Social-engineering-attack-scdor-hack

The Century of the Self is a four part BBC documentary that delves deeply into the work of Edward Bernays, commonly known as the father of public relations. Parts 3 and 4 explore the glorification of selfish consumption after World War II and how Reagan, Thatcher, Clinton and Blair perfected the “politics of self” to win and hold power.

The Century of the Self

BBC Documentary (2005)

Film Review

Part 3 (There’s a Policeman Inside All Our Heads) and Part 4 (Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering)

Link to Part 1 and 2

The Politics of Self

Following World War II, the CIA hired Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays to advise them on controlling the “irrational aggression” of the masses. They were concerned that 49% of US soldiers evacuated from combat had to leave the battlefield for “emotional problems.” Today their condition would be diagnosed as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  In the mid-forties, the psychoanalysts who interviewed them diagnosed that they had unresolved conflicts related to their unconscious aggressive and sexual drives.

Convinced these problems were widespread among the greater population, in 1946 the Truman administration championed the passage of the Mental Health Act. The Act funded new guidance centers throughout the US to assist Americans to control and suppress their dangerous unconscious drives.

Meanwhile the public relations industry hired psychoanalysts to set up focus groups to use advertising more effectively to improve consumer demand for corporate products. These early focus groups employed psychoanalytic techniques to help advertisers improve sales by secretly appealing to unconscious needs and insecurities.

Students Opt for Self-Liberation

The anti-Vietnam War movement of the late sixties quickly morphed into a broader anti-capitalist movement that attacked corporations for corrupting government and brainwashing the public. This movement was strongly influenced by Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse, who had split with Sigmund and Anna Freud over their belief that unconscious aggressive and sexual drives had to be suppressed and controlled. Reich and Marcuse taught that it was repression itself that distorted unconscious aggressive and sexual drives and made them dangerous.

In 1970 the National Guard massacre of unarmed Kent State students in 1970 split in this anti-capitalist movement. For the most part middle class student supporters shifted their focus to “liberating” themselves rather than organizing for political change.

In addition to widespread experimentation with illicit drugs, this shift led to a surge of self-improvement initiatives and therapies, collectively called the Human Potential Movement.

Values and Lifestyle Marketing

Employing computer technology and psychologists trained in self-improvement techniques, the public relations industry adapted to this new individualism and preoccupation with self-expression with “values and lifestyle marketing.”

One of their main strategies was to blur the line between advertising and journalism by incorporating three key messages into news reporting: selfishness is good, the needs of individuals are more important than the needs of society and that only business can properly satisfy individual needs.

The Politics of Self

This deliberate promotion of selfishness and individualism cut across social classes and was a key factor in persuading blue collar voters to vote for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – and programs that significantly hurt their own economic interests.

Ultimately it was Bill Clinton and Tony Blair who perfected this new “politics of self” by incorporating focus groups and lifestyle marketing into their political campaigns. Their advisers convinced them that voters had to be regarded as consumers and that the secret to getting elected was by catering (i.e. pandering) to voters’ unconscious primitive selfish desires. It was a hell of a way to run government and would cause the Democrats to get the boot in 2000 and the Labour Party in 2010.

 

bernays

The Century of the Self is a four-part BBC documentary that delves deeply into the life and work of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays. Bernays was the first to perfect the science of thought control. In the political sphere, he referred to mass psychological manipulation as “engineering consent.” When he used propaganda and psychological manipulation to sell corporate products, he called it “public relations.” Parts 1 and 2 focus on the Freudian theories underpinning the early public relations movement.

The Century of the Self

BBC Documentary (2005)

Film Review

Part 1 (Happiness Machines) and Part 2 (Engineering of Consent)

The Transformation from Citizen to Consumer

The twentieth century is frequently referred to as the selfish century. This documentary lays the blame for this at the feet of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays.

Prior to World War I politicians and businesses used facts and information to win votes or to persuade people to buy their products. When Woodrow Wilson hired him to run his Committee for Public Information to produce pro-World War I propaganda, Bernays incorporated Sigmund Freud’s theory that human behavior was based on unconscious instinctual drives. By appealing to these unconscious and irrational feelings, he succeeded in selling World War I to a profoundly isolationist American public

 As well as his pivotal role in engineering corporate and government propaganda, Bernays was also responsible for popularizing Sigmund Freud’s work by emphasizing its sexual content.

 The Shift from a Needs to a Desire Based Culture

Curious whether similar techniques would also work in peace time, Bernays hired himself out to corporations to help them improve their sale of consumer products. His goal was to shift US society from a needs culture, where people only bought what they needed, to a desire culture, where they purchased products to make them feel better. Aware that the word propaganda had an extremely negative connotation, Bernays coined the term “public relations.”

Bernay’s stunning success gave birth to 1920s “consumptionism” and was largely responsible for the economic bubble that resulted in the 1929 crash. Already by 1927, social critics were concerned that Americans were no longer citizens but consumers. Confident of their ability to engineer consumer demand, banks funded national expansion of department store chains and hired Bernays to persuade ordinary people to borrow money to buy shares in the stock market.

Driven to record levels by borrowed money, the stock market collapsed.

During the Great Depression, Bernays shifted gears to focus more on influencing public political views. Neither Freud nor Bernays believed in the equality of man. Frightened by the rise of fascism in Europe, both believed that democracy was a fundamentally unsafe form of government (due to human beings’ dangerous unconscious drives).

Both believed that people must be controlled – that mass democracy could only work if popular consent was engineered. Bernays was also convinced that the best way to control people in a mass democracy was to render them passive consumers – by triggering a continuous irrational desire to consume and satisfying it with consumer goods.

Roosevelt Tries to Rein in Business

Unlike Freud and Bernays, Franklin Roosevelt believed that people were capable of knowing what they wanted and relied on the new science of public opinion polling (pioneered by George Gallup) to ascertain what people were thinking. His response to the Great Depression was to grant himself extensive executive power and subject business to central economic planning, which they hated.

In 1936, the National Association of Manufacturers hired Bernays to initiate an ideological campaign against the New Deal (and the rise of unionism as Alex Carey mentions in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy.

When World War II ended, the CIA hired Bernays to advise them on how to control the “irrational aggression” of the masses. In his CIA role, Bernays devised a campaign for the Eisenhower administration to convince the American public they were under imminent threat from Soviet Communism.

As part of this campaign, Bernays mobilized public and congressional support for the 1954 coup against Guatemala’s democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz. Bernays also worked for the United Fruit Company, which was concerned about Arbenz’s plans for land reform, i.e. breaking up their extensive Guatemalan banana plantations.

The First Focus Groups

Meanwhile the public relations industry hired psychoanalysts to set up focus groups to use advertising more effectively to improve consumer demand for corporate products. These early focus groups employed psychoanalytic techniques to help advertisers improve sales by secretly appealing to unconscious needs and insecurities.

photo credit: Saint Iscariot via photopin cc

Originally posted in Veterans Today

 

taking the risk

This is the first in a series of posts about “engineering consent,” a form of brainwashing and thought control perfected in the 20th century. Its purpose is to allow the elites who control western democracies to maintain political power without resorting to brute force.


Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty

By Alex Carey (1995 University of New South Wales Press)

Book Review

Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty is a collection of essays written by Australian psychologist Alex Carey prior to his death in 1988. The essays were posthumously edited and assembled into a book by Andrew Lohey. Carey’s book details the 100 year history of the deliberate manipulation of popular consciousness by the corporate elite.

According to Carey, the main purpose of corporate social engineering is to persuade the voting public to serve the interests of the privileged class, rather than their own working class needs. This type of propaganda relies heavily on emotionally-laden symbols and a black and white view of society in which people and issues are either good or evil. Owing to virtually unlimited corporate financing, it’s spectacularly effective. Conservative regimes that enacted reactionary social policy (in the US) between 1919-1929, 1946-1956, and 1976-2014 didn’t just happen – they were deliberately engineered by the business lobby and corporate propagandists.

Women and Blacks Win Vote

In the view of the US business elite, a dedicated program of social engineering became essential at the beginning of the 20th century when women and northern blacks acquired the right to vote. In 1880, only 10-15% of the US population was eligible to vote. By 1920, this percentage had increased to 40-50%. The corporate elite couldn’t take the risk that this large crop of new voters would elect candidates keen on regulating corporate activities that posed a threat to public health and welfare.

Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, played an instrumental role in advancing the art and science of corporate propaganda. During World War I, he assisted Woodrow Wilson, who ran as an antiwar president, in convincing a fiercely antiwar and isolationist American public to support US intervention in the war between Britain and Germany.

Peacetime Propaganda

After World War I, Bernays worked for the National Association of Manufacturers and other corporate groups with a primary agenda of turning public opinion against unions, immigrants and the corporate regulation enacted by President Teddy Roosevelt between 1901 and 1912.

By combining a vast media campaign with concerted employee indoctrination, Bernays created a wave of anti-union and anti-immigrant hysteria. By convincing Americans that corporate regulation was akin to Bolshevism. In this way, he successfully ushered in the first (1919-1921) of three periods of corporate rule. While post-war Europe enjoyed a wave of radical liberalism resulting in the rise of democratic socialism, the US was caught in the grips of a reactionary agenda that would set the stage for the repressive Red Scare and Palmer Raids (in which politically active immigrants were rounded up and deported).

Labor Paralysis, Korea and Vietnam

The other two periods in which a corporate agenda dominated US domestic and foreign policy occurred between 1946-1950 and 1976-80. Between 1929 and 1946, the Great Depression and World War II dramatically curtailed the effectiveness of corporate propaganda. In the late forties, corporate interest groups roared back with a vengeance. The ideological agenda they broadcast on radio and in print media equated free enterprise with freedom and democracy, patriotism with social harmony and the New Deal with creeping socialism. Liberals who supported corporate regulation were portrayed as communist sympathizers. During this period, the Chamber of Commerce launched the first major publicity campaign warning that communists had infiltrated government, universities and other major institutions.

Thanks to these propaganda efforts, in Republicans took control of Congress for the first time since 1928. In 1947 they enacted the Taft Hartley Act (1947), virtually paralyzing American unions. By blanketing the media with their reactionary agenda, pro-corporate ideologues also laid the ground work for the second Red Scare, aka the McCarthy Era from 1950-1956.

Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Unamerican Activities had an even more destructive effect on foreign policy than it did on civil liberties. In addition to pressuring Truman to pursue an unwinnable war in Korea, McCarthy also forced Eisenhower to reverse US policy on Vietnam and China. Under Truman, the US State Department had opposed the French return to Vietnam (i.e. they supported Vietnamese independence). They had also sought to mediate (in 1945) between Mao Tsai Tung and Chiang Kai Shek in the Chinese civil war.

After McCarthy succeeded in stripping the State Department of more than 500 personnel with Asian expertise, the ultraconservative, CIA-linked John Foster Dulles succeeded in throwing US support behind the incompetent and corrupt Chiang Kai Shek and transforming French opposition to Vietnamese independence into a battle to prevent world Communist domination.

The Rise of Pro-Corporate Neocons

The anti-Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation and public anger over against CIA domestic spying led to a strong anti-business backlash during the late sixties and early seventies. Corporate ideologues fought back with the launch of “treetop” propaganda efforts. As opposed to grassroots media-based propaganda, treetop propaganda focuses on recruiting rich conservatives to fund conservative think tanks to promote conservative “economic education” and lobby Congress to defeat consumer protection and labor rights legislation.

The American Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) (neoconservative think tank founded in 1970), the Heritage Foundation (founded in 1973) and would be instrumental in promoting “economic” ideological beliefs that full employment and clean air and water initiatives are detrimental to the economy because they hurt business. These think tanks also hammered Congress and universities with the notion that the US would collapse under a socialist dictatorship unless corporate regulations were rolled back.

Their success in bombarding all sectors of society with these reactionary ideas would pave the way for Ronald Reagan’s election and the rollback of corporate regulation and social safety net programs that occurred during his administration.

During the early 1970s, these conservative think tanks began exporting these reactionary belief systems to British and Australian corporate interest groups. In Britain, American-inspired treetop and grassroots pro-corporate propaganda would lead to Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979.

***

Below the 1993 documentary based on Noam Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent. The title is based on a term coined by Bernays: “engineering consent.” Carey had studied with Chomsky at MIT.

Originally posted at Veterans Today

madness of adam and eve

The Madness of Adam and Even: How Schizophrenia Shaped Humanity

by David Horrobin (2001 Bantam Press)

Book Review

The Madness of Adam and Eve advances a dual hypothesis: 1) that schizophrenia is a whole body disorder, rather than a “brain disease, as promoted by Big Pharma and the psychiatric fraternity and 2) that schizophrenia stems from the same series of genetic mutations that led to the appearance of the human species (homo sapiens) 100,000 years ago.

The specific biochemical “error” Horrobin credits for causing schizophrenia is a defect in the metabolism of arachidonic acid (AA), a fatty acid that facilitates smooth signal transmission between nerve endings. Horobin believes a genetic mutation around 100,000 years ago caused a massive increase in AA production, enabling a giant increase in dendritic connections between neurons. This, in turn, resulted in a sudden explosion in human intellectual capacity, as well as the sudden appearance of art, music and organized religion.

Horribin also maintains that schizophrenia was a relatively mild illness in hunter gatherer societies, owing to a diet rich in the omega 3 fatty acids essential for optiminal brain function. With the major dietary changes that accompanied the agricultural and industrial revolution, schizophrenia has become much more severe. The switch from omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids to saturated animal fat was by far the most significant, as saturated fats can suppress the uptake and utilization of omega 3 fatty acids.

Horrobin’s hypothesis is born out by WHO research revealing that schizophrenia is more severe in the industrialized west, studies showing that schizophrenics improve when given large doses of the omega 3 fatty acid EPA, and the failure of schizophrenics to experience a “niacin blush”* when exposed to megadoses of niacin.

Aimed at a lay audience, The Madness of Adam and Eve doesn’t always distinguish clearly between theory and established fact. While Horribin’s ideas make an important contribution to the understanding of mental illness, his overemphasis on genetic determinism in the origin of mental illness is clearly dated. In 2002, the field of epigenetics** was still in its infancy and there was limited understanding of the role of noxious prenatal influences on gene expression and the development of chronic physical and mental illnesses. Nor was the role of harmful intestinal bacteria and endotoxin-related inflammation recognized in the etiology of autism, schizophrenia and depression.

His portrayal of the intellectual inferiority of Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man) is also obsolete. More recent archeological evidence suggests that Neanderthal man was the intellectual equal of homo sapiens.

*A niacin flush is sudden reddening and burning of the skin caused when niacin promotes conversion of AA to the inflammatory peptide prostaglandin. Several researchers have proposed using a niacin skin test as a research tool in studying schizophrenia.

**Epignetics is the study of hormonal and other prenatal influence that affect the expression of genes as specific protein enzymes.

When Horrobin died in 2003, the British Medical Journal wrote a particularly nasty obituary describing him as “the greatest snake oil salesman of his age.” A decade of research into the beneficial role of omega 3 oil in the treatment of depression (particularly post natal depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia and premenstrual syndrome) has clearly vindicated him. The supplementation of prescription psychotropics with omega 3 oils is now standard psychiatric practice. 

Research into his theory that schizophrenia is a whole body inflammatory illness, rather than a brain disease, is also advancing. More recent studies focus on inflammation caused by endotoxin-producing by gram negative intestinal bacteria. Thus far schizophrenics’ demonstrated impairment in prostaglandin synthesis has failed to translate into viable treatment options.

There have been numerous studies suggesting a beneficial effect of non steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication (such as ibuprofen and naprosyn) in the treatment of schizophrenia. Unfortunately NSAIDs, like psychotropics, have numerous serious side effects, including peptic ulcer disease and reduced kidney function.

 

Brics

One More Nail in the Coffin

Today Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa struck another blow against the US petrodollar in Fortaleza Brazil. Leaders of the five emerging nations officially  agreed to form their own development bank to rival the World Bank and IMF. The bank will be centered in Shanghai, its first president will be Indian and it will begin with an initial capitalization of 100 billion dollars.

The five countries referred to as BRICS have long complained about the not-so-subtle economic warfare the US and Europe wage against developing nations via the World Bank and IMF.

The World Bank/IMF Protection Scheme

As John Perkins eloquently describes in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, these US-dominated agencies operate a mafia-like protection scheme on the global south. Economic hitmen like Perkins pressure leaders of developing nations to accept development loans for massive infrastructure projects (dams, bridges, super highways, etc.) they neither want nor need. If they accept, their economies are paralyzed by crushing debt repayments. If they refuse, they risk assassination or being overthrown through US military intervention or a CIA coup. In nearly every case, the loans go to specific US corporations who build the dams, bridges and super highways.

In addition to crushing debt repayments, the IMF also impose their notorious “structural adjustment” programs on debtor nations. As a condition to renewing their loans, these countries are forced to open their economies further to US and European investors and enact a variety of austerity measure. These typically include privatization of state-owned utilities (by selling them to US and European corporations) and reduction of public spending by laying off state workers and cutting pensions and food and energy subsidies.

Still At It in Ukraine

This is exactly what we saw happen in Ukraine. Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich declined the IMF loan and structural adjustment program he was offered as a condition of EU membership. For obvious reasons, he preferred Russia’s offering – a loan without structural adjustment strings attached and a generous energy subsidy in the form of low prices for Russian natural gas. Sure enough he was overthrown by a fascist coup engineered conjointly by the CIA and Victoria Nuland (wife of Robert Kagan, cosignatory of the neocon Project for a New American Century), Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

As a condition of the $17 billion IMF loan that followed the coup, the new puppet government has eliminated natural gas subsidies (resulting in a 50% increase in the price consumers pay).  They have also frozen pensions and wages, as well as agreeing to a further cut government spending by 2% of GDP per year.

As if this tyrannical bullying weren’t enough, China and other BRICS nations are also repeatedly rebuffed when they request equal representation in the World Bank/IMF leadership. Ever since their founding in 1945 in Bretton Woods New Hampshire, the US has been wrongheadly uncompromising that the president of the World Bank must be American and the president of the IMF from Western Europe.

The Almighty Petrodollar

So how, people might ask, does the BRICS decision to form a rival development bank hurt the US dollar? Aside from their iron-fisted manipulation of international development loans, the US also exerts also exerts tyrannical domination over world trade through their militant (i.e. backed by military aggression) insistence that crude oil be traded in US dollars to the exclusion of any other currency. Thoughtful economic pundits are quick to point out that George W. Bush’s military campaign to take out Saddam Hussein immediately followed the latter’s decision to trade Iraqi oil in Euros. The government of Iran made a similar move in 2007, which precipitated growing calls from both sides of Congress to bomb them back to the Stone Age.

Ever since Nixon removed the US dollar from the gold and silver standard in the 1970s, the US dollar has no intrinsic worth because it can’t be redeemed for precious metals. The US dollar, like all global currencies, is simply invented out of thin air by private banks as they issue new loans (see A Proposal to Strip Banks of Their Power to Issue Money).

The dollar only derives value from its role as the world’s reserve currency. Because the US military industrial complex demands that oil be traded in US “petrodollars,” any country wishing to purchase oil on the global market must hold dollars in reserve. Because of the continual demand for dollars this creates, the dollar maintains its value.

Currency Wars

For more than a decade, Russia and China have been working to unseat the dollar as the world’s reserve currency by trading with each other, with Iran and various other central Asian and eastern European countries in currencies other than the US dollar.

The reason Obama is trying isolate China and Russia militarily has nothing to do with any military threat, which is nonexistent. It also has very little to do with competition over scarce oil and gas resources.

It’s all about the survival of the US petrodollar as the world’s reserve currency. As other countries begin trading in other currencies, they quit buying and stockpiling US dollars – and the value of the US dollar continues to decline. Which has major ramifications for an economy that’s totally dependent on importing food, energy and manufactured goods. What Obama and the political elite fear more than anything is the day the bottom drops out of the dollar and Americans need a wheelbarrow full of dollars to buy a pair of shoes manufactured in Hong Kong.

In fact, most of what economists refer to as inflation is actually a steady devaluation in the dollar’s buying power. Since 2002 when I first moved to New Zealand, the value of the US dollar has declined by nearly 50%. In October 2002, one US dollar bought $2.10 New Zealand dollars. Today a US dollar only buys $1.20 New Zealand dollars.

Wrongheaded US Policy

Obama and the political elite have good reason to fear the increasingly imminent collapse of the American dollar. When the dollar becomes worthless, it will take a whole wheelbarrow of money to buy a pair of shoes manufactured in Hong Kong.

Sadly the Obama administration continues to rely on misguided (and economically destructive) policy of trying to destabilize China’s and Russians  political and economic allies, fanning the flames of war in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Chechnya, Pakistan – the list goes on and on.

I find this especially discouraging given the wealth of practical solutions put forward by the likes Ellen Brown, Steven Keen, Michael Kumhauf, Paul Craig Roberts and other so-called “renegade” (i.e. non-Wall Street) economists and a few brave Congress people. Enactment of specific reforms that other countries are seriously examining could put the US economy (and dollar) back on track in a matter of months.

Media Censorship of Genuine Reform Options

In my view, first and foremost would be to abolish the Federal Reserve and the ability of private banks to create debt-based money out of thin air (see A Proposal to Strip Banks of Their Power to Issue Money ). This would have the immediate result of eliminating the national deficit, as well as drastically cutting the national debt. Second and third on the list would be withdrawing from idiotic fair trade treaties like NAFTA and the TPPP,  which have decimated US manufacturing, and rebuilding US manufacturing capacity by subsidizing renewable energy production and technologies and public transportation instead of US oil companies. Number four would be instituting a 1% financial transaction tax (FTT) on all investment bank transactions (e.g. derivatives trading and other speculative activities). As of 2011, forty countries had enacted an FTT.

Thanks to the iron control corporate lobbyists exert over our “elected” leaders and the mainstream media, these options can’t even be mentioned in polite US society, much less seriously debated and enacted.

So long as stubborn corporate resistance to rational economic reform remains persists, the best we can expect is that the US economy will continue to deteriorate and the value of the dollar will continue its downward slide. The only uncertainty is how long the American people will continue to submit to ruthless oppression and exploitation by Wall Street corporations. Not long, in my view.

photo credit: Blog do Planalto via photopin cc

Originally posted in Veterans Today

pkkKurdistan guerrilla member

 

Censored from corporate media coverage: the role of the armed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in the current struggle against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)

I think Team Obama has come out against ISIS as a “terrorist” threat to the US, though it’s hard to be sure exactly where the President stands on the group’s declared intention of establishing a fundamentalist “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria.

If Obama is genuine about fighting ISIS, it would seem that the US and the PKK, for once, are battling a common enemy.

A recent statement by the PKK expresses outrage against Turkish prime minister Erdogan’s overt and covert support for ISIS and calls on all Kurdish peoples s (in Turkey, Iraq and Syria) to help defend Ain al-Arab (known as Kobani in Kurdish) against ISIS militants. Ain al-Arab, which has a sizable Kurd population, is strategically located on Syria’s border with Turkey.

Yesterday PKK-linked units reportedly seized control of two villages, Kara Kozak and Sarrin, from ISIS.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is a Kurdish political and military organization which engaged in armed struggle against Turkey from 1984 to 2013 for self-determination, political rights and cultural recognition for an ethnic minority who who comprise between 10% and 25% of Turkey’s population.

In 2013, the PKK accepted a ceasefire agreement and began slowly withdrawing its fighters to the Kurdistan Region of northern Iraq as part of the so-called “solution process” between the Turkish state and the disenfranchised Kurdish minority. The PKK, for the most part, adhered to the ceasefire, despite sporadic military ambushes by Turkish forces.

For more information about the PKK and their struggle for self-determination, see Letter from a Modern Nelson Mandela

photo credit: Nora Miralles via photopin cc

salt

Salt: A World History

by Mark Kurlansky (2002 Penguin Books)

Book Review

Salt: A World History is a detailed chronology of the role the salt trade has played in human history. Prior to the 20th century, salt’s role in food preservation made it vital to all commercial trade. The mining and manufacture of sodium chloride has also be essential in gunpowder production, silver mining and more than 100 other industrial processes.

In addition to providing a comprehensive review of global technological refinements in salt mining, extraction and manufacture, this book also provides a detailed history (including recipes) of the dietary habits of pre-industrial societies. This part of the book should be of particular interest to sustainability and holistic health activists seeking out traditional methods of food fermentation and preservation as an alternative to processed food. Owing to a new diet I started six months ago to treat a Clostridium difficile infection (see The Care and Feeding of Intestinal Bacteria), fermenting veggies from my garden has become a core part of my daily routine.

Sodium Deficiency and the Rise of Salt Mining

Archeological evidence suggests that plant domestication and the rise of agriculture 10,000 years ago led to a sodium deficiency not present in the diets of hunter gatherer societies. That the agricultural revolution forced our early ancestors seek out surface salt deposits (i.e. salt licks), like other large mammals.

The earliest known salt works are found in Chinese archeological sites dating back to 6,000 BC. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, the Chinese used salt to ferment (pickle) fish, soybeans and other vegetables. The ancient Egyptians were the first to trade preserved foods with other cultures. In the third century BC, they traded salted fish with the Phoenicians for cedar, glass and purple dye from seashells.

Salted fish, olives and other vegetables were also a mainstay of early Greek and Roman diets. After the Romans conquered the Celts in northern Europe, they also adopted the Celtic practice of using salt to preserve ham and other meat. Archeologists have discovered elaborate Celtic salt mines in northern Germany dating from the Roman conquest.

The Basques*, the first to develop commercial whaling (670 AD), also manufactured salt to preserve whale meat. After discovering massive schools of cod in the North Atlantic, Vikings from Scandinavia settled the Ardour River just north of the Basque provinces. For the next few centuries, the Basques salted this cod and dominated the cod trade with the rest of Europe.

Control of the salt and codfish trade would trigger numerous European wars over the next few centuries – with England gaining exclusive control of the Newfoundland fishing grounds in 1759.

Salt in the New World

The history of the Americas is also one of constant warfare over salt. The Aztecs controlled their salt routes through military conquest and exacted a salt tribute from their subjects. The arrival of the Spanish in South and Central America significantly increased demand for salt. The Spanish conquistadors required salt to raise beef and dairy cattle, as well as for tanning hides and separating metallic silver from silver ore.

Control of the salt trade and salt taxes also figure prominently in the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution and Ghandi’s movement to end British rule in India.

The Decline of the Salt Trade

Thanks to the advent of industrial scale canning, refrigeration and fast freezing technology, the salt trade lost its global importance in the early 20th century. Fermented foods still play an important role in many Asian and a few European cultures – both for health reasons and for their importance to cultural identity.

*The Basque people are an indigenous, non Indo-European people who currently inhabit a region in the Pyrenees straddling France and Spain. DNA evidence suggests they have inhabited the area for roughly 7,000 years.