Category Archives: Education

Propaganda, Fake News, and Media Lies

The Diabolical Business of Global Public Relations Firms

The expansion of  public relations and propaganda (PRP) firms inside news systems in the world today has resulted in a deliberate form of news management. Maintenance of continuous news shows requires a constant and ever-entertaining supply of stimulating events and breaking news bites. Corporate media are increasingly dependent on various government agencies and PRP firms as sources of news.

The PRP industry has experienced phenomenal growth since 2001. In 2015, three publicly traded mega PR firms—Omnicom, WPP, and Interpublic Group—together employed 214,000 people across 170 countries, collecting $35 billion in combined revenue. Not only do these firms control massive wealth, they also possess a network of connections in powerful international institutions with direct links to national governments, multi-national corporations, global policy-making bodies, and the corporate media.

In The Practice of Public Relations, Fraser P. Seitel defined public relations as “helping an organization and its public adapt mutually to each other.” Propaganda can be defined as the dissemination of ideas and information for the purpose of inducing or intensifying specific attitudes and actions. Both PR and propaganda seek to change behaviors and ideas among the masses in support of the agendas of public and private institutions. (For an early history of state propaganda, see Jacuie L’Etang, “State Propaganda and Bureaucratic Intelligence: The Creation of the Public Relations in 20th Century Britain,” Public Relations Review 24, no. 4 (1998): 413-41.)  As Douglas Kellner and other researchers have documented, since 9/11 public relations firms have contributed to increased levels of media propaganda.

Consider the Rendon Group, one of the key PR firms supporting US propaganda efforts during recent wars. In the 1980s, it produced public relations propaganda for the ousting of Panama’s president, Manuel Noriega. The Rendon Group also shaped international support for the first Gulf War, and in the 1990s created the Iraqi National Congress. The Rendon Group provided the images that mobilized public support for a permanent war on terror, including the fake news stories of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad, the heroic rescue of US Army private Jessica Lynch, and dramatic tales of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. As James Bamford reported in a 2005 article in Rolling Stone, Pentagon documents show thirty-five contracts with Rendon from 2000-2004, worth a total of  between $50-100 million dollars.

PRP firms have emerged as orchestrators of global informion and news. The world today faces a military-industrial-media empire, bolstered by PRP firms, that is so powerful and complex that truth is mostly absent or reported only in disconnected segments with little historical context. In late 1999, Ben Bagdikian, the author of Media Monopoly and former Washington Post editor, told me that he estimated that two-thirds of all news stories originated with PR firms; in 2003, an article from the Guardianconservatively estimated that 50-80% of news and business stories originated from public relations firms. The result is managed news by governments, corporations, and PRP firms—often interlocked—including both the release of specific stories intended to build public support as well as the deliberate non-coverage of news stories that may undermine capitalist elites’ goals and interests.

PRP firms provide a variety of services to major corporations and institutions around the world. Brand enhancement and sales are undoubtedly among their key services. However, companies offer much more, including research and crisis management for corporations and governments, public information campaigns, web design and promotions, and corporate media placement. WPP’s Hill & Knowton proudly brags on its website that they service 50% of the Fortune Global 500 companies from their offices in forty countries. Along with Omnicom’s Fleishman and Hillard, Hill & Knowlton have been the key PRP firms working with Monsanto to protect its brand Roundup, which contains the herbicide glyphosate. Roundup is the most widely-used herbicide in the world, being sold in over 130 countries, but the World Health Organization recently declared glyphosate a human carcinogen. As countries begin to restrict its use, PRP firms gear up to protect Monsanto’s profits.

WPP’s Hill & Knowton is also well known for its early involvement with the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), originally established in 1954 to counter the 1952 Reader’s Digest report linking cancer to tobacco smoking. In 1993, the Wall Street Journal described CTR as the “longest-running misinformation campaigns in U.S. business history” (A.M. Freedman and L.P. Cohen, “Smoke and Mirrors: How Cigarette Makers Keep Health Questions ‘Open’ Year after Year,” Wall Street Journal, February 11, 1993.)

It was WPP’s Burson-Marsteller who created the frontgroup Global Climate Coalition (GCC). From 1989-2001, the GCC helped the oil and auto industries downplay the dangers of global warming. Initial members of the coalition included Amoco, American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, Chrysler, Exxon, Ford, GM, Shell, and Texaco. In addition

from 2007-2015 the US federal government spent over $4 billion dollars for PRP services. The US employs 3,092 public relations officers in 139 agencies. An additional $2.2 billion goes to outside firms to perform PRP, polling, research, and market consulting. The world’s top PRP firms reaped millions of US dollars in 2014 including Laughlin, Marinaccio & Owens ($87.98M), WPP-Young & Rubicam Inc. ($57.5M), WPP-Ogilvy Public Relations  ($47.93M), Omnicon-FleishmanHillard ($42.4M), and Gallup ($42.0M). WPP’s Burson-Marsteller won a $4.6 million contract with the US Department of Homeland Security in 2005 to develop public awareness and education for a major emergency, disaster, or terrorist attack in Washington DC.

Before the first Gulf War, a fake news propaganda spectacle took place courtesy of WPP’s Hill & Knowlton. They were hired by Citizens for a Free Kuwait and eventually received nearly $10.8 million to conduct one of the most effective public relations campaigns in history. Hill & Knowlton helped create a national outrage against Iraq by publicizing the horrifying events supposedly caused by Iraqi soldiers during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. In testimony to the House of Representative’s Human Rights Caucus, a young woman named Nayirah said that she saw “Iraqi soldiers come into the [Kuwaiti] hospital with guns, and go into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.” What the public was not told was that Nayirah was the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to the US, and that her performance was coordinated by the White House and choreographed by the US public relations firm Hill & Knowlton on behalf of the Kuwaiti government.

As Johan Carlisle reported, former CIA official Robert T. Crowley, who served as a liaison between the agency and PR firms, acknowledged that “Hill & Knowlton’s overseas offices…were perfect ‘cover’ for the ever-expanding CIA. Unlike other cover jobs, being a public relations specialist did not require technical training for CIA officers.” Furthermore, Crowley admitted, the CIA used its Hill & Knowlton connections to “put out press releases and make media contacts to further its positions… Hill & Knowlton employees at the small Washington office and elsewhere distributed this material through CIA assets working in the United States news media.”

A global war on terrorism requires continuous ideological justification, aimed at the mass of people who instinctively favor peace. PRP firms provide an on-going rationalization for war by servicing government propaganda activities, military contractors, pro-war Hollywood films, and the marketing of war toys, cartoons and related products. The techniques for marketing brands are essentially the same as for marketing war. PRP firms produce creative, visually-stimulating, emotional ads that spotlight families with loving children in danger of others, protected by official authorities, including homeland security, police or military personnel: “To get to you…they’d have to get past us,” touted the narrator of “America’s Navy—the Shield,” produced by the advertising firm Campbell Ewald, which first aired on CBS during the 2014 Army-Navy football game. In May 2015, the Navy Times reported that the Navy had awarded its Recruiting Command contract—“initially valued at $84.4 million for a one-year fixed-price”—to New York-based Young & Rubicam.

The big three global PRP firms are key contributors to the global hegemony of capitalism. PRP firms and their corporate media partners aid corporations, governments, and non-governmental organizations in an unrelenting ideological assault on, and pacification of the minds of the masses around the world. The overall message is the continued acquisition of material products and consumption, expanded desire for a life of luxury, fear of others—including terrorists, criminals, and threatening peoples—the support of police states, acceptance of a permanent war on terrorism, and the equation of private corporations with democratic governance. This is what Noam Chomsky called engineering opinion and parading enemies (Media Control, Seven Stories Press, 2002).

The PRP industry is highly concentrated and fully global. With $35 billion in annual revenue, the big three PRP firms are key components of the transnational capitalist class. The PRP industry’s primary goal is the promotion of capital growth through hegomonic psychological control of human desires, emotions, beliefs, and values. PRP firms do this by manipulating the thoughts and feelings of human beings worldwide. In many ways PRP firms are the ideological engine of capitalism, due to both their massive influence in world corporate media and their increasing embedded role in the propaganda of national governments, including psychological operations in support of a permanent war on terror.

Perhaps democracy movements can offer us some hope for the future. Consciousness of the dark side of PRP and its unrestricted power to warp minds is an important first step. Among some recent positive steps taken by activists to limit the power of PRP, Quebec has become one of the first regions to ban commercial advertising targeting children under the age of 13. For that matter, three generations of people in Cuba have grown up without product advertising in their lives. A group of graduate students from the Univeristy of Havana simply laughed when I asked them five years ago if they ever wanted a “Happy Meal.” It seemed absurd to them to even consider the idea. We too need to understand the absurdity of the PRP industry, and to move to eliminate its influence from our lives, our cultures, and our world.

By Peter Phillips/ProjectCensored

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Steve Bannon Is Urging Others to Read ‘The Camp of the Saints’ and It’s More Dangerous Than You May Think

During Barack Obama’s tenure as president, he and Michelle Obama recommended a number of books to reveal truth about racism. They cited iconic works like W. E. B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folks” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” as well as contemporary gems like Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which chronicles generations of Black citizens fleeing racial terrorism in the southern United States. The Obamas recognize the immense influence books have on a person’s thoughts and behavior. The prestige of the Oval Office amplified their ability to showcase literature that best represents their values and political leanings.

President Donald J. Trump’s administration and his Republican allies have a different syllabus. Chief White House strategist and Breitbart News founding board member Steve Bannon and Republican Congressman Steve King have each publicly recommended the 1973 dystopian French novel “The Camp of the Saints.” A Huffington Post review brands Jean Raspail’s fictional narrative “nothing less than a call to arms for the white Christian West, to revive the spirit of the Crusades and steel itself for bloody conflict against the poor Black and brown world.” Like Pierre Boulle’s 1963 “Planet of the Apes,” “The Camp of the Saints” was originally published in French. Raspail flawlessly imports racial stereotypes about shiftless brutal and “sexually” dangerous Black males. The book’s anti-Black, anti-immigrant sentiment mimics the 2016 campaign rhetoric that netted Trump the presidency.

Bannon served as chief executive director of Trumps campaign and repeatedly invokes Raspail’s fiction when articulating what the Los Angeles Times calls, “a dark view of refugee and immigration flows from majority-Muslim [non-white] countries.” Trump’s chief strategist is a primary architect of the immigration ban on people from predominantly Muslim nations. In January of 2016, Bannon justified the need for the draconian restrictions, declaring that non-white Muslims are not “migrating” to the United States. From Bannon’s perspective, “It’s really an invasion. I call it the ‘Camp of the Saints.’”

Congressman King mirrors Bannon’s talking points, promoting what Atlanta Black Star Political Editor Kamau Franklin classifies as “the centralization of whiteness to politics.” Earlier this month, Talk radio host Jan Mickelson asked Congressman King, the Iowa Republican about the threat posed to white civilization in the form of “whatever washes up on our shore and makes a claim on our territory.” Representative King replied by spelling Raspail’s whole name while recommending the Frenchman’s work.

University of Texas Austin English professor Martin Kevorkian rejects trivializing the suggested reading of powerful white men and white men who feel powerless and cautions against minimizing Raspail’s work as a distasteful oddity.

“That idea of a non-white threat to whites is extremely common” in United States literature, Kevorkian said. He reminds us that racist themes in “The Camp of the Saints” are identical to one of the most significant novels in United States history, Thomas Dixon’s 1905 “The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan.” The book, which became the basis for D. W. Griffith’s 1915 landmark film “The Birth of a Nation” which was screened at the White House, resurrected the Ku Klux Klan as the protectors of white society and white female virtue against Black “incompetence” and lustful desire of white women.

Literature like “The Clansmen” and “The Camp of the Saints” simultaneously inspires white angst and white violence against anyone not white. The story lines invariably depict a time when whites fail to maintain power over Black people. These “scary stories” motivate racists to remain committed to the preservation of collective white power, which often necessitates force. Dark people are relentlessly depicted as subhuman monstrosities capable of one thing: soiling white rule.

“The Turner Diaries,” published in 1978 by William Luther Pierce and described by the New York Times as “a classic among white supremacists,” is indistinguishable from the recommended reading of King and Bannon. Pierce imagines a world where white domination is in decline, evidenced by gun prohibition and the nagging pestilence of Black males attacking white women.  Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber read “The Turner Diaries” before bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla., and killing 168 people in 1995. The novel includes a scene where a government building is bombed. The New York Times reports that one of the items recovered from his vehicle at the time of his arrest was “a clipping from the novel, which prosecutors have described as a blueprint for the bombing of the federal building.”

Tariq Nasheed, creator of the Hidden Colors documentary series, encourages Black people to review King and Bannon’s reading material.

“It’s imperative that Black people read and study these books that white supremacists keep putting out,” Nasheed said. Classifying “The Camp of the Saints” and “The Turner Diaries” as assaults on Black people, he stressed that racists “weaponize everything, including so-called ‘fictional’ novels.’” As opposed to dismissing these texts as racially insensitive but harmless, we should view these works as public transcripts of white supremacy culture and strategy.

Raspail writes, “A disturbing trend in our present moment is seeing blatantly [white] supremacist material treated in a positive light,” Kevorkian notes. When anti-Black literature is acclaimed from the loftiest corridors of white power, Black life is threatened and aggressively devalued.

By Gus T. Renegade/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

New Initiative Sponsors 100 HBCU Students to Attend SXSW Tech Conference

In a push to get more Black Americans involved in the world of tech, a slew of organizations have teamed up with South by Southwest Conventions and Festivals to help more than 100 African-American students attend the bustling interactive, film and music festival in Austin, Texas, this year.

Thanks to the new HBCU@SXSW initiative, 100 students from historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, were granted the opportunity to take part in one of the largest tech industry events in the country. Last year, the interactive festival attracted over 72,000 of the nation’s brightest thought leaders, investors, future partners and influencers.

While there are millions of African-Americans across the nation who are both interested in and qualified to work in the world of STEM, Blacks and other nonwhite groups remain largely underrepresented in the tech industry. Industry giants like Google, Microsoft and Facebook have taken heat in recent years over their failure to hire a workforce that’s as diverse as its consumer base. Just last year, Google’s very first diversity report showed that 30 percent of its staff was female and a mere 2 percent of its employees were Black.

HBCU@SXSW organizer Rodney Sampson saw the need for increased diversity in the tech world and decided to do something about it by sponsoring the next generation of engineers to mix and mingle with top-tier tech leaders at SXSW 2017. The inventive program was able to fund just 50 students in its first year, but more than 440 went through the onerous application process to be considered for the program this year, USA Today reported.

“We picked the students who wanted to solve the biggest problems using technology and had some pretty good ideas about it,” said Sampson, an Atlanta-based tech entrepreneur. “We’ve really kind of emancipated SXSW to a degree.”

Many of the program’s students were hand-picked from top-notch HBCUs like Morehouse College in Atlanta and D.C.’s Howard University, according to USA Today. Budding engineers also were selected from well-known institutions including New York’s Medgar Evers College, Tuskegee University and Kennesaw State University.

Leading tech companies like Google, Mail Chimp, Snapchat and Apple, among others, soon took notice of HBCU@SXSW and began funding the initiative. Currently, over 30 companies support the pro-diversity program, each putting up the estimated $3,000 it takes to send just one student to the annual festival. HBCU@SXSW hopes to expand its program in the coming years to send as many as 500 budding Black engineers to the popular event.

“Diversity grows out of the soil of inclusion,” said Cheryl Wade, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Booz Allen Hamilton, which also supports the program. “It starts with making the hires and finding the talent, but there is work to be done on the side of the companies and organizations to be sure they’re building a culture where it creates an environment that people can stick, stay and thrive.”

Rodney Sampson has not responded to requests for comment.

By Tanasia Kenney/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Where Free Speech Ends, Ignorance Begins

At the risk of sounding like a geezer complaining about “these kids today,” back in my college days, when it came to points of view we were unhesitatingly exposed to literature, teachers and on-campus speakers covering the ideological waterfront.

In one instance, the student body was addressed by civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory, radical Irish activist Bernadette Devlin and the conservative writer and critic Russell Kirk — all in the course of a week or so.

Such variety was a common occurrence, and freewheeling, open discussion was encouraged. We didn’t always like or agree with a lot of what we heard or read — from time to time there were vehement protests — but all of it was invaluable. None of us were harmed in the making of our education.

So I was appalled other day when I read about the attempt by Republican Arkansas legislator Kim Hendren to ban from that state’s public schools all books written by the great radical historian Howard Zinn, including his seminal “A People’s History of the United States,” a truthful, lacerating look at the heroes and villains of America — especially the oligarchs and kleptocrats who once again have their heels on the necks of the poor and middle class.

But I also was deeply troubled by the incident at Vermont’s Middlebury College on March 2, when controversial social scientist Charles Murray was invited by a conservative student group and attempted to speak on campus. Here’s what happened, according to the Associated Press:

“Hundreds of students chanted as Murray began to speak Thursday, forcing the college to move the lecture to an undisclosed location. Murray’s talk was live-streamed to the original venue, but protesters drowned it out. The topic, he said, was the divergence of the country’s culture into a new upper class separated from mainstream America.

“Afterward, a group of protesters surrounded Murray, professor Allison Stanger and college administrator Bill Burger as they were leaving, he said. The protesters became violent, with one pulling Stanger’s hair, twisting her neck, the college said.

“After Murray and the two Middlebury staff members got into a car to leave, protesters banged on the windows, climbed onto the hood and rocked the vehicle, the college and Murray said.”

Professor Stanger, by the way, went to the ER and was subsequently diagnosed with concussion. She’s a respected political scientist at Middlebury and a fellow at the progressive New America, and was there the other night because the conservative student group had asked her to provide a counterpoint to Murray’s speech, to interview him from the stage after his prepared remarks. She had prepared some tough, challenging questions.

Many of Charles Murray’s opinions are indeed odious and his research highly questionable, He was co-author of “The Bell Curve,” a notorious book that seemed to link race and IQ. He describes himself as a libertarian, but the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls him a white nationalist and reports:

“According to Murray, the relative differences between the white and black populations of the United States, as well as those between men and women, have nothing to do with discrimination or historical and structural disadvantages, but rather stem from genetic differences between the groups… Murray’s attempts to link social inequality to genes are based on the work of explicitly racist scientists.”

At the beginning of Murray’s attempt to speak at Middlebury, students turned their backs to him and chanted in protest. I probably would have done the same. But to not let him speak and to allow the protests to lead to violence is inexcusable. I realize that this raises all sorts of questions about freedom of speech and academic liberty, the nature of dissent and when and if political violence is ever justified, but looking at what happened coolly — and admittedly, from a distance — it seems clear that this went far beyond the boundaries of civil discourse that especially today must be defended against the barbarians who already have run roughshod, pushing through the gates and seizing the reins of power and governance.

Professor Stanger said it best herself. She wrote:

“To people who wish to spin this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, you are mistaken. Please instead consider this as a metaphor for what is wrong with our country, and on that, Charles Murray and I would agree. This was the saddest day of my life. We have got to do better by those who feel and are marginalized. Our 230-year constitutional democracy depends on it, especially when our current President is blind to the evils he has unleashed. We must all realize the precious inheritance we have as fellow Americans and defend the Constitution against all its enemies, both foreign and domestic. That is why I do not regret my involvement in the event with Dr. Murray.”

And then she quoted James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I can be as guilty as the next person about tuning out and trying to ignore the voice of someone with whom I vehemently disagree. I know, too, that this indeed is a time to speak out against the ignorance and despotism sweeping our nation. Further, I realize that the religious, racial and homophobic hate crimes that have been on the upswing since Donald Trump’s candidacy and election — and increased in 2016 for the second year in a row according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — far exceed in numbers and intensity any violence or brutishness that has occurred on college campuses. No question that they’re more frightening and dangerous.

But, in the words of Andrew Sullivan, “Universities are the sanctuary cities of reason. If reason must be subordinate to ideology even there, our experiment in self-government is over.”

Two sides of the same coin: whether the Trump White House or those who would physically attack a college professor. Their unthinking, unyielding enslavement to a single viewpoint is fatal.

Ignorance begets ignorance and hate begets hate. And like a virus, each can infect without regard to race, gender, creed or political perspective. At a time when those in charge are fueling a pandemic of intolerance we must make sure not to succumb ourselves.

By Michael Winship / Moyers & Company

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Dance of Death

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminate and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

Civilizations in decline, despite the palpable signs of decay around them, remain fixated on restoring their “greatness.” Their illusions condemn them. They cannot see that the forces that gave rise to modern civilization, namely technology, industrial violence and fossil fuels, are the same forces that are extinguishing it. Their leaders are trained only to serve the system, slavishly worshipping the old gods long after these gods begin to demand millions of sacrificial victims.

“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create even more dangerous messes,” Ronald Wright writes in “A Short History of Progress.” “Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.”

The Trump appointees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rick Perry, Alex Acosta and others—do not advocate innovation or reform. They are Pavlovian dogs that salivate before piles of money. They are hard-wired to steal from the poor and loot federal budgets. Their single-minded obsession with personal enrichment drives them to dismantle any institution or abolish any law or regulation that gets in the way of their greed. Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse. And when the last moments of a civilization arrive, the degenerate edifices of power appear to crumble overnight.

Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence. It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II.

“It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros,” Freud wrote. “But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinary high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfillment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence.”

The lust for death, as Freud understood, is not, at first, morbid. It is exciting and seductive. I saw this in the wars I covered. A god-like power and adrenaline-driven fury, even euphoria, sweep over armed units and ethnic or religious groups given the license to destroy anything and anyone around them. Ernst Juenger captured this “monstrous desire for annihilation” in his World War I memoir, “Storm of Steel.”

A population alienated and beset by despair and hopelessness finds empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical landscape. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources with abandon. It is seduced by the fantastic promises of demagogues and the magical solutions characteristic of the Christian right or what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”

Norman Cohn, in “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements,” draws a link between that turbulent period and our own. Millennial movements are a peculiar, collective psychological response to profound societal despair. They recur throughout human history. We are not immune.

“These movements have varied in tone from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and in aim from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earth-bound materialism; there is no counting the possible ways of imagining the Millennium and the route to it,” Cohen wrote. “But similarities can present themselves as well as differences; and the more carefully one compares the outbreaks of militant social chiliasm during the later Middle Ages with modern totalitarian movements the more remarkable the similarities appear. The old symbols and the old slogans have indeed disappeared, to be replaced by new ones; but the structure of the basic phantasies seems to have changed scarcely at all.”

These movements, Cohen wrote, offered “a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained their suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security—even while it drove them, held together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was always vain and often suicidal.

“So it came about that multitudes of people acted out with fierce energy a shared phantasy which though delusional yet brought them such intense emotional relief that they could live only through it and were perfectly willing to die for it. It is a phenomenon which was to recur many times between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, now in one area, now in another, and which, despite the obvious differences in cultural context and in scale, is not irrelevant to the growth of totalitarian movements, with their messianic leaders, their millennial mirages and their demon-scapegoats, in the present century.”

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Ta-Nehisi Coates Calls for Harvard to Pay Reparations; University President Says ‘No’

In an attempt to atone for its role in human bondage, Harvard University on Friday, March 3, hosted a conference addressing the institution’s historic, and oftentimes forgotten, ties to slavery, with some participants even advocating for monetary reparations.

The conference, titled “Universities and Slavery: Bound by History,” was the latest in a series of efforts taken by the Ivy League university to confront its dark history of enslavement, The Harvard Crimson reported. The day-long symposium drew hundreds of guests from all over, featuring historians and representatives from several universities and a keynote address by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic.

University President Drew G. Faust delivered the opening remarks.

“Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the college’s earliest days in the 17th century,” said Faust, who announced plans for the conference in March 2016. “This history and its legacy have shaped our institution in ways we have yet to fully understand. Today’s conference is intended to help us explore parts of the past that have remained all but invisible.”

Coates built upon the president’s remarks in his keynote address, describing slavery and the impacts of racial discrimination that arose from it as “systems of plunder that haunt us to this day.” As an outspoken advocate for reparations, the well-known journalist pushed the idea on conference attendees Friday, asserting that racial progress requires institutions like Harvard to pay its debts to those that it enslaved.

“I think every single one of these universities needs to make reparations,” Coates said, as the audience erupted in applause. “I don’t know how you get around that, I just don’t. I don’t know how you conduct research that shows that your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and just say ‘Well,’ shrug — and maybe, at best, say ‘I’m sorry’ — and you walk away.

“I think you need to use the language of ‘reparation,‘” he continued. “I think it’s very, very important to actually say that word, to acknowledge that something was done in these institutions.”

In the past few years, the Cambridge, Mass., university has taken a number of steps to acknowledge its connection to slavery. In March of last year, the institution bent to mounting pressure to remove the family seal of notorious slave owner Isaac Royall. The controversial seal represented the law school for nearly a century and was adopted in 1937 to honor Royall’s contribution to the university, according to Atlanta Black Star.

Months later, the prestigious university recognized four enslaved persons — Titus, Venus, Jubah and Bilhah — who lived and worked on university grounds by dedicating the official residence of Harvard’s presidents in their honor.

Harvard isn’t the only university that has come clean about the role of slavery in its establishment. Earlier this year, a history professor at Columbia University published a report detailing how the transatlantic slave trade helped finance the school in its humble beginnings, while Georgetown University extended legacy admissions privileges to the descendants of 272 enslaved workers who were sold to keep the institution financially afloat in 1838.

History professor Sven Beckert, who has investigated Harvard’s ties to slavery in the past, said the process of unearthing this bitter history started in 2007 with a self-led seminar on the history of slavery at the university. Over the years, Beckert said his students discovered stories of enslaved Blacks who worked on campus under two Harvard presidents and uncovered endowment investments tied to the slave economy. One student, who presented the findings as part of her senior thesis on Friday, revealed that Harvard had used the Caribbean plantation of a former slave-holding donor as a botanical research outpost until 1961.

“When the students began to uncover a different history, they and others who listened to them were surprised,” Beckert said. “Yet, in retrospect, it seems that the only thing that should surprise us was our surprise and that it took so long for us to allow ourselves to be surprised by that history.”

Unlike Coates, Faust has stopped short of supporting reparations. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson last fall, Faust said offering repayment or preferential treatment like Georgetown University has wouldn’t be appropriate for Harvard, since it didn’t directly own slaves.

“I am not aware of any slaves that were owned by Harvard itself, and slavery was much less of a presence and an economic force in New England than it was in Washington, D.C., and the South,” she said. “Mostly, slave records were kept as economic records, business records, and the records we have of slaves at Harvard are much scarcer and less complete.”

Coates disagreed at Friday’s conference, asserting that atonement must involve some sort of monetary repayment.

The institution’s faculty committee is expected to continue studying Harvard’s ties to slavery and plans to release a set of recommendations to the University in the coming months, according to the newspaper.

By Tanasia Kenney
Posted by The NON-Conformist

HBCUs, advocates looking for help from Trump on funding

The nation’s historically black colleges and universities are pushing for President Donald Trump to set aside more federal contracts and grants for their schools, and take a greater hand in their welfare by moving responsibility for a key program for those colleges to the White House.

President Donald Trump shakes hands as he meets with leaders of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Image: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The presidents of the nation’s 100-plus HBCUs, pressing their case for greater attention from the new Republican-controlled government, met with Trump briefly in the Oval Office and later with Vice President Mike Pence. On Tuesday, they planned to meet with GOP lawmakers.

 “Know that beginning today, this administration is committed to ensuring that historically black colleges and universities get the credit and the attention they deserve,” Pence said after the meeting. “Our administration at the president’s direction is working to find new ways to expand your impact so that more students, especially in the underserved communities of this country, have a chance at a quality education.”
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Posted by Libergirl