Monday, March 7, 2011

Review of “Organizing Chaos” in Propaganda by Edward Bernays

The short excerpt from the book “Organizing Chaos” in Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928) gives an interesting look into how the author viewed some of the many difficult multi-facets of society.  I do realize that this book is a predecessor but Mr. Bernays views strike me as very Orwellian in content and flat out oppressive in belief.  It is said in the introduction of the essay that Goebbels read this essay an adhered to many of Mr. Bernays philosophies; this makes a lot of sense after reading because many of the tactics and ideologies used by the Nazi’s can be found in this excerpt.  What may possibly be more concerning is at times I feel like my very own government has elements of Mr. Bernays imaginary one.
            One of the theories that the author had that I disagreed with was the following:

“In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market.” (pg 2)

In context to this statement the author was speaking of how free markets limit themselves to a certain range of item.  An example of this could be laundry detergent; stores sell a variety of laundry detergent but not all the items and chemicals needed to make laundry detergent.  The store has “decided” for us in Mr. Bernays model that making our own laundry detergent is not very cost effective.  This part of the theory I agree with; but in this quote there is also something I don’t agree with.  I don’t agree with Mr. Bernays that everyone strives to buy the best and cheapest commodity on the market. 

In principle this sounds right but I would say that on average people who are in a particular market are not trying to find the best AND cheapest, they are rather looking for the best OR cheapest.  I believe where myself and the author disagree is because he lived in an America where there was still a thriving middle class, I on the other hand am exposed to an America where the middle class is ever shrinking and the majority of people find themselves drifting towards poverty, or in some rare cases wealth.  Poor people tend to try to find the cheapest of something because that is all that they can afford.  The rich tend to seek the nicest and most expensive of something because they have the capital to do so and nice items establish their economic superiority to others.  The middle class tends to be in the middle of these two ideologies but if the middle class is shrinking and what does exist of it is becoming more polarized, this median outlook will soon be a thing of the past.  It is that very median outlook that pushes competition in a capitalist market.

The next quotation that I want to look at that is also problematic is this:

“It might be better to have, instead of propaganda and special pleading, committees of wise men who would choose our rulers, dictate our conduct, private and public, and decide upon the best types of clothes for us to wear and the best kinds of food for us to eat.”

I can see the theory behind Mr. Bernays belief in this statement; society would definitely run smoother from a bureaucratic point of view if a selective group was telling us where to go, what to eat, and what to wear but the fact of the matter is that humans are not capable of being chained like animals for extended amounts of time.  Look at some of the most oppressive regimes over time; they generally do not last forever, only a couple generations at most before becoming just another reference in a history book.

The truth of the matter is that people revolt, they do not accept someone telling them what to do, were to go and what to wear.  Revolution is as natural of an action as sex and breathing.  Our biological code will ensure that there will always be a fight for control.   

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