cj#713.5> DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE – part 5

1997-09-24

Richard Moore

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                     DEMOCRACY AND CYBERSPACE

                Copyright 1997 by Richard K. Moore


[part 5]

Propaganda and democracy
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
As Noam Chomsky so competently documents in "Manufacturing Consent",
propaganda has always been an essential mechanism in the machinery of
democracy, the primary means by which the elite insure that their own
interests are not overwhelmed by what Samuel P. Huntington refers to
as the "excesses of democracy" and what James Madison referred to as
"mob rule".

Ownership of media, as a means to influence public opinion and
ultimately the policies of government, has always been used to
advantage by the economic elite in democracies - in the ongoing see-
saw struggle for power.  Popular movements have also made effective
use of the media, from time to time, but in today's increasingly
concentrated media industry, elite control over public opinion is for
all intents and purposes total.  It is so total, in fact, that just
as a fish is not aware of the water through which he swims, one
sometimes forgets how constrained the scope of public debate has
become.

Madison avenue techniques applied to campaigns, including focus on
sound-bites, turns political campaigns into little more than
advertising episodes, much like the release of a new toothpaste or
hairspray. This has long characterized the situation in the U.S., and
with the Blair takeover of the Labor Party, we've seen the same
paradigm ported to the UK.

Even opposition to the status quo is channeled and deflected by media
emphasis, as with the militia movements (and Perot and Buchanan
candidacies) in the U.S. and the National Front movements in UK and
France, which are exploited so as to _define_ anti-globalist
sentiment as being reactionary, ultra-nationalist, luddite, and
racist; similarly environmental sentiments are regularly interpreted
as being anti-labor, anti-prosperity, "elitist", etc.

Demonization of governments and politicians - ie, blaming government
for the problems caused by globalism and excessive corporate
influence - is perhaps the single most potent coup of the mind-
control media in promoting the decline of democratic institutions and
the rise of globalism.

Globalization itself further exemplifies the potency of media
propaganda.  The rhetoric of neoliberalism, with its "reforms" and
"market forces" and "smaller government", is not just a _position_
within the scope of public debate, but has come to be the very
_frame_ of debate.  Politicians and government leaders rarely debate
_whether_ to embrace globalization, but compete instead to espouse
national policies that _best accommodate_ the demands of
globalization.

As media itself is being globalized and concentrated, it is no
surprise that globalization propaganda is one of its primary
products.  Whether the vehicle be feature film, network news,
advertisement, panel discussion, or sit-com, the presumption of the
inevitability of the market-forces system and the bankruptcy of
existing political arrangements always comes through loud and clear -
even when the future's dark side is being portrayed.

The propagandistic success of this barrage is especially amazing in
light of the utter bankruptcy of the neoliberal philosophy itself.
The whole experience of the robber-baron era has simply vanished from
public memory, in true Orwellian fashion, as we are told that market
forces and deregulation are "modern" efficiencies, the brilliant
result of state-of-the-art economic genius.

This historical revision by omission has the consequence that no one
brings up the fact that these policies have been tried before and
were found sorely wanting - that they led to economic instability,
monopolized markets, cyclical depressions, political corruption,
worker exploitation, and social depravity - and that generations of
reform were required to re-introduce competition into markets, to
stabilize the financial system, and to institute more equitable
employer/employee relations.

The regulatory regimes that were in place before the Reagan-Thatcher
era were there for very good reason - they adjudicated, with varying
effectiveness, between society's desire for stability and citizen
welfare, on the one hand, and the corporate desire for maximizing
profits, on the other.

These regimes implemented a generally reasonable accommodation
between the interests of the elite and the people.  But, with the
help of today's media propaganda, everyone now "knows" that
regulations are nothing more than the counter-productive ego-trips of
well or ill-meaning politico bureaucrats who have nothing better to
do than interfere in other people's business.

Again in Orwellian fashion, today's "reforms" are in fact the
_dismantlement_ of reforms - reforms which accomplished the
moderation of decades of market-forces abuse.  The power of the media
to define and interpret events, and to set the context in which
public discussion is framed, is immense.  Old wine can be presented
in new vessels, and black can be presented as white, as long as the
message is repeated often enough and the facts that don't fit are
never given airtime.

The mass media is the front line of corporate globalist control - the
very trenches in the battle to maintain elite domination; this fact,
in addition to market forces, adds extra urgency to the pace of
global media concentration.  The central political importance of
corporate-dominated mass media to the globalization process, and to
elite control generally, must be kept in mind when attempting to
predict the fate of Internet culture when commercial cyberspace
begins to come online.

In this regard, the treatment of cyberspace and Internet in the
mass-media over the past few years lends some portending insights.
There are two quite different images that are typically presented,
one commercially oriented and the other not.

The first image, frequently presented in fiction or in futuristic
documentaries, is about the excitement of cyber adventures, the
thrill of virtual reality, and the promise of myriad online
enterprises.  This commercially oriented image is projected with a
positive spin, and suddenly every product and organization on the
block includes a www.My.Logo.com on its packaging and advertising,
with in many cases only symbolic utility.  Madison avenue is selling
cyberspace - but it's selling the commercial version yet to be
implemented, it's pre-establishing a mass-market demand.

The other image, very much anchored in today's Internet technology,
has to do with sinister hackers, wacko bomb conspirators, and luring
pedophiles.  Those of us who use the net daily find such stories
ludicrous and unrepresentative, but because we dismiss such stories
we may not realize that for much of the general population, that's
all they hear about today's Internet.

If you'll permit me a personal anecdote - but a not atypical one...
at the bank where my girl friend works, here in rural Ireland, the
subject of Internet came up among some of the workers.  None of them
had ever been online, yet their unhesitating sentiment was that
they'd never let their kids near that evil network, where they'd be
immediately assaulted by obscene material and indecent proposals.

The infamous Time article on Cyberporn, for example, was pure
demonization propaganda - blatantly deceptive and sensationalist -
and standard publication procedures were surreptitiously violated in
order to get it printed.  But the effect of the original publication
on the general public was in no way undone by the mild apologies that
were later offered.

The U.S. CDA (censorship) initiative, whose passage was assisted in
no small measure by the well-timed article, was fortunately rejected
by the U.S. Supreme Court.  But the defamation campaign against the
non-economic Internet continues, in ironic contrast to the boosting
images of its commercial future cousin (where no doubt the commercial
pornographic offerings will in fact be equally graphic).

The relationship between cyberspace and democracy is a complex one
indeed.  Internet culture, as the seeming prototype for future
cyberspace experience, has enabled a renaissance of open public
discussion - a peek at a more open democratic process.  But this
phenomenon has been experienced by a relatively tiny minority of the
world's population, and may in fact not survive the commercial
onslaught.

On the contrary, as universal transport for mass-media products,
cyberspace may in fact become the delivery vehicle for even more
sophisticated manipulation of public opinion.  Rather than the
realization of the democratic dream, cyberspace may turn out instead
to be the ultimate Big-Brother nightmare.

In a world where most significant physical and financial events will
involve online transactions, and in a world where backdoors are built
into encryption algorithms and communications switches, everyone's
every move is an open book to those who have the keys to the net
nervous system - which would include government agents (on the basis
of legality) as well as the operators of the system (on the basis of
opportunity and laissez-faire non-oversight).

>>From the accounting records alone, there would be a complete trail of
almost everything anyone does, and the privacy of this information
(from government, police, credit bureaus, advertisers, direct
mailers, political strategists, etc.) is far from guaranteed.

Systematic massive surveillance by government agencies would be
extremely easy, with the ability to track (undetected) purchases and
preferences, financial transactions, physical location, persons and
groups communicated with, and the content of communications.   There
is even the possibility of surreptitious gathering of audio and video
signals from home sets which are thought to be "off" (one up on
"1984"), and the remote overriding of home security systems,
automobile functions (windows, engine), etc.

In particular, no sizable group (such as a political organization or
a public-interest group) could exist without having its every
deliberation and activity being monitorable by government agencies,
depending on how interested the authorities are in its activities.

Mandatory chip-based ID cards or even implants may seem fanciful to
many, but the number of government and commercial initiatives in
those directions worldwide is cause for serious alarm.  Such devices
would turn each citizen into an involuntary leaf node of the
cyberspace network, his chip being remotely monitorable from who-
knows-how many scanning stations, visible or otherwise.

 |       Building on the present national photo-id card, the Korean
 |   ID Card Project involves a chip-based ID card for every adult
 |   member of the population.  It is to include scanned
 |   fingerprints, and is intended to support the functions of a
 |   multi-purpose identifier, proof of residence, a driver's
 |   licence, and the national pension card.
 |                           - Roger Clarke,
 |                             "Chip-Based ID:  Promise and Peril"

In summary, cyberspace promises not not only to be the ultimate
commercial delivery channel for the mass media industry, but its very
nature provides the opportunity for the mind-control aspects of the
mass media to be carried out with incredible precision, and with full
feedback-knowledge of who is actually receiving which information,
and even what they are saying to their friends about it.

Cyberspace could turn out to be the ideal instrument of power for the
elite under globalism - giving precise scientific control over what
gets distributed to whom on a global basis, and full monitoring of
everything everyone does (and the accounting records are always there
to go back and follow past trails when desired).

Some readers may find the above scenario far-fetched; they may react
with "It can't happen here".  I would ask them "What is there to stop
it?".  The corporate domination of societal information flows is an
inherent part of the seemingly unstoppable globalization process.  We
turn now from this "end view" of the scenario to an examination of
how events are likely to unfold...


[to be continued]
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Posted by Richard K. Moore - •••@••.••• - PO Box 26   Wexford, Ireland
         http://www.iol.ie/~rkmoore/cyberjournal            (USA Citizen)
  * Non-commercial republication encouraged - Please include this sig *
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