Edward S. Herman



  Although 1984 was a Cold War document that dramatized the threat

of the Soviet enemy, and has always been used mainly to serve Cold

War political ends, it also contained the germs of a powerful

critique of U.S. and Western practice. Orwell himself suggested

such applications in his essay on "Politics and the English

Language" and even more explicitly in a neglected Preface to Animal

Farm. [1] But doublespeak and thought control are far more

important in the West than Orwell indicated, often in subtle forms

but sometimes as crudely as in 1984, and virtually every 1984

illustration of Ingsoc, Newspeak and Doublethink have numerous

counterparts in what we may call Amcap, Amerigood, and Marketspeak.

The Doublethink formulas "War Is Peace" and a "Ministry of Peace"

were highlights of Newspeak. But even before Orwell published 1984,

the U.S. "Department of War" had been renamed the "Department of

Defense," reflecting the Amcap-Amerigood view that our military

actions and war preparations are always defensive, reasonable

responses to somebody else's provocations, and ultimately in the

interest of peace.


   Furthermore, Americans have been much more effective dispensers

of propaganda, doublespeak, and disinformation than the managers of

Ingsoc, in either 1984 or in the real world Soviet Union. The power

of information control in this country was displayed during World

War I in the work of the Creel commission, and in its aftermath the

United States pioneered in the development of public relations and

advertising. Both of these industries have long been mobilized in

the service of politics. During the 1994 election campaign in the

United States, the Republican "Contract With America" was formed

with the aid of a consultant who first polled the public to find

out which words resonated with them, and then incorporated those

words into the Contract without regard to the Contract's substance.

This yielded, for example, a "Job Creation and Wage Enhancement"

title for proposed actions that would reduce the capital gains tax.


   Consider also the fact that in this country, as the element of

rehabilitation of imprisoned criminals has diminished, the name of

their places of incarceration has been changed from "jails" and

"prisons" to "corrections facilities." Or that civilians killed by

U.S. missiles or bombs in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, or earlier

in Indochina, are always unintended "collateral damage," and are

therefore morally acceptable, although there is always an official

disinterest in such numbers, and sometimes even an effort made to

keep this toll under wraps. Or that the 2002 war in Afghanistan was

briefly called "Infinite Justice," altered to "Enduring Freedom"

after complaints that only God offers infinite justice. Amcap

represents a significant advance over Ingsoc.



The Role and Mechanisms of Thought Control


   In fact, a good case can be made that propaganda is a more

important means of social control in open societies like the United

States than in closed societies like the late Soviet Union. In the

former, the protection of inequalities of wealth and power, which

frequently exceed those in totalitarian societies, cannot rest on

the use of force, and as political scientist Harold Lasswell

explained back in 1935, this compels the dominant elite to manage

the ignorant multitude "largely through propaganda." [2] Similarly,

in his 1922 classic, Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann argued that

"the common interests [sometimes called the "national interest"]

very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only

by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the

locality," "responsible" men who must "manufacture consent" among

the thoughtless masses. [3]


    The claim that such collective action is impossible in a free

society, and that it implies some form of conspiracy, is mistaken.

This claim is refuted both by the record of collective action,

discussed and illustrated briefly below, as well as by an

examination of how Amcap is implemented. Amcap works in part

because it is the responsible men (and women) who own and run

newspapers, TV stations and networks, and the other power centers

in society. They manage national affairs, and "crises in democracy"

are identified by the fact that, as in the infamous 1960s,

important sectors of the usually apathetic general population

organize and press hard for recognition of their needs. The power

of this responsible elite is also reflected in society's

ideological assumptions and ways of thinking about issues, as this

elite manages the flow of advertising and the work of public

relations firms and thinktanks, as well as controlling access to

the mass media. It takes only a small extension of Beckerian

analysis–which insists on economic motives explaining virtually

anything–to understand how a powerful demand for particular lines

of economic and political thought might well elicit an appropriate

supply response, which will be a "responsible" economics and

politics that serves the "national interest."


  This system of thought control is not centrally managed, although

sometimes the government orchestrates a particular propaganda

campaign. It operates mainly by individual and market choices, with

the frequent collective service to the national interest arising

from common interests and internalized beliefs. The responsible men

(and women) often disagree on tactics, but not on premises, ends,

and the core ideology of a free market system. What gives this

system of thought control its power and advantage over Ingsoc is

that its members truly believe in Amcap, and their passion in its

exposition and defense is sincere. In their patriotic ardor they

put forth, accept, and internalize untruths and doublethink as

impressive as anything portrayed in 1984. But at the same time they

allow controversy to rage freely, although within bounds, so that

Leave a comment