Propaganda Restricts Speech More Than Censorship Does: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Caitlin Johnstone
6 min readMay 30, 2023


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

The biggest impediment to free speech is people’s belief that they have it. Not censorship. Not refusal to platform critical voices. Not the war on journalism. It’s the fact that most people are propagandized into saying what the powerful want them to say, and don’t know it.

What makes our dilemma so historically unique is that we live under an empire which makes extensive use of the post-Bernays science of mass-scale psychological manipulation to trick its subjects into believing that they are thinking, speaking, and gathering information freely. In this way our rulers suppress any revolution long before it starts, not by making people’s lives better, nor by violent repression, but by manipulating people into thinking there’s nothing to revolt against, because they have no rulers and they are already free.

In our civilization most people are thinking, speaking, gathering information, working, shopping, moving and voting exactly as our rulers want them to, because these mass-scale psychological conditioning systems have been imposed to keep human behavior aligned with the empire. We are trained to believe we are free while behaving exactly how our rulers want us to behave, and to look down on other nations and shake our heads at how unfree their people are.

What the average mainstream partisan really means when they say they want “free speech” is they want to be able to regurgitate the power-serving narratives that were put in their mind by the powerful. That’s not free speech, it’s deeply enslaved speech. But they can’t see it. By design.

This problem can be addressed simply by bringing awareness to it in every way we can. Manipulation only works if you don’t know it’s happening, so drawing attention to it and describing how it happens in as many ways as possible helps people start seeing through it.

If the culture war looks like a psyop to you, it’s because it is. I’ve seen some people calling it a “distraction” — and to be sure it serves the powerful to keep everyone arguing about subjects that threaten the powerful in no way — but it actually goes a lot further than that. The imperial propaganda machine uses culture war wedge issues to herd us into mainstream political factions like a shepherd uses sheepdogs, always keeping us too evenly divided to accomplish anything and reinforcing echo chambers to aid in propaganda.

Culture war wedging is a big part of the way they herd people into the ideological funneling system I’ve been talking about lately, which keeps the overwhelming majority of politically engaged people thinking, speaking and voting in alignment with the empire. As many people as possible are herded into two mainstream factions of equal size which both prevent all meaningful change and serve the interests of the powerful. Anyone who can’t be herded into either of these mainstream factions is instead herded into fake “populist” factions, which eventually corral them back into the mainstream factions. Those few politically engaged people who can’t be herded toward any of these groups are so small in number that they can simply be marginalized and denied any sizeable platform from which to spread their ideas, and “democracy” does the rest, because the majority are supporting the status quo.

Care about protecting trans rights? You get herded into this mainstream faction over here. Trans people freak you out a bit? You get herded into that mainstream faction over there. In this way people are corralled into political parties that are designed to serve the empire.

If you can suck someone who’s critical of militarism and empire into the culture war, suddenly they start believing absurd things like that opposing “the woke agenda” is as important as opposing war, or that electing Ron DeSantis would be a devastating blow to the Deep State. Now instead of focusing on the US empire’s nefarious behaviors and critically viewing all mainstream politics, that person is focused on Dylan Mulvaney and will throw their support behind any mainstream politician who says Target needs to stop selling rainbow shoelaces during Pride Month.

You see people herded into both mainstream political factions over and over again with this stuff they keep hammering day after day after day, thereby bolstering the power structure the parties which represent those factions are designed to support. They do it because it works.

None of this means the issues raised by the culture war psyop are unimportant, it just means it’s a psyop. It’s something the powerful leverage to their advantage, and it’s important for us to be acutely aware of that and direct our political energy and attention accordingly.

The fact that US presidents are always murderous monsters regardless of party or platform becomes less strange and mysterious when you stop thinking of the United States as a good or neutral player on the world stage and recognize it as the hub of an empire fueled by human blood.

That’s why I just ignore US presidential elections these days except to point out what a sham they are. A lot of well-intentioned people still hold out hope that the US can be made healthy by the right president, but anyone who would do so will never get near the presidency.

The operation of a globe-spanning empire is too important to be left in the hands of voters. Nothing will ever be permitted to happen that could impede the operation of the empire as long as those who benefit from that empire are able to prevent it from happening. There’s just too much power riding on it.

It’s so destructive and degrading how the products of mainstream culture (movies, shows, music etc) are produced not based on how edifying, transformative and adventurous they can be, but on how much money they can make. The arts which get the most traction in our society wind up being not those which call us into the higher aspects of our being and encourage us to explore the bounds of human experience and potential, but those which deliver a quick ego hit and pump the brain full of fast reward neurochemicals.

It’s been this way for generations, and it’s all people know. That everything is confined in this way starves the populace of all nourishment of mind and heart, and it narrows the scope among artists on their ideas of what is possible and what’s worthwhile. It has shrunk the confines of what artists have been willing to explore by orders of magnitude, and it’s resulted in a mainstream culture that is shallow, power-serving and uninspired from top to bottom.

Humanity would look much different and the world would be a much better place if this hadn’t been happening all these years. Capitalist culture is brain poison.

Someday the leaders of ecocidal corporations will be put on trial for their crimes against our planet, and their defense that they did it to generate profits for their shareholders will be treated the same as war criminals saying they were just following orders.


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