The Arrogance of Power
By Mark Mason at Jun 04, 2011
From Robert Burns' AP story:
SINGAPORE – In a parting pitch to Asian allies, retiring U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon is considering steps to widen its military presence across the Pacific Rim. He said budget woes won't interfere.
"America is, as the expression goes, putting `our money where our mouth is' with respect to this part of the world - and will continue to do so," he told Asia's premier security conference, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, on Saturday.
Robert Gates has not the slightest interest in democracy.
It's scary to learn what the powerful claim in the name of the people of the United States. Did Gates ask us how much money we, the people, want to spend in Asia? Did he ask us if we want to increase, or decrease, US military presence in Asia? The very idea of it is absurd--the idea that the managers of the US military would ask us what they should do, ask us, the people, to give them their marching orders.
We live in a fake democracy. It's fake. This is not a new development, but show me one "news" story in the corporate media that even approaches the truth of power relations in the US. How can Gates get away with making statements such as this without the press going into shock? Why is it not only okay, but he's expected to act as if he controls the world, and controls the US budget, while relegating US citizens to historical superfluity? Although the function of the American empire isn't news, yet it remains an astonishing mystery: how in a political system with elections and free speech, the mass media and the intellectual class are both rigidly subservient to power---all this without any police coercion from the state.
It's easy to understand how the political power system of Burma functions. The ruling military junta tells everyone to shut up, obey, or off to jail you go. Same in Honduras. Keep your mouth shut, don't talk back to power, or you'll get your face bashed in. Saudi Arabia? Bahrain? --- keep your mouth shut, don't talk back to prince or king.
Here, in the good-old US of A...no one is forcing Associated Press reporters to produce insipid reporting, without a single flinching muscle of momentary movement from mediocrity-- blind to the gross hypocrisy, the lies, and the routine abuse of power. Gates works for us, the people. He should do what we tell him to do. We're the deciders, but one would never know this from reading the American corporate press. The complicity of people who call themselves reporters is astonishing.
My own son, a recent graduate of J-school, has abandoned journalism as a profession. Why? The real question is, why would anyone in their right mind go into journalism today? Why should he? He can't find a job in journalism, and even if he could, the pay is insulting, and even if the pay is insulting, he'd be expected to play dumb. Somehow along the way, he evaded the ideological indoctrination. Why do I introduce this personal note? Here is a concrete example of the filtering system of the corporate media. Journalists who cannot stomach writing lies, who have a modicum of integrity, and haven't been deeply indoctrinated, get out of the profession. Who remains? The cynically complicit and the agreeable followers. Whether the local newspaper or the New York Times, each institution is a cultural filtering system, filtering out those who are not team players. My son's commitment to the profession of journalism was weakened by the time he graduated, putting little effort into pursuing this path. Abandoning it altogether, he is now off on a divergent course.
This filter function of cultural institutions is ubiquitous, universal. A friend in the Philippines devoted much effort and time to becoming a professional police officer. She graduated from the National Academy in Manila. Trained, Educated. Professional. Why did she never work a single day as a police officer? The corruption of the police throughout the Philippines isn't contested. Why is the police force corrupt? Because people who have a modicum of integrity don't go in, or get out soon, or sell-out to the system if they go in and stay in. Silence is complicity.
The challenge is that individuals at the bottom of the institutional hierarchy with the least identification with the institution have little leverage to make changes. Whereas people residing at the top have passed through many ideological filters along the path of ascendency, arriving as sincere apparatchiks conforming to institutional demands. Institutional demands were crafted by someone, somewhere. The rules of the game do not appear out of nothing. Institutional demands are not organic, but intentionally crafted to promote someone, somewhere. Not surprisingly, the structure and function of cultural institutions is not inspected in public schools. Media analysis, as an examination of one concrete cultural institution should be required in elementary school, but isn't. Such exploration of how the world works is too dangerous. Evan as adults, describing how the human world functions is discouraged, which brings us back to the potential dangers of journalists "telling the truth about important things," as Chomsky has described their responsibility. The last thing concentrated power and wealth want is candid discussion about how the world works.
The Egyptians and other Arabic peoples, have recently been demonstrating how systemic structural changes can be modified. Through collective action external to, or in broad rejection of, the institutional boundaries of primary control and domination.
Cultural systems. Institutions.
The tyranny of an individual has concrete, corporeal manifestation. King George. The tyranny of institutional power structures is easily disguised. Those who are the "smart guys" in positions of power and privilege work to deny and disguise the abuse of power by transitory individuals embedded within positions of power. The power inherent in a monarchical system, of a kingdom, is principally by birth.The power of a corporate CEO is by a combination of institutional structure offering opportunity, individual opportunistic conformity, ambition, and serendipity--being in the right place at the right time. The latter offers an illusion of equality, the fake version of "equality of opportunity." The story goes: sure, some people are in positions of great power and wealth. The argument for legitimacy is founded upon the claim that the powerful have earned power, while the remainder have not. The insidious ideology of the meritocracy is that we're all equal, except we're not. Some of us are indeed more equal than others. Equality of opportunity was approached during the classical Greek era when bureaucrats where selected by lottery. Since then, other systems of so-called democracy have intentionally subverted the system toward rule by the "smart guys."
Hierarchical systems require the comsent of the people, as Hume asserted, and thus require some rationale of justification--an ideology, a belief system. Thus, the circular ideology that the "smart guys" rule because they're sucessful, wherein sucess is measured in units of dollars.
Human cultural systems rest on no more than a collective fantasy.
Nothing could be more important to every social and political concern than the structure and function of the human organizations and the power distributions therein. This is why "reporters" know that shining light on the structure and function of human systems is taboo. AP reporter Robert Burns will take great pains to quote Robert Gates accurately, but it's "unprofessional" to ask whether or not Gates' power is legitimate, or even ask if Gates' statements are true.
The subservience of reporters to power is a tacit institutional demand stemming from the ownership of the institution. Mr. Burns is told that he is serving the interests of the public but in fact, he's a servant of powerful corporate masters. He's not permitted to even be capable of seeing the truth, let alone tell it--otherwise, he would be kicked out, fired, or he would leave on his on volition, having taken his leave driven by his repugnance of such service.
I don't have much pleasant to say about the news media and reporters. They have an obligation to the public which they do not fulfill. Indeed, this isn't news, about the news media, but each day we're pounded by what is passed off on us as news. It's work to rebuff the daily manipulations. The core of it is up in the moneyed stratosphere, not down in the local newsroom. The people who own the world, tell the rest of us what is allowed in myriad forms of hierarchical domination.
I find it useful to remind myself, in concrete examples, on a regular basis, of the utter vacuousness of a profession that claims to be unbiased, independent, professional, trained, conscientious, recorders of history.