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Mass deception and the quest for a more sustainable agriculture

By Karl North | February 16, 2018

Most of our society has fallen victim to a spectacularly successful, century-long effort of mass deception. The idea that organically certified farming is making a significant difference is just one of the many myths. To explain how that happens, I will first sketch a more general, historical picture that provides the necessary context.

The advent of mass communications and the arrival in the US of Freud’s kinsman Edward Bernays, both at the beginning of the 20th century, was a fortuitous convergence for our rulers. Bernays showed industrialists how to manufacture desire using psychology, and spread it via the growing media of mass communication. Thus the first industry of mass deception was born, known as advertising.

It was so successful at accelerating consumption, burning through resources at the fastest rate possible, and thereby maximizing capitalist profits, that our ruling strata engaged Bernays to apply his methods of mass deception more generally to allow them to achieve near total control over us with little need for force. Bernays taught ruling strata how to use propaganda to, in Chomsky’s words, manufacture consent to a social system where most of the power lies in the hands of the few, by using a psychologically sophisticated narrative to sell the myths of democracy, free enterprise, free market, free trade, and free speech.

The result is that today most people are badly misled as to how our society works and who its most powerful institutions serve. A ruling elite has achieved immense power and bends government, media, markets and the knowledge business itself to serve primarily its own interests, while sustaining the illusion that these institutions serve the public interest. Because the powerful remain in the background, critical analysts have accurately described this system as inverse totalitarianism. Hence government agencies serve the economic sectors that they are supposed to regulate: the USDA serves those who exert monopoly control over industrial agriculture. The historical record shows that it always has. The first Secretary of Agriculture created the Pioneer seed company, which used hybridization to take control of seeds away from farmers.

Under these conditions, what is the reality regarding the present food system and the quest for a more ecologically sustainable agriculture? Ten percent of US farms produce most of the food. These are the biggest, foulest farms in the food economy. The same is true for organic – the biggest, least sustainable certified organic farms produce the lion’s share of the organic food economy, thanks in large part to the NOP that nationalized organic food miles. Worse, organic is a drop in the bucket: US acres in farming is 844 million, certified organic acres is 5.4 million – 0.64% of the total farm economy (click to enlarge).

Certified organic is a joke, just another brand that agribusiness uses to more fully exploit the discretionary consumption capacity of the gentrified slice of the food market. Make oats into the letter O, call them Cheerios (because they start your day with cheer), then call them Honey Nut Organic O’s to sell even more oats – at twice the price. Moreover, this branding hardly makes a difference in the quality of the US food system. After decades of the organic movement, certified organic food is a tiny fraction of the US food economy, less than 1%. And incessantly corrupted, at that, gradually eroding trust even in the miniscule gentrified market that it serves. Not that agribusiness cares that much for such a small market fraction. We need to think about that reality and ask what kind of social system under what set of power relations achieves such an outcome.

None of the above is meant to lay blame on farmers, conventional or organic, or on anyone who works for a more sustainable agriculture. But when we falsely believe we are making much of a difference, or expect any help in that effort from the government or any of its agencies, or any of the other major institutions in our society, we are deluded, duped, in a word, and the system will not change for the better as long as that mass deception reigns supreme.

We have been taught to dismiss any attempt to lift the veil as ‘conspiracy theory’, but knowledge about how things really work is available, not secret, if one is willing to look beyond the sources the oligarchs daily put before our eyes and ears. Education must start with an understanding of the concentration of power that makes possible the control of institutions and the success of indoctrination. The public is even misled about that, although the information is readily available if one looks for it. The public is aware that there is inequality, but the concentration of wealth and power is orders of magnitude above what the average person thinks.

Those who try to lift the veil will be called names, suggesting they are promoting some impossible future, and diverting attention from the real question: how much of our conception of the present is illusion.

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