As we wait for news of a possible ‘civil war’ in Venezuela, I thought this would be a wonderful break for us. I’d emailed Edward Curtain a few days ago to ask for his permission to post the entire essay, but as he hasn’t responded, I’ll borrow the beginning, then add a few titled sub-headings and some passages that may pique your interest enough to read it all. It’s seriously worth your time in my not-so-very humble opinion. ;-)
“…since grasping the present from within is the most problematic task the mind can face.”
~ Frederic Jameson
“Have you ever seen a photograph of yourself from the past and laughed or grimaced at the way you were dressed or your hair style? It’s a common experience. But few people draw the obvious conclusion about the present: that our present appearance might be equally laughable. The personal past seems to be “over there,” an object to be understood and dissected for its meaning, while the present seems opaque and shape-shifting – or just taken-for-granted okay. “That was then,” says the internal voice, “but I am wiser now.” Historical perspective, even about something as superficial as appearance, rarely illuminates the present, perhaps because it makes us feel ignorant and unfree.
This is even truer with political and social history.
In recent years there has been a spate of books and articles detailing the CIA’s past Cold War cultural and political propaganda efforts, from the creation of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) with its string of magazines, to its collaboration with many famous writers and intellectuals, including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, Richard Wright, Irving Kristol, et al., and its penetration and working relationships with so many publications and media outlets, including The New York Times, the Paris Review, Encounter, etc. These exposés show how vast was the CIA’s propaganda network throughout the media and the world, and how many people participated in the dirty work.
Joel Whitney, in his recently published book, Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers (the word “tricked” ignores the eager accomplices), tells this scandalous story in illuminating detail. His account informs and nauseates simultaneously, as one learns how the CIA penetrated NGOs, television, universities, magazines, newspapers, book publishing, etc., finding willing collaborationists everywhere – scoundrels eager to spy on and betray even their friends as they deceived the public worldwide; how well-meaning leftist writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Garcia Marquez were tricked into lending their names and work to propaganda publications; how leftists were set against leftists in an elaborate effort to sow paranoia and confusion that could be used to put the Soviet Union in the worst possible light; and how many front organizations were created to secretly funnel money to support these endeavors and make and break careers. The story makes your skin crawl.
But that was then. What about now? Whitney doesn’t say, presumably because he doesn’t know; doesn’t have documentary evidence to name names. This is not a criticism. He does say that “we understand vaguely that our media are linked to our government still today, and to government’s stated foreign policy,” and he wonders if the ideology that drove the CIA’s past endeavors “remains with us. (I am reminded of Emerson’s words: “What you do (or don’t) speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”). Despite his use of tepid language about the present, especially that word “vaguely,” it seems that Whitney thinks similar propaganda activities are going on today, which is why a blurb for Finks at his publisher’s website (OR Books) and at amazon.com by James Risen of the New York Times, who has written two books about the CIA, strikes such an odd note. It reads:
It may be difficult to believe that the American intellectual elite was once deeply embedded with the CIA. But with Finks, Joel Whitney vividly brings to life the early days of the Cold War, when the CIA’s Ivy League ties were strong, and key American literary figures were willing to secretly do the bidding of the nation’s spymasters.
“Difficult to believe.” For whom?
“Once.” When? In the bad old days?
“When the CIA’s Ivy League ties were strong.” Does the CIA now recruit from community colleges?
Are these the good old days? Such language usage makes one wonder: is it just a quickly scribbled blurb or carefully chosen words?”
The Future is Now
“Fifty years ago the CIA coined the term “conspiracy theory” as a weapon to be used to dismiss the truths expressed by critics of its murder of President Kennedy, and those of Malcom X, MLK, and RFK. All the media echoed the CIA line. While they still use the term to dismiss and denounce, their control of the MSM is so complete today that every evil government action is immediately seconded, whether it be…” (a long list that you’re only too familiar with).
Denying Existential Freedom
“We have been told interminably that our lives revolve around our brains (our bodies) and that the answers to our problems lie with more brain research, drugs, genetic testing, etc. It is not coincidental that the U. S. government declared the 1990s the decade of brain research, followed up with 2000-2010 as the decade of the behavior project, and our present decade being devoted to mapping the brain and artificial intelligence, organized by the Office of Science and Technology Project and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. How convenient! George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump — what a difference! But this is science and the welfare of the world. Science for idiots.”
Terrified to See the Current Truth?
“The same liberal (““liberal” Democrats – those whose bibles are the New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, Democracy Now, etc.”) media that served the CIA so admirably over the decades became the media that became liberals’ paragons of truth. Why?”
Curtin references two articles that appeared side by side in the May 28 The New York Times Magazine, demonstrating the masterful manipulative juxtaposition of cultural and political propaganda. First he describes a story on Syria’s “civil war” in Aleppo, Freedom Fighters, or: the lie that becomes the truth, especially when there are photos with deceptive, agitprop captions.
But just ahead of Worth’s ‘report’ is Molly Young’s “Empire of Dust” by Molly Young. No, not the disintegration of the Amerikan Empire, but featuring goddess/guru Amanda Chantal Bacon and the rise of the wellness industry, pictured sitting in a lotus pose in her flowing white silk garments on a marble kitchen counter top; O, so epicurean and tasteful! You can have the good life, too! Focus your discerning eyes here, pampered readers!
“Young begins by telling the reader, “The amount of time I waste finding and consuming alternative-medicine supplements for ‘brain function’ has made me at least 10 percent dumber, and that paradox is not lost on me. It was that impulse that made me pause last year at a fancy store in Brooklyn when I spotted a glass jar labeled ‘Brain Dust’.” From there Young takes us to Los Angeles, where she interviews the lifestyle guru Bacon, and we hear about Spirit Dust, Beauty Dust, Sex Dust, vaginal steaming, spirit truffles, and sunbathing the vagina, and to the Hamptons where she again spots Brain Dust in an expensive store that also sells “boeuf-bourguignon-flavored dog biscuits.” Young, having traversed the golden triangle – Brooklyn, L.A., and the Hamptons – tells us how Bacon captures her imagination even as she “was ashamed of its capture.” She drinks Power Dusted coffee with the Moon Juice founder who tells her, “I was told growing up in NYC that I had learning disabilities and mental illness. That was all the rage in the ‘90s.” (Presumably they are raging no longer.)”
Stylish Substance Abuse
“Everything has become style today, and no doubt the CIA has learned that the trick is to hide truthful substance behind the style. Evidence is beside the point. Just assert things in a slick style. Assert them repeatedly, even when they have been proven false or fraudulent. Sex Dust and Power Dust may be absurd con jobs, but they sell. They meet a “need,” a need created by the society that has slyly equated power with sex for a population that has been convinced they have neither and need drugs to endow them with both.”
“In a “wellness culture,” it has to have style. Today the only time you hear the word substance, is in “substance abuse,” which is fitting.”
Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/
The rest is here, and I hope you enjoy the show; I sure as hell did.
I’d sent it to J, and he steered me to René Girard’s writings and especially his theory on mimetics. This is a brief introduction, including this pithy quote:
‘Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.’
“…Girard realized that people don’t fight over their differences. They fight because they are the same, and they want the same things. Not because they need the same things (food, sex, scarce material goods), but because they want what will earn others’ envy. Since people tend toward the same objects of desire, jealousy and rivalry are inevitable sources of social tension — and perfect themes for the great novelists.”
I’m not convinced altogether, as ‘man’ is not monolithic, and so many questions and counter-arguments can arise, especially with a class analysis, counter-cultures within societies, the colonized and neo-colonized, etc., but his work certainly seems worth further exploration. But in the “My bling is superior to your bling, thus I’m the King of Bling and its attendant Power” construct, yep, he’s right on the money.
This is ‘René Girard’s Mimetic Theory & The Scapegoat’, March, 2012
“The stories from the Hebrew and Christian texts seemed to have a slightly different perspective than those of other mythologies. In these stories, the scapegoat was not always guilty.” (fascinating comparisons) Note the intriguing titles on the left sidebar; whooosh.