By John W. Whitehead
“In the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility.”—Author Neil Postman
Caught up in the uproar over this year’s latest hullabaloo—militarized police in Ferguson, tanks on Main Street and ISIS—Americans have not only largely forgotten last year’s hullabaloo over the NSA and government surveillance but are generally foggy about everything that has happened in between.
Then again, so much has happened in the year since Edward Snowden first appeared on the national scene that it’s understandable if the average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state.
This is not to say that many of these events are not critical or important. However, when we're being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this.
In fact, Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas. “One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,” wrote Ellul.
Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.”
Consider if you will the regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions that have kept us tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles and tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms:
In late August / early September, we were treated to Justin Bieber’s run-in with police after a bout of reckless driving, the FBI’s investigation into the leaking of celebrities’ nude photos, Brad and Angelina’s wedding, James Foley’s carefully staged beheading, Robin Williams’ unfortunate suicide, the riots in Ferguson over the police shooting of an unarmed black man, growing threats from ISIS, and the ALS ice bucket challenge sensation.
That was preceded by reports of immigrant children flooding over the border, Israel and Hamas’ on-again, off-again fighting, Germany’s victory in the World Cup, Ebola breakouts in West Africa, the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet crash in Ukraine, the exchange by the U.S. of five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the growing legalization of same-sex marriage by the states, and the kidnapping of 280 Nigerian girls for use as sex slaves.
Before that, there was the shooting rampage by an Iraq war veteran at the Fort Hood Army base, the uproar over LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, the Veterans Administration’s failure to provide timely care to vets, Russia and the U.S. in a tug of war over control of Crimea, the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight—this one en route to China, the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia, the Seattle Seahawks’ first ever win at the Super Bowl, Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closings scandal, and the outpouring of tributes over the death of Nelson Mandela.
No less traumatic and distracting were the preceding months’ newsworthy events, which included a devastating typhoon in the Philippines, France and Germany’s displeasure over the NSA spying on its people and leaders, the U.S. government’s 16-day shutdown over Obamacare, public opposition to President Obama’s plans to take military action against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, another shooting rampage—this time at the Washington Navy Yard, Russia’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning’s announcement that he is in fact Chelsea Manning, which came a day after he was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents, the birth of a new prince to British royals William and Kate, George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murdering Trayvon Martin, the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, and Edward Snowden’s leaking the first of what would turn into a more-than-yearlong series of revelations about the government’s illegal surveillance programs.
As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, these sleight-of-hand distractions and diversions are how you control a population, either inadvertently or intentionally, advancing your agenda without much opposition from the citizenry. But what exactly has the government been doing while we’ve been so cooperatively fixated on whatever current sensation happens to be monopolizing the mainstream “news” shows?
If properly disclosed and consistently reported on, the sheer volume of the government’s activities, which undermine the Constitution and dance close to the edge of outright illegality, would inevitably give rise to a sea change in how business is conducted in our seats of power.
Surely Americans would be outraged over the government’s plan to turn our most casual statements into hate crimes using Truthy, a $1 million online database being created to track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter, as well as “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.” Or that the Pentagon is spending millions to find ways to put down social unrest, starting with lawful First Amendment free speech protests.
There would be no end to the uproar if Americans understood the origins of ISIS, the latest hobgoblin in the government’s war on terror, whose funding appears to track back to the CIA, which helped fund its guerilla tactics in Syria.
Parents would be livid if they had any inkling about the school-to-prison pipeline, namely, how the public schools are being transformed from institutions of learning to prison-like factories, complete with armed police and surveillance cameras, aimed at churning out compliant test-takers rather than independent-minded citizens.
Taxpayers would be up in arms over the government’s end-run tactics to avoid abiding by the rule of law, whether by outsourcing illegal surveillance activities to defense contractors or outsourcing inhumane torture to foreign countries.
And one would hope American citizens would be incensed about being treated like prisoners in an electronic concentration camp, their every movement monitored, tracked and recorded by a growing government surveillance network that runs the gamut from traffic cameras and police body cameras to facial recognition software and the armed surveillance drones that will soon blanket American skies.
Unfortunately, while much of this information can be discovered through a focused study of alternative media reports, it does require quite a bit of digging and even more determination on the part of the citizenry to take an active role in their governance—which, of course, is the key to maintaining freedom.
Professor Morris Berman suggests that the problems plaguing us as a nation—particularly as they relate to the government—have less to do with our inattention to corruption than our sanctioning, tacit or not, of such activities. “It seems to me,” writes Berman, “that the people do get the government they deserve, and even beyond that, the government who they are, so to speak. In that regard, we might consider, as an extreme version of this… that Hitler was as much an expression of the German people at that point in time as he was a departure from them.”
So where does that leave us?
As legendary television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned, “Unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.”
Filmmaker John Carpenter delivers this same warning in his film They Live, in which a deluded, blinded, indoctrinated, enslaved populace finds that the only way to break free of their oppressors is by donning a pair of special Hoffman sunglasses. Only then are they able to see clearly and distinguish between what is real and what is a carefully fabricated and expansive lie designed to keep them sated, satisfied, distracted and in the dark.
If we do not awaken to the truth and open our eyes soon, then we may well find ourselves staring at a far different, far less pleasant picture before long, and by then, it will be too late to alter our reality.
Time to don a pair of Hoffman sunglasses?