Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nobody tells me what to think. Do they?

by Richard Mellor

The dominant ideology, dominant ideas in society, are the ideas of the class that governs that society.  The dominant theme during the rule of the feudal aristocracy in England was “Divine Right.”  Divine Right explained to the masses and society that the king was king by the will of god. The king was god’s man on earth. The events of the 1640’s put an end to that nonsense but the point is that no one today would suggest that this view, held by the rural masses at the time, sprang from the head of a serf.  Of course not----the king thought it up along with the religious dignitaries who lived off the Labor of the peasants. It’s hard to rise up against your oppressor if you believe in your own mind that he’s god’s representative on earth.

In those days without TV, Internet and the means of communication available to the capitalist class that rules society today, this class-based idea aimed at justifying class rule was cemented in the consciousness of the exploited through the religious institutions primarily. The religious institutions, particularly the Catholic Church,  play the same role today with regards to capitalism and the market.  Private ownership of the means of production and the so-called free market is the only “civilized” way society can be organized.  Capitalists create jobs after all and the idea that workers could govern society is ridiculed as sheer fantasy, after all, look around us, “look at the information we bring you”, you can’t agree on anything. Human nature is inherently greedy and selfish we are told.

Today’s ruling class has other more subtle ways of explaining events through their control of the means of communication in society. I was reading a piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day and the first sentence caught my eye: “As long as Americans love to drive far and fast….”, the piece begins.  Is that so?  I have not found that people who are forced to live long distances from their work and who have to sit in traffic for two to three hours like driving far and sure don’t get to drive very fast. And let’s be honest, most of the driving we do is related to work or getting to and from work. 

But the point is that what we are supposed to like and not like is determined for us by forces beyond our control (at the moment). It’s like when they say that Mexican workers or workers in the US South or women workers in Bangladesh are willing to work for less (I am sure that Bangladeshi women would be quite willing to work for more) or that Americans like the junk we get on TV, the worst television in the industrialized world. So they just provide the consumers (us) with what we are demanding.

Those that own and control the means by which we produce the necessities of life as well as the means of mass communication do not put their words together lightly---mass communication has a purpose, has a class bias.  I am sure that most Americans, if the choice were there, would prefer decent public transportation that could carry us to work cheaply and in in a relaxed manner. Here in California it’s almost impossible to get to work without a car for most people. 

The reality is that we have limited control over the choices that are placed before us.  We have free will, yes, but do not always get to choose the circumstances in which our choices are made. It’s the same when they talk of the environment, if “we” don’t stop cutting down the rain forests; if “we” don’t consume less.  What's all this "we" stuff?  The capitalist class that owns and controls, and therefore sets in to motion the productive forces in society makes these decisions and not simply as a response to consumer demand, but in their rapacious quest for profits.

While in the last analysis ideas have a material base, those that control the means of communication in society and the major institutions of education have a tremendous influence over our choices.   As John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his famous book, The Affluent Society, the main purpose of marketing and advertising is “to bring in to being wants that did not previously exist.”  People’s views about other nations and peoples, about history and the world in general are greatly influenced by the mass media and the dominance of capitalist ideology.  This is particularly so in the US which has never had a mass workers’ party and where the ideology of the bourgeois is overwhelming. More than 50% of the population were convinced by the media that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were behind the September 11th attacks which was completely false as has since been proven.  Look at the tragic consequences of that lie.

In his book, The Consumer Trap, Big Business Marketing in American Life, Michael Dawson points out that more than $1 trillion a year is being spent on marketing, “double the annual spending on education from kindergarten through graduate schools.”(1)

This doesn’t mean that we can’t and don’t resist this pressure.  Parents try to control their children’s behavior that is negatively influence by the television and film.  We resist buying and cut back on TV hours and other such things but the capitalist class does not spend this sort of money if it doesn’t work, if human consciousness were impenetrable and our ideas solely our own as some people argue, as if they are separate from society at large. That view in itself is the product of the ruling class whose interests are advanced by such thinking as the system, or the way the economic system is organized, is never questioned.

The reason that social movements and events like strikes are so worrisome to the ruling class, is that in times of heightened class struggle the ideology of the class that governs society is weakened as the tendency to class unity among workers moves to overcome their divide and rule tactics like racism, sexism and blaming immigrants for society's ills. The present historic crisis of global capitalism has had a powerful affect on mass consciousness here in the US.  And it's not over yet.

(1) Quoted in Too Many People by Ian Angus and Simon Butler

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