Friday, March 28, 2008

Spectator sport

As I watch what is described by various pundits as one of the most fiercely fought presidential election campaigns in memory, I can't help but be reminded of something Noam Chomsky wrote:
In totalitarian societies where there's a Ministry of Truth, propaganda doesn't really try to control your thoughts. It just gives you the party line. It says, "Here's the official doctrine; don't disobey and you won't get in trouble. What you think is not of great importance to anyone. If you get out of line we'll do something to you because we have force." Democratic societies can't work like that, because the state is much more limited in its capacity to control behavior by force. Since the voice of the people is allowed to speak out, those in power better control what that voice says — in other words, control what people think. One of the ways to do this is to create political debate that appears to embrace many opinions, but actually stays within very narrow margins. You have to make sure that both sides in the debate accept certain assumptions — and that those assumptions are the basis of the propaganda system. As long as everyone accepts the propaganda system, the debate is permissible.
How anyone can look at the candidates from the major parties and honestly pretend there are heavily contested issues in play here is something I am incapable of understanding. The permitted debate is over things that are ultimately rather superficial, but they all accept the limits imposed by the system. None says war is bad, they say, "War is bad, but..." and vow to strengthen America's killing power. They don't even get that far in criticizing the economic system that is presently causing financial strife for millions of people — within the propaganda system, it is only the failure of "firms" or "businesses" or "executives," never the failure of the market itself.

To be sure, I am free to make these arguments here. But then I am not running for office. If I were, I would be treated like Dennis Kucinich, or Raplph Nader, or (heaven forbid) a candidate from the Green, Libertarian, or Socialist Parties. I, and anyone else who strays too far from the conservative corporate core of American politics, could never hope to play in the game, we must be content to yell in the stands.


  1. What about Ron Paul? He seems like the best candidate to me.

  2. Ron Paul is easily a much worse candidate for president than Obama, Clinton, and McCain. One of the few things worse than a capitalist state is stateless capitalism of the sort allegedly proposed by "libertarian" nutjobs like Ron Paul and his ilk.

    But really this has nothing to do with the content of my post. Ron Paul, too, is just as much a part of the narrow spectrum of debate considered allowable. The right-most edge of that spectrum, to be sure, but he's not saying anything revolutionary with his anti-immigrant, pro-market fundamentalism.