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The Orbán regime and Noam Chomsky’s “ten commandments”

April 22, 2013

Who would ever have thought that I would turn to Noam Chomsky for inspiration, but it seems that Viktor Orbán’s regime can do the strangest things to a human being. Someone on Facebook called my attention to a post on a Hungarian-language blog that recalled Chomsky’s “ten commandments” and effective strategies for manipulating a population through the media. Naturally I don’t believe Chomsky’s theory that democratic societies use subtle, non-violent means of control as opposed to the more brutal methods used by totalitarian systems. As Chomsky put it, “propaganda is to a democracy as the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”

However, after three years of the Orbán regime, Hungarians discovered a 1988 book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, that Chomsky co-authored with Edward S. Herman. They found that his “ten commandments” have a suspicious resemblance to what they themselves are experiencing in Orbán’s Hungary.

So, let’s see what are these commandments are as applied to the Hungarian situation.

1. People’s minds and attention must be occupied by second or third-rate problems. The primary element of social control is the strategy of distraction, which is to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites by the technique of  flooding the population with continual distractions and insignificant information.

2. The people must look upon the political leaders as the saviors of the nation. Create a problem and then offer a solution. For example, with the help of the media create false alarms, nonexistent dangers. People then begin to worry and later become anxious. When that stage is reached, offer a solution to these nonexistent problems. They will be grateful and ready to accept less freedom in exchange for normalcy.

3. The nation must always expect even worse times to come than the present one. The government constantly hammers at the dangers that are looming over the horizon and uses the media (friendly and unfriendly) to emphasize that the government is working hard to avert all these dangers. Austerity measures must be introduced gradually so that people will get accustomed to the bad. In fact, they will be happy that nothing worse happened.

4. The nation must be convinced that all the bad things that are happening to them now are for the sake of a better future later. If not for themselves, for their children. People are hopelessly idealistic and gullible and have been ready to accept this argument for centuries.

5.  Break the people’s habit of thinking.  Politicians must formulate their message in simple terms, sometimes even at an infantile level with a limited vocabulary and short sentences. This way people will get accustomed to superficiality; they will become naive and ready to receive false information without questioning.

6. At every possible occasion one must appeal to people’s emotions. Rational discourse should be avoided and encouragement given to all manifestations of emotions because emotions can be more easily manipulated than rational thinking.

7. People must be kept in the greatest ignorance and  mediocrity. This way they will be easily manipulated. Make the school system a vehicle of indoctrination instead of promoting independent thinking. Such a school system will be an excellent instrument for the manipulation of public opinion.

8. People must be cut off from all sources of objective, correct and complete information. Therefore those media must be financed and promoted that are vehicles of government propaganda and that misinform the public. At the same time media organs that refuse to follow the government’s strategy should be punished financially.

9. Sheep mentality is a priority. One must awaken the feeling of shame and helplessness and at the same time one must suppress the idea of choice. People who are ready to be part of the crowd are easier to manipulate.

10. Everything must be done to get to know the individuals. Secret lists must be created about individual preferences, like taste, politics, ideology, behavior. Psychological profiles must be at the disposal of the authorities. One must learn more about the individual than the individual knows about himself. One must use the latest findings of the social sciences in order to achieve the goal of manipulation, and these steps must be kept secret.

Certainly worth pondering the list. At least it should be the basis for a good discussion.

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  1. Piroska Markus
    April 22, 2013 at 5:27 pm | #1

    It is a very good description of what is happening in the UK now. Not only Hungary.

  2. Kirsten
    April 22, 2013 at 5:48 pm | #2

    “Not only Hungary.”

    No, you need not worry. But you need not worry either that some other country in the EU would be mastering the subject as well as Hungarians do currently.

  3. Joe Simon
    April 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm | #3

    Chomsky is an original thinker. Eva, you should reeducate yourself. Just look at CNN. Mini-skirted young girls chatting all day providing entertainment news. Very little investigative journalism. Each of the Ten commandments is valid for the US.

  4. Ms KKA
    April 22, 2013 at 6:51 pm | #4

    UK…EU? This has been the norm here in the good ol’ US of A for a long, long time.

  5. April 22, 2013 at 7:23 pm | #5

    Oh dear! Not very scholarly to represent this as Chomsky’s work. This is a classic example of needing to check sources for stuff posted on the internet. There are no ten commandments written by Chomsky: what you have reproduced here is an article that has been falsely attributed for some years now (the original author, Sylvain Timsit, has it on a blog here: http://www.syti.net/Manipulations.html)

    I was rather hoping that you would do a slightly more positive piece today. Against the rise in antisemitism in Hungary there was a record turnout for the annual March of the Living on Sunday in commemoration of victims of the Holocaust. More than 10,000 people joined the march – more than double the numbers of previous years. including, among others, Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog, ruling Fidesz party group leader Antal Rogan, main opposition Socialist leader Attila Mesterhazy, head of the E14 – Dialogue for Hungary electoral alliance Gordon Bajnai, head of the Democratic Coalition Ferenc Gyurcsany, Israeli ambassador Ilan Mor and US ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis.

  6. April 22, 2013 at 7:27 pm | #6

    I’m sorry that I disappointed you.

  7. April 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm | #7

    Éva, I am at a complete loss as to why you appear so anti Noam Chomsky.

    If I recall correctly, you once described your politics as socially liberal, but fiscally conservative, so surely Chomsky should have at least some appeal?

  8. April 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm | #8

    Piroska Markus :
    It is a very good description of what is happening in the UK now. Not only Hungary.

    Worryingly accurate. But this has been going on in the UK at least since 1979.

  9. April 23, 2013 at 1:35 am | #9

    Noam Chomsky is one of the greatest thinkers of our age. In linguistics, he created an entire new discipline. In politics, he is the conscience of humanity. His only weak point is not his fault: He is uncannily informed and insightful in revealing genuine wrongs but alas not in providing practical means of making them right — perhaps because such practical means are few and far between. (The “10 commandments” may be apocrypha, but seem to be largely in the spirit of Chomsky’s views on media manipulation.)

  10. Tyrker
    April 23, 2013 at 5:43 am | #10

    Have you actually read the book you mention (Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media) and found these “commandments” in it? I’m asking because other sources suggest that this list has nothing whatsoever to do with Noam Chomsky. See for example https://plus.google.com/102679111540717383584/posts/WebBgjeB8tq

    They argue that the list was originally compiled by someone called Sylvain Timsit and dates back to 2002, not 1988. The original was apparently written in French and later translated into English. While we are at it, it definitely didn’t have anything on “sheep mentality” – the ninth “commandment” was Remplacer la révolte par la culpabilité: http://www.syti.net/Manipulations.html

  11. April 23, 2013 at 6:31 am | #11

    Stevan Harnad :

    Noam Chomsky is one of the greatest thinkers of our age. In linguistics, he created an entire new discipline. In politics, he is the conscience of humanity. His only weak point is not his fault: He is uncannily informed and insightful in revealing genuine wrongs but alas not in providing practical means of making them right — perhaps because such practical means are few and far between. (The “10 commandments” may be apocrypha, but seem to be largely in the spirit of Chomsky’s views on media manipulation.)

    Chomsky’s politics are far too the right for me. I just read yesterday that Israel just refused to let him in the country. He was invited to give a lecture.

    It is very possible that it was not Chomsky himself who called these strictures “commandments” but as you said it is in the spirit of his views on the manipulation through the media.

    As for the Hungarian version, I think it is a good description of Orbán’s strategy.

  12. CharlieH
    April 23, 2013 at 7:34 am | #12

    London Calling!

    For goodness sake – Can’t you read?

    Eva posited it as “…….the basis for a good discussion.”

    So go on….. discuss.

    There’s so many similarities with North Korea – a closed frightened society.

    Orban’s version is the ‘open society’ version of it dontcha think?

    Regards

    Charlie

  13. CharlieH
    April 23, 2013 at 7:37 am | #13

    and btw – nothing of the sort has been ‘going on’ in the UK since 1979 – and nothing of the sort is happening now.

    You just give the trolls justification and satisfaction. Desist.

  14. Joe Simon
    April 23, 2013 at 8:53 am | #14

    Somehow Eva does not strike me as a socially liberal. Au contraire, she is very much to the extreme right, as most ‘respectable’ politics is in the US. Her views on Chomsky prove this. Kibújik a szög a zsákból. Always.

  15. Mutt
    April 23, 2013 at 8:56 am | #15

    Chomsky, Schomsky. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the dumbification of the country is going ahead with full steam. This year only 95,000 students wanted to got to college in the Land of the Goulash. Last year the number was 110,000 and the year before 140,000. This is a 50,000 drop in two years. In a few years nobody will know Chomsky.

    In the US the college admissions are at record highs. This of course doesn’t mean automatically that we are smarter then the Hungarians (nobody is, right?), but …

  16. Mutt
    April 23, 2013 at 8:57 am | #16

    Joe Simon :
    Somehow Eva does not strike me as a socially liberal. Au contraire, she is very much to the extreme right, as most ‘respectable’ politics is in the US. Her views on Chomsky prove this. Kibújik a szög a zsákból. Always.

    Joe, I’m pretty sure you have a crush on her … Cool it boy!

  17. April 23, 2013 at 10:20 am | #17

    « People’s minds and attention must be occupied by second or third-rate problems. »

    Seriously? Only historians can retrospectively agree on what was, or wasn’t, a first rate problem. Politicians cannot.

    Politics is, among other things, about convincing the voters that the problems you choose to put in the spotlight are the “real ones” – not those chosen by your opponents. I don’t see anything wrong with that process, and to me anybody who thinks this is a “manipulation” doesn’t understand the concept of an open society.

    I’m not a Chomsky fan, however I doubt he was ever that childish (thanks @anglawbp for the link).

  18. tappanch
    April 23, 2013 at 10:47 am | #18

    Fidesz have appointed the lucky owners of the newly monopolized tobacco retail stores.

    Relatives of CBA leaders and other friends & family are represented in large number in the new stores.

    In towns, the restricted number of tobacco stores will provide safe and healthy profit.

    http://index.hu/gazdasag/2013/04/23/a_nagy_nemzeti_dohanymutyi

    This tobacco store business also has antecedent in the Horthy-era.

  19. Bowen
    April 23, 2013 at 10:57 am | #19

    Regardless of whoever really wrote Chomsky’s ‘ten commandments’, they do bear a resemblance to Lenin’s “Manual to Seize Control of a Society” from 1917. Some choice bits here, to show that Fidesz have clearly been paying attention to Lenin.

    * Infiltrate and take control of the mass communication media.
    * Divide the population into antagonist groups: encourage arguments between them over social issues.
    * Destroy the people’s confidence in their leaders (c.f. Gyurcsany & Bajnai)
    * Talk all the time about democracy and republic, but when the opportunity arises, seize power as a dictator
    * Cooperate with the drainage of public funds; discrediting the image of the country, especially overseas …
    * Promote riots while conspire to prevent intervention by law enforcement. (c.f. 2006)
    * Cooperate actively in destroying the moral foundations of society and honesty and trust in the government’s promises. Infiltrate other parties with your own people, forcing them to vote for what is useful to your own party’s interest.

  20. tappanch
    April 23, 2013 at 10:59 am | #20

    Angyan’s new report on the corruption connected to the giving away of state-owned agricultural land. (They are officially rented out for a pittance for 20 years, the EU support for the land in itself is much more than the rent. In addition, they can be easily privatized after May 2014.). The big recipients are again friends and family. This is big money.

    http://www.kielegyenafold.hu/userfiles/file/IV_jelentes_a_foldrol_20121215_NG_20130422.pdf

  21. Joe Simon
    April 23, 2013 at 11:01 am | #21

    Mutt: I know Eva since our college days here in Ottawa. Always admired her combatative spirit. I think she has rather a fixation with VO. Each of her Epistles deal with Viktor.

  22. April 23, 2013 at 11:35 am | #22

    The Lenin reference is interesting.

  23. Lumpy
    April 23, 2013 at 11:54 am | #23

    It’s also apocryphal.

  24. tappanch
    April 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm | #24

    Lumpy :
    It’s also apocryphal.

    I second this. I was not able to find any genuine Lenin text with similar title, to start with.

    Here is a quotation from 1913:
    “People always have been the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics, and they always will be, until they have learned to seek out the interests of some class or other behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises.”

  25. April 23, 2013 at 12:27 pm | #25

    Lumpy :

    It’s also apocryphal.

    My feeling is that these strictures are generally applicable to all governments which strive for absolute power. And in my mind there is no question that this is what Orbán and his crew are trying to achieve while at the same time attempting to keep a semblance of democracy. It is a difficult task but as we know from the authoritarian regime that was built up by István Bethlen in the 1920s it is not an impossibility.

  26. April 23, 2013 at 12:29 pm | #26

    But perhaps I should add to the above that Viktor Orbán’s misfortune is that in 2004 Hungary joined the European Union.

  27. Lumpy
    April 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm | #27

    All well and good, but doesn’t excuse the individual above putting ridiculous statements into the mouth of a well-known historical figure whose works are easily checked. Falsification of history, and the whole dumbing down of society that enables and feeds off it, should be left to demagogues like Orban & Co.

  28. petofi
    April 23, 2013 at 2:46 pm | #28

    I don’t know much about Chomsky except that he wiped the floor with Buckley in a heads-on debate once. Other than that, I’ve read bits and pieces. The accusation that he’s right wing is somewhat surprising. Wasn’t he always considered heavily left wing? Atleast, in the US?

    Regardless, the contention that people are fooled in a market economy is not surprising: they system wants worker bees who go home and morph into couch-potatoes. As such,
    you feed them football, baseball, and Springer; nowadays, you can add ‘reality television’, too. Keep them asleep, is the motto.

    Of course, this is frequently to be witnessed. A prime exhibit comes just a couple of days ago. In the midst of the Boston bombing, the weirdest statement emanated from the White House: “President Obama thanked President Putin for their help with the terrorists.”
    Really? Just a couple of days before Putin was apoplectic with the issuance of the American list against Russian government personnel deemed responsible for the death of the lawyer Magnitsky. Putin put out a list himself–a ridiculous tit-for-tat–as if the allure of the Caucasus was the equivalent of Las Vegas or Miami Beach. One sensed his KGB gills
    filling up.

    So, with that background, Obama’s utterance is strange indeed. But then, let’s consider that
    the FBI and the Secret Service had by then informed him that the boys had taken a trip to Russia in 2011. My, but that would look bad in the course of recent events. One better
    put something out. And they did. Now comes the heaping of ridicule, Russian style: the FBI had been informed about the two boys and were told to investigate them two years back. Oh? Perhaps they hadn’t been indoctrinated yet…is that possible? Any check would find them clean. Could the FBI have fallen for such a ruse? Well, I don’t know how much of this line of questioning will be pursued in the US, after all, do we really want another ‘Cold War’? Perhaps not, but show this kind of knee-flex weakness to Russians and you will pay for it….

    Anyway, this is tangential to the main conversation but the point is: how little can one get away with in informing the public.

  29. April 24, 2013 at 5:19 am | #29

    Eva, you say “I just read yesterday that Israel just refused to let him in the country. He was invited to give a lecture.” Can you tell me where you read that? As far as I knew Chomsky had never been refused entry to Israel. He was refused entry to the West Bank in May 2010, (the decision was overturned by the Israeli government but the delay was sufficient to prevent his giving his lecture at the Palestinian Bir Zeit University). Is there some new incident?

  30. CharlieH
    April 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm | #30

    Oh dear – our non-answering ‘English Lawyer’, anglapbw has returned – if you don’t answer any of our points – why should others, anglabwp?

  31. Jeremy Wheeler
    April 25, 2013 at 5:34 am | #31

    I’m not sure what points I haven’t answered – I’m certainly not aware of avoiding any. In any case, my question was to the blog author.

    The present government in Hungary is quite capable if misrepresenting issues, as has often been pointed out on this blog. I am sure that the author would welcome constructive criticism if she has inadvertently done the same. In particular, as an academic I am sure she would recognise the importance of crediting others for their work, and of accurately presenting facts and citing sources.

  32. obe obe obe
    April 25, 2013 at 6:29 am | #32

    I am totally supporting all who say that Chomsky became an anarchist. He has been allying himself with many anti-American forces with great pleasure.

    America is his home, but he has been lazy to unearth really positive thinking on peaceful non-violent improvement at home.

    He may wake up one day, and will say that he failed the ordinary Americans, and supported all oppressors overseas and at home.

  33. JJ
    April 27, 2013 at 3:09 pm | #33

    Chomsky right-wing? Good grief. You’ve obviously never read a word he’s written.

  34. Attila Végh
    May 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm | #34

    anglawbp :
    Eva, you say “I just read yesterday that Israel just refused to let him in the country. He was invited to give a lecture.” Can you tell me where you read that? As far as I knew Chomsky had never been refused entry to Israel. He was refused entry to the West Bank in May 2010, (the decision was overturned by the Israeli government but the delay was sufficient to prevent his giving his lecture at the Palestinian Bir Zeit University). Is there some new incident?

    An interview with Noam Chomsky on why he was not let in Israel in 2010.

    This 22 minute interview tells the readers a lot about Chomsky’s moral principles, his “far too the right” (?) views and the way media works. (The interview was broadcasted on Israeli TV. In this respect it is up to the article’s subject as well.)

  35. May 2, 2013 at 3:30 pm | #35

    I read it on the Internet but when I tried to find again, I couldn’t. Perhaps they took it off because it wasn’t true.

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