Control of Language, Control of Thought

Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. – Hermann Göering

Gilbert, G.M. Nuremberg Diary. York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1947

Words like freedom, security, and history evoke strong emotional responses that many of us accept without question. Such emotions can lead to poor decisions, especially with regards to public policy decisions, which can be disastrous. Bertrand Russell illustrates one such contradiction:

The armed forces of one’s own nation existso each nation assertsto prevent aggression by other nations. But the armed forces of other nations existor so many people believeto promote aggression. If you say anything against the armed forces of your own country, you are a traitor, wishing to see your fatherland ground under the heel of a brutal conqueror. If, on the other hand, you defend a potential enemy State for thinking armed forces necessary to its safety, you malign your own country, whose unalterable devotion to peace only perverse malice could lead you to question…

And so it comes about that, whenever an organisation has a combatant purpose, its members are reluctant to criticise their officials and tend to acquiesce in usurpations and arbitrary exercise of power which, but for the war mentality, they would bitterly resent. It is the war mentality that gives officials and governments their opportunity. It is therefore only natural that officials and governments are prone to foster war mentality. (Russell 1952, 51)

Russell, Bertrand. The Impact of Science on Society. London and New York: Routledge, 1952

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees, among other rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press yet a closer look at history of freedom of speech United States reveals regular violations. Serious violations of the First Amendment of the Constitution were already occurring as early as the Civil War. It was during this conflict that the Espionage and Sedition Acts were adopted. As Ted Galen Carpenter notes:

More than 2,000 people were prosecuted and 1,055 convicted under those laws – the overwhelming majority for merely criticizing the government. It is testimony to the real motive for the legislation that not a single enemy spy was ever convicted of violating the Espionage Act.

Carpenter, Ted Galen. The Captive Press: Foreign Policy Crises and the First Amendment. Washington, D.C.: The Cato Institute, 1995, p. 26

World War I brought more controls upon the free flow of words with the establishment of the Committee on Public Information, the Espionage Act, the Trading with the Enemy Act, and the Creel Commission. The Creel Commission’s sole purpose was to influence American public opinion to support American intervention in World War I. World War II further tightened the noose around the throats of dissident voices with the advent of Roosevelt’s Office of Censorship and the First War Powers Act (which authorized the complete censorship of any communication between the U.S. and any foreign country). As we can see, war is the common excuse used by governments to stifle dissenting speech.

Beyond government censorship, the otherwise decentralized flow of information and thoughts is often manipulated by media monopolies. Media, in the form of television, radio, and the Internet factors enormously into how we perceive our world. In 1983, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ben H. Bagdikian wrote a book called The Media Monopoly alerting people to the fact that just fifty corporations controlled nearly all of the news media in the United States. By 2008, just twenty-five years later, the number had come down to six:

  1. Time Warner, Inc. (AOL, New Line Cinema, Time, Warner Bros, CNN, HBO, Turner Broadcasting, The CW Network, People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, DC Comics, The WB Network, Warner Brothers, The Cartoon Network)
  2. Walt Disney (ABC, Touchstone, The Disney Channel, Pixar, Miramax, ESPN)
  3. Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Showtime, Simon & Schuster, Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster, DreamWorks, Spike TV, BET, Comedy Central, Infinity Outdoor)
  4. Vivendi Universal – NBC Universal (NBC, Interscope Records, Geffen Records, Def Jam Records, Motown, The Oxygen Network, The Weather Channel, The SyFy Network, Vivendi Publishing)
  5. News Corp (Fox, Sky TV, 20th Century Fox, MySpace, TV Guide, HarperCollins Publisher, My Network TV, The New York Post, Dow Jones & Company, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s)
  6. Bertelsmann AG (BMG music publishing, Random House, Doubleday. By the way, Bertelsmann was the single largest producer of Nazi propaganda during WW II)

When you compare the timeline of these consolidations with the decline of the perceived reliability of the news, the results are revealing. In 1985, 55% Americans considered news stories accurate. By 2009, that number had fallen to 29%. About 60% of those who participated in the survey believe news organizations to be politically biased and only 20% believe them to be free of the influence of powerful people and organizations. The percentage of Americans who said that news organizations do not get their facts straight has gone up from 34% to 63%. You can check out for more.

The decline of trustworthiness, and increase in partisan biases, in the American press today have only increased. Today it’s called “fake news”. In 2018 the vast majority of Americans (72%) saying that “traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading” in an Axios poll.

The Internet started as a decentralized information resource, however giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are performing mergers and acquisitions like crazy, just like traditional media did. In other words, you read what their algorithms want you to read, i.e., what they have deemed suitable for your reading.

There grew up in Athens a body of knowledge about how to get people on your side voluntarily. This body of knowledge speedily became, and remained for more than 2,000 years, the core of Western education. It was called ‘rhetoric.’ (Rhetor was the usual term in Greek for ‘politician.’) It taught you how to get people’s attention and how to argue your case once you had it.

Lanham, Richard A. The Economics of Attention. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2006

On one side, most of our explicit knowledge is becoming more and more centralized and homogenized via corporate media consolidations while on the other side we’re flanked by the Black Chambers trying to restrict the scope of our inquiries and communication in the name of “national security”. All the while, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, those great analytic tools of reason that help us sort through the symbolic muck, have largely been eliminated from the public education system. Dumbed-down, censored, and fed a diet of fake news, the American citizen is routinely manipulated into voting for incremental tyranny.

Most of the history of humankind is the history of masters and slaves. The freedom of speech envisioned by the Anti-Federalists and enshrined freedom of speech in the American Bill of Rights. They deftly used words to bind powerful oligarchs that would seek to return to the old way with the new rhetoric of liberty.

There grew up in Athens a body of knowledge about how to get people on your side voluntarily. This body of knowledge speedily became, and remained for more than 2,000 years, the core of Western education. It was called ‘rhetoric.’ (Rhetor was the usual term in Greek for ‘politician.’) It taught you how to get people’s attention and how to argue your case once you had it.

Lanham, Richard A. The Economics of Attention. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2006

The root of the English very word ‘war’ is werra (of Frankish-German origin) and means confusion, while peaceful, mutual agreement is often described as ‘coming to terms.’ Language can create war; it can maintain peace. The use of precise, discrete language, free of shifts in meaning not only keeps confusion away but also helps two or more parties to ‘come to terms.’ This is what the law attempts (until of course the accompanying “legalese” becomes burdensome, and obfuscates more than it clarifies).

A government that doesn’t abuse its citizens earns a precious political commodity—trust. But what happens if we are taught to not even trust ourselves?

To exercise power costs effort and demands courage. That is why so many fail to assert rights to which they are perfectly entitled — because a right is a kind of power but they are too lazy or too cowardly to exercise it. The virtues which cloak these faults are called patience and forbearance.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Human, All Too Human. Translated by R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 371