Mind-Bending in the U.S.A
Do you find yourself asking lately, “What’s happened to America?” How did their society get from there to here without anybody shouting out, “Whoa, what’s going on here?!” What happened to neighborliness, to altruism and humanism? Where’s the kind of activism that brought an end to the Vietnam War? What happened to academic freedom, free of classrooms monitored by right-wing informers? It’s as if a toxic fog of egoism, cynicism and arrogant ignorance had descended on the country.
People’s minds have been changed radically on most important issues and that mind changing has led to a long series of regrettable reverses in American government policy at home and abroad. Let’s boil these changes down for the sake of brevity: 1/ Egregious inequality and racism at home and 2/ Colonial wars overseas.
I think we can agree on what has happened. Great swaths of the American people have changed their minds regarding the kind of world they want to live in. And their choices are largely driven by greed, white supremacy and mindless nationalism, not generosity and concern for the common good. The mystery is: How and why did these changes come about?
Massive shifts in values, lifestyles and aspirations don’t just happen by spontaneous combustion. Those changes were somehow provoked. Powerful (i.e. rich) people, or groups of powerful people, took it upon themselves to change American society’s values and modes of living. They ditched Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “soft-hearted and soft-headed” New Deal model of society and supplanted it with something more “businesslike,” something less expensive and more profitable. More profitable for whom? Guess.
How to Turn a Great Country from Idealism to Bare-Fisted Profit
However powerful they may be, the rich in the United States are a minority. They have little possibility of changing the direction of the country with their own votes. To change the mindset of an advanced country of a few hundred million fairly-well-educated people is a large order. How did they go about it? They used a two-pronged approach: 1/ Buy influence at the top, in the Congress, and 2/ Influence the voting choices of ingenuous voters. To achieve the latter they had to first make the voters more ingenuous. This is usually referred to as “dumbing down,” and through retrograde educational policies and the use of the mainstream media, which they own, the affluent minority did a magnificent job.
In fact, they didn’t have to do too much inventing. All they had to do was find a model that had already proven effective and adapt it to their own needs. That model was the highly-successful, full-court-press propaganda campaign used by the German Nazis to turn their country around in the 1930’s. It was frighteningly effective, and we’re lucky enough to have a detailed description of it from which we might learn something, if it’s not too late.
Our Legacy from a Young American Sociologist
In 1939 Julius Yourman, a 34-year-old sociologist at N.Y.U. wrote an article entitled “Propaganda Techniques within Nazi Germany” for the Journal of Educational Sociology. He begins his article with this premise:
The extent to which the propaganda machinery of a country has been brought under the control of one organization or of a group of related organizations is a useful measure of the degree to which absolutism dominates it, and of the extent to which democracy has been eliminated.
Yourman continues (and please remember that this was written in early 1939, six years after the Nazis took power in Germany and almost three years before the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941, the day after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor):
Since the advent of the National Socialists the power of the agencies of propaganda has been intensified and coordinated so that all avenues of communication-press, school, radio, motion picture, and even the church-must carry but one propaganda to the public mind, must express one will, one voice, one opinion. Hence the Hitler regime has, in common with other fascist countries, established a system wherein authority flows from the top down; and from the people comes blind, instant, unquestioning obedience.
Yourman divides the National Socialist propaganda effort into “seven common propaganda devices,” and analyzes each one. Note the word “common.” The Nazis didn’t have to invent much, either, rather just trace a plan using time-tested publicity techniques and implement them systematically and implacably.
I confess that, as I read Yourman’s comments on the measures the Nazis took to twist their country’s values so grotesquely, I started seeing parallels with our own times, perhaps not so extreme yet, but definitely along the same lines. See if you don’t agree.
It’s as Easy as Selling Coca-Cola, Using the Same Techniques
Let’s take them from the top:
- Name Calling. Yourman deems this “a device to make us form a judgment without examining the evidence on which it should be based.” After a few years of relentless bombarding their countrymen with anti-trade-union, anti-bolshevik, anti-Jewish and anti-democratic name calling, the Nazis had convinced them that “these devilish inventions were cleverly designed by malicious persons to ruin the German people.”Once German citizens were convinced that communism was being foisted on them by a vicious and degenerate cabal of alien enemies, then the Nazis could rally all good Germans around the Fuehrer, who promised to protect his people by waging endless war on these “enemies of the state.” Where did they find most of these subversives, victims of their endless war? In Checoslovakia and Poland at first, then ultimately in most of the countries of Europe. The didn’t make it to Iraq and Afghanistan because the Allies (principally UK, the Soviet Union, the US and France) didn’t give them enough time.
The German liberals were also lumped in with the enemies of the state. To be a “liberal” or to believe in the “stupid doctrine of equality” was to be a lilly-livered “red.” (Sound familiar?) The same talent the Nazis had for invective they had for praising the German people’s homespun virtues of “honesty, decency, workmanship, good will and rich emotionalism,” most of which would go out the window by the end of the war.
Read the full story in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
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