Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Value of Ignorance

I'm a U.S. politics watcher. I'm not even American, but I find that the political and social climate there to be an often fascinating window into the future of what the rest of the world may one day look like. What is brewing there now is extremely important: the battle for political control is not only over fiscal policies and the usual like; it is a battle over the future of the American psyche.

Class division is a phenomenon that has existed all through human history, and only the methods of enforcing and maintaining that division have changed. Technology has always been a major factor in the marking of class division: those few who invent or use new tools are always enriched by the greater population that depend upon the services they provide. Yet this changed with the technologies of travel: local economies grew and merged with others, some eliminating others outright; as the economical reach of those detaining the 'secrets' and privileges of technology spread, their fiscal power and reach grew as well. The invention of the steam engine and rail, in my mind, was the 'genesis factor' that created the political and social divide we see today.

In older times class division was maintained by brute force. This ended with the rise of Democracy, so the creators and distributors of technologies and riches had to find other means of maintaining their position of dominance. Monopolies were a major tool of dominance in the early years of the mass-production industrial era, but when even these were outlawed, the barons of the time had to find yet other means of creating and maintaining the dependance of the populaces.

It was the post-WWII economic mass-production-and-distribution boom that shaped the economy as we see it today.  That period also marked a change in the management of riches attained through production and distribution: the profits of industry were removed from their production source and put to other uses. From an initial trend of investment in new technologies, those 'uses' since then have become increasingly dispersed, vague and even obfuscated. Corporations best represent best the misuse and stagnation of financial gain: from their origins as accumulations of wealth designated to fixed projects (bridges, urban development) managed by the economic leaders of their times, today they are mindless accumulations of wealth that that have only profit - no matter the means or the manager - as a motive. When the line between production and profit is broken, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain - and justify - financial gains and their use to the economy.

Enter the age of misinformation. The industrial barons could no longer depend on monopolies to maintain their financial dominance, but there existed no laws against their using their financial might to choose what products could be produced and what products could be invented. Such decisions were most often made far from the public eye. So here we have a climate where a select few are doing everything they can to maintain the money flow from a dependant public, even against the current of discoveries about the hazards of certain existing popular products and the emergence of new technologies such as renewable energy. So if the nation's financial giants wanted to maintain control over the populace on who they were dependant for their income, they needed to control both the message people received through media and the people's ability to observe and limit the activities of the corporations themselves.

A prime and early example of misinformation was given by the tobacco industry: although doctors and scientists alike agreed, in an overwhelming consensus, on the cancer-causing effects of cigarettes, the tobacco industry did all they could to propagate to the public their 'findings' of cherry-picked 'facts' that supported their claim that cigarettes did ~not~ cause cancer. Another more recent example is the 'controversy' over climate change.

Corporations and their lobbyists were quick to learn that the media giants could be a major tool in spreading misinformation, especially when those same giants began to merge and become profit-generating corporations themselves. The goal for both was the same: the shortest path to the money.

Things became worse tenfold when politicians entered the fray: they too needed money for their increasingly expensive and extensive campaigns. Where better to seek campaign finance than the tip of the economic pyramid of accumulated wealth? Of course, in agreements unwritten that defied no existing laws, campaign contributors expect return in legislation favourable to their short-sighted all-be-damned-but profit cause. Things have gotten to a point where it is common for corporate heads and lobbyists become politicians, and vice-versa.

So what is the public reaction to this? The larger part of the population still relies on television, radio and print media as a source of 'news' and information. The only points they have to share with their fellow citizens are those that appear there, but like products in years before, corporations can pick and choose which media content the public sees. Even if a simple and objective solution to the latest 'controversy' exists, if it isn't in the interest of the media corporation (or the groups or corporations funding them), it most certainly won't get the air time it deserves. At best, media giants make the 'compromise' of giving the minority corporate-serving 'point of view' equal airtime as those seeking to simply forward a consensus of (even overwhelming) scientific or objective fact. This only serves to give the minority point of view legitimacy, and makes it appear that their arguments - no matter how fallacious - should be considered equal in value to the real fact of the matter at hand.

Now take into account the 'comfort factor' that leads public opinion in most matters: only those most ignorant (usually 'locals' who have led unchanged lives they are loath to change), or those who 'interests' who have the most at stake, will be sympathetic to extremist positions, but unfortunately, the same are the most vocal and have easier access to media. And any large rally, no matter how fabricated it is, is newsworthy to most media, no matter who its owner is.

Things have gotten so bad that one aware of the facts has to gasp at the blatant disingenuity of certain politicians and pundits, but for some reason their opinions are largely propagated as 'news' and 'fact', and accepted as such. One must also tire at the insistence of certain representing special interests that they represent 'the will of the American people' when in fact they only represent the interests and points of view of a select few.

The divide between the Democratic and Republican party has never been so extreme, and the interests each represent so blatant, since the election of Barack Obama. The weak public-serving Democrats do have a plan to preserve and improve America (and to impede the abuses that brought it to the brink of ruin), but they are no match against the very vocal tactics of the corporate-controlled Republicans who hesitate at nothing to spread the lies and false controversies necessary to distract the public from their aims of allowing corporate America to continue pillaging their country and economy unhindered.

The irony in all this is the fact that it is the most vocal 'non-special-interest' sympathisers to extremist ('ultra-conservative) points of view who are next in line to the chopping block: the middle class upon who corporate America relies for both its production and profit is shrinking. What will happen when this resource disappears? Corporations will probably take the money they have reaped and produce and sell elsewhere. Or try to.

So here we have a cowed and ignorant public vying for the organisations that will eventually do them in. Their fervent clamour against all change (change that very few of them probably understand) is almost religious in nature - they question neither the doctrine nor the motives of those preaching it. I think it is no coincidence that a great majority of these people are fervent members of the lesser christian faiths.

Many Americans have become so comfortably set in their ways that they have lost all will to make any intellectual effort at all; they no longer feel the need to question the truth of a message, even if it has been proven to be blatantly untrue - it is enough that the message 'sounds good' and doesn't conflict with the listener's (often ignorant) experiences and beliefs.

Even people like the above are pardonable if they truly are ignorant, but the fact-aware purveyors of the false messages they believe are not (the worst of the lot is Glenn Beck). All you have to do is ask yourself: 'Qui bono'? What is the point of the message they are spreading, and why are they doing it? My answer: they are corporation/organisation-financed 'antennas' that spread a (false) message to 'the common people' corporations would like to unite into a politics-controlling voting base. By the way, modern religion has been using the same tactic since decades already.

What financial motive would make the Sarah Palin quit her governance at mid-term, and why is she always teaming with the likes of Glenn Beck? They both work for Fox 'News', and I would not at all be surprised if the sources of their respective 'motivations' for spreading ignorance to the ignorant were one and the same. Keep 'em scared, keep 'em ignorant, and, while you're at it, keep 'em on oil and gold rip-offs. Golly gee, you betcha, hallelujah. Thanks for the check, this way to the ballot box.