Breaking Free of Corporate Progamming
Education for Democracy
From a Corporate World to a Democratic World
excerpted from the book
Democracy vs. Capitalism
by William H. Boyer
Apex Press, 2003. paper
BREAKING FREE FROM CORPORATE PROGRAMMING
The influence of mass media and the curriculum of public and private
schools combine to produce a population that is commonly ethnocentric
and nationalistic. People are largely ignorant, for example, of
the unethical history of the United States, such as the extermination
of Indians, the theft of their land through broken treaties, and
the domination of other nations through military power. The process
of programming includes lies and distortions but mainly relies
on selective omission, keeping away information that would dispel
collective illusions from the public consciousness.
A teacher is often confronted by students
who have tunnel vision-products of the narrow ideology and beliefs
reinforced by the media, schools, families, and most civic organizations.
Such students need help from a teacher to feel comfortable with
unconventional frames of reference and new perspectives. Many
feel threatened when they move from conventional indoctrination
to education that involves critical analysis. A common initial
response of students is to "shoot the messenger," which
usually means to feel hostile toward the teacher.
The American propaganda system is not
centrally programmed as it is in a totalitarian state. Instead
it permeates the culture, the media, and the institutions. Individuals
who point out unpleasant realities of current or past American
behavior are often subjected to social pressures and treated as
pariahs. They are disturbers of the dream.
Americans often wonder why the German people engaged so long in
denial of their murderous role in World War II-particularly in
regard to the Jews in the infamous death camps such as Auschwitz
and Dachau. But the American response to Vietnam was not all that
different. The public believed the lies told by the government.
True stories must be taught. But this will not occur if Vietnam
and the entire Southeast Asia war is treated merely as a "mistake,"
as Robert McNamara, Kennedy's chief advisor has termed it. Vietnam
was no more a technical "mistake" than was Hitler's
holocaust. Both involved murder and human behavior at the lowest
and most barbaric level. Most soldiers on the ground were trapped
in their own defensive survival an rarely had the least understanding
of what the war was really about.
In their book Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (1995)
Robert Lifton and Greg Mitchell have shown how Americans have
been in 50 years of denial about the bombing of Hiroshima. President
Truman's lies, the government's extensive distortion of information,
and the management of the news media have convinced most Americans
that the atomic bombings were necessary to save American lives
and end the war. Truman knew this was not true, for negotiations
were well under way, leaving only the question of the retention
of the Emperor. Then why were the bombs dropped? The bombs were
dropped to demonstrate American power prior to Truman's negotiations
with Stalin. The advice from the American military, such as Admiral
Leahy, had been that "The Japanese were already defeated
and ready to surrender." Leahy added that "we adopted
an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages
(Cousins 1987, 43)
Yet, to this day it is commonplace in
media and in the public mind to treat the atomic bombing as if
it had been necessary to save American lives by shortening the
war and making an invasion of Japan unnecessary. In fact we kept
the Emperor in power even after dropping the bombs and President
Truman did not get the concessions from Stalin he desired as a
result of demonstrating American nuclear power. Blind patriotism
has been kept intact by rewriting history to provide people with
moral consolation and a psychological basis for denial. (Alperovitz
Typical public school texts are almost invariably the result of
informal censorship by the publisher who hopes not to offend the
Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion, the churches, the two
major political parties, and schools boards of big states such
as California and Texas. As a result they are heavily watered
down and non-controversial.
While America's students were given the impression that the United
States invaded other countries as defenders of "freedom and
democracy," the record, again as summarized by Zinn, is that
the United States:
Instigated a war with Mexico and took
half of that country. It had pretended to help Cuba win freedom
from Spain, and then planted itself in Cuba with a military base,
investments, and rights of intervention. It seized Hawaii, Puerto
Rico, Guam, and fought a brutal war to subjugate the Filipinos.
It "opened" Japan to its trade with gunboats and threats.
It declared an "Open Door Policy" in China as a means
of assuring that the United States would have opportunities equal
to other imperial powers in exploiting China. It sent troops to
Peking with other nations to assert Western supremacy in China,
and kept them there for over thirty years (Zinn 1980, 399).
But since we had self-proclaimed rights
to the western hemisphere, we instituted a closed door policy,
engineering a revolution against Colombia and put Panama under
our control to build the Canal. Then we sent 5,000 marines to
Nicaragua in 1926 to stop a revolution and remained there for
seven years. In 1916 we intervened in the Dominican Republic for
the fourth time and stayed with troops for eight years, while
troops were kept in Haiti in a 1915 invasion for 19 years. As
Zinn again points out:
Between 1900 and 1933 the United States
intervened in Cuba four times, in Nicaragua twice, and Panama
six times, in Guatemala once, in Honduras seven times. By 1924
the finances of half of the twenty Latin American states were
being directed to some extent by the United States. By 1935, over
half of U.S. steel and cotton exports were being sold in Latin
[Noam] Chomsky comes on too strong for most Americans who are
in the first phase of deprogramming, such as credulous Americans
who have been brought up on Reader's Digest and Newsweek. But
after Zinn, some readers could be exposed to Chomsky's brutally
honest material. Here he summarizes it:
We overthrew Guatemala in 1954, and have
maintained the rule of murderous gangsters ever since, ran by
far the most extensive international terror operations in history
against Cuba from the early 1960s and Nicaragua through the 1980s,
sought to assassinate Lumumba and installed and maintained the
brutal and corrupt Mobutu dictatorship, backed Trujillo, Somoza,
Marcos, Duvalier, the generals of the southern cone, Suharto,
the racist rulers of southern Africa, and a whole host of other
major criminals (1992, 14).
The American press, operating in the name of "freedom"
of the press under the First Amendment of the Constitution, is
able to "educate" a public to have little or no idea
of structural or systemic solutions for poverty or environmental
degradation. With television and the press as the primary sources
of information we can understand why people live in "windowless
cocoons." Information comes through in disconnected, fragmented
pieces, without helping the reader make connections. There is
no connection of the "dots."
Newspaper reporters who are more liberal
than its owners and editors may produce reports which reveal the
structure of local politics and often find them to be edited or
eliminated. The process is actually much like censorship in the
state owned papers of dictatorial and communist countries. The
power to include and exclude constitutes political power. Newspaper
ownership is increasingly tied to a handful of national corporations
that control papers throughout the country.
According to Michael Parenti the "free press" mainly
serves: "to make the communication universe safe for corporate
America, telling us what to think about the world before we have
a chance to think about it ourselves. When we understand that
news selectivity is likely to favor those who have power, position,
and wealth, we may move from a liberal complaint about the press's
sloppy performance to a radical analysis of how the media serve
the ruling circles all too well with much skill and craft (1998,
The big leap in public consciousness comes
when people see that they have been duped and put into an intellectual
cage, a "windowless cocoon" that confines their thoughts
and beliefs. People don't like to be duped and exploited-for self-respect
is threatened when we are manipulated and not treated as a human
being. Stage one in becoming politically literate democratic citizens
is for people to be angry about how they have been duped.
EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRACY
ETHICS AND EMPATHY
How can we develop ethical behavior in
people? Empathy is the key, but more is involved. A child first
needs the closeness and security of its mother and father. The
anthropologist Ashley Montagu defined "love" as the
"conferring of survival benefits," and when a child
has an emotional attachment to its parents and good nutrition,
preferably breastfeeding,)it is off to a good start.
Then a process is needed to help develop
ethical behavior at an early age. Kindness and acceptance displayed
by the parents is the beginning of the right example for the child,
rather than anger and rejection. When violence is part of the
environment of the young child, including spankings and displays
of hostility, the child is being moved in the wrong direction,
taking on those same behaviors as coping skills.
The lessons for the child need to involve
extension of the self into the world of other people and animals,
so that a child who is happy can empathize with others. A child
who develops in a hostile world where images of violence are common
may have little empathy for others. Social Darwinism, survival
of the fittest, can easily become this child's view of reality
if egocentric self-interest dominates the social environment.
Good schools should make students resistant to propaganda, they
should help deprogram them from conventional indoctrination.
Textbooks are part of the problem. High
school textbooks, especially social studies texts such as American
history are developed by profit making corporations. They seek
to be "politically correct" and usually become propaganda
through omission. For example, a nation wide history text first
published in 1992, includes material on the United States relationship
with Cuba, but omits any mention of the embargo. The embargo has
consistently been condemned since it was instituted by President
Kennedy in 1962 by nearly every member of the United Nations as
a violation of international law, human rights, and a threat to
the health and the economy of Cuba. If we found that current history
texts used in Germany did not mention the holocaust, what would
we say about the responsibility to truth and democracy? We expected
that education would be planned propaganda in Stalin's Russia,
but the cause of American propaganda is different. Since textbook
publishing is a huge business for corporations in the United States
we can understand why truth is second to ideology. School boards
are responsive to political pressures by businesses, and professors
who write these books must please the publisher. The lucrative
writing contract can be fulfilled with a little selective amnesia.
FROM A CORPORATE WORLD TO A DEMOCRATIC WORLD
Corporate capitalism, which we mistakenly
call "democracy" has no I soul and no sensitivity. It
is directed only by profit maximization and risk minimization.
It runs on inertia and mass indoctrination, with people considered
to be discardable objects. The corrupting effect of this concentration
of power largely controls our government, and since the United
States dominates the world, this corporate power is a basic part
of what globalization has become-establishing corporate business
world wide using cheaper foreign labor and foreign natural resources
(Barnet and Cavanagh, 1994).
As long as our political system is largely
controlled by major corporations, no significant progress is likely.
So a viable strategy needs first to assert meaningful public control
of government and then to dismantle the instruments of corporate
The Marxist view is that capitalism is
a phase of historical change which will self destruct by exploiting
the working class and thereby lay the basis for revolution. A
democratic position, supported in this book, is that corporate
capitalism can be de-fanged by eliminating its power to control
government] 'Whether this will occur or not is the test of the
potential of people to use
UNDERSTANDING THE NEED FOR BREAKING THE CONNECTION:
Bill Bradley, U.S. Senator in 1996, pointed
out that "Real reform of democracy, reforms as radical as
those of the Progressive era and deep enough to get government
moving again, must begin by completely breaking the connection
between money and politics (Phillips 2002, 405)."
FROM A CORPORATE WORLD TO A DEMOCRATIC
Corporate capitalism (neo-classical economics) has dominated the
United States and has been promoted world wide by the United States.
The public has been propagandized to accept an ideology of "privatizing"
the economic system and releasing it from public control. This
deregulation led to Enron and other major corporations being exempt
from public scrutiny. From 2000 on, one major corporation after
another used its "freedom" from public control as a
way to cheat the public, increasingly engaging in self serving
criminal acts by stealing from its workers, consumers, and the
communities where it operated.
To control corporate power requires that
we understand the institution of the corporation that we have
invented. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshal reminded us that
"A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible,
and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature
of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of
creation confers upon it (US. Supreme Court Reports, 55 L.Ed 2d
However, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist
recently pointed out, an 1886 decision made a business corporation
into "a 'person' entitled to the protection of the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (US. Supreme Court
Reports, 55 L.Ed 2nd)."
This preposterous decision lingered into
the twenty-first century, so that corporate contributions to favored
candidates are treated as constitutionally protected "free
speech." Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,
people are guaranteed right of free speech, and by virtue of the
1886 decision, corporations are "persons." This has
come to mean that when corporations use their funds to influence
elections they are engaged in "speech" and have the
protection of the Constitution. When money is "speech"
which can buy candidate elections, corruption of democratic government
This 1886 decision made it possible for corporations to dip into
their corporate treasuries and legally put millions of tax deductible
dollars into media blitzes, outspending grassroots opponents,
often by 100 to one margins-all in the name of "free speech."
But a hopeful recent decision involving the state of Missouri
could help challenge the 1886 decision and other Supreme Court
decisions which have strengthened corporate rule. On January 24,
2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision that was appealed
from a case in the State of Missouri which placed a very strict
limit on campaign contributions (161 EM 519). In a reversal of
the pattern in place ever since the 1886 corporate personhood
decision, a 6 to 3 majority said in effect that the right to free
speech does not translate into a right to dominate the election
process through large monetary contributions. Justice John Paul
Stevens even went so far as to directly challenge the very premise
of other rulings since 1886 when he stated in startlingly unambiguous
terms: 'Money is property. It is not speech. "If it can be
translated into new law, this J conceptual reversal from the position
that money is speech may help shift the legal basis for corporate
Some believe that there was a direct connection
between this Supreme Court decision and the protest events in
Seattle. It is quite possible that the members of the Court were
sensing a shift in the public mood, or the events in Seattle may
have been just one more push in a direction in which the Court
had already been moving. The activist groups dealing with campaign
finance reform saw a new opportunity as a result of "Missouri."
The Missouri decision, which limits contributions to $1000 per
candidate, is providing incentive for various groups and states
around he country to create new limits on campaign financing.
These attempts merely to moderate the influence of big money in
elections keep campaign financing alive as a public issue but
deflect the public from the real issue which is whether corporations
have any right whatsoever to participate in the electoral process.
Corporations are social inventions and will use their power to
control the political process unless they are entirely separated
from that process. Democracy requires political control by the
public and the public must consist of "real" people.
This blurring of the legitimate rights of people with fictional
corporate institutions is a central error in American politics.
The Missouri decision and rising national
and international mass movements challenging corporate hegemony
suggest an opportunity to help reign in corporate political power.
Should the political system be "of the people" or "of
the corporations"? People employed by a corporation should
have access to political involvement but the corporation-the fiction
created by the public-must then be separated from the political
system to make a clearer distinction between the public and private
sector. Such pressure helps lead to a direct re-examination and
eventual challenge of the concept of "corporate personhood"
with change in the 1886 law. When this occurs, the movement will
in fact be squarely addressing a central source of corporate power.
Thom Harmann in his book Unequal Protection
claims that in all these years that the court has presumed corporations
were persons that "the court said no such thing, and it can't
be found in the ruling (2002, 107). He opens up a question that
deserves more attention: Does the decision even have legal status?
Harmann tries to show that the decision was never a formal ruling
of the Supreme Court, but only part of the headnotes.' His findings
may further erode any presumptions of the legitimacy of corporate
In the meantime we should consider overcoming
corporate personhood as a long term struggle similar to the civil
rights struggle. There is a long history of attempts to move ahead
in courts and through civil action on this issue and we are still
in the middle of the struggle. Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 (387 F.
Supp. 135 DDC 1975) involved a majority of the justices declaring
corporate money to be a form of "free speech," which
led two years later to a landmark case known as First National
Bank v. Bellotti, (435 US 765, 1978) where the U.S. Supreme Court
overruled a Massachusetts State Statute prohibiting corporations
from spending money on ballot initiatives.
Bellotti favored the corporations but
there was interesting dissent by justices White and Marshall stating
that "Corporations are artificial entities created by law
for the purpose of furthering certain economic ends .... It has
long ( been recognized... that the special status of corporations
has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic
power which may. .. dominate not only the economy but also the
very heart of our democracy, the election process .... The State
need not permit its own creation to consume it (Grossman 2001,
AMERICA THE LAWLESS
If we consider the three basic world models
anarchy, multilateralism, and dominance, the United States has
become a rogue power relying on force to maintain dominance.
... Since World War II the United Nations
has labored to construct a system of international law, only to
see it breached by the American invasion of Iraq. The Bush Administration
has taken the United States on the road to international lawlessness,
replacing the rule of law with the rule of power. Law is grounded
in equality and shared values. By opting out of the United Nations
system, Bush replaced the nascent developments of community and
international law with the forces of dominance and anarchy. The
United States, under Bush, became a rogue nation, a dangerous
example of unilateralism to other nations, including the nuclear
... We are still sitting on a volcano
- both Russia and the United States have some 6,000 intercontinental
nuclear missiles that can be triggered within minutes. A Putin-Bush
agreement in 2002 proposed reduction of operational/strategic
arsenals to 1,700 to 2,000 but only to store the missiles, not
to destroy them. Each country has enough missiles to destroy human
life in most of the world
... The protests against Bush's war suggest
that progressive international opinion envisions a world order
far different from what Bush is trying to create. Many of those
protesting are motivated by a common vision of a post cold war
world free of all weapons of mass destruction, a world in which
international law replaces the rule of military power.