American Dystopia – The Propaganda Mask and the Utopia Syndrome
By Larry Romanoff for the Saker Blog
January 24, 2021
In an article in the NYT on America’s “Racial Democracy” (or racist democracy), (1) Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver noted “The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argued that when political ideals diverge very widely from reality, the ideals themselves may prevent us from seeing the gap. When the official story differs greatly from the reality of practice, the official story becomes a kind of mask that prevents us from perceiving it.”
This means that if propaganda is not only incessant and pervasive but if its tenets are too far removed from factual truth, the victims of this propaganda lose their ability to separate fact from fiction and become unable to recognise the discrepancy between their beliefs and their actions, believing their actions correspond with the religiously-inspired tenets of their propaganda even when they patently and most obviously do not correspond. The theory is not intuitively obvious, but it is heavily supported by facts. Perhaps it is for this reason that Americans are guilty of what I call “the Utopia Syndrome”, comparing themselves not with the real world of their actions but with some utopian standard that exists only in their own imaginations, a world of fancy and illusion where they meet the standards but all others do not. In this light, it may be that much of what we attribute to American hypocrisy may in reality be due to a peculiarly American kind of mass insanity.
Dictionaries generally define ‘aberration’ as a deviation from the normal or typical, an event or characteristic that may be unpleasant or even criminal but that is seldom encountered. In 1975, a US Senate Committee was investigating the documented tales of the CIA engaging in widespread killings of world leaders obstructive to US hegemony. (2) (3) Their conclusion?
“The committee does not believe that the acts of assassination which it has examined represent the real American character. They do not reflect the ideals which have given the people of this country and the world hope for a better, fuller, fairer life. We regard the assassination plots as aberrations.”
So, as William Blum noted, (4) the assassinations by the CIA of more than 50 national leaders and 100 lesser targets spanning at least 50 years and continuing in uninterrupted form through twelve US Presidents, are mere “aberrations” that don’t reflect “the real American character”. Reading from the same script, the US military casually described all the circumstances and events at its worldwide network of US torture prisons over twelve decades as “aberrations”.
It is worth re-reading the above quote telling us the 150 or more murders “do not represent the real American character”, the quote forming a perfect introduction to the Propaganda Mask and the Utopia Syndrome. The assassinations of all these foreign leaders are not denied; instead they are described as inconsistent with the American utopian ideal, and it is the ideal rather than the act against which America judges itself, the fictitious utopian ideal providing the real measure of American moral supremacy. This pathological reasoning is a stunning tribute to the efficacy of the propaganda methods of Lippman and Bernays, who almost single-handedly turned Americans into raving lunatic war-mongers during both World Wars. (5) It is from precisely this propaganda that Americans today can commit multiple horrendous atrocities, violate every measure of human rights, yet claim the high moral ground and see no inconsistency or conflict. The propagandised utopian ideal of creating peace and stability in the world will supersede America’s actions of creating only war and instability. The propagandised ideal of fostering and protecting democracy will overwhelm and mask the reality that the US has never anywhere installed a democracy, has never supported democracy, and has instead almost exclusively installed and supported brutal Right-Wing dictatorships. This patently illogical logic applies across the entire spectrum of US behavior.
Following the same line of reasoning, an American writer named Dana Williams (6) wrote a reasonably good article detailing that America’s military interventions have always been waged only on behalf of big business and the elites, but then added: “America’s most priceless treasure is its democratic values and its growing sense of human rights”. What? A growing sense of human rights? Evidenced by what? This woman had just written of the increasingly devastating litany of American atrocities and destruction of so many governments and nations and in the next breath tells us of this same country’s priceless and growing treasure of democracy and human rights, apparently unaware of any conflict. Such is the power of propaganda and the ability of myths to insinuate themselves into the human heart and mind.
Michael Parenti, for whom I have considerable admiration, did essentially the same thing, writing, “… the American way is to criticize and debate openly, not to accept unthinkingly the doings of government officials of this or any other country.” (7) But where were all these openly-debating Americans when their government was progressively destroying Iraq for more than ten years? Where were they when Madeline Albright was killing 500,000 Iraqi infants? Where was the open public debate about the destruction of Jugoslavia or Libya? Where are they today when the US is destroying Venezuela? Due to the intensive propaganda and ideological programming, Americans are taught to venerate the process, but ignore the result. This is truly a kind of mass insanity, with all the credit due to Bernays, “the father of Public Relations in America”.
Further examples of this mass delusion are not difficult to find. US President Obama was asked why the US managed to rise for more than 200 years without apparent failure. His response was to say, “The true strength of our nation comes not from power of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the staying power of our ideals of democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.” (8) We can be forgiven for questioning the man’s sanity, that he could make such a blatantly nonsense statement. Even worse, how ignorant and gullible can Americans be, that they will cheer and wave their flags on hearing such rubbish? We have already examined the sources of wealth of this nation, and they most emphatically have never been related, not even in imagination, to ideals of democracy or liberty.
In another case illustrative of the pervasive nature of this illness, in 2014 an American football team cancelled the employment contract of one of their star players for having made a vicious assault on his wife. In a casino hotel, the elevator camera recorded the man punching his wife in the head so hard that he drove her head-first into the steel wall, rendering her unconscious on the floor. (9) (10) A moment later, the CCTV camera in the hallway recorded him dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator and dumping her on the floor like a rag doll. When the videos were released and went viral, the man made a statement to the media in which he said, “That is not the kind of person I am.” But of course it is the kind of person he is; this was the third time the police had to intervene when he had done something similar. But, as with most Americans and with the nation itself, he doesn’t compare himself to the reality of his actions but rather to the utopian ideals he pretends to hold in his mind. So even though he repeatedly punches his wife unconscious, that’s not the kind of person he is. This story is a perfect illustration of America today.
On another occasion, James Fallows, an American author and correspondent for the Atlantic magazine, wrote in one of his diatribes comparing China with the US: “… though we fall short of the ideal, we strive for a reliable rule of law.” (11) I have no particular wish to throw stones at Fallows, but this man is painting targets on his forehead with such a clearly ridiculous statement. All of the current domestic and international evidence – all of it – supports an unqualified assertion that the US freely ignores and violates every manner of law, both its own and those of other nations, whenever they become inconvenient or hinder unilateral action, yet we have Fallows with his delightfully patronising arrogance pontificating about America striving for perfection in following the rule of law, while suggesting that China does not do so. His claim is not different in quality than Bush and Obama flatly stating “we do not torture” after we have seen all the evidence and the torture prisons are all still open. Black is white. Nothing else to see here. Let’s move on. And move on Fallows does, secure in his fairyland mythology of American moral superiority, oblivious to the enormous contradictions snapping at his heels.
Fallows, in his suspended consciousness, conforms perfectly to this utopian syndrome, comparing the actions of his country to a high standard which exists only in his imagination and to which the US has never adhered. He does the same with his foolish criticisms of China, imagining the existence of some idolised standard which he then claims China fails to meet.
It is of extreme importance for readers to realise and fully understand that expressions like ‘rule of law’, ‘freedom’, and ‘democratic values’ are merely hypothetical idealistic constructs. They are myths and, like all myths, they are “designed to serve an emotive rather than cognitive function, not to provide fact based on reason but as propaganda to arouse emotions in support of an idea”. (12) Their purpose, and their clever effect, is not to provide information but to make one’s heart swell with pride at one’s own moral superiority. Think again of Fallows’ “though we fall short of the ideal, we strive for a reliable rule of law.” As Americans, we instantly feel that surge of pride in our breasts that we are so law-abiding while others by insinuation are not. Even further, we feel yet more pride that we so openly admit our (occasional and trivial) failures but, being good incarnate, we face and overcome these failings and continue striving in the best Olympic spirit. How can our god not love us?
The US government does precisely the same with its annual reports on human rights, which not only meet the definition of the utopian fallacy but contain the added merit of being mostly grand lies about countries that happen to be out of favor, and equally grand omissions about current politically-useful allies.
In this mental condition, Americans consider themselves superior to all others and believe they are advancing some greater good when all they are doing is forcibly imposing their warped anti-social values and political hegemony onto unwilling nations and peoples. Through their generations of propaganda, programming and brainwashing, most Americans live in an indispersible fog of mass delusion and self-deception in which black is white but which they inexplicably fail to fathom. From their ignorance and simple-mindedness created by their excessive utopian programming, Americans see their country’s prosecution of wars, the cannibalisation of nations and the single-minded devotion to the profit of a few elites, as the promotion of democracy and freedom, and are apparently incapable of the minor clarity of thought necessary to see that their murderous and greedy actions have absolutely nothing to do with either freedom or democracy.
When challenged, they usually offer a logic so groundless and illogical as to almost defy challenge. In their minds, all the nations their government has attacked are by utopian definition “evil regimes”. From the invasion of Mexico onward, in all the nations in South and Central America, in Africa and the Middle East, in Asia and Africa, the US was selflessly battling despotic tyranny. Of course, these nations were innocent, but to produce a list of all the countries the US has invaded and colonised with a military dictatorship, will almost inevitably evoke this response: “You make a list of all the evil regimes that “free America” has fought against, and use that list as evidence of how evil free America is.” If only that were true.
The combined political, religious and capitalistic propaganda tenets have resolved into what John Galbraith in The Affluent Society termed “conventional wisdom” (13) (14) which, through generations of that same propaganda, made these tenets “more or less identical with sound scholarship”, and their status being “virtually impregnable”, as he put it. The tenets of course have not actually been adhered to by any US government or indeed by the elites and their corporations, which means in Galbraith’s terms that the tenets are “highly acceptable in the abstract” rather than in reality. And this is the source of our dystopia of utopia in America today. We have the bizarre situation where this conventional wisdom – propaganda, in fact – makes a vigorous advocacy of these beliefs a substitute for behavior according to these beliefs.
So we have Americans preaching democracy while their government installs brutal dictatorships everywhere, and they see no disconnect. We have Americans preaching human rights while kidnapping people in other countries and “rendering” them to be mostly tortured to death, and see no disconnect. We have Americans fervently preaching and defending free-market capitalism while that same animal relieved about 30% of them of their homes and jobs, yet they see no disconnect.
This massive delusion is constantly reinforced by public repetition where each knows that many others share these beliefs. It all functions as a kind of religious morality play, the repetitive propaganda not only providing reassurance but serving as additional and pervasive evangelising of these foolish beliefs. Galbraith stated that “In some measure, the articulation of the conventional wisdom is a religious rite. It is an act of affirmation like reading aloud from the Scriptures or going to church.” He went on to say that this evangelising as a religious rite is not negligible because “its purpose is not to convey knowledge but to beatify learning and the learned”. In other words, statements like “we strive for a rule of law” are empty and nonsense pronouncements providing religious reinforcement of the mythical utopian tenets of American propaganda, then used as evidence of a superior morality tantamount to God’s will. Only in America do we find rampant self-adoration for preaching a gospel that we totally ignore in our real lives, in fact a monstrous hypocrisy re-branded as religion.
This is precisely what John Kozy was telling us (15) when he wrote that subjects in American schools were taught as if they were comprised of revealed religious truths, and in which the fundamentals of American patriotism, religious and political ideology, consumerism and free market capitalism were not different than studying the Bible in that they could not be questioned because they were by nature unquestionable, and therefore critical evaluation was proscribed. And again, “those who ask inconvenient questions are silenced in shame; books that present inconvenient truths are removed from libraries”. In the US as in no other country in the world, is it so necessary to adhere to the accepted narrative, nor so likely to provide acceptance and even applause for regurgitating that same narrative. And in no other nation does there exist the vast discrepancy between beliefs and actions or between theory and practice. The American political gospel tells us that we protect and install democracies everywhere. In real life this has never occurred even one time, but that doesn’t alter our faith in our political religion and nobody excommunicates us for our sins.
According to Galbraith again, “conventional wisdom accommodates itself not to the world that it is meant to interpret but to the audience’s view of the world”, the same view that has been artificially created by the professional propagandists. As much as Americans may criticise other nations for disapproval of deviations in behavior, especially political behavior, the same disapproval mechanism operates much more forcefully in American society. Only in America can we fully experience the awesome power of the ability of propaganda to make 300 million people so deaf, dumb and blind that they will fervently and solemnly declare that black is white. This process is so effective that not long after the flood of revelations of the extensive US network of torture prisons, including witness reports, photos and video of the pathologically depraved treatment of the prisoners, President Bush could go on national TV and tell America, “We do not torture” – and have most Americans believe him. Likewise with Obama with his torture prisons still in full operation, who told the nation, “I can stand here before you tonight and assure you that we do not torture”, leaving 300 million pathetically-brainwashed Americans firmly grounded in the moral superiority of a nation that does no wrong.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, commenting on American deaths in Iraq, said President Bush “believes in the value and dignity of every human life, that every life is precious and he grieves for each one that is lost”. (16) (17) As proof, one day President Bush was speaking to a meeting of the terrorist organisation known as Freedom House, and told the members, “We’re a country of deep compassion. We care. One of the great things about America, one of the beauties of our country, is that when we see a young, innocent child blown up, we cry. We don’t care what the child’s religion may be, or where that child may live, we cry. It upsets us. The enemy knows that, and they’re willing to kill to shake our confidence. That’s what they’re trying to do”. (18) But then there is a White House videotape of a conversation between former Secretary of State Colin Powell and then President George Bush, discussing their Christian obligation to spread democracy everywhere, at least in part for the purpose of protecting the lives of these innocent children. (19) (20) Powell opened the conversation with, “We’ve got to smash somebody’s ass quickly. We must have a brute demonstration of power.” To which Bush responded, “Kick ass! If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! Stay strong! Kill them! We are going to wipe them out!”
After overthrowing about 50 national governments and installing brutal military remote-control dictatorships in each of them, and trying to do the same in another 20 countries while grossly interfering in their media, elections and internal affairs, Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador in Kabul, told the world, “America has never sought to occupy any nation in the world. We are a good people”. (21) (22)
After interfering in about 100 countries, inflicting immense bloodshed and misery on countless millions of innocent civilians, US President Ronald Reagan boasted, “We have never interfered in the internal government of a country and have no intention of doing so, never had any thought of that kind.” (23) And it was the great John F. Kennedy himself who told us, “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war”. (24) As William Blum pointed out, this must mean that in America’s hundreds of wars with more than 70 nations spanning more than 200 years, all those countries invaded the US first, and America was just defending itself.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in an interview probably conducted in the office of his psychiatrist, claimed “the men and women of the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps were the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century”. (25) This was the same interview in which he encouraged all NYT readers to “give war a chance”.
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, needing a way to punish Saddam Hussein for not wanting to become a US colony, personally arranged the targeted destruction of Iraq’s drinking water purification facilities and enacted worldwide sanctions to prevent Iraq from obtaining replacement supplies or repairs. According to the United Nations, Albright’s actions directly resulted in the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi infants from contaminated drinking water, with the full knowledge of the US government. Then in a TV interview on the program 60 Minutes where she was confronted with evidence of these acts by Leslie Stahl, Albright famously proclaimed, “Yes, it was worth it.” (26) (27) And after personally arranging the 80-day non-stop bombing of Yugoslavia, the greatest continuous bombing campaign ever instituted by anybody anywhere, she said, “The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere”. (28)
A US government official stated that “The American Empire is probably the most beneficial and moral the world has ever seen; not only in terms of technological development, but also through nurturing democracy and prosperity in the world. No other global empire has ever taken actions so massively against its interests solely for moral purposes.” Yet examination will uncover no example where the US has ever nurtured democracy, nor prosperity either, and I challenge anyone to detail even a single incident in the history of the world where the US has ever acted, massively or otherwise, against its interests solely for moral purposes. Various US military officials have claimed that “Our country is a force for good without precedent”, and that “The US military is a force for global good that … has no equal”. US President Woodrow Wilson boasted a century ago, that “America is the savior of the world”, while destroying and colonising that same world. Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for War and Misery, wrote, “And the truth is that the benevolent hegemony exercised by the US is good for a vast portion of the world’s population”. (29) Evidenced by what? By the Propaganda Mask and the Utopia syndrome. Nothing else.
American Christianity is a major part of this national insanity. George Bush informed the world that God told him to invade Iraq and, during the invasion, said “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job”. And when the war was over, after having killed a million or more innocent Iraqi civilians, Bush said, “When we lift our hearts to God, we’re all equal in his sight. We’re all equally precious. … In prayer we grow in mercy and compassion. … When we answer God’s call to love a neighbor as ourselves, we enter into a deeper friendship with our fellow man”. We are apparently to conclude that no one has had greater love for his fellow man than George Bush had for the million civilians he killed in Iraq and that Madeleine Albright was just exhibiting her great love for mankind by killing half a million infants. And of course, Obama can’t be left out of this parade. After countless thousands of deaths in the illegal destruction of Libya and the countless civilian deaths incurred by his drones in Pakistan, he fulfilled his propaganda obligation by telling us, “I believe that Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis”. (30) The people in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Pakistan might have a different interpretation of Obama’s relationship with his god.
Another result of this utopian syndrome is what we term “the pot calling the kettle black”, in other words, attributing to others the sins that “our side” commits and being apparently oblivious to the gross illogic and falsehoods in our position. The only reason the US accuses Huawei of being a potential spy is because Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, Xerox, and so many other American IT firms have been spying for the CIA and NSA for decades. The US media accuse anyone writing articles sympathetic to China, Russia or Iran of being paid shills, only because American correspondents have been paid CIA shills since the 1950s.
Another example that recently crossed my path was an article in the Financial Times by Jamil Anderlini who was at the time the FT’s station chief in Beijing. In an article titled ‘Patriotic education distorts China world view’, (31) Anderlini claimed that China’s “selective teaching of
history influences its self-image”, imagining a great “disconnection between how the world views China and how China – from ordinary citizens to top leaders – sees itself.” He stated the world sees China as a frightening monster that bullies all other nations, his ignorance rendering him blissfully unaware that this sentiment is not true for China but for the US that he defends.
He wrote that China’s “selective teaching” of history and emphasis on “patriotic education” cultivates a “nationalistic, anti-western victim mentality among young Chinese”, again apparently ignorant of the typical Western (US) patriotic education cultivating US patriotism. This mentality is typical for all Western media correspondents who are selected primarily for the extent of their conversion by US propaganda. This is perhaps a good place to note that prior to joining the Financial Times, Anderlini was employed as a male underwear model which employment no doubt contributed to his deep understanding of Chinese culture while solidifying his credentials as the FT’s Beijing station chief.
Mr. Romanoff’s writing has been translated into 28 languages and his articles posted on more than 150 foreign-language news and politics websites in more than 30 countries, as well as more than 100 English-language platforms. Larry Romanoff is a retired management consultant and businessman. He has held senior executive positions in international consulting firms, and owned an international import-export business. He has been a visiting professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes. Mr. Romanoff lives in Shanghai and is currently writing a series of ten books generally related to China and the West. He is one of the contributing authors to Cynthia McKinney’s new anthology ‘When China Sneezes‘. His full archive can be seen at https://www.moonofshanghai.com/ + https://www.bluemoonofshanghai.com/ He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(12) I have
lost the source of this quotation
1982. See: Nicaragua [2011 Jan] RONALD REAGAN: ILLUMINATI TOOL  The Crimes of Mena By Sally Denton and Roger Morris.
This article appeared first at the Saker Blog
Copyright © Larry Romanoff,Moon of Shanghai, Blue Moon of Shanghai,2021