Saturday, October 30, 2010

The ten most important ways of manipulating the public, as catalogued by Noam Chomsky

This post started out with my restatement of Noam Chomsky's list. I noticed that it drew a lot of hits, so I have been supplementing it with videos.

In the tradition of annotated bibliographies, I have written brief notes before all these videos to give you an idea of their contents. This, I hope, will help you decide whether they are worth taking the time to watch. You will note that these YouTube videos can lead to other videos. I invite you to explore them.

I intend to keep on appending new videos to this post as I discover really good ones that are reasonably well structured and clearly express some solid information, so you may want to come back to it from time to time to see what I have added to it.

Introduction to Chomsky's ten points:

Noam Chomsky, a fearless critic of the wealthy elite that governs the United States, has compiled a list of the ten most common strategies for using the media to manipulate the people of America.

In the past our communications media have created or destroyed social movements, justified wars, tempered financial crises, and encouraged or destroyed some other ideological currents.

Chomsky has compiled a list of the ten most important tools for manipulating our media. Basically, they encourage stupidity, promote a sense of guilt, create distractions, or construct artificial problems and then magically solve them. Their principal goal is to determine what are legitimate topics and what are illegitimate ones in our public conversations about political policy.

Here are the ten most important techniques:

(1) The strategy of distraction:

The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction diverting public attention from important issues and changes controlled by our political and economic elites using the techniques of overwhelming the public with continuous distractions and insignificant information.

Distraction strategy is also essential to kill off public interest in the essential knowledge of science, economics, psychology, neurobiology, and cybernetics.

This technique also diverts public attention away from our real social problems by emphasizing matters of no real importance. The idea is to keep the public very busy, with no time to think about the most important principles and the core facts behind our social problems.

(2) The creation of problems, followed by the offer of solutions:

This method essentially emphasizes symptons while hiding underlying causes. For example, it emphasizes urban violence or the details of bloody attacks without investigating the causes of these problems. It also creates and manipulates crises that involve economics or violence to encourage the public to accept as a necessary evil the reduction of social rights or the dismantling of public services.

(3) The gradual strategy:

This basically involves gradually implementing destructive social policies which would be unacceptable if imposed suddenly on the public. That is how the the radical right’s new socioeconomic conditions were imposed during the 1980s and 1990s. They include the minimal state, privatization, precariousness, flexibility, massive unemployment, reductions in the purchasing power of wages and guarantees of a decent income. All these changes would provoke a generalized revolt if they had been applied all at once.

(4) The strategy of deferring:

Another way gain public acceptance of unpopular decisions is to present them as “painful but necessary” to gain public acceptance for their future application. This is similar to the gradual strategy. It is easier to accept future sacrifices instead of immediate slaughter--first, because the effect is not felt right away.

Later on, the public is encouraged to believe that “everything will be better tomorrow” and that future sacrifice will be unnecessary. This gives the public more time to get used to the idea of changes to their disadvantage and and their acceptance of them with resignation when the time comes. This strategy was very popular in the Soviet Union in its five-year plans, for example.

(5) Treating the public like little children:

A lot of advertising and propaganda uses childlike speech and children’s intonation, as if the viewer or listener were a little child or mentally deficient. The principle is that if people are treated as if they are twelve years old or younger, they tend to react without a critical sense the way children do.

(6) The encouragement of emotional responses over reflective ones:

This is a classical technique for short-circuiting rational analysis and encouraging critical reflection. It also opens the door to the unconscious for implanting ideas, desires, fears, anxieties, compulsions, and desired irrational behavior.

(7) Bombarding the public with trivia to keep them ignorant:

It is important to make people incapable of understanding the technologies and methods used to enslave them. The quality of education given to the lower social classes is deliberately kept as poor and mediocre as possible so that they can be manipulated like sheep.

(8) Encouraging the public to be happy with mediocrity:

This involves encouraging the public to believe that it is is fashionable to be stupid, vulgar and uneducated while encouraging everyone to believe that these characteristics are the essence of the wisdom of the ages.

(9) Encouraging guilt and self blame:

This is an exceptionally perverse strategy. It involves constantly scolding people for their own misfortune because of the failure of their intelligence, their abilities, or their efforts so that they will not examine the structural defects of a social and economic system that enslaves them.

One of the most perverse controlling myths of American society is that if you work conscientiously and long enough, then you will be successful and grow rich. This does happen occasionally to some people, and their success is widely publicized in the media. The few times that this happens, all of us are constantly reminded that if these people can do this, then we can too.

Of course, if you work hard and don't grow rich, then the problem, of course, is that you didn't work hard enough or weren't smart enough and ended up a loser. So no matter what happens to you, the myth remains intact, and America remains a land of opportunity and the greatest country in the world.

(10) Getting to know individual people better than they know themselves:

Over the past fifty years, scientific advances have generated a growing gap between public what the public knows and the knowledge of dominant elites. Thanks to biology, neurobiology and applied psychology, the “system” has gained a sophisticated understanding the physical and psychololgical nature of people. This knowledge is cynically used to manipulate the public as if they were sheep.


Below is an excellent video in which Noam Chomsky briefly explains the structure of the U.S. political system and how it works:


In this video Chomsky discusses how meaningless slogans such as “Support our troops in Iraq” work to prevent any real thought at all about why we are fighting there, and then he explains related ways of keeping our population from thinking about our national policies in general.


Here is a video that explains how the Republican and Democratic parties prop each other up like an upside down “V” controlled by the rich in our country, enabling them to determine what are “legitimate” issues and what are not, excluding vital concerns of importance to the general public.


This video is an excellent example of how conservatives and progressives prop each other up. Both would be very boring if they didn’t have antagonists.


Scaring the people you rule: an old trick of statecraft:

It is an old trick of statecraft to scare people you rule and to divert their attention from their domestic problems by starting small foreign wars abroad that you can easily win.

An example of this is the Falkland Islands war started by the ruling Junta in Argentina in the early eighties. Here is a brief description of this war from Wikipedia:

“The Falklands War started on Friday, 2 April 1982, with the Argentine invasion and occupation of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Britain launched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Argentine Air Force and retake the islands by amphibious assault. The conflict ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, and the islands remained under British control.”

One of our local newspapers in Los Angeles published a brief satirical poem in the style of a song from a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. I found it hilariously funny and impossible to forget. Here it is:

We are the lads from Argentine;
We lead the junta that’s so very mean.
We stormed the islands to seize the crude,
And diverted folks’ attention from the cost of food.
We stormed the islands so cleverly
That soon we will be fighting with the Queen’s Navy!

Anyhow, below is a video in which Noam Chomsky explains similar tactics that we used to bomb Granada, conjure up ridiculous scenarios about Nicaragua and Saddam Hussein being imminent threats to the United States, and other similar scare tactics to bamboozle the American public and take their minds off of pressing domestic issues of economic oppression:


How eleven corporations control our new media, and how news stories are scripted just like commercials. Does this make you want to kick the TV habit?


The following video exposes the myth of the liberal media. Basically, this myth is an instance of the big-lie technique. First you assert that the media have a liberal bias. Then you debate about the extent of that liberal bias. This keeps people from examining the companies that own the media and how they control the content produced by the media they own and hence control.


Our war crimes versus others’ war crimes:

Whenever a group of people fights to overthrow an established government, if you like them, you call them freedom fighters. If you don’t like them, you call them terrorists. If you aren’t sure, then you call them guerrillas.

In the following video, Chomsky shows how our war crimes are good war crimes merely because we commit them. If they are committed by others, however, then they are bad war crimes. The very worst war crimes, of course, are the ones committed against US, no matter what we did in the past to provoke these retaliatory responses.


In this video Noam Chomsky discusses the vacuity of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Basically, Obama gave us slogans like “hope,” “change,” and “unity” on which we could write whatever we wanted. As events have turned out, Obama has shown himself to be as greatly obligated to the polyarchy that governs our country as his Republican opponent and has disappointed many people who hoped for significant change in his administration. I myself feel sorry for Obama. I think he is much like someone selected to be captain of the Titanic after the ship hit the iceberg that sank it.


In this video Chomsky discusses why Obama bailed out the banks (they gave even MORE money to his campaign than they gave to the Republican one). This illustrates the futility of our national elections. He then discusses other matters relating to our destructive foreign policies:


In this video Chomsky comments on how campaign donations can be used to predict policy. The banking industry, as I noted previously, gave more money to Obama’s campaign than they did to McCain’s. That is why Obama has thrown so much money at the banking industry.

Chomsky also correctly predicted that the Supreme Court would give our corporations the right to buy elections directly instead of indirectly. He also discussed the absurdity of the way our legal system considers corporations to be persons but not undocumented aliens.

He also goes into the how this status of undocumented aliens as non-persons enables Democrats and Republicans to fight over who could be more severe in denying rights such as education and medical care to these people.


In this video Chomsky discusses why people in the Middle East hate the United States. It involves our wanting to control oil extraction there and how we keep brutal dictatorships in power if they support us in these policies.

He notes that President Eisenhower discussed this hatred with a group of people in an effort to improve our image there. (As is typical, we considered this a public-relations problem.) At least some in the group concluded that improving our image there would be hard to do because the Arabs had valid reasons for hating us.


In this Video Chomsky discusses Iran. He notes that we invaded Iraq, and that Iran is helping Iraq out. But this is no different from the help we gave the Afghanis when the Russians invaded their country.

He notes that many Americans forget that we overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran during the Eisenhower administration and installed the Shah in power. The Shah was a son of a bitch, but (as Franklin Roosevelt said about Anastasio Somoza, the brutal dictator of Nicaragua) he was OUR son of a bitch.

Chomsky notes that Americans feel that THEY own the world. So when we help kick the Russians out of Afghanistan, that’s okay. But when the Iranians help the Iraqis to kick US out of THEIR country, that is not okay.

Chomsky also notes that for us it is not okay for Iran to have the bomb. But it is okay for our ally, Israel, to have 200 of them. He also discusses other problems throughout the world involving atomic weapons.


I said earlier that I feel sorry for President Obama because he is like a person elected to be captain of the Titanic after the ship hit the iceberg that sank it. Right now, we are spending our way into bankruptcy in a way the Soviet Union did before its own collapse. Dmitri Orlov, the author of “Reinventing Collapse, The Soviet Example and American Prospects” discusses this possibility/probability in this interview.

(If you want more information on Orlov, his thinking, and his publications, there is a Wikipedia article about him at


In this video Dmitri Orlov compares the U.S. economy to a sinking ship with the crew diving into the engine room to try to get its diesel engines to run on seawater. The basic tasks of society will be to supply the basics, such as food, shelter, and transportation to an impoverished society. It is hard to know exactly how we will do this, but there will probably be wrenching changes as there were in Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.


PFC Bradley Manning called a great deal of unexpected attention to himself when he decided, on his own, to release to Wikileaks documents that should have been kept in the eyes/ears of those governmental officials who were sworn to, and privy to that information.

The psychological torture of Pvt. Manning, who has now been imprisoned for seven months without being convicted of any crime, mirrors the breaking of the dissident Winston Smith at the end of “1984.”

Manning is being held as a “maximum custody detainee” in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 of every 24 hours alone. He is denied exercise. He cannot have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Army doctors have been plying him with antidepressants.

The cruder forms of torture of the Gestapo have been replaced with refined Orwellian techniques, largely developed by government psychologists, to turn dissidents like Manning into vegetables.

We break souls instead of bodies. This method is more effective, and it leaves no marks the way physical torture does. Now we can all be taken to Orwell’s dreaded Room 101 to become compliant and harmless. These “special administrative measures” are regularly imposed on our dissidents, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, who was imprisoned under similar conditions for three years before going to trial.

The techniques have psychologically maimed thousands of detainees in our black sites around the globe. They are the staple form of control in our maximum security prisons where the corporate state makes war on our most politically astute underclass: African-Americans.

Below is a video with a brief description of the conditions of Manning’s confinement:

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