John W. Whitehead
Caught up in the uproar over this year’s latest hullabaloo–militarized police in Ferguson, tanks on Main Street and ISIS–Americans (never very good when it comes to long-term memory, anyhow) have not only largely forgotten last year’s hullabaloo over the NSA and government surveillance but are generally foggy about everything that has happened in between.
Then again, so much has happened in the year since Edward Snowden first appeared on the national scene that it’s understandable if the average American has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from the reality of the American police state.
This is not to say that many of these events are not critical or important. However, when we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing–namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law–and the powers-that-be understand this.
In fact, Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas. “One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,”wrote Ellul.
“Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.”
Consider if you will the regularly scheduled trivia and/or distractions that have kept us tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles and tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms:
In late August / early September, we were treated to Justin Bieber’s run-in with police after a bout of reckless driving, the FBI’s investigation into the leaking of celebrities’ nude photos, Brad and Angelina’s wedding, James Foley’s carefully staged beheading, Robin Williams’ unfortunate suicide, the riots in Ferguson over the police shooting of an unarmed black man, growing threats from ISIS, and the ALS ice bucket challenge sensation.
That was preceded by reports of immigrant children flooding over the border, Israel and Hamas’ on-again, off-againfighting, Germany’s victory in the World Cup, Ebola breakouts in West Africa, the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet crashin Ukraine, the exchange by the U.S. of five Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the growing legalization of same-sex marriage by the states, and the kidnapping of 280 Nigerian girls for use as sex slaves.
Before that, there was the shooting rampage by an Iraq war veteran at the Fort Hood Army base, the uproar over LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks, the Veterans Administration’s failure to provide timely care to vets, Russia and the U.S. in a tug of war over control of Crimea, the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight–this one en route to China, the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted by Russia, the Seattle Seahawks’ first ever win at the Super Bowl, Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closings scandal, and the outpouring of tributes over the death of Nelson Mandela.