“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery – none but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley Redemption Song
PsyWar: the Real Battlefield is the Mind
Directed by Scott Noble (2010)
PsyWar is about the fundamental role of propaganda in a political system that pretends to guarantee “democracy” in a society that simultaneously promotes extreme wealth inequality.
It begins with an examination of the vital role propaganda plays in war time, with a special focus on the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and World War I. It then explores the morphing of the World War I propaganda machine into the modern public relations industry.
The film moves on to the concept of “polyarchy,” which the filmmakers maintain is the most accurate description of government in the industrial north. In a polyarchy, power is closely guarded by a wealthy elite and the population remains passive except for periodic elections in which they vote for the elites of their choice. When a tiny minority controls nearly all the wealth, “democratic” elections are only possible if the majority is systematically controlled with psychological propaganda.
Big breakthroughs in transportation and communication technology at the end of the 19th century caused a major crisis for polyarchy, as they fed the rise of popular resistance movements (eg the populist and progressive movement, International Workers of the World and militant labor movements). The response to this crisis was the public relations industry.
The Rendon Group and Perception Management
The documentary introduces us to the Rendon Group, the private “perception management” company the Bush administration paid to manage propaganda leading up to the US invasion of Iraq. Immediately after 911, the CIA paid the Rendon Group $23 million to generate anti-Iraq propaganda. They also paid them to manage “public perception” during the US bombing of Afghanistan.
The Dirty Secret Behind the US Constitution
PsyWar devotes nearly 15 minutes to the secret framing of the US Constitution by a group of rich landholders and merchants to overturn the Articles of Confederation and protect their wealth from the “tyranny of the majority.” It contrasts the system of direct democracy of the Iroquois Federation (on which the Articles of Confederation were based), where all members of society (including women) had direct input into policy decisions.
The Crisis of Capitalism
According to PsyWar the modern public relations machine performs two vital functions in maintaining the stability of our current capitalist system. The first addresses chronic overproduction. One of the main flaws of capitalism is that once a population’s basic needs are met, the need for continuing production ceases. Our ruling elite could have addressed overproduction by reducing work hours and increasing wages (as they have recently done in Sweden*), but this would have hurt profits. Instead, under the guidance of Edward Bernays (known as the father of public relations) they ramped up consumption by bombarding the masses with pro-consumption propaganda deliberately playing on their psychological insecurities.
The second major role played by modern public relations is to “manufacture consent” of the governed to their overall powerlessness and passivity. Manufacturing consent is a term coined by journalist (and former government intelligence/propaganda agent) Walter Lippmann. It was Lippman’s view that the majority of Americans are meddlesome outsiders who are totally incompetent to govern themselves.
*In October, Sweden announced they were moving to a six-hour work day to improve productivity and improve work-life balance Sweden introduces 6 hour work day