Category Archives: Academia

Chomsky on deep capture, disenfranchisement

Another great video on deep capture and the engineering of consent [previously], including more on Edward Bernays, mass media and propaganda, and the growing irrelevance of American party politics for the nation’s poor, this time featuring Noam Chomsky in a 2013 address to the Law School deep capture Conference.

Once again from Systemic Justice Videos:

Deep Capture Conference: Noam Chomsky 2013

Program notes:

Noam Chomsky is the Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. At the 2013 Harvard Law School Conference, “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law,” he offered these remarks, titled, “Hume’s Maxim and the Engineering of Consent”

Deep capture: A case of corporate body-shaping

Researchers Trenton G. Smith, senior lecturer in the Department of
Economics at New Zealand’s University of Otago and Corvinus University of Budapest professor of mathematics Attila Tasnádi begin their 2014 paper The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate [PDF] with a quote from Edward L. Bernays’ [previously] 1928 book Propaganda:

In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if everyone went around pricing, and chemically testing before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would become hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought  to  its  attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.

And to capture our minds, the surest route is through capture of the media largely responsible for shaping our choices, a process we’ve seen firsthand in the course of a half-century of journalism.

It is a process of excluding or deriding all options not beneficial to the economic interests of the thought-shaper — a thought-shaper legally bound as a fiduciary to act in the interests of maximizing investor profit.

And if those interest conflict with the best interests of consumers, environmental neighbors, and the health of democratic governance, well, then the hell with them.

The neoliberal nightmare

Let’s begin with the opening paragraphs of seminal book:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Note those words “smoothly functioning.” And where do you hear those same words so frequently applied? Well, how about when we employ them to discuss machines, those quintessentially precisely built and functioning devices for producing quantifiable outputs from quantifiable inputs.

In such a mechanistic vision of human society, any resistance or friction is to be either engineered out of the machine [tuned] or directly eliminated or replaced.

It is no wonder, then, that a group of Italian Futurists, so enamored of the machine, war and bloodshed were among the earliest followers of fascism.

And since nothing’s more machinelike — regimented — than a regiment, here’s how, once in power, Italy’s fascists greeted Germany’s fascist leader, via British Pathé:

Italians Goosestep For Hitler [1938]

In a fascist society, mind-shaping is overt — as in the case of Hitler’s loyal acolyte Joseph Goebbels, Der Führer’s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and relentless — and relentless.

But in 21st Century America, propaganda, which equally relentless, is more subtle.

Consider Bernays again, first a chief state propagandist for Woodrow Wilson in World Wat I, then a public relations [genteel-speak for propagandist] sought out by leading corporations.

Bernays knew well how to get people to kill and injure themselves in the interest of corporate profit. Consider this from the Museum of Public Relations:

George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company and an eccentric businessman, recognized that an important part of his market was not being tapped into. Hill believed that cigarette sales would soar if he could entice more women to smoke in public.

In 1928 Hill hired Bernays to expand the sales of his Lucky Strike cigarettes. Recognizing that women were still riding high on the suffrage movement, Bernays used this as the basis for his new campaign. He consulted Dr. A.A. Brill, a psychoanalyst, to find the psychological basis for womens smoking. Dr. Brill determined that cigarettes which were usually equated with men, represented torches of freedom for women. The event caused a national stir and stories appeared in newspapers throughout the country. Though not doing away with the taboo completely, Bernays’s efforts had a lasting effect on women smoking.

His hook? Cigarettes in his campaign were transformed from smelly, unhealthy fire hazards into “torches of freedom.” As another lung cancer-pusher later advertised, “You’ve come a long way baby.”

While pressure from public health officials, most notably several courageous Surgeons General eventually led to sharp curbs on cigarette advertising, intensified by those infamous kiddie-aimed Joe Camel cartoon ads.

BLOG Joe camel

As a Stanford University web site notes:

From the campaign’s inception, young people were primary targets. The first Joe Camel ad in the United States was released to celebrate Camel’s 75th “birthday” and was based on a French advertisement for Camel filters from 1974. The original French Joe Camel was reported to be a “smash” because “it’s about as young as you can get, and aims right at the young adult smoker Camel needs to attract”. (The term “young adult smoker” is industry jargon for the youngest spectrum of customers legally targeted through cigarette ads.)

Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirmed that Joe Camel is attractive to children. Indeed, a 1991 article published in JAMA reveals that the Old Joe Camel advertisements “are far more successful at marketing Camel cigarettes to children than to adults” based on kids’ ability to recall the character and find him appealing. More shocking still is another JAMA publication from 1991 which revealed that 91.3% of 6-year-old children were able to correctly match Old Joe with a picture of a cigarette, nearly the same number of children as were able to match Mickey Mouse with the Disney Channel logo.

But cigarette packs didn’t start to carry warning labels until Baby Boomers’ parents began to died from lung cancer, emphysema, and a host of other afflictions clearly traceable to tobacco. It took that awareness, coupled with rising anger in the medical community, to overcome the endless flow of dollars into the pockets of politicians and the coffers of advertising agencies.

But another killer, obesity, can also be directly linked to corporate greed, and a relentless campaign by corporations and their investors has stalled or gutted serious efforts to meaningfully inform us about the dangers of what we take into our body, once again through our mouths.

While brings us back to Trenton Smith and his concepts of deep capture.

What follows, via Systemic Justice Videos, is a talk he delivered at Harvard Law School, and its well worth your attention:

Trent Smith on Deep Capture and Obesity

Program notes:

In the fall of 2014, Trent Smith delivered a talk titled “The Economics of Information, Deep Capture, and the Obesity Debate” at Harvard Law School.

Are consumers susceptible to manipulation by large corporations? Or are consumers basically rational, able to decide for themselves what to buy and how to live? This lecture will argue that these seemingly contradictory views of the American consumer are not mutually exclusive, and in fact follow directly from economic models of imperfect information. Examples of U.S. food industry practices, both historical and in the ongoing public debate over the causes of the obesity epidemic, serve to illustrate a broader phenomenon: when large industrial producers take steps to limit the information available to consumers, a market breakdown can occur in which low-quality products dominate the market. As a result, consumer welfare and–in the case of food–public health suffers. This would seem to represent a clear instance of the phenomenon known as “deep capture,” in which powerful commercial interests attempt to influence conventional wisdoms that might affect industry profits.

Chart of the day II: Violent crimes on campus

And note that there’s more of it on private campuses than at public schools. From a January report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics [PDF]:

Campus Law Enforcement, 2011–2012

Chart of the day: Cal’s astronomers too earthy

UC Berkeley Campus Climate Survey Topline Results

From a previously secret survey [PDF] of the UC Berkeley Astronomy Department by the office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion:

In Spring 2015, Equity & Inclusion administered a survey on the climate in the Astronomy Department on issues of gender and sexual harassment/violence. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni were invited to participate in the survey. Of the 332 invited, 108 responded (33% response rate). Faculty and graduate students were over-represented among respondents, while undergraduates were under-represented. By design, women were over-sampled due to underrepresentation of women in the department. Preliminary findings indicate that among respondents women are less likely agree that the Astronomy department is healthy with respect to sexual harassment/assault and gender issues and more likely to report experiencing a form of sexual/gendered discomfort as a result of department members’ actions.

Geoff Marcy and John Gertz, SETI BFFs

BLOG The two

John Gertz, [foreground left], is the Berkeley-based American-Israeli propagandist who spearheaded the smear campaign to shut down the Berkeley Daily Planet by intimidating advertisers, and Geoffrey Marcy, foreground right right], just-resigned UC Berkeley astronomer and media celebrity and, oh, yeah, serial sexual predator, were having having a grand old time in April at a gathering to raise some cash for the Foundation for Investing in Research on SETI Science and Technology [FIRST]. Gertz is an avid SETI buff and for many years chaired the SETI Institute,

That’s when Marcy grabbed a self and dispatched it as a Tweet via UC Berkeley’s SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] Research Center last April when Marcy decided to grab a selfie and dispatch it as a Tweet.

Here at esnl, we can’t think of two guys better suited to keep each other company.

Headline of day: Oh Marcy me, about damn time

From the Los Angeles Times, Geoffrey Marcy does inevitable given the huge groundswell of blowback:

UC Berkeley astronomer accused of sexually harassing students resigns, source says

Most Cal astronomers call for Marcy’s ouster

Most of the faculty at UC Berkeley Department of Astronomy have signed a petition [on department letterhead] calling for the ouster of serial sexual predator and celebrity stargazer Geoffrey Marcy [previously].

The move follows BuzzFeed’s report that a university investigation had concluded that Marcy had, over the span of a decade, repeatedly groped, fondled, and kissed female students against their wishes and escaped with the “punishment” of posting an online letter of apology.

The text of the letter [PDF]:

October 12, 2015

We, the undersigned UC Berkeley Astronomy faculty, write to make clear that sexual harassment has no place in our Department, and that we fully support the survivors of harassment. We regret the harm caused by our faculty, and reject any suggestion that our sympathies should be with the perpetrators   of   sexual   harassment.   We   are   committed   to   developing   and   maintaining   a supportive,  open  climate  in  which  all  members  of  the  Department  can  thrive,  regardless  of gender,   ethnicity,   sexual   orientation,   disability,   or   religious   faith.   This   goal   has   been compromised by policies that led to a lack of communication in UC Berkeley’s handling of Geoff Marcy’s  sexual  harassment  case.  We  urge  the  UC  Berkeley  administration  to  re-evaluate  its response to Marcy, who has been found in violation of UC sexual harassment policy. We believe that Geoff Marcy cannot perform the functions of a faculty member.


Jonathan Arons
Gibor Basri
Steven Beckwith
Joshua Bloom
Eugene Chiang
Marc Davis
Imke de Pater
Alex Filippenko
Al Glassgold
James Graham
Carl Heiles
Paul Kalas
Daniel Kasen
Richard Klein
Mariska Kriek
Chung-Pei Ma
Burkhard Militzer
Peter Nugent
Aaron Parsons
Eliot Quataert
Uros Seljak
Daniel Weisz
Martin White

Joining the call for resignation or dismissal were 32 post-doctoral students and the majority of the department’s graduate students.