Sunday, June 01, 2008


Defending Democracy

A Briefing on Models of Engagement for Change
Copyright Jay Taber 2003 
Christopher Simpson, Associate Professor of Communications at American University, writes in his book Science of Coercion, “Communication might be understood as both the conduit for and the actual substance of human culture and consciousness…Psychological warfare is the application of mass communication to modern social conflict.”
Professor Simpson’s predecessor in the field of communications theory, Harold Lasswell, wrote, “Successful social and political management depends on coordination of propaganda with violent and non-violent coercion and economic inducement.”
While Lasswell and others of his generation devoted their skills to working with military intelligence in defeating the fascist powers in World War II, many of them went on to apply their science afterward in the Cold War apparatus used to defeat both communism as well as self-determination emerging in the formation of post-colonial nation-states that challenged the new world order of American economic and military hegemony.
At the root of the conflict between democracy and fascism today is this split between the elitist, instrumentalist conception of communication expressed by Lasswell and the traditional vision of communication expressed by such writers as Kalle Lasn, founder of the Media Foundation, who predicts a groundswell of support in the “battle to make the right to communicate a fundamental human right of every person on earth.”
This distinction between the use of communication to dominate and suppress rival viewpoints and its use in sharing our duties and burdens in free and open inquiry lies at the heart of the struggles of indigenous nations and democratic cultures to survive. Confronting elitism, privilege and white supremacy is one and the same. Respect for diversity of opinion and freedom of expression is essential to human dignity. Without them we will have neither freedom from fear nor freedom from want.
The U.S. Army War College defines the tendencies of psychological warfare as destroying the will and the ability of an enemy to fight while depriving them of the support of allies and neutrals. Its effects are dissension, distrust and fear within the enemy’s ranks, and, perhaps most relevant in the application of psy-war by governments against their own people, hopelessness. These symptoms of apathy and cynicism, fostered by depriving us of venues of discussion and debate--nurtured by the terror to conform, and promoted by the iron triangle of academia, government and big business--are the natural outcome of systematic thought control known as mass communication. As a euphemism for modern psychological warfare, it pervades our militarist culture almost undetected, that is, until we awaken to the fact we can inform ourselves and make sense of the world around us, coming to terms with such absurdities as arming tyrants, bombing civilians, and neglecting international fora on human rights, racism, nuclear test bans, landmines, global warming, and even the right to food.
In 2000, oil pirates and arms dealers hijacked the US national election. U.S. Supreme Court justices Scalia and Thomas, the most zealous of the “Florida Five,” took bribes to reinstall the Reagan administration junta of war criminals and convicted felons in the White House. Energy companies that backed the coup moved quickly to wreak havoc on our economy through price-gouging and manipulation. In 2001, Congress further empowered world trade and banking institutions--serving both above and underworld enterprise--with authority to overturn all laws protecting our health and welfare. In 2002, Congress abolished the Bill of Rights, handing the executive branch carte blanche to conduct world war. The Pentagon is now deploying our armed forces to seize total control of global oil.
The secret, unaccountable, corrupt and inept national security agencies that contributed significantly to the underlying causes of the two World Trade Center bombings, and arguably the Oklahoma City bombing as well, now have free hand to continue engendering animosity and resentment toward our country by desperate fanatics and terrorists, foreign and domestic. Self-defense of the principles enunciated in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution now falls on us alone. It is up to we the people to repel the attack on American society by the warmongers posing as our protectors.
Cities, counties, and states unprepared for this turn of events are being disrupted by federal agencies on a rampage of terror against immigrants, alternative media, professors, dissidents and activists opposed to squandering our common wealth on prisons and warfare instead of investing in schools and healthcare. Existing environmental protection and work safety laws go unenforced under threat of federal sanction. Freedom of Information about toxic waste and FBI detentions has been shut down.
The lawlessness and domestic terrorism of the anti-environmentalist Wise Use movement, supported by the first Bush administration, hit a snag when these industry thugs merged with vigilantes and militias in the mid nineteen-nineties. If this convergence reemerges under our Homeland Security police state, it may very well have federal support in quashing the democratic process altogether. Communities need to begin discussing and preparing for these threats now.
It is not enough to be bold, brave and outspoken in the face of adversity. Community well-being in our pluralistic society depends on diverse views shared and argued in a safe, trusting environment. Healthy, nurturing, functional communities and societies require broad public involvement based on continuous and timely access to information. Actors who would disrupt this process can only be constrained by active engagement of organized civic groups and moral authorities educated and prepared to meet these threats.

Defending Democracy:

Models of Engagement for Change
  1. An open society is safe and inviting
  1. A closed society is fearsome
  1. The public health model works
  1. Common models are counterproductive
  1. Aggression can be contained
  1. Moral sanction is essential
  1. Obstacles to moral conduct can be overcome

An Open Society is Safe and Inviting

Democracy provides a context for problem-solving
The democratic values embedded in our Constitution—such as equal protection under the law, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly-- allow us to participate in determining community goals, international relations and the uses of our common wealth. The rights of the many and restrictions on the few build a capacity for non-violent change and personal growth of our citizenry.
Many have sacrificed for this right of self-governance. None of our rights and freedoms has been granted by those in authority; rather, they have been gained through coercion by we the people.
Public participation corrects official inattention, cowardice and laziness
Conflict between the ruled and the rulers of our country—in movements for environmental sanity, civil rights, workplace safety and universal health care to name a few-- is our only means of taking corrective action to meet our most pressing needs in the face of state and market neglect. When our elected delegates and sacred institutions fail us, organized grassroots activism is all that stands between us and tyranny.
Our corrupted government and economic system require strong doses of popular non-cooperation and demands for accountability. When they begin to listen to us with respect, not manipulate us with contempt, we can begin to reconcile our differences and heal the grievous wounds they’ve inflicted on the world. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we can avoid nuclear and microbial disaster.

A Closed Society is Fearsome

Political violence undermines democracy
When people are afraid to attend a protest, to speak at a public hearing or write a letter to the editor, let alone run for office, expose official fraud or challenge the government in court, we suffer not only from the absence of fresh ideas; we also suffer from the monopolization of private interests willing to threaten and bribe their way to power.
When media is afraid to expose political violence, such as transpired in the Florida 2000 election, we are robbed of the opportunity to marshal public reserves of righteous indignation based on our collective sense of goodwill and fairplay. We need to know what’s wrong in order to put things right.
Organized political violence suppresses free and open inquiry
Hate groups and other intolerant organizations such as Christian Coalition, Business Roundtable and the Wise Use Movement--motivated by fundamentalist world views--have succeeded in gaining power and influence by appealing to greed, cynicism and white supremacy. Enormous energy and resources have been expended to promote their authoritarian ideology. Social movement entrepreneurs associated with these fanatic minorities realize—as agents of privilege and inequality—they must undermine the resolve of the majority who still revere the U.S. Constitution and what it stands for. The promoters of US unilateralism are the founding fathers of the transformation of American conservatism, the resurgence of the GOP, and the totalitarian state envisioned by Bush II.
Intimidating political opponents is terrorism
Very simply, harassing people with different political views, threatening employees and blacklisting people from employment because of these views is terrorism. Terrorists like the congressional aides and GOP staff who intimidated Florida canvassing boards don’t have to blow up abortion clinics or arson black churches to strike terror into the hearts of their opponents. Sometimes all it takes is for movement ideologues or captains of industry to provide targets for their recruits to hate. Revenge, then--by those who seek scapegoats for falling living standards or social insecurity--is a threat that hangs over anti-fascists like a giant noose.
Demonization and xenophobia lead to aggression. Our war on terrorism should begin there.

The Public Health Model Works

The Public Health Model of engagement is effective in protecting society
Our public health system is effective in controlling disease and preventing epidemics as a result of advances in epidemiology, vaccination and public administration. Research revealed the nature of diseases, who was most susceptible to them, what conditions favored outbreaks and what behaviors helped them spread. Aggression can be looked at in the same way.
Stopping anti-democratic agents requires training
Social movement ideologues, field agents and fundraisers essential to advancing theocratic and free-market agendas use a simple formula:
Understanding their ideology, keeping track of their agents and dissecting their fundraising methods enables researchers—those people who attend council meetings, clip and file news articles and share information with others--to help protect their communities. Regional outposts of specialized researchers, functioning in a similar manner to centers for disease control, can be very helpful in providing concerned citizens with educational materials, activist resource kits and research training.
Effective activism relies on respect for research and analysis
Not everyone has the inclination to look into the background of hate groups and fearmongers, but ignoring these social pathogens doesn’t make them go away; it allows them to spread. The first thing concerned people should do is find someone knowledgeable on the political disease and ask for a briefing to their church adult study forum, civics class or other such organizational function. Once informed about what their community is up against, they can act in a safe and appropriate way.
With a solid moral foundation, righteous indignation propels citizens to make the changes necessary before things get so out of hand it requires police or military intervention, which quite often makes things worse. With a solid understanding of the social pathogen they are confronting, civic groups can assess for themselves whether lobbying for legislation is likely to make any difference. They can also determine whether diplomacy with the enemies of their body politic is a productive activity or if it only serves to enhance the stature and legitimacy of intolerant views.
Independent research and analysis can provide answers to questions about who is behind anti-democratic activities, what their agenda is, and what techniques they use to divide and conquer communities.
Experience is a good teacher
In the mid nineteen-nineties, communities throughout Puget Sound and other parts of Washington State encountered property-rights groups initiated and incited by the Building Industry Association against environmentalists and American Indians seeking enforcement of growth management, endangered species protection, and the honoring of federal treaties. Numerous city and county governments were taken over through corrupt elections made possible by illegal PACs, violent goon squads, and media laziness or complicity in deceiving and misleading voters. FBI arrests eventually sent seven individuals involved in firearms and explosives violations to prison, but only after public participation in policy development had plummeted.
Those who experienced the upsurge of discussion and involvement by ordinary people, excited by the opportunity to be engaged in true democracy as a result of the citizen-sponsored growth management initiative, came to value the open process. Those accustomed to backroom deals that kept the public in the dark revealed the nature of fascism American style. The lessons articulated in Wise Use in Northern Puget Sound by Paul de Armond, research director of the Public Good Project, serve as a warning for the rest of the country.
Current efforts by the Center for New Community (a network of churches and civic groups throughout the Midwest) in combating racism and violence aimed at immigrants and people of color, have been very effective at preventing community disruption by hate groups and professional agitators. Using the public health model, organizers like Devin Burghart have helped this network--originally established to fight the family farm crisis of the nineteen eighties—to effectively confront the militia epidemic of the nineteen nineties and the anti-immigrant outbreaks of the past two years.
By monitoring the activities and agents of their opponents, discovered through painstaking research and analysis as well as methodical education, training and organizing of their allies, moral authorities associated with the Center have managed to use authentic communication in a manner that resonates with liberals and conservatives alike. If we wish to avoid another civil war in this country, we would do well to learn from their experience.

Traditional Models Are Counterproductive

Protest is insufficient
Registering our disapproval is important and necessary in reaching others, but is inadequate to acquiring the power and influence needed to institute and consolidate the changes we need. We simultaneously need to undermine the resources and resolve of the enemies of democracy, and educate potential supporters why it is necessary.
The political elite marginalize authentic activists
The established elite of a community rarely do their own dirty work. For that, they employ their dependants, which includes charitable and pseudo public-interest organizations that benefit from their philanthropy. In this way, authentic activists committed to democratic values—the white blood cells of a community-- frequently encounter overt opposition from their ideological opponents and covert opposition from ostensible allies in the pay of the power elite. This makes it easy for compliant media to alienate true patriots from their natural constituency and vital resources. Moral authorities and community leaders need to speak out against this form of social exclusion. Alternative media need to make it clear how synthetic activists (usually the better funded non-profits), posing as guardians of the public interest, often serve to maintain the status quo privileges of their benefactors by undermining the credibility of grassroots organizers.
Social support is necessary
Without social support for fundamental change, the status quo of liberal/conservative elitism behind US military and economic hegemony will continue to make more enemies for America around the world—enemies willing to die to teach us a lesson. The vast empire constituency dependant for their livelihoods on Pax Americana are not the enemy; they are our neighbors, many of whom are eager to escape this dependence and the pangs of conscience associated with industries of cultural and national genocide.
Moral theatrics frustrate and dissipate limited social support
There are limits, however, to the amount of time, money and energy people will expend. They need to understand how their investment will pay off, how it makes a difference. Feeling pious is not enough. Taking risks must be accompanied by a chance of success. Visions, to be enacted, need a program.

Aggression can be Contained

Aggression is a disease
Like the AIDS virus and the bubonic plague, aggression is a disease that threatens the viability of societies and the survival of species. We can choose to take prophylactic measures, we can reprioritize public expenditures, and we can alter our behavior, but we cannot eliminate aggression. We can, however, contain it. We can keep it from spreading and ultimately consuming us.
Ideological warfare enables aggressive elites to rule
By controlling media, co-opting professional activists and manipulating the fears of insecure populations, tyrants like the Bush brothers gain control of the public purse and police powers necessary for consolidating social control. Only a confused, apathetic and cynical people could be paralyzed into thinking there is nothing they can do about a junta that rose to power by bribing two U.S. Supreme Court justices.
Resistance to aggression must exercise intelligence and security
In the ensuing conflict to take back our government and economy—indeed our lives—we must approach the aggressors as enemies. As in military warfare, we need to conduct opposition research.
We require timely and accurate information to prevent our destruction. We also need to protect our spokesmen and warriors from police misconduct and wrongful prosecution. We need to stand together.
Dominant forces can be isolated
The minority of religious and free-market fundamentalists who’ve usurped our public institutions are not unknown. The peddlers of crisis have been named. If mainstream religious leaders across our country stood up and pointed them out like Dr. King did, they would have to hide in shame. As this story is told in congregations and gatherings across our country, public disgust with the fraud, deceit and betrayal of our ruling class builds. As this awareness grows, we must prepare ourselves for the commitment required of sustained conflict that awaits us. America can once again be a democratic republic pursuing the ideals of equality and justice for all, but not without a fight.

Moral Sanction is Essential

Moral sanction is powerful
Confused people recruited by promoters of hate usually have some sense of right and wrong. Unless they are brain damaged from injury or neglect, most people will restrain themselves when recognized moral authorities condemn their behavior. They may still be confused, afraid or hateful, but if they refrain from seeking revenge, outbreaks of violence can be averted so vital public discussions can continue.
Moral positions are learned slowly
We aren’t born reciting the golden rule. We learn to get along and respect the dignity of others as we grow. It takes time to appreciate the importance of spirituality and diversity. In our economic society there is tremendous pressure to conform. Letting your conscience be your guide is more often punished than rewarded. It takes concentration and commitment to muster the courage of one’s convictions.
Societies, cultures and individuals are conscious organisms
In spite of these pressures, most of us—at least at a subconscious level—are aware of contradictions, hypocrisy and injustice. You can hear it any given day on the bus or in the coffee shop. And we know there’s a moral dimension to these issues.
The evolution of human consciousness redefines morality
As the world changes, our understanding of different world views allows us to be more accepting, more diplomatic and more cooperative. For those who’ve made the adjustment to the modern world, it is no longer God’s mandate that Americans or the white race should rule the peoples of the planet. Most of us have moved beyond that.
It is only through media control and extensive investment in propaganda that a minority of bigoted Americans have managed to intimidate the majority into silence. When that majority becomes aware of their unity and power, they can remake this country as a responsible member of the human community. Only then can we get down to the essential business of reconciliation with the first nations and descendants of slaves who made our wealth and freedom possible. Only then can we regain our self-respect and sense of purpose.
By acknowledging the evil committed in our name, we begin our renewal.

Obstacles to Moral Conduct can be Overcome

Consumerism and militarism are obstacles to moral behavior
Americans are unfortunately ill-informed and distracted. Consumerism and militarism compete for their attention in a seemingly endless bombardment of advertising, infotainment news programs and mindless talk radio. People need time to think, time to reflect and time to become informed in order for their conscience to guide them.
Communication is essential to countering misinformation and spectacle
We need opportunities to discuss our concerns face to face without media or government interference. Study groups, conferences, talks and forums are the first steps of self-government. When we have access to informed, thoughtful dialogue we can sort out what is true, what is important and what is distraction.
Once we obtain a more accurate and meaningful perspective, it is more difficult for fear mongers to undermine our resolve.
Unmediated discussion expresses group wisdom and collective values
Networks and social circles oriented toward understanding the world find core values to sustain them.
Expression of these values inspires others to join in constructing a better world.
New leadership finds expression that mobilizes social support
People who tap into the core values and articulate deeply-held beliefs—like Mandela, King and Gandhi—can move others to engage in movements that transform society and themselves.
The twentieth century human rights movements in South Africa, India and America advanced equal protection under the law, but fell far short of the goals of equal economic and educational opportunity necessary for a fulfilling and satisfying life. Like the American civil rights movement, the movement against South African apartheid took many generations to achieve nominal equality. Likewise, we should expect a similar commitment of time and effort to bring about an end to the apartheid of globalization now draining the lifeblood of the third and fourth worlds. Neglecting our duties in this task only ensure that we will be the next to suffer. Indeed, the assault on our rights as human beings has already begun. Americans have begun to take notice.

Suggestions for further reading
Arquilla, John and David Ronfeldt eds. Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy. Santa Monica: RAND, 2001.
Himmelstein, Jerome L. To the Right: The Transformation of American Conservatism. Berkeley and Los Angeles/Oxford, England: UC Press, 1990.
Linebarger, Paul M. A. Psychological Warfare. Washington: Infantry Journal, 1947.
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.
Sanders, Jerry. Peddlers of Crisis: The Committee on the Present Danger and the Politics of Containment. Boston: South End, 1983.
Simpson, Christopher. Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Psychological Warfare 1945-1960. New York: Oxford University, 1994.

Biographical Note
In September 2000, Jay Taber was presented the Defender of Democracy award by the Public Good Project, a privately-funded national research network, in recognition of his “devotion to the duties of citizenship.” Specifically noted were his achievements -- between 1990 and 1998 -- in broadening community participation in environmental public policy development, and in organizing effective opposition to Anti-Indian racism and Wise Use/Militia violence in Washington state.
In December 2002, he completed his post-graduate work on social organizing, including the development of a graduate level political science curriculum that examines activist approaches vis-à-vis their ability to protect society from interference that threatens public participation.


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