Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Propaganda Delivery System Of The Elite

Almost everyone begins life with the desire to be loved and wanted by their family. Often people expand their family group to include the community, state, religion, nation, and political party. Usually people consider themselves a part of the group, but sometimes they also consider themselves one of the elite leaders of the group, whether or not they are actually one of the elite. The purpose of conservatism is to preserve the status of whomever happens to be in power at the time.

Conservatism in the Land Of Progress was a bit of a joke until the white power structure came under attack by the dispossessed--the working poor, women, minorities. The ruling elite exploited the group identity of its conservative followers using fear of the other, in these cases the other races and sex, to maintain their power. This worked very well for the elite, who paid the lesser elite, the aristocracy (or Villagers, as we call them now), to do the actual exploiting and conserving. Many think tanks and institutes were born, and many clever politicians were nurtured on the mother's milk of payoffs. But the Other had elites as well, elites who did not yet have enough power to exploit their own members, although that came in time.

Meanwhile, the conservatives attacked the elite Other, which of course chipped away at the reputation of all minor elites. Newspapers gave way to a few television stations, which gave way to many sources of information--so many, in fact, that conservatives never had to hear a dissenting word if they didn't want to. Talk show hosts and political preachers gradually replaced journalists and public intellectuals, just as a blend of news and entertainment replaced Edward R. Murrow. The elite journalists were no longer needed to pass on the message; they were being by-passed by the new conservative aristocracy, the propagandists, to spread their propaganda directly to the people.

And so David Frum is told his services are no longer required, since they no longer are. You don't need a Harvard Man to explain to the authoritarian followers why they should elect a dog-whistle candidate like Bush or Santorum or Mitch McConnell. You just have to blow the dog whistle.

Billmon considers the Conservative Party.
The business, of course, is disinformation: the creation of a closed loop of emotions, beliefs and pseudo-facts that buttress, at all times and all points, the party line.

However, the more I study this, the more I’m convinced the primary goal of the exercise isn’t to convince the broader public, whom I think the Rovians essentially view as the equivalent of the "proles" of 1984 -- dull lumps of unthinking flesh who, nine times in 10, will follow the loudest, most simplistic and most passionate voice they hear.

The goal of conservative disinformation, then, is to provide that voice by creating the kind of "mind" (e.g. epistemic community) among the true conservative faithful that [Julian] Sanchez is talking about: one impervious to reason, logic and -- most importantly of all -- factual evidence. The growing nervousness of some conservative intellectuals, like [Ross] Douthat and Frum, about this project perhaps reflects the dawning realization that they are basically irrelevant to its success.

They are indeed. They are no longer needed; all that is needed is to parade Sarah Palin around on the Discovery Channel, or sponsor tea parties as Fox has been doing. It's not poliltics, it's Politainment! No brains needed at all, and in fact there is always the danger that the Villager will dissent from the elite's plan, out of hubris or greed or vanity.
The creation of a closed mind is, of course, a prerequisite for successful doublethink (defined as the ability to hold two diametrically opposed beliefs at the same time, and to immediately change one or both of those beliefs when instructed). By their very nature, doublethink constructs tend to be fragile. They have a low tolerance for contact with non-managed reality -- much less open debate (thus the need, in 1984, for the constant writing and rewriting of history, to ensure a seamless and timeless continuity to the party line).

But the real breakthrough discovery by the conservative propaganda machine (Fox News, in particular) is that despite this inherent fragility, it doesn’t take an Orwellian police state to create and maintain the kind of self-contained, artificial consciousness that doublethink requires. Indeed, it can be done even in a supposedly free and open society....


One final note: I should clarify that when I refer to the creation of a "self-executing" conservative doublethink as a breakthrough, I’m only talking about the American political experience. The ability of an authoritarian movement to build a powerful false narrative -- and then persuade millions of followers not only to believe it but actively defend it against encroaching reality, even in a more-or-less free society -- was clearly demonstrated in Weimar Germany during the 1920s and ’30s by [GODWIN REDACTION].

One can hope the peculiarities of time, place and culture explain much, if not all, of the catastrophic success of that previous experiment, which is unlikely to be repeated now.

But I’m not entirely sure it would be the smart way to bet.

The only thing that is needed for a recreation of Weimar Germany is an authoritarian people who would rather kill than let go of their needs and desires--and we already have that.


Anonymous said...

Not to speak of the devil but McCardle's another example--she and her fiancee have a very fragile, temporary, and illusory hold on a job that used to be a sinecure: lickspittle. But just as Jonah Goldberg basically killed the market for PH.D. level lying so too McCardle's moronic writing have killed the market for the Frums etc... And there is bound to be someone stupider and even more undereducated than McCardle coming along behind her. And I think she knows it. This is why her writings are increasingly pathetic, submissive, angry and vapid. Because she grasps that her function could be performed by any Sarah Palin wannabe.

I think what I'm saying is something I've thought for a long time. Palin was their hitler, in the sense that Kristol and other mover's and shakers thought they could control her. Now she doesn't need them--she doesn't even pretend to think she needs them.



Mr. Wonderful said...

I don't think McArdle is stupid. I think her vanity and her neediness to be among the "elite" cause her to write propaganda instead of reasonable analysis. (h/t to Susan herself, who applied "vain and needy" to Scott Brown over at Tbogg's place.)

She would rather be allowed to sit at the cool kids' table than say something true. And she would rather win the accolades of her blinkered fanboy cadre, by breezily spouting jargon, than actually function as a public intellectual and explain what fair-minded, intelligent people don't understand.

But this is what (among other things) a libertarian is: someone whose fealty to authority comes dolled up in the drag of a "principled" stance regarding "freedom." Whether they know it's an imposture, or not, is a good question. I bet she doesn't--and in that respect, she IS stupid.

The evil she embodies is the petty, pathetic kind of small-scale bad-faith evil, the evil of someone in a supporting role enabling larger evils.

Susan of Texas said...

Alice Miller said that Hitler would have been just another messed-up guy if he had kids to mistreat as he had been mistreated. It's no coincidence that her kids have problems.

Palin's out of control, but she is less full of fear and anger than someone like Hitler; she's satisfied with jerking around her handlers and making money off her opportunity. It's hard to believe it, but she could have been very, very dangerous--she was in the right place at nearly the right time.

Clever Pseudonym said...

She's worse than stupid. She fakes intellectualism without wanting to make any actual effort to learn anything new. She's convinced herself that she's so smart and educated that she's qualified to offer her opinion on everything under the sun, no matter how little she knows about it. Stupidity can be an accident of birth or the result of bad parenting or lack of education, so it at least has instances where it can be forgiven. Megan's an incurious know-it-all, which isn't forgivable in the slightest.

Susan of Texas said...

It's just amazing how McArdle can continue repeating stuff everyone knows is not true. She just states that it is true, and that's all she needs to believe a lie.

Some peoople believe what they want to believe, despite their intelligence, education, or real-life experiences. They are utterly driven by need. Like tristero said today, you can't debate or persuade them, because they aren't operating on reason.

Satch said...

I'm glad to see that Billmon has found a place to post again. I'll have to look for him more often. I think, though, that the "proles", as he puts it, are still important, at least on election day, since Cons still need to turn out voters. Cons have been able to do that by telling Americans what a lot of them want to believe about themselves... our proud military tradition fights only to liberate others and defend our values, NEVER for hegemony or empire; we humbly bow to God's justice, which may be harsh but is always fair; we remain a land where the ambitious can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and join the economic elite; and on and on.

As for Megan...she's the conservative equivalent of a Mob lawyer, except Mob lawyers usually get paid better. Still, she's thrown in her lot with the Cons, hoping it'll pay off shortly, and I have no doubt that she'd shitcan The Atlantic in a heartbeat and color her hair blond if Rupert Murdoch offered her a sinecure at Fox.

Downpuppy said...

I love this whole epistemic closure theme. The big words get the clowns who think they're not just brownshirts to look. Then they try to prove it wrong, but it isn't, so they either end up looking stupid, or finding something to disagree with on their own side, which leads to much fun -

Susan of Texas said...

It's so much fun when they turn on each other.