.
It is true that Germany came back from a serious defeat and became a superpower again for WWII but there are serious differences. First of all it took almost twenty years before they could become a serious threat. Second in hind sight it is quite clear that Hitler had an amazing talent to manipulate the public which Stalin never had. If Stalin did have these manipulation skills she wouldn’t have needed to gain power by using stealth tactics. Second part of the reason Hitler rose to power was because of the appeasement we often here about. What is mentioned much less often, if at all, is why he was appeased; it appears that he may have been appeased by many people in power because they considered Communism a greater threat and they thought Hitler and Mussolini was the lesser of two evils. In fact many people may not have considered them evil at all; anti-Semitism and support of fascism wasn’t considered nearly as unethical at that time by large segments of the public. Communism was flawed; especially the way the USSR implemented it but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the establishment made it out to be; or at least not for the majority of the public. Communism posed a threat primarily to those in power who were exploiting the working class. If they were concerned about the threat it posed to the majority they could have explored the flaws in a sincere discussion that didn’t involve propaganda or McCarthyism. Instead they used scare tactics and created a massive propaganda machine that is still operating today.
Chomsky focuses mainly on democracy and Global affairs; however as indicated above the principles he points out could also be applied to marketing if you think it through. In some cases there may also be examples of “Necessary Illusions” that may not be a result of propaganda or intentional manipulations by someone with a clear agenda but they still can cause problems if they aren’t solved. One of the highest profile examples of this may be the school shooting at Columbine. This was preceded by a lot of bullying that went on in that school and the teachers looked the other way even giving tacit approval of it. There was allegedly at least one incident where the teasing was exceptionally brutal in the cafeteria right in front of the teachers who did nothing. A lot of the cooler children often thought this was funny as long as they weren’t the target. After the shooting there weren’t many people laughing at Klebold and Harris instead when the stories began coming out they went into denial and argued that this didn’t have anything to do with it. They were so traumatized by the incident that they couldn’t acknowledge the fact that some of the other people in the town might have contributed to the culture of violence that led to the shooting. The problem is of course that in order to prevent this type of thinking from happening again it will be necessary to address the true cause of it whether or not people like it or not; and the bullying that led to this incident is a big part of the problem. This isn’t limited to Columbine; there have been many examples where jocks have felt they could get away with anything including rape then when they are accused the community often takes the side of the jock and accuses the victim of being at fault. This is just one example of how culture can lead to superstitions or hero worship that often backfires. There are also cases like Joe Stack who flew his plane into the IRS building and many people who go off the deep end and go on suicidal shooting sprees taking others out before they die. Regardless of what “Necessary Illusions” we base our decisions on they are guaranteed to backfire if they mean that many of the most important decisions in life are based on lies or superstitions whether they are created intentionally or not. The ones Chomsky and other critics of the US government point out aren’t the only ones that should b reviewed in a more rational manner if society is going to solve many of their social problems. If the most important decisions are all made based on the propaganda provided by the corporations without any scrutiny from people with other points of view many of these problems will never be solved.
For online copy of Necessary Illusions see:
To check out more books from the American Empire Project, Free Press, The South End Press and Z Magazine see:
Chomsky has at least three other books available on line for free if anyone is interested and there are links to them as well as a online copy of “The Peoples History of the United States” by Howard Zinn in the bibliography and table of context of other blog entries see:Blog description and table of context for most older posts.