Imperial Social Systems Engineering and the Illusion of “Soft Power”

Imperial Social Systems Engineering and the Illusion of “Soft Power”

Copyright 2008 By James M. Craven/Omahkohkiaayo i’poyi
For systems and that are not predatory and expansionist, and seek no domination of others, the possibility of “soft power” (the power of a system or ideology to attract and cause a desire of others to emulate it based on the favorable qualities and performance of that system outweighing unfavorable qualities) not being coupled with, and guided by, hard power (violent and coercive force) is possible. But for imperial systems, no such de-coupling of soft power and hard power—or even soft power dominating hard power—is possible.
In the case of imperial systems, past and present, any forms of soft power that have been employed, have been conducted, and designed to hide, the reality of forms of “hard power” guiding and backing them up. The U.S., for example, as in the case of other imperial systems, has never tolerated free, open, fair and principled competition between contending ideologies or systems–neither internally nor globally. That is what “manufactured consent”, “social systems engineering”, “and public diplomacy” are all about.
The U.S. “Neocons” noted, a long time ago, that World War IV is a supposed “war” [undeclared, perpetual and against amorphous enemies] against global terrorism. According to them, World War III, has actually been underway for a long time. It is about a “war” [again, undeclared, perpetual and sometimes against amorphous enemies] for “hearts and minds”–between systems and ideologies. World War III, it is simply asserted, will never end, until the “final triumph” of capitalism over socialism and capitalist ideology over socialist ideology. How to “market” capitalism over socialism and capitalist ideology over socialist ideology? The same way all marketing of anything under capitalism is done: hype and exaggerate purported and asserted positives and costs, while hiding and understating, actual or likely negatives and costs–like the drug ads aimed directly at consumers (to cause them to push their physicians) that show the purported benefits of a drug, backed often with bogus statistics, while very quickly passing over the possible side-effects, other negatives and costs. Because of what is asserted to be at stake, the fate of one system over another, then, to make sure the case, and ultimate sale, are made, what is also done, is to put the opposition or competitor under such constant attack and under such constraints, that the supposed “superiority” of one system or ideology, over another, and the asserted backwardness, inefficiency and barbarism of the targeted opposing system or ideology, seems “proved” –by the engineered and hyped performances of the imperial system and its guiding ideology over its opposition.

It reminds me of the old “joke”, or even allegory, about the Black Christian facing the lions during the time of the decay that lead to the eventual fall of the Roman Empire:
“It was in the times before the Emperor Constantine, and the Romans were feeding Christians to the lions. They had this very serene Christian, who not only was a Christian, but was Black as well–a double negative in Roman times. The Emperor was not sure if this Black Christian, who was so serene because of his faith, had something going–perhaps even God on his side. So to make sure the lion would win, he ordered that the Black Christian be buried in the ground up to his neck which they did.
The lion came out and the crowd shouted for blood. The lion took a bead on the exposed head of the Black Christian and charged. But at the last split second, the Black Christian moved his head to the right, causing the lion to pass by him just near his left ear. The crowd, angered, roared for blood. The lion came around after just missing the Black Christian’s head, and charged again, but this time, the Black Christian moved his head at the last moment to the left, causing the lion to pass and miss him just past his right ear. The crowd jumped to its feet in anger calling for blood.
Now both the lion and the crowd were angry and wanted blood. So the lion charges a third time, and, at the last moment, the Black Christian bows his head, the lion passes over his head, and just as the lion is directly over him, the Black Christian throws his head back and bites off the testicles’ of the lion; the lion rolls over bleeding and screaming totally incapacitated.
And the crowd stands up yelling “Fight Fair, n_gger; Fight Fair, n_gger’ “
Since the first days of their revolutions, China, Vietnam, Cuba, the U.S.S.R, the Democratic Republic of Korea and any other nations bent on socialism, have been the target of imperial hard power guiding and enhanced by various forms of “soft” power that together made up imperial social systems engineering. But even the forms of “soft” power have their “hard” or coercive aspects to them. The overall intent was the same: to engineer the “proofs” of supposed “superiority” of capitalism over socialism, and of capitalist ideology over socialist ideology, and, as well, to engineer the “proofs” of the supposed correctness of caricatures and portraits made by capitalism and its ideologues against socialism and socialist ideology.
In terms of forms of hard or violent and coercive power, many forms and combinations of forms have been used. China, as with other socialist nations, from the very first days of protracted socialist construction, was repeatedly threatened with nuclear annihilation and encirclement. A nation of some one billion people was denied recognition by the UN, and many of the global community of nations, while a ruling clique of a captured and held part of China—Taiwan—was summarily declared to be the “legitimate government” of the whole of China. Massive resources, desperately needed for development, had to be diverted into defense against imperial encirclement and threats of annihilation. Missionaries and cults were sent in as front men and women, both as agents of “soft power”, as well as agents of hard power (acting as intelligence operatives). Ethnic rivalries, legacies of centuries of imperial partition and intrigue, as well as for some of the traditional reasons for ethnic rivalries, were promoted and exacerbated to dive-and-rule and destabilize. Critical technologies, as well as medicines and other critical commodities, necessary to save thousands of lives, and mitigate famines and natural disasters, were denied targeted nations by imperial powers. Secessionist movements and puppet governments were financed, armed and turned loose, as in the case of Tibet and Taiwan. Unfavorable and deleterious terms of trade were coerced, and access to international financial institutions, loans and fair terms of loans and investments were denied. Outright preemptive wars and invasions by imperial as well as proxy forces, justified on engineered pretexts and falsified intelligence, were routine. And the list of forms of hard power to which these nations have been subject goes on, as do the forms of hard and soft power that continue to go on today.

But hard power alone is not sufficient and in many ways is self-negating. Oppression breeds resistance, and resistance breeds even more oppression, until something has to give. This is a general lesson of human history. Hard power has always rested on employing overwhelming force not only to overcome any resistance, but to send a message that any future resistance is futile. The problem is, overwhelming force, is, by its nature, is indiscriminate; thus in attempting to overwhelm any existing resistance, and to deter any future resistance to imperial hard power, potential future “hearts and minds” are lost as they become “collateral damage”. Thus, imperial powers find themselves in a kind of “Labor of Sisyphus”, in trying to use hard power to overcome and deter resistance to imperial domination. Eventually they find they have to move to attempt domination through forms of soft power—still ultimately backed-up and guided by forms of hard power.

Consumer commodities are a significant component of soft power. When various consumer commodities are advertised, what is being promoted is not simply a particular commodity over that of a competitor; what is really being promoted is a whole value system of conspicuous consumerism and a guiding ideology behind it. Ultra-individualism, egoism, greed, selfishness, instant gratification, competition, materialism, envy, hierarchical thinking, narcissism, and many other deleterious values, and asserted universally-applicable “axioms of human behavior”, are essential elements of consumerism and its guiding capitalist ideology. Advertising not only creates and manipulates new wants; it also turns created wants into perceived “needs”. And the more the demand for—and dependency on—the consumer products from the metropolitan imperial centers, the more the demand for—and dependency on—the critical technologies and other inputs needed to produce and distribute those consumer commodities. Wants create “needs” and “needs create new wants; wants and needs create effective demand, and demand creates new wants and needs; and effective demand creates dependency, and dependency creates new effective demand.

Conspicuous consumerism, as soft power, has other functions in addition to creating new wants, needs, markets and forms of demand and dependency; they act, and are intended to act, as what in Chinese language are called “tang yi pao dan” or sugar-coated bullets and what are called “mian zhao” or masks of imperial domination and subversion.

First, capitalist commodities, as carriers of culture, values and ideology, can act, and are intended to act, not only as part of the “social capital” of capitalism, but also, as corrosive agents against socialism and socialist ideology. Capitalist commodities fly the flags of the national systems that produced them, and are intended to scream out and proclaim: “Look at what we have and what our system and its guiding ideology has produced; look at what you don’t have, and what your system, and its guiding ideology, as failed to produce”. Of course the fact that such commodities are available, under capitalism, only to a relative few, or at the expense of great debt loads, along with the true social as well as private costs of those commodities, is never discussed by those marketing them.

Secondly, the very values associated with, and necessary for, capitalism, capitalist commodities and consumerism (ultra-individualism, egoism, envy, greed, etc) are the very values that act as potential “poisonous weeds” in the garden of socialist construction. They cause some to question not only why such commodities are not available and not being produced by socialism, but also, why they are not even valued under socialism. Often, but not always, it is the young, sometimes lacking maturity, sometimes impatient, and not alive to see the myriad sacrifices and hardships their parents and ancestors had to endure to build a new socialist nation that produced what they have inherited, that may, as they are encouraged to do by imperial soft power, question socialism, socialist ideology and leadership, on the basis of little more than why they do not have the types of commodities and other supposed “freedoms” and instruments of “personal freedom” that they “think” are available to all in the imperial capitalist centers at low costs.

Thirdly, in order to have incomes and access to create effective demand for the capitalist commodities pushed by imperial soft power, the targets of imperial soft power are encouraged—even driven—to turn themselves and their labor-power into saleable commodities, undertake onerous debt, engage in corruption, and acquire habits and values associated with those commodities and their use. Increasingly, with unchecked contact with imperial soft power, families and social structures of socialism are broken down into atomized, isolated, alienated, ultra-individualistic, selfish and myopic individuals who care little about anything other than immediate and illusory pleasures; this is the intent of imperial soft power.

Fourthly, imperial soft and hard power, are designed to engineer new definitions of democracy and freedom in direct conflict with socialist definitions of democracy and freedom. Under capitalism, freedom is seen to be a personal matter for which the individual is primarily responsible—hence the term “personal freedom”. If I have, say, labor-saving devices available to ME, with the “choice” of a variety of models and colors, that I can afford, or am willing to borrow money at usurious interest rates to buy, and they enhance my “freedom” to do more pleasurable things, then, for ME, ME, ME, I am said to be more “free” under capitalism. Never mind what is or is not available to others or what others may need just to survive. Never mind what has not been produced with the scarce resources used to produce what I, I, I want and need.

And under capitalism, democracy is seen as the “freedom” to “choose” where to cast my dollar or political “votes”, as I “choose”, among nominal alternatives (political parties or commodities). But never mind that my “freedom of choice” may be little more than like being given the “choice” between being hanged, shot or poisoned—“Hobson’s Choice”.

Under socialism, no one is free, or can be seen to be truly free, if any oppressed are enslaved; no one has “personal freedom”, independent of the security and welfare of the collective, which requires personal sacrifice, and yes, compromise of individualistic tendencies and narrow definitions of “personal freedom” to enhance both collective as well as personal real security and freedom. That is why a genuine People’s Democracy and People’s Dictatorship are not oxymorons or contradictions in terms. Even in formal “logic”, if a few use democratic freedoms in the particular to build the kind of repressive society over the many and in general, then real democracy means dictatorship over the few by the many to prevent anti-democracy and represssion of the many by the few.

Fifthly, capitalist commodities and consumerism, as instruments of soft power, break down inter-generational ties and weaken the influence and wisdom of older generations on the younger ones. This was explored by Benjamin Barber as noted in the very title of his book: “Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole” Children are encouraged to imitate adults at earlier and earlier ages and to become effective consumers, while adults, are encouraged to try to stay “eternally young” and buy, buy, buy all sorts of products designed to keep them feeling and looking young. Some of the lessons of history, and all that the older ones have seen and suffered to build a new socialist nation, are often lost and not passed on to the young as the elders try to escape—and thus not pass on to the young—all that they have seen and learned; that which might provide some context and understanding to the young why the things the young seek and envy from imperial soft power are not available or valued under socialism. And the young are encouraged to live for pleasure and “for the moment” without any regard to where, how and at what sacrifice, what they inherited came from.

There are other calculated instruments of soft power, designed to capture and dominate, as well as provide “proofs” of the supposed superiority of capitalism and capitalist ideology over socialism and socialist ideology. For example, textbooks and other educational materials, are seen and designed to be not only carriers of capitalist values and ideology, but also as outright instruments of subversion and “proofs” of the asserted superiority of capitalism and its guiding ideology over socialism and its guiding ideology. These texts and materials, full of glossy pictures, graphics and catchy supporting materials, when you go below the surface, are all basically ideological clones of each other. They all summarily assert, but never explore with diverse paradigms and perspectives, the supposed superiority of capitalism over socialism—even the “End of History” (capitalism has triumphed, socialism is dead) itself is simply asserted as “proved”. The same applies with many academics visiting socialist from capitalist nations. Their first instinct often, is to try to lecture the socialist nations with their arrogant assertions of what they should be doing, and for whom, and also, summarily asserting what the socialist nations are supposedly not doing and for whom, while, at the same time, covering-up and/or refusing to honestly explore, what their own nations and systems are actually doing and delivering—and to whom—while giving exaggerated pictures of what they are purported to be doing and delivering—and for whom.

Then you have one of the oldest imperial instruments of both soft and hard power: missionaries and cults. Among many Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, they refer to the “Three Bs”: first the Bible, then the Buck (dollar), then the Bullet. We, among Indigenous Peoples also have a saying: “The missionaries came to do good and they wound up doing very well—for themselves”. The job of the missionaries has always been not only to question and undermine traditional religions, paradigms, ways and institutions (since they, and only they, they assert with such certitude, have the truth, then anyone not like them, needs to be “saved”), but also to teach and prepare targeted populations for new ways and new institutions and new values that will not only help to create new profitable customers and markets, but also new resources, workers and subjects for imperial domination and expanded reproduction. Plus one of the missions of religious cults, almost every one of them anti-Communist and capitalist-minded (e.g. Scientology, Falun Gong, Moonies, Mormons), embodied in the very definition of a religious cult ( a closed and highly controlled sub-group of select members with closed dogma and rituals along with restricted access and exit) is to control every aspect of what the members do which includes what they buy, do, wear, think and who or what they support. They teach and preach that only self-proclaimed and self-anointed “Messiahs” or “great individuals” (not the masses themselves who are the real makers of history) can save society and its people from their ills; and they carefully control the terms, forums, definitions and content of any debate.

Then there are some of the other cultural instruments, media and agents of imperial soft and hard power: art; literature; poetry; music; fashion; movies; television; architecture; transportation; etc. When used as imperial instruments of soft and hard power, they embody, teach, preach and legitimate, as they are designed to do, corrosive values such as ultra-individualism (all those automobiles, seen as ultimate status symbols and instruments of “personal freedom”, driven by single and highly-debt-enslaved individuals), nihilism (live for the moment forget about the future or others), egoism, competition, narcissism, jingoistic “patriotism”, conspicuous consumption, waste etc. Notions such as “live for the moment and only for yourself and your family”, “death is certain but can be delayed”, “pleasure and freedom are how I, ME define them” along with reckless, self-indulgent and aberrant sexuality, and many others, are all embodied and celebrated in the various instruments and agents of imperial soft power. They are also intended, calculated, highly developed and used in sophisticated ways to be agents of subversion of socialist societies as well.

No forms of hard or soft power, and no systems and ideologies that direct them, that cannot deliver on their promises, or cannot deliver real freedoms–collective as well as personal–to the masses, or that are built on foundations of provable lies, deception and manipulation of the many in the interests of the select few, can or will survive if the whole planet and humanity itself are to survive. That is why not only socialism will ultimately triumph over capitalism; that is why it must. That is also why socialism can never, and should never, imitate the forms of imperial soft power, as they are ultimately self-negating and self-imploding. The various forms, instruments, capabilities and intentions of imperial hard and soft power must be studied, taught and exposed for what they are.

About jimcraven10

About jimcraven10 1. Citizenship: Blackfoot, U.S. and Canadian; 2. Position: tenured Professor of Economics and Geography; Dept. Head, Economics; 3. Teaching, Consulting and Research experience: approx 40 + years all levels high school to post-doctoral U.S. Canada, Europe, China, India, Puerto Rico and parts of E. Asia; 4. Work past and present: U.S. Army 1963-66; Member: Veterans for Peace; former VVAW; Veterans for 9-11 Truth; Scholars for 9-11 Truth; Pilots for 9-11 Truth; World Association for Political Economy; Editorial Board International Critical Thought; 4.. U.S. Commercial-Instrument Pilot ; FAA Licensed Ground Instructor (Basic, Advanced, Instrument and Simulators); 5. Research Areas and Publications: International law (on genocide, rights of nations, war and war crimes); Imperialism (nature, history, logic, trajectories, mechanisms and effects); Economic Geography (time and space modeling in political economy; globalization--logic and effects; Political Economy and Geography of Imperialism); Indigenous versus non-Indigenous Law; Political Economy of Socialism and Socialist Construction; 6. Member, Editorial Board, "International Critical Thought" published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; International Advisory Board and Columnist 4th Media Group, (Beijing); 7. Other Websites publications at;;; 8.Biography available in: Marquis Who’s Who: in the World (16th-18th; 20th; 22nd -31st (2014) Editions); Who’s Who in America (51st-61st;63rd-68th(2014) Editions); Who’s Who in the West (24th- 27th Editions);Who’s Who in Science and Engineering (3rd to 6th, 8th, 11th (2011-2012) Editions); Who’s Who in Finance and Industry (29th to 37th Editions); Who’s Who in American Education (6th Edition). ------------------- There are times when you have to obey a call which is the highest of all, i.e. the voice of conscience even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear, and even more, separation from friends, from family, from the state, to which you may belong, from all that you have held as dear as life itself. For this obedience is the law of our being. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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