When Questioning Popular Opinion is Prohibited

A historical analysis of how moral gatekeepers determine freedom of expression

Once upon a time a new class of people emerged. They were scholars and elitists, ‘special people,’ well ensconced in academia, politics, economics and military intelligence. They righteously demanded eradication of current norms and established ways of being. They insisted that prevailing antiquated inferior practices be replaced with new better ways of living. This required a purging of the old system by any means necessary. Accordingly, those who dissented were either re-indoctrinated, thrown in jail, exiled to other lands or done away with.

These notable visionaries pontificated a whole new outlook on life. Society will prosper! The masses will flourish! There will be no class! We are one!

Eventually, with reluctance or zeal everyone got on board with all the life affirming rhetoric. Well, except for those few unsavory stragglers who were always throwing in a wrench by daring to question the ruling thought system. To adequately manage these problematic skeptics a committee of the purest of the pure, the moral gatekeepers if you will, devised a game plan.

Appealing to the collective quest for power and belonging, the committee ventured forth with teasing out who was aligned and who deviated from partisan loyalty. Some good old fashioned spying would do the trick! Most important, they had to concoct a strategy to nullify those pesky beliefs that sullied right thinking.

To diminish ideological impurities the committee established an auxiliary sub-committee. In charge of assembling and broadcasting interesting and distracting stuff that would encourage agreement amongst the multitudes, the sub-committee culled and re-culled all sorts of stories! With unified intent they agreed that by playing to the collective instinctual need for tribal belonging and highlighting the ethos of upward mobility while simultaneously igniting fear, all-encompassing compliance would be ensured.

Harking back to unconscious reminders of the ‘primal horde’ and raising hopes and fears, proved to be a revolutionary form of thought control. The committee and sub-committee were very pleased. The campaign was so persuasive that without a hitch, it incited the common folk to evince an onslaught of aggression towards those who persisted in thinking for themselves. In fact, it was recognized as their moral and civic duty!

Indeed, this ‘us versus them’ strategy worked beautifully, but there was still more to be done to guarantee complacency. To offset the irritating concerns with the recent unavoidable interruption of economic activity, needs had to be gratified. Hence, with the sanction of Executive Order everyone in the land received monetary incentives. These social safety nets allowed folks to stay home, insulated from the dangers in the world while being entertained in the comfort of their living rooms!

Naturally just in case, a contingency plan was devised.

“Should all else fail,” the committee members concurred, “we will simply raise taxes or go to war to pillage the resources of some unsuspecting nation… for the purpose of humanitarian intervention of course!”

Hence, with the populace sufficiently dutiful and distracted, the rulers in charge got to the important work of brainstorming and changing the world.

Of course, this Kafkaesque allegory is a simplified account of historical trends. It is a repetitive reality that all forms of government irrespective of ideology, are ultimately reducible to the rule of a few global elitists. Likewise, the mass dissemination of a collectively revered ideology accompanied by the manipulation of information has always been standard procedure whenever power has been transferred from one elite class to another.

For instance, when we examine the French revolution, and the Bolshevik’s Russian revolution it’s clear how goals of reform formulated by select elites, drove the movements. These elitist intellectuals introduced a new doctrine that appealed to the people and catalyzed rebellion against the monarchy and the aristocracy.

Revisiting the onset of the French Revolution (1789), reveals the emergence of a new class which had great wealth but no political power. This new class wanted wealth and power, but the monarch class (royalty) refused to share power because of the historic notion that it was their inherent Divine right to rule. This dilemma ignited mutiny.

The monarchy was brought down and a new ruling class known as the Bourgeoisie (middle class) was established. We see a similar trajectory (1917) during the first World War when the Russian Monarch was also brought down by the elite class known as the Bolsheviks.

In both revolutions the violent seizure of power required the support, or at the very least the compliance of the citizenry. Naturally this meant that the throngs were seduced with proclamations of unbridled freedoms. Eventually however, public opinion was policed and injurious speech became a criminal offense subject to execution. Traitors were to be exposed and annihilated.

Accordingly, the Reign of Terror, under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre, achieved their political goals through executing enemies of the revolution. Euphemistically referred to as the Committee of Public Safety, this powerful war council leveled extreme measures to protect the security of the new regime.

Similarly, the Bolshevik’s Red Terror emulated the Reign of Terror. The removal of state enemies entailed the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of suspected subversives, many who were tortured and executed. Any hint of opposition signified guilt.

Like their predecessors, contemporary elites who possess comparatively greater power and influence within institutions, organizations, and movements engineer decisive political outcomes. In this age of advanced technology, these architects of group indoctrination are members of a powerful superclass. They determine foreign policy, run the government, industry, and the worlds of finance and media. How they mobilize their influence has tremendous bearing not just on the collective mindset, but also on morality.

Charismatic leaders and celebrities are enlisted by these global elitists to promote prescriptive beliefs and agendas. Our susceptibility to aggrandizing and mythologizing of high-ranking people and eminent personalities, who by the way are no more capable than the average person of assuming a political role or declaring scientific expertise, sways us to adapt and conform.

Social psychologist Gustave Le Bon (1895 / The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind) explained how the collective group mind yields to instincts, resulting in a singular mindset. This phenomenon eradicates individual critical thought and makes ‘subordinate’ members of the group malleable to indoctrination and suggestion by powerful leaders.

Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, who achieved acclaim as the “father of public relations” due to his masterful understanding of the psychological workings of propaganda, expanded on Le Bon’s ideas. His writings about how collective collusion with a dominant ideology encapsulated the principle, “if you are not for us, then you must be against us.”

Le Bon and Bernays analysis of the mob mentality is evidenced in the aggressive posturing of political correctness and cancel culture. Through the daily utilization of identification with race, class, gender, religion, nationality and political ideology, special interest groups and the elite corporate media shape the group mind. Carefully crafted campaigns uphold imperialist values, state sponsored violence and incontestable lockdowns.

By championing shaming and cruelty, under the guise of moral superiority, folks submit to the will of the group. This incites boycotts, marred reputations, social ostracism and destroyed livelihoods. In the spirit of moral relativism, it’s all chalked up to ‘the greater good’.

Consequently, we are distracted by what we are instructed to align with, oblivious to the machinations of corporate interests and motives disguised as humanitarian intervention.

Attempts to think for oneself in accordance with a personal moral code, or even factual information is met with an onslaught of aggression.

Still, there will always be those few non-conformists who oppose the ruling thought system. They are the subversives, the whistle-blowers, the conspiracy theorists. (Julian Assange, Martin Luther King, Karen Silkwood, Frank Serpico, Kathryn Bolkovac, Edward Snowden, Gary Webb, Berta Cáceres. The list goes on.) As freedom of expression is restricted to the overriding popular opinion, their controversial views are squelched and the Orwellian corruption of language and thought ensues.

As Edward Snowden endeavored to reveal, the National Security Agency (NSA) in direct violation of the 4th amendment, engages in warrantless surveillance of large volumes of Americans’ phone content and e-mail messages. Agents within the National Security Agency (NSA), have anonymously told the New York Times that the spy agency monitors millions of e-mail communications and telephone calls made by Americans.

This infringement on private communication continues to take on new meaning as government officials are working directly with Facebook to limit the spread of “misinformation.” The escalation of censorship under another name (i.e., managing domestic terrorism and disinformation) appears virtuous. Even while the Biden administration recently moved to shut down the websites of 33 foreign media outlets, it was spun as security protection, not an obvious attack on the 1st amendment.

Nevertheless, being spoon fed questionable narratives through mass deception campaigns dubbed as journalism is nothing new. Instituted in the early 1950s, the Mockingbird Project revealed the CIA’s involvement with major US news media. Through bribing journalists and publishers, propaganda was peddled to the masses. Acclaimed Watergate Reporter Carl Bernstein wrote a piece in 1977 for Rolling Stone magazine, “The CIA and the Media” in which he imparted, that since the early 1950’s the CIA “secretly bankrolled numerous foreign press services, periodicals and newspapers, both English and foreign language which provided excellent cover for CIA operatives.”

Now with six corporations controlling 90 per cent of media outlets in the U.S. (AT&T, CBS, Comcast, Disney, News Corp and Viacom) it’s not a huge surprise that the press has acclimated to the expectations of these corporatized media giants.

In fact, a survey by the Pew Research Center and the Columbia Journalism Review in 2000 found, “Self-censorship is commonplace in the news media today…. About one-quarter of the local and national journalists say they have purposely avoided newsworthy stories, while nearly as many acknowledge they have softened the tone of stories to benefit the interests of their news organizations. Fully four in ten (41%) admit they have engaged in either or both of these practices.”

Capitalizing on survival fears the government sponsored corporatized media bans, persecutes and censors those who deviate from popular opinion. Oppositional views are vilified, in effect muzzling those who question popular narratives. Regrettably many take the bait and participate in random emotionally charged exchanges that culminate in a mob mentality and a snitch culture. Aggressive social norms quickly take hold as hateful communication infiltrates a throng of followers. Competitive rancor and righteous indignation usurps the possibility of rational discourse when group shaming is exalted as a noble feat.

Ironically the proverbial silver lining is that eventually it all self destructs. Elitists and the masses end up fighting amongst themselves, maligning each other for not measuring up to fanatical purity tests.

As Plato conveyed in The Republic, mediocrity is our hubris and our demise. It is what brings down all systems.

Plato also imparted that those who know how to govern, ‘The Philosopher Kings’, are the wise, just elders who through debating and resolving with dialogue and intellect, contribute to mankind’s evolution. They are capable of upholding George Orwell’s interpretation of liberty as “the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Indeed it is only when we have the freedom to choose and think for oneself that true morality can flourish. Until then forbidden perspectives will continue to go underground. Regrettably, that which could benefit from examination will not only remain hidden, it is destined to quietly foment into backlash and dissent waiting to erupt.

  • First published at Dialogue & Discourse.
  • Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW is a NYC psychotherapist and interfaith minister in private practice specializing in the treatment of complex trauma, narcissistic abuse syndrome, and addictive disorders. Sheri is also a free-lance writer, a playwright and the creator of a therapeutic theater event for at-risk women and girls in the public sector of NYC. Sheri's journey of recovery was told through an animated film short by OC87 Recovery Diaries and aired on PBS in 2017. She is the author of A Clinicians Journey from Complex Trauma to Thriving: Reflections on Abuse, C-PTSD and Reclamation and Women on the Edge. Sheri is listed as a media resource for HARO, WMC SheSource & a story consultant for Hollywood Health & Society. Read other articles by Sheri.