George Orwell wrote:
“If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves…
Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban… The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question."
Orwell observes that wealthy men who own the media exercise a veiled censorship. However, he indicates the ultimate censor is not the oligarchy but public opinion of which the rich owners are frightened.
Are the people the ultimate censor? Are they to blame for the lack of freedom of the press, indeed of expression in general?
A century before Orwell, Alexis de Tocqueville said “yes” to both questions. He believed a tyrannie de la majorité reigned in America. Either go along with public opinion or go under:
“I know of no nation where there reigns, in general, less independence of spirit and true liberty of discussion than in the United States…In America, the majority draws a circle around thought. Inside its limits, the writer is free, but woe to him if he dares go outside them…Before publishing his opinions, he thought he had supporters; now he believes they are gone…those who curse him express themselves with vigor, and those who thinks like he does, without having his courage, stay quiet and distance themselves. He gives in, he bends under so much daily effort, and enters into a silence, as though he regretted having said the truth.” (My translation)
Ubiquitous, ironclad silence, then, was Tocqueville´s proof that the real censor is public opinion and not something else, viz., an oligarchy. After all, only the former is truly everpresent, like the sky.
In a dramatic passage, Tocqueville explored the Omerta American-Style awaiting the person who bucks public opinion:
“These days civilization has perfected even despotism itself which appeared to have nothing new to learn. Princes had, so to speak, materialized violence; democratic republics have made violence as mental as the human will that violence seeks to subdue. Under the absolute government on one man, despotism, in order to arrive at the soul, crudely battered the body; and the soul, escaping the blows, gloriously rose above it; but in democratic republics, that is not how tyranny proceeds; it leaves the body alone and goes straight to the soul. The master no longer says: You will think like me or you will die. He says: you are free not to think as I do; your life, your property, you will keep them all. But from this day forward you are a stranger among us…You will remain among humans, but you will lose the rights which humanity has. When you approach your fellow men, they will flee from you as if you were the pest. As for those who believe in your innocence, they too will abandon you; otherwise, they, too, would be abandoned. Go in peace, I leave you with your life, but I leave you a life worse than death.” (My Translation)
George Orwell detected the same overpowering hush bestowed on those who go against the flow:
“Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.” (For source, see above quote)
We come to the punch line:
When they exercise veiled censorship, are media tycoons only catering to public taste? Giving the people what they want?
The issue is decisive...
Obviously, if the people are the real censor, then democratizing the media is exactly the wrong way to go to protect freedom of the press. Indeed, it is possible to construe Tocqueville and Orwell so as to say that, if anything, the media have already been too democratized and that is precisely the problem. Media democratization, so interpreted, is an old reality.
I think Tocqueville and Orwell were right, but not entirely:
A crucial distinction must be made between two things which are inherently separate if not distinct -- indeed often opposed. It is a distinction the oligarchy does not want, much less make. We will see why in a moment.
(i) Public opinion per se. I dealt directly with this phenomenon for 20 years. After studying survey research methodology in graduate school, I conducted and analyzed hundreds of polls for candidates and TV stations.
I would say:
Yes, public opinion definitely has taboos and other restrictions Orwell and Tocqueville referred to. For example, if you say, “Karl Marx was right in his analysis of…” – you will get no further; the American public has tuned you out, changed channels. The same is true for socialized medicine or reducing social security payments: recommending them will instantly and automatically toss you in an isolation chamber. The door will be locked and bolted from the outside. How will you eat?
But are those public opinion bans fully independent of the economic self-interests of the media owners? Are there connections between taboos and tycoons which neither Orwell nor Tocqueville investigated?
To answer that question requires the second part of our crucial distinction:
(ii) Separate and distinct from public opinion per se, there is the wealthy media owners´ INTERPRETATION or VIEW of public opinion.
If you work for the media or Merrill Lynch, inside of a week you will hear an executive – one of the “shirts” – utter the last word on anything: “The market likes/does not like it.”
Now, how can anybody seriously believe (1) the market “likes/dislikes” something when the market is not a living thing, and (2) even if the market has thoughts and feelings, how can somebody know what they are?
Two probative answers:
(1) An oligarch monetarizes the world. That is who he is, what he does. When he looks at you, he sees so many dollars on the hoof.
Public opinion is no exception to monetarization. It is not surprising, therefore, that for the oligarch, public opinion = the market.
But what is the market?
Why, him, the oligarch, of course.
It is understandable why a rich man would be convinced he is the market. In certain arenas, he is correct. Check out the New York Stock Exchange or Christies or Sotheby´s modern art auctions. Say what you will, one thing is certain: it isn´t your Aunt Mary who is causing such prices.
(2) I am the market: the oligarch believes it in the pit of his soul. He then takes the next step. I know what I want; therefore, ipso facto, I know what the market wants. Wants is indeed the appropriate word. He has thoughts, desires, feelings; therefore, (i) the market has them too, and (ii) they are the same as his.
The final step follows inexorably: since I am the market, and the market = public opinion, I am public opinion.
Here, of course, the rich man is doing what he does so well: he fools himself in order to fool others. Sir, a lack of knowledge on your part of what the public thinks and feels -- the disconnect between you and it -- is precisely why you hired me to conduct a poll for you – remember?
The astonishing inaccuracy of the oligarchy´s view of public opinion is nowhere more apparent than in the publishing industry. The article “The Greatest Mystery: Making A Bestseller” says everything you ever suspected and didn´t want to hear: a bad business; it´s so unpredictable; almost total lack of market research; no one really knows; estimated 70% of titles in the red; a crap shoot; just a feeling; it´s guesswork; mysterious spark; it´s a casino.
The article quotes an Editor in Chief: “Nobody has the key.” Sorry, Chief, but any competent pollster with 60 interviewers in 60 days can solve The Greatest Mystery. So, why hasn´t somebody done it?
The last thing media tycoons want is to take the crap out of the crap shoot. The article explains why:
“Most in the industry seem to see consumer taste as a mystery that is inevitable and even appealing, akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling.”
Inevitable and appealing. Finally, the inner essence of this entire affair surfaces: mystification. The oligarch wants you to think his VIEW of public opinion is in tune with the rotations of the higher wheels of the universe, of destiny, of le peuple, of history, of wealth, of success, of fame -- of God.
Thus, it is his VIEW of public opinion, not public opinion itself, which is the eventual, ultimate censor.
Why such a desperate need for mystification? In the face of 200 years of America´s universally-lauded "democracy," the oligarch lacks political legitimacy and he knows it. All he can do is try to substitute mystification for legitimacy and hope you will buy it.
The irrefutable proof that public opinion and the oligarchy´s VIEW of it are separate and distinct: if they were the same, the appalling 70% failure rate of books would not exist. That record is obvious, incontestable -- even to the oligarch. Which is why, when he turns out the lights and stares at the bedroom ceiling, he knows he is not in tune with the wheels of destiny, of history, of le peuple, of God. Which is why he hired me to conduct a poll of public opinion for him (remember?) His wife, who is making it with her analyst and wants a divorce, and cokehead son, who flunked out of Harvard and wrecked Daddy`s Porsche, pay for the incongruities,
Neither Orwell nor Tocqueville probed the relationship between public opinion and the oligarchy´s view of it. Note carefully that Orwell said the prevailing orthodoxy is the real censor. Those two words do not preclude our core conclusion, i.e., that the oligarchy´s VIEW of public opinion is the real censor.
As for Tocqueville, survey research did not exist in his day. It was impossible for him or anybody else in the 1830s to know what public opinion per se was. All Tocqueville could do is rely on somebody´s VIEW of that opinion. As for who that somebody was, Tocqueville was an aristocrat. Guess who he was talking to.
Rich men, prevailing orthodoxy: one man strung the beads. John Swinton, the preeminent journalist of his day and the head of the New York Times editorial staff:
“We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.” (See prior post for full quote).
* * *
Our reference to the publishing industry is not gratuitous.
Two readers, Phil P. and Lillian B., suggested I make the 12-part series on American politics (posts of August 22- December 29, 2011) into a book. I did so with major content and editorial changes.
The result is The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution.
The First American Revolution, 1776-1789, transformed the political system from a monarchy not into a democracy but rather a “политей” or polity, i.e., a middle class-moderated, oligarchy/democracy hybrid inclined toward democracy. The Second American Revolution, 2008-2009, changed the polity into an oligarchy with democratic residues, accessories. That change was normal, predictable; Aristotle identified and analyzed it 2000 years ago. The Third American Revolution will resurrect the polity but with greater power for the democratic component, less for the oligarchy.
Returning to Orwell, the book beyond a doubt challenges the prevailing orthodoxy. I do not believe, however, its ideas are unfashionable. Unicameral legislatures, compulsory voting: the simple truth is that the American public has been denied access to such topics, consequently has no view of them one way or another. They are neither fashionable nor unfashionable, then. A notable exception: as does the book, a majority of Americans – 62% -- favor abolishing the Electoral College and electing the president directly via a popular vote.
In truth, it could turn out that the book´s ideas are only too popular in terms of public opinion...
Here we make another crucial distinction which, like the first, the oligarchy does not want:
(i) Fashion, which consists of the likes and dislikes of other people, and
(ii) Opinion, which is grounded in self-interest, notably economic.
To change public opinion, you have to change economic realities underlying it – a difficult task seldom attempted, much less accomplished. Fashion, on the other hand, is based on fancy, hence is more momentary and easily manipulated, particularly in our world of the mass media.
In that world the oligarchy and its advertisers and politicos have a dream that is a long way from Martin Luther King´s: If only public opinion were as malleable as fashion…
Not only is the dream realizable, it is being realized. The oligarchy discovered the secret: merge, confound and confuse fashion with opinion. The end goal: public opinion = fashion. Achieving that objective of course will destroy any lingering traces of democracy because what the public thinks will no longer matter. After all, total malleability means something, as a thing in itself, is nothing.
The destruction of democracy is fully in keeping with the 2008-2009 change to an oligarchic political system in the United States.
Public opinion = fashion is being achieved with astonishing speed. The biggest change I saw over the decades I worked as a political consultant was that when I started it was extremely difficult to trick people into voting against their economic interests, at least in sufficient numbers to swing an election. Today, that trick is performed routinely. All it requires is what the oligarchy can deliver with a phone call or the stroke of a pen: millions of dollars.
* * *
For reasons given above, fashion is irrelevant to The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution. As for what little remains of public opinion -- which, again, is rooted in economic realities -- does that opinion support or oppose the book´s ideas?
Only survey research -- which the book encourages – and not some rich guy with a mouth can rationally decide the issue.
Well, the rich guy has spoken:
80 people in the publishing industry did not want you to see The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution. More on them in the next post.
Are the 80 right? Solid, responsible citizens? Or are they intellectual cowards (George Orwell)?
Whatever they are, they failed. Thanks to the Internet, a new reality emerged: finally -- and for the first time -- what you, the readers, think is all that matters. If that is not democratizing the media, what is?
Here is what the 80 tried to suppress. To read The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution, click on the tab at the top of this page.
Warning: the book is copyrighted. The reason: (1) Go to any bookstore. (2) At random, pick up a book on contemporary politics. (3) Turn to any chapter. You will detect a pressured yet measured pace – the inevitable upshot of writing between pissing and cooking. You will also detect a prepackaged individualism with shop-worn conclusions. You look at the floor, gaze out the window. As exciting as a wet tortilla... Such is the outcome wherever an oligarchy reigns; its members make more money in five minutes clipping coupons than you do working hard all year. No wonder they view anything new as a menace. They didn´t tell you about that part of the deal, did they. They never do.
95% of American publishers seek to reduce all writing to what is on the back of a box of Post Toasties. We oppose their quest for routinization and standardization: all fleece, no gold. For that reason, permission must be obtained for all quotes, in part or in whole, from The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution. I regret the inconvenience.
No, I am not against publishing houses. If they want to take the book, they can contact me directly. Whatever you do, Dear Reader, do not hold you breath; the next post will explore why no American publisher could accept the book even if he wanted to. (If you are a literary agent, I regret to inform you that all unsolicited queries will be returned unopened. On a personal level: your proposed project does not seem to be quite the right fit for me. Since it so richly deserves the energetic and passionate support I can’t offer, I will step aside for the writer who can and assuredly will give it to you. I wish you all the best of luck and much success.)
Yes, the book is free. The only payment I seek, Dear Reader, is that in the coming months, when you are drowning in campaign ads, speeches and media analyses that are as profound as flushing the toilet, you think of the national debate that could have been.
I also hope you will solve a dilemma:
80 industry people will tell you the book was rejected. I say it was censored. Only one of us is right.
You be the judge.
 Alexis de Tocqueville (1835), De la démocratie en Amérique I (deuxième partie), pp. 84-5. (“Du pouvoir qu´exerce la majorité en Amérique sur la pensée”).
The full citation:
“Je ne connais pas de pays où il règne, en général, moins d'indépendance d'esprit et
de véritable liberté de discussion qu'en Amérique.
Il n'y a pas de théorie religieuse ou politique qu'on ne puisse prêcher librement dans les États constitutionnels de l'Europe et qui ne pénètre dans les autres; car il n'est pas de pays en Europe tellement soumis à un seul pouvoir, que celui qui veut y dire la vérité n'y trouve un appui capable de le rassurer contre les résultats de son indépendance. S'il a le malheur de vivre sous un gouvernement absolu, il a souvent pour lui le peuple; s'il habite un pays libre, il peut au besoin s'abriter derrière l'autorité royale. La fraction aristocratique de la société le soutient dans les contrées démocratiques, et la démocratie dans les autres. Mais au sein d'une démocratie organisée ainsi que celle des États-Unis, on ne rencontre qu'un seul pouvoir, un seul élément de force et de succès, et rien en dehors de lui. En Amérique, la majorité trace un cercle formidable autour de la pensée. Audedans de ces limites, l'écrivain est libre; mais malheur à lui s'il ose en sortir. Ce n'est pas qu'il ait à craindre un autodafé, mais il est en butte à des dégoûts de tous genres et à des persécutions de tous les jours. La carrière politique lui est fermée: il a offensé la seule puissance qui ait la faculté de l'ouvrir. On lui refuse tout, jusqu'à la gloire. Avant de publier ses opinions, il croyait avoir des partisans; il lui semble qu'il n'en a plus, maintenant qu'il s'est découvert à tous; car ceux qui le blâment s'expriment hautement, et ceux qui pensent comme lui, sans avoir son courage, se taisent et s'éloignent. Il cède, il plie enfin sous l'effort de chaque jour, et rentre dans le silence, comme s'il éprouvait des remords d'avoir dit vrai.
Des chaînes et des bourreaux, ce sont là les instruments grossiers qu'employait jadis la tyrannie; mais de nos jours la civilisation a perfectionné jusqu'au despotisme lui-même, qui semblait pourtant n'avoir plus rien à apprendre. Les princes avaient pour ainsi dire matérialisé la violence; les républiques démocratiques de nos jours l'ont rendue tout aussi intellectuelle que la volonté humaine qu'elle veut contraindre. Sous le gouvernement absolu d'un seul, le despotisme, pour arriver à l'âme, frappait grossièrement le corps; et l'âme, échappant à ces coups, s'élevait glorieuse au-dessus de lui; mais dans les républiques démocratiques, ce n'est point ainsi que procède la tyrannie; elle laisse le corps et va droit à l'âme. Le maître n'y dit plus: Vous penserez comme moi, ou vous mourrez; il dit: Vous êtes libre de ne point penser ainsi que moi; votre vie, vos biens, tout vous reste; mais de ce jour vous êtes un étranger parmi nous. Vous garderez vos privilèges à la cité, mais ils vous
deviendront inutiles; car si vous briguez le choix de vos concitoyens, ils ne vous l'accorderont point, et si vous ne demandez que leur estime, ils feindront encore de vous la refuser. Vous resterez parmi les hommes, mais vous perdrez vos droits à l'humanité. Quand vous vous approcherez de vos semblables, ils vous fuiront comme un être impur; et ceux qui croient à votre innocence, ceux-là mêmes vous abandonneront, car on les fuirait à leur tour. Allez en paix, je vous laisse la vie, mais je vous la laisse pire que la mort.”
 "The ultimate goal of any ideology is to render all words predictable, and to control any unpredictable words by images. That goal will not be realized until ideology replaces the unconscious." Thomas Belvedere, The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion, p. 155.