More dangerous than weapons of mass destruction are media and other social forces that distract people from understanding the true nature of society.


Anthony Judge

The most dangerous weapons may be the most invisible.

When the focus of the world is on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their possession by rogue states such as Iraq, there is a corresponding case for reviewing weapons of mass distraction. The latter have a much longer history, dating back to the circuses of the Roman Empire. One modern form is associated with the broadcast media.

It might be inferred that weapons of mass destruction are general in their focus on the destruction of material of any kind, of which massed humans are but a particular feature. However some of these weapons are specifically focused on the destruction of human masses, preserving artefacts and buildings for the victor. In the case of weapons of mass distraction, the question is whether such distraction is effectively associated with destruction of masses in the form of human communities. To what extent is distraction then a form of destruction, just as destruction selectively used may be a form of distraction—as illustrated by the focus on the war on terror as a substitute for action on poverty, injustice and the degradation of the environment?

Distraction and failure of appropriate attention are considered by many spiritual disciplines as being the ultimate cause for much of the suffering experienced by humanity. The deployment of weapons of mass distraction may then be considered as a crime against humanity in a similar class to weapons of mass destruction.

Varieties of weapons of mass distraction

Broadcast mass media: The use of communication media to distract the masses has a long history of which propaganda is the most blatant form—much scorned and criticized by the West when used by totalitarian regimes as a weapon of mass distraction. Propaganda has been reframed as ‘news management’ and is a prime preoccupation of the highest levels of government strategy. It has been best critiqued as ‘spin’. Given the consolidation of media corporations, the degree of control exerted through spin to distract the masses is now very high. Somewhat distinct from government control of media content is the control exerted by commercial bodies seeking to increase sales of products and services. This control focuses on distraction, avoidance of the association of products with ‘bad news’ and general subservience to commercial priorities. The most extreme example of mass distraction is the purveyance of pornographic materials through every available channel. Those controlling the broadcast media serve their interests by skilfully bypassing issues that are destructive of community, the environment and human beings.

Democracy / Politics: As recent abuses of the democratic process in Western ‘democracies’ have illustrated, democracy itself has been converted into a weapon of mass distraction. Due process is used to distract the masses from the breaches of promise made in democratic elections. The degree of vote buying has become evident at the highest levels—even within the United Nations Security Council. Vote buying has long been reported at every level of democratic societies—and may well be more prevalent than most have been distracted into believing. Parliamentary debates are to a high degree influenced by the effective purchase of votes by lobbies—whether for cash or as a part of a broader pattern of subversion of democratic principles. People with criminal records are frequently found in elected positions—with a significant proportion of those in the highest positions having been indicted for major offences against the democratic process or involving abuse of power.

Health: Health programmes are increasingly converted into weapons of mass destruction. Most publicized has been the deliberate confusion surrounding the health hazards of smoking and unhealthy modern diets. Every means possible has been deployed to delay recognition of the degree of hazard—including manipulation of the research process and interpretation of its results. Masses in their millions are expected to die premature deaths as a result. The major example of the use of health policy as a weapon of mass destruction is in the case of withholding of health aid to the millions in Africa currently facing death from AIDS. The complicity of governments and pharmaceutical corporations in this process is increasingly evident.

Food security:
The vulnerability of the food chain due to irresponsible management of food production and supply has become evident in the case of widespread starvation (notably in Africa), pollution of the food chain (BSE), and inadequate research on genetically modified species. Withholding of food aid constitutes a weapon of mass destruction as does the irresponsible co-optation of foreign lands to support rich lifestyles and overexploitation of vulnerable food stocks (over-fishing) in which agencies such as the FAO have been complicit. Millions die as a direct consequence or as a result of associated malnutrition.

Environmental management: The irresponsible introduction of pollutants into the environment, the destruction of vital ecological processes and the simplification of ecosystems has direct and indirect consequences for the health of people and other species on which they depend. These environmental management practices are weapons of mass destruction whose effects are more and more evident. The masses are distracted by television documentaries celebrating the beauties of wild environments, plants and animals that are increasingly rare.

Justice: The extent of miscarriage of justice is only too evident—even in countries priding themselves on their judicial systems. Individuals are imprisoned from evidence fabricated by the police or concealed from the defence. But when the elite are indicted, we find mistrials are declared, convictions quashed, evidence suppressed, etc. The judiciary is amenable to bribery (notably by criminal networks) or is strongly swayed by political allegiances—as shown by commentary on appointments to the USA Supreme Court. The hype associated with due process in countries supposedly subject to the rule of law is increasingly used as a weapon of mass distraction to conceal the manner in which individuals can be picked off arbitrarily by those in power.

Law enforcement: The various ‘wars’ conducted against crime, drugs, prostitution, illegal immigration and the like have proven by their dubious track record to be weapons of mass distraction. Through the complicity of those involved they have also been converted into weapons of mass destruction.
Human rights: Much effort has been invested over past centuries into the careful construction of legal instruments to protect human rights, especially for those most vulnerable. Recent events, with the use of escape clauses or setting aside of international treaty provisions, show that much of this process has been a weapon of mass distraction. The consequent, and possibly deliberate, failure to give meaning to these initiatives—withholding justice to millions—is a weapon of mass destruction. This becomes especially ironic when the use of weapons of mass destruction is envisaged to release masses from inhumanitarian treatment—in the form of “humanitarian intervention”—without questioning the cost in human lives.

Management: Considerable capacity and skills have been developed for the management of large institutions, corporations and projects—and public relations is extensively used as a weapon of mass distraction to present a socially responsible face. Major project disasters such as at the Bhopal refinery (16,000 dead) provide glimpses of the irresponsible and unacknowledged face of management. This becomes more evident in the case of major corporate accounting scandals in the USA in 2002 (Enron, etc.) and the complicity of auditors. It becomes evident in the case of two space shuttle disasters (1986, 2003) as a consequence of a characteristic pattern of management repression of negative feedback that must be considered a weapon of mass destruction.

Religion: The classic quote that “religion is the opium of the people” could be presented here by the phrase that religions are weapons of mass distraction—or can be so used. It is a fact that some 40 regional conflicts around the world are closely associated with the religious affiliations of the opposing parties. Through its failure to move beyond its role as a weapon of mass distraction, religion is effectively a weapon of mass destruction—notably through the ‘crusade’ by a Christian coalition of countries against a succession of Muslim countries, themselves called to violent forms of Jihad. Underlying this is the agenda of some parties to trigger Armageddon, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

Commerce: Commercial advertising campaigns in favour of particular products are noted above as weapons of mass distraction. It is increasingly recognized that some of these campaigns are designed to obscure the dubious role of corporations in stripping countries of their natural resources, destroying livelihoods and lives in the process. Combined with the involvement of some corporations in arms trade and in nuclear power stations, this indicates the extent to which they are responsible for weapons of mass destruction. Many cases are reported of the physical mistreatment (or death) of those who unwisely fail to respond to bribery enabling such initiatives.
Population planning: An exploding population is placing tremendous pressure on increasingly limited resources. Religious doctrine is used as a weapon of mass distraction to undermine any collective initiatives in response to this situation and to frame those involved in contraception and abortion as murderers. Such doctrines, and the governments persuaded to support them, create situations that vastly increase the number of abortions that could have been avoided by appropriate use of contraceptives. Aborted population planning thus becomes a weapon of mass destruction. Cultural bias in favour of male progeny also results in mass destruction of female babies.

 Qui custodiet custodies? ––

Anthony Judge, a futurist since the 1970s, developed the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, with the Union of International Associations He has written many articles relating to the challenges of development. He sees terrorism-related issues as focusing the most interesting existential and conceptual challenges to outmoded patterns of thinking and acting.


This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 12, No. 1  Posted on the web on January 10, 2007


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