In a democracy, the leader of the nation can't say "Because I say so", because it would sound childish and too authoritarian for a democracy. But there are other, more subtle ways to accomplish the same effect. By encouraging certain assumptions, a nation's leaders effectively limit debate to such a narrow framework that it has almost exactly the same effect as saying "Because I say so".
David Edwards, in an article titled "The Limits of the Possible", explains how this kind of process turns a democracy into something less than a democracy:
Today we are living in a society that creates the powerful impression that barring a few issues of inequality and distribution of wealth, freedom has been more or less fully attained for the majority of people... As a result, the majority of us feel little urgent need to strive for freedom...Edwards goes on to list the types of thought manipulation that our leaders use on us, including the following:
While it is true that we in the West have largely escaped the physical chains and violence of state control, these have been replaced by psychological chains which are, in many ways, even more effective if only because they are invisible and thus far more difficult to perceive. Because we are talking here about manipulation of thought...
Many of these methods were on display in last Thursday night's Democratic Presidential debate in Philadelphia, moderated by two puppets from ABC "News". Let's take a quick look at some examples:
The use of thought manipulation in the April 17th Democratic Presidential debate
In a recent post I discussed numerous ways in which two ABC stooges, George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson, used the April 17th debate as an attempt to destroy Barack Obama's candidacy and to push some of ABC's favorite right wing talking points. Here are some examples of their attempt at manipulation of the American people.
Gibson repeatedly lectured Obama on the "fact" that raising capital gains taxes lowers government revenue, when in fact most economists believe that it does just the opposite. Gibson's purpose in doing this was clearly to make Obama look ignorant for his promise to raise capital gains taxes, and perhaps more important, to misinform the American people on this subject.
Telling us that we should leave the search for truth up to the 'experts'
Gibson asked Obama a question about the Iraq War which was really more of a dogmatic statement than it was a question. Basically, he was lecturing Obama that his plans to end the war are ill advised, and that as President he should do whatever his military commanders tell him to do:
If the military commanders in Iraq came to you on day one, and said, this kind of withdrawal would destabilize Iraq, it would set back all of the gains that we have made, no matter what, you're going to order those troops to come home? General Petraeus was in Washington. You both were there when he testified. Saying that the gains in Iraq are fragile and are reversible. Are you essentially saying: I know better than the military commanders here?
The question of whether or not to continue a war is not just a matter of military tactics and strategy. It has tremendous moral implications – implications that bear upon where we as a people want our nation to go and what we want it to be. Only in a military dictatorship do civilians unquestionably accept and act upon whatever the military tells them to do. Yet, here we have a high level representative of a major "news" network telling the American people that we should do exactly that.
Presenting us with the spectre of awesome enemies
The above noted statement by Gibson, which if acted upon could condemn us to continuing the Iraq War indefinitely, is predicated upon instilling the fear of so-called "Islamic Fascism" into the American people. Because of that fear we are expected to accept war against a nation that posed no threat to us when the war began and still poses no threat to us. No reasonable explanation for the war has ever been provided to us. Yet, based on fear alone, we are expected to accept the utter devastation of a sovereign country and their people (and our soldiers too), in our name, using our money.
Use of scapegoats
Given our current recession, 47 million Americans with no medical insurance, 3% of Americans facing foreclosures on their homes, unaffordable education costs, and increasing poverty levels, one might have thought that a Presidential debate hosted by a major news network would have included one or more questions on those subjects. Instead, we get a question directed at the one black candidate in the race, asking him how he would prevent wealthy black people from taking advantage of affirmative action programs.
The Iraq War as a prime example of thought manipulation taking advantage of herd mentality
Of all the types of thought manipulation used by those who hold power in our country, perhaps the most effective and sinister is that which takes advantage of "our need to belong with the herd". This takes the form of teaching us from a young age to believe that our nation is intrinsically so morally pure that to question the motives of our leaders in matters pertaining to war is "unpatriotic" at best, and treasonous at worst. Unquestioning allegiance to our leaders is the very definition of "patriotism" in this view.
Noam Chomsky uses a straight forward, euphemism-free style to make this point in the starkest of terms, in his book, "What we Say Goes":
The United States is an outlaw state, and it is accepted by the intellectual class here that it should be an outlaw state... There is no criticism of this... There is a huge debate about the invasion of Iraq, but no question about whether we have a justification to do it. Of course, we have the automatic justification to do it – because it's us. We have a justification to do anything. In fact, if you look at the so-called debate about Iraq, it's at approximately the level of a high school newspaper commenting on the local sports team. You don't ask whether the team has a right to win, you just ask how they can win... The question of whether the United States has a right to win in Iraq is unthinkable.
If you doubt the accuracy of Chomsky's statement, ask yourself how many U.S. politicians have questioned the morality of our invasion and occupation of Iraq. The only 2008 Presidential candidate who even mentioned this was Dennis Kucinich, when he had the courage to tell the American people that the motive for the Iraq War was (and is) to gain access to Iraqi oil. Even John Edwards, who I supported for President when it became evident that Kucinich had no chance, would not dare to question the motives of an American President. It's ok to criticize the war and George Bush's conduct of the war based on practical grounds. But to question it on moral grounds would be to cross a line that only a rare politician dares to cross. To do so would be to invite accusations of lacking "patriotism", and it would be one of the greatest risks that a politician could take.