Manufacturing Crisis, Manufacturing Consent
February 15, 2013
“The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.” Barack Obama, State of the Union, 2013
Something bothered me about this assertion from Obama, our current president, and I was finally able to realize what it was: This assertion could not be more wrong, both as a historical fact and as a political fact. That is, not only can a nation, even an allegedly great nation, move from one manufactured crisis to the next, but the United States, the allegedly great nation in question, has done so. In fact, it is plausible to argue that this is a rather apt and accurate description of our politics.
When Richard Nixon declared the “necessity” for a “war on drugs”, there was no “drug crisis” except of course as he chose to manufacture it. In that year when Nixon made this declaration of war, more people died falling down stairs in the U.S. than died of drug abuse, including both legal and illegal drugs. Even today, the typical drug “abuser” in the U.S. is a person who occasionally uses marijuana. This is what the typical drug user looks like. Don’t believe me? Just look at our prison population and its characteristics.
There is no obesity crisis in the U.S. today both because most Americans who are labeled “obese” by government approved standards are perfectly healthy but also because the term “obesity” has little, if any, value for assessing a person’s health. For example, almost every professional football player is “obese,” by official “standards.” [See the book, The Obesity Myth, especially the first chapter for an analysis of the foolishness that passes for “science” regarding human weight.]
My wife and I are watching a new show, “The Americans,” which is about two Russians who have been planted in the U.S. during the cold war, the Reagan Administration particularly, and acting as typical Americans [two kids and a house in the suburbs] to spy on the U.S. I have trouble taking it seriously because it is fair to say that much, if not all, of the “Cold War” was a manufactured crisis. I mean just re-read John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address and you will see or hear what I mean. Before he gave that speech, there was no crisis that required we “pay any price, bear any burden” in confronting the world. According to Eisenhower, the nation was most in need of “a rest,” of some “normality,” perhaps even some contentment. But both Nixon and Kennedy ran against this view of the world and the place of the U.S. in it. It was necessary, both said, for the U.S. “to get moving again.”
And move we did. But there never was a “crisis” in Vietnam or Southeast Asia for that matter, as we can see today as we buy sneakers manufactured by those dreaded communists in Vietnam. Nor was “the loss” of China to communists a crisis, as we can see so clearly today as we deal with those “Reds” on a massive scale. And, needless to say, there never was a crisis in Cuba as a result of the Castro revolution, except that we wanted to manufacture one there, one which it is still “necessary” to maintain. And as almost all know today, there never was a crisis of WMDs in Iraq that required an invasion of that country. Even the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets was a faux crisis, which we dealt with by arming those who would, eventually, attack us. And to cap this off, I would say there is no “terrorism crisis,” which is not to say that there are not “terrorists” we have to or should “deal with.” But a crisis? I think not.
The question then becomes: Why? What purpose or purposes are served by manufacturing crisis after crisis? Well, it is my opinion that the interests of the establishment in each political party are well served by such manufactured crises. Because we must confront one crisis after another, there is no time to consider real or significant changes in our political world. And this means that the current power brokers get to keep the power they have accumulated and for which they have sacrificed any semblance of a normal life. [This phenomenon is, I suspect, personal as well political. That is, when these people lose that power they can see just how abnormal their lives are. That is, those lives no longer make much sense, even to them. Hence, the constant effort to stay “involved,” ala’ Bill Clinton or Dick Cheney or even George Bush.]
Moreover, I believe it is widely accepted by psychologists and others who know human behavior that dysfunctional groups go from crisis to crisis, actually need such crises in order to continue to hold together. Such groups are like a house of cards, liable and ready to collapse at any moment. It is crises that hold them together, especially crises that are deemed to come from the outside, what in politics would be called foreign enemies. Although as J. Edgar Hoover knew so well, these “enemies” could come from “within.” [See his book entitled The Enemy Within.] And so, we have manufactured enemies, such as communists, drug dealers, illegal immigrants, obese people, smokers, pedophiles, gun-toting maniacs, uncivilized youths, drug users, crack addicts, welfare queens, dependent people, terrorists, Muslims, just to name a few that come readily to mind. I am sure you can add to the list.
Several years ago, more years than I care to remember, while teaching my course, Introduction to American Government, I asked the class to watch the news each evening and help make a list of the various crises we as a nation or a state were forced to deal with. We reached a low point when someone pointed out that there was a crisis involving school nurses in public schools. Apparently, there were just not enough nurses to go around and so sometimes some schools actually spent hours without a nurse being available. Of course, no figures were given on how this affected said schools and their students but I knew from talking to my then-step-daughter one of those effects. Whenever she was feeling hungry, she would tell the teacher that she had a stomachache and the teacher would send her to the school nurse, who would give her some candy. Needless to say, she felt better after that!
We lurch from “crisis” to “crisis” and, as Obama said, these are all manufactured. What Obama did not talk about was an alternative. And, of course, his very speech has contributed to the phenomenon as now we can talk about “the manufactured crisis crisis!” What a country! You gotta love it!