We live in a far less free society than most of us think.
It looks like we’re free. We don’t get thrown in prison for criticizing our government officials. We can vote for whoever we want. We can log onto the internet and look up information on any subject we’re interested in. If we want to buy a product we have many brands we are free to choose from.
But we’re not free. Our political systems are set up to herd people into a two-party system that is controlled on both sides by plutocrats. The news media that people rely on to form ideas about what’s going on and how they should vote are controlled by the plutocratic class and heavily influenced by secretive government agencies. Internet algorithms are aggressively manipulated to show people information which favors the status quo. Even our entertainment is rife with Pentagon and CIA influence.
How free is that? How free is your speech if there are myriad institutional safeguards in place to prevent speech from ever effecting political change?
It doesn’t matter what you’re allowed to say if it doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter if you’re allowed to call the oligarchic puppet put in office by the last fake election a dickhead. It doesn’t matter if you’re allowed to Google any information you want only to find whatever information Google wants you to find.
What is the functional difference between a regime which directly censors the internet to prevent dissent and a regime which works with Silicon Valley plutocrats to control information via algorithms and has a system in place which prevents dissent from having any meaningful impact?
There is none.
We live in a profoundly unfree society that is disguised as a free society. Western liberal democracy is just totalitarianism dressed in drag.
And it’s only getting worse. Propaganda is a still-developing science.
Last month Ottawa Citizen reported that the Canadian military used the Covid outbreak as an excuse to test actual military psyop techniques on its own civilian population under the pretense of assuring compliance with pandemic restrictions.
- “Canadian military leaders saw the pandemic as a unique opportunity to test out propaganda techniques on an unsuspecting public, a newly released Canadian Forces report concludes.”
- “The plan devised by the Canadian Joint Operations Command, also known as CJOC, relied on propaganda techniques similar to those employed during the Afghanistan war. The campaign called for ‘shaping’ and ‘exploiting’ information. CJOC claimed the information operations scheme was needed to head off civil disobedience by Canadians during the coronavirus pandemic and to bolster government messages about the pandemic.”
- “A separate initiative, not linked to the CJOC plan, but overseen by Canadian Forces intelligence officers, culled information from public social media accounts in Ontario. Data was also compiled on peaceful Black Lives Matter gatherings and BLM leaders.”
- “‘This is really a learning opportunity for all of us and a chance to start getting information operations into our (CAF-DND) routine,’ the rear admiral stated.”
- “Yet another review centred on the Canadian Forces public affairs branch and its activities. Last year, the branch launched a controversial plan that would have allowed military public affairs officers to use propaganda to change attitudes and behaviours of Canadians as well as to collect and analyze information from public social media accounts.”
- “The plan would have seen staff move from traditional government methods of communicating with the public to a more aggressive strategy of using information warfare and influence tactics on Canadians.”
So they’re not just employing mass-scale psychological operations on the public, they’re testing them and learning from them.
And we can probably assume that anything which may have been learned was also shared with the government agencies of other NATO members.
In a new article titled “Behind NATO’s ‘cognitive warfare’: Western militaries are waging a ‘battle for your brain’”, The Grayzone’s Ben Norton reports on how recent NATO-sponsored discussions have explicitly advocated the need to advance the science of cognitive warfare for offensive as well as defensive purposes.
- “NATO is spinning out an entirely new kind of combat it has branded as cognitive warfare. Described as the ‘weaponization of brain sciences,’ the new method involves ‘hacking the individual’ by exploiting ‘the vulnerabilities of the human brain’ in order to implement more sophisticated ‘social engineering.’
- “While the NATO-backed study insisted that much of its research on cognitive warfare is designed for defensive purposes, it also conceded that the military alliance is developing offensive tactics, stating, ‘The human is very often the main vulnerability and it should be acknowledged in order to protect NATO’s human capital but also to be able to benefit from our adversaries’s vulnerabilities.’”
- “In a chilling disclosure, the report stated explicitly that ‘the objective of Cognitive Warfare is to harm societies and not only the military.’”
- “The study described this phenomenon as ‘the militarization of brain science.’ But it appears clear that NATO’s development of cognitive warfare will lead to a militarization of all aspects of human society and psychology, from the most intimate of social relationships to the mind itself.”
- “In other words, this document shows that figures in the NATO military cartel increasingly see their own domestic population as a threat, fearing civilians to be potential Chinese or Russian sleeper cells, dastardly ‘fifth columns’ that challenge the stability of ‘Western liberal democracies.’”
- “Naturally, the NATO researcher claimed foreign ‘adversaries’ are the supposed aggressors employing cognitive warfare. But at the same time, he made it clear that the Western military alliance is developing its own tactics.”
In a 2017 essay titled “The War on Sensemaking”, writer Jordan Greenhall made an observation that I have thought about ever since: that the science of modern propaganda has been in research and development for more than a century now, and has necessarily advanced scientifically just as much as other fields in the military have.
“In 1917, a young Edward Bernays was asked to help the American war effort by applying his uncle Sigmund Freud’s theories of the unconscious to a new German technique called ‘propaganda’,” Greenhall writes. “The technology of war moves quickly. In the span of one and a half centuries, the last war leapt from long rifles to repeating rifles to gatling guns all the way to Little Boy. The warfighters of the current war haven’t dawdled. The wars of culture, meaning and purpose have seen innovation on an ‘exponential technology curve.’ The artisanal efforts of Bernays and Goebbels have been left far in the past by modern methods.”
Think about how many technological advancements there have been in the military over the last century. Our rulers have been refining their methods of manipulating our sensemaking abilities to their advantage throughout that entire time, and only a small minority of us have even begun to realize that that manipulation is even happening. We’re just learning to play checkers while they’re mastering 3-D chess.
I don’t have any solutions to this problem other than to spread consciousness of the fact that it is happening. Propaganda only works if you don’t understand (A) that it is happening to you and (B) how it is occurring, and a basic awareness of the fact that there’s a globe-spanning campaign to manipulate human thought to the advantage of the powerful is the first step toward having that understanding. Having the humility to understand that you yourself can be manipulated and deceived is the second step.
My hope is that humanity will transcend its psychological susceptibility to manipulation and move into a healthy relationship with mental narrative as our adapt-or-die precipice draws nearer. But time will only tell.
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