A DICTATORSHIP DISGUISED AS A DEMOCRACY
By John W. Whitehead
August 05, 2015 ICH
“You see them on the street. You watch them on TV.
You might even vote for one this fall. You think they’re people just
like you. You're wrong. Dead wrong.”
- They Live
- We’re living in two worlds, you and I.
There’s the world we see (or are made to see) and then
there’s the one we sense (and occasionally catch a glimpse of), the
latter of which is a far cry from the propaganda-driven reality
manufactured by the government and its corporate sponsors, including the
Indeed, what most Americans perceive as life in
America—privileged, progressive and free—is a far cry from reality,
where economic inequality is growing, real agendas and real power are
buried beneath layers of Orwellian doublespeak and corporate
obfuscation, and “freedom,” such that it is, is meted out in small,
legalistic doses by militarized police armed to the teeth.
All is not as it seems.
This is the premise of John Carpenter’s film They Live
(1988), in which two migrant workers discover that the world’s
population is actually being controlled and exploited by aliens working
in partnership with an oligarchic elite. All the while, the
populace—blissfully unaware of the real agenda at work in their
lives—has been lulled into complacency, indoctrinated into compliance,
bombarded with media distractions, and hypnotized by subliminal messages
beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards and
It is only when homeless drifter John Nada (played to the hilt by the late Roddy Piper)
discovers a pair of doctored sunglasses—Hoffman lenses—that Nada sees
what lies beneath the elite’s fabricated reality: control and bondage.
When viewed through the lens of truth, the elite, who
appear human until stripped of their disguises, are shown to be monsters
who have enslaved the citizenry in order to prey on them. Likewise, billboards blare out hidden, authoritative messages:
a bikini-clad woman in one ad is actually ordering viewers to “MARRY
AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks scream “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of
dollar bills in a vendor’s hand proclaims, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”
When viewed through Nada’s Hoffman lenses, some of the
other hidden messages being drummed into the people’s subconscious
include: NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, SUBMIT, STAY ASLEEP, BUY,
WATCH TV, NO IMAGINATION, and DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY.
This indoctrination campaign engineered by the elite in They Live
is painfully familiar to anyone who has studied the decline of American
culture. A citizenry that does not think for themselves, obeys without
question, is submissive, does not challenge authority, does not think
outside the box, and is content to sit back and be entertained is a
citizenry that can be easily controlled.
In this way, the subtle message of They Live
provides an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the
American police state, what philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to as dictatorship in democracy, “the invisible order which sustains your apparent freedom.”
We’re being fed a series of carefully contrived
fictions that bear no resemblance to reality. The powers-that-be want us
to feel threatened by forces beyond our control (terrorists, shooters, bombers).
They want us afraid and dependent on the government and its militarized
armies for our safety and well-being. They want us distrustful of each
other, divided by our prejudices, and at each other’s throats. Most of
all, they want us to continue to march in lockstep with their dictates.
Tune out the government’s attempts to distract, divert
and befuddle us and tune into what’s really going on in this country,
and you’ll run headlong into an unmistakable, unpalatable truth: the
moneyed elite who rule us view us as expendable resources to be used,
abused and discarded.
In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Princeton and Northwestern University concluded that the U.S. government does not represent the majority of American citizens.
Instead, the study found that the government is ruled by the rich and
powerful, or the so-called “economic elite.” Moreover, the researchers
concluded that policies enacted by this governmental elite nearly always
favor special interests and lobbying groups.
In other words, we are being ruled by an oligarchy
disguised as a democracy, and arguably on our way towards fascism—a
form of government where private corporate interests rule, money calls
the shots, and the people are seen as mere subjects to be controlled.
Consider this: it is estimated that the 2016 presidential election could cost as much as $5 billion, more than double what was spent getting Obama re-elected in 2012.
Not only do you have to be rich—or beholden to the rich—to get elected these days, but getting elected is also a surefire way to get rich. As CBS News
reports, “Once in office, members of Congress enjoy access to
connections and information they can use to increase their wealth, in
ways that are unparalleled in the private sector. And once politicians
leave office, their connections allow them to profit even further.”
In denouncing this blatant corruption of America’s
political system, former president Jimmy Carter blasted the process of
getting elected—to the White House, governor’s mansion, Congress or
state legislatures—as “unlimited political bribery…
a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors,
who want and expect, and sometimes get, favors for themselves after the
election is over.”
Rest assured that when and if fascism finally takes
hold in America, the basic forms of government will remain. As I point
out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People,
fascism will appear to be friendly. The legislators will be in session.
There will be elections, and the news media will continue to cover the
entertainment and political trivia. Consent of the governed, however,
will no longer apply. Actual control will have finally passed to the
oligarchic elite controlling the government behind the scenes.
By creating the illusion that it preserves democratic
traditions, fascism creeps slowly until it consumes the political
system. And in times of “crisis,” expediency is upheld as the central
principle—that is, in order to keep us safe and secure, the government
must militarize the police, strip us of basic constitutional rights,
criminalize virtually every form of behavior, and build enough private
prisons to house all of us nonviolent criminals.
Clearly, we are now ruled by an oligarchic elite of governmental and corporate interests. We have moved into “corporatism” (favored by Benito Mussolini), which is a halfway point on the road to full-blown fascism.
Vast sectors of the economy, government and politics
are managed by private business concerns, otherwise referred to as
“privatization” by various government politicians. Just study modern
government policies. “Every industry is regulated. Every profession is
classified and organized,” writes economic analyst Jeffrey Tucker.
“Every good or service is taxed. Endless debt accumulation is
preserved. Immense doesn’t begin to describe the bureaucracy. Military
preparedness never stops, and war with some evil foreign foe, remains a
In other words, the government in America today does whatever it wants.
Corporatism is where the few moneyed interests—not
elected by the citizenry—rule over the many. In this way, it is not a
democracy or a republican form of government, which is what the American
government was established to be. It is a top-down form of government
and one which has a terrifying history typified by the developments that
occurred in totalitarian regimes of the past: police states where
everyone is watched and spied on, rounded up for minor infractions by
government agents, placed under police control, and placed in detention
(a.k.a. concentration) camps.
For the final hammer of fascism to fall, it will
require the most crucial ingredient: the majority of the people will
have to agree that it’s not only expedient but necessary. But why would a
people agree to such an oppressive regime? The answer is the same in
every age: fear.
Fear makes people stupid.
Fear is the method most often used by politicians to
increase the power of government. And, as most social commentators
recognize, an atmosphere of fear permeates modern America: fear of
terrorism, fear of the police, fear of our neighbors and so on.
The propaganda of fear has been used quite effectively
by those who want to gain control, and it is working on the American
Despite the fact that we are 17,600 times more likely
to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack; 11,000 times
more likely to die from an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot
involving an airplane; 1,048 times more likely to die from a car
accident than a terrorist attack, and 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist,
we have handed over control of our lives to government officials who
treat us as a means to an end—the source of money and power.
We have allowed ourselves to become fearful, controlled, pacified zombies.
In this regard, we’re not so different from the oppressed citizens in They Live.
Most everyone keeps their heads down these days while staring
zombie-like into an electronic screen, even when they’re crossing the
street. Families sit in restaurants with their heads down, separated by
their screen devices and unaware of what’s going on around them. Young
people especially seem dominated by the devices they hold in their
hands, oblivious to the fact that they can simply push a button, turn
the thing off and walk away.
Indeed, there is no larger group activity than that
connected with those who watch screens—that is, television, lap tops,
personal computers, cell phones and so on. In fact, a Nielsen study
reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For
example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month.
The question, of course, is what effect does such screen consumption have on one’s mind?
Psychologically it is similar to drug addiction. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed,
and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly
after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV
viewing with a lack of tension.” Research also shows that regardless of
the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them
into a more passive, nonresistant state.
Historically, television has been used by those in
authority to quiet discontent and pacify disruptive people. “Faced with
severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and
counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek.
Given that the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by six mega corporations,
what we watch is now controlled by a corporate elite and, if that elite
needs to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers, it can do
so on a large scale.
If we’re watching, we’re not doing.
The powers-that-be understand this. As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:
We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent.
We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing
information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our
fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to
distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who
finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a
totally different picture too late.
This brings me back to They Live, in which the real zombies are not the aliens calling the shots but the populace who are content to remain controlled.
When all is said and done, the world of They Live is
not so different from our own. As one of the characters points out,
“The poor and the underclass are growing. Racial justice and human
rights are nonexistent. They have created a repressive society and we
are their unwitting accomplices. Their intention to rule rests with the
annihilation of consciousness. We have been lulled into a trance. They
have made us indifferent to ourselves, to others. We are focused only on
our own gain.”
We, too, are focused only on our own pleasures,
prejudices and gains. Our poor and underclasses are also growing. Racial
injustice is growing. Human rights is nearly nonexistent. We too have
been lulled into a trance, indifferent to others.
Oblivious to what lies ahead, we’ve been manipulated
into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith,
things will work out. But that’s never been true of emerging regimes.
And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too
John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who
has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of
constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's concern for the
persecuted and oppressed led him, in 1982, to establish The
Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights
organization whose international headquarters are located in
Charlottesville, Virginia. Whitehead serves as the Institute’s
president and spokesperson
Copyright 2015 © The Rutherford Institute