Sunday, June 02, 2013

Do What You're Told

In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky returned to a subject about which he has said a lot over the years -- consumer culture:

The advertising industry is a huge industry, and anyone with their eyes open can see what it's for. First of all, the existence of the advertising industry is a sign of the unwillingness to let markets function. If you had markets, you wouldn't have advertising. Like, if somebody has something to sell, they say what it is and you buy it if you want. But when you have oligopolies, they want to stop price wars. They have to have product differentiation, and you got to turn to diluting people into thinking you should buy this rather than that. Or just getting them to consume - if you can get them to consume, they're trapped, you know.

Chomsky has always seen through the lie which dominates our political culture. We do not -- in fact, we have never -- believed in "free markets."  And, when people like Stephen Harper tell you they are totally focused on the economy, what they really mean is that they are totally focused on consumer culture.

The greatest threat to consumer culture is free thought. That, says Chomsky, is why public education has become an instrument of control, by which the propertied class keep the plebians in their place:

Schools are designed to teach the test. You don't have to worry about students thinking for themselves, challenging, raising questions. And you see it down to the lowest level of detail. I give a lot of talks in communities and places where people are concerned about education and I've had teachers come up to me and say afterwards, you know, I teach sixth grade. A little girl came up after class and said she was interested in something that came up in class, and wanted to know how to look into it. And I tell her, you can't do it; you got to study for the test. Your future depends on it; my salary depends on it.

It's all about keeping people scared. If you can maintain that sense of high anxiety, they'll do what they're told. Remember that mantra: do what you're told. When you scrape away all the rhetoric, that's what you're left with.

Any human being who sees him or herself as a moral agent -- someone who is truly free to make informed choices -- is a threat to the whole system.


bcwaterboy said...

I can think of no better example of the use of advertising to control critical thinking than the puking out of political messages. The "economic action plan" ads with the folksy oh Canada blip at the end "still playing after all these years" and the increased fines and double hulled tankers lining up on the bc coast. Repeat it often enough it becomes true. The BC election campaign of one Christy Clark contained nothing but false information and when advertised with a perky smile, it won a landslide election. People marking that x apparently didn't say wait a minute here, debt free bc, what kind of crap is this person selling. Free enterprise party my behind. Anyone trying to compete with the oligarchs is unceremoniously snuffed out.

Lorne said...

Well-expressed, Owen. I probably mentioned this before, but one of the greatest delights I took in teaching senior classes was to use Orwell's Politics and the English Language as well as common fallacies in logic to have students examine the rhetoric and 'reasoning' with which we are bombarded. And of course, the teaching of literature was itself an exercise in critical thinking, doubtless one of the reasons the arts are denigrated by those on the right pusshing the corporate agenda.

Owen Gray said...

Precisely, waterboy. Goebbels understood the power of advertising. If you repeat the lie often enough, people will eventually believe it.

Owen Gray said...

Like you, Lorne, I taught Orwell and logical fallacies in Grade 13 English.

But there is no grade 13 anymore, because our Education Minister -- who left school after grade 11 -- abolished it, we were told, to save money.

Our youngest son graduated under the new system. Grade 12 was his final year.

His final English course had nothing to do with critical thinking. He wrote short stories, and he learned how to write a five paragraph essay. But he did not learn how to think.

bcwaterboy said...

That's a real shame about grade 13 Owen, when I was a young Ontario lad, it was the best education experience I had.

Owen Gray said...

That's exactly as it should have been, waterboy. But Mike Harris was a university drop out. And John Snobblen -- his education minister -- was a high school drop out.

Harris tried teaching for three years, then dropped out of that.

The results speak for themselves.