Adventures in Everyday

The Legitimacy Farm and the Manufacture of Consent
March 5, 2008, 9:15 am
Filed under: academic, dystopious, internet, psychology, science

On Public Opinion

The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic [sic], because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.

Those are the words of the influential American writer and political commentator, Walter Lippmann. If you are tempted to brush aside his rather severe account of modern democratic practice, I challenge you to take a closer look at what he’s saying. These aren’t the words of typical anti-establishment anarchists or chomskywashed counter-culture teenagers. The passage above was actually written by Lippmann in his book Public Opinion in 1922 (freely available here, care of Project Gutenberg).


I invented the above term chomskywashed to describe those highly motivated – yet largely uninformed – young social activists strongly influenced by the very reputable works of Noam Chomsky. Nevertheless, save for his unwarrantedly popular critique of B.F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior, I’m actually quite the fan of Chomsky. His 1992 Canadian documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, for example, is fascinating. Please note that the term “manufacturing consent” originated in Lippmann’s Public Opinion.

Actually, the entire subject area of propaganda and the manufacture of consent is fascinating. However, these ideas are so seductively engrossing that interested parties must take care not to fall down the wrong rabbit hole. I haven’t yet determined exactly which of the many rabbit holes are beneficial, but I can say with certainty that counterproductive rabbit holes outnumber beneficial ones by a great deal.

The Legitimacy Farm

I wrote a paper once about the media’s unprecedented and vastly understated impact on the functioning of Western Democracies. The paper is called The Legitimacy Farm and it approaches the subject of the manufacture of consent from a psychological perspective, translating The Institute for Propaganda Analysis’ popularized “techniques of propaganda” into contemporary social and cognitive psychological terms.

Here is the abstract from The Legitimacy Farm:

Well documented techniques of propaganda are analyzed in social psychological terminology, with reference to real-world examples. It is demonstrated that each of these techniques serve to increase the perceived legitimacy of the government and producers of media. In turn, the increased legitimacy produced by propaganda is reinvested into further manipulating the media, creating a positive feedback system. A model is presented that explains the effects of the manipulation of media in psychological terms, with a farm analogy, in which government and media producers “harvest” legitimacy from the public and invests a proportion of this legitimacy in further manipulations of the media.

If the manufacture of consent sounds like an important issue to you, you can do your own reading about the state of the media in Western nations. In addition to watching Manufacturing Consent, you can check out Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, the Independent Media Center, or anything by Noam Chomsky. Alternatively, if you want to have some fun, simply watch anything on Fox News to see how bad journalism can actually get.

Isn’t it the duty of every responsible citizen to monitor and care for the societal institutions that form the basis of their society?


4 Comments so far
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Good link in the ‘attack attack Iraq’ poster. I’m not all the way through it, but it’s good stuff to know about. Why don’t we all see these things? And why aren’t we outraged?

Comment by Jen

Now isn’t that a great question! Why indeed. Maybe there’s a little crop growing in all of us…

Comment by Boehr Himself

[…] a form of propaganda. It appears LangMaker agrees. ***Linked material written by Brendan Boehr from“The Legitimacy Farm” – […]

Pingback by making ‘progress’: Introduction [1] « Crescent

I like that link as well. This is kinda scary:

“The average person in the US watches about four hours of television each day. Over the course of a year, we see roughly twenty five thousand commercials, many of them produced by the world’s highest-paid cognitive psychologists. And these heavily produced advertisements are not merely for products, but for a lifestyle based on a consumer mind-set. What they’re doing, day in and day out, twenty-five thousand times a year, is hypnotizing us into seeing ourselves as consumers who want to be entertained rather than as citizens who want to be informed and engaged. We need to take back the airwaves as a sphere of mature conversation and dialogue about our common future.” -Duane Elgin

Interesting read Brendan. Love the layout and links in you blog.

Comment by Dustin

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