DEMOCRACY & NATURE: The International Journal of INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY
vol.5, no.1 (March 1999)
Mass media, Culture and Democracy
Abstract: The aim of this article is threefold: first, to examine the ways in which the market economy framework and the elites condition culture and mass media; second, to discuss the relationship of the neoliberal consensus with the present intensification of cultural homogenisation;finally, to outline the nature of culture and the role of mass media in a democratic society, as well as to explore the strategies which could bring about a shift from the present cultural institutions to those of an inclusive democracy.
1. Culture, mass media and elites
The dominant social paradigm and culture
A fruitful way to start the discussion of the significance of culture and its relationship to the mass media would be to define carefully our terms. This would help to avoid the confusion, which is not rare in discussions on the matter. Culture is frequently defined as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behaviour. This is a definition broad enough to include all major aspects of culture: language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies and so on. However, in what follows, I am not going to deal with all these aspects of culture unless they are related to what I call the dominant social paradigm. By this I mean the system of beliefs, ideas and the corresponding values which are dominant in a particular society at a particular moment of its history. It is clear that there is a significant degree of overlapping between these two terms although the meaning of culture is obviously broader than that of the social paradigm.
But, let us see first the elements shared by both terms. Both culture and the social paradigm are time- and space-dependent, i.e. they refer to a specific type of society at a specific time. Therefore, they both change from place to place and from one historical period to another. This implies that there can be no ‘general theory’ of History, which could determine the relationship between the cultural with the political or economic elements in society. In other words, our starting point is the rejection not only of the crude economistic versions of Marxism (the economic base determines the cultural superstructure) but also of the more sophisticated versions of it (the economic base determines ‘in the last instance’ which element is to be dominant in each social formation). In my view, which I expanded elsewhere, the dominant element in each social formation is not determined, for all time, by the economic base, or any other base. The dominant element is always determined by a creative act, i.e. it is the outcome of social praxis, of the activity of social individuals. Thus, the dominant element in theocratic societies was cultural, in the societies of ‘actually existing socialism’ political and so on.
Similarly, the dominant element in market economies is economic, as a result of the fact that the introduction of new systems of production during the Industrial Revolution in a commercial society, where the means of production were under private ownership and control, inevitably led to the transformation of the socially- controlled economies of the past (in which the market played a marginal role in the economic process) into the present market economies (defined as the self-regulating systems in which the fundamental economic problems ―what, how, and for whom to produce― are solved `automatically', through the price mechanism, rather than through conscious social decisions). Still, the existence of a dominant element in a social formation does not mean that the relationship between this element and the other elements in it is one of heteronomy and dependence. Each element is autonomous and the relationship between the various elements is better described as one of interdependence. So, although it is the economic element which is the dominant one in the system of the market economy, this does not mean that culture is determined, even ‘in the last instance’ by this element.
But, there are also some important differences between culture and the dominant social paradigm. Culture, exactly because of its greater scope, may express values and ideas, which are not necessarily consistent with the dominant institutions. In fact, this is usually the case characterising the arts and literature of a market economy, where, (unlike the case of ‘actually existing socialism’, or the case of feudal societies before), artists and writers have been given a significant degree of freedom to express their own views. But this is not the case with respect to the dominant social paradigm. In other words, the beliefs, ideas and the corresponding values which are dominant in a market economy and the corresponding market society have to be consistent with the economic element in it, i.e. with the economic institutions which, in turn, determine that the dominant elites in this society are the economic elites (those owning and controlling the means of production).
This has always been the case in History and will also be the case in the future. No particular type of society can reproduce itself unless the dominant beliefs, ideas and values are consistent with the existing institutional framework. For instance, in the societies of ‘actually existing socialism’ the dominant social paradigm had to be consistent with the dominant element in them, (which was the political), and the corresponding political institutions, which determined that the dominant elites in this society were the political elites (party bureaucracy). Similarly, in the democratic society of the future, the dominant social paradigm had to be consistent with the dominant element in them, which would be the political, and the corresponding democratic institutions, which would secure that there would be no formal elites in this kind of society (although, of course, if democracy does not function properly the emergence of informal elites could not be ruled out).
So, culture and, in particular, the social dominant paradigm play a crucial role in the determination of individual and collective values. As long as individuals live in a society, they are not just individuals but social individuals, subject to a process, which socialises them and induces them to internalise the existing institutional framework as well as the dominant social paradigm. In this sense, people are not completely free to create their world but are conditioned by History, tradition and culture. Still, this socialisation process is broken, at almost all times —as far as a minority of the population is concerned— and in exceptional historical circumstances even with respect to the majority itself. In the latter case, a process is set in motion that usually ends with a change of the institutional structure of society and of the corresponding social paradigm. Societies therefore are not just “collections of individuals” but consist of social individuals, who are both free to create their world, (in the sense that they can give birth to a new set of institutions and a corresponding social paradigm), and are created by the world, (in the sense that they have to break with the dominant social paradigm in order to recreate the world).
The values of the market economy
As the dominant economic institutions in a market economy are those of markets and private ownership of the means of production, as well as the corresponding hierarchical structures, the dominant social paradigm promoted by the mainstream mass media and other cultural institutions, (e.g. universities) has to consist of ideas, beliefs and values which are consistent with them. Thus, the kind of social ‘sciences’ which are taught at universities and the kind of articles which fill academic journals, explicitly, or usually implicitly, take for granted the existing economic institutions. Therefore, their search for ‘truth’ in the analysis of major economic or social problems is crucially conditioned by this fundamental characteristic. The causes of world-wide unemployment, for instance, or of massive inequality and concentration of economic power, will not be related to the system of the market economy itself; instead, the malfunctioning of the system or bad policies will be blamed, which supposedly can be tackled by the appropriate improvement of the system’s functioning, or the ‘right’ economic policies.
In economics, in particular, the dominant theory/ideology since the emergence of the market economy has been economic liberalism, in its various versions: from the old classical and neo-classical schools up to the modern versions of it in the form of supply-side economics, new classical macro-economics etc. But, from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, the values adopted are the same: competition and individualism, which, supposedly, are the only values that could secure freedom. Thus, for Adam Smith, the individual pursuit of self-interest in a market economy will guarantee social harmony and, therefore, the main task of government is the defence of the rich against the poor. So, in Smith’s system, as Canterbery puts it, ‘individual self-interest is the motivating force, and the built-in regulator that keeps the economy from flying apart is competition’. Similarly, for Milton Friedman, the Nobel-prize winner in economics (note: the Nobel Prize in economics was never awarded to an economist who challenged the very system of the market economy) the capitalist market economy is identified with freedom:
The kind of economic organisation that provides freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other (...) The two ideas of human freedom and economic freedom working together came to their greatest fruition in the United States
It is obvious that in this ideology, which passes as the ‘science’ of economics, the values of individualism and competition are preferred over the values of collectivism and solidarity/co-operation, since freedom itself is identified with the former values as against the latter. But, it ‘happens’ also that the same values are the only ones, which could secure the production and reproduction of the market economy. No market economy can function properly unless those in control of it, (i.e., the economic elites), at least, and as many of the rest as possible, are motivated by individualism and competition. This is because the dynamic of a market economy crucially depends on competition and individual greed. Furthermore, the fact that often the economic elites resort to state protection against foreign competition, if the latter threatens their own position, does not in the least negate the fact that competition is the fundamental organising principle of the market economy. It is therefore no historical accident that, as Polanyi has persuasively shown, the establishment of the market economy implied sweeping aside traditional cultures and values and replacing the values of solidarity, altruism, sharing and co-operation (which usually marked community life) with the values of individualism and competition as the dominant values. As Ray Canterbery stresses:
The capitalistic ethic leans toward the extreme of selfishness (fierce individualism) rather than toward altruism. There is little room for collective decision making in an ethic that argues that every individual should go his or her own way. As we have seen, the idea that capitalism protects ‘individual rights’ would have been rejected during the early Middle Ages. ‘Individual rights’ were set in advance by the structure of feudalism, governed by the pull of tradition and the push of authority. Economics was based upon mutual needs and obligations.
A good example of the enthusiastic support for these values today is, again, the Nobel-prize winner in economics Milton Friedman. According to him:
Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. This (social responsibility) is a fundamentally subversive doctrine.
Indeed, it is not Friedman who supports values which are inconsistent with the market economy system but the various social democrats and Green economists, who, taking for granted the market economy system, proceed to argue in favour of utopian economic institutions incorporating values which are inconsistent with this system (e.g.‘stakeholding’ capitalism, ‘social investment’ etc). As I attempted to show elsewhere, the basic cause of the failure of both the ‘actually existing socialism’ in the East and social democracy in the West was exactly that they attempted to merge two fundamentally incompatible elements: the ‘growth’ element, (which implies the concentration of economic power and expresses the logic of the market economy), with the social justice element (which is inherently linked to equality and expresses socialist ethics).
Chomsky and the values of the market economy
However, quite apart from social democrats and reformist Greens, there is an alternative view about the values of the market economy proposed by Noam Chomsky, which, however, ends up with similar conclusions about the feasibility and desirability of state action with respect to controlling today’s market economy. Thus, for Chomsky, the values which motivate today’s elites in advanced capitalist countries are not individualism and competition; instead, these elites simply use such values as propaganda in their attempt to ‘persuade’ their own public and the countries in the periphery and semi-periphery to implement them whereas they themselves demand and enjoy the protection of their own states:
For the general public, individualism and competition are the prescribed values. Not for elites, however. They demand and obtain the protection of a powerful state, and insist on arrangements that safeguard them from unfettered competition or the destructive consequences of individualism. The process of corporatization is a standard illustration, as is the reliance in every economy ―crucially, the US― on socialisation of risk and cost. The need to undermine the threat of competition constantly takes new forms: today, one major form, beyond corporatization, is the development of a rich network of "strategic alliances" among alleged competitors: IBM-Toshiba-Siemens, for example, or throughout the automotive industry. This has reached such extremes that prominent analysts of the business world now speak of a new form of "alliance capitalism" that is replacing the managerial/corporate capitalism that had largely displaced proprietary capitalism a century ago in advanced sectors of the economy.
Chomsky has recently expanded on the same theme in a New Left Review article in which it is made clear that his views above about the values of the market economy are perfectly consistent with his views on the nature of today’s capitalism. In this article he first states that the word ‘capitalist’ does not mean capitalist but rather it refers to state subsidised and protected private power centres, or ‘collectivist legal entities,’ which embody today’s corporatization of the market economy. He then goes on to describe corporatization and the role of the state as follows:
The corporatization process was largely a reaction to great market failures of the late nineteenth century, and it was a shift from something you might call proprietary capitalism to the administration of markets by collectivist legal entities—mergers, cartels, corporate alliances—in association with powerful states…the primary task of the states—and bear in mind that, with all the talk about minimising the state, in the OECD countries the state continues to grow relative to GNP, notably in the 1980s and 1990s—is essentially to socialise risk and cost, and to privatise power and profit.
Furthermore, Chomsky’s views about the market economy’s values and the nature of present capitalism are, in turn, entirely consistent with his present views on the potential role of the state in controlling today’s market economy. Thus, as Chomsky stresses in the aforementioned article:
The long-term goal of such initiatives (like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment-MAI) is clear enough to anyone with open eyes; an international political economy which is organised by powerful states and secret bureaucracies whose primary function is to serve the concentrations of private power which administer markers through their own internal operations, through networks of corporate alliances, including the intra-firm transactions that are mislabelled 'trade'. They rely on the public for subsidy, research and development, for innovation and for bailouts when things go wrong. They rely on the powerful states for protection from dangerous 'democracy openings'. In such ways, they seek to ensure that the 'prime beneficiaries' of the world's wealth are the right people: the smug and prosperous 'Americans'; the 'domestic constituencies and their counterparts elsewhere. The scale of all of this is nowhere near as great or, for that matter, as novel as claimed; in many ways it's a return to the early twentieth century. And there's no reason to doubt that it can be controlled even within existing formal institutions of parliamentary democracy.
One, however, could object on several grounds this stand, as portrayed by the above extracts. First, the argument about the values of the economic elites, as I attempted to show above, is contestable; second, the nature of today’s market economy could be seen in a very different analytical framework than the one suggested by Chomsky and, finally, it could be shown that the way out of the present multi-dimensional crisis and the related huge concentration of power can not be found in fragmented and usually ‘monothematic’ defensive battles with the elites. Such battles, even if sometimes victorious, are never going to win the war, as long as they are not an integral part of a new popular movement’s fight against the system of the market economy itself, which is the ultimate cause of the concentration of economic power.
As regards the nature of the market economy today, I have attempted elsewhere to show how it evolved since it emerged, about two centuries ago, and how it took the form of the present growth economy. I will only add here that the shift from proprietary (or entrepreneurial) capitalism to the present internationalised market economy, where a few giant corporations control the world economy, did not happen, as Chomsky presents it, as the outcome of ‘a reaction to great market failures of the late nineteenth century.’ What Chomsky omits is that it was competition, which led from simple entrepreneurial firms to the present giant corporations. The market failures he mentions are not a God-given calamity. Excepting the case of monopolies, almost all market failures in history have been directly or indirectly related to competition. It is competition, which creates the need for expansion, so that the best (from the profit of view of profits) technologies and methods of organising production (economies of scale etc) are used. It is the same competition, which has led to the present explosion of mergers and take-overs in the advanced capitalist countries, as well as the various ‘strategic alliances’. For instance, the recently announced merger of giant oil companies, in a sense, is the result of a ‘market failure’ because of the fall in their profits. But, in a deeper sense, this merger, as well as the take-overs, strategic alliances etc going on at the moment, are simply the result of self-protective action taken by giant corporations, in order to survive the cut-throat competition launched by the present internationalisation of the market economy. Therefore, it is competition, which has led to the present corporate (or ‘alliance’) capitalism, not ‘market failures’ and/or the associated state activity, which just represent the effects of competition.
Similarly, the present internationalisation of the market economy is not just the result of state action to liberalise financial and commodity markets. In fact, the states were following the de facto internationalisation of the market economy, which was intensified by the activities of multinationals, when, (in the late seventies), under pressure from the latter, started the process of liberalising the financial markets and further deregulating the commodity markets (through the GATT rounds). Therefore, the present internationalisation is in fact the outcome of the grow-or-die dynamics, which characterises the market economy, a dynamics that is initiated by competition, the crucial fact neglected by Chomsky.
It is also the same internationalisation of the market economy, which became incompatible with the degree of state control of the economy achieved by the mid seventies, that made necessary the present neoliberal consensus. The latter, therefore, is not just a policy change, as socialdemocrats and their fellow travellers suggest, but represents an important structural change. So, minimising the state is not just ‘talk’, as Chomsky assumes basing his argument on the assumption that ‘the state continues to grow relative to GNP, notably in the 1980s and 1990s’. However, not only the fall in the growth rate of government spending in OECD countries was higher than that of the other parts of aggregate demand in the period 1980-93 but, in fact, the (weighted average) general government consumption of high income economies was lower in 1995, at 15% of GNP, than in 1980 (17%). All this, not taking into account the drastic reduction in the overall public sectors in the last twenty years, as a result of the massive privatisation of state industries. Therefore, minimising the state, far from being ‘talk’ is a basic element of the present neoliberal consensus.
Also, strategic alliances, mergers and take-overs do not represent a movement away from the market economy but a movement towards a new form of it. Away from a market economy, which was geared by the internal market and towards a market economy, which is geared by the world market. This means further and further concentration of economic power not only in terms of incomes and wealth but also in terms of concentration of the power to control world output, trade and investment in fewer and fewer hands. However, the oligopolisation of competition does not mean lack of competition.
Furthermore, it will be wrong to assume that the main characteristic of the present period is an ‘assault against the markets’, as the purist neoliberal argument goes, which Chomsky accepts. The present period of neoliberal consensus can be characterised instead, as an assault against social controls on markets, particularly those I called social controls in the narrow sense, i.e. those aiming at the protection of humans and nature against the effects of marketization, (the historical process that has transformed the socially controlled economies of the past into the market economy of the present). Such controls have been introduced as a result of social struggles undertaken by those who are adversely affected by the market economy’s effects on them (social security legislation, welfare benefits, macro-economic controls to secure full employment etc). What is still debated within the economic elites is the fate of what I call social controls in the broad sense, i.e. those primarily aiming at the protection of those controlling the market economy against foreign competition (tariffs, import controls, exchange controls ― in the past, and non-tariff barriers, massive public subsidy for R&D, risk-protection (bailouts), administration of markets etc ― at present). Thus, pure neoliberal economists, bankers, some politicians and others are against any kind of social controls over markets (in the narrow or broad sense above). On the other hand, the more pragmatic governments of the neoliberal consensus, from Reagan to Clinton and from Thatcher to Blair, under the pressure of the most vulnerable to competition sections of their own economic elites, have kept many social controls in the broad sense and sometimes even expanded them (not hesitating to go to war to secure their energy supplies) giving rise to the pure neoliberal argument (adopted by Chomsky) about an assault on markets.
In this context, one should not confuse liberalism/neoliberalism with laissez-faire. As I tried to show elsewhere, it was the state itself that created the system of self-regulating markets. Furthermore, some form of state intervention has always been necessary for the smooth functioning of the market economy system. The state, since the collapse of the socialdemocratic consensus, has seen a drastic reduction in its economic role as it is no longer involved in a process of directly intervening in the determination of income and employment through fiscal and monetary policies. However, even today, the state still plays an important role in securing, through its monopoly of violence, the stability of the market economy framework and in maintaining the infra-structure for the smooth functioning of it. It is within this role of maintaining the infra-structure that we may see the activities of the state in socialising risk and cost and in maintaining a safety net in place of the old welfare state. Furthermore, the state is called today to play a crucial role with respect to the supply-side of the economy and, in particular, to take measures to improve competitiveness and to train the working force to the requirements of the new technology, in supporting research and development and even in subsidising export industries wherever required. Therefore, the type of state intervention which is compatible with the marketization process not only is not discouraged but, instead, is actively promoted by most of the professional politicians of the neoliberal consensus.
It is true that the economic elites do not like the kind of competition which, as a result of the uneven development of the world market economy, threatens their own interests and this is why they have always attempted (and mostly succeeded) to protect themselves against it. But, it is equally true that it was the force of competition which has always fuelled the expansion of the market economy and that it was the values of competition and self-interest which have always characterised the value system of the elites which control the market economy. Chomsky, however, sometimes gives the impression that, barring some ‘accidents’ like the market failures he mentions, as well as the aggressive state support that economic elites have always enjoyed, the ‘corporatization’ of the market economy might have been avoided. But, of course, neither proprietary capitalism (or any other type of it) is desirable ---since it cannot secure covering the basic needs of all people--- nor can we deny all radical analysis of the past hundred and fifty years or so, from Marx to Bookchin, and all historical experience since then, which leads to one conclusion: the market economy is geared by a grow-or-die dynamic fuelled by competition, which is bound to lead to further and further concentration of economic power. Therefore, the problem is not the corporatization of the market economy which, supposedly, represents ‘an attack on markets and democracy’, and which was unavoidable anyway within the dynamic of the market economy. In other words, the problem is not corporate market economy/capitalism, as if some other kind of market economy/capitalism was feasible or desirable, but the market economy/capitalism itself. Otherwise, one may easily end up blaming the elites for violating the rules of the game, rather than blaming the rotten game itself!
If the above analytical framework is valid then obviously it is not possible, within the existing institutional framework of parliamentary democracy and the market economy to check the process of increasing concentration of economic power. This is a process that is going since the emergence of the market economy system, some two centuries ago, and no socialdemocratic governments or grassroots movements were ever able to stop it, or even to retard it, apart from brief periods of time. In fact, even the grass root ‘victory’ hailed by Chomsky against the MAI proposals is doubtful whether it would have been achieved had there been no serious divisions among the economic elites about it. Furthermore, the ‘victory’ itself has already started showing signs that it was hollow, as it is now clear that the MAI agreement was not, in fact, set aside, but it is simply implemented ‘by installments’, through the ‘back door’ of the IMF at present, and possibly the World Trade Organisation in the future. The basic reason why such battles are doomed is that they are not an integral part of a comprehensive political programto replace the institutional framework of the market economy itself and, as such, they can easily be marginalised or lead to simple (easily reversible) reforms.
The inevitable conclusion is that only the struggle for the building of a new massive movement aiming at fighting ‘from without’ for the creation of a new institutional framework, (see last section of this article), and the development of the corresponding culture and social paradigm, might have any chances to lead to a new society characterised by the equal distribution of power.
As I mentioned above, the establishment of the market economy implied sweeping aside traditional cultures and values. This process was accelerated in the twentieth century with the spreading all over the world of the market economy and its offspring the growth economy. As a result, today, there is an intensive process of culture homogenisation at work, which not only rules out any directionality towards more complexity, but in effect is making culture simpler, with cities becoming more and more alike, people all over the world listening to the same music, watching the same soap operas on TV, buying the same brands of consumer goods, etc.
The establishment of the neoliberal consensus in the last twenty years or so, following the collapse of the socialdemocratic consensus, has further enhanced this process of cultural homogenisation. This is the inevitable outcome of the liberalisation and de-regulation of markets and the consequent intensification of commercialisation of culture. As a result, traditional communities and their cultures are disappearing all over the world and people are converted to consumers of a mass culture produced in the advanced capitalist countries and particularly the USA. In the film industry, for instance, even European countries with a strong cultural background and developed economies have to effectively give up their own film industries, unable to compete with the much more competitive US industry. Thus, in the early 1990s, US films' share amounted to 73% of the European market. Also, indicative of the degree of concentration of cultural power in the hands of a few US corporations is the fact that, in 1991, a handful of US distributors controlled 66% of total cinema box office and 70% of the total number of video rentals in Britain.
Thus, the recent emergence of a sort of “cultural” nationalism in many parts of the world expresses a desperate attempt to keep a cultural identity in the face of market homogenisation. But, cultural nationalism is devoid of any real meaning in an electronic environment, where 75 percent of the international communications flow is controlled by a small number of multinationals. In other words, cultural imperialism today does not need, as in the past, a gunboat diplomacy to integrate and absorb diverse cultures. The marketization of the communications flow has already established the preconditions for the downgrading of cultural diversity into a kind of superficial differentiation akin to a folklorist type. Furthermore, it is indicative that today’s `identity movements', like those in Western Europe (from the Flemish to the Lombard and from the Scots to the Catalans) which demand autonomy as the best way to preserve their cultural identity, in fact, express their demand for individual and social autonomy in a distorted way. The distortion arises from the fact that the marketization of society has undermined the community values of reciprocity, solidarity and co-operation in favour of the market values of competition and individualism. As a result, the demand for cultural autonomy is not founded today on community values which enhance co-operation with other cultural communities but, instead, on market values which encourage tensions and conflicts with them. In this connection, the current neoracist explosion in Europe is directly relevant to the effectual undermining of community values by neoliberalism, as well as to the growing inequality and poverty following the rise of the neoliberal consensus.
Finally, one should not underestimate the political implications of the commercialisation and homogenisation of culture. The escapist role traditionally played by Hollywood films has now acquired a universal dimension, through the massive expansion of TV culture and its almost full monopolisation by Hollywood subculture. Every single TV viewer in Nigeria, India, China or Russia now dreams of the American way of life, as seen on TV serials (which, being relatively inexpensive and glamorous, fill the TV programmes of most TV channels all over the world) and thinks in terms of the competitive values imbued by them. The collapse of existing socialism has perhaps more to do with this cultural phenomenon, as anecdotal evidence indicates, than one could imagine. As various TV documentaries have shown, people in Eastern European countries, in particular, thought of themselves as some kind of ‘abnormal’ compared with what western TV has established as the ‘normal’. In fact, many of the people participating in the demonstrations to bring down those regimes frequently referred to this ‘abnormality’, as their main incentive for their political action.
In this problematique, one may criticise the kind of cultural relativism supported by some in the Left, according to which almost all cultural preferences could be declared as rational (on the basis of some sort of rationality criteria), and therefore all cultural choices deserve respect, if not admiration, given the constraints under which they are made. But, obviously, the issue is not whether our cultural choices are rational or not. Nor the issue is to assess ‘objectively’ our cultural preferences as right or wrong. The real issue is how to make a choice of values which we think is compatible with the kind of society we wish to live in and then make the cultural choices which are compatible with these values. This is because the transition to a future society based on alternative values presupposes that the effort to create an alternative culture should start now, in parallel with the effort to establish the new institutions compatible with the new values. On the basis of the criterion of consistency between our cultural choices and the values of a truly democratic society, one could delineate a way beyond post-modern relativism and distinguish between ‘preferable’ and ‘non-preferable’ cultural choices. So, all those cultural choices involving films, videos, theatrical plays etc, which promote the values of the market economy and particularly competition for money, individualism, consumerist greed, as well as violence, racism, sexism etc should be shown to be non-preferable and people should be encouraged to avoid them. On the other hand, all those cultural choices, which involve the promotion of the community values of mutual aid, solidarity, sharing and equality for all (irrespective of race, sex, ethnicity) should be promoted as preferable .
2. The role of mass media today
Do mass media reflect reality?
A basic issue in the discussion of the role of the mass media in today’s society is whether they do reflect social reality in a broad sense, or whether, instead, the elites which control them filter out the view of reality which they see fit to be made public. To my mind, the answer to this question is that the media do both, depending on the way we define reality.
To take, first, political reality, mass media, in one sense, do not provide a faked view of it. Taking into account what is considered as politics today, i.e. the activity of professional politicians ‘representing’ the people, one may argue that it is politics itself, which is faked, and mass media simply reproduce this reality. In this sense, the issue is not whether the mass media manipulate democracy, since it is democracy itself, which is faked, and not its mass media picture, which simply reflects the reality of present ‘democracy’. But, at the same time, if we give a different definition to political reality, mass media do provide, in general, a distorted picture of it. In other words, if we define as real politics the political activity of people themselves (for instance, the collective struggles of various sectors of the population around political, economic or social issues) rather than that of professional politicians, then, the mass media do distort the picture they present about political reality. They do so, by minimising the significance of this type of activity, by distorting its meaning, by marginalising it, or by simply ignoring it completely.
Furthermore, mass media do provide a distorted picture of political reality when they come to report the causes of crises, or of the conflicts involving various sections of the elites. In such cases they faithfully reflect the picture that the sections of the elites controlling them wish to reproduce. The latest example of this was the way in which the Anglo-American media, in particular, distorted the real meaning of the criminal bombardment of the Iraqi people at the end of 1998. Thus, exactly, as in their reporting during the war in the Gulf, the real cause of the conflict, (i.e. who controls the world’s oil, irrespective of where the oil stocks are located -- the elites of the North versus those in the South), was distorted as a conflict between the peace loving regimes in the North versus the rogue regimes in the South, or, in more sophisticated versions supported by socialdemocrat intellectuals, as a conflict between the ‘democracies’ in the North versus the ‘despotic regimes’ in the South over the control of oil.
Under these circumstances, it is obvious that the mass media usually offer a true glimpse of reality only when the elites are divided with respect to their conception of a particular aspect of political reality. From this point of view, concentration in the mass media industry is significant and whether the media are owned by 100 or 10 owners does indeed matter in the struggle for social change. It is for instance such divisions among the European elites over the issue of joining the European Monetary Union which have allowed a relatively wide media discussion on the true meaning of European integration, particularly in countries like Britain where the elites were split. It was also similar divisions between the Anglo-American and the European elites over the latest war crime in the Gulf which made a bit clearer the directly criminal role of the former (support for the bombardments), as well as the indirectly criminal role of the latter (support for the embargo). It is not accidental that in the USA and UK, where the media played a particularly despicable role in distorting the truth and misinforming the public, the polls showed consistently vast majorities in favour of the criminal activities of their elites. Of course, this does not mean that decentralisation of power in the mass media industry (or anywhere else) represents by itself, even potentially, a radical social change leading to an authentic democracy. Still, the significance of decentralisation in the media industry with respect to raising consciousness should not be ignored.
As regards economic reality, mass media, in one sense again, do provide a relatively accurate picture of what counts as economic reality today. This is when the media, taking for granted the system of the market economy, end up with a partial picture of economic reality where what matters is not whether the basic needs of the population are covered adequately but whether prices (in commodity and stock markets), interest rates, exchange rates and consequently profit rates are going up or down. Still, in another sense, the very fact that mass media take for granted the system of the market economy means that they cannot ‘see’ the ‘systemic’ nature of most of the real economic problems (unemployment, poverty and so on) and therefore inevitably end up with a faked image of economic reality. This way of seeing economic reality is not imposed on the media by their owners, important as their influence may otherwise be, or by their internal hierarchical structure etc. The media simply reflect the views of orthodox economists, bankers, businessmen and professional politicians, i.e. of all those who express the dominant social paradigm.
But if the picture of political and economic reality offered by the media is mixed this is not the case with respect to ecological reality. As no meaningful reporting of the ecological crisis is possible unless it refers to the systemic causes of it, which by definition are excluded by the discourse in the mainstream media, the result is a complete misinformation, or just straightforward description of the symptoms of the crisis. The mass media are flooded by the ‘realist’ Greens who fill the various ecological parties and who blame technology, consumerist values, legislation etc-- anything but the real cause of the crisis, i.e. the very system of the market economy. Similarly, the reporting of the present social crisis never links the explosion of crime and drug abuse, for instance, with their root cause, i.e. the increasing concentration of political, economic and social power in the hands of various elites. Instead, the symptoms of the social crisis are distortedly reported as its causes and the media blame, following the advice of the establishment ‘experts’, the breaking of the traditional family, or of the school, as the causes of crime. Similarly, various ‘progressive’ intellectuals (like the lamentable ex ‘revolutionary’ and now well promoted by the mainstream media Euro-parliamentarian Con Bendit) blame the prohibitive legislation on drugs for the massive explosion of drug abuse!
However, there is another approach being promoted recently by system theorists, according to which mass media do not just either reflect or distort reality but also manufacture it. This is not said in the usual sense of manufacturing consent described by Chomsky and Herman or, alternatively, by Bourdieu, which is basically a one-way process whereby the elites controlling the mass media filter out the information, through various control mechanisms, in order to create consent around their agenda. Instead, system theorists talk about a two-way process whereby social reality and mass media are seen as two interdependent levels, the one intruding into the other. This is based on the valid hypothesis that reality is not just something external to the way it is conceived. TV watching is a constituent moment of reality since our information about reality consists of conceptions that constitute reality itself. At the same time, the conception of reality is conditioned by the media functioning, which is differentiated in relation to the other social systems (political, economic etc).
In the systems analysis problematique, it is not the economic, or the political systems, which control the media functioning. What determines their functioning, as well as their communicative capability, is their ability to generate irritation -- a fact that could go a long way to explain the high ratings of exciting or irritating TV programs. The diversified functioning of mass media creates, in turn, the conditions for a social dynamic which, in a self-reflective and communicative way, reproduces, as well as institutes, society. Thus, whereas the early modern society is instituted through a transcendental subjectivity and a material mode of production, the present post-modern society’s reproduction depends on the processes of communicative rationality. The mass media are an integral and functional part of the communicative processes of post-modern society.
However, one may point out here that although it is true that social reality and mass media are interacting, i.e. that our conception of TV news is a constituent element of reality and at the same time our conception of reality is conditioned by TV functioning, this does not imply that the diversified functioning of mass media creates the conditions for a social dynamic which acts for the institution of society, although it does play this role as far as its reproduction is concerned. The meaning we assign to TV reporting is not determined exogenously but by our world view, our own paradigm, which in turn, as we have seen above, is the result of a process of socialisation that is conditioned by the dominant social paradigm. Furthermore, TV functioning plays a crucial role in the reproduction of the dominant social paradigm and the socialisation process generally. So, the diversified functioning of TV does indeed create the conditions for a social dynamic leading to the reproduction of the status quo, but in no way could be considered as doing the same for instituting society.
Goals and Control mechanisms
The goals of the mass media are determined by those owning and controlling them, who, usually, are members of the economic elites that control the market economy itself. Given the crucial role that the media could play in the internalisation of the dominant social paradigm and therefore the reproduction of the institutional framework which secures the concentration of power in the hands of the elites, it is obvious that those owning and controlling the mass media have broader ideological goals than the usual goals pursued by those owning and controlling other economic institutions, i.e. profit maximising. Therefore, an analysis that would attempt to draw conclusions on the nature and significance of media institutions on the basis of the profit dimension alone, (i.e. that they share a common goal and consequently a similar internal hierarchical structure with all other economic institutions and that they just sell a product, the only difference with other economic institutions being that the product is the audience,) is bound to be one-dimensional. Profit maximising is only one parameter, often not even the crucial one, which conditions the role of mass media in a market economy. In fact, one could mention several instances where capitalist owners chose even to incur significant losses (which they usually cover from other profitable activities) in order to maintain the social influence (and prestige), which ownership of an influential daily offers to them (Murdoch and The Times of London is an obvious recent example).
Given the ultimate ideological goal of mass media, the main ways in which they try to achieve it are:
first, by assisting in the internalisation of the dominant social paradigm and,
second, by marginalising, if not excluding altogether, conceptions of reality which do not conform with the dominant social paradigm.
But, what are the mechanisms through which the media can achieve their goals? To give an answer to this question we have to examine a series of mechanisms, most of them ‘automatic’ built-in mechanisms, which ensure effective achievement of these goals. It will be useful here to distinguish between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ control mechanisms, which function respectively as internal and external constraints on the freedom of media workers to reproduce reality. Both internal and external mechanisms work mainly through competition which secures homogenisation with respect to the media’s main goals. Competition is of course the fundamental organisational principle of a market economy; but, it plays a special role with respect to the media. As Bourdieu points out, competition ‘rather than automatically generating originality and diversity tends to favour uniformity’. Still, competition is not the only force securing homogenisation. In a similar way as with the market economy itself, competition provides only the dynamic mechanism of homogenisation. It is the fact that owners of mass media, as well as managers and the highest paid journalists, share the same interest in the reproduction of the existing institutional framework which constitutes the ‘base’, on which this competition is developed.
But, let us consider briefly the significance of the various control mechanisms. The main ‘internal control’ mechanisms are ownership and the internal hierarchical structure, which are, both, crucial in the creation of the conditions for internal competition among journalists, whereas the ‘ratings’ mechanism plays a similar role in the creation of the conditions for external competition among media.
Starting with ownership, it matters little, as regards the media’s overall goals defined above, whether they are owned and controlled by the state and/or the state-controlled institutions or whether, instead, they are owned and controlled by private capital. However, there are certain secondary differences arising from the different ownership structures which may be mentioned. These secondary differences have significant implications, particularly with respect to the structure of the elites controlling the media, their own organisational structure and their ‘image’ with respect to their supposedly ‘objective’ role in the presentation of information. As regards the elite structure, whereas under a system of state ownership and control the mass media are under the direct control of the political elite and the indirect control of the economic elites, under a system of private ownership and control, the media are just under the direct control of the economic elites. This fact, in turn, has some implications on whether filtering out of information takes place directly through state control, or indirectly through various economic mechanisms (e.g. ratings) .As regards the media organisational structure, whereas state-owned media are characterised by bureaucratic rigidity and inefficiency, privately owned media are usually characterised by more flexibility and economic efficiency. Finally, the ‘objective’ image of mass media suffers less in case of private ownership compared to the case of state ownership. This is because in the latter case control of information is more direct and therefore more obvious than in the former.
Another important internal control mechanism is the hierarchical structure which characterises all media institutions (as it does all economic institutions in a market economy) and which implies that all-important decisions are taken by a small managerial group within them, who are usually directly responsible to the owners. The hierarchical structure creates a constant internal competition among journalists as to who will be more agreeable to the managerial group (on which their career and salary prospects depend). Similarly, people in the managerial group are in constant competition as to who will be more agreeable to the owners (on which their highly paid position depends). So, everybody in this hierarchical structure knows well (or soon learns) what is agreeable and what is not and acts accordingly. Therefore, the filtering of information works through self-censorship rather than through any kind of ‘orders from above’. The effect of the internal hierarchical structure is to impose, through the internal competition that it creates, a kind of homogenisation in the journalists’ performance. But, does this exclude the possibility that some media workers may have incentives other those determined by career ambitions? Of course, not. But, such people, as Chomsky points out, will never find a place in the corridors of media power and, one way or another, will be marginalised :
They (journalists) say, quite correctly, "nobody ever tells me what to write. I write anything I like. All this business about pressures and constraints is nonsense because I’m never under any pressure." Which is completely true, but the point is that they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going to say the right thing… it is not purposeful censorship. It is just that you don’t make it to those positions. That includes the left (what is called the left), as well as the right. Unless you have been adequately socialised and trained so that there are some thoughts you just don’t have, because if you did have them, you wouldn’t be there.
But, how is it determined what is agreeable? Here it is where the ‘external’ control mechanisms come into play. It is competition among the various media organisations, which homogenises journalists’ behaviour. This competition takes the form of a struggle to improve ratings (as regards TV channels) or circulation (as regards newspapers, magazines etc). Ratings or circulation are important not per se but because the advertising income of privately owned mass media (which is the extra income determining their survival or death) depends on them. The result is, as Pierre Bourdieu points out that:
Ratings have become the journalist’s Last Judgement (...) Wherever you look, people are thinking in terms of market success. Only thirty years ago, and since the middle of the nineteenth century ― since Baudelaire and Flaubert and others in avant-garde milieux of writers' writers, writers acknowledged by other writers or even artists acknowledged by other artists― immediate market success was suspect. It was taken as a sign of compromise with the times, with money (...) Today, on the contrary, the market is accepted more and more as a legitimate means of Iegitimation.
The pressures created by the ratings mechanism, as Bourdieu points out, have nothing to do with the democratic expression of enlightened collective opinion or public rationality, despite what media ideologues assert. In fact, as the same author points out, the ratings mechanism is the sanction of the market and the economy, that is, of an external and purely market law. I would only add to this that given how ‘public opinion’ is formed within the process of socialisation and internalisation of the dominant social paradigm, it is indeed preposterous to characterise the ratings mechanism as somehow expressing the democratic will of the people. Ratings, as well as polls generally, is the ‘democracy of the uninformed’. They simply reflect the ignorance, the half-truths, or the straightforward distortions of the truth which have been assimilated by an uninformed public and which, through the ratings mechanism, reinforce the role of the mass media in the reproduction of the dominant social paradigm.
One may therefore conclude that the role of the media today is not to make the system more democratic. In fact, one basic function of the media is, as Chomsky stresses, to help in keeping the general population out of the public arena because ‘if they get involved they will just make trouble. Their job is to be "spectators," not "participants". Furthermore, the media can play a crucial role in offsetting the democratic rights and freedoms won after long struggles. This has almost always been the case when there was a clash between the elites and trade unions, or popular movements generally. Walter Lippmann, the revered American journalist was explicit about it, as Chomsky points out.
For Lippmann, there is a new art in the method of democracy, called "manufacture of consent." By manufacturing consent, you can overcome the fact that formally a lot of people have the right to vote. We can make it irrelevant because we can manufacture consent and make sure that their choices and attitudes will be structured in such a way that they will always do what we tell them, even if they have a formal way to participate. So we’ll have a real democracy. It will work properly. That’s applying the lessons of the propaganda agency.
Within this analytical framework we may explore fruitfully the particular ways through which the filtering of information is achieved, as, for instance, is described by Chomsky and Herman in their ‘propaganda model’. Similarly Bourdieu shows in a graphic way how the filtering of information takes place in television, through the structuring of TV debates, the time limits, the methods of hiding by showing etc. Particularly important is the way in which the media, particularly television, control not just the information flow, but also the production of culture, by controlling the access of academics as well as of cultural producers, who in turn, as a result of being recognised a public figures, gain recognition in their own fields. Thus, at the end, the journalistic field, which is structurally very strongly subordinated to market pressures and as such is a very heteronomous field, applies pressure, in turn, to all other fields.
An illustrative application of the above analytical framework is the crucial contribution of the mass media in the creation of the subjective conditions for the neoliberal consensus. Thus, the mass media have played a double ideological role with respect to the neoliberal consensus. On the one hand, they have promoted directly the neoliberal agenda :
by degrading the economic role of the state,
by attacking the ‘dependence’ on the state which the welfare state supposedly creates,
by identifying freedom with the freedom of choice, which is supposedly achieved through the liberation of markets etc. (talk radio
and similar TV shows play a particularly significant role in this respect).
On the other hand, the media have also attempted to divert attention from the consequences of the neoliberal consensus (in terms of growing inequality and poverty, the explosion of crime and drug abuse and so on) :
by promoting irrational beliefs of all sorts (religion, mystical beliefs, astrology etc). The film and video explosion on the themes of exorcism, supernatural powers etc (induced mainly by Hollywood) has played a significant role in diverting attention from the evils of neoliberalism.
by manufacturing irrelevant and/or insignificant ‘news stories’ (e.g. Monica Lewinsky affair), which are then taken over by opposition politicians who are eager to find fictitious ways (because of the lack of real political differences within the neoliberal consensus) to differentiate themselves from those in power
by creating a pseudo ‘general interest’ (for instance around a nationalist or chauvinist cause) in order to unite the population around a ‘cause’ and make it forget the utterly dividing aspects of neoliberalism.
At the same time, the creation of the neoliberal conditions at the institutional level had generated the objective conditions for the mass media to play the aforementioned role. This was because the deregulation and liberalisation of markets and the privatisation of state TV in many European countries had created the conditions for homogenisation through the internal and external competition, which I mentioned above. It is not accidental anyway that major media tycoons like Murdoch in the Anglo-Saxon world, Kirsch in Germany, or Berlusconi in Italy have also been among the main exponents of the neoliberal consensus agenda.
3. Media and culture in a democratic society
Culture and a democratic conception of citizenship
I am not going to repeat here the discussion on the fundamental components of an inclusive democracy and the necessary conditions, which have to be met for the setting up of it. Instead, I will try to focus on the implications of the democratic institutional arrangements on culture and the role of media.
The starting point is that the conditions for democracy imply a new conception of citizenship: economic, political, social and cultural. Thus, political citizenship involves new political structures and the return to the classical conception of politics (direct democracy). Economic citizenship involves new economic structures of community ownership and control of economic resources (economic democracy). Social citizenship involves self-management structures at the workplace, democracy in the household and new welfare structures where all basic needs (to be democratically determined) are covered by community resources, whether they are to be satisfied in the household or at the community level. Finally, cultural citizenship involves new democratic structures of dissemination and control of information and culture (mass media, art, etc.), which allow every member of the community to take part in the process and at the same time develop his/her intellectual and cultural potential.
It is obvious that the above new conception of citizenship has very little in common with the liberal and socialist definitions of citizenship, which are linked to the liberal and socialist conceptions of human rights respectively. Thus, for the liberals, the citizen is simply the individual bearer of certain freedoms and political rights recognised by law which, supposedly, secure equal distribution of political power. Similarly, for the socialists, the citizen is the bearer not only of political rights and freedoms but, also, of some social and economic rights, whereas for Marxists the citizenship is realised with the collective ownership of the means of production. Furthermore, the conception of citizenship adopted here is not related to the current social-democratic discourse on the subject, which, in effect, focuses on the institutional conditions for the creation of an internationalised market economy ‘with a human face’. The proposal for instance for a redefinition of citizenship within the framework of a “stakeholder capitalism” belongs to this category. This proposal involves an ‘active’ citizenship, where citizens have ‘stakes’ in companies, the market economy and society in general and managers have to take into account these stakes in the running of the businesses and social institutions they are in charge of.
The conception of citizenship adopted here, which could be called a democratic conception, is based on our definition of inclusive democracy and presupposes a ‘participatory’ conception of active citizenship, like the one implied by the work of Hannah Arendt. In this conception, “political activity is not a means to an end, but an end in itself; one does not engage in political action simply to promote one’s welfare but to realise the principles intrinsic to political life, such as freedom, equality, justice, solidarity, courage and excellence”. It is therefore obvious that this conception of citizenship is qualitatively different from the liberal and social-democratic conceptions, which adopt an ‘instrumentalist’ view of citizenship, i.e. a view which implies that citizenship entitles citizens with certain rights that they can exercise as means to the end of individual welfare.
Although the above conception of citizenship implies a geographical sense of community which is the fundamental unit of political, economic and social life, still, it is assumed that it interlocks with various other communities (cultural, professional, ideological, etc.). Therefore, the community and citizenship arrangements do not rule out cultural differences based on language, customs etc, or other differences based on gender, age, ethnicity and so on; they simply provide the public space where such differences can be expressed. Furthermore, these arrangements institutionalise various safety valves that aim to rule out the marginalisation of such differences by the majority. What therefore unites people in a political community, or a confederation of communities, is not a set of common cultural values, imposed by a nationalist ideology, a religious dogma, a mystical belief, or an ‘objective’ interpretation of natural or social ‘evolution’, but the democratic institutions and practices, which have been set up by citizens themselves.
However, as I attempted to show elsewhere this cultural pluralism does not mean a kind of cultural relativism where ‘everything goes’. In other words, it is possible to derive an ethical system and correspondingly a set of cultural values which is neither ‘objective’, (in the sense that it is derived from a supposedly objective interpretation of social evolution—Marx, or natural evolution---Bookchin), nor just a matter of individual choice. There can be a set of common or general moral criteria by which individual actions could be judged, i.e. a code of democratic ethics, which would be based on the fundamental principle of organising a democratic society around a confederal inclusive Democracy, (i.e. a democracy based on a confederation of demoi, or democratic communities).
This code of democratic ethics may be derived out of the two fundamental principles of organisation of a confederal inclusive Democracy, i.e. the principle of autonomy and the principle of community. Thus, out of the fundamental principle of autonomy one may derive a set of cultural values about equality and respect for the personality of every citizen, irrespective of gender, race, ethnic identity etc. Out of the same fundamental principle one could derive the principle of protecting the quality of life of each individual citizen -- something that would imply a relationship of harmony with nature. Similarly, out of the fundamental principle of community life one may derive a set of values involving solidarity and mutual aid, caring and sharing. These values should constitute an integral part of the dominant social paradigm so that democracy can reproduce itself. This of course does not exclude the possibility, or rather the probability, of the existence of alternative cultural values, or perhaps even of a conflict between personal and collective values ---particularly with respect to those citizens who cannot reconcile themselves with the tragic truth that it is we who determine our own truth and might still adhere to moral codes derived from irrational belief systems (religions, mystical beliefs etc). However, as long as these people are in a minority, (hopefully, a dwindling one, through the Paedeia of a democratic society), the conflict in their personal values with the collectively defined values should not be a problem for the community as a whole.
The sufficient condition which has to be met so that democracy will not degenerate into some kind of “demago-cracy”, where the demos is manipulated by a new breed of ‘professional’ politicians, is crucially conditioned by the citizens’ level of democratic consciousness. This, in turn, is conditioned by Paedeia. It is therefore obvious that the cultural institutions, particularly the media, play a crucial role in a democracy, given their role in the formation of Paedeia.
So, let us now consider the nature and role of the mass media, as cultural institutions, in a democratic society. First, there is no reason why the mass media in a democratic society will distort rather than reflect reality. As political and economic power would be equally distributed among citizens and therefore the existence of institutionalised elites would be excluded, the media would face none of the present dilemmas whether to reflect the reality of the elite, or particular sections of it, versus the reality of the rest of the population. Still, even in an inclusive democracy there is still the problem of the possible emergence of informal elites, which may attempt to exercise some sort of control over the information flows. It is also clear that no democracy is possible unless its citizens are fully informed on anything affecting their life. Therefore, a way has to be found to organise the decision-taking process in the media so that, on the one hand, citizens are always fully informed and, on the other, the media are under the real control of the community.
It is obvious that it is citizens as citizens, through their assemblies, who should determine the overall operation of mass media and supervise them. This function could not just be assigned to the councils of media workers because in that case the democratic society will run the double risk of media not expressing the general interest, as well as of the possible emergence of new media elites within, at least, some of them. This does not, obviously, mean that the assemblies will determine every day what the content of TV news bulletins will be, or what the papers would say next day. What it does mean is that the community assemblies would set strict rules on how full diversity and accountability could be achieved and then supervise the application of these principles in media practice.
Diversity implies that all sorts of views should be given full access to the media, provided that that they have been approved by the community and media workers’ assemblies. Assuming that these assemblies have internalised the dominant democratic social paradigm, one could expect that they would not give easy access to views which contradict the democratic values (e.g. views promoting racial, sexist, religious values etc). However, the decision will always rest with the assemblies and if they see no contradiction involved in giving full access to such views this will simply herald the degradation and eventual collapse of the democratic society itself.
Accountability implies that the media workers would be accountable for their decisions to the media workers’ assemblies in the first instance and, next, to the community assemblies. Such a structure of accountability would be compatible with the lack of hierarchical structures in the media and the fact that it will be the communities themselves that would ‘own’ the media institutions.
So, this dual system of decision-taking, whereby overall decision-taking and supervision rests with the community assemblies, whereas the determination of detailed operational functioning of the media is left to the media workers’ assemblies, to my mind, guarantees that not only the general interest is adequately taken into account but also that the day-to-day decisions are taken democratically by the media workers themselves.
4. From ‘here’ to ‘there’:
Ways to bring about systemic social change
As I tried to show above the culture of a democratic society will be characterised by very different values than those of a market economy. The values of heteronomy, competition, individualism and consumerism which are dominant today have to be replaced in a democratic society by the values of individual and collective autonomy, co-operation, mutual aid, solidarity and sharing. Furthermore, as far as the mass media is concerned, the role, organisation and nature of media in a democratic society will also drastically differ from the corresponding role, nature and organisation today. The media will not have the role to reflect reality, basically, as seen from the elites’ point of view, but, as seen from the people’s viewpoint; their organisation will not be based on hierarchical structures, but, on democratic structures; finally, the media will cease to be profit-making enterprises owned and controlled by elites and will become, instead, democratically owned and controlled institutions of communicating information.
The obvious issue, which arises here, is how we move from ‘here’ to ‘there’. This basic question involves a series of other issues concerning social change, which have been discussed extensively, particularly during the century which is now expiring. Can there be a drastic change of values, like the one discussed above, without a parallel change of institutions? Do we need a systemic change to bring about the required change in values and institutions? Should the social struggle have as explicit aim the systemic change as part of a comprehensive political program for it? To attempt to give an answer to all these questions we will have to discuss briefly the main approaches to social change.
But, first, we have to be clear about the meaning of social change. As it is obvious from the above analysis, social change here means systemic change, i.e. a change in the entire socio-economic system of the market economy, representative democracy and hierarchical structures . As I attempted to show elsewhere the fundamental cause of the multi-dimensional crisis we face today (economic, ecological, social, political) is the concentration of power at the hands of various elites (economic, political etc) and therefore the only way out of this crisis is the abolition of power structures and relations, i.e. the creation of conditions of equal distribution of power among citizens. One way that could bring about this sort of society is the Inclusive Democracy proposal which involves the creation of political, economic and social structures that secure direct democracy, economic democracy, ecological democracy and democracy in the social realm. It also involves the creation of a new social paradigm (based on the values I mentioned above) which, for the reproduction of inclusive democracy to be secured, it has to become dominant.
So, assuming that the aim is to bring about systemic social change involving the creation of conditions for the equal distribution of power among citizens, there are, schematically, four main approaches which claim that they may bring about this result: reforms (from ‘above’ or from ‘below’), revolution (from ‘above’ or from ‘below’), ‘life-style strategies’ and the Inclusive Democracy approach.
The reformist approach
The reformist approach claims that it can bring about systemic change through either the conquest of state power (reforms ‘from above’) or through the creation of autonomous from the state power bases which would press the state for reforms (reforms ‘from below’).
The main example of the former strategy is the social democratic approach, whereas the main example of the latter is the civil societarian approach.
The social democratic approach reached its peak during the period of statism and particularly in the first thirty years after WWII, when the social democratic consensus was dominant all over the Western world. However, the internationalisation of the market economy since the mid ‘70s brought about the end of this consensus and the rise of the neoliberal consensus – which, in my view, is irreversible as long as the market economy is internationalised, in other words, as long as the market economy reproduces itself. The recent deletion from the program of the British Labour Party (which was the last socialdemocratic party still committed to full socialisation of the means of production) of ‘clause four’, which committed it to full socialisation, marked the formal end of socialdemocratic claims towards real systemic change. In fact, the neoliberal agenda for ‘flexible’ labour markets, minimisation of social controls on markets, replacement of the welfare state by a safety net etc has now become the agenda of every major socialdemocratic party in power or in opposition. The parallel degradation of social democracy and the reversal of most of its conquests (comprehensive welfare state, state commitment to full employment, significant improvement in the distribution of income) has clearly shown that supporters of the revolutionary approach were always right on the impossibility of bringing about a systemic change through reforms.
As regards the civil societarian approach, the strategy here is to enhance 'civil society', that is, to strengthen the various networks which are autonomous from state control (unions, churches, civic movements, co-operatives, neighbourhoods, schools of thought etc.) in order to impose such limits (i.e. social controls) on markets and the state, so that a kind of systemic change is brought about. However, this approach is based on a number of unrealistic assumptions. Thus, first, it implicitly assumes a high degree of statism where the state can still play the economic role it used to play during the socialdemocratic consensus. Second, it assumes, in effect, an almost closed market economy where the state can ignore the instant movement of capital in case a government attempts to meet demands of civil societarians which threaten capital’s interets. No wonder that civil societarians usually deny (or try to minimise) the importance of the present internationalisation of the market economy. It is also indicative that when civil societarians attempt to internationalise their approach the only limits on the internationalised market economy that they view as feasible are various ‘regulatory controls’. But, such controls have very little in common with the sweeping social controls that they have in mind when they discuss, abstracting from the present internationalised market economy, the limits that civil society networks should impose on markets (drastic reduction of inequalities, massive creation of jobs etc).
So, the civil societarian approach is both a-historical and utopian. It is a-historical, since it ignores the structural changes, which have led to the present neoliberal consensus and the internationalised market economy. And it is utopian because it is in tension both with the present internationalised market economy and the state. So, given that civil societarians do not see the outcome of this inevitable tension in terms of the replacement of the market economy and the state by the civil society, it is not difficult to predict that any enhancement of the civil society will have to be compatible with the process of further internationalisation of the market economy and the implied role of the state. In other words, the ‘enhancement’ of civil society, under today’s conditions, would simply mean that the ruling political and economic elites will be left undisturbed to continue dominating society, while, from time to time, they will have to try to address the demands of the civil societarians-- provided, of course that these demands are not in direct conflict to their own interests and the demands of oligopolistic production.
In conclusion, enhancing the civil society institutions has no chance whatsoever of either putting an end to the concentration of power, or of transcending the present multidimensional crisis. This conclusion may be derived from the fact that the implicit, although not always explicit, aim of civil societarians is to improve the functioning of existing institutions (state, parties, market), in order to make them more responsive to pressures from below when, in fact, the crisis is founded on the institutions themselves and not on their malfunctioning! But, in the present internationalised market, the need to minimise the socio-economic role of the state is no longer a matter of choice for those controlling production. It is a necessary condition for survival. This is particularly so for European capital that has to compete with capital blocks, which operate from bases where the social-democratic tradition of statism was never strong (the United States, the Far East). But, even at the planetary level, one could seriously doubt whether it is still possible to enhance the institutions of civil society within the context of the market economy. Granted that the fundamental aims of production in a market economy are individual gain, economic efficiency and growth, any attempt to reconcile these aims with an effective `social control' by the civil society is bound to fail since, as historic experience with the statist phase has shown, social control and market efficiency are irreconcilable objectives. By the same token, one could reasonably argue that the central contradiction of the market economy today is the one arising from the fact that any effective control of the ecological implications of growth is incompatible with the requirements of competitiveness, which the present phase of the marketization process imposes.
The life-style approach
The second type of approach which claims capable to bring about systemic social change is the presently fashionable, particularly among Anglo-Saxon anarchists, life-style strategy. There are several versions of this strategy. Sometimes this approach involves no intervention at all in the political arena and usually not even in the general social arena --other than in struggles on specific `Green' issues, like animal rights campaigns etcetera. Alternatively, this approach may involve a process which, starting from the individual, and working through affinity groups, aims at setting an example of sound and preferable life-styles at the individual and social level: alternative media, Community Economic Development projects, ‘free zones’ and alternative institutions (free schools, self-managed factories, housing associations, Local Employment and Trading Systems (LETS), communes, self-managed farms and so on).
However, this approach, in any of the above versions, is, by itself, utterly ineffective in bringing about a systemic social change. Although helpful in creating an alternative culture among small sections of the population and, at the same time, morale-boosting for activists who wish to see an immediate change in their lives, this approach does not have any chance of success--in the context of today’s huge concentration of power--in building the democratic majority needed for systemic social change. The projects suggested by this strategy may too easily be marginalised, or absorbed into the existing power structure (as has happened many times in the past) whereas their effect on the socialisation process is minimal--if not nil. Furthermore, life-style strategies, by usually concentrating on single issues which are not part of a comprehensive political program for social transformation, provide a golden opportunity to the ruling elites to use their traditional divide and rule tactics (the British elites, for instance, frequently use security guards recruited from the underclass to fight Green activists rather than ‘exposing’ the police on this role!)
Furthermore, systemic social change can never be achieved outside the main political and social arena. The elimination of the present power structures and relations can neither be achieved “by setting an example”, nor through education and persuasion. A power base is needed to destroy power. But, the only way that an approach aiming at a power base would be consistent with the aims of the democratic project is, to my mind, through the development of a comprehensive program for the radical transformation of local political and economic structures.
A variation of the life-style strategy which however has, also, elements of the civil societarian approach is, to my mind, the strategy proposed by Noam Chomsky, Michael Albert and the group around Z magazine. Thus, Albert sees the setting up of alternative media institutions just ‘as part of a project to establish new ways of organising media and social activity’, without even mentioning the need to incorporate them into a comprehensive political program for systemic change. In fact, what differentiates the alternative from the mainstream media in his argument is, basically, their internal structure:
Being alternative can’t just mean that the institution’s editorial focus is on this or that topical area. And being alternative as an institution certainly isn’t just being left or right or different in editorial content. Being alternative as an institution must have to do with how the institution is organised and works (...) An alternative media institution sees itself as part of a project to establish new ways of organising media and social activity and it is committed to furthering these as a whole, and not just its own preservation.
Similarly, Chomsky does not raise either the issue of incorporating alternative institutions into a comprehensive political program for systemic change. Thus, to the question whether we should just continue supporting efforts to set up alternative media institutions etc, or whether, instead, we should direct our striving towards integrating such attempts in a struggle to build a new political and social movement that will fight for alternative systems of social organisation, his reply is that these two possibilities ‘should not be regarded as alternatives… these are not conflicting goals; rather, mutually supportive efforts, all of which should proceed’.
It is therefore obvious that for Chomsky and Albert the establishment of alternative media is seen as a kind of life-style strategy, rather than as part of a political strategy and a comprehensive program for systemic change. Similarly, Chomsky’s argument above that, even within the existing institutional framework, we could reverse the present concentration of power involves elements of the civil societarian approach. It is illustrative how Chomsky justifies his argument on the matter:
These are not the operations of any mysterious economic laws; they are human decisions that are subject to challenge, revision and reversal. They are also decisions made within institutions, state and private. These have to face the test of legitimacy, as always; and if they do not meet that test they can be replaced by others that are more free and more just, exactly as has happened throughout history.
However, although it is true that there are no historical or natural laws determining social evolution this does not mean that ‘anything goes’ within the existing institutional framework, as Chomsky seems to assume. The institutional framework does set the parameters within which social action takes place. This means that both the nature and the scope of radical social action cannot transcend these parameters —unless social action explicitly aims at the institutional framework itself. The neoliberal consensus was not just a policy change, as social democrats assume, but a structural change imposed by the needs of internationalisation of the market economy. This implies that the basic elements of the neoliberal consensus and particularly flexible markets and minimisation of social controls on markets will not go away, as long as the present internationalised market economy exists. But, today, the market economy can only be internationalised, since the growth (and therefore profitability) of the multinationals, which control the world market economy, depends on enlarging their markets worldwide. And as long as the market economy has to be internationalised, markets have to be as open and as flexible as possible. All this means that, as long as the system of the market economy and representative democracy reproduces itself, all that reforms (‘from above’, or ‘from below’) can bring about today is temporary victories and reversible social conquests like, for instance, those made during the period of the social democratic consensus which are now being systematically dismantled by the neoliberal consensus.
The revolutionary approach
Coming now to the revolutionary strategy, by ‘revolution from above’ I mean the strategy, which aims at systemic change through the conquest of state power. The Marxist- Leninist tradition is a classical example of this type of strategy. This approach, implied that the change in the social paradigm even among a minority of the population, the vanguard of the proletariat, (organised in the communist party and equipped with the ‘science’ of socialism, i.e. Marxism), could function as a catalyst to bring about a socialist revolution. The socialist revolution would then lead to the conquest of state power by the proletariat (effectively by its vanguard, i.e. the communist party) which would bring about a change in the institutional framework as well as a change in the dominant social paradigm. The socialist society would give way to a communist society only when the rapid development of productive forces, through the socialisation of production relations, would lead to the abolition of scarcity and division of labour and the withering away of the state. History however has shown that this strategy could only lead to new hierarchical structures, as the vanguard of the working class becomes at the end the new ruling elite. This was the main lesson of the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ which has clearly shown that, if the revolution is organised, and then its program carried out, through a minority, it is bound to end up with new hierarchical structures rather than with a society where concentration of power has been abolished.
By ‘revolution from below’, I mean the strategy which aims at systemic change through the abolition of state power and the creation of federations of communes, or of workers’ associations. The various trends within the anarchist movement (community-oriented versus worker-oriented) aim at revolution, in order to abolish state power and transform society ‘from below’, rather than in order to conquest state power and transform society ‘from above’. But, attempts for revolutions from below in History have usually ended up either as insurrections, which failed to lead to a systemic change (the major recent example being the May ’68 insurrection in France) or to civil wars, where the superior means, organisation and efficiency of their enemies (either the state army and/or statist socialists) led to the suppression of revolutionaries (the major recent example being the Spanish civil war in 1936).
To my mind, the major problem of any revolutionary strategy, either from above or from below, is the uneven development of consciousness among the population, in other words, the fact that a revolution, which assumes a rupture with the past both at the subjective level of consciousness and at the institutional level, takes place in an environment where only a minority of the population has broken with the dominant social paradigm. Then, if it is a revolution from above, it has a good chance to achieve its first aim, to abolish state power and establish its own power. But, exactly because it is a revolution from above with its own hierarchical structures etc, it has no chance to change the dominant social paradigm but only formally, i.e. at the level of the official ideology. On the other hand, although the revolution from below is the correct approach to convert people democratically to the new social paradigm, it suffers from the fact that the uneven development of consciousness among the population may not allow revolutionaries to achieve even their very first aim of abolishing state power. Therefore, the still unresolved problem with systemic change is how it could be brought about, from below, but by a majority of the population, so that a democratic abolition of power structures could become feasible.
The Inclusive Democracy approach
The Inclusive Democracy (ID) project does offer a strategy, which aims at resolving this problem. It starts first with the assumption that radical systemic change would never come about through reforms, or life-style strategies. This is because systemic change requires a rupture with the past, which extends to both the institutional and the subjective level. Such a rupture is only possible through the development of a new political organisation and a new comprehensive political program for systemic change. This means that the various activities to set up communes, co-ops, alternative media institutions etc are just irrelevant to a process of systemic change --- unless they are an explicitly integral part of such a comprehensive political program. It is in this sense that one may argue that the two strategies are not complementary as Chomsky argues, but mutually exclusive.
The ID political strategy comprises the gradual involvement of increasing numbers of people in a new kind of politics and the parallel shifting of economic resources (labour, capital, land) away from the market economy. The aim of such a transitional strategy should be to create changes in the institutional framework, as well as to value systems, which, after a period of tension between the new institutions and the state, would, at some stage, replace the market economy, statist democracy, and the social paradigm “justifying” them, with an inclusive democracy and a new democratic paradigm respectively. The immediate objective should be the creation, from below, of ‘popular bases of political and economic power’, that is, the establishment of local public realms of direct and economic democracy which will confederate in order to create the conditions for the establishment of a new society. Contesting local elections (the only form of elections which is not incompatible with the aims of the ID project) could provide the chance to put into effect such a program on a massive social scale, although other forms of establishing new types of social organisation should not be neglected, as long as they are part of a program which explicitly aims at systemic change.
Once the institutions of inclusive democracy begin to be installed, and people, for the first time in their lives, start obtaining real power to determine their own fate, then the gradual erosion of the dominant social paradigm and of the present institutional framework will be set in motion. A new popular power base will be created. Town by town, city by city, region by region will be taken away from the effective control of the market economy and the nation-state, their political and economic structures being replaced by the confederations of democratically run communities. A dual power in tension with the state will be created, an alternative social paradigm will become hegemonic and the break in the socialisation process--the precondition for a change in the institution of society--will have occurred. The legitimacy of today’s ‘democracy’ will have been lost.
The implementation of a strategy like the one outlined above requires a new type of political organisation, which will mirror the desired structure of society. This would not be the usual political party, but a form of ‘democracy in action’, which would undertake various collective forms of intervention at:
the political level (creation of ‘shadow’ political institutions based on direct democracy, neighbourhood assemblies, etc.),
the economic level (establishment of community units at the level of production and distribution which are collectively owned and controlled),
the social level (democracy in the workplace, the university etc.), and
the cultural level (creation of community-controlled art and media activities)
However, all these forms of intervention should be part of a comprehensive program for social transformation aiming at the eventual change of each municipality won in the local elections into an inclusive democracy. The alternative media established as part of this program would play a crucial role in developing an alternative consciousness to the present one, as regards the methods of solving the economic and ecological problems in a democratic way. They should connect today's economic and ecological crisis to the present socio-economic system and make proposals on how to start building the new society. For example: by setting up a demotic economic sector, (i.e. a sector owned by the demos); by creating a democratic mechanism to make economic decisions affecting the demotic sector of the community; by ‘localising’ decisions affecting the life of the community as a whole (local production, local spending, local taxes, etc.). 
Without underestimating the difficulties involved in the context of today’s all-powerful methods of brain control and economic violence, which, in fact, might prove more effective methods than pure state violence in suppressing a movement for the inclusive democracy, I think that the proposed strategy is a realistic strategy on the way to a new society.
 Takis Fotopoulos, Dependent Development: the Greek case, (Athens: Exantas, 1985 & 1987) Ch. A.
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy: the crisis of the growth economy and the need for a new liberatory project, (London: Cassell, 1997) Ch. 1
 E. Ray Canterbery, The Making of Economics, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1976), p. 52
 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, (Chicago:Pheonix Books, 1963) p. 9
 Milton Friedman & Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, (London: Penguin, 1979, p. 359
 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), chs. 14-15.
 See, for instance, Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy and Liberty, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 28-33
 E. Ray Canterbery, The Making of Economics, p. 19
 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, p. 133
 See, Will Hutton, The State to Come (London: Vintage, 1997)
 See, for instance, James Robertson, Beyond the Dependency Culture: People, Power and Responsibility, (Twickenham:Adamantine Press, 1998
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp. 100-104.
 Noam Chomsky, ‘On freedom of press and culture :an interview’ (in this issue)
 Noam Chomsky, ‘Power in the Global Arena’, New Left Review, no. 230, July-August 1998, pp 3-27
 Noam Chomsky, ‘Power in the Global Arena’, pp. 4-5
 Murray Bookchin has recently sharply criticised similar views of Chomsky with respect to demands for the devolution of US federal government: ‘It’s a sad commentary that many self-styled leftists are now turning to the bourgeois Nation-State for redress from capital! The dumbing of the left has gone so far that someone like Chomsky, who professes to be an anarchist, wants to strengthen or at least support the centralised State against demands for its “devolution” to state governments, as though the centralised State could be used against the corporations, which it has always aided in the long run!’ (Murray Bookchin in an interview published in Janet Biehl’s, The Politics of Social Ecology, Montreal: Black Rose Press, 1998, pp 148-49).
 Noam Chomsky, ‘Power in the Global Arena’, p. 27.
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, chs 1-2
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch. 1
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Tables 1.1 & 1.2
 World Bank, World Development Report 1997, Table 13
 Noam Chomsky, ‘Market Democracy in a Neoliberal Order:Doctrines and Reality’, Z Magazine, September & November 1997
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch. 1
 Noam Chomsky,‘Domestic Constituencies’, Z Magazine, May 1998
 As Will Hutton points out the ‘Group of 7’ nations at their meeting at the end of October 1998 (called to deal with the financial crisis) decided that when ‘it organises a bail-out in the future, the IMF will require distressed countries to sign up not just for the usual mix of trade liberalisation and elimination of government subsidies, but, more ominously, that they treat ‘foreign and domestic debtors alike’ –something that was a basic provision of MAI (Will Hutton, The Observer, 1 Nov. 1998 )
 The data about the film industry come from Film and Television Handbbok 1993 (London: British Film Institute, 1993), Tables 14, 16 & 38.
 As K. Gouliamos, a Canada-based professor on mass media, stresses, TO BEMA (9 Feb. 1992).
 See Takis Fotopoulos, The Gulf War: the first battle in the North-South Conflict, (Athens: Exantas, 1991). See, also, for a socialdemocratic view of the conflict in terms of a conflict between the ‘democracies’ in the North and ‘the despotic regimes’ in the South, John Ely, “Communal Stasis, Media, and a Civic Interpretation of the Historical Materialist Model” (in this issue).
 See my forthcoming book, Drugs: an alternative approach (Athens: Eleftheros Typos, 1999)
 Niklas Luhmann, Die realitat der massenmedien, Westdeutscher Verlag, Wiesbaden, 1997 (Eleftherotypia, 27 Nov. 1998)
 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, (New York: Pantheon, 1988)
 Pierre Bourdieu, On Television and Journalism, (London: Pluto Press, 1996)
 See e.g. Michael Albert, ‘Alternative Media:What Makes Alternative Media Alternative? (Z magazine, October 1997); see, also, his ‘Mass Media, Culture, and The Left’ (In this issue).
 Pierre Bourdieu, On Television and Journalism, p. 72
 Noam Chomsky, ‘What makes mainstream media mainstream” (Z Magazine, October 1997)
 P. Bourdieu, On Television, p.27
 P. Bourdieu, On Television, pp. 66-67
 Noam Chomsky, ‘What makes mainstream media mainstream”
 What makes mainstream media mainstream”
 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Ch 1
 P. Bourdieu, On Television, pp. 46-7 & 54
 Carl Boggs and Tina Dirmann, “The Myth of Electronic Populism:Talk Radio and the Decline of the Public Sphere” (in this issue)
 See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy), Ch 5
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy), Ch 6
 See Will Hutton, The State We’re In (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995).
 Maurizio Passerin d’ Entreves, “Hannah Arendt and the Idea of Citizenship” in Dimensions of Radical Democracy, pp. 145-68.
 Maurizio Passerin d’ Entreves, “Hannah Arendt and the Idea of Citizenship”, p. 154.
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy), pp. 230-33
 T. Fotopoulos, ‘The Rise of New Irrationalism and its Incompatibility with Inclusive Democracy’, Democracy & Nature, no. 11-12.
 See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch 6 for a detailed description of confederal inclusive democracy
 See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch 4
 See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, CHs 1 & 4
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, pp.158-64
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy Ch 2; see also, M. Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1988).
 Michael Albert, ‘Mass Media, Culture, and The Left’
 Michael Albert, ‘Alternative Media:What Makes Alternative Media Alternative
 Noam Chomsky, ‘On freedom of press and culture’
 Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch 8
 See Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch 2
 Murray Bookchin also agrees on that: ‘Specific proposals for decentralization, small-scale communities, local autonomy, mutual aid and communalism ... are not intrinsically ecological or emancipatory. Such an outcome depends ultimately on the social and philosophical context in which we place such programs’ (Murray Bookchin & Dave Foreman, Defending the Earth, A Debate Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman, Montreal: Black Rose, 1991, pp. 61-62.
 See for further details Takis Fotopoulos, Towards An Inclusive Democracy, Ch 7