Faking It At the End of History, II
I left off the last post on “the culture of lying” and the practice of faking it with the suggestion that we need to understand how and why the culture of lying and Mr. Herzog’s ubiquitous “B.S. Factor” originated. This seems necessary following the premiss that we don’t know where we are going unless we know where we have been. If there is a resolution to the crisis of our time (which is fundamentally a crisis of consciousness and concomitantly also a crisis of values and truth) then we have to know how this situation came about. For we are now well into Nietzsche’s prophesied “two centuries of nihilism”.
Mr. Herzog wants to trace the roots of what he calls our “Great Semantic Crash” to the invention of the atomic bomb. Presumably, this is on the basis of Lord Acton’s premiss that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While there is some truth to Mr. Herzog’s association of the splitting of the atom with the disintegration of the individual and society, the crisis has deeper historical roots, which are equally deeper psychic roots. In some ways, there isn’t really much difference between what we call “psyche” and what we call “history”, since history is better understood as our autobiography. This is, in part, what St. Augustine intends by his statement that “time is of the soul” and what historian Jean Gebser means by “the ever-present origin”. Self-overcoming and transcending history are one and the same.
Unfortunately, this was not understood by the (then) neo-conservative Mr. Fukuyama when he penned his early essay, and later book, The End of History and the Last Man. Jean Gebser would have recognised this also as the product of “deficient rationality”.
If historical signposts are wanted for how we have descended into the dark side — the shadow of the European Enlightenment — my money for the most part is on the discovery of systematically organised propaganda during the First World War, along with other nefarious weapons of mass destruction. We are still struggling with the consequences of this event, and the practice of what is now called “perception management” is one of those consequences. Hitler blamed Germany’s defeat not on the superior numbers, weaponry, and compelling force of arms of the allies, but on their more effective use of propaganda — a lesson he learned well. And it wasn’t long after the World War that allied propagandists turned their attention from disorganising the external enemy to organising the “internal enemy” — public opinion — with the argument that just as propaganda had been effective in winning the war, it would be equally necessary for the task of organising the peace. This was the argument that the first grand theorist of “democratic propaganda” (and nephew of Sigmund Freud), Mr. Edward Bernays, proposed in his very important 1928 book simply entitled Propaganda.
Still, the systematic organisation of propaganda during the World War was preceded by, and relied upon, the rise of the modern corporation in the late 19th century and the growth of corporate advertising and “public relations”. The late Australian sociologist, Alex Carey, made the connection explicitly when he observed,
“The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” (Taking the Risk Out of Democracy)
Another consequence of the First World War was that the industrialisation of mass slaughter required a corresponding economic means of organising industrial scale war, and so the industrial corporation became more central to the political process and an important strategic instrument for the organisation of national power and for prosecution of war. The beginnings of the military-industrial complex, and the corporate-state nexus (or “private-public partnership” as it is euphemistically called today), also lie in the First World War.
We could take this back an additional step, for there is a most interesting pattern and progression to the history of propaganda. The social and political propaganda of today is preceded by the war propaganda of the Great War, which is preceded by the commercial propaganda of the corporation, and these are all preceded by the religious propaganda of the Church. There are four facets to what we call “propaganda”, and this reflects the fact that Man is a fourfold being. For propaganda to be truly effective and encompassing, it must surround the human being and society completely and without being obvious. And since Man (and society) is a multiform and multidimensional being of mind, body, soul, and spirit, a truly encompassing propaganda must shape man and society on these four existential fronts — the past and the future, and the inner and the outer.