“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
- 1984 by George Orwell
anipulation of how we think and what we think has always been the greatest strategy of those who want to control us. The corporate world, arguably led by, historically as well as methodologically, the tobacco and alcohol industries are champions of manipulation of our thoughts.
Here’s an example:
A century or so ago, the cow was an important animal in people’s lives and they were happy to drink cow’s milk.
Why do we now prefer powdered milk?
This could be because we have started to believe that fresh cow’s milk induces phlegm-related conditions! It may be totally unrelated to the operations of the rising powdered milk industry in Sri Lanka. Or, it may well be closely related.
Many moons ago, we Sri Lankans ‘abhorred’ alcohol, according to Robert Knox. They were ashamed to show their drinking habits.
Now the trend is belief that alcohol is a sign of prestige. People who don’t drink are ashamed sometimes that they don’t drink alcohol. This may be totally unrelated to the operations of the alcohol industry. Or, is it closely related?
What, therefore, is all this talk about how our thoughts are manipulated?
Here we go! Advertisements, free promotions, and many more and then we see that most of the effective methods are covert.
Front groups is one such leading strategy.
A front group, according to the Centre for Media and Democracy, is “an organisation that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned.”
A government of a particular country introduces a new policy to increase taxes on cigarettes or alcoholic beverages. Wow! This will increase the income for government, reduce consumption of alcohol moderately and decrease the profits of the alcohol industry, a well proven finding.
But, when a seemingly unconnected organisation with a name like ‘Alliance to Protect Consumers’ or ‘Association of Small Businessmen’ starts to protest against the government policy about increasing taxes, they say things like ‘Increasing taxes induced countries A and C to have a bigger illicit alcohol problem and a vicious underworld.’
They go on saying ‘Don’t do it’, or ‘We are adults. We can choose. Government should not restrict our choice.’ Or ‘Alcohol and cigarettes have been an important part of human culture from time immemorial.’
"A front group, according to the Centre for Media and Democracy, is “an organisation that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned."
These sayings and quotes are the hallmark feature of a front group. It engages, according to the Centre for Media and Democracy, “in actions that consistently and conspicuously benefit a third party, such as a Company, Industry or Political candidate”. Now that is the best indicator to start suspecting if a particular group is a front group for some Company, Industry or a Political Party.
Another characteristic feature of a front group which I have highlighted is having a misleading name, which effectively disguises or hides its real motives. The ‘Alliance to Protect Consumers’ is actually not to protect consumers, rather it is to do the opposite!
These examples highlight another important feature of a front group: It re-focuses debate about an issue onto a new or suspiciously unrelated topic. That is, increasing taxes reducing alcohol consumption (and profits to the companies), onto the topic of freedom of choice and historic effects of Prohibition.
The Centre for Media and Democracy describes many other features of front groups.
"Another notable feature is, front groups are set up and operated by some organisation other than the actual company or entity or person, effectively shielding the third party from liability/responsibility/culpability."
One important feature is that front groups typically avoid mentioning their main sources of funding. They may mention funding in small print, inconspicuously.
Another notable feature is, front groups are set up and operated by some organisation other than the actual company or entity or person, effectively shielding the third party from liability/responsibility/culpability.
Front groups generally consist of a few vocal, “esteemed academic experts” who go on national tours, put on media events, give press conferences, seminars, workshops, and who ordinarily would not seem to have the budget or financial means to carry out such events, according to the Centre for Media and Democracy.
Although the presence of one of the above features does not mean that a particular organization is a front group, the presence of an increasing number of features definitely indicates a higher chance of it being a front group.
Sometimes esteemed (truly) independent groups may be later hijacked by certain individuals resulting in their functioning as front groups at a later time.
So, every time you hear things such as ‘increasing taxes induces an illicit alcohol problem’, or ‘Government should not restrict our choice’ or ‘Alcohol has always been an important part of mankind’, you should quickly remember the above features and check for yourself.