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Why are the Lambs Silent?

by Rainer Mausfeld
Techniques-fragmentation and propaganda-make serious violations of moral norms by the ruling elites morally and cognitively invisible to the population. With many examples, professor Mausfeld gives insight in the actual management of our democracy and how people are kept in apathy and in the illusion of being informed.

Democracy, Psychology and Techniques of Opinion- and Outrage Management

Techniques that make serious violations of moral norms by the ruling elites morally and cognitively invisible for the population

By Rainer Mausfeld

[This lecture at the University of Kiel, June 22, 2015 published on is translated abridged from the German on the Internet. With many examples, Professor Mausfeld gives insight in the actual management of our democracy and how people are kept in apathy and in the illusion of being informed.]

Violations of moral norms are “morally invisible” even when they are visible as facts. Embedding them in a context prevents moral unease or indignation in the population. The social and humanitarian consequences of the structural violence going along with the neoliberal economic system are one example. This violence is increasingly manifest in western industrial countries and in the so-called “third world.”

Violations of moral norms are “cognitively invisible” even when they are visible as facts. Embedding them in a context prevents drawing conclusions from them. No connections are made to comparable cases that are judged according to completely different criteria by the respective elites. So-called “targeted killings” of persons regarded as security risks by a state are an example. Those murders represent a clear breach of international law and would not be accepted in a comparable way when carried out by states regarded by “us” as “enemies.”

The visibility and invisibility of facts is essentially mediated by the mass media that – besides the facts - usually communicate the desired interpretation context and “political worldview.” Thus the theme becomes part of our daily social routine and concerns all of us. The questions raised here are more fundamental and have a more elementary nature. To grapple with them, no expert knowledge is needed even if the ruling elites seek to limit discourse on these themes to groups of “qualified experts.” By nature we are outfitted with a natural ability of our spirit, a “light of reason” – a lumen naturale, as it was called in the Enlightenment – for themes that affect all of us as citoyens, as citizens who strive for community in the spirit of the Enlightenment. Thus we can deal with essential questions without a specialist education.

“You already know enough. So do I. We don’t lack knowledge. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and draw conclusions.”
Sven Lindquist (1992). Exterminate All the Brutes.

The capability for questioning facts in the social-political realm and the categorizing, ordering and judging phenomena, is part of the natural wealth of our spirit. The neoliberal newspeak covering up and concealing what was really meant that could easily fill an Orwellian-Newspeak dictionary is a prominent example. Terms like structural reforms, will to reform, dismantling bureaucracy, deregulation, stabilization pact, austerity, euro-bailout umbrella, free market, sleek state, liberalization, harmonization, market-conforming democracy, without alternative, human capital, subcontracted labor, non-wage labor costs, social envy, achievers etc. could be included here. These terms transport ideological worldviews whose totalitarian character should be uncovered and identified.

We must identify and become aware of the silent premises, prejudices and ideological components in which we speak about social-political phenomena so we do not succumb unconsciously and unintentionally to these ideological worldviews. We also do not need any expert knowledge for this activity. Here we are all equipped by nature through the natural wealth of our spirit that must be exercised and refined.

Several silent premises and ideological components hidden in the concepts with which the ruling elites seek to stabilize their power in democratic societies should be identified. With a perception phenomenon, I would like to illustrate the problem of facts made invisible.

We can see fragments of objects without recognizing the actual context of these fragments. Why is the context invisible? The answer given by cognitive psychology is that the perception system cannot apply its categories of meaning if the fragmentation cause is not recognized. We can easily complete what is hidden and recognize the context as soon as the cause is made visible through which objects are fragmented. A general psychic law appears here. A context of facts can be made invisible through a fragmented presentation. As a rule, we do not see more than a collection of isolated information fragments in reading a daily newspaper. But we have no problems in recognizing the connection of meaning as soon as the cause of fragmentation is recognized in the fragmentation of information.


Why or how can facts be made invisible through fragmentation? This leads directly to the question: who makes facts invisible and for whom? To answer this question, we must begin with the problem of the relation of elites and the people which is often described as a “paradox of democracy.” The systematic analysis of this problem goes back to antiquity. In political discourse, the people are often compared with a herd inclined to irrational emotions and as a result controllable. Therefore interpreting the silence of the herd in the sense of their political action is important for the political leadership. In recent times, this theme became popular through Richard Nixon who interpreted the silence of the “silent majority” as approval of the Vietnam War.

The Greek historian Thucydides (454-399 B.C.) was the first to analyze these questions in a systematic way… “Political leaders are guided by a `longing for power’ to satisfy their domineering and ambition.” Thucydides emphasized that a society must take account of the weak spots of human nature…

Aristotles (384-322 B.C.) represented a similar view. He regarded the timocracy, the “rule of the respectable and owners” as an ideal government. Democratic and oligarchic elements should be balanced so neither the multitude, the poor, the elites or the rich can gain superiority. Aristotles considered democracy a decayed or ruined form of timocracy because democracy includes the possibility that “the poor as the majority could divide the wealth of the rich among themselves” which Aristotles considered unjust.

The same basic idea can also be found in the origins of the American constitution. Every government must protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,” said James Madison (1751-1836), one of the founding fathers of the American constitution. Madison’s solution for this tension between the people and elites was “representative democracy” – a de facto form of oligarchy – guaranteeing the self-interests of the minority of the rich.

The whole western history of ideas is pervaded by a deep skepticism toward democracy and often hostility to democracy as these few examples illustrate. [1]

Nevertheless the term democracy plays an ever-greater role in the political discourse and political rhetoric of the modern age. Democracy is the only form in which political power can be legitimated; it is not only one of the possible forms of rule. The ruling elites see democracy as a “necessary illusion” and strive to establish oligarchic structures to protect their own interests behind the rhetoric of democracy. They declare serious democratic achievements as “excess of democracy” and try to erode democratic structures in a way that is least visible to the population. This process is now accelerating in an alarming way. The legislative procedures of the EU, World Bank, IMF, TTIP and the “Troika” may be enough examples.

Establishing oligarchic structures under a democratic cloak succeeded because western democracies actually have the character of oligarchies. This view is shared by the ruling elites themselves and is not only defended by critics of this de-democratization process. In a 1975 report titled “The Crisis of Democracy,” Samuel Huntington said the management of “democracy” was still relatively simple when President Truman “governed the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers.” Since then, the “excess of democracy” was corrected so the Washington Times could write on April 21, 2014: “America is no longer a democracy – never mind the democratic republic envisioned by the Founding Fathers.” In an interview on July 28, 2015, former US president Jimmy Carter called the US an “oligarchy” with an “unlimited political bribery.” Thus the oligarchic character of the US represents an obvious fact for the elites… Sixty percent of the population has no influence on political decisions. [2]

This does not look any different in Europe. The Wall Street Journal is a good source for a halfway realistic picture of reality. In this media, one finds a relatively unspoilt view of reality because a view that is not too ideologically distorted is important for the financial elite and business leaders. Since this information media is directed as members of the elites, crude political rhetoric and propaganda that the mass media keeps ready for the population can be avoided. In a matter of fact way, the Wall Street Journal of February 28, 2013 admitted the neoliberal program cannot win democratic elections. [3] In Europe, the idea that voters determine the outcome of elections or influence “system-relevant” political decisions also proves to be an illusion.

This is hardly surprising with questions of economic policy because neoliberalism and democracy are in fact incompatible. Milton Friedman (1912-2006), one of the founding fathers of neoliberalism, said this openly in 1990: “A democratic society once established destroys a free economy” (Newsletter of the Mont Pelerin Society). From the view of the elites, democracy should obviously be prevented. Thus democracy is only “tolerable” as long as the realm of the economy is spared democratic decision-making processes – that is, as long as it is not a democracy. In this sense, neoliberalism is the greatest enemy of democracy worldwide. Democracy represents a business risk from the perspective of multinational corporations. “Structural adjustment measures” must be carried out in authoritarian ways if the population refuses to see economic “practical necessities” are inalienable and that wages and social benefits are never negative for increasing capital.

Thus a truly democratically organized society is incompatible with the forms of society favoring the ruling elites. When “democracy” in political affairs is considered a “necessary illusion,” democracy assumes the form of a “spectator democracy” guided by qualified experts rather than a participative democracy. In a spectator democracy, the illusion of a democracy is maintained and the stability of political elites is guaranteed.

The influential report “The Crisis of Democracy” was occupied with these problems. This 1975 report was commissioned by the so-called “Trilateral Commission.” “Trilateral” refers to the fact that members of this elite advisory commission came from the three big economic blocks North America, Europe and Japan. The Trilateral Commission has close ties to other elite networks, particularly to the Bilde4rberg conference and the Atlantic Bridge. Joseph Ackermann, Gerhard Schroeder and Theo Sommer are members of the German section.

In “The Crisis of Democracy” report, the crisis of democracy caused by an “excess in democracy” can only be solved and democracy can only be managed (in the view of the elites) when some individuals and groups show a certain measure of apathy and non-involvement… The spectator democracy desired by the ruling elites can only be attained when the population is largely de-politicized and struck down by political lethargy and moral apathy.

This goal can only be reached when certain techniques are available, techniques of apathy-induction (through worries about financial livelihood, fear production, consumerism etc), techniques of opinion management and techniques of outrage management.


If the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of government are compared – as the American political scientist Harold Lasswell (1902-1978) did in harmony with widespread ideas in the elite-democracy has the advantage when citizens agree with the political system and the decisions made by a specialized political class for them. This can only be guaranteed through techniques of propaganda. Thus propaganda is unavoidably part of the nature of a “functioning” democracy. Techniques of opinion management have the advantage over a dictator’s control techniques that they are “cheaper than violence, bribery or other possible control techniques.” In this sense, democracy – when steered by opinion management – could be regarded as an optimal form of government.

This was expressed in an unusual openness by Edward Bernays (1891-1995). Edward Bernays was the most influential propagandist of propaganda whose foundations and techniques he worked out in his 1928 book “Propaganda.” Propaganda consists in all systematic attempts at undermining the natural human discernment and producing attitudes, convictions and opinions by which people can be misused to the advantage of the ruling elites (“incapacitation,” “instrumentalization”). [4]

In his book Bernays writes: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the attitudes and behavior of the masses is an essential element of democratic societies. Organizations that work in secret control social events. These organizations form an invisible government that is the true ruling power of our country.” The situation described by Bernays was the present and not the goal. This situation has intensified considerably since then. Propaganda can be considered today a necessary part of the indoctrination system of all western societies. The “invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country” consists of nearly invisible networks of different elites. These “control the course of social events.” They guide political decisions and communicate them through the “embedded journalists” of the mass media of the public as an avoidable practical necessity for the well-being of the population. [5]

How can this state of an “invisible government” and a population characterized by apathy desired by the elites be achieved? Obviously the mass media play a central role. Very clear insights about this function can be found in Paul Lazarsfeld, one of the most important communication researchers and one of the founders of modern empirical social research: “”Citizens must be covered with a flood of information so they have the illusion of being informed.” A citizen has a politically clear conscience through this illusion of being informed. He imagines he is informed about everything essential and can quietly sleep at night.” [6]

For Lazarsfeld, the mass media is the “most respectable and efficient of social narcotics.” When citizens feel informed by the mass media, they are so overpowered by their feeling of being informed that “the addict is kept from recognizing his own malady,” Lazarsfeld diagnoses.

The so-called educated classes are especially susceptible to the illusion of being informed. For obvious reasons, these sectors are indoctrinated by the dominant ideology. This was not different in National Socialism than today. Through their silent tolerance, this indoctrination of being informed is an important stabilizing element of the dominant ideologies.

There are many examples of narcotization carried out in emotional ways.

Techniques of fear production are also significant. A double strategy is used in the legitimation rhetoric for military interventions. The educated parts of the population can be easily won for offensive war under the banner of “humanitarian interventions.” The remaining part can be won most easily through fear-production of malicious and violent forces. The former US Secretary of State Colin Powell before the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 with a powder-filled test tube in his hand gave a historically famous example with tremendous consequences. That “clear evidence” should demonstrate that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. This “proof” was directed above all to the American population and had the goal of increasing fears so they supported the long-planned US invasion of Iraq. This emotional manipulation was extremely effective and had the collateral effect that more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians were murdered as a consequence. The most momentous recent example of making hegemonial policy with fear production is the mass media reporting on Russia and the Ukraine. [8]…

Controlling opinions is more important than purely emotional control because opinions are usually more stable than emotions. Therefore a special importance comes to techniques that can control opinions. No special knowledge of psychology is needed for these simple techniques. They are the standard methods of the mass media:

1. Declare facts to be opinions. Dealing with facts as though they are mere opinions is one of the most frightening aspects of totalitarian thought systems, Hannah Arendt explained.

2. Fragment the presentation of connected facts so the context is lost.

3. De-contextualize facts so they are removed from their real contexts and seem as isolated cases.

4. Re-contextualize facts, embed them in a new context with “positive” accompaniments so they lose their original context and the possible potential of moral indignation…

How can negative political facts be made cognitively and morally invisible?

Instead of asking about the alleged or actual motives leading governments to commit these crimes, I would like to direct attention to the population or ourselves and ask about the reasons we did not react with a proper moral outrage or indignation…

The following examples fulfill three criteria: (i) They refer to acts for which we are responsible, that is the political community to which we belong. (ii) They refer to clear violations of moral norms and crimes, acts to which we would have reacted immediately if our enemy committed them. (iii) They are undisputed, well-documented and even reported by the mass media (even if fragmented and re-contextualized).


… For years, human rights organizations condemned the human rights violations by the World Bank. On April 16, 2015, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported: “Slums are partly flattened without advance warning in infrastructure projects in Africa financed by the World Bank. Residents are forcibly resettled or made homeless.” In the last decade alone, 3.4 million persons in 900 World Bank projects lost their land or part of the life foundation.” The population can be told about these momentous facts free of risk as long as the context necessary for their understanding remains largely invisible. These crimes do not especially interest or alarm the population.

Concrete things like torture are different. In torture, there is a culprit. Our natural moral indignation and moral sensitivity are triggered when a concrete perpetrator can be identified and the cause of a crime is not abstract. However facts can be made morally invisible with fragmentation and de-contextualization.

Uzbekistan is an example. Uzbekistan is one of the worst dictatorships of the world. Its regime systematically commits the worst human rights violations like mass murder, torture and child labor. However torture in Uzbekistan is tolerated according to German state logic since Germany has an air force base and strategic interests there. [10]…


“It never happened. Nothing ever happens. Even when it happened, it did not happen. It played no role and interested no one.” Harold Pinter

…Magic can require an expensive and sophisticated machine. An opinion management, the machine that makes facts invisible, namely control of the mass media, is expensive but the necessary psychological techniques are not especially sophisticated.

I will cite only one example of massive facts, namely the number of civilians killed in the interventions carried out by the US since the 2nd World War. “We” are jointly responsible since the US is Germany’s closest ally and “transatlantic relations are based on common shared values.”

If the civilian casualties of US interventions are added up, there were 10 to 15 million in the Vietnam/ Korea wars and another 9 to 14 million through belligerent acts of the US and its co-culprits (for example
in Afghanistan, Angola, Congo, East Timor, Guatemala, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan). Altogether the US is responsible for the deaths of 30 to 30 million persons through attacks on other countries since the 2nd World War according to official data or estimates of human rights organizations.

These crimes were and are accompanied by a chorus of self-adulation of western politicians, eager journalists and intellectuals. For them, these acts are only expressions of the “world’s greatest force for peace and freedom, democracy, security and prosperity,” as former president Clinton said (on April 28, 1996).

In the last 15 years alone, four million Muslims were killed by “us,” by the “western value community” to stamp out terrorism in the world. This is part of a long historical continuity of the “western value community” – from European colonialism and its “civilizing mission” and the Vietnam War… to “humanitarian interventions” and “civilizing missions” for democracy and human rights.

A considerable fragmentation and a radical re-contextualization as a “struggle for democracy and human rights” are needed in the media presentation of these crimes so crimes of this order and their historical continuity become almost invisible for the public.

All this hardly exists in public consciousness although it is all documented in detail.

“How many people must one kill before the titles mass murderer and war criminal are earned? ” Harold Pinter asked in his 2005 speech on the award of the Nobel Prize. He recalled the web of lies, “the vast tapestry of lies upon which we feed.” To “maintain” the power of the ruling elites, it is indispensable that people remain ignorant and live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives.” Making the above-named crimes invisible in the consciousness of the population is part of this vast tapestry of lies.

“They simply did not happen. It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even when it happened, it did not happen. It played no role and interested no one.” The alarming question is raised how moral apathy could reach such an extent. “What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean?” The answer leads us to the magic art because producing such a moral apathy is a brilliant, clever and extremely successful act of hypnosis.”

The most important medium, for such collective hypnosis is obviously language. Whoever rules language, the terms and categories in which we reflect and speak about social-political phenomena, can easily rule us. “Thinking can be kept in check with the help of language.” [11]

“Massive” facts can be made morally invisible through simple psychological techniques. These techniques are deeply anchore4d in the “normal” functioning of the mass media and even characterize the mass media and are hardly recognizable as consciously applied techniques. These manipulation techniques are merely expressions of the popular wisdom “I sing the song of the one whose bread I eat” and do not have to be implemented through a kind of central control. These techniques result almost automatically if one knows the song instructing the population.


From the view of the ruling elites, situations can be very dangerous for the stability of a system because they hide the potential of a chain reaction. Typically these situations are triggered by incidents that address the moral sensitivity of the population so fiercely they react with indignation. These situations can be quickly and effectively deactivated. Techniques aiming at a long-term control of opinions are often not enough and special techniques are necessary to control the outrage. The publication of the torture pictures from the US-operated Iraqi prison in Abu Ghraib [12] is a typical example of a situation in which the moral sensitivity of the population was addressed so sharply.

From the view of the elites, “stability-endangering” indignation reactions of one’s own population – as in the case of torture or mass surveillance – should be quickly contained or diverted to pseudo-goals.

Indignation reactions of the population of a “friendly” country could also endanger “stability” – as a rule of one’s own hegemonial interests and must be controlled. This is particularly true when these reactions manifest in a collectively organized way. In this case, one speaks of “fighting rebellion” with the necessary control techniques. On the other hand, if indignation reactions of the population involve non pro-western states in which “we” strive for a system change, rebellions are obviously to be roused through techniques of indignation management and not combated. In these cases we speak of “colored revolutions” that are vital to control to “promote democracy and human rights.”


Methods of counter-insurgency as military operations below the war threshold (“low intensity warfare represents the most important and comprehensive area of intervention methods and far surpass classical warfare in significance).

These include all the methods that are regarded as terrorism according to official definitions of terrorism: illegitimate acts of violence to reach political or ideological goals through fear-producing. [13] In the case of “counter-insurgency,” this form of terrorism is called “counter-terrorism.” Thus anti-terrorism and terrorism are only different depending on whether acts of violence were committed by “us” or by our enemy. Thus the term “terrorism” is a term that is deeply soaked ideologically. This is also true for the term “counter-insurgency.” Uncovering its silent premises is important. The word “rebellious” always implies the perspective of the dominant system. Those who threaten the stability of “our” desired system are called “rebels” or “insurgents” while those who threaten the stability of a system not desired by “us” are described as “freedom fighters”…


…. Hidden system change has a higher acceptance than coops or putsches in the western public and in the international alliance of states. A regime that comes to power in a non-violent way and as an alleged expression of the popular will is already regarded as democratically legitimated…

All activities promoting hegemonial interests are accompanied by specialized global propaganda firms that call themselves PR-agencies. These firms are largely invisible for the public despite their great influence in the mass media – for example Hill & Knowlton Strategies which gained a certain notoriety through the “incubator lie” of 1990. Barson-Marsteller and the Rendon Group have had considerable success in selling the politically desired reality to the public and not only wars.

This political context of continuity over many decades is largely invisible for the public since the mass media fragment this continuity into isolated cases…


More than public opinion, the indignation potential of the general public is a much too precious asset to be left to accident. Since we control moral sensitivities by our nature, the control of our moral indignation potential presupposes that a sufficient measure of political apathy is produced in the population. Techniques must be available with which all facts that could endanger this apathy can be made morally invisible. Serious and systematic human rights violations are included here because they can appeal to our natural moral sensitivities.

Real-politics refers to democracy, human rights or moral norms as only rhetorical husks with which the population can be controlled. Techniques are needed through which the population can be deceived about the discrepancy of political rhetoric and reality and so guarantee the stability of the political order. Such deception succeeds all the more effectively, the more one considers the laws of the functioning of our spirit.

In the last decades, psychology has won new and deeper insights in the laws of the functioning of our spirit. Many of these insights can be utilized for refining the techniques of propaganda and deception.

Given historical experiences, it is hardly surprising that enough psychologists can be found who are ready to serve such an enterprise. As only one example, the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest organization of psychologists in the world, organized a 2003 Science of Deception Workshop together with the CIA. The goal of this workshop was to discuss the latest psychological findings so the population could be best deceived “for this purpose of national security.”

Other secret services are also interested in findings of psychology for opening possibilities, refining techniques of deception and developing opinion manipulation. Through the Snowden documents, a manual of British intelligence Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was made known [The Intercept, 2/25/2014] that was devoted to the possibilities of deceiving the population and making facts invisible. The manual was titled “The Art of Deception” and included the clown or charlatan picture from Hieronymus Busch.

Can we protect ourselves from systematic manipulation of our attitudes, convictions and opinions?...

Only when we recognize that we are in a manipulation context and then actively avoid the media with its manipulations do we have a chance of preserving a remnant of autonomy.

However we fulfill all the prerequisites in an optimal way for successful manipulation techniques if we voluntarily expose ourselves to the manipulation context and are convinced that on the whole we can distinguish truth from deception in the “news” of the private or public mass media.

The human spirit is constituted so there are many possibilities for its manipulation and thus for “instrumentalizing” people for the power needs of others. Nevertheless we have by nature a rich repertoire of intellectual possibilities for recognizing and actively avoiding manipulation contexts. We have a natural immune system against manipulations. We only need to resolve to use it.

The motto of the Enlightenment was ja sapere aude, dare to know, dare to notice – or in Kant’s words, dare to use your own intelligence. Only when we resolve to use our intelligence, only when we overcome our induced moral apathy, only when we are not satisfied with the illusion of being informed, the illusion of democracy and the illusion of freedom do we have a chance of escaping these manipulation techniques. This is not an easy challenge but we have no other choice. The decision is ours.


Rainer Mausfeld, “Neoliberal Indoctrination,” Jan 18, 2016,

New Ebook Anthology “Alternative Economics: Reversing Stagnation,” 140 pp, translated by Marc Batko, Feb 28, 2016
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