By Stephen Lendman ICH 1/4/07

We only know about Tom Paine because Thomas Edison discovered him in the 1920s. Edison believed he was our most important political thinker, and it was essential that his writings and ideas be taught in the nation’s schools. It’s no exaggeration that there might never have been an American Revolution without this man’s writings that had such a profound influence on the nation’s founders and masses of people he reached through one of the few “mainstream” means of communicating of that period.

Paine was an unlikely man to have had such influence. He was humbly born and raised in England, was largely self-educated and decided to come to the colonies in 1774 after meeting Benjamin Franklin in London who encouraged and sponsored him to do it. It was a decision that changed the world, but who could have imagined it at the time.

Paine only began writing two years earlier when he took up the cause of excise (or customs) officers arguing in a pamphlet he wrote they were unfairly paid and deserved more. When he came to the colonies he chose the right place settling in Philadelphia where he began writing for the Pennsylvania Magazine, later became its editor and began working on Common Sense in 1776 that he published anonymously. It became an instant best-seller in the colonies and in Europe, made Paine internationally famous and was the most influential piece of writing of the Revolution. It sold as many as 120,000 copies in a population of about four million (equivalent to a runaway 9 million copy best seller today) and convinced many in the colonies to seek independence from the Crown that happened shortly thereafter. He followed up with 16 more pamphlets under the title The Crisis, or American Crisis that were written throughout the war until it ended in April, 1783.

Paine was profoundly and progressively radical – way ahead of his time and what passes for “Western civilization” and mainstream thought today. He opposed slavery, promoted republicanism, abhored the monarchy, and in many ways was the founder of modern liberalism that Washington and Jefferson called that “liberal experiment, the United States of America.” These were the kinds of men who founded the nation – skeptics of the institutions of power that included the “kingly oppressions” of monarchs, the church and the mercantilist corporatism of that time represented by the dominant predatory giant of its day – the British East India Company. Because of the unfair advantage it got from the Crown (a precursor to the kind of outrageous government subsidy and legislative help corporate giants now get), it gained a competitive edge over colonial merchants that led to the famous Boston Tea Party in 1773 that helped spark the Revolution.

Paine had a voice and made it heard in his writings that were disseminated in one of the mass media instruments of that era that consisted largely of pamphlets like his and colonial-era newspapers beginning with the first ever published called the Boston News-Letter debuting in April, 1704 before Paine was born and Ben Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette first published in 1728 that grew to have the largest circulation of the time and was considered the best newspaper in the colonies. Paine got mass exposure in a way that would be impossible today for his kind of writing – to promote his radically progressive views that would make a neocon cringe enough to see to it those kinds of ideas never saw the light of day in today’s world run by the institutions of power Paine and the founders abhorred.

Think about it. This was a man who was an anti-neocon, anti-militarist, and anti-neoliberal predatory corporatist progressive thinker supporting the rights and needs of ordinary people. He developed a seminal compendium of liberal thinking against those notions of governance in his book The Rights of Man. He believed neither governments or corporations should have rights, only people. He thought inherited wealth would be exploited by those having it and would be used to corrupt governments and allow their heirs the ability to create dynasties that would result in a new feudalism. He promoted progressive taxation believing everyone should pay them acccording to their income. He supported enlightened anti-poverty social programs to provide food and housing assistance for the poor and retirement pensions for the elderly. He felt the best way to build a strong democracy was to provide financial aid to help young families raise their children. He was a strong anti-militarist and wanted all nations to reduce their armaments by 90% to ensure world peace.

He and the founders also wanted the new nation to have a middle class and understood no democracy can survive without one. These enlightened thinkers knew a viable middle class depends on a public that’s educated, secure and well-informed and that the greatest danger to its survival is an empowered economic aristocracy that would polarize society and destroy the very democracy they were trying to create, imperfect as it was.

Imagine if those “radical” ideas were spread in today’s mass media that sees to it the public never hears that kind of thinking. They did in Paine’s day, and it led to a Revolution that freed us from monarchal rule and inspired the founders to create a great democratic experiment in America never tried before in the West outside Athens in ancient Greece that only lasted a few decades. From it we got a Constitution, Bill of Rights and a system of governance Lincoln said “was conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (in a) government of the people, by the people,
(and) for the people.”

That could never happen today with the channels of communication Paine used to electrify and inspire a nation closed off to prevent their use against the kind of oppressive authority Paine opposed. It caused the founders’ great democratic experiment to be lost because people no longer know how much the dominant political class is harming them by serving the interests of wealth and power and getting plenty of it for themselves in the process.

If Paine were here now, he’d lead the struggle against that kind of system the way he did in his day, but he’d get little space in the mainstream to help and would have to settle for smaller audiences available through the alternative ways to reach the public now. The free press of Paine’s day is now open only to the interests of capital who can afford to own one. And those espousing “radical” views like Paine’s are barred from being a part of it.

What the Founders Created, the Dominant Corporate-Controlled Mass Media Thought-Control Police Destroyed

In his seminal work Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, Alex Carey wrote “The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” Doing it was what 1920s intellectual writer and dean of his day’s journalists Walter Lippmann referred to as the “manufacture of
(public) consent” in a democratic system where it can’t be done by force. Manufacturing Consent was the title used by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman for their landmark 1988 book that was dedicated to the memory, spirit and work of Alex Carey. It explained how the dominant major media use a “propaganda model” to program the public mind to go along with whatever agenda serves the interests of wealth and power even when it’s against the welfare of ordinary people which it nearly always is.

Today in the US, the major media are nothing short of a national thought-control police. They’re owned or controlled by dominant large corporations (the kind Noam Chomsky calls “private tyrannies”) grown increasingly concentrated over time and having a stranglehold over the kinds of information reaching the public. It’s given them and the interests they represent the power to destroy the free marketplace of ideas essential to a healthy democracy now on life support in large measure because of how effective they are.

Ben Bagdikian documented their progression in the various editions of his important book, The Media Monopoly, most recently updated in 2004 called The New Media Monopoly. He showed since 1983, the number of corporations controlling most newspapers, magazines, book publishers, movie studios, and electronic media have shrunk from 50 to five “global-dimension firms, operating with many of the characteristics of a cartel” – Time-Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom and Germany-based Bertelsmann. Maybe it should now be a big six after Comcast Corporation acquired AT&T Broadband in 2001, expanded its cable and other holdings further since, and is now the nation’s largest cable operator reaching over 23 million US households.

These giants have a stranglehold over the dominant medium most people rely on mainly for what passes for news, information and entertainment: the national communication drug of choice – television, that according to Nielson Media Research the average person in the US watches about 4.5 hours daily in the 99% of American households television reaches according to US Census data and the 82% of households with cable or satellite TV access according to government and JD Power and Associates figures.

They don’t get much in return for the time spent even back when innovative early television comedian Ernie Kovacs commented on the quality of offerings in his day. He said he knew why it’s called a medium – “because it’s neither rare nor well done,” and noted media critic George Gerbner harshly critized the dangers of media concentration in the hands of corporate giants and the adverse effects of its programming. He once said they have “nothing to tell and everything to sell,” and they subordinate their mandate to communicate responsibly to their core function of profit-making.

And reflecting broadly on the corrupting and dumbing-down power of the US corporate media, noted British journalist Robert Fisk once remarked “you really have a problem in this country.” Uruguayan author and historian Eduardo Galeano cites a large part of the problem saying: “I am astonished….by the ignorance of the (US) population, which knows almost nothing about….the world. It’s quite blind and deaf to anything….outside the frontiers of the US.” They know little inside it as well, and of course, that’s the whole idea to maintaining control. Misinform, distract, and control all ideas and thoughts reaching the public – it’s the key to “keeping the rabble in line.” If done well, it works better than all the might of the most powerful nation on earth.

Full article: Information Clearing House

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