Geopolitics, Cognition, and You

"He who controls the present, controls the past.
He who controls the past, controls the future."
George Orwell, 1984


Who benefits from your thoughts?

Let's suppose there is a religion in which the sole purpose in life is to serve and honor a deity by making its priest-caste as rich as possible. Its devout believers dedicate their entire life to minimize their needs, while laboring to honor and glorify the priests with unimaginable riches. It will be clear that this arrangement is ideal for the priest who managed to create a religion — or is it a political system? — that convinces the believers to think thoughts that enslave them. This type of control over thoughts, desires, and life-goals must be the highest form of social power and it is the topic of this text.

This imagined religion is extreme. But who is the ultimate beneficiary of your thoughts, desires, and life-goals? Can you convince yourself that you and the people you care about are the main beneficiaries of your activities? The more I thought about these questions, the more I realized that I was filled with false and even detrimental believes. And the less I was convinced I was actually realizing the life-goals I was pursuing. Interestingly, the most detrimental believes pertained not so much to my day-to-day life (where they also existed abundantly), but especially to the largest social structures in the world. I attempted to figure out who were the ultimate beneficiaries of our economies, of the wars we wage, and the policies we choose. Unfortunately these were definitely not the people I care about. So I started to think about how I could have been so wrong about what I value most. And that led me to study the role of cognitive science in geopolitics.

Why geopolitics

Geopolitics is the long-term struggle for control over the earth's resources through control over people. Targeted resources are everything of value and can be energy, minerals, land, labor, intellectual or artistic achievements, and even idealism. Climate change and the prospects of a sustainable future are geopolitical issues par excellence because they are about who controls the earth, and which control-strategy will be used. Like in the religion above, ultimately geopolitics is about controlling how we — citizens of the world — understand our world and choose our actions. This makes geopolitics applied cognitive science at a global scale and at timescales up to multiple generations. Geopolitics defines humanity's future more than anything else. So if you are concerned about the future of your children or simply whether or not you will enjoy your pension, geopolitics is something for you.

Uncomfortable emotions

This piece might stir-up some uncomfortable emotions because it is about whether the confidence you have in your self, your environment, your future, and your life-goals is justified. I argue that the conditions in our modern societies make this highly unlikely. If you, after plenty of consideration, choose to accept this statement, you have a problem. Its solution requires that you need to build an improved basis for pretty much all your decisions: from the mundane, like what to eat and what to watch on TV, to the ideals you aim to realize. Fortunately, in practical terms it all boils down to being better at and more involved in democracy. So that is not particularly shocking. What was shocking to me, was the realization that the many layers of biased history, propaganda, political spin, and corporate PR have led to deep-rooted mythologies that realize exactly what the religion in the example above manages: many of the ultimate benefits of our labors do not benefit us and worse even, they often harm us or our children. All of us are participants in a very serious game and, currently, most of us unwittingly.

About this text

This text reflects one way to formulate my current understanding of our geopolitical situation in terms of cognitive science. This understanding is continually developing. Although it is not really a scientific text, everything can and is backed-up scientifically, but that does not entail that my interpretation is optimal. It isn't.

I start with a description of the problem as I see it. I then analyse some of the main mechanisms of geopolitics in psychological terms. This sets the stage for solutions. I end with a fairly large number of things to do to "become better at democracy". When you do that you also develop and maintain a set of beliefs that is ever more likely to benefit you and the people you care about.

That is the main message of this text: don't believe me (or anyone for that matter) and not even yourself, but continually check your deepest believes and improve them to ensure that they do not betray you. Believes are dangerous things: they are just as likely to harm you as to empower you. Only after testing your believes you may elevate some of them to 'knowledge'. Truth is even more complicated, and there is probably very little of it.

The problem.png

The problem

Geopolitical operations

Geopolitical operations are about who has control over the earth's wealth. Currently this control is predominantly exercised by Western powers and these were the most successful geopolitical influences in the recent centuries. How this control came about and where control is currently localized is geopolitics. The process of decolonization that lead to a large number of deeply flawed and weak states that needed Western support to keep a local, typically dictatorial, elite in power is a prime example of geopolitics. Weak states do not develop into confident populations that self-decide how to develop into prospering and sustainable nations. Instead they offer ample opportunities for Western corporations to exploit the wealth of the nation at rock-bottom prices. The word geopolitics is relatively frequently mentioned in conjunction with oil and hardly ever in conjunction with terrorism. Yet the events of 9/11 2001 led to a multi-trillion reallocation of US funds for social and infrastructural development to defense (Afghanistan and Iraq), intelligence (patriot act to allow domestic spying), and and the build-up of a huge security industry. The events on 9/11 were used to invade Afghanistan, which offered Western powers a strategic position close to Russia and China as well as an excuse to globalize NATO-activities. In addition, Western corporations, and not Chinese or Russian, have now access to the vast natural resources of the country that are estimated at 1 - 3 trillion US$). In addition it is now possible to build a Western-controlled pipeline from the oil- and gas-rich "stans" north of Afghanistan to Pakistan (The current president van Afghanistan is a possible former consultant of oil-company Unocal). This is important because a simpler route is towards the East (China). Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, nor 9/11, nor did he develop or have weapons of mass destruction. But these we all used in the media to (re)invade Iraq in 2003. This entails that 911 should be interpreted as a geopolitical operation par excellence.

Geopolitics is not much in the media

In the long run geopolitics is more relevant than pretty much anything you read in your newspaper or see on the news. That could be different, but traditional media hardly ever produces meaningful items about geopolitics. That is the reason why I have added links to alternative media that try to interpret news in a historical and/or geopolitical context. Churchill remarked "History is written by the victors". Indeed, history is written and imprinted, right now, by (corporate) media as sensational bite-sized, decontextualized facts and shallow mythologies. These myths and ill-researched not-quite-truths will be the basis of future politics — like it did in the past as basis for our past and current policies.

Geopolitics and the underreported stories in 2010

Moreover some quite relevant stories are actively suppressed in the corporate (and partly as well in the so-called independent media). Project Censored is a student-professor collaboration at Sonoma State University in California that, since 1976, provides a top 25 of underreported stories. The underreported stories of 2010, as in the previous years, are highly biased towards the censorship of geopolitically relavant events and developments. An dedicated page is here. The censored stories of 2010 are summarized below. These stories center around a relatively small number of themes:

Theme Story Number
Govenment unaccountability and war crimes 2 9 13 14 15 24
Eroding civil liberties 3 4 9 13 14 15 20 22 24 25
Perpetuation of Wars 2 9 10 13 23
Security state build-up 3 4 9 14 15 22
Militarizing the economy 10 13 14
Resource "wars" 7 8 9 14 18
Undeclared wars 5 7 8 9 18
Corporate unaccountability and fraud 11 15 19
Corporate profiteering 5 6 8 11 15 17 18
Cover-up of environmental disasters 2 15 17 18 21

The numbers refer to the following top 25 stories

1. Global Plans to Replace the Dollar

2. US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet

3. Internet Privacy and Personal Access at Risk

4. ICE Operates Secret Detention and Courts

5. Blackwater (Xe): The Secret US War in Pakistan

6. Health Care Restrictions Cost Thousands of Lives in US

7. External Capitalist Forces Wreak Havoc in Africa

8. Massacre in Peruvian Amazon over US Free Trade Agreement

9. Human Rights Abuses Continue in Palestine

10. US Funds and Supports the Taliban

11. The H1N1 Swine Flu Pandemic: Manipulating Data to Enrich Drug Companies

12. Cuba Provided the Greatest Medical Aid to Haiti after the Earthquake

13. Obama Cuts Domestic Spending and Increases Military Corporate Welfare

14. Increased Tensions with Unresolved 9/11 Issues

15. Bhopal Water Still Toxic Twenty-five Years After Deadly Gas Leak

16. US Presidents Charged with Crimes Against Humanity as Universal Jurisdiction Dies in Spain

17. Nanotech Particles Pose Serious DNA Risks to Humans and the Environment

18. The True Cost of Chevron

19. Obama Administration Assures World Bank and International Monetary Fund a Free Reign of Abuse

20. Obama’s Charter School Policies Spread Segregation and Undermine Unions

21. Western Lifestyle Continues Environmental Footprint

22. 1.2 Billion People in India to be Given Biometric ID Cards

23. Afghan War: Largest Military Coalition in History

24. War Crimes of General Stanley McChrystal

25. Prisoners Still Brutalized at Gitmo

The themes make clear that not just some embarassing stories are censored. The censored/underreported stories are stories with a strong geopolitical component because they are about war (declared and undeclared), unaccountability and cover-ups involving internationally active politicians and corporations, and the gradual eroding of individual liberties all over the world. Note that project censored is about censorship in de US, some stories might have made headlines in other countries (which makes it even more difficult to justify that active censorship did not play a role).

Geopolitics, meaning, and confusion

Notwithstanding some censorship, many geopolitical operations are not particularly secret, invisible, or underreported. On the contrary, they often coincide with highly visible events such as wars, coups, and acts of terror and are covered extensively in the media. The only thing that is obscured is their interpretation as geopolitical events. A deluge of specialist, who — because they are specialist — fail to see the big picture, interpret the facts for you in a context of believable myths and half-truths. And if they are the first to offer a narrative they can even (mis)direct the public debate. Because the media offers both left and right their interpretation of events, there are at least two misleading interpretations. The result is that most geopolitical operations are hidden in plain sight. Conceptually it is very much like stage-magic: it is mainly distraction and some sleight of hand (as covert operations typically) and the audience is left amused and with a sense of wonder. The stage is bigger though.

Who are the geopolitical operators?

Currently the strongest, by far, geopolitical influence seems to be the Anglo-Saxon establishment. These are the rich and skilled owners and topmanagers of large income-producing properties like banks and multi-national corporations focussing on energy, defense, media, and agri-business. They are assisted by the managers of the largest non-profit organizations, PR-firms, think-tanks, and intelligence agencies. The main sources of their power are wealth, access to and influence over lower level power players (like statesmen, NGO's, top-civil-servants, etc.). But above all, their power comes from being less befuddled by mythology than the most of us in combination with a fearful egocentric outlook on life that makes them aspire powerful positions in the first place. This self-serving establishment consists of many thousands of people. Because it is highly globalized and interconnected, is not a coherent whole: it functions as a social network with changing alliances around more or less stable centers. It has no centralized control and it is well beyond the control of any nation state. In fact it rules nations. William Domhoff who has written the book and website "Who Rules America?" provides excellent information about this network that can easily be translated to an international dimension. He also describes theories of power that are useful to understand power.

Domhoff sees no evidence that conspiracies define the dynamics of this network. In fact most of the activities of this network are accessible if you know where and how to look. The network is without a doubt self-serving and involved in a lot of cronyism, corruption, opportunism, cover-ups, (unnecessary) secrecy, ruthlessness, and organized crime, but there are also genuine benevolent and idealistic influences.

The main problems: unaccountability and unsuitability

The main problem with the current "global elite" is that they are next to unaccountabile. We — the people — simply have no structural access to their agenda's, scheme's, and (mis)deeds. While serfs had no control over their lords in feudal times, we do have some democratic control over the short and mid-term, but like the serfs we have no control whatsoever over the long-term and geopolitical developments in our world.

An other problem is dat the elite is 'elite-by-accident': they and their (possibly inbred) families where the first and they might neither be qualified nor desirable as geopolitical operators. The elite might disagree with this assessment because many are Social Darwinists who justify their top-position — with perfect circular reasoning — as the result of their suitability. If they are superior, than are we, of course, inferior. Which justifies everything they do, doesn't it? And there is no need for accountability.

The mess at the top

The individuals-who-happen-to-be-near-the-top play power games they can barely oversee. Some of them are also outright criminal, but on a scale where laws cannot be upheld because of an collusion of powerful corporate, (inter)national, private, and intelligence interests. In some sense more central control — and therefore a more conspiratorial nature of elite activities — might even be welcome, because it might introduce more coherent accountability among the power-elite. With minimal accountability it is a mess at the top and that alone is reason enough to ensure that media do not embarrass the elite by employing journalists with sufficient understanding of geopolitics — there is no more certain way to erode their influence. The resulting corporate media product is misleading mythology.

Superficially geopolitics does appear conspiratorial, because the elite, despite it shortcomings, operates with some sort of a long term agenda and shared interests. And they are definitely able to manipulate billions of dollars and billions of people. That made them elite, but that does not make their activities conspiracies! An alternative interpretation is that it is simply too easy to manipulate most of us with time-honored ploys. In fact while they are muddling through — while becoming ever more wealthy — we-the-people are sleeping or hoping or despairing while we should be overseeing and directing.

The default geopolitical operation

Despite the media confusion, geopolitical operations are highly predictable and easy to spot because they are a struggle over great wealth in the form of energy, minerals, land, and labor. Geopolitical operations occur at places where natural resources are not yet securely under control of the elite or where social developments hinder (further) exploitation or set a "wrong" global example (Haiti is a prime example of this combination).

In the mid 1990's Steve Kanga made a list of 60 odd CIA operations between 1945 an 1993 in which he described the typical US intervention — geopolitical operation — as follows:

First, American business interests abroad are threatened by a popular or democratically elected leader. The people support their leader because he intends to conduct land reform, strengthen unions, redistribute wealth, nationalize foreign-owned industry, and regulate business to protect workers, consumers and the environment. So, on behalf of American business, and often with their help, the CIA mobilizes the opposition. First it identifies right-wing groups within the country (usually the military), and offers them a deal: "We'll put you in power if you maintain a favorable business climate for us." The Agency then hires, trains and works with them to overthrow the existing government (usually a democracy). It uses every trick in the book: propaganda, stuffed ballot boxes, purchased elections, extortion, blackmail, sexual intrigue, false stories about opponents in the local media, infiltration and disruption of opposing political parties, kidnapping, beating, torture, intimidation, economic sabotage, death squads and even assassination. These efforts culminate in a military coup, which installs a right-wing dictator. The CIA trains the dictator’s security apparatus to crack down on the traditional enemies of big business, using interrogation, torture and murder. The victims are said to be "communists," but almost always they are just peasants, liberals, moderates, labor union leaders, political opponents and advocates of free speech and democracy. Widespread human rights abuses follow.

Now, 15 years and numerous operations and wars later, the script is more sophisticated and not necessarily as bloody. In addition the victims are now called "terrorists" instead of "communist". The script is now so well-developed that it might become feasible for application in the Western democracies.

The mechanism.png

The mechanisms

Safe and unsafe believe systems

If this text makes you feel uncomfortable and if you'd rather avoid thoughts that challenge your confidence in authorities and elites, you are actually quite normal. As long as you belief that authorities and elites protect rather than exploit society, you have reason to feel safe and there is no need to educate yourself nor learn to separate myth from reality. You simply think fashionable thoughts and take comfort in the belief that the majority is right because we live in a democracy. You do not have be much of an independent thinker or to be open-minded, but you probably think you are anyway.

If however you decide that authorities and elites are abusing trust for self-serving purposes, you have lost your benevolent protectors. From then on, you live in an world in which safety and a secure future is not guaranteed, but dependent on your contribution as involved critical citizen. Now you must separate myth from reality, learn how power really works, and figure out how active democracy can curtail the elite's opportunities to act in self-serving ways. Above all you must become an open-minded independent thinker who is confident enough to face an uncertain world.

Caring or exploiting?

Psycholinguist George Lakoff couples this difference to whether or not one extends the family metaphor to the government and its leaders. People who apply a family metaphor expect the government to be like a benign father figure. Someone who cares for you, who you can rely on unconditionally, and who will never betray you. However, those same leaders might see the people who put so much trust in them as hopeless idiots who almost are asking to be exploited. If people are so stupid as to trust them, well they should the suffer the consequences.

The "leader = father" metaphor is quite appealing from the perspective of the citizen because one is so often confronted with leaders via the media (in highly scripted situations) so it is easy to bond with them. The reverse however is less likely because leaders might not even include people of a similar social background among their friends, colleagues and acquaintances. And they do not necessarily empathize with many of the people who chose to trust them. Why should they?

Others do not extend the loving family metaphor to the government and the loving and strict father metaphor to the leaders. They consider trust good, but (real) accountability better. They are not less trusting, they simply want to ensure that the leaders have less (or better no) opportunities to abuse trust. They are neither family, nor good friend. You also don't want to be cheated by some vendor, so why should you want to be cheated by a politician?

Authoritarians versus libertarians

These two attitudes pertain to an important, though not yet well-known dimension of political psychology: that of authoritarianism versus libertarianism (as psychological construct). This continuum has been described in an revealing book by (ex) Princeton psychologist Karen Stenner: "The Authoritarian Dynamic". She concludes that not intelligence, but a never learned ability to deal with complexity is a key characteristic of authoritarianism. Stenner concludes that authoritarianism "tends to produce a characteristic array of stances, all of which have the effect of glorifying, encouraging, and rewarding uniformity and of disparaging, suppressing, and punishing difference." Authoritarianism is associated with the fear of not being able to cope. Although living in the same society, authoritarians might interpret the society as dangerous and in moral decline, while libertarians see it as healthy and providing a wealth of opportunities to explore.

Authoritarians search for reassurance — typically by aligning with what they consider as firm authoritarian hierarchies — and they might support a dictatorship if that leads to a world they judge as less complex. Libertarians in contrast search self-actualization (to realize one's full potential) and they strive for societies with maximal personal freedom and shared responsibility. Because they prefer equality and individualism they have no need for hierarchy. Consequently authoritarians and libertarians might not understand each other at all. I have interpreted recent research on authoritarianism that, I hope, convinces that the scientific basis is as sound as it is intuitive. David McCandless has made a very nice visualization that contrasts left and right political views. As a contrast between left and right it might be incorrect. But it does corresponds remarkably well with the differences between authoritarians and libertarians.

Religious fundamentalists are highly authoritarian

Bob Altemeyer is with Karen Stenner among the most prominent researchers on the phenomenon of authoritarianism. Bob Altemeyer’s last book “The Authoritarians” (2006) is available as e-book. It is highly readable and recommended as introduction to the topic of authoritarianism. Altemeyer describes the religious fundamentalist personality type, which scores very high on his Right-Wing Authoritarian scale, as follows (conclusion of chapter 4, p 139-140)
This chapter has presented my main research findings on religious fundamentalists. The first thing I want to emphasize, in light of the rest of this book,is that they are highly likely to be authoritarian followers. They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority, and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason, and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times, and are often hypocrites.
But they are also Teflon-coated when it comes to guilt. They are blind to themselves, ethnocentric and prejudiced, and as closed-minded as they are narrow-minded. They can be woefully uninformed about things they oppose, but they prefer ignorance and want to make others become as ignorant as they. They are also surprisingly uninformed about the things they say they believe in, and deep, deep, deep down inside many of them have secret doubts about their core belief. But they are very happy, highly giving, and quite zealous. In fact, they are about the only zealous people around nowadays in North America, which explains a lot of their success in their endless (and necessary) pursuit of converts.

This description is not particularly flattering and it exemplifies Karen Stenner's conclusion where incapacity to handle social complexity may lead to. Unable to decide for themselves, they are forced to search and accept guidance of authorities — of any kind — to decide what they should do. When the authorities ensure that they define and maintain a sufficiently restrictive social norm, authoritarians will be quite happy to stifle dissent. And they will do so — if the social norm endorses it — with utter ruthlessness and without guilt and conscience. In a peaceful, safe society they will appear as perfectly adapted citizens. But when they perceive society as unstable and in moral decline they demand the restoration of "law and order". In this situation they will emerge as a pliable tool in the hands of authoritarian leaders.

Authoritarianism as geopolitical tool

While authoritarians are kind and caring towards anyone who shares their norms — the in-group — they are ruthless and violence-prone towards anyone who does not. And because they are gullible enough to hate and fight any out-group — whether a threat or not — they are the ideal geopolitical enforcers who are willing to fight and crush any enemy, with any means.

In addition, violence — and especially the suspicion and terror it involves — breeds more authoritarians. This forms to a self-reinforcing loop that usually increases the elite's control. James Evan Pilato, from the alternative media site Media Monarchy, terms the required atmosphere of fear "terronoia" and the media and propaganda effort to reach it "threataganda".

The best known example of the use of authoritarians-as-a-tool was after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. The US reacted by financing fundamentalist muslims (including many from the fundamentalist schools dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood in Arabic countries) to fight them. Whether these Afghan Arabs forces were effective is a matter of debate, but they helped — as intended — to drain the Soviets economically. Eventually the many billions of US and Saudis support lead to the rise of the Taliban (literally "students"), Al Qaeda, and Osama Bin Laden.

Interestingly the fictional number One enemy Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell's 1984 — who founded the mysterious anti-party organization the Brotherhood — has a role of arch enemy eerily similar to Osama bin Laden, who was also schooled by a Brotherhood. In the book Goldstein theorizes why perpetual war (and fear) is an oligarchical interest. It is sometimes remarkable how fiction, mythology, and reality intersect.

Authoritarianism and geopolitical operations

Most people hover somewhere between the extremes of the authoritarian dimension without being committed to any extreme. If you reread the quoted "default geopolitical operation" in terms of authoritarianism and libertarianism, you see that it exploits the authoritarian dimension by coaching people towards authoritarianism. The recipe is always the same:
  1. Elite's dissatisfaction with a country or region arises when libertarian — and therefore egalitarian — tendencies become so strong that they threaten the easy exploitation of a country's resources.
  2. Libertarian influences are weakened by discrediting its leaders
  3. Authoritarian tendencies strengthened through the creation of an atmosphere of fear and suspicion while presenting strong authoritarian leaders favorably.
  4. When feasible, an authoritarian coup follows and is welcomed by insecure people in an authoritarian mode.
  5. Prosecution by authoritarians to get rid of (morally repugnant) libertarians follows, which crushes — at least for some time — the tendencies towards a free, open, and just society
  6. Without the threat the intelligent and egalitarian libertarians pose, the elite has bought time for a new round of corporate opposition-free exploitation and the associated profits.

This recipe is not something for third-world countries. Nazi-Germany followed a similar path after defeat in World War I and an ensuing severe economic crises. NATO operation Gladio followed (link to documentary), most noticeable in Italy in the 1970's, a similar strategy. Similar tendencies have been observed for many years in the US and they might also reoccur in Western Europe. Geopolitics is not something of the past. On the contrary, the current economic turmoil complies with the recipe. You play a geopolitical role, whether you know it or not.



Improving democracy

If, for some reason, you, decide that you do not want to belong to the part of society that is easily manipulable, what can you do? The answer is simple: be better at democracy. One of the persistent myths is that democracy is about the act of voting. It isn't. Representative democracy is about 1) ensuring sufficient accountability and 2) ensuring that the policy formulation process — especially long term policies comply with your ideals. (This is a field in which the aristocracy has always excelled, which accounts for their long standing influence.) With a clear and shared long term policy, short term policies can only be in the service of long term policies. Without it you will be at the mercy of those who do define the long term.

True democrats require a decent understanding of long term global developments and the ability to detect typical geopolitical ploys — also if they happen in your backyard by people you'd prefer to trust. Every democrat who votes with a proper understanding of geopolitics reduces the opportunities for elite minions like authoritarian leaders and corporate lobbyists. The more we talk with friends, family, and colleagues about long term policies and geopolitics, the more media and politicians will be required to follow and the less manoeuvring room our elite has for self-serving schemes.

The emerging global political awakening

The issue of increasing popular influence is actually a topic that is openly discussed within elitist circles. Major geopolitical strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski — US national security advisor under Carter and founding father of what is now known as Taliban, Al Quaeda, and Bin Laden — has been addressing this issue now for a few years. In a lecture delivered at Chatham House, London, on 17 November 2008 he addressed the challenges of president Obama. Of which

the first concerns the emergence of global issues pertaining to human wellbeing as critical worldwide political concerns—issues such as climate, environment, starvation, health and social inequality. These issues are becoming more contentious because they have come to the fore in the context of what I have described in my writings as ‘the global political awakening’, itself a truly transformative event on the global scene. For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. There are only a few pockets of humanity left in the remotest corners of the world that are not politically alert and engaged with the political turmoil and stirrings that are so widespread today around the world. The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination.

This is precisely the process of a more involved and democratic citizenship that dares to confront the elite that I advertise. Brzinski continues with the observation about major world powers that ...

... while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people. That insight bears directly on the use of force, particularly by societies that are culturally alien even if technologically superior. As a result, in the current post-colonial era, it is too costly to under-take colonial wars. That is a reality some recent American policy-makers failed to assimilate, to America’s detriment.

The world has changed. We-the-people have more power than ever, and part of the elite knows it. How they are going to respond to this challenge is in part up to us.

We live in mythical times

After centuries, if not millennia, of propaganda and history-by-the-victors, and after a century of science-based corporate PR via centrally controlled mass-media, little is what it seems. We do live in mythical times. The problem with mythical beliefs is that they are half-truths at best. This means that at some point reality will confront us with the inaccurate part of our beliefs. Consequently, if some of your beliefs lead to undesired results, it probably involves myths.

Frantically clinging to myths is like Einstein's definition of insanity "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Each dispelled myth empowers you to make better choices. And each dispelled myth weakens the shroud of mythology that empowers the elite. Without this shroud, the elite is still rich, but has lost most of its power-base and will no longer be unaccountable.

What to do

Demythify yourself

In very tangible terms you might start to "demythify" yourself and with that empower yourself and the rest of society.

Information savviness
Be more critical of Western corporate media and spend more time on international and alternative media.
Spend time on alternative media, especially those media who lead you to source material and present a diversity of opinions. Do not be put off by contradictory interpretations of intelligent well-informed people. See the list on the top left
Intuitive people generally have a better overview than more logically inclined individual. Logically inclined people are better in small knowledge domains that intuitive reasoners. Try to find a balance.
Check the source materials yourself!
Do not trust interpretations from sources with geopolitical interests, these interpretations are usually designed by high-paid PR-firms for the benefit of their clients. Are you their client?
Absorb a wide range of different interpretations and select those that interpret events in the widest possible — well-documented — scope.
A very good starting point to is History Commons that hosts and develops a number of multi-year timelines about important geopolitical events and processes. The Complete 911 Timeline contains currently more than 6000 entries associated with many tens of subtopics and spans more than 30 years. It consists completely of mainstream media sources and shows where the media is good at (fact finding, documenting) and weak at (using its own information as context and to allow you to understand the geopolitical processes).
Learn to interpret specialists. Specialists are strange people. On the one hand they can provide amazing insights from their specialist angle. On the other hand they can be supremely unaware of important connections outside the scope of their expertise. This make specialists highly predictable people who can convey highly biased messages without even knowing they do.
In war, truth is the first casualty (Aeschylus, Greek tragic dramatist, 525 BC - 456 BC)
Take control
The authoritarian reflex is to blame others for all that is wrong. Don't. If you take part of the blame you can help to solve the problem without depending on others. You might even give a good example.
Be critical of ideologies since they are also in part myth. Throughout history these have been used as control tools, and not only to control authoritarians.
Geopolitics is about the long term, do not spend too much time on short term distractions. Media hypes are created as distraction from geopolitical operations. Learn to see long term development and proposed key policies through this fog of irrelevancy.
Improve your critical thinking abilities continually.
Broaden yourself
Prevent specialization without generalization. Einstein said this about it: "It is not enough to teach a man a speciality. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he – with his specialized knowledge – more closely resembles a well trained dog than a harmoniously developed person." The elite throughout the ages has had a general (liberal arts) education. A vocational educations (towards a single specialism) is for the rest of us.
I have written (for my own pleasure) an analysis of Woodrow Wilson's famous wish: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education." It makes very clear why educational quality is geopolitics par excellence.
Widen your scope via alternative media! Not all are truly independent of the corporate media, others are (also) Intelligence fronts, so learn to recognize propaganda.
It is interesting that Russia's, Irianian Press TV, and the Asian Times deliver top quality geopolitical analyses by some of the best analysts and academics. In many cases people you'll not often, if ever, hear or see on western media.
Broaden your interests and meet new people. You never know what knowledge you need to evaluate new information.
There is no field of study that is off-limits, but some domains (e.g. basic knowledge about the phenomenon of money) are probably more relevant.
Stop watching tv, read a book and spend more time discussing substance.
Acquire context
Study history and read books that provide context. Podcasts and movies can also be a great way. But these serve more as introduction or to keep posted.
Do not commit to final answers. Instead learn to live with uncertainty and and enjoy an ever expanding interpretive framework.
All war is deception (Sun Tzu, about 4th century BC), all wars probably start by deception). So read about false flag operations. (See also).
Go to source documents! Read and understand (long-term) policy documents (such as the 2000 report Rebuilding Americas Defenses with a famous wish for a New Pearl Harbor)
Do not denounce people and information too lightly. Even people and institutions you do not like at all are often surprisingly honest and open about their motivations and intentions: they too need to convince others to participate.
Likewise, hard-core conspiracy theorists are often highly motivated, diligent, and intelligent. They can be a treasure trove of facts, ideas, and interpretations. Some are authoritarians that cling to preconceived beliefs (e.g. the Jews did it) and are blind to alternative interpretations (e.g. episcopalian christians did it as well), but others mature into full-blown libertarians with highly perceptive and independent minds.
Applied psychology
Learn about psychopathy and learn to detect psychopaths before they exploit you.
People who tell you what to think and what to feel are probably authoritarian. True libertarians help and empower you to understand events while allowing for multiple interpretations.
The central theme in geopolitics (and crime) is cui bono — who profits. Because geopolitics is about the manipulation of people, it is not so much who committed the act, but who benefits from it that counts. There are so many ways to find and manipulate gullible patsies that the geopolitical benefits will usually outweigh the costs of manipulation.

Expect to be off-balance for some time. You might feel an urge to spend whole days frantically searching for information to convince yourself and others. This process serves to find a new explanatory basis and, with that, regain lost confidence, but now on a firmer foundation. The world has not changed, except that yet another person is partially demythified. Your benefits are that you learn to think more independently and can self-derive a sense of adequacy without compliance with social norms that might not suit you. There is one drawback: the next time your society turns into a dictatorship you might be one of the targeted liberals. But then again, now you you see it coming and you can help to prevent it.

Where to start?

Actually it doesn't matter which direction you choose as long as it motivates enough to go well beneath the surface mythology. Good starting points associated with the books and movies are:

The website Global Research has an excellent archive for these topics and many, many more. And if you like podcasts definitely check out The Corbett Report.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Inaugural Address, president Franklin D. Roosevelt