Who would ever have thought that I would turn to Noam Chomsky for inspiration, but it seems that Viktor Orbán’s regime can do the strangest things to a human being. Someone on Facebook called my attention to a post on a Hungarian-language blog that recalled Chomsky’s “ten commandments” and effective strategies for manipulating a population through the media. Naturally I don’t believe Chomsky’s theory that democratic societies use subtle, non-violent means of control as opposed to the more brutal methods used by totalitarian systems. As Chomsky put it, “propaganda is to a democracy as the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”
However, after three years of the Orbán regime, Hungarians discovered a 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, that Chomsky co-authored with Edward S. Herman. They found that his “ten commandments” have a suspicious resemblance to what they themselves are experiencing in Orbán’s Hungary.
So, let’s see what are these commandments are as applied to the Hungarian situation.
1. People’s minds and attention must be occupied by second or third-rate problems. The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction, which is to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites by the technique of flooding the population with continual distractions and insignificant information.
2. The people must look upon the political leaders as the saviors of the nation. Create a problem and then offer a solution. For example, with the help of the media create false alarms, nonexistent dangers. People then begin to worry and later become anxious. When that stage is reached, offer a solution to these nonexistent problems. They will be grateful and ready to accept less freedom in exchange for normalcy.
3. The nation must always expect even worse times to come than the present one. The government constantly hammers at the dangers that are looming over the horizon and uses the media (friendly and unfriendly) to emphasize that the government is working hard to avert all these dangers. Austerity measures must be introduced gradually so that people will get accustomed to the bad. In fact, they will be happy that nothing worse happened.
4. The nation must be convinced that all the bad things that are happening to them now are for the sake of a better future later. If not for themselves, for their children. People are hopelessly idealistic and gullible and have been ready to accept this argument for centuries.
5. Break the people’s habit of thinking. Politicians must formulate their message in simple terms, sometimes even at an infantile level with a limited vocabulary and short sentences. This way people will get accustomed to superficiality; they will become naive and ready to receive false information without questioning.
6. At every possible occasion one must appeal to people’s emotions. Rational discourse should be avoided and encouragement given to all manifestations of emotions because emotions can be more easily manipulated than rational thinking.
7. People must be kept in the greatest ignorance and mediocrity. This way they will be easily manipulated. Make the school system a vehicle of indoctrination instead of promoting independent thinking. Such a school system will be an excellent instrument for the manipulation of public opinion.
8. People must be cut off from all sources of objective, correct and complete information. Therefore those media must be financed and promoted that are vehicles of government propaganda and that misinform the public. At the same time media organs that refuse to follow the government’s strategy should be punished financially.
9. Sheep mentality is a priority. One must awaken the feeling of shame and helplessness and at the same time one must suppress the idea of choice. People who are ready to be part of the crowd are easier to manipulate.
10. Everything must be done to get to know the individuals. Secret lists must be created about individual preferences, like taste, politics, ideology, behavior. Psychological profiles must be at the disposal of the authorities. One must learn more about the individual than the individual knows about himself. One must use the latest findings of the social sciences in order to achieve the goal of manipulation, and these steps must be kept secret.
Certainly worth pondering the list. At least it should be the basis for a good discussion.