In The Absence Of The Sacred (Sierra Club Books, 1991)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008



Author Jerry Mander started out writing two books - one about the decimation of Indian culture, the other about how television shapes society - and soon found out they were really about the same thing.

p. 3 - "I only began to glimpse the problem during the 1960s when I saw how excited our society became about the presumed potentials of television ... A kind of war developed for access to this powerful new instrument that spoke pictures into the brains of the whole population, but the outcome was predetermined. We should have realized it was a foregone conclusion that TV technology would inevitably be controlled by corporations, the government and the military. Because of the technology's geographic scale, its cost, the astounding power of its imagery, and its ability to homogenize thought, behavior and culture, large corporations found television uniquely efficient for ingraining a way of life that served (and still serves) their interests."

p. 6 - "According to Cultural Survival, the Boston-based human rights organization, there are at least 3,000 native nations in the world today that continue to function within the boundaries of the 200-odd countries that assert sovereignty over them. Many wars that our media describe as 'civil wars' or 'guerilla insurgencies' are actually attempts by tribal nations to free themselves of the domination of larger nation-states. In Guatemala, it's the Mayans. In Burma, it's the Karens. In the Amazon, it's the Yanomamo and the Xingu, among others. In Micronesia, it's the Belauans. In Indonesia, it's the peoples of Irian Jaya."

p. 20 - "By the time I was thirteen or fourteen I became obsessed with the possibility of nuclear war. I kept imagining nuclear explosions with my family being ripped apart. What a stupid situation. Here I was at the beginning of my life and already the thought of annihilation was foremost in my mind. A tremendous amount of my emotional and intellectual attention revolved around how to live my life, given the existence of this one piece of technology. Worst of all, no one seemed able to talk about it - not my school, not my family, not the media. It was a profound technological experience shared by everyone in the United States and in most other parts of the world, but each person went through it alone."

p. 22 - "Ronald Reagan was the voice of the General Electric ad campaigns of that era. Years later, when he was president, Reagan employed the same kind of optimistic, expectant rhetoric. Hearing him speak of the wonderful things his Star Wars scheme would achieve, I heard the same style and many of the same words from the commercial imagery of the post-WWII period. In fact, Reagan's success may be explained in part by his connection to that optimistic time; everyone who is over thirty today grew up with that rhetoric ringing in his or her ears. It was cheerful, it created positive imagery, and it came at a time when amazing things really did seem possible."

p. 22 - "The new value system that was sold in the forties and fifties was designed to fuel the most massive expansion of the U.S. industrial and marketing sectors in history. The 'American way of life' became an advertising theme; it drew an explicit equation between how much you consumed and how American you were."

p. 26 - "As for leisure, I believe that what passes for leisure in our society is actually time-filling: watching television or buying things ... people such as Ivan Illich have said that if you include the time needed to earn money to pay for and repair all the expensive 'time-saving' gadgets in our lives, modern technology actually deprives us of time."

p. 35 - "What's more, the new machines actually do what they promise to do, leaving us feeling pleased and impressed. It is not until much later, after a technology has been around for awhile ... that societies ... begin to realize that a Faustian bargain has been made."

p. 35-36 "A prime example is nuclear energy, which cannot possibly move society in a democratic direction, but *will* move society in an autocratic direction. Because it is so expensive and dangerous, nuclear energy must be under the direct control of centralized financial, government and military institutions ... The existence of nuclear energy, and nuclear weaponry, in turn requires the existence of what Ralph Nader calls a new 'priesthood' - a technical and military elite capable of guarding nuclear waste products for the approximately 250,000 years that they remain dangerous. So if some future society, tiring of the present path ... should determine to move ... toward an agrarian society, it would be impossible. The technical elite would need to remain, if only to deal with the various wastes left behind. So it is fair to say that nuclear technology inherently steers society toward greater political and financial centralization, and greater militarization."

p. 40 "... our minds were being channeled and simplified to match the channeled and simplified physical environment - suburbs, malls, freeways, high-rise buildings - that also characterized the period (and continue to do so today) ... As a result people would become more passive, less able to deal with nuance and complexity, less able to read or create. People would get 'dumber', and have less understanding of world events even within an exploding information environment ... a new kind of leader would emerge from this process, one who fit the parameters of the medium, and who understood its language: simple, assertive, without history or context, with style superior to content. A few years later, Ronald Reagan became the personification of that prediction."

p. 56 "The utopian vision of a work-free society, in which machines do most of the work while all the humans relax, could only be realized if the economic benefits of automation and computerization were somehow shared by the workers. It would take a revolution to make this happen. For in capitalist society, the benefits are disproportionately alloted to the people who own the machines."

p. 73 " ... it is a simple fact that if there were no computers, the process of engaging in war would be much more drawn out, with a lot more time for human beings to change their minds or seek alternatives. It is only because computers exist that a virtually automatic, instant worldwide war, involving total annihilation, even enters the realm of possibility. So, can we say that computers are to blame?"

p. 92 "Ronald Reagan called MX missiles 'peacekeepers'. He said that lowering taxes on the wealthy benefited the poor, and he unabashedly claimed that massive rearming was the way to disarm. A few years later, George Bush said 'the last best chance for peace' was to declare war against Iraq, and then said 'the goal of the war is peace'. All these statements qualify as advanced 'doublespeak'. Reagan and Bush also understood the important Orwellian lesson in focusing public hatred on the repeated images of the enemy ... Reagan used Khomeni, then Khadafy, then Ortega. Bush used ... Willie Horton, then Manuel Noriega, then Saddam Hussein."

p. 93 "As with other news in the past, television's ability to deliver has been highly overrated. From the first day of the war, when CNN's Baghdad correspondents reported the bombing in the city, TV delivered very little in the way of actual war footage. This was partly due to Pentagon censorship, which prohibited reporters from going into the field except under controlled conditions, prohibited images of American dead or of body bags, permitted only scant contact with outside sources, and censored all military communiques. Reporters were essentially confined to official versions of the story."

p. 94 "Television was essentially an instrument of official policy during the first weeks of the war ... The high point was probably the 1991 Super Bowl, which was indistinguishable from a multimedia pro-war extravaganza."

p. 121 "We usually become aware of corporate behavior only when a flagrant transgression is reported in the news: the dumping of toxic wastes, the releasing of pollutants, the suppression of research regarding health effects of various products ... Even when we hear such news, our tendency is to respond as if the behaviors described stem from people within the corporate structure ... Seeing corporate behavior as rooted in the people who work within them is like believing that the problems of television are attributable solely to its program content. With corporations, as with television, the basic problems are actually structural ... inherent in the forms and rules by which these entitites are compelled to operate."

p. 122 - "Corporate 'culture' has become the virtual definition of American life, to be defended at all costs, even militarily. When Secretary of State George Schultz said in 1985 that in Nicaragua and El Salvador 'we are fighting for our way of life', it was the threat of collectivism to free enterprise and commodity culture that motivated his remarks. Conversely, when our leaders celebrate the new 'freedom' of Eastern Europe, they are really celebrating free enterprise and the market economy."

p. 125 - "The First Amendment was originally intended to protect personal speech, in a century when the only media consisted of single news-sheets, handbills and books. The net result of expanding First Amendment protection to corporate speech is that $100 billion worth of advertising from a relative handful of sources gets to dominate public perception, free from nearly all government attempts at regulation."

p. 133 - "All corporate profit is obtained by a simple formula: Profit equals the difference between the amount paid to an employee and the economic value of the employee's output, and/or the difference between the amount paid for raw materials used in production (including costs of processing) and the ultimate sales price of the processed raw materials. Karl Marx was right: A worker is not compensated for the full value of his or her labor; neither is the raw material supplier. The owners of the capital skim off part of the value as profit. Profit is based on underpayment ... the arrangement is inherently imbalanced. The owner of the capital - the corporation or the bank - always obtains additional benefit. While the worker makes a wage, the owner of the capital gets the benefit of the worker's labor, plus the surplus profit the worker produces, which is then reinvested to produce yet more surplus ... Profit is based on paying less than actual value for workers and resources. This is called exploitation."

p. 135 - "As for native societies, which celebrate an utterly nonmaterial relationship to life, the planet, and the spirit ... they are regarded as inferior and unenlightened. Backwards. We are told they envy the choices we have. To the degree these societies continue to exist, they represent a threat to the homogenization of worldwide markets and culture. Corporate society works hard to retrain such people in attitudes and values appropriate to corporate goals. But in the underdeveloped parts of the world, where corporations are just arriving, the ideological retraining process is just getting underway ... Most of this activity is funded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as agencies such as U.S. AID, the Inter-American Bank, and the Asian-American Bank, all of which serve multinational corporate enterprise."

p. 137 - "Now that we see the inherent direction of corporate activity, we must abandon the idea that corporations can reform themselves, or that a new generation of executive managers can be re-educated. We must also abandon the assumption that the form of the structure is 'neutral'. To ask corporate executives to behave in a morally defensible manner is absurd. Corporations, and the people within them, are not subject to moral behavior. They are following a system of logic that leads inexorably toward dominant behaviors. To ask corporations to behave otherwise is like asking an army to adopt pacifism. Form is content."

p. 156 - "For if there is a single word to describe EPCOT Center, I would say it's 'control'. The whole place is a visionary, futuristic projection of a utopian, computerized, technological police state, where human behavior is as predefined as the perfect grass lawns. It is a logical extension of the corporate vision that has been steadily evolving for decades."

p. 157 - " ... when they try to build those space utopias ... After all the money has been spent on the space program, and all the peoples of the world have been sold on it, and all the idealized controlled environments created, and all the corporate visions realized, the whole damn thing will end up functioning with the efficiency of, say, the subway or the phone company. It will work sometimes, but not always. To me this was cause for optimism: The grass always will grow up through the cracks. Nature probably will survive even if people do not. Total control never works."

p. 165 - "Of course, very few scientists ever believe themselves to be engaged in something harmful. The opposite is true ... The problem is that the media often presents these self-serving observations without offering equal time to alternative arguments. On the rare occasion when the media *does* present opposing views, there is then no public mechanism to act on the issues."

p. 214 - "Many authors, notably Carl Jung and Aldous Huxley, have stated that Western societies fear, hate, destroy and also revere Indians, precisely because they express the parts of our personal and cultural psyches that we must suppress in order to function in the world as we do ... If our society suddenly believed it was sacreligious to remove minerals from the earth, or to buy and sell land, our society would evaporate. Nor could it exist if Americans believed in an economic life organized along steady-state, collective-subsistence forms, as most Indian societies are. Therefore it is logical, normal and self-protective for Americans to find the philosophical, political and economic modes of Indian culture inappropriate and foolish."

p. 229 - "Speaking specifically of North American Indian societies, Clastres adds: "One is confronted by a vast constellation of societies in which the holders of what elsewhere would be called power (chiefs) are actually without power; where the political is determined as a domain beyond coercion and violence, beyond hierarchical subordination, where no relationship of command-obedience is in force. This is the major difference of the Indian world, making it possible to speak of the American tribes as a homogenous universe despite the extreme diversity of cultures moving within it."

p. 267 - "To the people living at Big Mountain, and to all traditional Hopi and Navajo, these tribal councils are as alien as George Bush is to a Micronesian islander. In traditional Hopi and Navajo government systems there was no such thing as 'tribal councils' or any central government authority. The traditional people don't recognize the authority of these councils; instead they say the councils are artificial inventions of U.S. policy. What's really going on, say the natives, is that the U.S. and the puppet councils want to kick people off the land to make way for large-scale ranching, coal strip-mining, and uranium exploration."

p. 377 - "In explaining why it was necessary to send half a million troops and to mobilize the entire industrial world against Saddam Hussein, George Bush initially suggested that the interruption of the flow of oil, or the rise in its price, 'threatens our way of life' and 'the new world order'. This latter phrase was at first greeted with puzzlement, so Bush changed the emphasis to 'naked aggression, 'stopping another Hitler', and 'restoring the legitimate government of Kuwait.' But President Bush had already demonstrated in Panama that he was comfortable with aggression. Comparing Saddam to Hitler obviously trivialized Hitler. And calling the Kuwaiti royal family 'legitimate' rulers, when they were arbitrarily installed by British colonialists only a few decades earlier, was simply farcical. No, George Bush had it right in the first place. He *was* fighting for a new world economic order."

p. 379 - "The term 'market economics' is the catchall pop phrase that is commonly used to describe the present economic trend, but the term is wildly imprecise. The only places on the planet where a market economy truly functions now are places such as Flint, Michigan or Houston, Texas, where thousands of workers have lost their jobs because free-enterprise capital has moved to Korea, or Thailand, or Poland; or else where a small manufacturer is crushed by a multinational's larger resources; or else where an energy conglomerate invades some great wilderness to seek oil or gas; or else where the last great rainforests, protected only by ancient forest tribes, are assaulted by Western-style development. 'Market economy' is really only a public-relations term to conceal the larger global picture: the forced abandonment of local controls on development, trade, prices or lifestyle in favor of the new centrally planned economy, supervised by banks and corporations and enforced by the U.S. military."

p. 380 - "Finally, the Persian Gulf crisis revealed one more critical, hidden truth about the new economic order: It is extremely vulnerable. The mere threat to slow the flow of just one key resource, such as oil, sets the entire technological system reeling like a creature whose air supply is choked off."

p. 382 - "Living as we do now, using the resources we do, following the inherent drives of a commodity-oriented technological society, we are doomed to fail. The signs of failure are already vivid and rampant in the environment, within our social systems, and in our desperate international behavior. Still worse than the failure of this society would be its success, which would bring on something infinitely more awful: that space-bubble EPCOT-type existence and beyond that, a postbiological 'utopia'. The intrinsic logic of technological society is leading in that direction; we are already well down the road. In pursuit of this terrible technotopian dream, we inevitably chew up the societies that have already warned that this path could not work, and that want to be left out of our mad fantasies. Worst of all, these are the very people who are best equipped to help us out of our fix, if only we'd let them be and listen to what they say."

Posted by St. Drogo at 9:10 AM  

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