Charles Koch wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last week excoriating the left and invoking concepts that have long since held any modicum of meaning in the current discourse. Wrapped opportunistically in an assault on “collectivists” is an unabashed defense of his company—Koch Industries—in which he boasts of employment figures and of various government awards for their alleged “health and safety excellence” and “commitment to a cleaner environment.”
But the record is conspicuous and speaks for itself. Commentators were quick to dig—which they needn’t do for long—to reveal the evidence of massive federal lobbying, funding of climate skepticism, and other illegal if not flatly morally bankrupt and repugnant political activities.
One doesn’t have to dig so far to unearth this information. In fact, digging would seem entirely inappropriate a metaphor. One would only deploy such a metaphor if it were the case that the information one is looking to obtain is distant or inaccessible to them. Yet the metaphor, as it applies to Koch Industries and other large corporations, is sufficient given the mass of disinformation that leaves the mass of the population stupefied and subsumed in a culture of infotainment. Why look past the concisely sound-bitten explanation he or she hears on popular television news?
Koch Industries is very much a part of this campaign to bury information important to the public interest. Indeed its pieces like these that raise a number of concerns: one being the fact that popular discourse is awash with ideological biases which subverts the possibility of a genuine discussion of issues. These biases show up in the form of key words and labels that lose their meaning and become vacuous once they’ve found their home inside ideology. We need look no further than this bit:
Instead of fostering a system that enables people to help themselves, America is now saddled with a system that destroys value, raises costs, hinders innovation and relegates millions of citizens to a life of poverty, dependency and hopelessness. This is what happens when elected officials believe that people’s lives are better run by politicians and regulators than by the people themselves. Those in power fail to see that more government means less liberty, and liberty is the essence of what it means to be American. Love of liberty is the American ideal.
Indeed nothing substantive is being said here, and it’s precisely due to the fact that he’s packed a couple of sentences with meaningless words; and yet the home base rejoices, raising a clenched fist in some perceived clarity arising out of the sheer ambiguity of ideologically-manufactured concepts.
But the Koch brothers and other billionaire ideologues have the power to shape exactly what people perceive is the “American ideal”—and they’re hard at it. They’ve given over $67 million in the span of a decade to a host of conservative think tanks. Many of these organizations push propaganda disguised as research, soft-peddling if not outright denying the climate issue and pushing market fundamentalism—the religion adhered to by Koch—into new statures.
The Action Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, for example, received around a half a million from the Koch brothers—an organization which pledges to “meld Christian doctrine and free-market economics.” In the face of such amalgams, one should be highly skeptical; particularly as the front page of their website headlines a commentary entitled “In Defense of Paul Ryan” in which the author proceeds to diagnose our social troubles as a result of a lack of churches and religious organizations.
Quite plainly, popular discourse—the ways in which every day people talk about issues—has cheapened with the proliferation of corporate ideology. The fact that major newspapers are providing a platform for this overt propaganda explains why people often have to do some heavy lifting to learn anything about the issues they care about—a detriment not only to the free flow of information and education, but to democracy and society as a whole.