Monday, December 06, 2004
The illusion of choice in the "soft" police state
The secret is that harsh police states work -- but only until an external force knocks them over. That external force may be as simple as the death of the founder of the state (e.g., the dissolution of the Spanish fascist police state after the death of Franco), or may be a result of technological innovations elsewhere (e.g., the economic disaster that was the Soviet Union in the 1980's when the Information Age rendered their centrally planned industrial economy obsolete, or the economic disaster that was the Ottomon Empire in the 1880's when the Industrial Age rendered their economy of small blacksmiths and workshops obsolete), or may even be the result of armed intervention of alarmed neighbors e.g. the fate of Germany in the 1940's, but the inevitable result is that the police state fails. It may take decades, but what are decades in the life of a Party that aims to be eternal?
In addition, repression tends to suppress innovation. The example of the Ottoman Empire shows what happens when innovation is suppressed: people who would otherwise innovate and create are instead repressed and the state falls behind. Thus on a long term basis, harsh police states do not, and cannot, keep up technologically with states which do not have such repression.
Thus this perfect police state that the Party is creating does not, and cannot, use widespread repression in order to obtain the allegience of sufficient sheeple in order to obtain and maintain power. But then, widespread repression is not necessary. All that is necessary is to create, maintain, and perpetuate the illusion of freedom and choice. After all, if a sheeple feels free, who will he revolt against? Who is his oppressor, if he feels free?
The growth of advertising and oligopolies in the 20th Century filled in the last of the equation. A few simple principles allow preserving the illusion of freedom, the illusion of choice:
- People want what they're told to want. The American advertising industry has been amazing at creating demand for products that no one in their right mind would ever conceive as desirable. The most ludicrous example of all this is the pet rock, a 1975 fad which epitomized the whole power of advertising and fads. Then take the Backstreet Boys, nSync, etc.... please. Yet more manufactured demand for product that no one in their right mind would ever actually wish to listen to if left to their own devices. By setting up our media to present to people what they should believe, we allow people to freely "choose" to believe what we tell them to believe -- meaning that they will never rebel because they will never conceive that the way things are is anything other than the way they "should" be. We of the Party are, indeed, blessed that the majority of sheeple are gullible fools who will believe whatever they're told they should believe.
- Control of shelf space. The successful oligopolist, such as Coca-Cola, knows that the best way to keep competitors out of the marketplace is to simply buy up the marketplace and make sure competitors' wares are never displayed to consumers. This works because there is only limited shelf space in a marketplace devoted to soft drinks. Thus if you go into a marketplace, the two soft drink oligopolists have purchased a good 80% of the shelf space to be used for their product, leaving any competitor's product in a small area that is often overlooked. Similarly, there are only a certain number of radio and television frequencies available. By purchasing the majority of these, we of the Party insure that our own ideas are the only ideas widely dessimated in the marketplace of ideas, and thus that people will only "choose" our ideas, since they will know no others.
- The illusion of choice. The successful oligopolist knows that it is not enough to simply buy the shelf space. One must also fill it with products that are superficially different, yet basically the same. A perfect example is the American beer market. Virtually all brands available on the shelf are minor variations of the same Milwaukee horse piss -- but with pseudo-differences to give the illusion of choice (e.g. "Budweiser" vs. "Michelob", which are made in the same factory using the same vats, but which have a different advertising campaign, different label, etc.). Similarly, in the American provinces of Oceania people go to the polls under the dlusion that they have a "choice" of candidates, when, in actuality, no one who is not owned by the Demopublican oligopoly has any chance of obtaining the "shelf space" in the marketplace of ideas necessary to win (when was the last time you heard of a third-party candidate gaining a significant share of the vote in any election of significance?).
Karl Rove O'Brien, Bush's Brain