How To Create Social Change in the Face of Elite Dominance

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Elite power falls before the united power of the citizens.

Let us first discuss how societal change works, and then subsequently we can discuss what an effective movement looks like. Understanding the below is important in order to understand the unprecedented levels of coercion we are seeing with the issues we are dealing with. Unlike other social issues, the movement faces oppressive force from a combination of government combined with a united corporate front. Understanding this will help us develop better strategies to fight it.

The process of making societal change necessitates an understanding how power structures work in society, the structures used to codify decision-making power, and the ability of those in power to control the dialogue regarding what is permissible dialogue vs. dialogue considered anathema.

According to elite theory, a small group of elite exercises decision-making power over the majority. Dominance of government by a small elite group is not a new phenomenon, but one rather that has been true throughout all of history. It was advocated long ago by the philosopher Plato when he discussed his idea of philosopher-king in the work The Republic. The same idea has been reflected by monarchy, dictatorship, oligarchy, Communism, and even in our representative democracy here in America.

In his book “Who Rules America?”, Professor William Domhoff states that corporate elites have vastly more power to affect legislative actions relative to the average citizen (see the Wikipedia article on elite theory for a more in-depth discussion). For the most part, corporate elites stay out of social issues unless it directly threatens their financial interests, and then they will collectively band together to influence the public mind as will be described below.

During the early 1970s, the American corporations and business class, upon seeing the threat of the 1960s civil rights movement, began a plan to secure their power in society. They were successful as the 1980s saw the rise of globalism, neoliberalism, and unprecedented corporate excess. The Powell Memorandum is an essential read for understanding how they think and the lengths that they will go to.

In our democracy, the big lever of societal change is legislation. Our elected officials propose bills which are then voted into law. Various groups in society aim to influence or control the legislative process, thereby shaping legislation that is favorable to their own interests or perspective.

Real power in a democratic society is the ability to: 1) control the societal dialogue and thereby control public opinion and therefore the beliefs and actions of its citizens, 2) influence elected officials to take actions favorable to your interests, 3) influence the course of elections so that your candidate is voted in, and

This last form of power, number three, is understated and not publicly acknowledged, but it forms a critical and pervasive part of our society. It is a powerful and successful tool wielded by politicians, corporations, government institutions, and those with great wealth and power.

This is called the propaganda function.

Understanding and utilizing propaganda is important in order to make societal change. A good introduction to the propaganda function is Bernay’s classic aptly-named book Propaganda (a 100 years old and still relevant!). Nowadays, what Bernay’s calls propaganda goes by the more socially-accepted term, public relations (but a spade is a spade is a spade…).

Prominent intellectual Noam Chomsky introduced the term Propaganda model to explain how propaganda works in modern society. The gist is that the media serve and disseminate the propaganda of the powerful societal interests that control and finance them. This happens by selection of editors and journalists who share their institutional views and priorities.

Noam Chomsly has a brilliant analysis of propaganda in mainstream society (a must-read article regarding mainstream media, a must-read book Media Control, a long documentary Manufacturing Consent here, and a summary of the long documentary here).

Because of the power of the common people, and the desire for those in power to maintain their control and implement their agendas, propaganda becomes even more necessary in freer societies than it is in more controlled, fascist societies.

The below diagram illustrates how the propaganda function is at play in all parts of the lawmaking process:

Prominent modern thinker Noam Chomsky wrote about how the elite mindset is that the rabble must be kept out of power structures and how elites carefully control public opinion: “the more ‘free and popular’ a government, the more it becomes necessary to rely on control of opinion to ensure submission to the rulers… In a democracy, the governed have the right to consent, but nothing more than that… the population may be ‘spectators,’ but not ‘participants,’ apart from occasional choices among leaders representing authentic power. That is the political arena.” (from his essay Consent Without Consent)

Sociologist Richard Wright describes the term power elite to describe: “a relatively small, loosely connected group of individuals who dominate American policy making. This group includes bureaucratic, corporate, intellectual, military, media, and government elites who control the principal institutions in the United States and whose opinions and actions influence the decisions of policymakers.” (see the Wikipedia entry on power elite for more)

The below diagram illustrates the web of relationships that the elite can influence public opinion:

To implement change, controlling the beliefs of the common people is critical because it is from the common people that all powers of government emanate from (the doctrine of consent to be governed). It is also from the common people that capitalistic market power is created. The common people have the ability to decide what businesses and corporations live and die by their collective decisions. We do this everyday with our purchases and buying power. Few people think they have a say in creating societal change, but they do!! We all do, and this is a critical point to understand for our Movement.

Remember the game is not just about influencing legislators, but ultimately about controlling the societal dialogue and propaganda function. In actuality, American propaganda might be the most sophisticated!

With greater censorship and use of authoritarian government power, winning the hearts and minds of the public becomes increasingly more important and more critical to the success of our Movement!

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