Changing Minds: Mental Fortresses and the 6 Rs (Part 4 of 6)

By Willie Baptist, Charon Hribar, and John Wessel-McCoy

This is part 4 of a six-part series published by The Journal of the University of the Poor. Read Part 3.

The mind is a politically contested terrain. It is the main theatre or battlefield of every form of social conflict, military and non-military. At the same time, it is the most powerful weapon out of which all other weapons or means of struggle are formed and wielded. In this conflict and with this weapon, knowing your enemy and knowing yourself so as to outfight by outsmarting the enemy means as Sun Tzu says, among other things, avoiding his strengths and attacking his weaknesses. The major source of strength of the ruling class enemy is the long established and constantly appealed to mental fortresses of ignorance and prejudices in the minds of the masses of the people. These mental fortresses are deeply held values and views established largely through people’s upbringing, past and present experiences, and the country’s educational institutions, media systems, and other cultural outlets. When the French philosopher and author Jacques Ellul in his 1973 book, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, talks about “well-established” or “durable opinion, a fixed pattern,” he is essentially talking about the mental fortresses that have been established in the thinking and attitudes of the people. When he talks about a propagandist, he’s talking about an agitator and educator. Echoing Sun Tzu, he discusses two important principles:

The propagandist must first of all know as precisely as possible the terrain on which he is operating. He must know the sentiments and opinions, the current tendencies and stereotypes among the public he is trying to reach.[1]

The second conclusion seems to us embodied in the following rule: never make a direct attack on an established, reasoned, durable opinion or an accepted cliché`, a fixed pattern. The propagandist wears himself out to no avail in such a contest… But that does not mean that he must then leave things as they are and conclude that nothing can be done…the propagandist can alter opinions by diverting them from their accepted course, by changing them, or by placing them in an ambiguous context.[2]

Mr. Ellul goes on to suggest that one way of “placing them in an ambiguous context”[3] is to “offer forms of actions”[4] that bring the masses of people to question the old prejudices and mistaken opinions. This is especially the case when these forms of actions are mass responses to periods of economic and social crises.

In our study and analysis, we have identified 6 major mental fortresses that have to be understood and dealt with in order to navigate and influence the mental terrain of the United States. These “mental fortresses” hold up people of the United States’ basic belief systems, which govern much of their behavioral conduct. They are the long and established, reasoned, durable opinion or an accepted cliché, a fixed pattern. They can be described in terms of 6 Rs: Realism, Rugged Individualism, Religion, Race, Rights, and Redbaiting. They are not necessarily descriptions of what’s objectively true external to people’s consciousness, although conditions are inextricably connected to and ultimately shape the existing consciousness. Mental terrain can’t be understood apart from conditions that materially, including monetarily, support them.

As the term “mental fortress” suggests, these concepts are prevailing influences on the American people’s perception of the world.  At the same time, these mental fortresses should not be understood categorically. (Note: Categorical thinking happens to be a strong tendency in the way the American people think. It rests on the narrow practicality and shallow observations of the old American philosophy of Pragmatism. See below.) These fortresses interlock and interplay with each other and with the world outside of the mind.  As conditions change, there are corresponding shifts in people’s consciousness.  Any attempt to build a social movement must have a leadership that has a mastery of this relationship between conditions and consciousness. Also note that the term “mental fortress” is used to describe the sites of the battle for our perception of the world, not categories to be demolished and surpassed. The six Rs are not symmetrical in this way. Where there is nothing useful about Redbaiting, both Rights and Religion are simultaneously sites of tremendous tactical and strategic resources for our struggle and deep wells for ideologies of the status quo of the ruling class. The task therefore is the contestation of conflicting interpretations and views.

1. Realism is often the name given to the old American worldview or philosophy of Pragmatism.  This narrow practicalism is an unscientific superficial approach to understanding reality. It is an anti-intellectualism created by intellectuals who were considered at that time as among the foremost United States scholars. These philosophical scholars were products of the most prestigious elite universities, such as Harvard and John Hopkins: Charles S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. According to Harry K. Wells, author of Pragmatism: Philosophy of Imperialism, “Peirce was its founder, James its popularizer, and Dewey its high priest.” Wells tells us:

In two articles published in The Popular Science Monthly for January and February of 1878, Peirce developed the central thesis of pragmatism: “Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the objective of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.” Bishop Berkeley had said, “to be is to be perceived.” Peirce gives this subjective idealist doctrine a revised and peculiarly American twist, for the essential meaning of the above thesis is that to be is to have practical effects, or to be is to be useful. A thing is what it is “good for” in practical human activity. If an object is not useful, it does not exist. A thing is nothing but how it works in practice.

It means that there is no such thing as truth, for there is no external world to which ideas in the mind can correspond. With no truth there is no knowledge, no theory, no science. An idea or a theory, therefore, cannot be true or false, it can only be useful or useless, and the only criterion is success in practical action. In other words, Pragmatism says that a theory is true because it works and not that it works because it is true, that is, an accurate reflection of reality.

The guide to action is not theory but belief. The function of thought is not the attainment of knowledge but is solely “settlement of opinion,” the “fixation of belief.” The “production of belief,” Peirce says, “is the sole function of thought”.

In throwing out the old notion of knowledge as having no relation to practical action, Dewey, the education reformer, and James, the psychologist and philosopher, throw out that which alone would make it possible for knowledge to guide action, namely, that the knowledge be true knowledge that the ideas correspond to the objective material world. This is the central crime of the pragmatists, as has been pointed out time and time again. They claim to unite theory and practice, true knowledge and action, but in the process they eliminate true theory or knowledge, and thus leave practice without guidance, transforming practice into expediency in means and ends, improvisation and spontaneous trial and error. To guide action, knowledge must reflect the way things are and move in the real world. It is this latter aspect, which the pragmatists repudiate. They say that knowledge is only and solely concerned with practice. It is a formula to eliminate guidance, for it destroys scientific theory. It is Dewey’s apology for the elimination of intellectual knowledge from the public schools where the workers’ children are educated. He is only going to teach know-how, the relation of means to ends which are desired; not knowledge of the real world in the form of truth accumulated by human beings throughout their history. [5]

This philosophy undergirds the belief that God has blessed America (U.S.A.) with being the best country in the world where there are no problems of class or an economy based on the exploitation of one class by another. This superficial view of reality only sees problems for what they appear to be and not for what they are essentially. It sees only the effects and not the cause, it stops at the perception of the leaves and at most the branches of a tree, but cannot have a conception of it roots. Any problems, such as poverty or healthcare, are understood as individual problems and not social problems. The poor are poor not because of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the capitalist economic system but because of their own indiscretions and self-inflicted poverty and misery. In other words, the poor are self-failures and are to blame for being not hired and laid off, for being evicted and made homeless, etc.

A big part of this perception of reality is connected to the long-evolved notion of “American Exceptionalism,” a notion that has drawn on the past that saw every generation generally doing better economically than the previous generations. Or in other words, this notion proclaims that the United States is an exception to the basic economic operations of human history. It has also found expression in what W. E. B. Dubois called in his magnum opus, Black Reconstruction, the “American Assumption”— “that wealth is mainly the result of its owner’s effort and that any average worker can by thrift become a capitalist.”[6] It is the idea that if you work hard you can become a rich capitalist. This assumption rests on the ignorance of actual operations of the class-based capitalistic economy.

American pragmatism and “American Exceptionalism” have historically supported the ruling capitalist class’s so-called grand strategies of “Geopolitics” which falsely relegate economic conditions of life as secondary to geography, such as in what is contrasted as “Maritime based Strategy” versus “Land based Strategy.” In other words, all aspects of the life of a society or groupings within society are determined primarily by where they live and not by how they produce the necessities of life and requirements of conflicts and wars.

However, this way of thinking is now being fundamentally challenged by the new economic conditions with the unprecedented technological shifts in global productivity. As George Freedman put it in “The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power”:

The greatest danger is one that will not be faced for decades but that is lurking out there. The United States was built on the assumption that a rising tide lifts all ships. That has not been the case for the past generation, and there is no indication that this socio-economic reality will change any time soon. That means that a core assumption is at risk.  The problem is that social stability has been built around this assumption – not on the assumption that everyone is owed a living, but the assumption that on the whole, all benefit from growing productivity and efficiency.[7]

By denying the fundamental functions and poverty-producing results of class realities, “American Exceptionalism” only sees differences between the income and living conditions of the poor in the US and the poor in lesser-developed countries. It doesn’t see the fact that no matter the different levels of poverty, the poor are poor for the same reason. That is, they are dispossessed, in other words, they have no property ownership in the economy. Blinding the poor to what they have in common has enabled the Powers That Be to do what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. condemned in his anti-Vietnam War speech as the “cruel manipulation of the poor.”[8] The poor are brought up to wrongly see each other as the enemy. They are recruited into the armed forces to fight and kill the poor of other countries for the benefit of the rich. This amounts to the preemption and prevention of the unity of the poor in the struggle for their basic common needs, which reinforces “American Exceptionalism” in the mental terrain of the middle-income strata. Large sections of the middle strata, in spite of their living wages, also have in common with the poor no property ownership in the economy. This makes them susceptible to the powerful unsettling influence of the united actions of the poor especially in today’s chronic economic crisis when they are feeling increasing insecurity. In other words, the united forms of struggle of the poor have an unsettling effect on the masses of the people by “placing them in an ambiguous context” unexplainable by the old prevailing false views of complacency.

In summary, the world outlook often called, “Realism” and the related assumptions of the superficial notions of “American Exceptionalism” rest on the old American-born philosophy of Pragmatism. This philosophy limits thinking to surface glances of social problems. It limits our examination of a problem or issue to its appearances precluding a deeper understanding of its essential content, and to its effects obscuring its cause, grabbing only at leaves and branches and leaving alone the root causes of problems. The philosopher and political strategist of the dispossessed Karl Marx once observed in Volume III of his magnum opus, Capital, that “[A]ll science would be superfluous, if the appearance, the form and the nature of things were wholly identical.”[9] 

Pragmatism is a worldview that impatiently prefers that people “Leap, then look!” or “Shoot, then aim!”  It professes that it is not for us to ask why; it is for us to do or die. Just do it!  This is expressed in the strong tendency in our thinking to separate theory from practice. This tendency includes a strongly embedded impatience finding no time for study and analysis, which precludes the necessary education and training of leaders.  This tendency also leads to one of our greatest deficits in building a movement in this country, namely that our leaders have no understanding of the economy and history, which would allow them to grasp firmly the true cause of racial and sexual inequalities and disproportions as well as the other forms of social and political oppression. Consequently, we have so little a grasp of the state, and politics for us is only electoral politics. We have no knowledge of what and who we are actually up against. We are therefore left in peril with a very limited or inadequate concept of strategy and social movements. Our pragmatic view of reality leaves us disarmed and dependent on the strategy of the Powers That Be.

However, the current conditions of a world in chronic economic and social crises and the worsening plight and erupting fight of the poor are revealing a reality that is in total contradiction with the prevailing American Exceptionalist conception of reality. These new conditions and arising struggles are exposing the error of this conception to the mind of the masses. The true reality is that the present and, by all indications, the future generations will not do as well as the previous ones. Personal hard work, thrift, and sacrifice no longer suffice.  How do we erase that gap between the current consciousness and the actual conditions and move people towards a more accurate understanding of reality?[10]  In crises, people begin to resist and question their old ideas and misconceived attitudes. Their newly emerging leaders begin to ask deeper questions and find more effective and efficient ways and means of fighting.  Our job is essentially to wage an all-out war on Pragmatism and anti-intellectualism as it serves to reinforce all the other major misconceived mental fortresses that buttress ignorance and prejudices of all kinds and uphold the current economically exploitative and poverty producing system. In other words, our job is to educate and organize this fight in such a way as to bring people’s consciousness into a proper alignment with the actual conditions of reality. This means starting with educating, uniting, and organizing the emerging struggles of the poor and dispossessed.

2. Rugged individualism: The historically evolved “Americanism” considers our existence as individuals as being more important than our existence as part of collectives, economic classes and society as a whole. It is an extension to the United States of America of the basic capitalist ideology of liberalism, which has as its core belief the primacy of individual over collective rights. Rugged individualism is its specific cultural expression. We have been conditioned historically to strive to be super-men or super-women.  It’s all about “me and mine,” about “I-I me-me and not us-us we-we.” Any emphasis on the notion of collectivity is un-American. An individual’s success and failure depends entirely on either his or her hard work, determination, discipline, and thrift on one hand, or laziness, indolence, and lack of discipline on the other. This mental fortress of selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-preoccupation permeates everything we think and do in this society. It is deeply grounded in and paid for by a class reality delineated by capitalist private profitable ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. Rugged individualism is a basic premise of the great “American Assumption” we noted above. And although this premise and assumption has never been in fact true, Du Bois argues that there have been periods in U.S. history when this notion came nearer to reality than perhaps in any other country in the world, especially for large segments of the white masses. According to Du Bois, the freedom pursued under the American Assumption is a freedom not to ensure that every person is fed, clothed, educated, and has shelter, but rather a freedom of economic opportunity and the possibility of capitalistic accumulation for the few.[11]

The fortress of rugged individualism fosters a belief that “success” is solely a matter of individual merit and exertion.  Collective and organized efforts are secondary or subordinate to the individual. Furthermore, this fortress is affirmed by the stories of those who rise from the ranks of the working class into the ranks of the capitalist. Billionaires like Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey are lifted up as proof of what is possible—a success of the capitalist system.  What such analysis neglects to illuminate is that the stories of those who fall or never make it up the class ladder are far more prolific.  While millions are falling into the ranks of poor, this ideology refuses to name the cause of their poverty as a failure of our political and economic system. This is due to inevitable capitalist economic crises and the wholesale social dislocation and devastation of a mass of people, undercutting any notion that this systemic issue is an individual problem not subject to the collective solution of a broad social movement.

3. Religion: The Powers That Be recognize that the structure of governance needs not only political force, but must also develop a system of cultural and moral hegemony as well.  Throughout U.S. history, religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian faith, has played contradictory roles:  1) as a means of legitimizing the status quo and 2) as a means of protest and liberation.

The religiosity of the American people has dominated the interpretations and influences of their moral thinking and ethical behaviors, their determination of what’s right and what’s wrong.  Throughout the Civil War the Bible was used by both Abolitionists and slaveholders to justify their positions on slavery. Beliefs used to perpetuate economic and social exploitation often reject the revolutionary roots of the Christian tradition and have taken up an ahistorical perspective that has become dominant in modern Christianity. For instance, the selection of particular Biblical verses or taking the whole text of the Bible out of its historical context supports an anti-poor and pro-poverty-producing system.

Absorbing a set of values that emerged during the Enlightenment, modern Christianity focuses mainly on individualism as expressed by a preoccupation with personal salvation, i.e. just “me and my Jesus.” In other words, the Enlightenment idea of the “self-evidence” that “we are all created equal” and the enlightened demand for the God-given human rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have throughout history been contradicted by customary, “except them or the other.” Love of humanity and economic general welfare and social justice for all have at most been given lip service.

Captive to the bonds of capitalism and its principles of exchange, religion is intertwined with rugged individualism in a way that prevents the development of a class-consciousness necessary for the building of community and a broad mass movement to abolish poverty in the midst of plenty.  Influencing how people view community and the individual, wealth and poverty, etc., the institutional Church and its capitalistic theological views becomes an obstruction to social change.  In this way, religion has been used in history for reaction, mass killings, and injustice.  In addressing the role of religion in history, Eugene Peterson argues that,

“Religion is the most dangerous energy source known to humankind. The moment a person (or government or religion or organization) is convinced that God is either ordering or sanctioning a cause or project, anything goes. The history worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing, and oppression is staggering.”[12]

The continuing power of religious ideas via the new globalized media and communication systems must not be lost on strategic thinking. Certainly, it has not been lost on the Powers That Be. It follows that the tremendous influence of religion in the era of Netwar cannot be ignored.

In developing a counter Netwar strategy, we must re-examine the historical context out of which key biblical concepts and texts emerged and developed.  These key biblical terms and concepts relate to the clash of theologies and strategies that have taken place through the different stages of U.S. history.  As Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis explains, we must work to understand how, “the Bible—a text replete with references to economic justice and the scourge of indifference to the poor—has been politicized to suggest that poverty is a result of the moral failures of the poor sinning against God, that ending poverty is impossible, and that the poor themselves have no role in impacting their poverty.”[13] In the U.S. this strategic narrative continues to find its main mental and geographical stronghold in the black belt region of the South, which is also called the “Bible Belt” because of long and deeply held Judeo-Christian views and the density of churches. This “Bible Belt” historically served to ideologically hold intact the largest and contiguous belt of poverty in the country. To win the war on poverty strategically, the economic and social conditions are dictating that the struggles of the poor and dispossessed must be united and organized. Winning the “Battle for the Bible” is indispensable to unity and organization and to the ultimate victory of the war to abolish poverty.

Furthermore, in building a movement to end poverty, a new morality and new social practices that assert the possibility of ending poverty are needed.  Within the context of the U.S., the Bible provides us with an important source of legitimacy and lessons for the struggles of the poor and dispossessed today.  In a country where the Bible continues to be used as a moral battlefield, we must explore the political message present in the Bible and the idea that a social and political movement of the poor is religious.

4. Race: The color question is critical to the thinking of the American people. Our country’s history is based on the slaughter of Native Americans, slavery of African-Americans, exploitation of Hispanic- and Asian American, with many more examples. Out of this history of racial oppression, inequality, and discrimination has evolved a major social construct for social control. Racism and white supremacy that are derived from this construct are not innate attitudes but have long been bought and paid for by and in the interests of the rich ruling class. Although poor whites and other sections of working class whites have been unwitting tools of racism, hatred, and white supremacy, today the material white skin privileges are being consumed in layoffs, foreclosures, and evictions. The rulers and their representatives have historically, strategically, and tactically used the institutionalization of racial prejudice, mistrust and the vanity of white supremacy as narratives and devices to prevent unity among the poor and dispossessed, turning people against each other. Drawing from the analysis in W.E.B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction, we can call this form of divide and conquer “Plantation Politics.”[14]

Race, racism, and white supremacy have long been understood and promoted from the standpoints of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois upper classes that hold no fundamental opposition to the economic status quo of capitalistic exploitation and oppression. White supremacy and racial inequalities have therefore been viewed as issues separate from the problems of the economy, disconnected from the exploitative economic class relations. Consequently race, racism, and white supremacy have been largely and one-sidedly discussed and debated as solely problems of racial oppression, mass lynching, and police repression of non-whites, or people 0f color. However, history teaches—and today’s realities continue to confirm—that racial ethnic politics, which is closely related to today’s “identity politics” is as much, if not mostly, about the historically evolved central political formula in the U.S. of how the white masses have been controlled in the economic interests and needs of the class rule of the wealthy. Historically, the bulwark of this political formula of control has been the southern region of the United States. This has been the whole meaning of the so-called “Solid South,” that is, the all-whites, all-classes unity maneuvered through the isolation, “separate but equal” segregation, and disproportionate oppression of non-whites. As W. E. B. Du Bois once concluded, “the South controls the country, and Wall Street controls the South.” This has long been the ultimate meaning of the so-called “Southern Strategy” that Wall Street and its liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican representatives have pursued.

It should not be forgotten that the social base of racial superiority or white supremacy and the political power of the U.S. ruling class has been the maintenance of an all-white, all-classes unity and the disunity of the bottom economic classes secured through economic and social bribery made possible by an ever-expanding, super-exploiting imperialist economy. This is similar to how anti-Semitism, which was tied inseparably to the myth of the superiority of the “Aryan Race,” was politically used in Nazi Germany. In this approach the Powers that Be in Germany got many of its cues from how the tools of racial superiority were utilized in U.S. history. Much attention has been paid in movies and corporate-financed media about the ghettoizing, isolation, and the “Final Solution”, that is, the genocidal killings or Holocaust against the Jews and their historic fight back. However next to nothing is said about the use of these practices and the supportive pseudo-scientific theories of anti-Semitism to maintain economic exploitation and political control of the German masses or consequently getting the dispossessed and poor Germans to fight and die in the rich man’s wars of aggression for the benefits of the ruling class of the Krupps, I. G. Farbens, Siemens, Thyssens, etc.

In the different stages of U.S. history—the ongoing “battle of ideas”—the Powers That Be have seen to it that this “Plantation Politics” is applied in different forms to the wide-ranging political spectrum of thought and public opinion. The “left/Liberals” side of this spectrum has cried crocodile tears for the non-white section of the dispossessed. While the “right/Conservatives” side has expressed “concern” for the “white working class.” The Powers That Be have often acted as if they were above these two opposite sides and assumed the political posture of the so-called “centrists.” This rich and powerful center has also at times donned the mask of the so-called “progressives” and “independents,” controlling and manipulating both sides of the “opposition” between the “left-wing” and “right-wing” into a shrewd and hidden politics of “heads, I win; tails, you lose” and thus pre-empting or preventing the “bottom line” real threat of the united action of the poor and dispossessed. Strongly influenced by this method of control and manipulation has been the long use of “ethnic politics” by particularly U.S. big city electoral machines. “Middle Class” electoral politics and the “identity politics” of race, gender, etc. have been the latest versions.

Similar to and also strongly influenced by the history of race has been the history of gender or sexual oppression, inequality, and discrimination. The prejudices and injustices that have long been directed at women have now an immediate global character. The ruling class has always determined the ruling ideas about the role of women and sex relationships.  Today, among other things, these ideas, or at least their premises, permeate the subtext of major multi-million dollar movies and omnipresent commercials.

An important example in U.S. history of the ruling class’s 0ppressive combined use of gender and racial politics was how certain factors and forces came together or coincided by the time of the passing of Women’s Suffrage in 1920. When the 19th Amendment was passed, poll taxes took effect, resulting in and effective disenfranchisement of most of the women and men in the South. This included the total disenfranchisement of African-American men and the continuing disfranchisement of African-American women while Northern women were given the right to the ballot. Most accounts of these two important developments in U.S. electoral history see them as separate or merely coincidental phenomena. However, more study should be made of this cruel out-maneuvering and manipulation of “Plantation Politics.”

Although today “code words” abound, persistent racial politics, ethnic politics, and gender politics continue to have the same strategic objective as far as the Powers That Be are concerned, that is, at base the preemption and prevention of the unity of the poor and dispossessed as the most threatening social force to the economic class interests, political formula of control, and ideological hegemonic leadership of the rich as the ruling class.

5. Rights: This fortress includes specific ideas of rights, including being “endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights.” In the U.S., people think in terms of God-given rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (i.e. the Declaration of Independence) much more than in the terms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). However, the latter has as one of its main historical origins the former.

There is a tension in the story between ensuring people the opportunity to attain basic economic needs and the obligation of society and governments to provide fundamental needs. The current notion of rights as social and governmental obligation to ensure the universal right to basic human needs is currently a minority story. The story of the opportunity to fulfill rights derives from the dominant right to capitalist private property.  This is the right to hire and fire for the purpose a few individuals accumulating immense profit and wealth through the exploitation of the many who have no ownership of property in the means of production and exchange. The story of opportunity is based on the dominant narrative of the rights of private property, which finds expression and support in the prevailing values of rugged individualism and the other current major mental fortresses of the American identity.  The dominant interpretation of rights in the U.S. is connected to the language and principles of choice and opportunity.  It is argued that if opportunity can be provided, rights will be ensured through people’s own efforts.  This principle of opportunity fails, however, to guarantee that equality will be the result.  While this country is founded in opposition to the “Divine Rights of Kings” and in favor of “We the People” being endowed by their “Creator” with the inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the dominant interpretation of this core creed has been narrowly interpreted to only uplift a rich few and to exploit and exclude the majority of everyday people.  

Today we are witnessing emerging struggles of the growing ranks of the poor and dispossessed for food, housing, education, health care, etc., without which they have no rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The right to these basic human needs has long been limited to the idea of civil rights, that is equality before the law and not actual equality. It has long been reduced to the judicial “due process” to be battled over in the capitalist courts or reformist street battles to pressure policy changes in the capitalist legislatures. This narrative and these battles around rights have had little to no material impact on those actually suffering the pains of economic inequality and deprivations of our current cruelly unjust system.

In this way the root cause of a system that produces poverty in the midst of unprecedented plenty is avoided. Wealth continues to be concentrated among a decreasing minority while poverty and misery continue to be expanded among an increasing majority. The struggles that are emerging on these issues of basic economic needs are kept separated and isolated and defeated. In addition, it is very easy to co-opt and divert these struggles into channels that are not threatening to the prevailing strategic narrative about rights. For this reason, key political strategists of the Powers That Be such as the former National Security Advisor of President Carter’s Administration Zbigniew Brzezinski have for some time now argued for a “Human Rights Framework.” However their “Human Rights Framework” is limited to the civil rights and right-to-opportunity approach.

How do we shift this narrative and create a narrative that people can see themselves in and relate to? First, we have to appreciate the changing economic conditions, which are weakening the old, obsolete, and false narratives about the rights of private property. Then we must take advantage of these changing conditions to conduct class conscious-raising agitation and education campaigns to introduce new narratives. In waging these sorts of campaigns, we must ensure among other things that rights are not defined only as just civil rights or the right to opportunity. We must ensure that rights are defined to also include the necessary obligations of society and its government to guarantee our basic economic human rights.  The ideologists and political strategists of the ruling class of billionaires dismiss or demonize basic economic human rights as “lazy” or fiscally unfeasible “entitlements” and their rhetoric and advocacy of “equal opportunity” and “civil rights” become mental mechanisms for the Powers That Be to pit people against each other.  The racialized myth of the so-called “welfare queen” is but one example.

Our basic human rights to housing, food, good jobs, education, health care, etc., must not be understood as privileges, but rather must be claimed as basic needs that can and must be guaranteed and non-negotiable.

6. Redbaiting: The point of any form of baiting is simply to get a fish (or people) to pay attention to the bait and therefore not see the hook or trap. Specifically, Redbaiting is essentially ignorance-based fear-mongering. In the United States this has meant creating fear and distrust by labeling anything that challenges the ruling capitalist class and its economic system “communist.” It has been based on a total lack of understanding of the history of the anti-capitalist revolutionary processes involving the leading roles of the poor and dispossessed as organized social forces. We have for a long time been kept ignorance of these processes particularly those that actually took place and reconstructed Russia, Vietnam, China, and Cuba. Instead, we have been taught to fear the ruling class’s deliberate distortions of these major experiences.

Throughout the Cold War, the American people were conditioned to fear the so-called “totalitarianism” of the Soviet Union, putting it in the same category as Nazi Germany. The description of both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as “totalitarian” appealed to the ignorance of most people who knew little or nothing about the history and nature of the economic and political systems of each of the two countries. In this way, the fear of Hitler and Nazism born of the actual role they played in the mass devastation and death of World War II was used to increase the fear of “communism.” Moreover, it served the purpose of strengthening and stepping up redbaiting during the launch of the Marshall Plan and the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Consequently, whenever the ruling class wants to isolate, divert, and destroy a movement, group, or individual that poses a threat, they label it “Communism.” For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. was redbaited and called a Communist as he moved in the direction of economic human rights and opposing the war in Vietnam. It is important to note that redbaiting took hold with increased tenacity particularly in the United States during the post-World War II period when the standards of living were rising. Its influence weakens in times of crisis when social and economic conditions become more excruciating and pronounced.

To outmaneuver and ultimately bring down the mental fortresses of the 6 Rs and win what are essentially mind wars, we must, as was indicated by Jacques Ellul, not make a direct assault on these deeply embedded mental fortresses. We must instead identify and concentrate our efforts on their Achilles’ Heel or points of vulnerability by agitating for a sustained series of actions that “place them in ambiguity” causing them to be questioned. The current economic conditions are making it possible and necessary for political agitation to place the mental fortresses in an ambiguous situation, which can result in the change of social consciousness and society. There is currently a transition underway of the world economy from a period of expansion to a period of contracting purchasing capacity. This systemic economic contraction and the connected conditions of social crises are the result of an unprecedented micro-electronic technological revolution colliding with the fundamental relationa of capital and labor, of the propertied class and property-less class.

In the following segment we take up the role of symbols, art, and cultural forms and the indispensable components of political strategy. Drawing from examples from the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania and the Roman cross that crucified Jesus Christ, we examine how tactics and campaigns must creatively use art and cultural forms, particularly in the new era of network organization and netwar.

[1] Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, (Vintage, 1973).

[2] Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Harry K. Wells, Pragmatism: Philosophy of Imperialism, (International Publishers, 1954).

[6] W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Free Press, 1998), 183. 

[7] George Friedman, “The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power,” Stratfor Global Intelligence, (January 8, 2013).

[8] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam,” (April 4, 1967).

[9] Karl Marx, Capital Volume III, Part VII: Revenues and their Sources, Chapter 48: The Trinity Formula.

[10] Read Antonio Gramsci’s “Study of Philosophy” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks  (pages 323-343 and 348-351) for more on the development of political consciousness and the move from common sense to good sense. SPN, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 2010),

[11] Du Bois, 183, 276. 

[12] Eugene Peterson, Introduction to the book of Amos, “The Message”.

[13] Liz Theoharis, “Poverty and the Bible,” 48.  [14] Du Bois argued that while the possibility of real and new democracy existed in the union of democratic forces (the champions of universal suffrage and the rights of freedman, leaders of labor, small landholders in the West, and poor whites in the South) such unity was torn apart by artificial lines of division, 239.

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Changing Minds: Role of Symbols, Arts, and Cultural forms (Part 5 of 6)

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