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This week we look at one aspect of the machine referred to by Graeber in episode 624 - the propaganda that is churned out and which prevents people from clearly facing their dilemma. We begin with a 2009 speech by Sut Jhally on advertising, consumerism and what this has done to the US population. After contributions from Chris Hedges and Robert Jensen, we finish with an optimistic vision by Nafeez Ahmed.
Thanks to Kenneth Dowst of New World Notes for the Obey adaptation and to Active Ingredients for the Sut Jhally speech.
This week's show aims to help us rethink our assumptions and become aware of the extent to which organized propaganda has shaped the channels of discourse around us, framing all manner of debates to a narrow spectrum of opinion that excludes any fundamental rethinking of the assumptions of corporate capitalism. We start the show with the beginning of the soundtrack from Obey, a film made up of readings from Chris Hedges 2010 book, Death Of The Liberal Class.
Next we hear a 2009 talk by Sut Jhally on the colonization of modern life by advertising, entitled "Advertising and The Perfect Storm, Global Warming, Peak Oil and Consumer Debt".
"Advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history and its cumulative cultural and political effects, unless very quickly checked will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it... Our survival as a species is dependent upon minimizing the threat from advertising and the commercial culture that has spawned it." — Sut Jhally, 2009
Jhally echoes Hedges' claim that capitalism is a revolutionary force, although his emphasis is different - he emphasizes the immense amount of material goods that capitalism creates, and the consequent systemic need, as identified by Marx, to monetize them by retailing them to consumers. Citing Marx' description of 'commodity fetishism', that is, the encouraging of consumers to have relationships with objects as if they were people, Jhally highlights the story of increased provision of stuff (as measured by GDP) as equaling an improved life for people as a major philosophical justification of capitalism. While palpably false, he suggests that this story continues as a force amongst both relatively capitalism naive people in 'developing countries' and in the USA itself, amongst a population dumbed down by generations of advertising. Most US citizens compare themselves not to their peers, but to the gallery of illusions pedaled by the marketing industry. He cites Juliet Schor on the pressures towards overwork and debt, noting for example that 60% of US citizens have less than one month's salary of savings. Whilst his analysis is more 'inside the system' than our other speakers this week, Jhally identifies the size of the threat to clear thinking posed by a century of advertising.
"I think one of the most important intellectual tasks today is to break through this assumption that hierarchies are natural, they're inevitable, that there's not much you can do to change them, and to reclaim that deeper spirit of an egalitarian quest for a more equal world in which in fact the dignity of all people can be achieved." — Robert Jensen
Next we hear Robert Jensen, author of Arguing For Our Lives on the development of critical thinking. He suggests that a main barrier to clear thinking is the enormous amount of money spent on propaganda precisely to prevent such thought, whether about products, governments or wider society. Jensen urges us to reject hierarchy, but welcome our bonds to those around us, arguing that most Americans are starved of the relationships and social ties necessary for them to make sense of their lives.
We conclude with "From endless growth to a new form of democracy", a vision of a positive future by another speaker familiar to regular listeners, Nafeez Ahmed.