April 6, 2013

Crisis: On Johnson on Wolin on "Democracy Incorporated" - B 
"Odi profanum vulgus et arceo."
-- Horace, Odes III, 1, 1   [1]
"J'ai pour les institutions démocratiques un goût de tête, mais je suis aristocrate par instinct, c'est à dire que je méprise et crains la foule. J'aime avec passion la liberté, la légalité, le respect des droits, mais non la démocratie. Voilà le fond de l'âme."
-- Alexis de Tocqueville     [2]
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
-- Bible, Luke 23.34         [3]


1. Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (2/3)
Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (3/3)
About ME/CFS


This continues yesterday's Nederlog of the same name, to which I added today an "A", to have distinct names for distinct things, as there is a "B" in today's title.

As I said yesterday, and repeat now for the sake of having these references explicit, this is about Sheldon Wolin's concept of inverted totalitarianism; about a three-part review of Wolin's book "Democracy Incorporated" in which that concept got explained and that is my main text in the previous and present Nederlog; and also about the concept of sadism as an explanation that is often missed.

Today I return to all of that, since they are connected, and continue were I left yesterday - and you will not really understand the present Nederlog without having read the previous one first.

1.  Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (2/3) - con'd

Yesterday my text was

as it is in this section, and I ended then as follows (with a needed clarification  that I added totday [0]):

As Wolin puts it, in Johnson's selection, and as is also true as regards the
intellectuals and the universities in Holland, I can add, and as far as I know also in Great Britain, as in the United States:
On inverted totalitarianism’s “self-pacifying” university campuses compared with the usual intellectual turmoil surrounding independent centers of learning, Wolin writes, “Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. For the first time in the history of American higher education top professors are made wealthy by the system, commanding salaries and perks that a budding CEO might envy.”
(Op. cit. 2/3)
This is true and is quite striking, also in Holland, where the universities are state-funded for the most part, but still pay professors and directors grossly obscene amounts of money the last 10 years or so, which is also related to "the revolving door policy", that in Holland takes the form that politicians start as journalists lying for their party's leader; get promoted to lecturer and member of some town council; then get promotod to professor in a pseudoscience that is in fact mostly politics; then become member of parliament or minister; and then end as mayor, alderman or university-professor. (This is certainly the typical career of Dutch Labour careerists, who are typically Blatcherites with a personal pretense to be especially active in some "Good Work" of their own, typically styled as "Saving ...  " - "children", "environment", "nature", "health care" , etc. They all love socializing before cameras with other Saviours of Mankind like Bono and Geldof. In Holland, all these worthies seem to have gotten media training financed from tax money. This is "to better communicate with the people we serve selflessly".)

It is all thoroughly corrupt; it all consists of and is based on systematic propaganda, posturing, lying and deceiving, and to really understand the full horror and extreme deviousness and total cynical and willing corruption that are involved one should read or view items like these:
  • E. Bernays: "Propaganda": The treatise by the master of liars, on a subject presently deviously and dishonestly restyled as "public relations".
  • Adam Curtis: "The Century of Self" - a four-part four hour documentary of 2002 that explains the relations of Bernays, Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, public relations and corporate capitalism in a very apt, revealing and informed way.
These and other items [4] - and see my series on deception, that is to be continued - will make it clear that Wolin has solid and very important point with his concept of "inverted totalitarianism", and that point, which is very well brought out by Curtis' documentary linked above, is that modern Western societies are basically run by manufactured consent, engineered by "public relations", that is, by  propaganda disguised as benevolent or amusing information, from several main sources, such as large corporations and state organs, including, in Holland at least, cities and universities: All flood citizens with the sheerest bullshit, lies, misinformation, and obfuscations, that all get paid by the customers who buy the products and pay the taxes.

It is also true that for at least 30 years, from 1980-2010, much of this
propaganda fits the term "inverted totalitarianism" in that the manipulative message was generallty totalitarian - more power to the government and the corporations - while it was dressed up as if it were "freedom", "liberty", "personal development", and/or "democratic choice".

But personally - writing in 2013, not in 2008 or 2003 - I would not be amazed at all if this
"inverted totalitarianism" gets changed fairly soon to explicit force on the lines of "who does not support our freedom loving government is our enemy" [5] - and surely, since all of this propaganda is packaging and manipulation anyway, without the least rational, fair or honest content, the only relevant parameters for those who produce this manner of propaganda are costs and effectiveness: If the population is best controlled by terror, or by the lie that whoever doubts the government must be a traitor (a line currently pushed in Holland by some Dutch Labour worthies [5]), this will be used, and the opponents of the government or its organs will get depicted as little better than sub-humans.

To turn to another of Wolin's key concepts, as presented by Johnson:

The main social sectors promoting and reinforcing this modern Shangri-La are corporate power, which is in charge of managed democracy, and the military-industrial complex, which is in charge of Superpower. The main objectives of managed democracy are to increase the profits of large corporations, dismantle the institutions of social democracy (Social Security, unions, welfare, public health services, public housing and so forth), and roll back the social and political ideals of the New Deal. Its primary tool is privatization. Managed democracy aims at the “selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry” under cover of improving “efficiency” and cost-cutting.
(Op. cit. 2/3)
I have argued in the previous Nederlog that the term "Superpower" seems to me mistaken, because it evokes the wrong associations.

And I agree with the analysis, but would refer to the polygamous marriage of corporate power, the military-industrial power and also - in my estimate - of public relations firms, conservative "think tanks", boards of directors of academic institutions, corrupt parliamentarians and ministers, and parts of the media (Fox News, Murdoch's imperium)
[6] rather as "corporate fascism" or some similar term, as indeed Wolin may agree (for which see my Crisis: Wolin on fascism + Greenwald on the Surveillance State).

And I also agree with the identification of what are called "the main objectives" of what I have called corporate fascism - though I should like to add that in Holland and Great Britain the social democratic Labour parties have been changed since the Blair years, already in the 1990ies, into
Blatcherist parties of careerists, liars and posturers.

The following also seems to me mostly correct, and has happened also, and succeeded for the most part, in Holland:

Wolin argues, “The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributing elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled.” This campaign has largely succeeded. “Democracy represented a challenge to the status quo, today it has become adjusted to the status quo.” (Op. cit. 2/3)
As before, my understanding of the term "democracy" is not the same as Wolin's, and I would write "welfare", "fair", "just" or "civilized" where he - in Johnson's summary - writes grammatical variants of "democracy" (and I also really believe the moral terms are better than the political one).

And it seems true to me that in the US this is well expressed by a sustained and in large part by now succesful atteempt to "r
oll back the social and political ideals of the New Deal", indeed both under Bush Jr. and under Obama.

Next, we arrive at the role of the media, that I included above as, presently, for the most part the very willing executioners of the policies of corporate fascism.

One other subordinate task of managed democracy is to keep the citizenry preoccupied with peripheral and/or private conditions of human life so that they fail to focus on the widespread corruption and betrayal of the public trust. In Wolin’s words, “The point about disputes on such topics as the value of sexual abstinence, the role of religious charities in state-funded activities, the question of gay marriage, and the like, is that they are not framed to be resolved. Their political function is to divide the citizenry while obscuring class differences and diverting the voters’ attention from the social and economic concerns of the general populace.”m (Op. cit. 2/3)
What I agree is that the media have been corrupted, and for the most part, with some (partial) exceptions, such as The Guardian and The New York Times, eagerly serve the government or the corporations rather than the people or the people's real interest in a fair and open and free society, that is not controlled and surveilled by the state and its anonymous bureaucratic executioners with secret powers and practices.

What forms that precisely takes I do not know, except that three of the techniques or tactics the media currently use are: (1) to look away from - to ignore, to stonewall - any and all opposition to the government, the military, the corporations, or the accepted ways of doing and thinking: sycophantic conformism is the main moral value of many media and many journalists; (2) to ridicule, trivialize, or misrepresent anyone who may be an effective opponent; and (3) to preferably treat irrelevancies, non-issues and the doings and sayings of inane media-celebs as the core of All The News Fit For Stupefied Citizens.

A further modern media technique is this - and note the text that follows was published in May 2008, before Obama got elected, and before it had turned out that he gave the lie to many of the promises that brought him the victory in the presidential elections:

Another elite tactic of managed democracy is to bore the electorate to such an extent that it gradually fails to pay any attention to politics. Wolin perceives, “One method of assuring control is to make electioneering continuous, year-round, saturated with party propaganda, punctuated with the wisdom of kept pundits, bringing a result boring rather than energizing, the kind of civic lassitude on which managed democracy thrives.” The classic example is certainly the nominating contests of the two main American political parties during 2007 and 2008, but the dynastic “competition” between the Bush and Clinton families from 1988 to 2008 is equally relevant. It should be noted that between a half and two-thirds of qualified voters have recently failed to vote, thus making the management of the active electorate far easier. Wolin comments, “Every apathetic citizen is a silent enlistee in the cause of inverted totalitarianism.” It remains to be seen whether an Obama candidacy can reawaken these apathetic voters, but I suspect that Wolin would predict a barrage of corporate media character assassination that would end this possibility. (Op. cit. 2/3)
I will not here discuss the merits of (non-)voting in the USA, except for asking: What is there left to vote for if modern elections are basically bought by millions or billions of campaign money from corporations, and if almost all politicians are bought by lobbyists? And whatever the answers to those questions: It seems quite clear considerably more than mere voting is needed on the part of many citizens if the rising tides of corporate state power are to be tamed and ousted - voting alone will not provide a solution.

2. Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy' (3/3)

We have arrived at part 3, that you can find under the following link
Part 3 shifts back from the role of the media to that of what Wolin calls "Superpower" and starts as follows:
Managed democracy is a powerful solvent for any vestiges of democracy left in the American political system, but its powers are weak in comparison with those of Superpower. Superpower is the sponsor, defender and manager of American imperialism and militarism, aspects of American government that have always been dominated by elites, enveloped in executive-branch secrecy, and allegedly beyond the ken of ordinary citizens to understand or oversee. Superpower is preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction, clandestine manipulation of foreign policy (sometimes domestic policy, too), military operations, and the fantastic sums of money demanded from the public by the military-industrial complex. (The U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on Earth combined. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion; the next closest national military budget is China’s at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.) (Op. cit. 3/3)
If this is what "Superpower" means, "the military-industrial complex" seems the better term, though I agree more seems involved, notably (secret) governmental institutions like the CIA and the FBI.

The quoted numbers are quite amazing, and it should perhaps be added that part of the reason is "the war on terror", which is real enough as war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but which seems to function in the US and Europe mostly as a pretext to strangle a free and open society, with many independent and freely expressed opinions on all conceivable subjects, and in its stead to see to it that all powers, including the powers to decide which opinions and behaviors are to be politically correct, will fall to the government, whose anonymous surveillants will,  if not now then real soon now, take care that any ordinary citizen will behave as his or her government demands, or else will get major trouble, or simply be made to disappear without a trace.

The following seems a sensible description of what is and/or will be involved:
Foreign military operations literally force democracy to change its nature: “In order to cope with the imperial contingencies of foreign war and occupation,” according to Wolin, “democracy will alter its character, not only by assuming new behaviors abroad (e.g., ruthlessness, indifference to suffering, disregard of local norms, the inequalities in ruling a subject population) but also by operating on revised, power-expansive assumptions at home. It will, more often than not, try to manipulate the public rather than engage its members in deliberation. It will demand greater powers and broader discretion in their use (‘state secrets’), a tighter control over society’s resources, more summary methods of justice, and less patience for legalities, opposition, and clamor for socioeconomic reforms.” (Op. cit. 3/3)
Note that this is what has happened: The President of the United States - "the land of the free and the home of the brave" - every Tuesday inspects his kill lists, and decides who (perhaps anonymous) he will let be killed by a drone attack, because some anonymous source of information has said these presidentially dronable folks are not politically correct, all on the basis of laws and rules this president refuses to publish or publicly discuss. (See "Nacht und Nebel", that also applies to the presidential support for and interest in the secret detainment of his own citizens, without trial, merely on the basis of anonymous accusations.)

I arrive at a topic and form of words I disagree with:
Imperialism and democracy are, in Wolin’s terms, literally incompatible, and the ever greater resources devoted to imperialism mean that democracy will inevitably wither and die. He writes, “Imperial politics represents the conquest of domestic politics and the latter’s conversion into a crucial element of inverted totalitarianism. It makes no sense to ask how the democratic citizen could ‘participate’ substantively in imperial politics; hence it is not surprising that the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates. No major politician or party has so much as publicly remarked on the existence of an American empire.” (Op. cit. 3/3)
I do not believe "imperialism" is a very useful or much enlightening concept, and as I said before, my understanding of the term "democracy" seems to differ from that of Wolin.

What is true, though, is that the US and its government have been militarized, whether to wage "the war on terror", or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether as a pretext and start of an authoritarian regime and an effective police state.

I skip some on the same theme and arrive at the following, that I also do not quite agree with, since I have seen the rise of what I think is fairly called corporate fascism as a form of pseudo-democratic government of a heavily propagandized citizenry, all instituted on the pretext of "the war on terror", but I do not quite see the following:
It has taken a long time, but under George W. Bush’s administration the United States has finally achieved an official ideology of imperial expansion comparable to those of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianisms. In accordance with the National Security Strategy of the United States (allegedly drafted by Condoleezza Rice and proclaimed on Sept. 9, 2002), the United States is now committed to what it calls “preemptive war.” Wolin explains: “Preemptive war entails the projection of power abroad, usually against a far weaker country, comparable say, to the Nazi invasion of Belgium and Holland in 1940. It declares that the United States is justified in striking at another country because of a perceived threat that U.S. power will be weakened, severely damaged, unless it reacts to eliminate the danger before it materializes. Preemptive war is Lebensraum [Hitler’s claim that his imperialism was justified by Germany’s need for “living room”] for the age of terrorism.” This was, of course, the official excuse for the American aggression against Iraq that began in 2003.
(Op. cit. 3/3)
To articulate part of my disagreements:

While preemptive strikes, and drone attacks on civilians, and torture, and renditions, and concentration camps, and indefinite confinement without public trial, seem to me to be all inconsistent with my understanding of the Charter of the United Nations and strongly reeking of dictatorial powers, this is not (yet) "
an official ideology of imperial expansion comparable to those of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianisms", though indeed it may eventually, and not in a far away future, end up there.

And while preemptive war seems to me to be inconsistent with international law and quite undesirable, it is not the same as Hitler's demand for

We have arrived at a disagreement between Wolin and his expounder and pupil Johnson - and here I agree more with Wolin than Johnson:
Many analysts, myself included, would conclude that Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American republic’s days are numbered, but Wolin himself does not agree. Toward the end of his study he produces a wish list of things that should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: “rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics; undoing the damage to our system of individual rights; restoring the institutions of an independent judiciary, separation of powers, and checks and balances; reinstating the integrity of the independent regulatory agencies and of scientific advisory processes; reviving representative systems responsive to popular needs for health care, education, guaranteed pensions, and an honorable minimum wage; restoring governmental regulatory authority over the economy; and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power.” (Op. cit. 3/3)
As I have argued, I agree more than not with Wolin, but I have definite disagreements with him about democracy, imperialism, how to call and analyze what he calls "Superpower", and more.

I find the list of things that need doing "
to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism" quite good, and I have several reasons to disagree with Johnson's conclusion that "Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American republic’s days are numbered".

They may be, but that remains to be seen. Besides, as Edmund Burke had it
Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair.
To which may be added the following points:
  • There still are freedoms one can exercise, such as free speech, notably on the internet.
  • There still is no dictatorial government active in the US.
  • There still is no end or resolution of the crisis.
  • While the corporate powers are strong and have undone or are in the process of undoing much that was good about Western societies -  good public - non-privatized - health care, good public education, guaranteed pensions, decent minimum wages; governmental regulation of the economy and the banks; non-corrupt politicians; truly independent courts; the rule of law; habeas corpus, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion, freedom of association - not all has been lost.
  • While the corporate powers are strong, they are far from infallible, very probably internally divided, and certainly not capable of themselves solving the problems of the global crisis and the global climate problems, both of which need much better governments than authoritarian governments tend to be to have a ghost of a chance of being managed and resolved.
  • The corporate powers - bankers, media moguls, corrupt politicians, "think tank" "research scientists" [6] - may be clever and certainly often are without any conscience, but they also are fundamentally uncivilized, not properly educated, mostly ignorant, and are ruled by a totally irrealistic ideology of greed, profit-taking, and "free markets": They can sell their rot to a considerable part of the people, because the people are not educated and can be deceived, but not because the corporate exploiters and deceivers are intellectually or morally right, nor because the people cannot be seen to have been grossly and meanly deceived if all can be explained well.
See here for an excellent example of good counter-propaganda also mentioned below as an option:

We have arrived at Johnson's final paragraph, which is quite pessimistic:
Unfortunately, this is more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it, particularly since Wolin believes that our political system is “shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors.” It is extremely unlikely that our party apparatus will work to bring the military-industrial complex and the 16 secret intelligence agencies under democratic control. Nonetheless, once the United States has followed the classical totalitarianisms into the dustbin of history, Wolin’s analysis will stand as one of the best discourses on where we went wrong. (Op. cit. 3/3)
Johnson may be right in his pessimism - time will tell, though I probably won't be there to interpet it - and he is right that what he quoted, though good, was "more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to fix it".

I for my part do not think the game has finished, even though the corporate interests dominate far more than they should and than they have done for many decades:

For one thing, the corporate machines have not been able to get McCain or Romney elected, even if they have succeeded in making Obama dance to their tune rather than to his own pre-election promises; and besides, as I said, I cannot see how the global economic crisis and climate problems can be solved by propaganda and delusions, while I can see that either may easily inspire governmental crises, revolutions, revolts, or sudden radical changes.

Also, following an idea from Monbiot, who asked "what's the next big idea?", I can discern at least five things individuals or groups of individuals may do, who are forced out of jobs, pensions, welfare and help by their governments, that  simultaneously increases their taxes or fleeces their bankaccounts to pay off the debts the bank managers made, or to fund a "war on terror" that is in fact a pretext to introduce a regime of state terrorism:
  • Start cooperative movenments, to create jobs, help, income, opportunities outside the spheres of either the government or the corporations (and refuse any and all "collaboration" or "support" from existing politcal parties and politicians: They are all corrupt corporate servants).
  • Create an independent currency that is not banked, such as the bitcoin, and position it ("brand mark it") as "the people's money" - while forbidding or strongly limiting interest on it.
  • Organize effective counter-propaganda, if possible with Big Names, (actors, musicians, writers, real intellectuals) and a free press, e.g. on the lines of truthdig, The Real News, consortiumnews and others, and take care this is well-funded and remains completely independent of any and all corporations, political parties, or government subsidies.
  • Use Linux - it is safer, better, cheaper, and without governmental spy holes (far more probably so than MS Windows or Apple), and comes with good encryption tools.
  • Avoid Facebook and Google as spying corporations, that track far too much for a tolerable free society.


[0] Here is a general note on Nederlog:

I write Nederlog while I am ill with ME/CFS, and usually feel more or less exhausted, as it quite common with that disease. Also, since nearly a year now I have sore eyes and also worsened vision.

For these and some other reasons, such as the deplorable bugged quality of the html-editors I am forced to use on Linux since there isn't any better, alas, plus the fact that it is difficult to spellcheck in these editors (without nuisances I generally want to avoid) it is generally safe for my readers to assume that a Nederlog that got published on a certain date (1) was close to the limit of what I could do that day, and (2) is likely to contain at least some typos, that indeed quite often will get corrected the next day.

Hence if you like a Nederlog and want to keep it, it makes sense to save the version of the next day or even later. I often make small corrections, that generally do not upset the general sense of my argument or my intended meaning, but may be needed to be clear about what I did have in mind.

[1] As my link also explains, the Latin means (in my translation) "I hate the ordinary people, and ward them off" - which seems to be a common if not a universal sentiment of aristocrats, rulers, CEOs, and very rich persons. It also occurs in the next quotation I provided from De Tocqueville, albeit it a bit hidden, as I explain in my next note:

[2] If you have not read De Tocqueville's "Democracy in America", and especially volume 2 of it, you should, for it is very perceptive, both of America (in the early 1830ies, but also in a wider sense), and of democracy and democratic institutions.

The quotation may be translated as follows - and note that De Tocqueville's own background was in the French aristocracy:
"I have a kind of intellectual preference for democratic institutions, but by instinct I am an aristocrat, which is to say that I detest and fear the rabble. I passionately love liberry, equality, respect for the law, but not democracy. Thus behold the foundation of my soul."
Horace's sentiments - undoubtedly well known to De Tocqueville, as they were to John Stuart Mill, who agreed, and who admired De Tocqueville - are in and behind the words "I detest and fear the rabble".

[3] In case you do not know or do not recall: This is Jesus briefly before his crucifixion, forgiving the people who had three times cried out loud for his crucifixion. (See Luke 23.) It may also be applied to the people, or the rabble, as referred to and feared by Horace and De Tocqueville in the previous two notes, as deceived by the propaganda of the public relations conmen hired by their corporate, political or religioys rulers: "
forgive them; for they know not what they do."

[4] For more see my
On Deception - 4: More about propaganda and the following items, all quite interesting and revealing about the subject, role, geneis, development and ends of modern propaganda:
[5] Some Dutch Labour politicians definitely take that tack, and I get their Leninist faces in my Amsterdam city propaganda with Nazist headings attributed to them next to their horrific faces, to this effect: "Whoever does not report crimes to the police is a traitor!".

[6] We are analyzing what may be involved in "Superpower" here. In the end, these must be definite individuals, with definite beliefs, desires, and plans, at work (mostly) in specific institutions, and these institutions certainly should comprise: major banks, major corporations (especially in energy, resources and the military), major media (owners and editors), leading politicians, prominent "think tanks", leaders of secret services of various kinds, and directors or researchers in some universities. Those who want theoretical backgrounds, I refer to C. Wright Mills "The Power Elite" and "Power, Politics and People"; James Burnham's "The Machiavellians"; Gaetano Mosca's "The Ruling Class"; Max Weber's  "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft"; Bertrand Russell's "Power"; Bertrand de Jouvenel's "On Power"; Aristotle's "Politics" and Machiavelli's "Discourses".

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate
search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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