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In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or the propaganda might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies – the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.
It is not clear to anyone, least of all the practitioners, how science and technology in their headlong course do or should influence ethics and law, education and government, art and social philosophy, religion and the life of the affections. Yet science is an all-pervasive energy, for it is at once a mode of thought, a source of strong emotion, and a faith as fanatical as any in history.
The facts of nature cannot in the long run be violated. Penetrating and seeping through everything like water, they will undermine any system that fails to take account of them, and sooner or later they will bring about its downfall. But an authority wise enough in its statesmanship to give sufficient free play to nature – of which spirit is a part – need fear no premature decline.
Visa for Avalon is a testament to the power of fiction. It illuminates the truth at the heart of what is commonly called reality. This account of lives transformed and ruined by the triumph of a totalitarian rule is a timely reminder of how moral and intellectual laziness and apathy can pave the road to the reign of terror brought on by such a system.
The truth beyond the fetish’s glimmering mirage is the relationship of laborer to product; it is the social account of how that object came to be. In this view every commodity, beneath the mantle of its pricetag, is a hieroglyph ripe for deciphering, a riddle whose solution lies in the story of the worker who made it and the conditions under which it was made.
Up to this moment I have been pleased to entrust the government of my affairs to the late Cardinal. It is now time that I govern them myself. You [secretaries and ministers of state] will assist me with your counsels when I ask for them. I request and order you to seal no orders except by my command, . . . I order you not to sign anything, not even a passport . . . without my command; to render account to me personally each day and to favor no one.
Maybe 23 cents doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a Swiss bank account, Cayman Island Investments and an IRA worth tens of millions of dollars. But Governor Romney, when we lose 23 cents every hour, every day, every paycheck, every job, over our entire lives, what we lose can’t just be measured in dollars.
The mystical nature of American consumption accounts for its joylessness. We spend a great deal of time in stores, but if we don’t seem to take much pleasure in our buying, it’s because we’re engaged in the acts of sacrifice and self-definition. Abashed in the presence of expensive merchandise, we recognize ourselves . . . as suppliants admitted to a shrine.