The government and the society: communication problem

The character of mutual relations between the government and the society are traditionally considered to be the developmental quotient of national democratic institutions. Together with that, there are matters of principle in this sphere that are concerned with every modern state irrespective of level of compliance with Western liberal model.

This problem is rooted in centuries to the start of shaping complex protestas structures. Its first part goes like that: does the authority as a formalized violence tool possess a positive function that proves its worth? This question may be considered to be a contrived one if only there were no hundreds of anarchism ideologists who used to answer to this question in the negative with various reservations in different times. Also, if there were no historiographical and sociological myths picturing political systems with totally destructive and parasitical government.

Leaving aside obvious arguments in support of administrating, integrating, mobilizing, supervising and other functions of government, one may reword the question as follows: is society able to exist without clearly detached public bodies of government? The answer is ‘yes’. History knows quite effective social organisms that had no formalized government machine or tolerated minimal use of administrative and bureaucratic tools.

The most distinctive example is, of course, an ancient city state where state functions were performed by such social institutions like a public gathering, jury trials, all kinds of collegiums and city courts elected by all members of the society and being accountable to them. However, these societies had at all times hard limits on number of citizens, territory size, level of inner differentiation of various population categories; they never managed to pass through transformation needed to overcome these limits.

It cannot be ruled out that technological development in the sphere of information circulation and communications to begin with will create historical circumstances conductive to revival of ungoverned model of state. But that did not happen yet. States of various types are still dominant in the public political space. Every type of state, even the most autocratic one, performs numerous functions required by the society.

At the same time, a typical modern state exists separately from the society, so it has its own goals and spheres of interest not corresponding with ones of the society. As a natural result, a communication problem emerges; there is a need for feedback communication between the ones who govern and the ones who are governed. The extent of complying with demands of the citizens is one of the measures of effectiveness of the state. However, communicating on the part of the government implies both practical activities and an aspect of propaganda within the meaning of promoting a certain package of values and priorities. In case they find no support within the society, a system failure occurs.

The most idealistic approach, which is a part of some state myths, has it that truly democratic societies with high level of prosperity need no propaganda. The idea is that when everybody is happy, or at least most of the nation, then people are satisfied anyway and there is no need to enter into any explanations. In reality, if the nation was not given a satisfactory worldview, people are going to be discontented irrespective of real level of material consumption. There is good reason why Western democracies have been too busy demonstrating for decades via television, newspapers and Hollywood how exactly they are outmatching every historic or modern alternative.

That is quite natural. In times past, many quite satisfactory socio-political organisms faced serious crisis because of mismatching ideological priorities of the government and the nation. Nowadays, the shine of liberal values on the background of religious extremism and illegal migration has got much dimmer. Nations started to discover that pseudo-tolerance reduced to an absurdity and other democratic bells and whistles are associated not only with tinsel political ostentation and high living standards but also permanent safety threat, losing labor market, the necessity to share social benefits with aliens who do not pay taxes, losing cultural identity. Most political elites incline to recon these challenges as a justified sacrifice for the sake of democracy. Judging by the growth of national movements’ popularity, a constantly growing part of the society does not accept such costs.

On the other hand, there are as many historic examples of relatively poor societies that managed to preserve inner stability for long or even displayed high potential of development thanks to solidarity of purposes and values of the governing class and the rest of the nation. Being aware of that, the governments of the states undergoing systemic decline are applying most steady nationalistic, religious, and social and equalitarian prejudices. Sometimes it allows the state and the society continue to exist and overcome destructive happenings in economy, politics and other spheres. Sometimes it does not help. To a large extend, that depends on effectiveness of the state’s propaganda machine.

Traditionally negative perception of propaganda as a highly undesirable tool of influence, which associates in the modern liberal discourse with all-round imposing of preferable behavioral sets by the repressive state machinery to the passively suffering population (and such attitude in itself is a result of longstanding ideological indoctrination!), hinders from distinguishing the fact that propaganda is not a form of two-way communication. On various social stratums there always is a preorder for values and conceptions that need to be propagandized at the domestic level as fundamental ones for the entire nation. In case the authority avoids popularizing the values of the greatest public support then this authority itself forfeits all the support of the society. Most aggressive supporters of certain ideas will take the initiative and will start the struggle for the minds regardless of the legalities.

At the same time, every modern society is beyond doubt a rather complicated structure. In order to be effective, propaganda has to be complex, covering all social stratums and educational levels of the civil society, which are significant in the light of self-perception of the society. In practice, there is often a tilt – the government gives the come-on to the ‘creative class’, the elite, indulging its exceptionality appeals that are not always reasonable, or base itself on the masses making the slogans that much primitive to make them understandable even for unintelligent persons.

Both options are fraught with undesirable effects. Lack of contact with the main part of the society leads to mass distribution of protest moods. Abruption of the elite from the state denudes most gifted policy makers, creative intellectuals and scientists of motivation. That is a road to stagnation. The Russian revolt, ‘senseless and merciless’, is an example of crisis of the first genus. Another version, the end of the USSR, almost bloodless and as cheerless as was the political climate of the late-Soviet era, which largely originated from general indifference to the fate of the Soviet project of the ones who had to manage enterprises, make discoveries, generate new ideas and forms of art.

Even though Russian Federation much resembles her predecessor (sometimes she gets described as the Soviet Union that technically changed the sign-plate), the kernel of the communications problem in modern Russia is not in the strength, but the weakness of the state ideology. Deliberateness and discretion in positioning in the matters that stir up the society would come as an advantage if only the approaches of the government were more consistent, the views were less eclectic, the preferences were more distinct, while self-identification with some program or other were more decisive. Instead of that, we can witness the arbitrary actions of protectionists of sanctities who are voluntary and (contrary to Western clichés) are not too much encouraged by the state. They reduce love of country to idiocy, love of history to clumsy and infantile frame-up, conservative ideology to heresy. Sometimes authorities have to withdraw too rowdy participants of this ‘soul-winning’ sabbath. But absence of clear stand on issues that were caused by systemic transformation of modern society and traditionalist reaction to it becomes the outright gift to ‘defamers of Russia’, encourages ‘power-mads’ of all kinds, contributes to disillusion and self-isolation of critically thinking minority.

The given circumstance is especially sorrowful in the view of apparent concernment of many societies of the planet in new viable ideology able to compete ‘liberal values’ that are purposefully kept afloat. It’s obvious that spontaneous, exploited by the government for political expediency but in reality not controlled by it religious and political reaction in Russia, Turkey, Poland and many other countries is not a commodity for export and cannot be regarded as a competitor to anything.

According to assertions of the American and European mainstream media, the West and Russia embody completely opposite approaches to communications policy. In the former case the alleged goal is promotion of universal values; in the latter case it is retention of control over the populace with the help of utmost populist methods. The Russian side declares in inversed manner its random selection of the heritage of Russian and world culture as the true values and together with that considers modern liberal ideology to be a political tool to provide global dictate of the block of Western states to the disadvantage of the rest of the world.

Both points of view are well fair in the negative part and are absolutely unviable in the positive part. There is a good reason why despite the variance of perception of basic propagandist clichés in Russian and Western society the growth of critical attitude to them is taking place among scientists and technocrats of every stripe. These people are too well-educated to be satisfied with the cheap ideological ballyhoo of mass distribution. They would gladly display patriotism, but not in the form of blind negation of everything what goes beyond the bundle of knowledge of an average individual in the Middle Ages. Without doubt, they stand for the unity of the humankind, but not when all the immeasurable riches of traditions and civilizations need to be placed on the bed of Procrustes of Western pop culture for the sake of formal uniformity. And they are always against unreasonable simplification.

It may be assumed that in the face of the escalating war of empty slogans only academic communities will be able to continue communication through informational front lines. On the other hand, in case one of the participants of the hybrid warfare succeeds in convincing international ‘creative class’ of his devotion to values of objective scientific cognition of natural and social phenomena, his readiness to follow balanced scientific approaches in solving domestic and international issues, that side wins the support of an invaluable ally and a most powerful resource of ideological influence. Under the most improbable development, all participants of the current confrontation sincerely accept interaction models typical for academic communities, acquire a universal language of scientific communion and reject slogans for dialogue.

Naturally, that is extremely improbable due to constant concernment of the prime sponsors of publicity and propaganda content about justification of their existence in the eyes of average consumers. With that concernment in view, mutual relations between the authorities and the highly literate minority remains to be secondary, to say the least of it.

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5 years ago

“On various social stratums there always is a preorder for values and conceptions that need to be propagandized at the domestic level as fundamental ones for the entire nation.” That is one of the most arguable points here. Governments use their massive propaganda machines to change values and conceptions of various social STRATA. It doesn’t happen overnight though. Sometimes it takes years (if they want it done peacefully and without a bloodshed), sometimes the time period is much shorter, which increases the threat of a deep social conflict. Anyway, the values change so as to meet the needs of the governments.

fay fitz
5 years ago

“is society able to exist without clearly detached public bodies of government?”

since this planet got Internet, no

5 years ago
Reply to  fay fitz

Privately, I find it more suitable for me, that “technological development in the sphere of information circulation and communications to begin with will create historical circumstances conductive to revival of ungoverned model of state”.
It is not necessarily to be so, but there are certain possibilities for that. Clearly, among other things, the Internet is a tool of control, but it also helps to get information. The more information we can get – all sorts of it – the harder it will be to control us.
Here again, former domination of the state in many special purpose spheres (like, informational and communicational) gets undermined by the very fact of the existence of the Internet. So, in course of time, some foundational functions of the power (coordinating, integrating, mobilization, and even regulation) may become unnecessary.

fay fitz
5 years ago
Reply to  mnemon

Unfortunately, in practice it appears that the more information we get – the harder it appears to distinguish lies from facts…. I mean, all too often blatantly false and fake information nowadays is being accepted at face value.
As for me personally, I would agree that inconvenient truth is always much better than any illusion u get instead. And that s why I say yes, people do really need all sorts of truth. But this coin sadly got its negative side. Imagine for a second that Facebook, twitter and Instagram one day will quit their daily struggle with fake and troll accounts. What kind of informational space will we get then? Who will maintain order in that information chaos, while 80% of Internet users still do not give themselves a trouble to check facts… instead of pressing ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons?

kennet olson
5 years ago

“At the same time, a typical modern state exists separately from the society, so it has its own goals and spheres of interest not corresponding with ones of the society.”

The author has a pretty odd view of a typical modern state. He lives in North Korea, doesn’t he?

5 years ago
Reply to  kennet olson

I do not think that the author lives in North Korea) You just do not clearly understand his idea. Apparently, he wanted to emphasize that any state and society are absolutely opposite in nature. The state exists at the expense of society, not for it. The state uses the full power of propaganda to justify its own actions which often do not coincide with the interests of a certain part of society. A striking example is the current Trump`s policy. Yet Trump has now a big problem with propaganda. His quarrel with the media played a cruel joke with him

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