Manufacturing Dissent

In one of my very favorite movies, Morpheus explained that phenomena like deja vu resulted from glitches in the Matrix.

Every society in history, since the rise of class domination (and of states as its instruments), has had a cultural reproduction apparatus. The purpose is to process newborn human beings into the kind of “human resources” a given system needs to continue on a stable basis: People who accept the prevailing system of power as normal, and who dismiss fundamental challenges to the system of power as “radical” or “extremist.”

But the Matrix we live in has its own glitches: Internal contradictions built into the system’s own propaganda, which act as stumbling blocks and regularly cause ideological “defects” in the human resources being processed by the system.

This is unavoidable. What the system does cannot be reconciled with what it says. What it says this week cannot be reconciled with what it said last week. And sometimes people notice, and put two and two together. Every time that happens, the cultural reproduction apparatus has generated another defect that could potentially bring the system down. I’m writing this because I’m one of those defects. Maybe someday you’ll be one too, if you’re not already.

The nature of the system means such glitches are bound to occur quite frequently. The “free market” rhetoric we regularly hear from the right wing of the ruling class directly contradicts the observed reality that the dominant players in the corporate plutocracy are the world’s biggest welfare queens. The “putting people first” rhetoric of the ruling class’s left wing, likewise, runs up against the observed reality that the main actual function of the regulatory state (despite the “Progressive” Upton Sinclair marketing) is to enforce the artificial scarcity rents and subsidies that the corporate plutocracy depends on.

The system relies heavily on the legitimizing ideology that rewards go to hard work, that wealth is the reward for superior performance in the market, that people should pull their own weight. But that ideology doesn’t hold up very well in a perceived reality characterized by Halliburton and Blackwater, by the RIAA/MPAA and Microsoft, or by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. When the vast majority of the big corporate interests are turtles on fenceposts, who got where they were with government protections or taxpayer subsidies, all that Horatio Alger crap just don’t cut it.

And it also helps that the people formulating the propaganda are just so pathetically stupid.

Did you ever see Reefer Madness? It’s quite a howler, particularly under the proper herbally-induced conditions.  And most of the state’s heavy-handed behavioral control propaganda is just more Reefer Madnesses in the making.

Consider the PSA, directed at schoolkids, telling them to “Be Cool. Don’t Do Drugs.” How do they think the average teenager’s going to react? “Well, golly gee — I used to think smoking weed was fun — but if a bunch of middle-aged, white men  in suits sitting around a conference table somewhere on Madison Avenue say it’s not cool, I guess I was wrong!” All my life I’ve just assumed that anything said in a PSA was a lie unless proven otherwise, and immediately responded to those “Did you know …” posters by saying “No — and I still don’t.”

Or how about those mandatory “anti-songlifting” classes they teach in school — for anyone with even a minimum level of critical thinking skills, it’s just something else to make fun of like the cult followers of Reefer Madness. Most of those kids have accepted file sharing as normal for most of their lives, and can see with their own eyes the obscene amounts of money raked in by the record companies — very little of which goes to the actual artists. Just how stupid does the RIAA think people are? Most people instinctively gag at having something so heavy-handed and lame shoved down their throats.

The simple fact of the matter is, human beings are thinking beings. Some are more gullible than others. But most people will tend to be skeptical when something is forced down their throats. And when an authority figure behind a desk attempts to indoctrinate people with some form of propaganda, there’s a serious danger that the person of at least average intelligence will stop to ask what’s in it for the people who are pushing it on him.

The cultural reproduction apparatus of the state and the class interests controlling it is intended, in Noam Chomsky’s words, to manufacture consent. But often as not, it inadvertently manufactures dissent.

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