Yesterday, the Loblaws grocery store chain had to shut some of its stores across Canada for almost half a day due to what even the Huffington Post had to put in scare quotes as a “‘technical error’.” The CBC article about it says Loblaw's PR department sent them an email saying: “Due to a technical issue this morning, some Loblaw grocery stores experienced problems completing sales for our customers.” Struth. How nice that sounds. In reality, with no working digital cash registers, Loblaw was forced to actually close their stores until the problem was fixed. Ah, reminds me of trying to get registered for good old Carleton University in the 1980s. Remember my discussion of Roberto Vacca? See, I told you the collapse of civilization is already happening, but most of you are too busy sleepwalking through your days to even notice this slow-motion trainwreck going on around you. But, that is not the main thing about this story that I wish to explore today. No, there is a lot more to this iceburg-lettuce story going on beneath the surface than we mere peons get to read about in the popular press. And that, my friends, is worth looking at in some detail.
In the old Soviet empire there was a newspaper called Pravda. The Russian word Pravda means truth. The Russian newspaper Pravda, though, was a 24/7 propaganda mouthpiece for the regime. Now today in the West we have only five gargantuan media companies that control basically all mass media for the new regime. Two things are relevant to this fact.
One is the work of Dmitry Orlov, especially his original analysis “Closing the ‘Collapse Gap’: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US.” I’ll save you some time and give you the spoiler. Orlov has lived in the US since he was twelve, but has first-hand experience with the Russian collapse in the 1990s through his extended travels there. Then when he went back to America, upon arrival he had a case of Deja-Vu all over again. What he noticed was that many things that were signs of the Soviet collapse were present and well advanced in the good ole USA. He also noticed one other thing. That was the fact that the Soviet Union was actually a lot better prepared to handle and survive its collapse than the USA was to handle its upcoming collapse. He noted numerous structural differences between the two empires which meant that the primitive Soviet Union was in a better position than the States to weather the storm of collapse. You know, little things like Russia having a functioning public rail system while the USA relies on private autos and trucking. You know, insignificant details like everyone already living in public housing in Russia as opposed to the USA as a nation of overleveraged owners or poor renters who will end up evicted when the money goes away. His conclusion? Simply that the signs were unmistakable: The USA, like Russia before it, had been bankrupted by its hubris of thinking it could win in Afghanistan and in a case of this-time-its-not-different, was inevitably headed for a Soviet style collapse. Only, Orlov saw that those structural differences meant that the collapse in the USA is going to be a LOT worse than the one that happened in Russia. Maybe that’s why the US government needs those billions of rounds of ammunition – to use on its own people. But, you will not hear about any of this in the popular media and that is what is actually interesting here.
The second thing relevant to the extreme degree of the concentration of ownership of the media we live under now is the idea of The Age of Missing Information which is the title of a 1992 book by environmentalist Bill McKibben where he arranged for a bunch of friends to each record one of the then 30 available cable TV channels for the same 24 hour period. Thus, he captured all of the TV available in his market for a single day. Then he sat down with a really big bag of popcorn and watched it all. His conclusion? What was on TV was not really that important and what was really important was not on TV. It was the missing information that was far more significant than the information overload inducing barrage of Flintstones reruns and sit-coms. One example should suffice. He saw nature show after nature show displaying beautiful tigers happily playing in the wild. Well it must have been the same movie star tiger in all those shows because what was decidedly not shown on TV was the real reality that in our world today there are more tigers living in zoos than there are surviving tigers in the wild. If you just watched TV you got the impression that there is no problem at all with tigers because there they are on TV every time you click over to a nature show. The important “the medium is the message” message from the ghost of Marshall McLuhan? “There is nothing to see here, move along, don’t worry about the tigers, they’re fine, really, now just go back to watching your Flintstones rerun.”
And, that is the essence of living in The Age of Missing Information. It is not what IS on TV or the internet that is important, it is what is NOT on TV or the internet that is most important. And about five guys get to decide what is never, ever, ever, on TV or in the newspaper for pretty much the whole planet. One small example is you will never, ever, ever, ever hear the word “civil servant” in the mass media. Instead it is always, always, always “lawmakers” even when that means it is taken to the extreme of ridiculousness such as when they report on “lawmakers” in some brutal dictatorship with absolutely no pretense of following the rule of law. Yep, I’ve heard it with my own ears. Furthermore, this control somehow manages to extend to the so-called “democratic” internet. I don’t know how, but the all powerful Google somehow manages to return no information to me on some of my searches. It’s almost enough to make one a paranoid. My favourite example of a search that fails on the internet is when I try to find out what percentage of the elected officials in either Canada or the USA are convicted felons. I know from occasional stories about individual lawbreaking lawmakers that there have indeed been felony convictions of sitting officials. But, there is nothing on the internet about the statistics on criminals who are elected officials. “Interesting,” says Spock as he raises one incredulous eye and looks at democracy like it’s a poisonous bug.
So, these two things, Orlov’s Collapse Gap, and McKibben’s Age of Missing Information are relevant because, well because Loblaws had to close all its stores for a half a day yesterday. They are relevant because in our collapsing 1984 like world of lawmaker newspeak and Big-Brother-is-Watching-You panoptic surveillance, there is only one truth left. That one truth is: everything, and I really do mean everything, is a lie.
In the Pravda world of the Soviet Empire at least the ignorant Russian people knew enough not to believe everything they read in the newspaper. Instead, they were smart enough to know the paper was nothing but pure propaganda and they cleverly learned how to read between the lines of the stories in the paper in order to suss out the real truth of what was actually going on hidden behind the propaganda facade. The closest we come to that awareness is the maxim: No rumour is considered true until it is officially denied. If Pravda said, “we’re winning in Afghanistan,” and it constantly did right up until the unilateral withdrawal of the Russian troops in 1989, then the Russian people knew that they were actually losing the war. Hmmmm, where else have I seen this exact same thing? Oh, and by the way, the 1989 withdrawal was followed by the collapse of the Soviet economy and empire in 1991. That’s two years later. Hey, when did the USA withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan? Oh, right, it was 2014. Wait a minute, when is two years after 2014? Uh-oh! I think its 2016. Damn that pattern recognition thing.
Anyway, to continue this narrative, the Russian people were unfortunately also really well schooled in the reality of one of George Orwell’s sayings. It is: “Even if it is the truth, it is still propaganda.” And, boy did Orwell know propaganda since his job at the BBC from 1941 to 1943 was to write propaganda meant to counter Nazi propaganda. Whew, my head is starting to spin. But, to get back on track, my favourite example of how it is still propaganda even when it is true is the current case of TPTB still trying to get some play out of the propaganda piece that Russian athletes cheated at the Olympics by doping up. Do I have any doubt that this is true? Not Really. But, it is still anti-Russian propaganda because of one small other piece of missing information. That is that it is equally likely that everyone else is as equally guilty of doping up for the Olympics as the Russians were. But, we only hear about the Russians in the friendly press. Now do you get it? Like I said in my first posting here, it’s complicated. And, if you actually believe that only the evil Russians are capable of cheating at the Olympics and that all “our” athletes are too honest to do any such thing then you probably fit Gore Vidal’s observation that the American people do not believe there are any political conspiracies, merely coincidences. Yeah right. And you are surprised I want to hide behind some big walls.
Anyway, moving on, today our shiny Western pseudo-democracy has gotten way more sophisticated and Brave-New-World like in its subjugation of all you zombies. TPTB have learned the formula for getting the slaves to love their subjugation and the mantra, ironically, is freedom. The formula goes something like this. One, dumb them down through the compulsory education system. Two, make sure they are all drugged. And, if they will not freely choose to ingest illicit psychotropic drugs, be sure to prescribe enough prescription psychotropic drugs that trace amounts end up in the drinking water because so many people pee them out and water treatment plants do not remove them. Yay! Three, then tell the slaves they are free. And, keep on repeating the mantra until they believe it. And, pretend they actually get to choose things like: their slave-master, lawmaker, red and blue puppets; their all identical McMansion boxes in boringly identical, soul-destroying suburbs; their soul-destroying less-than-slave-wage McJob, etc., etc., etc., as the old King of Siam used to say when he was Yul Brynner in the 1956 movie version of The King and I.
Hey, that reminds me, good old Yul Brynner actually gave us one of the few really great examples of real honest to goodness truth in advertising. They are so rare, that each and every one of them is a precious cultural and historical moment that needs to be preserved for the future and shown to the propaganda filled masses as often as possible to try and help them to be able to distinguish between the everything-is-a-lie hyperreal 24/7 propaganda and the tiny glimpses of truth that once in a while sneak out. In Yul Brynner’s case what he gave us was a great anti-smoking ad. And, it is great exactly because it is not an ad, it is real. Brynner died of lung cancer in 1985 even though he had quit smoking in the 60s and that year when he was dying he was interviewed on Good Morning America. In that interview he expressed his regret that he never got to film an anti-smoking TV commercial and he then looked straight into the camera and straight into your brain through the intimate screen of TV and said “Now that I'm gone, I tell you: Don't smoke. What ever you do, just, don't, smoke.” Well in 1986 after his death his wife gave permission for the American Cancer Society to use the interview footage itself as the ad he wanted to make. Go check it out, it’s on You Tube and to this day it gets to me every time I watch it.
There are a few other great street-proof-the-kids-against-endless-propaganda videos out there that I like to show in my various classes on the slightest of pretexts. And in every case it starts when I mention one of these ads and at most one or two students have heard of them. So I show them – because that is what real education is like. One of my other favourites is also an anti-smoking ad with Bill Talman in it. He was the actor, instantly recognizable at the time, who played the prosecutor who always lost to Perry Mason. Another is a TV commercial so effective it got a President of the United States elected after being shown on TV exactly once. It is called the Daisy Ad and it is on You Tube also. And, interestingly, both the smoking ad and the Daisy Ad were made by my hero Tony Schwartz. I mentioned him previously as the author of one of my favourite books The Responsive Chord (1973) but he also wrote Media: The Second God in 1982. Both are must reads in my mind. The other truth-in-advertising moment that slipped out is the clip of Robert Oppenheimer talking about what happened in the bunker at the time of the very first ever atom bomb test after he helped build it. The money quote is: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.” But, you have to see how he looks when he says all that to really get it, go check it out.
And this brings us back to Bill McKibben, because if you are not asking yourself by now, “Why haven’t I been shown these ads and taught how to resist propaganda,” then maybe it’s because you too are actually a copper-top slave that believes they are free when they are really trapped in the Matrix like the rest of us. Grrrrr, Boo, Hiss. It is not nice to have to consider the idea that you may be more clued-out than a Russian peasant here with all your envious freedom and information at your fingertips. But, in this Age of Missing Information, that possibility is exactly what you have to consider.
And now this. . . “Loblaws 'Technical Error' Forces Stores To Close Temporarily Across Canada.” (Huffington Post, May 12, 2016). Hmmm, inquiring minds want to know more about this story. Because, my news hound nose thinks it detects the distinctive stink of propaganda, misinformation. . . Hey! Neither of those two words give me any Thesaurus suggestions in MS Word – what the heck? I want a third synonym, I want a third synonym for good form. Bah! This missing information stuff is everywhere I look. Maybe that is why all three of the popular press articles I looked at online did not have commenting on the Loblaws story enabled. Maybe it’s because the grand total number of words for all three of the stories online for the CBC, Huffington Post, and The Star comes to a measly 356 words – I kid you not. Well, I guess the only proper conclusion is that that this store closing situation was a real non-event, barely worth reporting on, and certainly not worth more than two seconds of our attention. Right? Wrong. That stink of propaganda I mentioned is the un-smell of missing information.
Here I’ll show you how it works. Let’s read between the lines like a Russian peasant. Culled from the three articles I found here are some interesting tidbits, yes tidbits not titbits you peon. Even MS Word knows to put a squiggly line under titbits and it’s really stupid and not even human. Anyway, lets go: “A company spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment” (The Star). “Loblaw's public relations department said” (CBC). “Company spokeswoman Catherine Thomas says the problem resulted in some stores experiencing issues completing sales” (Huffington Post). And finally, the money quote: “Mark Boudreau, director of corporate affairs for Atlantic Superstore, told CBC News that all computer systems with Superstores and Dominions are backed up overnight, but somehow during that backup a corrupt file was downloaded . . . . The company said it is investigating the corrupt file.” Thank you CBC. Somehow a corrupt file was downloaded?
What the heck is really going on here? Well, it looks to me like something happened where the company needed some time to get the PR hacks to devise some good lies, oops I mean spin, before they could talk to the press. Then because there was not really much they could do to spin it in a positive light they decided to go with the minimize-the-coverage-and-sweep-it-under-the-rug-routine. Nothing to see here, move along. No one is responsible, there was no terrorism, no hackers, just a simple mistake – a mistake that completely shut down Loblaw stores across Canada. The company is investigating the corrupt file? How long will that take? When 9-11 happened they knew within minutes exactly what had supposedly happened. What is taking so long? Hmmm. Do I think there is actually a lot more going on with this story than the simple error the corporate owned press is reporting to us? Yes. Can I prove it? No. Do I care? No. Is this an example of propaganda? Yes. Is it possible someone with ill intent played a role in that corrupt file download? Yes. Will we ever know for sure? No. Is it possible this story is linked to the fact that Loblaw is in the process of closing 52 stores? Yes. Could this be linked to some payback for the ridiculous, ham-handed spin-filled way the company handled the great French’s Ketchup delisting a while back? You betcha. And, that, my friends, is what it is like to live in a state of ongoing collapse in the Age of Missing Information. Even if you care and want to know what is going on, it is all but impossible to tell due to the fact that everything is a lie. Everything is PR spin. Everything is 24/7 propaganda – even, especially, when it is true. And, the best we can do is try to read between the lines and try to discern the dim outlines of what is really going on that is clearly freaking out TPTB, so we might have some idea of how much time is left before things get really interesting.
One thing is true though. When everything is a lie, if they call it terrorism within five minutes of the event, be suspicious. Also, be equally suspicious when they know equally quickly that something like the giant Toronto propane explosion of 2008 was not terrorism. How the heck is it possible to know within minutes that a giant explosion that took out a big chunk of Downsview was or was not the work of terrorists? Figuring out this kind of thing takes a really long time and a careful investigation. But, don’t worry, nothing to see here, move along. Don’t worry about living in The Age of Missing Information. Don’t worry that you are in a much worse position to survive the imminent collapse of the Western Empire than a poor Russian peasant was. In fact, don’t do anything but keep going to work and buying stuff on credit. That is what the people behind the 24/7 propaganda want you to do. That is, unless of course, you are starting to get just a teeny bit worried about all this crazy stuff yourself.
If that is the case then you may be starting to realize by now that, after holding my tongue for the last twenty-five years or so, I have a lot to say now that I have decided to tell y’all what I really think. Oh well, the one thing I will say over and over a thousand different ways until you finally really get it is that the only thing I think is important at this point in time is to work on the various aspects of The Cloister Initiative. And, if you are starting to get just a teeny bit worried, why don’t you come and join me?