Total Bull Dept.

Every now and then you come up against something that makes you not only stop cold but have the worst time starting up again and saying anything that isn't just "WHAT? WHAT?"

Yes, again I was doing Tokyo Inferno research, and by way of one link and another I ended up reading Noam Chomsky. And Noam spake thusly:

In totalitarian societies where there's a Ministry of Truth, propaganda doesn't really try to control your thoughts. It just gives you the party line. It says, 'Here's the official doctrine; don't disobey and you won't get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we'll do something to you because we have force.' Democratic societies can't work like that, because the state is much more limited in its capacity to control behavior by force. Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out, those in power better control what that voice says — in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions — and that those assumptions are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is permissible. —Noam Chomsky, Propaganda, American-Style

Most of my gibbering stupefaction at this quote — a quote which came to me by way of some of Chomsky's writings about Japan and WWII, and deserve their own separate dismantling — comes from the first couple of sentences. They by themselves invalidate any point Chomsky might have been trying to make.

To say that totalitarian societies "don't really try to control your thoughts ... just give you the party line" is to admit that you know absolutely nothing about the facts of life in a totalitarian society in the first place. This is not something you need to go to, say, North Korea to understand firsthand; even the most casual reading of Robert Jay Lifton (he who educated the West about the very term "thought reform" as it was practiced in Mao's China) or the like will do fine.

Of course totalitarian societies practice thought control. That's what the prefix total- in the adjective means: total control of thought, deed, behavior and movement. What you think is of manifest importance to the ruling powers, because thought is the precusor to action, and the last thing they want is their people — forgive the use of this weatherbeaten phrase, but it fits here — thinking outside the box. This is why there is total control over what people are permitted to say and do. The end result is, you guessed it, also control over what they are permitted to think, what conclusions they can draw and what actions they can take based on those conclusions.

One of the things we assume for granted in any democratic society is what could be called the freedom to be trivial — to live without having everything we do automatically assume weight. There are no trivial actions in a totalitarian society. Everything is invested with political heft, which is how people can be thrown into gulags and never seen again for nothing more than accidentally sitting down on a copy of a picture of the Great Leader. In Mao's China, sentences were handed down for such crimes as "talking gibberish", a catchall way to get someone out of sight for saying anything that made the powers-that-be remotely uncomfortable. In the U.S., I can brag about burning a copy of the President's picture and never incur much more than a little partisan venom for it, if even that. (Not that I've ever actually done that or would want to, but you get the idea.)

I've heard other people describe Chomsky as a great political thinker, but so far I've seen nothing to convince me of this.

Tags: dharma history writing

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2009/02/19 15:30.

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