by PAUL COLLITS – CURRENT Australian governments have messed around with the foundational principles of democracy, big time.
One version of the classic definition of democratic theory, and, in particular, representative democracy, reads: “Consent of the governed” refers to the idea that a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use State power is justified and lawful only when consented, or agreed to, by the people over which that political power is exercised.
See under Plato, Hobbes and Locke. You want to boss us around, well, we have to agree to it first. How well are we doing, in Australia, in the twenty-first century? It turns out, not very well.
The Epoch Times (and The Australian newspaper) reported this week on further findings about the Andrews Government’s nudge program, courtesy of another Freedom of Information request, this time from the Victorian Upper House Libertarian Party Member, David Limbrick.
Again, it concerns the public relations consultants, QDOS. During the Andrews dictatorship, they came up with “five levels of compliance”.
The State’s capital, Melbourne, experienced the most lockdowns of any city in the Western world during COVID-19, spending 262 total days under heavy restrictions.
An FOI document released to The Australian revealed that during the time, citizens were placed into five categories by officials.
The first was those who strongly supported and followed restrictions, the second, was those who supported and tried to follow restrictions, while the third group was those who felt restrictions were not needed anymore.
The fourth group included people who trusted their judgement over the government, while the fifth, were those who felt the restrictions were illegitimate.
Bureaucrats in Victoria used these categories the determine which group needed persuading on the importance of lockdowns, the FOI reported.
“… the third group was ‘probably’ the main group to persuade, as they would be the most ‘reasonable’ and only needed to ‘hear a good case’ for lockdowns.”
The fifth group was discounted as “not open to any form of sense or reason”.
Meanwhile, the first and second groups, who made up “the bulk of people,” were described as “pretty compliant”.
This is a little reminiscent of the quadrant of conformity. It is interesting that Victorian goon-bureaucrats, themselves docile servants of the former Grand Master, thought that persuading the (rightly) forever sceptical to hand over their rights and freedom to a dictator was a matter of sense and reason!
As Limbrick said, with evident concern: “I’m worried that they’ll do it for other things too.”
Of course they will, and do. The use of behavioural insights by “the authorities” isn’t confined to Criminal Minds and similar TV shows.
And their use is a key part of the current, holistic approach to achieving political control and ideological goals. Other parts of the emergent totalitarian ecosystem include digital IDs, supra-national control of health policy, Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) and effective State control of social media through mis- and dis-information legislation of the kind being rolled out as we speak, across the Anglosphere.
The strategy is a dual one. First, build a series of fences around individuals, and second, make them supine and submissive. That is what QDOS was doing. Finding out just how far the State could go without pushback.
And when there was pushback, then we had the rubber bullets and the LRADs (long-range acoustic devices).
Limbrick possibly had a mob called Insights Victoria in mind.
It has been revealed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has a data agency to monitor Victorians’ everyday activities, including social media sentiment and credit card transactions.
The Sunday Herald Sun newspaper has obtained documents about the agency, called Insights Victoria, under freedom of information laws.
The publication found the dashboard, which is updated daily, uses publicly available data, but also “commercial in-confidence” and “sensitive” data not permitted for third party or public release.
It was set up as part of the government’s pandemic response in August 2020, but a September 2020 briefing note said the system would evolve and inform decision-making beyond COVID, the Herald Sun reported.
“Insights Victoria can reduce the time and effort required to quickly understand the ‘state of the state’ across all portfolios,” the document read.
A guide said the document was “designed to be the single truth source” for government.
The documents show access to all data was granted to Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp and Mr Andrews’s private political staff.
Ministerial private offices and senior public servants had some access to the system on a need-to-know basis.
It is control infrastructure, pure and simple.
Of course, both the theory and the practice of “nudge” isn’t new. Just because Thaler and Sunstein only wrote their book (Nudge) in the 2000s doesn’t mean the dark arts of soft totalitarianism are a recent phenomenon.
Germany’s Dr Joseph Goebbels was an effective practitioner, of course. As he said: “Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”
The media was the platform. And the methods of manipulating the platform were many and varied. Coercion often wasn’t (and isn’t) needed.
Having working journalists (or academics, or bureaucrats) too frightened to do their jobs properly is as easy as threatening unemployment, denying promotions, creating narratives to which people feel the need to conform (as people do).
Nearly forty years ago, Noam Chomsky and his co-author, Edward Herman, wrote the modern bible on manufacturing consent (Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, 1988).
Old Leftists still have their uses. Especially so now, as the post-COVID State erects its totalitarian ecosystem.
The notion of manufacturing consent has a long history. In his 1922 book, Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann introduced the phrase. And he was writing in the context of democratic theory and its basis in the consent of the governed, a state of play that absolutely no one would recognise in today’s system.
“The basic problem of democracy,” he wrote, “was the accuracy of news and protection of sources. He argued that distorted information was inherent in the human mind. People make up their minds before they define the facts, while the ideal would be to gather and analyze the facts before reaching conclusions.”
Ironically, using Wikipedia (as we often do) as a source of reliable information itself doesn’t come close to guaranteeing an informed electorate in a democracy.
The core assumption of manufactured consent is that you-the-government are setting about doing things that we-the-people haven’t not consented to, and perhaps never would. It might be argued that a little manufacturing of consent is permissible, even required.
The art of gentle persuasion is, after all, also a critical part of democracy. Some might call winning a new constituency for a policy “leadership”. And call kowtowing to existing opinion (horror of horrors) “populism”.
Fair enough, you might think. It is just that there is persuasion and persuasion. Encouraging consent is not the same as manufacturing it. And the Left’s preference for technocracy is precisely what occurs when persuasion goes too far.
It is here we have landed, and it isn’t pretty. We even have leaders – okay, it was Jacinda Ardern – of Western democracies saying things in public like: “We will continue to be your single source of truth”, and “Unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth”.
We know they believe it, but saying it out loud?!
Here is Lippman again: “It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.”
Err, no it hasn’t. The implications of this conclusion are, frankly, frightening. It is noteworthy that the early advocates of technocracy were out and about at the time Lippmann was writing.
Certainly in the 1930s, which was, not by accident, the very time that fascism emerged as a political force and an acceptable form of governance.
The connections with socialism and central planning are clearly there as well. This is the idea that the State knows best, the people are clueless and problems can be solved by a centralised power.
Friedrich Hayek provided the definitive rebuttal of this nonsense (in works such as The Road to Serfdom, Individualism and Economic Order, The Use of Knowledge in Society and The Fatal Conceit).
That central, collectivist agencies cannot know and attend to the preferences of individuals is a compelling argument for limited government. Very limited government. And governments that do little require very little manufacturing of consent. Very little need of nudge units. No need for tricking people into believing and doing things not in their interests but in the interests of their rulers.
In just about every case you can think of, the core concerns of ordinary people are a pretty damned low priority of the governing class. If on the radar at all.
Hayek’s scepticism about the claims for technocracy – not a term Hayek used much – is similar to that of William F Buckley: “I would rather be governed by the first 2000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University Faculty.”
Indeed. Not to mention UK economist Adam Smith: “The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it.”
A succinct, on-point rejection of technocracy, overly ambitious and overweening government and the temptations towards manufacturing consent to which they inevitably give rise.
Fast forward to the 1980s. Chomsky and Herman focused on the mass media as the modern consent shaper.
They were right to do so. The use of the term “modern” is deliberate. Now, we face a post-modern informational world, with myriad, technology-driven sources of data-corruption. Much of it is deliberate, and organised.
The Penguin Publishing summary of their book reads: “Contrary to the usual image of the press as cantankerous, obstinate and ubiquitous in its search for truth, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky depict how an underlying elite consensus largely structures all facets of the news.
As would be expected for a Leftist, the book exhibited a focus on the “political economy” of the media and chose as its targets the horrible deeds of enemies of the old Left.
Ironically, much of their analysis mirrors the insights of public choice theorists like James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, who explicated and explained the private interests of public sector players.
An updated version of the manufacturing consent thesis might emphasise:
- The acceptance by the 21st century Left of, indeed high levels of support for, mass media narratives;
- The merging of late capitalism with post 1970s radical social revolution;
- The new alignment of corporate and State interests in a totally new and unexpected hybrid system of governance;
- The emergence of new media and “social” media as a driver of narratives and a manufacturer of consent;
- A turbo-charged desire by the modern citizenry to conform;
- A politicised bureaucracy with a totally progressive mindset and agenda;
- A politicised academy, on the take from government and corporates;
- An education system that trains minds to conform to one view of the world and de-trains minds away from critical thinking;
- Globalism as a driving ideological force and the new and totally intrusive role of global institutions and NGOs in setting policy;
- New tools for those who wish to shape opinion, like “fact checking”, to name just one.
Of course, the old economic drivers are still present for the legacy media. Look at the 75 per cent of media advertising revenue from Big Pharma noted by the late Roger Ailes, which informed much of the impoverished, mainstream reportage of the “pandemic”.
Look also at the capacity of global “philanthropists” to buy off huge chunks of the media in order to embed a preferred narrative on a range of topics, such as the need for depopulation, mass immigration, multiculturalism, climate catastrophes, net-zero, victim identity and hyperactive responses to viruses.
The stakes are now so much higher, both for governments, activists and corporates with such far-reaching agendas, on the one hand, and for freedom-seeking citizens, on the other.
If governments only did a few things, manufacturing consent wouldn’t be such a big deal. These days, the State needs our consent, or a facsimile of it, for running most of our lives. And for handing over power to multinational bodies and to corporates, via outsourcing.
When I say “needs our consent”, I should modify this to add, “when it cannot get away with doing things behind our backs”.
As doing things behind our backs, or without us noticing – see under immigration policy – has become far more common in these days, where elections no longer deliver mandates or even raise important issues, the old theory might have to be tweaked. A lot.
There is, seemingly, a whole new area of State activity which doesn’t actually require any consent, real or manufactured. There is no pretence at consultation or debate.
Having a referendum on the Indigenous Voice, or having any referendum, so essential to democracies like Switzerland, hardly ever happen, certainly not on make-or-break issues.
COVID policy, of course, takes the cake for the total absence of consent, or the felt need for it by the State.
More generally, one sure fire way of doing a consent “work around” is for the State simply to lie about its actions or intentions. To say you are doing “X” when actually you are doing “Y”. Say you are “providing online safety for children” when what you are really doing is curtailing free speech and shutting down dissent.
There is another update required for the theory, at least in its Chomsky iteration.
Most people now do not get their “news” from the mass media. For those in and around corporatist government who seek to control minds and influence behaviour, in other words, to manufacture consent, this doesn’t much matter.
The above dot point list suggests that the State has many, many bases covered, tricks up its sleeve and brand-new toys with which to play. And with the potential offered by the internet for creating a far more diverse media and the capacity for independent journalists to thrive beyond the reach of craven editors and bought-up proprietors with agendas, the stakes for the State’s maintenance of control have risen exponentially.
Hence the many, carefully thought-through new and massive efforts to control the alt-media beast.
At the end of the day, democratic theory requires a substantial update, at the very least, if not radical surgery.PC