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W

orld history is one of my current interests. I have been collecting books on various histories like history of fashion, music, the world, cotton, science, religion, so on and so forth for the past few years.

 

I just finished reading a book on world history by E.H Gombrich, ‘a little history of the world’ – this is one book I read from cover to cover and finished in one sitting. For a change, it was short. It was readable. The narrative was conversational and at least an effort had been made to present some facts and not popular opinions on world events. However, again, here the author’s personal bias couldn’t help but creep in. It recounts history from the beginning of humanity to the First World War. It’s supposed to be for kids but adults can read it too.  Originally it was written in German but my copy is in English and apparently was translated by the author himself in English.

 

I find most books on world history (and even current affairs!) unsatisfactory. I have been trying to find a single book (on world history) that just presents facts from beginning of humanity’s origins on this planet to present day – talking about various civilizations – objectively. Unfortunately, the search still continues.  What I have noticed about various books on world history is this:

 

  • The world history is always narrated from someone’s point of view, this could be popular opinion of those times or author’s own – all the events narrated are littered with the story teller’s personal opinions, sympathies, biases, interpretations, life experiences or personal philosophies; factual, impartial, objective, narration of events is never possible, in other words, history is actually propaganda, told from a point of view, your hero might be my villain and my villain your hero

 

  • Most world histories are European centered– in other words, the ‘hero’ of the story or ‘the people’ who matter in this story are the Europeans, it’s their story

 

  • Also, facts have to fit a particular rigid mold; you know, creating a story around “us” and “them” – the “us” – Europeans, natural inheritors of the “Greek” and “Roman” civilizations – or in other words, superior civilization vs. “them” Chinese, Indian, Persian, Islamic, native North American or South American, African, or Australian etc. backward or inferior civilizations, even the renaissance is depicted as getting back in touch with their “Greek” and “Roman” roots via the Islamic Civilization. Though, Europeans with  Jewish, Muslim, Russian or Turk origin or background are not included in this superiority complex and are not of “the people”

Bottom line, history is a story, commissioned by the elite minority group to hoodwink and exploit the silent helpless majority, the story is always about three categories of people – the first category:  the elite (in olden times, the royalty or church leaders and now decision makers or world leaders or in other words, the management or people with power),  the second category of people or character in this story  are those who serve the elite’s interests, (in olden times, the ministers or feudal lords, now bureaucracy or middle management or people who serve people with the real power and money) and final and third category of people in this story are the silent majority only intent on survival, the producers (and consumers) in various professions who need to earn a living (in olden times, slaves, serfs, farmers, laborers, or the workers, artisans and craftspeople, now, about the same minus the demeaning labels).

 

If you look at the overall pattern derived from world history, you would notice that elite and their bureaucracy are always trying to maintain the status quo or their hold on the silent majority while the silent majority occasionally overthrows them and tries to bring equality which never lasts because status quo must be maintained at all costs so the elite and their bureaucracy prevail in the long run. In other words, exploitation of humanity (read: majority) by humanity (read: minority) for humanity (read: power, money, territory or self- interest of the minority) continues in this perpetual struggle to be on the top and remain on top of the food chain. No, the elite are never ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.” They are the Brahmins. By the way, I am using the term ‘elite’ loosely, they are not the best of humanity, they’re the most ruthless – the very stuff of ‘the Lord of the flies.’

It reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s words, he might be talking about the American society, but the principles he’s talking about are fairly universal, “There’s even a kind of compelling moral principle behind it. The compelling moral principle is that the mass of the public are just too stupid to be able to understand things. If they try to participate in managing their own affairs, they’re just going to cause trouble. Therefore, it would be immoral and improper to permit them to do this. We have to tame the bewildered herd, not allow the bewildered herd to rage and trample and destroy things. It’s pretty much the same logic that says that it would be improper to let a three-year-old run across the street. You don’t give a three-year-old that kind of freedom because the three-year-old doesn’t know how to handle that freedom. Correspondingly, you don’t allow the bewildered herd to become participants in action. They’ll just cause trouble.”

 

And, “The people in the public relations industry aren’t there for the fun of it. They’re doing work. They’re trying to instill the right values. In fact, they have a conception of what democracy ought to be: It ought to be a system in which the specialized class is trained to work in the service of the masters, the people who own the society. The rest of the population ought to be deprived of any form of organization, because organization just causes trouble.”

 

And, “There are growing domestic social and economic problems, in fact, maybe catastrophes. Nobody in power has any intention of doing anything about them. If you look at the domestic programs of the administrations of the past ten years—I include here the Democratic opposition—there’s really no serious proposal about what to do about the severe problems of health, education, homelessness, joblessness, crime, soaring criminal populations, jails, deterioration in the inner cities— the whole raft of problems. You all know about them, and they’re all getting worse.”

 

And, “In such circumstances you’ve got to divert the bewildered herd, because if they start noticing this they may not like it, since they’re the ones suffering from it. Just having them watch the Superbowl and the sitcoms may not be enough. You have to whip them up into fear of enemies. In the 1930s Hitler whipped them into fear of the Jews and gypsies. You had to crush them to defend yourselves. We have our ways, too. Over the last ten years, every year or two, some major monster is constructed that we have to defend ourselves against. There used to be one that was always readily available: The Russians. You could always defend yourself against the Russians. But they’re losing their attractiveness as an enemy, and it’s getting harder and harder to use that one, so some new ones have to be conjured up. So it was international terrorists and narco-traffickers and crazed Arabs… They’ve got to keep coming up one after another. You frighten the population, terrorize them, intimidate them so that they’re too afraid to travel and cower in fear. That’s one of the ways in which you can keep the bewildered herd from paying attention to what’s really going on around them, keep them diverted and controlled.”

 

And finally, “The issue is much broader. It’s whether we want to live in a free society or whether we want to live under what amounts to a form of self-imposed totalitarianism, with the bewildered herd marginalized, directed elsewhere, terrified, screaming patriotic slogans, fearing for their lives and admiring with awe the leader who saved them from destruction, while the educated masses goosestep on command and repeat the slogans they’re supposed to repeat and the society deteriorates at home.”

 

From ‘Media Control, the spectacular achievements of Propaganda,’ 1997, by Noam Chomsky

 

Yes, history keeps repeating itself and the ‘bewildered herd’ never learns.

 

***

 

noam chomsky - media control

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Fareeha Qayoom
Fareeha Qayoom
The publisher and editor-in-chief for Tkfr.com and former print editions of The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review (tkfr), Fareeha is currently working at a media company as Content development Manager (or as they call it, the managing editor); she also served as the managing editor for Valuemag (Jan 08-July 09 – Print editions Valuemag 1-13). She has over 15 years of solid management experience in managing products, brands, projects, processes, staff, customers, vendors and time, plus, she has a MSc degree in Economics (and Business Administration) from La Salle University, Louisiana, USA and BA from Kinnaird. She also freelanced for The News on Sunday (1994-95). Tkfr.com chronicles some of her work – editing, writing, reporting and print and online media management. (1994-to date).

5 Comments

  1. more reading?

    World History
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_history

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  2. A little history of the world
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Little_History_of_the_World

    http://www.amazon.com/Little-History-World-H-Gombrich/dp/030014332X

    E. H. Gombrich’s bestselling history of the world for young readers tells the story of mankind from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb, focusing not on small detail but on the sweep of human experience, the extent of human achievement, and the depth of its frailty. The product of a generous and humane sensibility, this timeless account makes intelligible the full span of human history. In forty concise chapters, Gombrich tells the story of man from the stone age to the atomic bomb. In between emerges a colorful picture of wars and conquests, grand works of art, and the spread and limitations of science. This is a text dominated not by dates and facts, but by the sweep of mankind’s experience across the centuries, a guide to humanity’s achievements and an acute witness to its frailties.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61505.A_Little_History_of_the_World

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  3. Propaganda
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda

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  4. On Propaganda
    Noam Chomsky interviewed by unidentified interviewer
    WBAI, January, 1992
    … [T]his became a part of contemporary political science, the founder of the modern field of communications, one of the leading american political scientists, Harold Laswell he explained a couple of years after this in the early 1930’s that should no succumb to what he called democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests, because they’re not, they’re not the best judges of their own interests, WE’RE the best judges of their interests and we have to therefore just out of ordinary morality make sure that they don’t have an opportunity to opt to act on the basis of their misjudgements and the way we nowadays in whats nowadays called a totalitarian state/military state or something, it’s easy you just hold a bludgeon over their heads and if they get out of line you just smash them over the head, but as societies become more free and democratic you lose that capacity and therefore you have to turn to the techniques of propaganda.

    http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/199201–.htm

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  5. The Propaganda Model: An Overview
    David Cromwell
    Excerpted from Private Planet, 2002

    In their 1988 book ‘Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media’, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky introduced their ‘propaganda model’ of the media. The propaganda model argues that there are 5 classes of ‘filters’ in society which determine what is ‘news’; in other words, what gets printed in newspapers or broadcast by radio and television. Herman and Chomsky’s model also explains how dissent from the mainstream is given little, or zero, coverage, while governments and big business gain easy access to the public in order to convey their state-corporate messages – for example, ‘free trade is beneficial, ‘globalisation is unstoppable’ and ‘our policies are tackling poverty’.

    We have already touched upon the fact that corporate ownership of the media can – and does – shape editorial content. The sheer size, concentrated ownership, immense owner wealth, and profit-seeking imperative of the dominant media corporations could hardly yield any other result. It was not always thus. In the early nineteenth century, a radical British press had emerged which addressed the concerns of workers. But excessive stamp duties, designed to restrict newspaper ownership to the ‘respectable’ wealthy, began to change the face of the press. Nevertheless there remained a degree of diversity. In postwar Britain, radical or worker-friendly newspapers such as the Daily Herald, News Chronicle, Sunday Citizen (all since failed or absorbed into other publications) and the Daily Mirror (at least until the late 1970s) regularly published articles questioning the capitalist system.

    The well-known journalist John Pilger joined the Mirror in 1963, and worked there for over 20 years. Pilger later claimed that ‘The Mirror was the first popular paper to encourage working-class people to express themselves, for whatever reason, to their newspaper’. Luckily for him, ‘Irreverence and a certain anarchy were encouraged’. Later, when Robert Maxwell took over ownership of the newspaper, Pilger was personally assured that his job was secure: ‘Eighteen months later, after relentless interference from Maxwell, I was sacked.’

    The media typically comprise large conglomerates – News International, CBS (now merged with Westinghouse), Turner Broadcasting (now merged with Time-Warner) – which may belong to even larger parent corporations such as General Electric (owners of NBC). All are tied into the stock market. Wealthy people sit on the boards of these major corporations, many with extensive personal and business contacts in other corporations. Herman and Chomsky point out, for instance, that: ‘GE [General Electric] and Westinghouse are both huge, diversified multinational companies heavily involved in the controversial areas of weapons production and nuclear power.’ It is difficult to conceive that press neutrality would not be compromised in these areas. But more widely, press freedom is limited by the simple fact that the owners of the media corporations are driven by free market ideology. How likely is it, then, that such owners would happily allow their own newspaper, radio or TV station to criticise systematically the ‘free market’ capitalism which is the source of his material wealth?

    The second filter of the propaganda model is advertising. Newspapers have to attract and maintain a high proportion of advertising in order to cover the costs of production; without it, the price of any newspaper would be many times what it is now, which would soon spell its demise in the marketplace. There is fierce competition throughout the media to attract advertisers; a newspaper which gets less advertising than its competitors is put at a serious disadvantage. Lack of success in raising advertising revenue was another factor in the demise of ‘people’s newspapers’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is clear, therefore, that for any publication or commercial radio or TV station to survive, it has to hone itself into an advertiser-friendly medium. In other words, the media has to be sympathetic to business interests, such as the travel, automobile and petrochemical industries. Even the threat of withdrawal of advertising can affect editorial content. A letter sent to the editorial offices of a hundred magazines by a major car producer stated: ‘In an effort to avoid potential conflicts, it is required that Chrysler corporation be alerted in advance of any and all editorial content that encompasses sexual, political, social issues or any editorial content that could be construed as provocative or offensive.’ In 1999, British Telecom threatened to withdraw advertising from The Daily Telegraph following a number of critical articles. The journalist responsible was suspended.

    A 1992 US study of 150 news editors found that 90 per cent said that advertisers tried to interfere with newspaper content, and 70 per cent tried to stop news stories altogether. 40 per cent admitted that advertisers had in fact influenced a story. In the UK, £3.2 billion is spent on newspaper ads annually and another £2.6 billion on TV and radio commercials, out of a total advertising budget of £9.2 billion. In the US, the figure is tens of billions of dollars a year on TV advertising alone. An advertising-based system makes survival extremely difficult for radical publications that depend on revenue from sales alone. Even if such publications survive, they are relegated to the margins of society, receiving little notice from the public at large. Advertising, just like media ownership, therefore acts as a news filter.

    The third of Herman and Chomsky’s 5 filters relates to the sourcing of mass media news: ‘The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest.’ Even large media corporations such as the BBC cannot afford to place reporters everywhere. They therefore concentrate their resources where major news stories are likely to happen: the White House, the Pentagon, No 10 Downing Street, and other centralised news ‘terminals’. Although British newspapers may occasionally object to the ‘spin-doctoring’ of New Labour, for example, they are in fact highly dependent upon the pronouncements of ‘the Prime Minister’s personal spokesperson’ for government-related news. Business corporations and trade organisations are also trusted sources of stories considered newsworthy. Editors and journalists who offend these powerful news sources, perhaps by questioning the veracity or bias of the furnished material, can be threatened with the denial of access to their media life-blood – fresh news.

    Robert McChesney, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, points out that ‘Professional journalism relies heavily on official sources. Reporters have to talk to the PM’s official spokesperson, the White House press secretary, the business association, the army general. What those people say is news. Their perspectives are automatically legitimate.’ Whereas, according to McChesney, ‘if you talk to prisoners, strikers, the homeless, or protesters, you have to paint their perspectives as unreliable, or else you’ve become an advocate and are no longer a “neutral” professional journalist.’ Such reliance on official sources gives the news an inherently conservative cast and gives those in power tremendous influence over defining what is or isn’t ‘news’. McChesney, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy, warns: ‘This is precisely the opposite of what a functioning democracy needs, which is a ruthless accounting of the powers that be.’

    The fourth filter is ‘flak’, described by Herman and Chomsky as ‘negative responses to a media statement or [TV or radio] program. It may take the form of letters, telegrams, phone calls, petitions, law-suits, speeches and Bills before Congress, and other modes of complaint, threat and punitive action’. Business organisations regularly come together to form flak machines. Perhaps one of the most well-known of these is the US-based Global Climate Coalition (GCC) – comprising fossil fuel and automobile companies such as Exxon, Texaco and Ford. The GCC was started up by Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s largest public relations companies, to rubbish the credibility of climate scientists and ‘scare stories’ about global warming (see Chapter 4).

    In her 1997 book Global Spin, Sharon Beder documented at great length the operations of corporations and their hired PR firms in establishing grassroots ‘front movements’ to counter the gains made by environmentalists. One such coalition, the Foundation for Clean Air Progress, is ‘in reality a front for transportation, energy, manufacturing and agricultural groups’. The Foundation was established to challenge the US Clean Air Act by ‘educating’ the public about the progress made in air quality over the previous twenty-five years. As Beder notes, the Foundation’s ‘focus is on individual responsibility for pollution, as opposed to the regulation of industry to achieve further improvements.’ The threat – real or imagined – of law-suits can be a powerful deterrent to media investigation. In the UK, environmental journalist Andrew Rowell notes that, ‘Britain’s archaic libel laws prevent much of the real truth about the destructive nature of many of [the] UK’s leading companies from ever being published or broadcast. Very few people within the media will take on the likes of Shell, BP or [mining company] RTZ’.

    The fifth and final news filter that Herman and Chomsky identified was ‘anti-communism’. Manufacturing Consent was written during the Cold War. A more apt version of this filter is the customary western identification of ‘the enemy’ or an ‘evil dictator’ – Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, or Slobodan Milosevic (recall the British tabloid headlines of ‘Smash Saddam!’ and ‘Clobba Slobba!’). The same extends to mainstream reporting of environmentalists as ‘eco-terrorists’. The Sunday Times ran a particularly nasty series of articles in 1999 accusing activists from the non-violent direct action group Reclaim The Streets of stocking up on CS gas and stun guns.

    The demonisation of enemies is useful, essential even, in justifying strategic geopolitical manoeuvring and the defence of corporate interests around the world, while mollifying home-based critics of such behaviour. The creation of an ‘evil empire’ of some kind, as in postwar western scaremongering about the ‘Soviet Menace’ or earlier talk of the ‘Evil Hun’, has been a standard device for terrifying the population into supporting arms production and military adventurism abroad – both major sources of profit for big business. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein has been a useful bogeyman for US arms manufacturers who have notched up sales of over $100bn to Saddam’s neighbours in the Middle East. The fifth filter also applies to media demonisation of anti-globalisation protesters – often described as ‘rioters’ – and anyone else perceived as a threat to free-market ideology.

    This brief description of the propaganda model hardly does justice to the sophisticated and cogent analysis presented by Herman and Chomsky. The interested reader is urged to consult their book directly. Its particular relevance here is that it explains how and why the status quo of corporate power is maintained in modern society, the dominance of the neoliberal agenda of free trade with its automatic rejection of alternatives (Margaret Thatcher’s ‘There Is No Alternative’), and the emasculation of dissident viewpoints which are variously labelled as ‘biased’, ‘ideological’ or ‘extreme’. How likely is it that anyone calling for radical change in society – whether environmentalists, human-rights activists or opponents of the arms trade – will be consistently and fairly reported by corporate news organisations? How much more likely is it that their arguments will be vilified, marginalised or simply ignored?

    http://www.chomsky.info/onchomsky/2002—-.htm

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