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MIC Bulletin, 2007

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Holiday Special: Something That Changed My Perspective (#2)

"the engineering of consent."
naked capitalism

Yesterday, I took advantage of this (hopefully) quiet week to share some things I have come across that affected how I view the world.

I can't recommend strongly enough that you view the four-part 2002 BBC documentary, The Century of the Self. Creator Adam Curtis said, "This series is about how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy." It focuses on how Freud's ideas were used by business and government, far more deliberately and extensively than one might imagine, during the 20th century to achieve what Curtis calls "the engineering of consent." This term was first used by Edward Bernays, the father of the public relations industry and nephew of Sigmund Freud. In Bernay's words:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,...Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. . . .

In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons . . . who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.

This series describes how this "invisible government" came into being and operates.

Yesterday, we encouraged readers to watch the first segment, "Happiness Machines." Part 2 is "The Engineering of Consent." I encourage you to watch a few minutes here, and then go over to Google Video, since you will see it in a larger scale format there.

Click here to view it at Google Video.



This documentary was an eye opener. I can't recommend it enough either.

Of particular interest to me was how business got out of the business of supplying goods and services people needed, which was limited, and started providing lifestyle/identity stuff to people's psyches which was unlimited. No more boom and bust cycle based on over production.

Unfortunately, we forgot that, although the psyche is unlimited in its desires, the planet is limited in its resources.


Whoa, blast from the past, the last time I heard theories like that was at a social sciences fac dinner and a anti-globalization march pamphlet, and they called those people conspiracy theorist nuts. The "they" were people skeptical of big government. But frankly, it's very British university fare, the politics students , depending on their preferences tend to think of those who believe in such theories as quirks, of course, some of these quirks turned into spin doctors, irony in caps

Comment & analysis - Comment - Roosevelt’s lessons for future presidents By Michael Fullilove

November 7 2007 |

Seventy-five years ago today, Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York achieved a sweeping victory over Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election.

From time to time we hear assertions about FDR’s limitations – that his was only a second-class mind, or that his foreign policy was ambivalent and reactive, or that he was outwitted by Joseph Stalin at Yalta in 1945.

His detractors are right: Roosevelt achieved nothing in his life, apart from rescuing American democracy from the Depression; taking the US into the second world war and, through his defeat of isolationism, into the world; leading the Allies to victory over the dictators; winning four consecutive national elections; and doing all this with a crippled body.

Historians have likened the study of FDR’s diplomacy to peering through a kaleidoscope: if you take the device apart, what seemed like a random display, created by the outside force of spinning the tube, suddenly has internal logic. It is the exact reverse of George W. Bush’s diplomacy, in which a rigid mindset and ideology has been broken by reality and splintered into randomness.

Comparing the two presidents may seem unfair, however the Bush administration has brought the analogy down on its own head through its use of second world war imagery and terminology, such as the ill-starred reference to an “axis of evil”.

Policymakers may wish to consider three lessons from FDR’s foreign policy.

First, curiosity is a good thing. Isaiah Berlin wrote that Roosevelt “practised a highly personal form of government” that “must have maddened sober and responsible officials used to a slower tempo and more normal patterns of administration”. FDR ignored established lines of authority; he listened to many advisers but relied on none; he worked through friends, personal contacts and battalions of special envoys. He was determined never to become, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr told me, “a prisoner of a single information network”.

Mr Bush prefers clear reporting lines and administrative tidiness. In his first term he was captured by certain ideas and individuals and closed his mind to the alternatives. By the time he had recalibrated his approach, the damage was done.

Second, it takes time and effort to build a durable domestic consensus in favour of involvement in a foreign war. FDR reached out to his opponents, co-opting vanquished rivals such as Wendell Willkie and installing Republicans such as Henry Stimson in his cabinet. He convinced Americans they needed to lead – and then he asked huge things of them. With the Lend-Lease Act, FDR put the whole country on a war footing even before war had been declared. By the time of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans understood where their security interests lay and they were ready for the fight.

Mr Bush has chosen a different path. He used 9/11 and the early successes of the Iraq war to squeeze the Democrats. His rash decisions have persuaded millions of Americans that their country should look inward and mind its own business. He was quick to invade Iraq, but very slow to ask the American public to share the burdens being borne by its armed forces.

The final lesson is that America is strongest when it works with others. FDR had the imagination to perceive America’s appeal to the world. With his ready laugh and his cigarette holder held at a jaunty angle, he was the quintessential American optimist. In the depths of the Depression he raised Americans’ spirits by assuring them that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. By signing up to the Atlantic Charter (with its provisions against territorial aggrandisement and for freedom of trade and the seas) and by pressing his British ally on decolonis­ation, he signalled that the rest of the world had a place in the American world view. For the postwar settlement, he designed institutions of global order that gave other nations a voice but ensured American predominance.

Mr Bush has presented a different face to the international community: Abu Ghraib, Camp X-Ray, extraordinary rendition and all the rest. These policies violated individual liberties; they also offended against American self-interest.

President Bush told the world: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” President Roosevelt’s anniversary is a good reminder that there are better ways to bring the world along.

The writer directs the global issues programme at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney

[Feb 22, 2007] Transcript Steve Rattner interview

February 22, 2007 |

FT: Thank you for joining us, Mr Rattner.

Rattner: Thanks so much for having me.

FT: You have recently been speaking publicly about the sustainability, or non-sustainability of the current model, the current business model for how newspapers operate. Why do you think newspapers can’t work as private or public companies, as they have been run so far?

Rattner: If you look very fundamentally at what is happening to the business, it is really a perfect negative storm, in the sense of loss of readership, loss of classified ads, and ultimately loss of display ads.

I was trying to throw out some ideas. If you basically start with the idea that the current newspaper model is not really working very well and that there’s a risk, I didn’t say it was a certainty, but there was a risk that it would become an unsustainable business model, then you say OK, now what do we do? And, for example, I threw out the case of New York City subways, which started as for-profit businesses, until at some point they didn’t work anymore as for-profit businesses, and they became a public service.

So I just think that we ought to begin a dialogue as to some other ways. If we believe as a society, as I do – that having quality journalism is a really critical element of our democratic process, and if the private sector won’t support it, for whatever set of reasons, then I think you have to start to think about other models. And you look at NPR as another model, if you look at the BBC, it’s another model. And since I wrote that article, people have pointed out to me that The Guardian newspaper in the UK is a trust, a number of German newspapers are trusts. You have Cspan which is a not-for- profit organisation. There are many other models, and I think we have to be open-minded about it.

FT: Some people, maybe in particular critics of journalism, would argue that the problems that newspapers are experiencing right now are really to do with a dearth of creativity, a failure to sufficiently aggressively address the needs of new readers, the needs of new media. Could that maybe be the problem, rather than the structural issues that you are hinting at?

Rattner: Well, it depends a little bit on what you mean by “address the needs of readers.” If you mean dumb down in order to satisfy what seems to be the appetite for news today, a lot of newspapers haven’t done that, and I respect them for not doing that, they shouldn’t do that.

If you mean explore new ways to use technology: they’re not perfect. They’re older companies that have to change a lot of their ways. But there’s something like seventeen hundred daily newspapers in this country alone, and they’ve tried many, many different things.

I personally believe that fundamentally the problem is a changing appetite for news on the part of consumers, for the worse. And its something that I feel very sad about, because the fact that people are more interested in whether Britney Spears shaves her head and goes into alcohol rehab, or what is happening at Guantanamo Bay, really is troubling to me.

FT: And what about the argument we sometimes hear, that newspapers, maybe particularly because of the way they’re structured as a business, are insufficiently responsive to the needs of shareholders? The Morgan Stanley versus New York Times tiff is an example of that maybe.

Rattner: The New York Times Company, The Washington Post Company, Dow Jones – those companies that are family-controlled, where there are two classes of stock, they’ve stated very clearly that their objectives are to achieve high profits consistent with their journalistic mission.

Every shareholder, including the shareholders in the New York Times Company knew that when they bought their shares. There’s nothing new here, that was the deal: that you’re buying into this company, under this set of parameters. Hopefully we’re going to make a lot of money, but we’re also going to do good journalism. And they all knew that. There’s no surprise here, and there’s no reason why they should somehow claim that this wasn’t what they expected.

FT: And what about the baseball team model? We’ve had some indications of interest in buying newspapers from rich prominent individuals, David Geffen, Jack Welch, is that a way forward?

Rattner: I think it’s a very mixed blessing. You could certainly imagine more Sulzbergers, and more Grahams emerging like The New York Times and The Washington Post families: incredibly enlightened, incredibly far-sighted.

But look at what happened in Santa Barbara when The New York Times Company (unfortunately they regret this) sold the Santa Barbara paper to Wendy McCaw who created complete havoc.

Look what happened in Philadelphia, when it was sold by McClatchy after they bought it from Knight-Ridder, to a local group, everybody said: “Great, we’re going to have a local group, its going to be a response to the community,” and the first thing that happened was they laid off a bunch of people. I’m not criticising them for doing that, but I’m simply saying that even at the end, you’re in the hands of an individual whose motives may be profit, may be personal glory, and may be journalistic altruism, but you can’t be sure it’s going to be the third. So I think it’s a “be careful what you wish for” kind of proposition – the individual ownership notion.

FT: And how about private equity?

Rattner: Well, private equity, what’s interesting, and this I think reinforces my thesis that the business model is flawed: what you can see, very visibly, is extremely limited private equity interest in the newspapers. Knight Ridder had an auction and private equity basically didn’t come, it certainly wasn’t very successful.

The Tribune has hung out the biggest For Sale sign in the history of deals, and we have seen no sign of private equity there, at least, as far as we can tell from the outside. And if you read even the analysts’ research reports, who have run private equity-type models on a number of these big public companies, even the equity analysts have trouble getting the numbers to work. Unfortunately I think private equity is pretty cautious on newspapers at the moment.



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