Democracy and the Manipulation of Public Opinion

By: Raúl Zibechi

The most adequate form of ensuring governmental stability has been, until now, controlled democracy or low-intensity democracy; that is, a system that achieves stability through disinformation that the monopolized communications media promote, which is proving to be more efficient than dictatorships.

A study conducted by scientists with groups of fish, whose results they estimate can be extrapolated to human societies, was published in the Science journal in 2011, under the title “Uninformed individuals promote democratic consensus in animal groups.”

The research concludes that to counteract the influence of an obstinate minority, “the presence of uninformed individuals spontaneously inhibits this process, returning control to the numerical majority.”

The work insists on the importance of what it calls “uninformed people” in decision-making, whose result would be democratic because they are simply in the majority.

At this point, scientists seem influenced by the concept of a democracy of the ruling classes, which reduces it to the role of the majority in the election of their representatives. The problem in our societies is that these majorities are created by the manipulation of information, a task that falls to the big media monopolized by small groups of highly concentrated entrepreneurs.

Although the work is much more extensive than the paragraphs cited above, which summarize it, the importance of disinformation or, if one prefers, of the confusion it is capable of creating to distort the perceptions of the population, which is often pushed to support options that go against its interests, must be retained. But also to paralyze their capacity to react with a veritable bombardment, a task that falls particularly to the audiovisual media, especially television, the segment of communication most concentrated and impervious to dissent.

Examples abound: from misinformation about the causes of the covid-19 pandemic, with over-information about the bat in a Chinese market as a cause, to hiding the proven role of deforestation for [growing] industrial crops, to the causes of the war in Ukraine. Rejecting Russia’s invasion should not go hand in hand with denial of the existence of a coup in Kiev in 2014, nor the closure of 217 media outlets in Ukraine during the first year of the war, while 12,000 local and foreign journalists were accredited to cover it, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Nor are there reports in the Western media about Nazism in Ukraine, nor about Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, with its corollary of death, famine and humanitarian disaster. The presence of the U.S. armed forces in Syria, and so on in many other cases, is not considered an invasion.

Not to mention the US sabotage of the Nordstream gas pipeline — Seymour Hersh, who prepared a detailed report on how it was destroyed, “will be silenced and vilified”, as Noam Chomsky has just assured.

The truth is that disinformation plays an important role in sustaining the Western systemic order, a sector of the world that controls the principal media outlets that reach the population. As a recent coverage of El Salto points out: “the best journalistic content may not have any consequences,” because the power and the media at its service ignore it.

It’s clear that democracy does not exist in the media. That almost absolute control has achieved something that decades ago seemed impossible: eradicating conflict from public perception. The most brutal crimes can go unnoticed if the media insists on it.

When this media control overflows, because the reality is too evident, as in Peru in the last 70 days, there are the police, “the permanent coup d’état,” to break up the protests.

In my view, this reality has two major consequences.

The first is that it doesn’t make much sense to fight for public opinion, nor to compete with the system’s media, something that the peoples who struggle will never achieve. It’s about creating our own media, without a doubt, but not to compete for the opinion of the majorities, but to consolidate our field, the peoples in movement and all those who accompany them. That’s not something minor.

The second is the conviction that there is no such thing as democracy, if it ever existed. From the moment that the opinions and wills of the people are molded and manipulated by gigantic machines that escape any control other than that of the ruling classes, there is no future in the electoral game.

Building from below and to the left seems the only emancipatory path possible.

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, February 24, 2023, and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee. Reposted by Schools for Chiapas.

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