Abnormalize The Empire

Caitlin Johnstone
5 min readAug 27, 2023


Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

The primary job of both Hollywood and the mainstream western press is to is to put a friendly, normal-looking face on a globe-spanning empire which dominates the world using nonstop violence and coercion. Their job is to continually normalize freakish tyranny.

They do this in a whole host of ways, including the agenda-setting practice of under-reporting inconvenient facts while amplifying convenient ones to preserve the status quo upon which the plutocrats who control the media have built their respective kingdoms. Today we also see these agenda-setting manipulations in the form of Silicon Valley algorithm manipulation dictating what information westerners take in.

The normalization of the empire also takes the form of the manufacturing of mainstream culture out of New York and Hollywood, which continually depicts an entirely fictional version of life in the United States and an entirely fictional version of the role played by soldiers, police, journalists and politicians. The crushing poverty, the murderous warmongering, the capitalist extraction and corruption which is the real face of the USA gets almost no representation.

As a character in the movie Waking Life puts it, “We all know the function of the media has never been to eliminate the evils of the world, no! Their job is to persuade us to accept those evils and get used to living with them. The powers that be want us to be passive observers.”

This normalization keeps the firewood of revolution perpetually damp. If nobody understands how horrifically abusive the empire is or sees how profoundly unacceptable it is to live under the thumb of murderous tyrants who want to rule the world, forceful demands for meaningful change will never show up. You can continually quash the spirit revolution before it starts, just by setting up an information environment in which people don’t recognize the need for revolution.

It is only because of the limits of human perception that these efforts are successful. If we were capable of taking in all information all around the world all at once, nobody would have any confusion about which power structure is doing the most killing, exploiting, abusing and oppressing in the world. If we were capable of always looking at things with fresh eyes, efforts to habituate us to the abuses of the global bully that is the US-centralized empire wouldn’t work. We would always hold an acute awareness of the horrifying depravity of the power structure we live under.

None of this is new, by the way; all that’s relatively new is the way in which it’s happening. Throughout history there’ve been social engineers making up fake reasons for why people should live under tyranny, why it’s fine for some to have so much while others have so little, and why it’s normal and good to abuse and enslave foreigners who don’t look and speak like we do. The divine right of kings. The Doctrine of Discovery. Phrenology. Blessed are the poor and the meek, but remember to pay your taxes and render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. The only difference is that instead of being promoted by monarchs, slave owners and high priests, the normalization of today’s empire is done primarily through the mass media.

And if their job is to normalize the empire, then our job is to abnormalize it.

Anyone who opposes the empire can fight against the pervasive normalization of its abusive nature by highlighting the freakishness of its horrors at every opportunity. Always be watching for opportunities to punch through the veil of habituation by pointing and saying “See? Look what these monsters are doing! Look at it! Really look!”

Nuclear brinkmanship. Yemen. Iraq. Starvation sanctions deliberately targeting civilians. Deliberately imposed poverty crushing people to death at home and abroad. Arming neo-Nazis, violent jihadists and right wing counterrevolutionaries in foreign conflicts to advance geostrategic interests. Police brutality. The relentless push for online censorship. The nonstop barrage of propaganda to manipulate our minds. The increasingly loud drumbeats for hot war with Russia and China. The ecocidal nature of global capitalism.

All of these things are profoundly horrific, but people don’t really see them, because they’re being conditioned to look past them.

Our task, then, is to get them to look. Really look, and really see. In this way we can actively abnormalize what has been normalized, one pair of eyes at a time.

I often feel like that’s the main thing I’m doing here in this space: working to get people to see the horrors of the empire with fresh eyes. I find it a very effective use of my time and energy, because all the information’s already right there ready to be seen; all it takes is the insight and moral clarity to frame it in such a way that people look at it and go, “Holy shit. Was that sitting there this whole time?”

Peace is what’s normal. Justice is what’s normal. Health and harmony are what is normal. What we have now under the US empire is wildly abnormal, and it shouldn’t be permitted to misrepresent itself.


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