The Social Engineering and Paralysis of the US Left
Turning on NPR this morning we were treated to yet another story about how the politicians in the Congress are aging, and are generally much older than the average American on whose behalf they allegedly govern. This is one of dozens of stories on this subject which have been featured on national NPR programs this year alone, according to my recollection. As to stories about how wealthy most members of the Congress are — how much more wealthy most of them are in comparison with the average American — it’s crickets. I can’t remember the last time I heard a story in Morning Edition on that subject.
This is an example of social engineering. With the repetition of stories about the age of the politicians and very rare references to their wealth, the suggestion is clearly instilled that age is an acceptable subject to explore, while wealth is not. Only weird conspiracy-oriented types would talk about things like how rich the politicians are, so say the voices in our heads. Otherwise these reasonable-sounding people on the radio would talk about it, too.
Throughout the 1980’s, Afghanistan was the battleground for a terrible proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which time the entire country was laid to waste. Journalist Robert Fisk was there, documenting it all. In his epic summary of that war and so many others he covered on the ground, The Great War for Civilization, Fisk writes about how the CIA’s role throughout the period was to systematically give their financial and logistical support to the most anti-democratic, Islamist-inclined opponents to the Soviet-backed Afghan government, while ignoring or undermining the elements of the Mujahideen that had a more progressive vision for the future of their country. This is another example of real-world social engineering, of the most violent kind.
We have the social engineering conducted by the corporate overlords of the media outlets who, in so many ways, tell the attractive young reporters what types of events, people, and groups to cover and how to cover them. Just as importantly along with how much media attention and what kind, we have the social engineering involved with which sorts of people, campaigns and organizations get funding and other resources, and which sorts don’t. In what I think of as the trifecta of social engineering today, aside from the media and the money, there’s the various methods of social engineering built into “social media,” such as algorithms intended to foment and exacerbate conflict and confusion.
Prior to 2005 or so, when throughout the last quarter of the 20th century up until then any kind of social movement activity on the streets or anywhere else in the US was studiously ignored by the corporate and “public” media, this was obviously a very blatant form of social engineering. Don’t talk about it, and anyone who wasn’t actually at the demo would have no idea it even happened, or that there was going to be another one coming up. Don’t talk about it, and if you do come across thousands of people marching through the center of the city, you might think them to be a very strange and perhaps inappropriate or even terrifying sight.
Prior to 2005, although neither the antiwar movement nor the global justice movement received national news coverage to speak of, the authorities were still desperately concerned about us. Although we were already censored from news coverage, they went to great lengths to censor us in other important ways. I think of this when I mention how some people could be terrified of seeing an approaching group of thousands of people marching and chanting. I’ve seen middle-class folks from the suburbs tremble at the sight. The main reason this could possibly happen with our marches at that time is down to one factor: time after time, the police found a reason to invade whichever warehouse space had been rented by David Solnit and the many other artists who would come early to these events in order to collectively create vast numbers of beautiful, giant puppets which would tower over the marchers, marching with us, visually illustrating what our movement was all about. That is, if the police didn’t confiscate all the puppets first, which they did, on multiple occasions, in very large numbers.
Although they weren’t covering us or our antiwar movement in the news prior to 2005 (with or without confiscated puppets), it was made clear on occasion (for example in Fresno, California), that the tactics of the authorities involving infiltrating the movement with undercover police that we were all familiar with from the days of Cointelpro were still going on. Historically, when undercover operatives infiltrate antiwar groups or other groups, they don’t just sit there and take notes. They are often tasked with sowing divisions within the group, often by advocating for the kinds of actions and ideas most likely to be broadly opposed by large parts of society, thus serving to marginalize the movement, rather than pushing for things to move in a direction that might be supported by a society that sees the connections between, say, American militarism abroad and endemic poverty, homelessness, child abuse, addiction, suicide, and massacres at home.
With the advent and then the ubiquity of “social media” came the US corporate media’s move to polarize itself into Democrat and Republican camps. Coincidentally or not, these trends happened at roughly the same time, according to my real-time observations. And of course while all that was happening, we can assume that the work of the authorities to infiltrate, divide, and marginalize the opposition to US militarism and capitalism continued as usual.
Everything about the past seems simpler in retrospect, years after the FOIA requests and leaks have helped some people to clarify what the hell was going on fifty years ago. One of the pressing questions for our times, more challenging to answer while it’s all happening, is what are the goals of the social engineers among the ranks of the corporate media overlords, corporate social media overlords, and domestic spies, and how are they going about achieving them? Some aspects of all this are becoming increasingly clear, as it all continues, and seems to get gradually more and more blatant.
Most especially from 2015 to the present, when national media covers a protest or other social movement activity, it’s almost always going to focus on certain national issues about which there is much disagreement in society, such as with questions of racism, immigration, abortion, featuring endless human interest stories on related subjects, along with the ever-present question of whether the Republican Party has finally now become a fascist organization. We are thus trained to see these issues as the pressing ones that should concern us, and these protests as the ones that are actually happening — often helpfully announced by the media in advance, if it’s an anti-Trump or anti-Republican or antifascist protest or riot, no distinction is usually made, as it’s apparently now racist to do so — while groups or movements supporting rent control, universal housing, universal health care, or that are involved with a local struggle around mass evictions, gentrification, resistance to the clearing of tent cities, or endless numbers of other things, are methodically ignored or drastically underemphasized.
So much of what goes on on social media is derived from corporate media — discussions, praise, and criticism related to what’s in the news, who’s got a hit in the charts, the latest Netflix miniseries, etc. A lot else goes on on social media as well. All kinds of people impacted by the media’s framing of everything then make posts, critique others, moderate Subreddits and Facebook Groups, and engage in grassroots, DIY forms of censorship and efforts at thought control, banning, blocking, and conducting organized cancellation campaigns against the many dissidents who don’t seem to be towing the line.
How did the lines as they are now come to be drawn? What has been the impact of which topics and events get covered by the press and which ones don’t? What about which groups get funding from foundations, and which ones don’t? And then how does the atmosphere and functioning of social media impact how these lines get drawn?
Thinking about these things the other day a bit as I was writing the last missive I sent out, which was mostly concerning differing conclusions between me and a prominent antifascist podcaster on our analysis of important historical events, it occurred to me that there seems to be a pretty clear pattern when it comes to which types of radicals have been more likely in recent years to be adopted by the corporate media as one of their own, and which ones haven’t.
If your main interest is investigating the far right and all the various things they’re up to since Trump was in the White House, then like it or not, your interest may align very well with the interests of the Democratic Party leadership, which would of course like to associate the far right with the Republican Party, in the hope of diminishing support for Republicans in the next election. Thus, some of the folks doing this kind of research end up with big corporate megaphones with which to amplify their message, while the tenants rights campaigners and union organizers tend not to.
Between the social engineering involved with giving anti-Trump protests massive coverage on the corporate platforms of both polarized varieties, and adopting some of those voices from the anti-Trump movement and the racial justice movement into the corporate media platforms themselves, in the many broadcasts produced these days about the far right’s organizing efforts, armed marches, drag library hour protests, and election campaigns, a lot is accomplished to shape the narrative we all encounter from people in society, online and off, around how we understand our particular current variety of polarized politics in the US — from the nature of the problems we think we face to the way we think we should talk about them, and of course what should be done about them.
So we are treated to many stories from and about people who are social or political dissidents in many ways, but almost exclusively in forms that are convenient for the narrative supported by the Democratic Party, in its current form, which emphasizes certain specific, limited forms of antiracism, certain limited forms of support for certain other marginalized people, opposition to the Republican Party’s efforts to ban abortion, and opposition to the Republican Party’s plans to form a fascist dictatorship.
I’ve often been excited to hear such voices of reason increasingly appearing in the corporate press. But over time, as the pattern became clearly established, my excitement began to rapidly diminish, as my fear of the social engineering involved here grew.
When you systematically heavily emphasize one set of concerns but systematically completely ignore other sets of concerns, this is social engineering. And it can all be done while those participating in it on corporate media platforms and on social media may have no idea about the role they are playing in this great game of molding a society.
What seems to have happened is we have among us in large numbers now a group of people who have been cultivated to see the Republican Party, in its current form, to be the biggest threat our country, and perhaps the world, faces. Which may be true, but when this potentially true thing is only relevant because it’s being used as a means to elect the other of the two parties of the rich, this does not facilitate anything like an honest discussion, of anything. The corporate-approved pundits of the left seem also to generally believe that aside from preventing the Republicans and (whoever some social media corporation considers to be) the far right from having platforms or winning elections, the main thing society needs to do is listen to each marginalized group, however defined, and to their concerns, and to talk about what they need to prosper in society — as long as such talk doesn’t become critical of the market economy, supply and demand, or capitalism in general.
Once again, at first I found a lot of this kind of coverage to be really refreshing, until the pattern started to become clear. I liked it that they were finally talking about how prevalent racism and far right politics are within the ranks of the police. But if Black lives or the lives of working class people in general really mattered to these people and the corporations they work for, where were the stories about the ongoing unaffordability of housing for half the country, and the skyrocketing rate of evictions? Where were the stories about how the US is not even coming close to doing anything serious about the climate catastrophe we’re facing? Where were the voices speaking out against US militarism, about how vast our military budget is, and how great the needs of the people of the country are, that could be housed and fed and cared for with the money we’re spending on all of these nuclear missiles and fighter jets? Not to be found on All Things Considered. That’s social engineering.
The consequences of this social engineering seem to be clear. With the suffering of so many people almost totally ignored, with the class war being waged against us on such a massive scale receiving just no mention, as so many people fall deeper and deeper into poverty and desperation, social lines are shifting along with party affiliations, media, and social media habits, as people seek a community or a platform where their biggest concerns might be understood.
The presence of what we might call certain types of radicals but not others on corporate liberal platforms has become just as much a phenomenon on “the other side of the aisle,” with the right-associated media doing much the same thing, helping midwife the new political realignment in society — all while people like me and many of my friends brighten up now and then to see certain faces appearing on Fox who have been ignored in the liberal end of the corporate media for years, such as advocates for imprisoned journalist, Julian Assange.
The types of radicals adopted by, working for, or regularly featured in the liberal wing of the corporate press vary in terms of their interests and appearance. One of the many things they tend to share in common, though, is they are not free speech fundamentalists. They tend to be firmly in the camp that believes in tactics like protesting against and shutting down events they don’t like, which is now considered to be a basic and accepted part of the antifascist toolkit. They tend to be the sort to support getting people banned from platforms who have, according to someone’s judgment, committed a violation of the norms, even if it wasn’t illegal. This orientation on the part of most of the more progressive pundits these days sets the stage for a toxic atmosphere on social media platforms that are already so susceptible, by design, to conflict and to the atomization of society. And it is social engineering. There is no shortage of prominent intellectuals from the left who are free speech fundamentalists — you just won’t hear them interviewed on CNN or MSNBC, unless the moon is blue.
Looking at the overall combination of social engineering projects being done to us through the various means of media, social media, government policies and funding sources, it seems to me the aim on the part of the social engineers has been to keep the society divided, and keep those who want to form an effective opposition to capitalism and imperialism unable to do so.
One of the profound contradictions with this project is that those very voices against fascism and racism being featured so prominently in the corporate-liberal end of the press are being methodically used by the social engineers to undermine the very causes they support, when they’re being promoted in an overall media atmosphere that systematically suppresses reporting on the class war that the working class of all races and genders is currently so badly losing. (And if you’re looking to Reddit for perspective such as that which I’m laying out here, good luck — I’ve already been banned from posting on the Anarchism and Socialism Subreddits, among others.)
I’m not blaming the pawns in this game at all, in case anyone is looking for someone to participate in that sort of nonsense. I’m one of those pawns, after all! But if there’s any hope in overcoming this paralyzed condition most of what we might call the left seems to find ourselves in today in the US, we’ve got to first understand how it is we’re being manipulated on such a tremendous scale.
This Week with David Rovics podcast episodes related to social engineering