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Democracy: The Illusion of Choice & Manipulation of Public Opinion

Democracy is a concept that may work in theory but is manipulated by Western powers and the media when put into action.

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Democracy is a concept that may work in theory but is manipulated by Western powers and the media when put into action.

If I were to ask you to define civilization, how long would it take you to mention democracy as a definition? 

In a university class of a hundred students, one of my classmates equated democracy with civilization, saying  AI threatens civilization as it threatens democracy. The general consensus was to absentmindedly agree. We were sold on this idea of democratic supremacy, of it being the only form of civilized living. Any other form of government is portrayed and defined as uncivilized and backward.  

The reality is that democracy, as it is currently practiced, actually contradicts everything it set out to absolve.  It’s not about the flaw of a single government but an all-over lack of integrity in its functioning. Democracy,  as we know it, is essentially an illusion. This becomes quite obvious when considering the bigger picture beyond what we are taught in schools and through the media. 

I looked around the lecture hall, trying to find someone, anyone, who was as appalled by this statement as I  was. Alas, I was alone in my disbelief. I raised my hand and took it upon myself to, at the very least, make my peers question what seemed like an impulsive equivalence between democracy and civilization. My answer  was as follows: 

“If I may comment on what X has said. It is unfair and inaccurate to consider democracy the equivalent to civilization. Not only is it a Eurocentric and Westernized view of the world, but it is also diminishing and  condescending to the many advanced and evolved countries and civilizations around the world who do not  comply with your worldview.” 

Now, this article is not a response only to those students in that class, but it is an attempt to get you to evaluate your understanding of democracy.  

Let me define applied democracy in terms we’ve all heard before: “Of the people, by the people, for the  people.” Yes, the people it consists of are the people it serves. Neither of those is the general public.  

The intentionally suppressed truth is that while voting gives the population the illusion of power, the candidate options are limited, and a very narrow limitation at that. The real choice is reserved for the 1% who decide which candidates to endorse financially and what causes to support. While democracy is based on equality & choice of the people, those in control have more power and resources to shape the choices available to others.  

We, as the general public, end up choosing between a handful of candidates, none of which truly represent us or our points of view. “The lesser of evils”, we call it. When the reality is that evil is not much lesser, and the policies do not differ as much as they are presented to.  

Taking the 2016 US presidential election as an example, the options presented to voters were limited to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, a Republican and a Democrat candidate with very similar policies. The real choices were monopolized by the true controllers of the political process. This limitation in the available options created an illusion in which voters thought they were making a meaningful choice when in actuality, they were two sides of the same coin. Voters were made to idealize their own candidate while demonizing the other, not noticing both candidates ultimately served the same purpose. 

Edward S. Hernan and Noam Chomsky argue in their “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the  Mass Media” that the media often serves the interests of those who fund it, those in power, rather than providing objective information and letting the public form opinions. They call manufacturing consent the grasp the media holds on public opinion and, consequently, on political discourse through media filters such as ownership, funding, and advertising.  

The media and those funding it continue to significantly manipulate public opinion manufacturing what is globally accepted and rejected. This means that the general public is not only presented with limited choices but they are also exposed to limited views and are manipulated into supporting those views. This is without considering the amount of misinformation spread by the media in order to manipulate the public further.  

Even beyond elected officials, the media helps solidify public approval in governmental decision-making. The Iraq War led by the George W. Bush administration is a prime example. Bush justified invading Iraq by falsely and maliciously claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction connected to al-Qaeda and the  9/11 terrorist attacks. While the choice was never the people’s, this played on the public’s emotions, urging them to encourage the invasion and tainting any other opinion antipatriotic and pro-terrorism. This persisted during the war as the media continuously underreported the number of both civilian and military casualties as well as the negative consequences of the war on the Iraqi people, such as an increase in sectarian violence and the rise of extremist groups like ISIS, to keep up the impression of being in control.  

The same phenomenon can be seen in Europe, where misinformation and fake news have been a growing concern in recent years. Social media platforms have been used to spread false information and propaganda, notably during the Brexit campaign in the UK, where claims that Turkey was about to join the EU and that  Brexit would lead to an immediate influx of £350m per week to the NHS were flooding the internet. 

So, while your answer may have initially matched my classmate’s, I urge you to think beyond what has been ingrained in us by those who benefit from it. Think critically. Beyond what other people have taught you.  Recognize democracy for what it really is. An illusion.

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