"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Manufacturing Consent’

The Treason Of The Intellectuals

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Oldspeak:”The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again… Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are” –Chris Hedges. Nuff Said.

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.

These apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times, attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.

The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.

Leslie Gelb, in the magazine Foreign Affairs, spelled it out after the invasion of Iraq.

“My initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility,” he wrote. “We ‘experts’ have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we ‘perfect’ the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common—often wrong—wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.”

The moral cowardice of the power elite is especially evident when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. The liberal class, in fact, is used to marginalize and discredit those, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, who have the honesty, integrity and courage to denounce Israeli war crimes. And the liberal class is compensated for its dirty role in squelching debate.

Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take,” wrote the late Edward Said. “You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.”

“For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence,” Said went on. “If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”

Julien Benda argued in his 1927 book “The Treason of Intellectuals”—“La Trahison des Clercs”—that it is only when we are not in pursuit of practical aims or material advantages that we can serve as a conscience and a corrective. Those who transfer their allegiance to the practical aims of power and material advantage emasculate themselves intellectually and morally. Benda wrote that intellectuals were once supposed to be indifferent to popular passions. They “set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence.” They looked “as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms.” They “preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to these passions.” These intellectuals were not, Benda conceded, very often able to prevent the powerful from “filling all history with the noise of their hatred and their slaughters.” But they did, at least, “prevent the laymen from setting up their actions as a religion, they did prevent them from thinking themselves great men as they carried out these activities.” In short, Benda asserted, “humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.” But once the intellectuals began to “play the game of political passions,” those who had “acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its stimulators.” And this is why Michael Moore is correct when he blames The New York Times and the liberal establishment, even more than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for the Iraq War.

“The desire to tell the truth,” wrote Paul Baran, the brilliant Marxist economist and author of “The Political Economy of Growth,” is “only one condition for being an intellectual. The other is courage, readiness to carry on rational inquiry to wherever it may lead … to withstand … comfortable and lucrative conformity.”

Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are.

 

The New Propaganda Is Liberal; The New Slavery Is Digital

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Oldspeak:Today, we prefer to believe…..”Choice” is ubiquitous. Phones are “platforms” that launch every half-thought. There is Google from outer space if you need it. Caressed like rosary beads, the precious devices are borne heads-down, relentlessly monitored and prioritized. Their dominant theme is the self. Me. My needs….today’s digital slavery. Edward Said described this wired state in his book Culture and Imperialism as taking imperialism where navies could never reach. It is the ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom.”  –John Pilger 
“In a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well-connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.” –Dr. Gary Allen Scott
Ever notice how all transactions, commerce, social interaction, work, play, research, learning, entertainment are being driven to digital networks and devices? Constantly encouraged to “Like us on Facebook” or “Tell us what you think on Facebook” or “Follow us on Twitter”Soliciting opinion via text message or internet . To share everything, all the time is seen as perfect, unlimited. Digitally reporting every piece of information about yourself is seen as cool. Face to face contact is devalued and constantly interrupted by beloved devices. Social atomization is self-directed and digital. Convenience, customization, personalization are all attributes we’re told will improve our lives increasing our personal freedom. These seductive appeals to our narcissism are  all part of “ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom“.  All activity can and is effortlessly monitored in secret.  We are gleeful and willing slaves to beloved devices that watch and listen to us. The range of acceptable opinion is further shaped & narrowed in a subtle but insidious way. Concision.  Concision of thought via instagram/facebook & twitter. Concision does not lend itself to critical thought or analysis.  And it is a highly desirable trait in a thought controlled society. “Propaganda always wins if you allow it”Leni Riefenstahl Don’t let it win. Take steps to liberate yourselves from the propaganda.  Take an intellectual self-defense course.

By John Pilger @ Truthout:

What is modern propaganda? For many, it is the lies of a totalitarian state. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her epic films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerized Germans; her Triumph of the Will cast Hitler’s spell.

She told me that the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above” but on the “submissive void” of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? “Everyone,” she said.

Today, we prefer to believe that there is no submissive void. “Choice” is ubiquitous. Phones are “platforms” that launch every half-thought. There is Google from outer space if you need it. Caressed like rosary beads, the precious devices are borne heads-down, relentlessly monitored and prioritized. Their dominant theme is the self. Me. My needs. Riefenstahl’s submissive void is today’s digital slavery.

Edward Said described this wired state in his book Culture and Imperialism as taking imperialism where navies could never reach. It is the ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom.

Today’s “message” of grotesque inequality, social injustice and war is the propaganda of liberal democracies. By any measure of human behavior, this is extremism. When Hugo Chavez challenged it, he was abused in bad faith; and his successor will be subverted by the same zealots of the American Enterprise Institute, Harvard’s Kennedy School and the “human rights” organizations that have appropriated American liberalism and underpin its propaganda. Historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism.” He wrote, “All is normality on display. For [Nazi] goose-steppers, substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarization of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manque, blithely at work [in the White House], planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.”

Whereas a generation ago, dissent and biting satire were allowed in the “mainstream,” today their counterfeits are acceptable and a fake moral zeitgeist rules. “Identity” is all, mutating feminism and declaring class obsolete. Just as collateral damage covers for mass murder, “austerity” has become an acceptable lie. Beneath the veneer of consumerism, a quarter of Greater Manchester is reported to be living in “extreme poverty.”

The militarist violence perpetrated against hundreds of thousands of nameless men, women and children by “our” governments is never a crime against humanity. Interviewing Tony Blair ten years on from his criminal invasion of Iraq, the BBC’s Kirsty Wark gifted him a moment he could only dream of. She allowed Blair to agonize over his “difficult” decision rather than call him to account for the monumental lies and bloodbath he launched. One is reminded of Albert Speer.

Hollywood has returned to its Cold War role, led by liberals. Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo is the first feature film so integrated into the propaganda system that its subliminal warning of Iran’s “threat” is offered as Obama is preparing, yet again, to attack Iran. That Affleck’s “true story” of good-guys-vs-bad-Muslims is as much a fabrication as Obama’s justification for his war plans is lost in PR-managed plaudits. As the independent critic Andrew O’Hehir points out, Argo is “a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.” That is, it debases the art of film-making to reflect an image of the power it serves.

The true story is that, for 34 years, the US foreign policy elite have seethed with revenge for the loss of the Shah of Iran, their beloved tyrant, and his CIA-designed state of torture. When Iranian students occupied the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, they found a trove of incriminating documents, which revealed that an Israeli spy network was operating inside the US, stealing top scientific and military secrets. Today, the duplicitous Zionist ally – not Iran – is the one and only nuclear threat in the Middle East.

In 1977, Carl Bernstein, famed for his Watergate reporting, disclosed that more than 400 journalists and executives of mostly liberal US media organizations had worked for the CIA in the past 25 years. They included journalists from The New York Times, Time, and the big TV broadcasters. These days, such a formal nefarious workforce is quite unnecessary. In 2010, The New York Times made no secret of its collusion with the White House in censoring the WikiLeaks war logs. The CIA has an “entertainment industry liaison office” that helps producers and directors remake its image from that of a lawless gang that assassinates, overthrows governments and runs drugs. As Obama’s CIA commits multiple murders by drone, Affleck lauds the “clandestine service … that is making sacrifices on behalf of Americans every day … I want to thank them very much.” The 2010 Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a torture-apology, was all but licensed by the Pentagon.

The US market share of cinema box-office takings in Britain often reaches 80 percent, and the small UK share is mainly for US co-productions. Films from Europe and the rest of the world account for a tiny fraction of those we are allowed to see. In my own film-making career, I have never known a time when dissenting voices in the visual arts are so few and so silent.

For all the hand-wringing induced by the Leveson inquiry, the “Murdoch mold” remains intact. Phone-hacking was always a distraction, a misdemeanor compared to the media-wide drumbeat for criminal wars. According to Gallup, 99 percent of Americans believe Iran is a threat to them, just as the majority believed Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. “Propaganda always wins,” said Leni Riefenstahl, “if you allow it.”

John Pilger

John Pilger, Australian-born, London-based journalist, film-maker and author. For his foreign and war reporting, ranging from Vietnam and Cambodia to the Middle East, he has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism. For his documentary films, he won a British Academy Award and an American Emmy. In 2009, he was awarded Australia’s human rights prize, the Sydney Peace Prize. His latest film is “The War on Democracy.”

America’s Descent Into Corptalitarianism: The New Extremism & Politics Of Distraction In The Age Of Austerity

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm

https://i0.wp.com/alexanderltremayne.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/corporate_mafia2.pngOldspeak:What is missing in the current debates dominating Washington politics is the recognition that the real issues at stake are neither the debt ceiling nor the state of the economy, however important, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and the institutions, public values, formative cultures and public spheres that nourish it. The United States occupies a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology and policy. The politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. In a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia, it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning. Arundhati Roy captures the anti-democratic nature of this process in the following insightful comment. She writes:

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the czars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform,” and of course “anti-national” – negativists of the worst sort. To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.

This undoing of democracy to which Roy refers, and the dystopian society that is being created in its place, can be grasped in the current subordination of public values to commercial values and the collapse of democracy into the logic and values of what might called a predatory casino capitalism where life is cheap and everything is for sale. More specifically, from the ailing rib of democracy there is emerging not simply just an aggressive political assault on democratic modes of governance, but a form of linguistic and cultural authoritarianism that no longer needs to legitimate itself in an idea because it secures its foundational beliefs in a claim to normalcy;7 that is, Americans are now inundated with a pedagogy of cultural authoritarianism whose ideology, values, social practices and social formations cannot be questioned because they represent and legitimate the new neoliberal financial order. This is a mode of predatory casino capitalism that presents itself as a universal social formation without qualification, a social form that inhabits a circle of ideological and political certainty and cultural practice that equates being a citizen with being a consumer – in other words, predatory capitalism is transforming into a universal ethic that has exhausted all political differences, economic alternatives and counter readings of the world in the service of benefitting a financial and corporate elite and a savage form of economic Darwinism.” –Henry A. Giroux

In a corptalitarian, crypto-faccist state, dissent is criminalized and ridiculed. The rule of law becomes arbitrary, fluid. The range of acceptable opinion is seductively narrowed. Extremism, manufactured fear and consent increase significantly. The status quo systems and structures around which the society is organized are rarely questioned, if so only superficially and transiently. Language is militarized, tightly controlled, and comes to mean something other than it was originally intended as lies become truth. Ignorance is viewed as strength, desirable, adorable, comical, normal. Perpetual war is used to bring peace, surgically, cooly, remotely, covertly, via killer robots “special forces” and “signature strikes”. Freedom becomes slavery as the wonders of wireless technology heralded as the tools to enable free and ubiquitous communications and interactions are now used to surveil, track, record, restrict, atomize, disconnect, control, monetize and manipulate communications, interactions and behavior. Mindless and ever-increasing consumption becomes more important than critical thinking. Inequality increases, with the bottom 50% controlling 1% of wealth, while the to 10% control 75% of wealth. Whistleblowers, pot smokers, lawful protestors, journalists, academics, go to jail, while polluters, torturers, white collars thieves, economy collapsers, and war criminals walk free. It doesn’t have to be this way.

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

The debate in both Washington and the mainstream media over austerity measures, the alleged fiscal cliff and the looming debt crisis not only function to render anti-democratic pressures invisible, but also produce what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills once called “a politics of organized irresponsibility.”1 For Mills, authoritarian politics developed, in part, by making the operations of power invisible while weaving a network of lies and deceptions through what might be called a politics of disconnect. That is, a politics that focuses on isolated issues that serve to erase the broader relations and historical contexts that give them meaning. These isolated issues become flashpoints in a cultural and political discourse that hide not merely the operations of power, but also the resurgence of authoritarian ideologies, modes of governance, policies and social formations that put any viable notion of democracy at risk.2 Decontextualized ideas and issues, coupled with the overflow of information produced by the new electronic media, make it more difficult to create narratives that offer historical understanding, relational connections and developmental sequences. The fragmentation of ideas and the cascade of information reinforce new modes of depoliticization and authoritarianism. 3

At the same time, more important issues are buried in the fog of what might be called isolated and manufactured crises, that when given legitimacy, actually benefit the wealthy and hurt working- and middle-class individuals and families. Gerald Epstein rightly argues that the debate about the fiscal cliff is

a debacle on the part of the Obama administration and for progressives and for workers and for families. It’s a real disaster…. We shouldn’t be having to sit here talking about this; we should be talking about what are going to do about the employment cliff or the climate change cliff. But instead we’re talking about this fiscal cliff, which is a manufactured crisis.4

The fiscal cliff argument is manufactured both in that it is not a real crisis (except for its impact on poor and middle-class families), and it serves as a diversion from pressing issues ranging from mass unemployment and widespread poverty, to the housing crisis and the student debt bomb. Moreover, it undermines understanding how these various problems are interrelated ideologically and structurally as part of an assault by religious and market fundamentalists on all aspects of public life that address the common good.

The expanded reach of politics in this discourse of distraction shrinks, and in doing so separates private troubles from public considerations, while undermining any broader understanding of the confluence of socio-economic-cultural interests and interrelated issues and problems that characterize a particular age. For instance, the debate on gun control says little about the deep-rooted culture of symbolic and structural violence that nourishes America’s infatuation with guns and its attraction to the spectacle of violence. Similarly, the mainstream debate over taxing the rich refuses to address this issue through a broader analysis of a society that is structurally wedded to producing massive inequities in income and wealth along with the considerable suffering and hardships produced by such social disparities.

In this denuded notion of politics, the connection between facts and wider theoretical frameworks and the connection between politics and power disappear just as the relationship between private troubles and larger social realities are covered over. Under such circumstances, politics is cleansed of its extremist elements and informed modes of dissent are not only marginalized but also actively suppressed, as was obvious in the FBI surveillance of Occupy Wall Street protesters and the police’s ruthless suppression of student dissenters on campuses across the country.

Blind Publics in an Authoritarian Age

What is missing in the current debates dominating Washington politics is the recognition that the real issues at stake are neither the debt ceiling nor the state of the economy, however important, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and the institutions, public values, formative cultures and public spheres that nourish it.5 The United States occupies a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology and policy. The politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. In a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia, it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning. Arundhati Roy captures the anti-democratic nature of this process in the following insightful comment. She writes:

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the czars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform,” and of course “anti-national” – negativists of the worst sort. To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing. 6

This undoing of democracy to which Roy refers, and the dystopian society that is being created in its place, can be grasped in the current subordination of public values to commercial values and the collapse of democracy into the logic and values of what might called a predatory casino capitalism where life is cheap and everything is for sale. More specifically, from the ailing rib of democracy there is emerging not simply just an aggressive political assault on democratic modes of governance, but a form of linguistic and cultural authoritarianism that no longer needs to legitimate itself in an idea because it secures its foundational beliefs in a claim to normalcy;7 that is, Americans are now inundated with a pedagogy of cultural authoritarianism whose ideology, values, social practices and social formations cannot be questioned because they represent and legitimate the new neoliberal financial order. This is a mode of predatory casino capitalism that presents itself as a universal social formation without qualification, a social form that inhabits a circle of ideological and political certainty and cultural practice that equates being a citizen with being a consumer – in other words, predatory capitalism is transforming into a universal ethic that has exhausted all political differences, economic alternatives and counter readings of the world in the service of benefitting a financial and corporate elite and a savage form of economic Darwinism.

We get hints of the current mechanisms of diversion and its hidden order of politics in Robert Reich’s claim that the debate over the fiscal cliff should not only be about the broader issue of inequality but also must ask and address crucial political questions regarding the increasing concentration of power and “entrenched wealth at the top, and less for the middle-class and the poor.8 We also see it in Frank Rich’s insistence that the endless debate conducted largely in the mainstream media about Washington being dysfunctional misses the point. Rich argues that beyond media’s silly argument that both parties are to blame for the current deadlock, lies a Republican Party strategy to make the Federal government look as dysfunctional as possible so as to convince the wider American public that the government should be dismantled and its services turned over to for-profit private interests. In fact, a number of recent critics now believe that the extremist nature of the current Republican Party represents one of the most difficult obstacles to any viable form of governance. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, two prominent conservative commentators, recently have argued that moderates not only have been pushed out of the Republican Party but they are for all intents and purposes “virtually extinct.” They go even further in stating that:

In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. 9

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has gone further and has characterized the Republican Party and its “corporate-centric super-PACs as treasonous.” He states that Americans “are now in a free fall toward old-fashioned oligarchy; noxious, thieving and tyrannical” and that given the role of the most corporate-friendly Supreme Court since the Gilded Age with its passage of the Citizens United decision, “those who have the money now have the loudest voices in our democracy while poor Americans are mute.”10

More radical critics like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Sheldon Wolin, Stanley Aronowitz, Judith Butler, Robert Scheer, Jeffrey St. Clair, Matt Taibbi, Angela Davis and David Theo Goldberg, among others, have long recognized the transformation of the United States from a weak democracy to a spirited authoritarian state. All of these theorists have challenged the permanent war economy, the erosion of civil liberties, the power of the corporate state, the moral bankruptcy of the liberal intelligentsia, the corporate control of the media, the criminal wars of repression abroad, the rise of the torture state and the increasing militarization of everyday life.

However extremist the Republican Party has become with its ongoing war on women, immigrants, young people, the welfare state, voting rights and all manner of civil rights, this should not suggest that the Democratic Party occupies a valued liberal position. On the contrary, policy in the United States is now being shaped by a Democratic Party that has become increasingly more conservative in the last 30 years along with a Republican Party that now represents one of the most extremist political parties to ever seize power in Washington. And while the Republican Party has fallen into the hands of radical extremists, both parties “support shifting the costs of the crisis and the government bailouts of banks, large corporations and the stock market, onto the mass of the citizens.”11 Both parties support bailing out the rich and doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists. Moreover, both parties reject the idea of democracy as a collectively inhabited public space and ethos that unconditionally stands for individual, political and economic rights. President Obama and his Wall Street advisors may hold onto some weak notion of the social contract, but they are far from liberal when it comes to embracing the military physics of the corporate warfare state.

As Chris Hedges, Paul Street, Noam Chomsky and Salvatore Babones have repeatedly pointed out, calling the Republican Party extremists should not cloud the increasingly authoritarian positions now embraced by the Obama administration. For instance, President Obama has deported more immigrants than his predecessor George W. Bush; he has advocated for the privatization of public schools, pursued neoliberal modes of educational governance and slashed funds from a number of vital social service programs. He has put into place a health care program that eliminated the public option and joined forces with insurance companies and Big Pharma.

As is well known, the Obama administration also kept Guantanamo open, justified warrantless wiretapping, accelerated drone attacks that killed many innocent civilians, supports indefinite detention and sanctions a form of “extraordinary rendition,” in which potential terrorists are abducted and shipped off to foreign countries to be tortured.12 In fact, the realm of politics has moved so far to the right in the United States that modes of extremism that were once thought unthinkable have now become commonplace. As Glenn Greenwald has argued, the Patriot Act, state-sponsored torture, assassinations, kill lists and surveillance programs, once “widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties” have “become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal.”13 While both parties have given up the mantel of democratic politics, the Republican Party is more extreme in its range of targets and its savage attempts to destroy those modes of governance and public spheres that provide the conditions for robust and critical forms of civic life, education, agency and democracy.

Republican Party Extremisms and the Destruction of Democracy

The extremism of the current Republican Party has many political, ideological, economic and cultural registers, but one of its most dangerous and punitive is its attacks on the social state, the public good and the very notion of responsible government. If the Democratic Party has undermined vital civil liberties while promoting a warfare state, the Republican Party has created a new understanding of politics as the space in which corporations and finance capital provide the template for all aspects of governance and policy. Governance in this mode of politics is a mixture of corporate power and financial warfare, accompanied by rule through the apparatuses of punishment, including the courts, military and police. If the slavish obedience to the corporate and finance state is visible in the Republican Party’s call for deregulation, privatization, free trade and a no-tax policy for the wealthy and corporations, the rule of the punishing state becomes clear in the call for the criminalization of a range of social behaviors ranging from abortion and homelessness, to debt payments and student protests.

While the use of military force against workers and civil rights has a long history in the US, the rule of finance capital is both new and takes on a new urgency, given the threat it poses to a substantive democracy. Robert McChesney argues that the rule of capital has transformed the United States from a weak democracy to “Dollarocracy – the rule of money rather than the rule of people – a specifically US form of plutocracy [that] is now so dominant, so pervasive, that it is accepted as simply the landscape people inhabit.”14 Michael Hudson goes further in his analysis and characterizes one element of the new extremism as a form of financial warfare waged against not merely the social state but all those groups that historically have fought for expanding political, economic and personal rights. He writes:

Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, US student loan-debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012). The weapon in this financial warfare … is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enable[s] creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers…. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency. 15

The second feature of the new extremism is the ongoing commercialization and destruction of democratic public spaces. The latter refers to the ongoing privatization, commercialization and attack on those democratic public spheres that provide the space for critical thinking, informed dialogue, thoughtfulness, the affirmation of non-commodified norms and the unconditional protection of social rights. Institutions of democratic culture such as schools, the art world, unions, the media, and other public spheres where public values and important social issues are both engaged and offer the conditions for producing informed citizens are now viewed with disdain because they embrace modes of critical reasoning and a collective ethos at odds with anti-democratic and market-driven values.

The Republican Party is not simply wedded to a vicious anti-intellectualism; it scorns the very notion of reason and embraces ignorance as the basis for community. This is evident not only in the rejection of science, evidence and reason as the foundation of an informed community, but also in the embrace of fundamentalist positions that pander to ignorance as a basis for shutting down dissent, mobilizing supporters and retooling American education as a business, a training site to initiate the young into a world where the corporate, financial and military elite decide their needs, desires and future.

The third feature of the new extremism focuses on the attack on the social contract and welfare state and the ideas and institutions that make them possible. The new extremists recognize that the space of citizenship is as important as the idea of citizenship and they want to make sure that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the American public to find and inhabit those public spaces where the discourse of the common good, public life and social justice can be taught and learned – spaces where a language for defending vital public spheres can be developed. The Republican Party discourse on deficits and austerity is in reality an attempt to dismantle the welfare state and the social supports it provides. For Republican Party extremists, budget deficits become the key weapon in forcing the government to reduce its spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social provisions at odds with market-driven values, deregulation and the logic of privatization.

One consequence of this attack on the welfare state and the social contract has been the emergence of a market fundamentalism that trivializes democratic values and public concerns. At the same time, this market fundamentalism enshrines a rabid individualism, legitimates an all-embracing quest for profits, and promotes a Social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness and the Hobbesian rule of a “war of all against all” replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. If the conservative revolution launched by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had as its goal the rolling back of social democratic rights, the counter-revolutionaries that now control the Republican Party go much further. That is, they are not interested in rolling back the benefits of the social state, they want to eliminate government-sponsored social provisions, trade union rights, and other social and economic rights. The enemy in this discourse is equality and substantive social rights.

In this form of free-market fundamentalism, the new authoritarianism posits the unregulated and unfettered market as an idol and fetish and promotes the rule of finance capital as part of a larger project leading to the rule of a callous corporate-dominated political economy. It also promotes an anti-public morality in which the only responsibility one has is to oneself, “with no responsibility for the interests or well-being of others.”16 How else to explain the refusal of both political parties to address myriad crises faced by young people as revealed in the following poverty-related statistics: Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are the new face of a national homeless population; more than a million public school students are homeless in the US; 57 percent of all children are in homes considered to be either low-income or impoverished, and that half of all American children will be on food stamps at least once before they turn 18 years old.17

At stake here is what John Clarke calls the subordination of the social and public values through a variety of policies that include: 18 “erasing the social” by withdrawing social protections for labor; “privatizing the social” by turning over publicly owned resources to profit-making interests; “subjugating the social” by subordinating social needs and policies to the imperatives of economic competitiveness and capital accumulation; domesticating the social by placing the burden for collective provision, security and care to the narrow realm of the family; narrowing the social by downsizing it into “meaner, degraded or recitalist forms.”19 Under this new market fundamentalism and political extremism, there is little interest in preventing inequality from running out of control – a savage ideology that feeds nicely into the notion that the social protections of the state have nothing to do with the common good or communal survival, but are largely a matter of charity.20 Central to the subordination of the social is the need to create new modes of agency and subjectivity in which “individuals think of themselves in economic terms – as entrepreneurial, calculating selves whose world is structured through contractual or quasi-contractual relationships.”21 This leads to the next element of the new extremism.

The fourth feature of the new extremism is its use of the media and other cultural apparatuses to promote a neoliberal form of public pedagogy and anti-politics engaged in the production of identities, desires and values that disparage any mode of sociality that embraces the common good, public values and shared responsibilities. The new extremism embraces a radical individualism that celebrates a consumer-oriented citizen “whose actions reflect mostly their material self-interests.”22 This is a form of anti-politics, an “authoritarian Utopia that is nothing less than ‘a program of methodical destruction of collectives,’ from trade unions and mill towns to families and small nations.”23 Under attack in this new form of authoritarianism are the social bonds and modes of communal cohesion that enable individuals, families and social movements to resist the ongoing transformation of citizens into customers, the criminalization of economic life, the corruption of politics and the massive increase in poverty, inequality, a culture of cruelty and the emergence of the punishing state.

The new extremism unleashes all the forces of brutal self-absorption that deepen and expand both the structure of cruelty and its ongoing privatization. Material self-interests have weakened any sense of collective purpose, just as America’s obsession with radical individualism and wealth and the growing existence of gross inequality have become symptomatic of our ethical and collective impoverishment.24 As Bauman points out, “the consuming life is [now] lived as a supreme expression of autonomy,” leaving no room for deploying activity in the service of “commitment, devotion, [and] responsibility.”25 Social life in this discourse has little to do with democracy and the formative culture needed to nourish it. As public values are disdained and the very notion of the public good and civic imagination disappear, people do more than surrender their citizenship, they also are rendered excess, disposable – waste products in a society wedded to throwing away not just consumer products, but increasingly human beings as well. What is new about the extremism that now rules American society is not simply the decline of public values but how they have become irrelevant to the existing contemporary neoliberal order, which weakens the foundation of social solidarity and creates identities, values and desires that turn the principles of democracy against themselves while undermining the very possibility of politics as a democratic project.

The Suffocation of Imagination, Agency and Hope

The war on the social contract, the welfare state, democratic politics, equality and the very idea of justice is an attack not simply on everything from Medicare to Social Security to the Equal Pay Act, it is an assault on “the basic architecture of our collective responsibility to ensure that Americans share in a decent life.”26 It is also an aggressive strike against the formative cultures and modes of individual and collective agency that legitimate a connection between the democratic polis and the possibility of economic, social and political freedom. The new extremism and its authoritarian politics draw attention away from serious social problems and the actual structural and ideological conditions that reproduce them. Underlying the shadow of authoritarianism is a corrosive attempt to “create a loss of conviction, a loss of faith in the culture of open democracy, a sense of skepticism and withdrawal.”27 To the degree that the private sphere becomes the only space in which to imagine any sense of hope, pleasure or possibility, citizenship becomes distorted, removed from issues of equity, social justice and civic responsibility. Tony Judt is right in arguing that we have entered a historical conjuncture in which politics is losing its shape, its power of attraction and its ability to confront the anti-democratic pressures at work in American society today.28

Opposing this contemporary, cruel form of authoritarianism demands a new language for embracing the social, for defining civic engagement, for rethinking the meaning of agency and politics and for talking about social responsibility. Rethinking the social means, in part, embracing the role of the state in providing regulations that limit the power of corporations and the financial service industries. It means reconfiguring the very nature of power in order to subordinate capitalism’s major structuring institutions to the rule of law, democratic values and the precepts of justice and equality. The state is not merely an instrument of governance, it is also a site where organized irresponsibility has to give way to organized responsibility, where ethics cannot be privatized and separated from economic considerations, where the rule of law cannot be used to produce legal illegalities and where politics becomes inseparable from the claims of justice, equality and freedom. This suggests the need for social movements to organize and fight for modes of sovereignty at all levels of government in which people, rather than money and corporations, shape the nature of politics, policies and cultural apparatuses that provide the public values that nourish critical modes of citizenship and democracy itself.

The Roles of Critical Education and Collective Struggle in Taking Back Democracy

At stake here is not merely a call for reform but a revolutionary ideal that enables people to hold power, participate in the process of governing and create genuine publics capable of translating private troubles and issues into public problems. This is a revolution that not only calls for structural change but for a transformation in the ways in which subjectivities are created, desires are produced and agency itself becomes crucial to any viable notion of freedom. There is a pedagogical element to a rethinking of the political that has often been ignored by progressives of various political persuasions and that is the necessity to make pedagogy itself central to the very meaning of politics. In this case, it is not enough to demand that people be provided with the right to participate in the experience of governing, but also educated in every aspect of what it means to live in a democracy. At the very least, this suggests an education that enables a working knowledge of citizen-based skills and the development of those capacities that encourage individuals to be self-reflective, develop a passion for public values and be willing to develop and defend those public spaces that lift ideas into the worldly space of the public realm.29

The philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis surely is right in insisting that we must take seriously the political task of creating those diverse public spheres which are capable of rendering all individuals fit to participate in the governing of society, willing to promote the common good and engage the social within a broader political and theoretical landscape, one not tied to the priority of economic interests and an endlessly commodifying market-driven social order. 30Politics demands an informed citizenry, which can only be produced collectively through the existence of public spheres that give meaning to their struggles and fight for justice, economic rights and human dignity. In that sense, any viable struggle against the new authoritarianism in the United States might start with Castoriadis’ insistence that any viable form of politics begins with creating formative cultures and public spheres in which critical education in the broadest sense becomes essential to the very meaning of justice, social responsibility, and democracy.

For Castoriadis, at the heart of such formative cultures are operative forms of public pedagogy that create citizens “who are critical thinkers capable of putting existing institutions into question so that democracy” can be nourished and sustained.31 As a moral and political practice, pedagogy becomes productive of what knowledge, values, and identities are produced in a particular society. Similarly, it becomes a determining factor in creating a society willing to both question itself and struggle for those ideals that give meaning and substance to the promise of a substantive democracy.

Against the dystopian visions that drive the new extremism, there is a need for teachers, workers, artists, students, young people, academics and others to produce a language of critique, provocation and possibility. This is a discourse of civic engagement that embraces politics, in part, as a pedagogical practice organized around what I have in the past labeled as educated hope. Educated hope sharpens the “ethopolitical” instrument and “operates at the root of where the ethical imagination and the political mingle.”32 Educated hope signals the merging of civic education and democratic action as part of a broader attempt to enable young people and others to critically analyze and transform those values, ideologies and market-driven politics that produce a growing machinery and register of widespread inequality and social death. It suggests creating a new language and order of symbolic relations so as to understand the past as well as the dynamics of the present and the future.

Educators, progressives, and civic-minded citizens need a language that puts justice back into the regressive culture of cost-benefit analyses and rejects the civic vacuum created by the extremist apostles of casino capitalism. We also need a language that is vigilant about where democratic identities are not only produced but also where forms of social agency are denied. Those concerned about the fate of justice and democracy also need to reconfigure the political order in order to create relations of power that are capable of controlling the increasing separation of politics, which are nation-based and local, from the exercise of power, which is now global and unrestrained by the politics of the nation-state. Power is now global while politics is local. What this means is that globalization has cut economic and military power free from its traditional political shackles exercised by the nation state and allows it to roam unhindered throughout the globe. The traditional merging of power and politics has been broken and as Bauman points out, “We may say that power has ‘flown’ from the historically developed institutions that used to exercise democratic control over uses and abuses of power in the modern nation-states. Globalization in its current form means a progressive disempowerment of nation-states and (so far) the absence of any effective substitute.”33

Consequently, resistance to the new extremism in the United States must be addressed as part of a broader global struggle, built on strong political and civic commitments and forms of solidarity that are local and internationalist in nature. Beyond critique, any viable challenge must rethink what Jacques Derrida has called the concepts of “the possible and impossible.”34 Thinking beyond the given involves constructing new narratives regarding the stories we tell about ourselves, about the future and the promise of a democracy to come.

A language of critique and educated hope suggests a new and spirited struggle against a culture of civic illiteracy, one in which the commanding institutions of society are divorced from matters of ethics, social responsibility and social cost. The new extremism in American society, which attempts to make critical thinking irrelevant and render hope a paralyzing cynicism, must be challenged by a politics and pedagogy that have the capacity not only to “influence those in power” but also mobilize those who don’t have power.”35 This is a pedagogy that should “not only shift the way people think about the moment, but potentially energizes them to do something different.”36 A politics that merges critique and hope recognizes that while the idea of the good society may be weakened, it is far from an idea that can be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Yet, while the grip of an authoritarian political culture and the politics of distraction are getting stronger in American society, the current attack on democracy should be taken as a new historical opportunity to generate new collective struggles in the hopes of creating a future that refuses to be defined by the dystopian forces now shaping American society. In the aftermath of the massive suffering of produced by World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, Theodor W. Adorno in the shadow of an older form of authoritarianism refused to give up on hope as an essential condition of agency, politics and justice. He insists that: “Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation…. Open thinking points beyond itself.”37 His words are both profound and instructive for the time in which we live because they point to the need to think beyond the given, to think beyond the distorted and market-based inverted hope now on offer from the advocates of casino capitalism.

Thinking beyond itself reinforces the notion that the job and political task of civic education is as the poet Robert Hass has written “to refresh the idea of justice which is going dead in us all the time.”38 Richard Swift builds on this notion adding that as long as there is suffering in the world, individuals and social movements need “to take responsibility for the direction of society.”39

The current talk about deficits, the debt ceiling and the cutting back of social provisions is not without value, but only if it is connected to broader anti-democratic practices and understood as posing a serious threat to a society dominated by religious and economic fundamentalists. The task now facing the American public in this moment of government deceit and civic abandonment is to think beyond the given, to recognize that we cannot act otherwise unless we can think otherwise. At stake here is the need to reconfigure the relationship between hope, community and democracy. If we are to overcome the debilitating pessimism of the current era, it is crucial to combine a reason and a sense of gritty realism with a notion of hope that taps into our deepest experiences, allowing us to take risks and think beyond the parameters of the given. Or as Alain Badiou states: “It is a matter of showing how the space of the possible is larger than the one assigned – that something else is possible, but not that everything is possible.”40 Imagining the unimaginable necessitates asking crucial questions regarding what types of knowledge, agents and moral order are necessary for a democracy to work. What will it take to connect the dots and broaden our horizon of understanding and politics in order to expand the ongoing and always unfinished business of justice, democratization, and freedom?

NOTES:

[1]
C. Wright Mills, “The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society” in C. Wright Mills, The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, (NY: New York, Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 18.

[2]
Ibid. C. Wright Mills, “The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society.” p. 18. For some insightful analyses of the new authoritarianism, see Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, (Princeton University Press, 2008); Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2008)Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004).

[3]
See Zygmunt Bauman, On Education (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 35.

[4]
Gerald Epstein, “Rich Should be Happy with Cliff Deal,” The Real News (January 3, 2013).

[5]
C. Wright Mills, “Culture and Politics: The Fourth Epoch”, The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, (Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 201.

[6]
Arundhati Roy, “What Have We Done to Democracy?,” Huffington Post, (September 27, 2009).

[7]
I have appropriated this idea from Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Imunity, Biopolitics (Fordham: Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 100-110.

[8]
Robert Reich, “Inequality is Undermining Our Democracy,” Reader Supported News, (December 11, 2012).

[9]
Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,” The Washington Post, (April 27, 2012).

[10]
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., “A Hostile Takeover of Our Country,” Reader Supported News, (October 29, 2012).

[11]
Richard D. Wolff, “Fiscal Cliff Follies: Political Theater Distracts From Key Problems With the Fix,” Truthout, (January 3, 2013).

[12]
For the most extensive and exhaustive history on the technology of torture, see Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). Some of the more instructive books on torture under the George W. Bush administration include: Mark Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (New York: New York Review of Books, 2004); Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (New York: Doubleday, 2008); and Phillipe Sands, Torture Team (London: Penguin, 2009). On the torture of children, see Michael Haas, George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009). See, for instance, Alex Kane, “5 Ways President Obama Has Doubled Down on Bush’s Most Tragic Mistakes,” AlterNet (January 8, 2103). Salvatore Babones, “There Is No American Left,” Truthout, (December 27, 2012). Online:

Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, (Princeton University Press, 2008); Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004).

[13]
Glenn Greenwald, “Extremism Normalized: How Americans Now Acquiesce to Once Unthinkable Ideas,” Salon (July 31, 2012).

[14]
Robert W. McChesney, “This Isn’t What Democracy Looks like,” Monthly Review 64:6 (2012), p. 2.

[15]
Michael Hudson, “The Financial Elite’s war Against the US Economy,” CommonDreams.Org (December 31, 2012).

[16]
George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” Reader Supported News, (August 22, 2012).

[17]
Editor, “75 Economic Numbers From 2012 That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe,” The Economic Collapse Blog (December 20, 2012).

[18]
All of these quotes come from John Clarke, “Subordinating the Social?:Neoliberalism and the remaking of welfare capitalism ,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 21, No. 6, (November 2007), pp. 974-987

[19]
John Clarke, “Governing the social?,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 21, No. 6,( November 2007), p. 996.

[20]
Zygmunt Bauman, This is Not a Diary (Cambridge: UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 86-87.

[21]
Ibid, Clarke, “Subordinating the Social?: Neoliberalism and the remaking of welfare capitalism,” p. 977.

[22]
Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp.2-3.

[23] Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, “Introduction”, in Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, eds. Evil Paradises (NY: The New Press, 2007), p.x.

[24]
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, (New York, N.Y.: The Penguin Press, 2010).

[25]
Zygmunt Bauman, On Education, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p.129.

[26]
Robert O. Self, “The Antisocial Contract,” New York Times (August 25, 2012).

[27]
Tony Judt, “I am not pessimistic in the very long run,” The Independent, (March 24, 2010)

[28] Ibid.

[29]
Edward Said is particularly helpful on this issue. See, for instance, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1996) and Humanism and Democratic Criticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

[30]
Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Problem of Democracy Today,” Democracy and Nature Vol. 8 (April 1996), pp. 18-35.

[31]
Cornelius Castoriadis, “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” Constellations 4:1 (1997), p. 10.

[32]
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Changing Reflexes: Interview with Gayatri Chaakravorty Spivak,” Works and Days 55/56: Vol. 28 (2010), p. 2.

[33]
Zygmunt Bauman, Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), p. 73.

[34
Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University,” in Laurence Simmons and Heather Worth, eds. Derrida Downunder (Auckland, New Zealand: Dunmore Press, 2001), p. 7.

[35]
A Conversation between Lani Guinier and Anna Deavere Smith, ” Rethinking Power, Rethinking Theater,” Theater 31:3 (Winter 2002),P. 3.

[36]
Ibid.

[37]
Theodor W. Adorno, Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 291-292

[38]
Robert Hass cited in Sarah Pollock, ‘Robert Hass,” Mother Jones (March/April, 1992), p. 22

[39]
Richard Swift, The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002), p. 138.

[40]
Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (London: Verso, 1998), p. 116

 

Crucial Issues That Obama & Romney Avoid

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Oldspeak: “There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war…  Elections are run by the public relations industry. Its primary task is commercial advertising, which is designed to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices — the exact opposite of how markets are supposed to work, but certainly familiar to anyone who has watched television. It’s only natural that when enlisted to run elections, the industry would adopt the same procedures in the interests of the paymasters, who certainly don’t want to see informed citizens making rational choices.”Noam Chomsky. Chomsky brilliantly elucidates 2 major issues of a constellation of vital issues that are largely ignored by corporate controlled political parties. The reason is that both candidate have similar positions on many more issues than they most think . Privatization (education, health care, politics, war, public sector, etc) , dirty energy, cutting the social safety net, poverty, currency devaluation, “free trade”, militarization, stripping of civil liberties, warrantless surveillance, deregulation, targeted assassination, regime change, covert/perpetual war.  etc etc…. Corporate controlled media dutifully ‘reports’ on the differences between the selected candidates, not asking any questions challenging status quo worldview and ideology.  Focusing the ovine populace on inane minutiae like how often a candidate drinks water, facial expressions, flag pin size, way of standing, competence of the moderator,  etc etc etc… never once questioning the waves of bald-faced lies, exaggerations, misrepresentations and mangled-truths that come out of the candidates mouths.  Then they switch coverage to “spin rooms” where corporate approved “surrogates” “allow the campaigns to coordinate their message and serve it up as a buffet-style meal for news reporters: All the quotes you can eat“. All this effort expended to perpetuate a blinding illusion of choice. “Ignorance is Strength”

By Noam Chomsky @ Chomsky.info:

With the quadrennial presidential election extravaganza reaching its peak, it’s useful to ask how the political campaigns are dealing with the most crucial issues we face. The simple answer is: badly, or not at all. If so, some important questions arise: why, and what can we do about it?

There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war.

The former is regularly on the front pages. On Sept. 19, for example, Justin Gillis reported in The New York Times that the melting of Arctic sea ice had ended for the year, “but not before demolishing the previous record — and setting off new warnings about the rapid pace of change in the region.”

The melting is much faster than predicted by sophisticated computer models and the most recent U.N. report on global warming. New data indicate that summer ice might be gone by 2020, with severe consequences. Previous estimates had summer ice disappearing by 2050.

“But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions,” Gillis writes. “To the contrary, their main response has been to plan for exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil” — that is, to accelerate the catastrophe.

This reaction demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain. Or, perhaps, an equally remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to see the impending peril.

That’s hardly all. A new study from the Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that “climate change caused by global warming is slowing down world economic output by 1.6 percent a year and will lead to a doubling of costs in the next two decades.” The study was widely reported elsewhere but Americans have been spared the disturbing news.

The official Democratic and Republican platforms on climate matters are reviewed in Science magazine’s Sept. 14 issue. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both parties demand that we make the problem worse.

In 2008, both party platforms had devoted some attention to how the government should address climate change. Today, the issue has almost disappeared from the Republican platform — which does, however, demand that Congress “take quick action” to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency, established by former Republican President Richard Nixon in saner days, from regulating greenhouse gases. And we must open Alaska’s Arctic refuge to drilling to take “advantage of all our American God-given resources.” We cannot disobey the Lord, after all.

The platform also states that “We must restore scientific integrity to our public research institutions and remove political incentives from publicly funded research” — code words for climate science.

The Republican candidate Mitt Romney, seeking to escape from the stigma of what he understood a few years ago about climate change, has declared that there is no scientific consensus, so we should support more debate and investigation — but not action, except to make the problems more serious.

The Democrats mention in their platform that there is a problem, and recommend that we should work “toward an agreement to set emissions limits in unison with other emerging powers.” But that’s about it.

President Barack Obama has emphasized that we must gain 100 years of energy independence by exploiting fracking and other new technologies — without asking what the world would look like after a century of such practices.

So there are differences between the parties: about how enthusiastically the lemmings should march toward the cliff.

The second major issue, nuclear war, is also on the front pages every day, but in a way that would astound a Martian observing the strange doings on Earth.

The current threat is again in the Middle East, specifically Iran — at least according to the West, that is. In the Middle East, the U.S. and Israel are considered much greater threats.

Unlike Iran, Israel refuses to allow inspections or to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has hundreds of nuclear weapons and advanced delivery systems, and a long record of violence, aggression and lawlessness, thanks to unremitting American support. Whether Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, U.S. intelligence doesn’t know.

In its latest report, the International Atomic Energy Agency says that it cannot demonstrate “the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran” — a roundabout way of condemning Iran, as the U.S. demands, while conceding that the agency can add nothing to the conclusions of U.S. intelligence.

Therefore Iran must be denied the right to enrich uranium that is guaranteed by the NPT and endorsed by most of the world, including the nonaligned countries that have just met in Tehran.

The possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons arises in the electoral campaign. (The fact that Israel already has them does not.) Two positions are counterposed: Should the U.S. declare that it will attack if Iran reaches the capability to develop nuclear weapons, which dozens of countries enjoy? Or should Washington keep the “red line” more indefinite?

The latter position is that of the White House; the former is demanded by Israeli hawks — and accepted by the U.S. Congress. The Senate just voted 90-1 to support the Israeli position.

Missing from the debate is the obvious way to mitigate or end whatever threat Iran might be believed to pose: Establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The opportunity is readily available: An international conference is to convene in a few months to pursue this objective, supported by almost the entire world, including a majority of Israelis.

The government of Israel, however, has announced that it will not participate until there is a general peace agreement in the region, which is unattainable as long as Israel persists in its illegal activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. Washington keeps to the same position, and insists that Israel must be excluded from any such regional agreement.

We could be moving toward a devastating war, possibly even nuclear. Straightforward ways exist to overcome this threat, but they will not be taken unless there is large-scale public activism demanding that the opportunity be pursued. This in turn is highly unlikely as long as these matters remain off the agenda, not just in the electoral circus, but in the media and larger national debate.

Elections are run by the public relations industry. Its primary task is commercial advertising, which is designed to undermine markets by creating uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices — the exact opposite of how markets are supposed to work, but certainly familiar to anyone who has watched television.

It’s only natural that when enlisted to run elections, the industry would adopt the same procedures in the interests of the paymasters, who certainly don’t want to see informed citizens making rational choices.

The victims, however, do not have to obey, in either case. Passivity may be the easy course, but it is hardly the honorable one.

NeuroFocus Uses “Neuromarketing” To Hack Your Brain

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Oldspeak:”Neuromarketing Hackers, hacking INTO YOUR BRAIN to find new and more insidious ways to sell you shit you don’t need: GOOD. “Anonymous” Hackers, hacking into computer networks to bring to light lax security of your sensitive and personal data stored on the internet: BAD. In a glowing article written in a magazine owned by marketing company Neilsen Research about a company NeuroFocus also owned by Nielsen Research, we glimpse the future of “marketing”: subconscious thought manipulation. Indeed, psychotronic warfare, like many other initially military applications (Internet, LASER, Kevlar, Radar, GPS, etc etc) has been adapted for civilian use. Only in a society of based on profit-driven overconsumption and materialism can a technology that has the potential to aid corporations in manipulating your behavior on a subconscious level be seen as a good thing. Never mind the slippery slope. What’s to stop this technology from being used to suppress undesirable behaviors, like dissent and protest? What’s to stop ‘every Wall Street banker, politician, and corporate CEO with gobs of cash and a desire to manipulate your brain?” –Paul B. Farrell.  They’re not content to bombard you with ads to entice you to buy their brand. They want to literally get inside your mind and  MAKE you choose to do so, whether your want it or not. Literally neurologically engineering your consent, creating a society of “Happiness Machines“. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Adam L. Penenberg @ Fast Company:

K. Pradeep knows what you like and why you like it. Take the sleek, slick iPad. Ask Mac lovers why they adore their tablet and they’ll say it’s the convenience, the touch screen, the design, the versatility. But Apple aficionados don’t just like their iPads; they’re preprogammed to like them. It’s in their subconscious–the curves, the way it feels in their hands, and in the hormones their brains secrete when they touch the screen. “When you move an icon on the iPad and it does what you thought it would do, you’re surprised and delighted it actually happened,” he says. “That surprise and delight turns into a dopamine squirt, and you don’t even know why you liked it.”

Pradeep is the founder and CEO of science-based consumer-research firm NeuroFocus, a Berkeley, California-based company wholly owned by Nielsen Holdings N.V. that claims to have the tools to tap into your brain (or, as Woody Allen called it, “my second favorite organ”). You might say Pradeep was born to plumb the depths of our minds. The “A.K.” in his name stands for Anantha Krishnan, which translates as “unending consciousness”; Pradeep means “illumination.” Fortunately, he doesn’t refer to himself as Unending Illuminated Consciousness, preferring, as is custom in his native region of India, a single name: Pradeep. “Like Prince or Madonna,” he explains.

On this particular spring day, he’s in New York to offer a presentation at the 75th Advertising Research Foundation conference. As he holds court on a small stage in a ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Midtown, Pradeep seems to relish the spotlight. Swizzle-stick thin and topped with unruly jet-black hair, the effusive 48-year-old is sharply dressed, from his spectacles to his black jacket and red-and-black silk shirt, and all the way down to his shiny boots. He stands out, needless to say, from the collective geekdom gathered at this egghead advertising fest.

Speaking with the speed and percussive enunciation of an auctioneer, Pradeep is at the conference today to introduce his company’s latest innovation: a product called Mynd, the world’s first portable, wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) scanner. The skullcap-size device sports dozens of sensors that rest on a subject’s head like a crown of thorns. It covers the entire area of the brain, he explains, so it can comprehensively capture synaptic waves; but unlike previous models, it doesn’t require messy gel. What’s more, users can capture, amplify, and instantaneously dispatch a subject’s brain waves in real time, via Bluetooth, to another device–a remote laptop, say, an iPhone, or that much-beloved iPad. Over the coming months, Neuro-Focus plans to give away Mynds to home panelists across the country. Consumers will be paid to wear them while they watch TV, head to movie theaters, or shop at the mall. The firm will collect the resulting streams of data and use them to analyze the participants’ deep subconscious responses to the commercials, products, brands, and messages of its clients. NeuroFocus data crunchers can then identify the products and brands that are the most appealing (and the ones whose packaging and labels are dreary turnoffs), the characters in a Hollywood film that engender the strongest emotional attachments, and the exact second viewers tune out an ad.

These corporations share the same goal: to mine your brain so they can blow your mind with products you deeply desire.

Pradeep and his team in Berkeley are hardly the first to make a direct connection between brain function and how it determines consumer behavior. Advertisers, marketers, and product developers have deployed social psychology for decades to influence whether you buy Coke or Pepsi, or a small or an extra-large popcorn. Like the feather weight of that mobile phone? Suddenly gravitating to a new kind of beer at the store? Inexplicably craving a bag of Cheetos? From eye-deceiving design to product placement gimmickry, advertisers and marketers have long exploited our basic human patterns, the ones that are as rudimentary and predictable as Pavlov’s slobbering dog.

NeuroFocus CEO A.K. Pradeep thinks that traditional focus groups are a Cro-Magnon form of market research.
NeuroFocus CEO A.K. Pradeep thinks that traditional focus groups are a Cro-Magnon form of market research. | Photo by Gene Lee

NeuroFocus, however, promises something deeper, with unprecedented access into the nooks and crannies of the subconscious. It’s a tantalizing claim, given that businesses spend trillions of dollars each year on advertising, marketing, and product R&D, and see, by some estimates, 80% of all their new products fail. The hope that neuroscience can provide more accurate results than traditional focus groups and other traditional market research is why Citi, Google, HP, and Microsoft, as well as soda companies, brewers, retailers, manufacturers, and media companies have all become NeuroFocus clients in the past six years. When salty-snack purveyor Frito-Lay looked to increase sales of its single-serve 100-calorie snacks to women, it tapped NeuroFocus, whose research informed new packaging and a new ad campaign. CBS partnered with the firm to measure responses to new shows and TV pilots; Arts & Entertainment (A&E) had NeuroFocus track viewers’ second-by-second neurological reactions to commercials to ensure that its programs work with the ads that fund them; and Pradeep’s team helped ESPN display the logos of its corporate advertisers more effectively on-air. California Olive Ranch had NeuroFocus test its olive-oil labels for maximum appeal. And, as we’ll see later, Intel hired the company to better understand its global branding proposition, while PayPal sought a more refined corporate identity.

These corporations vary widely, but they share a fundamental goal: to mine your brain so they can blow your mind with products you deeply desire. With NeuroFocus’s help, they think they can know you better than you know yourself.

Orange cheese dust. That wholly unnatural neon stuff that gloms onto your fingers when you’re mindlessly snacking on chips or doodles. The stuff you don’t think about until you realize you’ve smeared it on your shirt or couch cushions–and then keep on eating anyway, despite your better intentions. Orange cheese dust is probably not the first thing you think of when talking about how the brain functions, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes NeuroFocus, and neuromarketing in general, such a potentially huge and growing business. In 2008, Frito-Lay hired NeuroFocus to look into Cheetos, the junk-food staple. After scanning the brains of a carefully chosen group of consumers, the NeuroFocus team discovered that the icky coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand. Frito-Lay leveraged that information into its advertising campaign for Cheetos, which has made the most of the mess. For its efforts, NeuroFocus earned a Grand Ogilvy award for advertising research, given out by the Advertising Research Foundation, for “demonstrating the most successful use of research in the creation of superior advertising that achieves a critical business objective.”

This seemingly precise way of unveiling the brain’s inner secrets is the ultimate promise of neuromarketing, a science (or perhaps an art) that picks up electrical signals from the brain and spins them through software to analyze the responses and translate those signals into layman’s terms. While evolving in tandem with advances in neuroscience, the field owes much to a study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine in 2004 to investigate the power of brand perception on consumer taste preferences. Based on the famous Coke vs. Pepsi tests of yesteryear, volunteers had their brains scanned in an MRI as they sampled each beverage. When they didn’t know what they were drinking, half liked Coke and half liked Pepsi. When they did know, however, most preferred Coke, and their brain scans showed a great deal of activity in the cranial areas associated with memory and emotion. In other words, the power of Coke’s brand is so great that it preps your brain to enjoy its flavor–and presumably to influence your purchasing decisions when you’re in the supermarket.

Since the Baylor study, neurotesters have turned to the EEG as their standard measurement tool, rather than the MRI. For starters, the MRI is bulkier, harder to administer, and expensive. Far more important, however, is the fact that an EEG measures the brain’s electrical activity on the scalp, while an MRI records changes in blood flow inside the brain. This means that an EEG reading can be done almost in real time, while an MRI’s has a five-second delay. MRIs provide beautiful, high-resolution pictures, ideal for identifying tumors and other abnormalities, but they are useless for tracking quick-hit reactions.

For example, imagine that you are asked to generate an action verb in response to the word ball. Within 200 milliseconds, your brain has absorbed the request. Impulses move to the motor cortex and drive your articulators to respond, and you might say “throw.” This process happens far too fast for an MRI to record. But an EEG can capture virtually every neurological impulse that results from that single word: ball.

This is where modern neuromarketing exists–at the very creation of an unconscious idea, in the wisp of time between the instant your brain receives a stimulus and subconsciously reacts. There, data are unfiltered, uncorrupted by your conscious mind, which hasn’t yet had the chance to formulate and deliver a response in words or gestures. During this vital half-second, your subconscious mind is free from cultural bias, differences in language and education, and memories. Whatever happens there is neurologically pure, unlike when your conscious mind takes over and actually changes the data by putting them through myriad mental mechanisms. It’s all the action inside you before your conscious mind does the societally responsible thing and reminds you that artificially flavored and colored cheese dust laced with monosodium glutamate is, well, gross.

With the instantaneous readings of EEG sensors, neuromarketers can track electrical waves as they relate to emotion, memory, and attention from specific areas of the brain: namely, the amygdala, an almond-shaped region that plays a role in storing emotionally charged memories and helps trigger physical reactions (sweaty palms, a faster heartbeat); the hippocampus, where memory lurks; and the lateral prefrontal cortex, which governs high-level cognitive powers (one being attention). Once the brain waves are collected, complex algorithms can sift through the data to connect each reaction to a specific moment.

Neuromarketers like Pradeep argue that this testing is much more efficient, cost effective, and precise than traditional methods like focus groups. While Gallup must poll roughly a thousand people to achieve a 4% margin of error, NeuroFocus tests just two dozen subjects for its corporate clients–and even that is a sample size larger than those deployed by leading academic neuroscience labs. This is possible because people’s brains are remarkably alike, even though there are some differences between male and female brains, and between those of children and senior citizens. And NeuroFocus collects a massive amount of input, recording and analyzing billions of data points during a typical neurological testing project. This is the genius of neuromarketing, according to a booster like Pradeep. He promises an accurate read of the subconscious mind. Focus groups and surveys, on the other hand, give an imprecise measure of the conscious mind, of so-called articulated, or self-reported, responses. They are one step removed from actual emotion, inherently weak: like flashbacks in a film. They are fine for eliciting facts, less so for probing into what people really feel.

Ray Poynter of the Future Place saves his harshest criticism for neuromarketers: “They are overclaiming massively.”

Not everyone agrees that neuromarketing is the next great thing, of course. Because its research has been primarily corporate funded and its tangible results primarily anecdotal, neuromarketing is not without detractors, who tend to lump it in with the array of businesses, like biometrics or facial mapping, that promise all sorts of new-wave marketing breakthroughs. Ray Poynter, founder of the Future Place, a social-media consultancy in Nottingham, England, colors himself a skeptic on all of them but saves his harshest criticism for neuromarketers. He believes they offer far more hype than science. “Neuromarketers are overclaiming massively,” he says. “While it is likely to reduce the number of bad mistakes, and slightly increase the chance of good things happening, it’s all a matter of degree.”

Even so, it’s hard to imagine neuromarketing proving less reliable than traditional market research. For decades, marketers have relied on focus groups and surveys to divine what consumers want, using these methods to solicit feedback on their attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and perceptions about an advertisement, a product and its packaging, or a service. Each year, hundreds of thousands of focus groups are organized around the world, and about $4.5 billion is spent globally on qualitative market research.

This kind of “mother-in-law research,” as ad exec Kirk Cheyfitz calls it, has all manner of shortcomings. It’s not statistically significant, so it’s risky to graft your findings onto the population at large. One or two blowhards may hijack an entire panel, and researchers can, without knowing it, influence participants. The world has changed, and yet so much market research is still conducted the same old way.

Brain Eaters

Companies try to keep their neuromarketing efforts secret. Here are six that we flushed out.

Illustration by Superexpresso

[Illustration by Superexpresso]

“I bet you, long ago if you looked at cave paintings, there were a bunch of Cro-Magnon men and women sitting around a fire in focus groups wondering whether to go hunt mastodon that night,” Pradeep says. “Today, our focus groups are no different.” In the tale of our inner lives, we have always been unreliable narrators. Pradeep believes he can get at the truth.

When David Ginsberg joined Intel in 2009 as the company’s director of insights and market research, he was something of an expert on the slippery nature of “truth,” having spent 15 years working on political campaigns for John Edwards, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton. Ginsberg was downright skeptical of neuromarketing, or, as he calls it, “nonconscious-based research.” He thought it had more to do with science fiction than reality. But he also knew that Intel had been conducting market research as if it were still 1965, with surveys that were the equivalent of sending Gallup off to knock on thousands of doors. That may have worked decently in the days when a person bought a computer based on specs–processing speed, RAM, etc. But in an age where virtually every computer is sold with power to spare, Ginsberg knew that the rationale for buying a certain computer was as much emotional as it was rational. To compete in this new market, Intel the company had to understand how people felt about Intel the brand.

“If you ask people if they know Intel, something like 90% will say they know Intel,” Ginsberg says. “Ask if they like Intel, a huge percentage will say they like Intel. Ask them [to rank or name] tech leaders, however, and we come out much lower on the list.” Ginsberg felt that he needed to understand consumers’ feelings at a deeper level: What words did consumers associate with Intel? Were these associations altered by one’s culture? Ginsberg decided to run pilot tests with a number of market-research firms, and despite his sense of neuromarketing as mumbo jumbo, he included NeuroFocus. What he learned surprised him and turned him into a believer.

NeuroFocus structured its test for Intel as it does most of its market research, patterning it after something called the Evoked Response Potential test, a staple of neuroscience. Test subjects were paid to come to a NeuroFocus lab and put on a cap with 64 sensors that would measure electrical activity across the brain. Because the U.S. and China are two very important markets for Intel, NeuroFocus tested groups of 24 consumers (half men, half women) in Berkeley and in a midsize city in China’s Sichuan Province.

In a quiet room, each test subject was shown the words “achieve,” “possibilities,” “explore,” “opportunity,” “potentiality,” “identify,” “discover,” “resolves,” and “solves problems.” Each flitted by on a TV screen at half-second intervals. The subject was instructed to press a button whenever she saw a word with a letter underscored by a red dot. After several minutes of this subconscious-priming word test, she was shown a few Intel ads. Following this, the words were again presented on the screen, this time without the dots.

The exercise served two functions: First, the red dots focused the subject’s attention; second, they gave NeuroFocus a baseline measure of the brain’s response, since each time a test subject saw the red dot, her brain went “A-ha! There’s a word with a red dot.” Click.

Pradeep knows how to read your mind--so long as you put on that device first.
Pradeep knows how to read your mind–so long as you put on that device first. | Photo by Gene Lee

When NeuroFocus later analyzed the EEG readings, it looked for those same “a-ha” moments from the period during which the subject had viewed the Intel ads. The words that provoked the most such responses were “achieve” and “opportunity.” Interestingly, women in the U.S. and in China had virtually the same response post-advertisements, as did American men and Chinese men. The differences were in the genders; on both sides of the pond, men and women had strikingly different reactions. “Achieve” prompted the most intense reaction among women, while men gravitated toward “opportunity. ”

Says Ginsberg: “This was incredibly fascinating to us. There seem to be fundamental values across humanity.” He believes that Intel would have never learned this through traditional market research and focus groups, where cultural biases come into play. He also concluded that there are differences in how men and women think, and that these differences cross cultural boundaries. This is not news to Pradeep, who points out that male and female brains are different, and not in a Larry Summers women-aren’t-as-good-at-math-and-science-as-men-are kind of way. The female brain is our default brain when we are in the womb. But at week eight, about half of all fetuses are bathed in testosterone. These now-male brains close down certain communication centers in the brain while opening up others geared toward sex and aggression. In female brains, meanwhile, the communication pathways continue to evolve, intricate neural routes are constructed across both hemispheres, and areas dedicated to emotion blossom. Life seems to imitate a beer commercial, doesn’t it?

Now Intel is changing its marketing strategy. “A brand that helps people achieve and offers opportunity has a phenomenal brand attribute,” Ginsberg says. “It gives you a new perspective on things, to understand your consumer better.” The NeuroFocus findings have informed the next round of creative advertising you’ll see from Intel, due to emerge later this year. “I guarantee when you see these ads you’ll see a straight line,” Ginsberg adds. “The study gave us fresh insights to talk about things we didn’t have permission to talk about before.”

It is conceivable that Intel could have redirected its advertising toward achievement and opportunity with the help of focus groups. But Ginsberg feels, and Pradeep fervently believes, that neuromarketing has a much better shot at getting closer to the unconscious truth, and therefore proving more effective. Still, the difference between the two forms of research sometimes seems to be just a matter of degrees.

Barry Herstein left American Express to join PayPal in October 2007 as global chief marketing officer with the goal of giving eBay’s transaction-processing division a coherent marketing strategy. After the first few weeks, he knew just how difficult the task would be. Almost every time he asked a PayPal employee, “What’s the big idea behind PayPal?” the following response came back: “Safe, simple, wow!”

“Safe, simple, wow?” Herstein scoffs. “That’s not a big idea. It’s a tagline.” It didn’t even make sense. Wasn’t any payment product supposed to be safe and simple? He supposed that software engineers might know that paying for things was complicated, but having worked at American Express and Citi, he knew that the consumer didn’t think that was the case. And “wow”? He cringed. Then, after a series of brainstorming sessions and conversations with a broad range of customers, he hired NeuroFocus to help him figure out the basic concepts around which he could build a new global identity for PayPal.

As part of its standard methodology, NeuroFocus captures the subconscious resonance consumers have for seven brand attributes: form, function, and benefits, as well as feelings (the emotional connection a brand elicits from consumers), values (what it represents), metaphors (aspirations, challenges, lessons, or life events that seem connected to the product), and extensions (the unexpected and perhaps illogical feelings it inspires). Based on his earlier brainstorming sessions, Herstein asked NeuroFocus to home in on three attributes and create three phrases for testing within each. For function he offered “convenient,” “fast,” and “secure”; for feelings, “confident,” “hassle-free,” and “in the know”; and for benefits, “new opportunity,” “on my side,” and “empowering.” The 21-person panel had 11 men and 10 women and was also segmented into regular, light, and non-PayPal shoppers.

According to NeuroFocus, “fast” ranked the highest in the function category. (Notably, “fast” was not acknowledged in any way by “safe, simple, wow.”) In fact, according to the brain heat map that NeuroFocus created from the aggregated data, speed is a huge advantage that sets off extremely positive feelings, especially from regular users. The more people use PayPal, it seems, the more they appreciate how quickly they can close transactions. For the feelings category, “in the know” resonated best, and in benefits, “on my side” won out.

Examining brand attributes is a standard of traditional market testing, of course. Herstein ran a parallel, more conventional track at the same time as his NeuroFocus study, creating a conventional online survey. The results were significantly different. While the word “fast” resonated with this group, the phrase “on my side” wound up at the bottom of the benefits category, which was topped instead by “confident”–a word that had finished dead last among men in the NeuroFocus study.

Herstein trusted the NeuroFocus results, though, and set out to create a coherent global image for the company based on them. That image would humanize PayPal by emphasizing the outcomes it delivers, not the act of paying; nowhere in the new marketing would you find any dreaded, dreary images of two people hovering around a computer. “People don’t want to see that,” Herstein says. “They want to see people enjoying either what they just bought or the time that it gives them by paying fast.”

Not everyone at the company was sold on his new approach. The heads of some foreign markets–Herstein declined to name which– predicted that the new campaign would bomb. Herstein says that his boss, PayPal president Scott Thompson, told him he was crazy–but Herstein was willing to stake his reputation on the new approach.

What happened? According to Herstein, when he changed PayPal’s visual and verbal identity across the company’s email and web pages, click-through and response rates increased three to four times. “I’m telling you, in the world of direct marketing, the words ‘400% improvement’ don’t exist,” he says. “If you can go from 1.2% response rate to 1.3%, you’ll get a promotion, right? And if you can take something from a 4% response rate to 16%? Unheard of.”

“The mystique is that there’s a way to turn consumers into robots to buy products. That’s simply not the case,” says one neuromarketer.

Herstein has left PayPal to join Snapfish and now sits on NeuroFocus’s board as an unpaid adviser. While eBay confirms the basics of his account, it won’t confirm his description of the outcomes from the marketing campaign he created; a spokesman repeatedly asked Fast Company not to include this information in our story.

This bid for secrecy is entirely in keeping with the aura around neuromarketing, an industry that is both highly confident about what it can deliver and very nervous about its perception in the broader world. Several neuromarketing firms were approached for this story, but the only one that would do more than provide vague descriptions of its work was NeuroFocus, which is by all accounts the industry leader. Out of dozens of its corporate clients, very few would agree to discuss their work with the firm.

Neuromarketing outfits are afraid of being branded as trendy voodoo science, no more trustworthy than palm readers. Such a perception, they believe, will wither with good results. Perhaps more worrying is the other end of the speculative spectrum, which posits that corporations armed with our neurological data will be able to push a secret “buy button” in our brains. This is a fear promulgated by, among others, Paul B. Farrell, a columnist for Dow Jones and author of The Millionaire Code. He calls this buy button your brain’s “true decision-making processor,” a “weapon of mass delusion.” You end up like a computer “without virus protection” and “exposed to every Wall Street banker, politician, and corporate CEO with gobs of cash and a desire to manipulate your brain.”

“There’s still this mystique that there’s a way to control consumers and turn them into robots to purchase products,” says Ron Wright, president and CEO of Sands Research, a rival neuromarketing firm based in El Paso, Texas. “That is simply not the case.” Nevertheless, after spending time with Pradeep, you get the feeling we’ve only just begun to tap the potential of this new movement. Pradeep is not a neuroscientist. He’s a former GE engineer and consultant who became fascinated by neuromarketing after a conversation with a neuroscientist who sat next to him on a cross-continental flight. After seven years at the helm of NeuroFocus, he sees every product relationship in terms of the brain, like a virtuoso musician who hears music in everyday sounds, from the clackety noise of a woman’s heels on a wooden floor to the melange of notes from a car engine.

On a sun-drenched afternoon in Berkeley, we tour the shops at the local mall. We stop in front of a Victoria’s Secret plate-glass window and Pradeep points out the ambiguous expression of a lingerie model on one of its posters. He explains that the brain is constantly looking out for our survival and as part of that is always ready to measure another person’s intent. Is that stranger happy? Angry? Sad? When an expression is not easy to decipher, we do a database search through our collection of faces–curious, worried, nervous, threatening–to choose which is closest to the one we see, and match it. “If the expression is easy to decipher, I hardly glance,” he says. “But if the expression is relatively hard to decipher, she makes me open the cupboard of memory.” Contrast this with the nearby Bebe store, where Pradeep shakes his head at the headless mannequins in the window. “Now that’s what I call a crime against humanity. Money down the drain.”

At the Apple store, we pause at a desktop computer and he explains why it’s always better to put images on the left side of the screen and text on the right: “That’s how the brain likes to see it,” he says. “If you flip it around, the right frontal looks at the words and has to flip it over the corpus callosum to the left frontal lobe. You make the brain do one extra step, and the brain hates you for that.” Pradeep loves Apple, and he loves to talk about Apple, in part because Steve Jobs never has been and probably never will be a client. (Apple doesn’t even use focus groups. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s top designer, famously said they lead to bland products designed to offend no one.) But the real reason he loves talking about Apple is that he believes the company has elevated basic design to high art, a hugely successful strategy that Pradeep thinks is justified by our most basic neurological underpinnings.

Which brings us back to that iPad. Pradeep claims the brain loves curves but detests sharp edges, which set off an avoidance response in our subconscious. In the same way our ancestors stood clear of sticks or jagged stones fashioned into weapons, we avoid sharp angles, viewing them as potential threats. NeuroFocus has performed several studies for retailers and food manufacturers and found that test subjects prefer in-store displays with rounded edges over those with sharper edges. In one instance, when these new rounded displays were rolled out to replace traditional store shelving, sales rose 15%.

But curved edges are only one reason for the iPad’s success. We also like how the tablet feels, how sleek and well balanced it is. Signals generated by our palms and fingers, along with lips and genitals, take up the most surface area within our brain’s sensory zone. The way a product feels in our hands can be a major selling point. It’s why we prefer glass bottles to cans, which NeuroFocus product-consumption studies bear out, although it’s not just the material, it’s also the slender curve of the bottle and the ridges in it. The touch screen, too, is a mental magnet and can induce those hormonal secretions Pradeep likes describing.

Why we like these curves no one knows for sure. Perhaps our brains correlate curves with nourishment–that is to say, mommy. (Calling Dr. Freud.) In men, it could be sexual. One study asked men to view before-and-after pictures of naked women who underwent cosmetic surgery to shrink their waists and add to their derrieres. The men’s brains responded as if they had been rewarded with drugs and alcohol. But this response to curves may be even more primal than sex, or beer. Another study suggested that men seek women with curves because women’s hips and thighs contain higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids, which nurture babies’ brains and lead to healthier offspring.

This is the flip side to our fears of neuromarketing: the potential to look at our choices in a new way that blends science, psychology, and history. Lately, NeuroFocus has been moving into product development, providing research to companies that will influence how products look, feel, and function before they hit the market. That’s what the firm is doing with its Mynd crown of sensors. But Pradeep has visions that go far beyond testing products, packaging, and commercials. He imagines neurotesting as ideal for court-room trials: A defense attorney could pretest opening and closing arguments for emotional resonance with mock juries. And while NeuroFocus is not getting involved in politics, he says that competitors of his helped Republican politicians shape their messages for the 2010 midterm elections.

One stunning application of neurotesting is the work of Robert Knight, Pradeep’s chief science officer, and a host of other neuroscience researchers who are trying to develop a way for quadriplegics to control their wheel-chairs just by thinking alone. When you watch someone move a hand to grab a can of soda, mirror neurons in your brain react as if you were grasping it yourself. Knight is studying which brain signals can be translated into software commands to drive a wheelchair. To further this research, Knight, part of the team that invented the Mynd, plans to give it away to scientists and labs around the world. And the next iteration, he promises, will be a big step up, with eye-tracking capability, a built-in video camera, and three times as many sensors for greater brain coverage. “If our limbs will not respond to the beauty of your thinking or your feeling, that is a horror beyond horrors,” Pradeep says. “Restoring a little bit of gesture, a little bit of movement, a little bit of control to that beautiful mind is an extraordinary thing to do.”

He seems sincere, passionate even, though of course I cannot read his mind.

A version of this article appears in the September 2011 issue of Fast Company.

Correction: Neurofocus is owned by Nielsen Holdings N.V., not Nielsen Research as stated in the original article.

 

Seymour Hersh: Despite Intelligence Estimates Rejecting Iran As Nuclear Threat, U.S. Could Be Headed for Iraq Redux

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Oldspeak: ‘”War is a drug” –Chris Hedges. Same shit, different President. 😐 Consistent with “Grand Area Doctrine“,  60 years after the CIA orchestrated coup d’état against democratically elected Iranian Prime Minster Mohammed Mosaddegh, Mr. Hersh finds that your tax dollars are being used to violate the sovereign borders of Iran by illegally sending Special Forces commandos into Iran to look for a reason (this time nuclear weapons development) use as pretext for invasion (i.e. W.M.Ds in Iraq, “Protection of innocents” in Libya) and to seize control of the 5th largest oil reserves in the world. They’ve not found that reason yet and very likely won’t because it doesn’t exist. But don’t be surprised if another reason is manufactured to facilitate Iran’s conquest, which will not be achieved without great cost to both countries. Iran is NOT Iraq, and if this invasion comes to pass, it will not be pretty for the U.S. Next stop, War #5.

Related Video:  The Plan — According to U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.)

Related StorySeymour Hersh on the Arab Spring, “Disaster” U.S. Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Looming Crisis in Iraq

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now

Guest:

Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist at The New Yorker magazine. His latest piece is Iran and the Bomb: How Real is the Nuclear Threat?

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is back in the news this week with another explosive article that is ruffling some feathers at the White House. During the Bush administration years, Hersh was widely criticized by White House officials for his exposés on the torture at Abu Ghraib, secret U.S. operations overseas, and U.S. policy in Iran. Now it is the Obama White House upset with an article from Hersh.

Earlier this week, The New Yorker magazine published his latest investigation titled “Iran and the Bomb: How Real is the Threat?” Hersh writes, quote, “There is a large body of evidence, however, including some of America’s most highly classified intelligence assessments, suggesting that the United States could be in danger of repeating a mistake similar to the one made with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq eight years ago—allowing anxieties about the policies of a tyrannical regime to distort our estimations of the state’s military capacities and intentions.”

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh reveals that despite using Iranian informants and cutting-edge surveillance technology, U.S. officials have been unable to find decisive evidence that Iran has been moving enriched uranium to an underground weapon-making center.
Hersh quotes Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying he has not seen, quote, “a shred of evidence” that Iran was—has been weaponizing, in terms of “building nuclear-weapons facilities and using enriched materials.”

The Obama White House, meanwhile, has repeatedly cited Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to the world. President Obama raised the issue last month during his speech before AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So let me be absolutely clear: we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now in Washington is Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter at The New Yorker and author of many books, including Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, currently working on a book looking at the Dick Cheney vice presidency.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Seymour Hersh. Lay out what you have found.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, very simply, it’s—you know, you could argue it’s 2003 all over again. Remember WMD, mushroom clouds. There’s just no serious evidence inside that Iran is actually doing anything to make a nuclear weapon. You know, making a weapon is a big deal. You have to have fabrication facilities. You have to convert a very toxic gas into a metal and then mold it into a core. It’s big stuff, and there’s no sign of any of it.

We’ve been looking—Cheney was convinced, Dick Cheney, the former vice president, there was a secret facility à la what we probably saw in the movieBananas. Remember Woody Allen’s movie, the little robots running underground? He was convinced there was an underground facility somewhere. And we had special forces units in there since ’04, really, perhaps as late as—early as ’05, maybe, looking. We’ve been paying off people—the Kurds, the Azeris, the opposition groups. We’ve been giving a lot of money to various defectors. We’ve been looking with satellites for telltale signs, air holes, air vents, somewhere in the desert or somewhere in an arid area. And we’ve found nothing, not for lack of trying. We looked very hard. And there’s just no evidence on the inside.

And it’s not only here, it’s known in Europe. It’s a much easier situation, at least for a journalist, to go to Europe, because the European intelligence officials are much more open about it. “Yes, we are very skeptical,” they will say, “but we’ve found nothing.” So, the fact is, we have a—the evidence is pretty strong—I mean, very strong—that we have a sanctions program that’s designed to prevent the Iranians from building weapons systems they’re not building.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sy Hersh, your article details some extraordinary efforts by the United States. You talk about the special forces operations actually replacing street signs in Tehran with radiation detectors and replacing bricks in buildings. Could you talk about some of that? I mean, because that’s enormous risk that they’re taking actually going into the country and doing that.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, it’s amazingly complicated. And I will tell you, obviously, I hate to write about operational stuff, but let me just say that whatever we were doing, we have a new generation now that’s more sophisticated. But in those early days—early days being ’05, 2005, 2006—there was a tremendous concern that various buildings, laboratories and academic buildings in the city of Tehran were being used as secret facilities to enrich uranium to a high degree. Right now the Iranians are absolutely within the law. It turns out they’re signatories to the NPT, Non-Proliferation Treaty. And there’s no evidence whatsoever that—the IAEA, the group that Mr. ElBaradei headed, International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors nuclear developments, they consistently report that there’s no evidence of any diversion of any of the enriched materials they now have.

We’re enriching—the Iranians are enriching to about 3.7 or so percent to run civilian power plants. There’s one small pilot project for medical research that gets up to 20 percent. But everything that’s being enriched is under camera, under watch, by the IAEA. There’s just no sign of any diversion. There’s just no evidence. This doesn’t mean we can go to intent. It doesn’t mean that there’s a lot of concern in the United States and appropriate concern about the Iranian intent. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t watch what they do. But it does mean that we’re sort of beating a dead horse here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your sources, Sy Hersh.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Thanks a lot, Amy. Look, there’s been two very secret studies done, called National Intelligence Estimates, NIEs, and these are the most sort of sacrosanct internal studies done by the community. Almost all the time they’re private. There are studies going on, NIEs going on all the time—the situation now in Ecuador, for example, other issues. Venezuela is always looked at. The situation in the war, war-peace stuff, is constantly being looked at by groups of people in the intelligence community. And these documents are promulgated without anybody knowing it.

For some reason, in 2007 there was an NIE put out about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the White House wanted a summary made. And I think at that point 16 intelligence agencies were involved in the final conclusions. And internally, the guys running it, to their credit, voted 16 to nothing to say what they said, which is that, in a summary put out about the NIE—as I say, unprecedented summary—saying there’s no evidence they had done any weaponization since 2003.

And there’s a new study that was just done. It was published in February of this year. And it—we knew about it, but nobody has actually—you’re getting me in a tricky area, but I can just say, people that have worked on the study and have read the study will attest—have attested that it doesn’t take us any further. There’s no further evidence of any weaponization.

And what’s even more important that I write is that this, the latest study, was actually supposed to be promulgated—is the word they use in the community—last fall, and it was delayed because the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon intelligence agency, had an assessment that was—knocked everybody’s socks off. Their assessment was, the only reason Iran even looked at weaponization—and we’re not talking about building anything, we’re talking about doing studies, paper studies—was because they were frightened of Iraq. They had had an eight-year war, as many in your audience will remember, between 1980 and 1988, with Iraq, a terrible, brutal war. And when they—their worry was, in the early—in the 2001, 2002 period, that if Iraq went nuclear, they might need some deterrent. So what they even looked at, the papers they did, was aimed not at us or the Israelis, but aimed at the Iraqis. That didn’t get into the final judgment, but it affected the debate in a pretty positive way.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Sy Hersh, one of the things you say in your article is that these latest intelligence assessments—that a lot of the career intelligence people in the government now have pushed back a lot more against political pressure, after the debacle with Iraq and the pressure on the intelligence community to skew intelligence assessments about weapons of mass destruction, that now the career people are a lot more willing to buck any political pressure.

SEYMOUR HERSH: You know, it really depends on who’s running the agency. The Defense Department, the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, has a career general named Burgess who’s been in a lot of tough places. You know, he was in the Joint Special Operations Command. And he really has, all I can say is—again, I’m getting into—the people who work for him will tell you that they’re no longer afraid to go up against the established judgment. And so, what we really have been happening, in an amazing way—and I have to say this about the American government because I’m always very critical—but we do have an enormous number of people in the government and the intelligence community who don’t take—who take an oath of office to the Constitution, and not to the general who’s in charge of them or to the president. And we’re seeing more and more of that kind of attitude coming out inside. I can’t tell you why, but there’s more people really—there’s a lot more concern about where we are in the world right now. And the last decade has been a pretty horrible one for the United States, and I think the future is very, very sort of frightening, too, in terms of what’s been going on in the Middle East, etc. So there’s more integrity in the process. It doesn’t mean the White House likes it.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, I wanted to ask you about the new International Atomic Energy Agency report that came out Tuesday, just after your article was published. This is what the New York Times reported, quote: “The world’s global nuclear inspection agency, frustrated by Iran’s refusal to answer questions, revealed for the first time [on] Tuesday that it possesses evidence that Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon.”

“The nine-page report raised questions about whether Iran has sought to investigate seven different kinds of technology ranging from atomic triggers and detonators to uranium fuel,” the New York Times reporting on the IAEA report. Your response, Seymour Hersh?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, the word “evidence” was not in what the IAEA said. What the IAEA said is something it’s been saying repeatedly, even under ElBaradei. And I must say, the new director general, Mr. Amano, is, I think, more willing to please us than ElBaradei was, just in terms of speculating more. There was nothing new in that report. They’ve been saying repeatedly that they have concerns about certain information they have. They don’t describe it as evidence.

The new trigger is a very complicated device that was used by us maybe 30 years ago to trigger a hydrogen—a fusion weapon, and it went nowhere. And it’s a, as I say, extremely complicated device that there’s no evidence that anybody in their right mind would want to use that kind of a trigger. It would involve creating a different kind of reactor. The technical problems with that kind of a complicated device are enormous. And anyway, are you really going to be—are you going to make a trigger before you know what kind of gun you have?

I mean, it’s just—the word “evidence” was nowhere in the report. It’s been going on a long time. And what’s been going on is the IAEA has put out—this is even under ElBaradei. For about six, seven, eight years now, they’ve put out report after report that say one thing, that’s the most important thing: no evidence of any diversion of enriched materials, no evidence that they’re squirreling away enriched uranium to make a secret bomb. They have a lot of uranium enriched, the 3.7 percent, yes, but there’s no evidence they’re doing anything more than storing it up to run a civilian nuclear reactor. They have two in the process now. They’re having a lot of technical troubles. But eventually they’re going to need that fuel. It takes an enormous amount of fuel to drive a reactor. And so, it’s the same thing that’s been going on. You can look at the questions raised and lead your story with that, or you can look at the fact they say consistently that there’s been no diversion. There are outstanding questions. The Iranians don’t like being asked a lot of questions about third-party information. They keep on coming back to the IAEA and saying, “Give us some reason to answer a question. We’re not going to answer questions about third-party gossip,” that most of which they believe comes from fabrications.

And there’s been some evidence that some of the material—particularly there’s a famous laptop incident, where there was material given to us, the providence of which wasn’t known, that we made a big fuss about, allegedly a laptop belonging to an Iranian scientist, nuclear scientist. There were very crude drawings in it. They weren’t at all near the level of anything serious. And that, for years, back about four or five years ago, fueled all sorts of debate.

There’s just—the word “evidence”—I’ll just say again, the word “evidence” was not in what the IAEA said. Yes, there are outstanding questions. They’ve been—the same questions have been asked and answered for years. This particular trigger device was written about in a London newspaper two or three years ago, a major story. It’s not new. There’s nothing known about it that hasn’t been said before. This is what happens. You know, alas, you know, one thing about a free press is you don’t have to like everything you read.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sy, I wanted to ask you—you mentioned earlier the uprisings in the Arab world, and I wanted to ask you about the impact of those uprisings both on the theocracy in Iran and also on Israel’s attempts to constantly encircle Iran or portray it as the source of danger to the rest of the world and to the region.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, just to get away from Iran for a second, what you’re having now is you’re having a—you had it in Tunisia, and you had Egypt, spontaneous people’s revolts, if you will. Your former colleague was in Tahrir Square doing great stuff on it, and still in Cairo, I understand.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, yes.

SEYMOUR HERSH: And so, you had something amazing—yes, you had something amazing going on. And what you have now—and that of course spread. That spread throughout the Gulf regions. And what you have now is a very, very—it’s sort of unremarked upon by the press here in America—you have a counterrevolution going on, fueled largely by the Saudis and their panic. You see the implication of that in Bahrain, where the unbelievable things are happening to the Shiites, the minority Shiites there. They may be a majority in terms of population, but certainly a minority in terms of power. And you have that regime brutalizing its people in a way that’s beyond, I would argue, anything going on elsewhere, including in Syria. As bad as it is in Syria, it’s much worse in Bahrain. And the United States, of course, for a lot of reasons, is ignoring that.

You have the Gulf states in a state of sort of controlled panic now. They’re all sort of locally owned oil combines, owned by various one-time Bedouin—you know, Bedouin desert livers, now suddenly owners of huge complexes of oil billionaires, all of them, and they want to stay in power in the Gulf—Oman, even Qatar. You can see a lot of problems with Al Jazeera’s coverage, particularly of Bahrain. Al Jazeera, for example, is always calling me, didn’t call me for this story because everybody wants to point fingers at Iran. The United States has essentially equated Iran’s upset and encouragement of some of the—encouragement of the stuff going on with Bahrain as—for the United States, this is as much of a sin as the Al Khalifa family beating the hell out of everybody and doing worse than that—particularly doctors and nurses—in Bahrain. So there’s a huge—

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s the home of the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet, Sy.

SEYMOUR HERSH:—counterrevolution going on.

Yes, absolutely, it is the home. And, of course, the Fifth Fleet often, wisely, will move a lot of their vehicles offshore when trouble gets going. Yes, it’s the home of our—Bahrain is an important base. It’s an important facility. But we could go other places, too, I’m sure. It’s just we have a lot of things there.

So you have the American response to—you have this GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Community or Committee. It’s probably the only defense organization in the world that’s designed for all the countries getting together to ward against internal dissent, not external threat, but internal threats. And so, we have this amazing institution. Morocco just joined the GCC. So, this is going on before our eyes, and we’re not paying enough attention to it.

And what we do is we focus on Iran as the bad guy: Iran is responsible, they’re shifting gear to the Syrians to help the Syrian Mukhabarat control its society, as if the Baathist Party in Syria needs outside help in doing that. They’re pretty good at it. We’ve made Iran into a bogeyman. And my own guess is, the reason we’re so intent on the sanctions and keeping them going, when there’s no evidence of any weaponization, there’s no real threat at all—even the Israelis—I was in Israel last in June—rather, in April, two months ago now. And I can’t—they have crazy, strange rules, ground rules, on what you can report. But I can tell you right now, the Israelis understand, the more sophisticated ones and serious people in the intelligence community there, they understand that that Iran doesn’t have a bomb now. If it decides to get one and they get a bomb, they’re not going to throw it against Tel Aviv, because they know that’s annihilation. They understand that, despite the fact they say different things and they raise the threat. So we’re making the Iranians sort of the people responsible for what’s going on, in terms of the revolutions, and we’re really on the wrong side of history on that, the United States.

It’s really the Saudis we should be looking at quite a bit. And when you get to that question, you then say, here are the Saudis, who obviously—we know from reports and from everything I’ve been told—are very angry at us. They feel that our support for Mubarak undercut them. You know, they like to keep rigid control over a population that includes, certainly in Saudi Arabia, many Shiites who work the oil fields. And so, you have the Saudis in full panic, refusing—in anger at us, refusing to increase the oil output, so the price of oil stays—gasoline is $4 or more a gallon. And then, here we have a president whose reelection is going to depend not on killing Osama bin Laden—hooray, he did it—but more on what the price of gasoline is going to be next year. And we have the Saudis stiffing us.

And here you have Iran, which is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the world, also has a lot of oil—its fields are diminishing, but it’s got a lot of stuff. The sanctions aren’t working. The Iranians are selling stuff to India, to China, Pakistan. They’re doing a lot of business. You think—I mean, dumb and dumber. You think maybe we would start doing what a lot of people in the article I published—Tom Pickering, the former secretary—under secretary of state, a longtime ambassador, very serious guy, is among those who’s been doing—involved in secret contacts with the Iranians and has been telling us for years, he and his group, “Get off this nuclear business. There’s a lot of other issues you could deal with the Iranians. They want to be respected. You could really get some progress,” and maybe even getting to the point where we can—we don’t have to—we’re not interested in changing the regime there. That’s impossible. We do know that. Unlike Bush and Cheney, Obama doesn’t want to. Maybe we can get to the point where you can start getting some of the energy that they have to produce. Instead, we’re trying to keep them from the market. It just doesn’t make sense. And sanctions, you know, go ask Castro how well they work. We’ve been sanctioning Cuba, what, since 1960, ’61, ’62, and, you know—and as far as I know, Cuba is still there, and so is Castro.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy Hersh, very quickly, we haven’t spoken to you in a while, and—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, I’m sorry, my earphone popped out. Hold on a second.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, we’re talking to—

SEYMOUR HERSH: Say again.

AMY GOODMAN:—the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh. Sy, we haven’t talked to you in a while. Your assessment of President Obama’s war in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

SEYMOUR HERSH: A disaster. Stupid. I do think that the White House really wanted the bin Laden raid, about which I’ve been doing a lot of work. There’s always—things are always more interesting than they seem. I’m not suggesting he wasn’t killed or anything like that, but just more interesting. And I think the getting of bin Laden will give Obama the freedom to make a serious cut in this war in Afghanistan that everybody on the inside—everybody on the inside, believe me—I don’t know about Petraeus, General Petraeus, who for some reason is going to the CIA, just as for some reason Panetta, who doesn’t really know much about the Pentagon is going to the Pentagon. I don’t quite understand what they’re doing.

But this is a war that has nothing to do with American national security. And the obvious way out is to actually find a way to start talking to Mullah Omar. Instead, we keep on isolating him. And we’re driving Pakistan crazy with this war. We’re increasing the jihadism there. We’re increasing the terrorism there. We’re sticking it to the Paks in very direct ways. It’s a totally counterproductive system. We have our guys going out doing night raids. We always call them NATO, and the press goes along with calling them NATO. But our Joint Special Operations Command is still going out. I don’t fault the guys doing it. Let me make it clear, they’re very, very competent guys. They’re under orders, and they do what they do. They just do it very well. But there’s no way you’re going to make strikes at night and not kill an awful lot of noncombatants—”collateral damage,” they call it. And it’s just—we’re hated. We’re outsiders. We don’t have to be doing the bombs to be hated by the Pashtun. That’s been the society all along. The Pakistanis are in terrible fear of what’s going to happen in Afghanistan. They always see Afghanistan as bulwark against India. They’re afraid of our relationship with India.

And I’ll tell you the biggest problem he has, as awful as those things are, as counterproductive, and as much as he’s following, oh, yes, Bush and Cheney in those policies—and I think the President—I’ll be writing about this—I think he was really sandbagged by the Pentagon after he got into office, when he was new and innocent. And I still think—I think right now—I would almost use the word “cult” to describe what’s going on in the White House. Everything is political. He’s isolated. Very good people say they’ve never seen a president this isolated, in terms of being unable to get to him with different opinions, etc. So here’s really captive of a few people there. I know this may sound strange, but I know what I’m talking about. You can’t get to the guy—and even, for example, Pickering, as competent as he is. And Pickering has done some wonderful stuff for the United States intelligence community undercover, and so he’s known as a trusted guy. Those guys who have been involved in talking to Iran off the record, Track II policy talks, for years can’t get to the President. He may not even know they’re looking for him. I just don’t know.

And so, here we have this very bright guy continuing insane policies that are counterproductive, do nothing for the United States, and meanwhile the real crisis is going to be about Iraq, because, whatever you’re hearing, Iraq is going bad. Sunnis are killing Shia. It’s sectarian war. And the big question is going to be whether we pull out or not. And there’s going to be a lot of pressure to keep them—we’ve got 40,000 or 50,000 Americans there—to keep them there. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I’ll tell you right now, there are Sunni Baathist groups in Damascus, in various places, in the United Kingdom—Leeds is one place—ready, as soon as we get out, to declare an alternative government, a provisional government, and announce that they’re going to retake Iran from the Shiites and from—Iraq from the Shiites, who they believe are totally tied in to the Iranians, which probably isn’t true, but that’s always been the fiction we have, or the fear we have: Iran controls Iraq. There’s a mutuality of interests, but Maliki is a very tough customer. You know, Maliki worked for 21 years in Syria as a cop for the Mukhabarat, for the secret police. He was working as a sergeant there for 21 years in Syria, before he went back as an exile after we kicked out Saddam. He is nobody’s patsy. But there’s going to be a holy hell there. It’s going to be probably the biggest problem the President has next year, along with gas, along with the crazy Republicans that are running against him. He’s going to—and along with Afghan and along with Iran, it’s going to be Iraq. We’re going to be back looking at Iraq, as that country goes berserk.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sy Hersh, I want to—

SEYMOUR HERSH: That’s very cheerful. I’m really Mr. Happy News, huh?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to get back to the Arab Spring for a moment and ask you, do you think that in Egypt—for example, the uprisings that led to the overthrow of Mubarak and now to the trial, apparently, the trial of Mubarak, it is understandable why the Egyptian people would want to put this ruthless leader on trial. But do you think that the trying of Mubarak has had repercussions throughout the rest of the region, with all these other dictators who say, “Well, I better fight to the end, because if not, I will end up like Mubarak, will be immediately put on trial by my people”?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, you know, I can’t say that about the trial, because I haven’t actually talked to anybody about whether the trial makes a difference. But before that, I would say what you’re saying is absolutely right. The moment the United States—the waffling that the President did—if you remember, he was with the kids, he was against the kids, and we had the Secretary of State saying the same thing, with, against. There’s no question that the fear—there’s an enormous fear in the Arab world, in the Gulf, in the Gulf region. And right now they’re very angry at us. They’re terrified of Iran. And they’re very worried about internal security.

They’re worried about—what’s going on in Bahrain is, I’m telling you, it’s a sensationally underreported story. The brutality there is beyond—it’s shocking. And again, the Saudis are directly involved, sort of with our OK. Again, if you don’t think Saudi Arabia has enormous control over Saleh in Yemen, you’re not paying attention. He’s got enormous control over him. The Saudis—if the Saudis wanted to, they could play a very positive role there. They’re not. He’s their guy. And so, you have this counterrevolution fed by the Saudi billions. And the Saudis went recently in the—Prince Bandar, my favorite dark prince, was recently in Pakistan, and the Pakistanis are supplying some thuggery, some arms, some muscle, in Bahrain. And I think the Pakistanis are also helping out in internal security inside Saudi Arabia itself. And so, everybody is muscling up now to beat up the kids who want to do something.

And meanwhile, if you look at it, the single biggest blow against al-Qaeda, I would argue—bin Laden, of course, was great, wonderful, I’m glad he’s gone and all that stuff—but the other big blow was the Arab Spring, because once you lose the sense of humiliation among the Arab population and the sense of fear—you’re seeing that in Syria right now, although that’s also complicated, because the Saudis are deeply involved in trying to get rid of—or certainly make it more difficult for Bandar—for Bashar Assad to exist. That’s a more complicated position. But once the fear is gone, al-Qaeda is gone.

So, the one thing we had going for ourselves, in terms of getting rid of these terrorists who prey on the frustrations of the Arab young, wow, instead, we’re going the wrong way. And it’s a horrible mistake. It’s happening right in front of us. It’s not being seen, but it’s right there to be seen. And it’s just this country, this president—traditionally, we’ve been unable to pull the trigger on the Saudis. Even now, when confronted with heinous activity, we still can’t pull the trigger on the Saudis, because of the need for oil. And again, this is a country, Saudi Arabia, that is not lifting—not agreeing to lift two or three more billion barrels a day. They’re at eight-and-a-half billion. We’d love them to go to 11, 10-and-a-half and 11. That would take pressure off the price. And it’s politically useful for the President not to—for the President to have it happen. It’s not going to happen.

So, Arab Spring is being undercut enormously. There’s still some hope in Egypt, because the kids are so strong, the movement there is so strong. But I can tell you, Suleiman, the leader of the intelligence service, is still there. I think an awful lot—I would look at Libya as part coming out of Arab Spring. An awful lot of it comes out of Libyan intervention. There’s been a longstanding American CIA role and opposition to Gaddafi. And one of the things Gaddafi drove everybody crazy with, just to show you how silly the world is, every oil deal he wanted 20 percent on the top of. And so, there was a lot of corporate anger at him, too. He was getting 20 percent kickback. Even Saddam, in the heyday, only wanted 10 percent. It all comes down sometimes to money. And I don’t know what’s going to happen there.

AMY GOODMAN: Sy, we have 30 seconds.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I just don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t quite—

AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.

SEYMOUR HERSH: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: But I want to ask you a last question. You made headlines a few years ago when you said President Bush operated an executive assassination ring. Has that policy continued under President Obama?

SEYMOUR HERSH: What I said was that in the early days under Cheney, in the first days after—you know, ’03, ’04, ’05, yes, there was a direct connection between the vice president’s office and individuals getting hit. That got institutionalized later in a more sophisticated way. There’s no question that—look, there’s an enormous military apparatus out there that isn’t seen. That’s what I’m writing about. We’re not seeing it. We don’t know it exists. Cheney built up a world that still exists. And it’s a very ugly, frightening world that has not much to do with what the Constitution calls for.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Thank you very much, Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. His piece appears in The New Yorker magazine, and we will link to it. It’s called “Iran and the Bomb.”