Here’s What they Think About You: Part I. The Bewildered Herd

I remember reading a Noam Chomsky essay wherein he developed the history of Propaganda and Public Relations within the context of the “Bewildered Herd” theory, a theory/term actually credited to Walter Lippmann, which was that: benevolent businessmen, politicians and powers-that-be would control, and otherwise creatively manage, the dissemination of information to the “bewildered herd”, or public, because we were to stupid, dangerous and unreliable to figure things out on our own and still act according to the power structure’s wishes, whims and interests. Even more dangerous was our potential for clumsy, uneducated herd-like destruction should a few unsavory facts ever penetrate our feeble distracted minds.

Lippmann believed that “the common interests elude public opinion entirely” and that the great majority should be nothing but passive observers. The specialists who understood the understood the “common good”, much like Didion’s identification of the professional narrators and interpreters of public life, were to make the decisions about everything including the flow of information.

This theory has guided my thoughts and perception of history and politics ever since I first encountered it years ago, but never have I seen a more blatant, brazen and ridiculous example of it in practice until today.

While eating my lunch I caught this headline screaming from the screen “Greenspan Wanted Housing Bubble Dissent Kept Secret.” The report written by Ryan Grim says:

As top Federal Reserve officials debated whether there was a housing bubble and what to do about it, then-Chairman Alan Greenspan argued that the dissent should be kept secret so that the Fed wouldn’t lose control of the debate to people less well-informed than themselves.

“We run the risk, by laying out the pros and cons of a particular argument, of inducing people to join in on the debate, and in this regard it is possible to lose control of a process that only we fully understand,” Greenspan said, according to the transcripts of a March 2004 meeting.

There you have it folks. Can’t spell out how insignificant our little votes really are much more brutally than that. Greenspan was never even on a ballot so he doesn’t really have to pretend that the public are anything more than “parasites” devoid of “purpose or reason” to quote his hero Ayn Rand. In his typically clumsy, unapologetic, unaccountable way Greenspan overtly demonstrated that Lippmann’s “bewildered herd” construct is more entrenched than ever before.


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