The warmongering big biz establishment media is what the right-wing ruling elites repeatedly call left-wing, in their accusation of a supposedly ‘liberal’ bias (What Does Liberal Bias Mean?) and related to perceptions of censorship, silencing, and political correctness (Framing Free Speech; & Right-Wing Political Correctness, Censorship, and Silencing). To be fair, there might be a basic sense in which entertainment media, if not news media, can sometimes express a long-established cultural liberalism. This is to the degree that the majority of the viewing public is socially liberal and so that is what sells, considering there has been a major strain of liberalism in American society going back centuries (Conservatives Watching Liberal Media. That still leaves the question open about what exactly is this ‘liberalism’, to the degree it can be found in the center of the establishment ‘mainstream’ (The Shallows of the Mainstream Mind).
Consider the pervasive and systematic racial bias that has been shown in news reporting on crime and poverty (Katherine Sims, The Role of News Media & Racial Perceptions of Crime; Cale G., The Media and Government’s Biased Response to Muhammad Youssef vs. Dylann Roof; Jenée Desmond-Harris, These 2 sets of pictures are everything you need to know about race, crime, and media bias; Nick Wing, When The Media Treat White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims; Elizabeth Sun, The Dangerous Racialization of Crime in U.S. News Media; John Wihbey, Racial bias and news media reporting: New research trends; The Opportunity Agenda, Media Representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys; Trina T. Creighton et al, Coverage of Black versus White Males in Local Television News Lead Stories; Wikipedia, Racial bias in criminal news in the United States; et cetera; one could include a thousand other articles, studies, and summary reports). Even the local media in this liberal college town has been shown fall into such default racism (Robert E. Gutsche, Jr., A Transplanted Chicago: Race, Place and the Press in Iowa City; The Old WASP Dream Falters). Is that the infamous ‘liberal’ bias one hears so much about?
One might argue that liberalism is the paradigm of modernity and that conservatism is simply a reactionary variation on liberal ideology. That said, the corporate media is just as happy to push reactionary right-wing crime dramas, murder mysteries, and cop shows that promote a hardcore vision of law-and-order; along with noirish films, hyper-patriotic war movies, moralistic superhero flicks, and popular entertainment like The Dark Knight series. Anyway, conventional liberalism has never been left-wing. Liberals have often been the most vicious attack dogs set against the political left in their defense of the conservative status quo, as seen during the Cold War when liberals joined in the McCarthyist witch hunts of commies, fellow travelers, and sexual deviants. Labels of liberal and conservative sometimes are ways of making relative distinctions within the reactionary mind, in an age that has been overshadowed by all things reactionary.
The accusation of liberal media bias is similar to the right-wing claim that the corporatist DNC, in serving the interests of plutocratic big biz, is somehow simultaneously communist, Marxist, Nazi, fascist, and antifa; elitist, anarchistic, ideologically dogmatic, morally relativist, and nihilistic; or whatever rhetoric is convenient at the moment. But the supposed left-wing media and political elite offers little pushback against this ideologically-confused narrative, often repeating some variation of it themselves. In fact, one sometimes hears supposedly liberal journalists discussing the supposedly liberal bias of a supposedly liberal media, another example of the reactionary dynamic at play.
But if liberal ideologues actually controlled the mainstream media, the last place one would expect to hear such accusations is in the mainstream media (Bias About Bias). Generally speaking, people don’t accuse themselves of being ideologically biased when they genuinely believe in an ideology as right and true, as fair and accurate, as moral and worthy. “It’s not as if those on the political right are lacking media to support their worldview and confirm their biases. […] The only reason they think the rest of media is biased is because the political right media that dominates keeps repeating this and, as the old propaganda trick goes, anything repeated enough to a large enough audience will be treated as if it were fact” (Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media). What little pseudo-debate is involved happens within the corporate system itself with all sides of the same elite opinion being widely broadcast and funded by corporate advertising (e.g., Ross Douthat, The Missing Right-of-Center Media, The New York Times). Gets one thinking about the actual ideological bias that is motivating it all.
A false duality is created within a narrow range of elite-enforced opinion. This is the political spectrum as political SNAFU. Pick your side among the two predetermined choices within the same corporate power structure. In the shadow of this obfuscation, the ideal of democracy gets called mobocracy while the reality of a banana republic gets called democracy (Will Democracy’s Myths Doom Liberty?, James Bovard; an analysis that identifies the problem but, sadly, falls into the trap of false rhetoric). And, of course, the American people are to blame for everything that goes wrong. This is what is argued by the anti-majoritarian elite who wish to undermine democracy, and so we the people probably should trust what they tell us to believe. I’m sure they have our best interests in mind. But don’t worry. The psuedo-left often goes along with this caricature, as the gatekeepers mark the boundaries of allowable thought: this far left and no further. That is to say not very far left at all.
One of the leading news sources on this presumed political left is the Washington Post. It has the official slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness,” which implies the newspaper’s purpose is represent and defend democracy, although others suggest it is more of a threat and a promise. The WaPo is owned by Jeff Bezos, one of the wealthiest and most powerful plutocrats in the world and a strange person to be a communist, who got his wealth through crony capitalism and his grandfather’s Pentagon connections while building his business model on highly profitable contracts with not only the Pentagon but also the CIA (Plutocratic Mirage of Self-Made Billionaires). By the way, don’t be confused by two corporate plutocrats, Bezos and Donald Trump, having a battle of egos in fighting over who controls the profit system; that doesn’t make one of them a communist by any stretch of the imagination.
In WaPo articles, unnamed CIA sources are regularly used — sadly, not a new situation (Good Reason The New Pentagon Papers Movie Was About “The Post,” NOT The New York Times). Also, the newspaper hires right-wing hacks whose apparent job it is to punch left and attack left-wingers, including left-wing journalists working in the independent press and alternative media (Why Journalism Sucks In America!). When candidates use left-wing rhetoric, such as Bernie Sanders, they are bashed mercilessly while third party left-wingers are ignored and dismissed in the hope that American voters won’t realize there is more than two parties. Now that is some sneaky liberal bias, in hiding it behind actions that appear to undiscerning minds as if they were right-wing.
The aforementioned Sanders, in calling himself a socialist, plays the role of a sheepdog to weaken any left-wing challenge and once again he has driven votes to the corporatist oligarchy to ensure the plutocracy remains in power. Similarly, Noam Chomsky, after having spent a lifetime proving beyond all doubt that the Democrats are as deceptive and dangerous as the Republicans, repeatedly throws his weight behind each new corporatist Clinton Democrat. Those corrupt Clinton Democrats are led by the Clinton dynasty, old cronies and close family friends with the Trumps, and yet we are told they’ll save us from Trump’s rule. Such behavior by self-proclaimed left-wingers confirms the false belief that soft fascism is actually communism or even genuine progressivism.
One might come to cynical conclusions. The disconnection between words and deeds, as demonstrated by Sanders and Chomsky, could be taken as indicating a consciously planned deception of the American people. But one can, instead, choose a more generous and forgiving interpretation. Maybe such influential figures are as dissociated from reality as the rest of the American public. They took are ignorant and confused in having been taken in by manipulative rhetorical frames. When Sanders speaks of ‘socialism’, does he even know what that word means? One might start to have doubts. What if these possibly unintentional purveyors of propaganda are the first and most prized targets of indoctrination? Some have suggested that this is the case (Hillsdale’s Imprimis: Neocon Propaganda). Maybe they really believe what they say, discordant as it is with what they do. But, of course, that makes them all the more dangerous to our freedom. Here is a brilliant take on it by C. J. Hopkins (Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works):
“The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an “official narrative” that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point. The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between “the truth” as defined by the ruling classes and any other “truth” that contradicts their narrative. […]
“In short, official propaganda is not designed to deceive the public (no more than the speeches in an actor’s script are intended to deceive the actor who speaks them). It is designed to be absorbed and repeated, no matter how implausible or preposterous it might be. Actually, it is often most effective when those who are forced to robotically repeat it know that it is utter nonsense, as the humiliation of having to do so cements their allegiance to the ruling classes (this phenomenon being a standard feature of the classic Stockholm Syndrome model, and authoritarian conditioning generally).”
It’s all controlled opposition as part of a propaganda machine that pushes division and outrage, and it’s highly effective: “The failure of corporate media is as much or more ommission than it is commission. Various media figures attacking each other about their supposed biases is yet more distraction. Arguing over biases is a safe and managed debate, each side playing the role of controlled opposition for the other. But what is it that both sides avoid? What is disallowed by the propaganda model of media? What is not being spoken and represented? What is missing?” (Funhouse Mirrors of Corporate Media). One thing that is clearly missing is the perspective of labor unions and the working class. In the early life of the still living older generations, newspapers typically had a labor section as newspapers still have a business section, but that has since been eliminated. The labor section would have been the one place in the mainstream media where left-wing voices might have been regularly heard.
Managed debate replaced what was once actual thriving public debate in this country. There is no surprise that the American public, left and right, is so confused about what any of these political labels mean since only one side of the old left-right debate is being heard. That is the whole purpose, to spread disinfo and division, to provoke cynicism and reaction. It’s unclear, at this point, if any of these words mean anything at all. Left and right of what? Of the ruling class? Of the center of power on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C.? Well, the political elites of both parties are to the right of the American public on major issues, in particular economic issues but also many social issues (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism; American People Keep Going Further Left; Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism; The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2; Fox News: Americans are the ‘Left-Wing’ Enemy Threatening America; Polarization Between the Majority and Minority; American Leftist Supermajority; We Are All White Liberals Now; We Are All Bleeding Heart Liberals Now; & We Are All Egalitarians, and Always Have Been). With an illiberal, authoritarian ruling elite that defines the terms, controls the narrative, and frames the debate, Orwellian doublespeak has replaced reality itself in the minds of most people.
Yet the left-wing is forever the scapegoat. One might wish the left-wing was the threat it’s claimed to be. But the political left is neutered and hobbled. We haven’t seen an organized left in the United States for more than a half century, not since the FBI’s COINTELPRO successfully targeted and destroyed leftist organizing. It’s not clear what a left-wing could possibly mean under these oppressive conditions of mass brainwashing and indoctrination. Does a ‘left’ exist at all these days? The propagandists have won that battle and we may be forced to abandon the entire left vs. right paradigm. Any potential future challenge to authoritarianism, one suspects, will need to define itself according to entirely new ideological terms, frames, and understandings.
This is not something that can be solved through teaching the American public about American history in order to shed light on collective amnesia. It’s not a lack of information or a lack of access. All of this can easily be understood by anyone who goes looking for it and gives it a half second of thought. No, the failure is not necessarily of knowledge and education. What we are missing is a sense of moral vision and radical imagination, the gut-level groking of other possibilities, even if they can’t yet be articulated. What matters is not how words are manipulated but the sense of fear, anxiety, anger, and outrage behind it all. The public is frustrated and ready for something else entirely, but they need leaders and visionaries to speak to this truth they know in their own direct experience, that the way things are is fundamentally wrong and intolerable.
The fog of rhetoric and propaganda, the veil of lies only has to be lifted for a moment. Once the public glimpses behind the charade, it will be harder and harder to lull most Americans back to sleep again. No matter how effective the games of power, manipulation, and deception, it won’t last forever… but it might last longer than some of us would prefer. The ruling elite will play it for all its worth for as long as they can. Still, take comfort in knowing we might be entering an age of revelation, of awakening. We are long past the stale left-right battles of the Cold War and now are heading into unknown territory. After the political left is assassinated and buried, after we mourn the loss, may something new be born.
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So, how did we get to this point? The left-right paradigm began in the French National Assembly, originally having to do with choice of seating indicating one’s political position in relation to the king, for or against the monarchy and reform of the monarchy, presaging the later fight over revolution and republicanism. Then it took on still other meanings during the revolution with the formation of the Legislative Assembly. It’s true that the left was represented by extremists, but those that gained power were radical more in the reactionary sense. Advocates of democracy like Thomas Paine, the most radical of radicals in that era (the equivalent of many American left-wingers in the Cold War), actually sat on the right side with the critics and supposed moderates.
Interestingly, this right-sitting Paine was the lone leftist voice of a strong democracy in advocating for a democratic constitution as part of the new French government, which the other revolutionary leaders ignored — not exactly what we’d call ‘right-wing’ today. But we should keep this in mind, going by our present sense of the left-wing, as Paine was the most radical leftist in both the American and French revolutions. No other revolutionary pushed for such extreme democratic reforms in seeking to dethrone organized religion and state churches (Age of Reason), overthrow aristocracy and plutocracy (e.g., his attack on war profiteers), and promote not only direct democracy but also progressive land taxation (to redistribute back downward what had been redistributed upward) and a citizens dividend (a combination of an old age pension like Social Security, universal basic income, and reparations for the stolen/privatized commons of public land and public natural resources).
Right from the beginning, there was some obvious confusion built into these labels if ‘left’ and ‘right’. Nonetheless, a basic ideological division did take form over the following generations and many came to see it as applying more widely. The political spectrum was adopted in other Western countries, as it captured a central schism in the modern West that developed after the destruction and dismantling of the ancien regime. Over the past couple of centuries, there has been much agreement that it expressed something meaningful about the political systems that have emerged, largely corresponding to views on class identity and class war but also related to general attitudes of open or closed, inclusionary or exclusionary (“In the Spirit of Our People”).
Is this still true and meaningful? Rick Wilson is a major political figure, former Republican, and now opponent of Trump. He states that political power in Washington D.C., including the aligned corporate media, is not partisan but transpartisan (Why Republicans Still Support Trump, a talk with Cenk Uygur, another former Republican; also see Journalism of, by and for the Elite by Reed Richardson). It isn’t Democrats vs Republicans, left vs right. The real divide is insiders vs outsiders, which is to say the rulers and the ruled, the elite and the masses, the plutocracy and the precariat; although, to be accurate, this is the very distinction that used to be represented by the labels of right and left. Wilson is saying this as someone who not long ago was an insider of the establishment he has come to criticize. He was an insider who has become an outsider because he revealed the workings of the system. He broke the rule of secrecy.
The original valence of meaning was shaped by a metaphor about political positions. Left and right indicate a relationship that is visuospatial. It’s maybe unsurprising that such a framing took hold in concert with widescale literacy. In the West, we read from left to right. The Enlightenment and early modernity also brought us the obsession with lenses, further emphasizing the importance of a visual culture that was replacing the older oral culture. It was vision through observation that, in science, has revealed truth. Seeing is believing or rather knowing. The duality of left and right also resonated with Cartesian dualism, spirit and matter, mind and body; basically, a distinction between what can and cannot be seen.
Maybe this metaphor is breaking down. There has been the rise of media technology: radio, telephone, television, cable, internet, and smartphones. The one commonality of all these technologies is audio. It’s true that the visual has increased as well, but there is a particular emphasis on sound: “All media has increased, as unmediated experience has gone on a rapid decline” (The Great Weirding of New Media). Think of how in the 21st century that, even when we are otherwise occupied, we almost always have audio playing. We have radios and news running in the background. We have voices pumped directly into our brains in the form of podcasts and audiobooks, often by way of earbuds that make the voices sound like they are inside our heads. And we fall asleep to Netflix movies, Hulu shows, and Youtube videos streaming as our eyes close.
Sound, with or without visual accompaniment, is an ever present reality — most of it as voices that sing, speak, report, narrate, explain, opinionate, argue, dialogue, and debate. As such, a visuouspatial metaphor may no longer have the compelling potency it once possessed. We now exist in cacophany of voices. What once was experienced as totalizing visions, as encompassing worldviews has splintered into an endless multitude of voices, a seeming chaos of noise. It is an immersive aural space that surrounds us and penetrates our skulls (Battle of Voices of Authorization in the World and in Ourselves). Dozens of voices permeate our personal space, our mindspace. They become internalized and we identify with them. They speak to us, a constant input of spoken words.
If the visuospatial metaphor of left and right is no longer the dominant frame and paradigm, then what might be the aurospatial metaphor replacing it? How will we reorient ourselves in our identities and alignments? And how will we differentiate according to what new distinctions? What voices of authorization will speak to us, shape our thoughts, and compel us to action? And how will these voices be heard and perceived? What is the change from primary to secondary oral culture? With new media technology, what might be the new message or rather messages spoken and heard? What will become of our mediated identities? Will we collectively and communally experience the return of the bundled and porous mind? Or will some entirely unforeseen mentality emerge?
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Other related posts:
Dominant Culture Denies Its Dominance
Black and White and Re(a)d All Over
NPR: Liberal Bias?
The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties
Man vs Nature, Man vs Man: NPR, Parking Ramps, etc
Otto Reich’s Legacy of White Propaganda
A Culture of Propaganda
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public
US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism
American People Keep Going Further Left
Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
Warmongering Politicians & Progressive Public
Gun Violence & Regulation (Data, Analysis, Rhetoric)
The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2
Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels