I apologize in advance or the length, but I just can’t help myself. Below is a notice to my students in a course I’m teaching titled ‘Homeland Security.’ It seems apropos here.
Struggles in Learning
Learning is easy. Humans learn all the time. We are learning machines. Millions of years of evolution have provided us with learning tools, especially for learning about other people. But there are obstacles to learning, and they are what can make learning hard. The biggest obstacle is what we think we already know. Worse yet, in our society, and all modern complex societies, a pervasive, all encompassing and dominating ideology feeds us things that seem to be what everyone knows. They are the received wisdom, background assumptions, and frameworks for evaluating all new information. This is called ideology. Ideology is not propaganda. Propaganda consists of what other people want us to believe. Propaganda is not necessarily false, but it is different from an accepted framework for truth. Ideology is the dominant framework for measuring truth.
This is how Alvin W. Gouldner described ideology. “Ideologies are belief systems about what is. They are world-referencing reports offering public doctrines based on public evidence meant to be believed because they are true. They make universal truth claims. . . .With the waning of traditionalism there has been increasing struggle over which definitions of social reality and which moral rules will dominate. Social struggle in part contends with what is and what should be done about it.”
Every student in this class grew up under a different ideological regime than I did. Of course there is much overlap, but the differences are distinct enough for me to recognize the change. Despite being exposed to pervasive Cold War propaganda, by the time I reached high school, I was able to develop my own skepticism. I was skeptical enough not to believe the Gulf of Tonkin story in 1964 that led to the massive US invasion of Vietnam beginning in 1965. At about the same time I became involved in what was then called the Civil Rights movement, and so I developed skepticism about the received wisdom about race. I continued to hone my skepticism in subsequent years. Nonetheless, it was not until I was researching for my book, The Globalization of American Fear Culture, that I learned that the United States, using its puppet government in South Korea, caused the Korean War. I bring this up to show how cutting through ideological assumptions is an ongoing struggle.
Because I have the advantage of age and therefore historical comparison, I can offer students a perspective that can help them evaluate the current ideological regime. With that in mind, I offer you students the following perspective.
By about 1990–91, the United States became a fascist society. I use Mussolini’s definition of fascism. After all, he invented it. Mussolini said that fascism is the corporate state. He meant that individuals should be subordinated to state purposes and that the state apparatuses should be melded with big business so that the state serves the interests of big business and vice versa. Is this not the current situation in the United States? But fascism is more than this. It also includes militarism and imperialism. That is, a militarized domestic force is combined with a relatively large military to accomplish two things: 1. Control the domestic population and 2. Control foreign countries for the benefit of domestic big businesses. Along with the fascist form, a fascist ideology has become the dominant framework for public consciousness. The fascist ideology rationalizes and legitimizes the fascist forms of public institutions. Thus, for instance, the idea of homeland security means militarized control instead of protecting the population from disease, toxic environmental hazards, natural disasters, and so on. The very term reveals the fascist ideology. The US Department of Homeland Security bears uncanny resemblance to the main Nazi control apparatus, the Reich Sicheheitdienst, or government security office.
I said above that my age gives me a historical perspective about ideological change. From that perspective, I can tell you that the ideology I grew up with changed gradually beginning about 1970. The post-1970 ideology laid the groundwork for the current fascist ideology. The best example of that change is embodied in the document called the “Powell Memorandum,” which is discussed and referenced in both of my books required for this course. Check it out and read it for yourselves.
Although I know we live in a fascist society, most of you probably did not think so, and in fact, it probably never crossed your minds. That is how ideology works. It makes certain things unthinkable. Nonetheless, many of you will probably not agree with me, and of course that is all right with me, but I do urge you to think about. And more than that, I urge you to consider what you should do about it. Maybe this course will help you do both.
 Alvin W. Gouldner (1976) The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology, 33