Bookcase: “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays

Cover of 2005 edition of Edward Bernays’ 1928 classic, “Propaganda.”

Propaganda is a little volume, written nearly 90 years ago by Edward Bernays, who happened to be the nephew of Sigmund Freud.  Both he and Walter Lippmann –who authored Public Opinion – wrote about the  “manufacture of consent.”  Or how to manipulate and control public opinion.

I have three observations to share today about this work:  1) Its general theme about manipulation of the “mass mind” is more important than ever; 2) Much of it is outdated because the mechanics of propaganda today have grown ever more toxic; 3)  It seems as though the folks most interested in manipulating the mass mind are the same people who control the study of propaganda in academia.  I see virtually no discussion in the public square about how propaganda works.

The general theme of Bernays’ book can be condensed in this assertion:

“We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way our democratic society is organized.  Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.”

So does this mean we all accept our ideas from these “men we have never heard of” for the common good, like obeying traffic laws?  Or does it mean we cooperate in building a mechanized society that attempts to squash civil inquiry in order to promote a monolithic agenda of central control?  Here’s another nugget from Bernays:

“We are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses.”

In totalitarian fashion, Bernays sees this as a good thing, that controlling people’s behavior is necessary to avoid chaos and confusion in society.

Bernays also stated that “Business today is taking the public into partnership.”  That may have seemed true in 1928, but it’s now outdated. I’d say it’s actually the other way around.  The government is absorbing and amassing corporations at breakneck speed today.

Whereas the propaganda of yesterday was more focused on the manufacture of consent, today the main efforts of propagandists seem to be the squashing of dissent in order to protect its monolithic machine.

Most eerie to me is that those who would promote independent thought do not seem to be in the forefront of the study of social psychology and propaganda methods.   Instead, the study of propaganda and communications seems to be controlled by folks in our universities who have an affinity for central planning.

For example, the author of the introduction to this 2005 edition of Propaganda is Mark Crispin Miller who seems cozy enough with politicians who seek to build a centrally-controlled society built on PC-controlled group think. In fact, the entire field of behavioral insight appears to be dominated by people who want to regulate our minds to the nth degree.  Many come out of the University of Chicago, including Cass Sunstein, Obama’s former regulatory czar, and co-author of Nudge. The extreme left linguist Noam Chomsky is another master of explaining propaganda and yet he is fine with the dictates of political correctness and seems intent on squashing independent thought in order to build a centralized state.  It doesn’t take much reading between his lines to see this.  This is exactly the sort of hoarding of information about self-awareness that Doris Lessing warned against, and which I discussed in a previous post.

I think the best antidote to living under a tyranny of extremist thinking is to cultivate truly independent thinking.  And independent thinking does not come about through adherence to political correctness. It happens through real relationships built on real trust with real people in real communities.

Bookcase: “The Rape of the Mind” by Joost A. M. Meerloo

Joost A. M. Meerloo, M. D. (1903-1976) Author of “The Rape of the Mind”

If you fear we’re living in an age of mass delusion — as do I — then you must read this extraordinary book by Dutch psychiatrist Joost A. M. Meerloo.  “The Rape of the Mind” is subtitled:  “The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing.”  Had it it seen more light of day since it was published in 1956, it may well have served as inoculation against political correctness and groupthink.

Free speech is essential to preventing mass delusion.  Meerloo wrote: “Where thinking is isolated without free exchange with other minds, delusion may follow.”  He adds, chillingly, “Is this not what happened in Hitler Germany where free verification and self-correction were forbidden?”

Meerloo’s writing shows immense compassion for our human frailties.  He understood just how difficult it is to push back against the social pressures to conform.  But push back we must.   Meerloo’s first line of the foreward reads:

“This book attempts to depict the strange transformation of the free human mind into an automatically responding machine.”

We should tremble at the fact that he wrote that back in 1956.  Below is a bit of a synopsis.

Part I “The Techniques of Individual Submission” describes how human beings can be conditioned to do just about anything.  Part II “The Techniques of Mass Submission” explores how totalitarian thinking gets rooted, how man becomes “robotized,” and how demagogues use fear, emotional blackmail, and “semantic fog” to mobilize masses.  Part III “Unobtrusive Coercion” is perhaps the most fascinating of all the fascinating sections. In it, Meerloo provides his theory as to how totalitarians can be “molded” literally from the nursery. He delves into mental contagion and mass delusion and the primal human fear of isolation.  He describes the coercive creep of technology and its paradoxes.  Ditto the bureaucratic mind.  Finally, Part IV “In Search of Defenses” is a welcomed prescription on how to fight back.

Before humans can preserve true freedom, we must first be aware of our inner contradictions:

“Democracy, by its very nature will always have to fight against dictatorship from without and destructiveness from within.  Democratic freedom has to battle against both the individual’s inner will to power and his urge to submit to other people … Essentially, democracy means the right to develop yourself and not to be developed by others.  Yet to develop yourself is impossible without the duty of giving your energy and attention to the development of others.”

In the end, freedom truly depends upon friendship.  (You can read a great article on that here.) After all, political correctness is primarily a tool for separating people.  Clearly, our narcissistic society is oblivious to this. But for me, “The Rape of the Mind” cracks the code. It is a must read for our times.

Bookcase: “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside” Doris Lessing on Fighting Groupthink

Doris Lessing with 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature (IBI Times)

This post follows up on my last post about Doris Lessing’s treatise against groupthink.   It also follows up on my previous list of recommended books.  I chose them (and there will be more!) to help us “piece together what exactly is going on in our brains and in our relationships that seem to be producing the delusional state our society is in.”

It’s critical that we stand athwart the march to groupthink and shout “Stop!”  The more of us who do this as individuals, the better.  And in fact, Lessing noted that it is the Individual — not the group — who changes history.  Here is a wonderful quote in which Lessing expects that systems allowing independent thought will win in the end over those who don’t — because of the power of the individual over the group:

“In the long term, I think the race will go to the democracies, the flexible societies.  I know that if one looks around the world at the moment, this may seem a rather over-optimistic view . . .  But is it my belief that it is always the individual, in the long run, who will set the tone, provide the real development in a society.

Looking back, I see what a great influence an individual may have, even an apparently obscure person, living a small, quiet life.  It is individuals who change societies, give birth to ideas, who, standing out against tides of opinion, and change them. This is as true in open societies as it is in oppressive societies, but of course the casualty rate in the closed societies is higher.  Everything that has ever happened to me has taught me to value the individual, the person who cultivates and preserves her or his own ways of thinking, who stands out against group thinking, group pressures.  Or who, conforming no more than is necessary to group pressures, quietly preserves individual thinking and development. . . .

“It is my belief that an intelligent and forward-looking society would do everything possible to produce such individuals, instead of, as happens very often, suppressing them.  But if governments, if cultures, don’t encourage their production, then individuals and groups can and should.”

You’ll find so much to think about in this little 77-page guidebook about why we must oppose groupthink.  Lessing writes about how brainwashing works.  She is astonished that there is virtually no information available to the public and schools about the mechanics of group psychology — to help us build awareness of how it works within us.  She concludes the reason is that it’s the sort of knowledge that would make it more difficult for elites to gain mass compliance.

I’ll end on a very politically incorrect quote from Lessing’s words, which she wrote 30 years ago:

“ . . . we are living in a time when the great over-simplifiers are very powerful – Communism, fundamentalist Islam.”

Order “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside” by midnight tonight!

Acclaimed Author Doris Lessing: Our Future Depends on Resisting Groupthink

British author and Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Doris Lessing died in 2013 at the age of 94, just a few years after winning the Nobel Prize for literature.  She identified as a communist for many years and was also known as an icon of modern feminism. But she came to firmly reject communism as well as the label “feminist.”  A New York Times article from 30 years ago describes how her politically correct followers became confused and annoyed by her exploration into different ideas and trains of thought.

What’s especially fascinating to me is how Lessing developed some keen insights into how humans behave in groups and how we handle dissent.  She could see the noxious effects of groupthink on human relationships.  It disturbed her so much that in 1985 she gave five lectures on the subject, which are contained in a little known volume entitled “Prisons we Choose to Live Inside” (1986).  

It’s a gem, especially given Lessing’s legacy and renown. Consider these two passages that pretty much sum up the mechanics of political correctness:

“ .. . we can stand in a room full of dear friends, knowing that nine-tenths of them, if the pack demands it, will become our enemies. .. . But there is always the minority who do not and it seems to me that our future, the future of everybody, depends on this minority.”

” . . .  whenever people are actually forced to recognize, from real experience, what we are capable of, it is so shocking that we can’t take it in easily. Or take it in at all; we want to forget it.”

Lessing also contemplates the effects of technology and how poorly we use it:

“I believe that people coming after us will marvel that on the one hand we accumulated more and more information about our behavior, while on the other, we made no attempt at all to use it to improve our lives.”

In fact, our blindness to the realities of our own patterns of human behavior will be our downfall.  If we could just take a clinical look at the mechanics of groupthink and how it hurts us, we’d all become freer and happier.

Lessing also ventured to say that she believed that critical knowledge of human behavior is actually being hoarded by elites in order to amass their own power, prompting her to ask this:

“How is it that so-called democratic movements don’t make a point of instructing their members in the laws of crowd psychology, group psychology?”

Today everyone would do well to read this handy 77-page volume.  You may not agree with every opinion Lessing includes in it (I didn’t) but her insights are absolutely essential if we are to remain a free society.  I’ll offer more quotes from Lessing’s work in future posts.  I absolutely love it.

 

Transgender Propaganda, Part I

Below is an Oprah Winfrey propaganda clip from about five years ago.  In it she interviews transgender supermodel Lea T.  The idea was to promote and glamorize sex reassignment surgery.  Today a primary goal of the transgender lobby is to push hard to get everyone to accept the transitioning of children.  Before that, the focus was primarily on adults. We can look back and see Oprah working to soften the ground here, as always prodding us to align our attitudes and beliefs with hers:

Of course, we’ve reached a new stage in the propaganda war to force feed transgender ideology to America at large.  Last night the TV series “Transparent” won several awards at the Golden Globe Awards.  The series centers around a family in which the father comes out as transgender. Audiences undergo a lot of emotional manipulation and emotional blackmail in this sort of propaganda.

My Friday Federalist piece on Leelah’s Law was about the transgender lobby’s exploitation of a teen’s suicide to push their agenda a whole lot harder.  The proposed law would essentially criminalize any counseling and psychotherapy that does not affirm transgenderism, and any parent who did not get with the Trans program would be guilty by association.  Of course it uses the catchphrase “conversion therapy” to imply that this only applies to one type of therapy.  It doesn’t.   You can read my article here:  “Leelah’s Law is Bad Law and Bad Medicine.”

The message behind the proposed law is that if you do not accept the ideology of transgenderism, you are morally responsible for any suicide of a transgender child who does not feel accepted.

I think there are at least five factors that make the onslaught of transgender propaganda different from other types of propaganda in the past.

1.  It seems far more organized, focused, faster-and-more-furious than any propaganda campaign in history. (Which means it can’t withstand much scrutiny.)

2.  It requires more than ever that the bystander reject physical reality in order to accommodate ever-shifting perceptions of others.  This is huge.  It comes with the territory that such laws require us to reject our own physical reality and question our own “gender identity.”

3. Under the phony guise of “anti-bullying” this type of propaganda exploits children and their peers as never before –physically, emotionally, and mentally.

4.  The scope of the endgame is enormous:  to legally and universally impose upon every human being a new definition — or rather, a non-definition — of what it means to be human.

(Even if for the moment it seems like everybody simply has the “freedom” to identify as one wishes, that’s not sustainable.  Because ultimately, the ideology of transgenderism rejects biology. It’s already begun to erase  everybody’s legal identity as either male or female simply by writing into law the presumption that your sex is merely “assigned at birth.”)

5.  It serves to abolish the family.  When male and female are eliminated as legal categories, it goes without saying that “mother” and “father” must also be eliminated as legal categories, along with any inherent right to a relationship with your biological children.  That’s the logical path transgender propaganda leads us down.

If we want to survive, it’s high time we spit out this kool-aid.

Corruption of Language, Transgender Law, Paris Massacre & the Abolition of Man

C S Lewis, author of The Abolition of Man and truly a prophet of the 20th century

Corruption of the language seems to be surrounding us as never before.

On one front, we see how the transgender lobby is selling the snake oil of “gender identity.”  This insists that being female and male does not exist in physical reality, but only in our minds. So at root, it’s not really an agenda about gender per se or equality.  It’s an agenda to corrupt the language and every single person’s perception of reality.  You will see this become more prevalent if “Leelah’s Law” — a reaction to the recent suicide of a transgender youth — is pushed.  I hope to write more about it, but the idea is to ban any counseling for kids that doesn’t affirm transgenderism.  Under the guise that it only bans something called “conversion therapy.”

On another related front, we can see how the push to control language is causing mayhem globally.  After the massacre at the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, there is a new debate about the limits of free speech.  The magazine publishes a lot of content hostile to religion – all religions – but the killings were based only on its depictions of the prophet Mohammed.

At The Federalist Sean Davis reminds us How CS Lewis Predicted Charlie Hebdo Censorship:

Western news organizations are falling all over themselves to censor images that raise the ire of violent terrorists, and C.S. Lewis predicted their exact behavior over 70 years ago when he published “The Abolition of Man,” his treatise on how the corruption of language leads inevitably to the corruption of mind and soul.

When we allow language to be so manipulated that it distorts reality, that puts civilization itself on the path to suicide.

I love the way CJ Ciaramella leads his article, also at the Federalist: “Everything you Need to Know about Voxsplaining the Charlie Hebdo Massacre:”

Sometime in the Paleolithic past, one guy said to his friends, “Hey, have you ever noticed how small Steve the Chief’s brow is? Look at me, I’m Steve No-Brow.” Everyone laughed, then Steve the Chief caved the guy’s head in with a rock. Human affairs with regards to unauthorized satire remained the same for the next 100,000 years or so, with the only difference being who was holding the biggest rock.

So how do you balance free speech with irresponsible speech?  The answer lies in something we call “Civil Society.” It subsists upon a common uncorrupted language and agreement to allow the free exchange of ideas.  Unfortunately, civil society is ceding authority to the corruption of  language enforced by political correctness.  If civil society is ever to be rebuilt, PC must be resisted and always fought.

Some Books I Recommend for 2015 Reading

For those who have been checking this blog for updates: My apologies.  The hustle and bustle of the holidays — such as they’ve been — were a major distraction.  But another distraction is the constant machinations of power politics around us.  Just witnessing the dysfunction and delusion feels paralyzing at times.  Take a quick gander back at 2014 and you’ll see: Rioting is replacing the rule of law.  The transgender project is replacing the physical reality of sex distinctions by legally erasing those distinctions from your identity. Communism is making a comeback in the world, including in Eastern Europe.

These are just a few of the trends, but they comprise just the tip of a very deep iceberg.  On the surface these agendas are all about freedom, blah blah blah. But dip below and you’ll hear loud and clear Orwell’s 1984 proclamations that “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength.”

I’m going to attempt a running list of secular books that I hope can help level headed folks piece together what exactly is going on in our brains and in our relationships that seem to be producing the delusional state our society is in.  The books are mostly about understanding how propaganda — and political correctness — affects us, divides us, and destroys us.   Some of the questions I grapple with are these:  Why does there seem to be a blockade on cohesive and independent thought?  Why are we so susceptible to propaganda and political correctness?  Why do we never learn?  Why do we keep falling for promises of utopia? Is there a way to stem the tide?  (In the future, I also hope to offer some titles from a specifically Christian perspective.)

Below are a random mix of a few non-fiction titles I recommend as reading in 2015.   I plan to present short reviews of and/or excerpts from each in the weeks and months to come, and I will add more books and essays to the list.  I wish we could all be in a book club together to discuss them!

The Undiscovered Self, by Carl Jung (1956) (discussed in an earlier blog post)

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, (1986) by Doris Lessing.

The Rape of the Mind, (1956) by Joost Meerloo.

The Power of the Powerless, (1978) by Vaclav Havel

The Hidden Persuaders, (1957) by Vance Packard.

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, (2010) by Nicholas Carr

Propaganda, (1928) by Edward Bernays

May the year ahead be illuminating for us all.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utopia and Terror are Inevitably Linked. North Korea is Proof.

“Utopia and Terror in the 20th Century.” You won’t regret ordering these lectures. They’re superb

Do you have an idea about what constitutes the “perfect society?”  As you imagine your utopia, you’ll realize that there is one absolutely mandatory ingredient: Universal Compliance.

Aye, there’s the rub.

From time immemorial, all attempts at Utopia have required terror to put down dissent, whether active or passive.  You can get a grasp of the history and the scope of all of this in a superb series of lectures called “Utopia and Terror in the Twentieth Century,” by Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius.  They’re available from The Great Courses, and are engaging and filled with astonishing connections in human history.

My take is this:  As long as human beings are unique, as long as even one of them thinks independently of others, Utopia is a total pipe dream.  Compliance must be forced.  Or human beings must cease to be human by giving up their uniqueness.  Either way, what you end up with is something that always morphs into dystopia.

In a dystopia people usually take one of two routes:  1) They are unsettled and self-censoring as they battle “living within the Lie,” as Vaclav Havel wrote. Or 2) they simply become automated and content to live a machine-like existence.  Nothing utopian about either alternative. So the whole idea of utopia is self-refuting.  At least for humans.

Which brings us to a regime like North Korea.  Just look a little bit at the video above in which its citizens wept hysterically over the announcement of Kim Jong-Il’s death three years ago.  What does this tell you?  Its citizens are utterly dependent upon the government and have psychologically succumbed to the Cult of Personality.  Out of fear and conformity and compliance, they ape one another in their grief, which is in one sense real and in another sense not real — not natural –at all.  It suggests total psychological isolation of people who cannot freely associate. Slaves. I’m especially amazed watching from 1:19-1:25, two youth are standing behind the man who is in paroxysms of wailing.  They aren’t sure what to do, but looking around they realize they are *supposed* to get down on their knees.  So they do.

Earlier this week Sony bowed to that regime’s pressure not to release the movie “The Interview” because it was offensive to Kim Jong-Un’s regime.  Setting aside the whole issue of cowardice on the part of Sony, let’s focus on why North Korea would go so far as to conduct a cyberwar to get Sony to back down.

Suggesting the Supreme Leader could be assassinated?  Well, yeah, there’s that.  But it goes even deeper.  The movie (which doesn’t look to be a very good one, anyway) disrupts the North Korean narrative that it’s achieved Perfection rather than the institutionalized slavery of all of its people.  Such regimes are always subject to any straw that could break their back since their whole existence is built on a lie that will collapse under its own weight.

 

 

 

 

 

Strange-Bedfellow Politics of “The Hunger Games”

In today’s Federalist I have an article that examines how people of different political stripes have enthusiastically embraced the “The Hunger Games.” Below you can watch the trailer for the third movie in the series entitled “Mockingjay, Part I,” which was released last month.  (There will be a fourth and final film next year.)

Click here to read “The Strange-Bedfellow Politics of the Hunger Games.”  Both liberals and conservatives have enthusiastically embraced the movies, which are based upon a trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins.  It’s set in a dystopian society in which youth are chosen by lottery to fight in brutal gladiator style “hunger games” that entertain the ruling class.

The political left views it all as a tale of socio-economic inequality, police brutality, and environmental pollution. Resistance for them means uprisings like “Occupy Wall Street” the unrest in Ferguson, movements which it seems the makers of the film hope to encourage.  But conservatives see in the “Hunger Games” a strong warning against unchecked centralized power, i.e., Big Government.

Most interesting to me is the chagrin and shock of some on the left – most notably Donald Sutherland who plays the evil President Snow – to discover that conservatives, including the Tea Party, love the story as a warning against policies of the left that grow centralized power.

But why should this be a shock?  It seems everybody ought to know that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  But apparently not.  So how did this interpretive divide happen?

I think the answer lies in what we euphemistically call political correctness.  By silencing people who disagree with the politically correct line, advocates of PC have essentially cut off civil discourse. PC serves to isolate and polarize people so much that there are no avenues for mutual understanding.  Only mutual vilification.  So, in the end, PC only serves centralized power and big government, what Carl Jung refers to as “the mass State.”

I discussed some of this in my previous post quoting Carl Jung.  The silencing of dissent has got to stop.  If we continue to tolerate it we’re at risk of descending into a dystopia ourselves.

 

Carl Jung on How Psychic Isolation Serves Central Power

In the 1950’s the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote a slim volume entitled The Undiscovered Self.  At some point I want to delve into it.  But for today, please consider this excerpt:

“It is the nature of political bodies always to see the evil in the opposite group, just as the individual has an ineradicable tendency to get rid of everything he does not know and does not want to know about himself by foisting it off on somebody else. . . .  The mass State has no intention of promoting mutual understanding and the relationship of man to man; it strives, rather, for atomization, for the psychic isolation of the individual.  The more unrelated individuals are, the more consolidated the State becomes, and vice versa.

I’m convinced that power elites use political correctness as a means of separating people.   It causes “psychic isolation of the individual,” which serves to divide and conquer.  People become more and more polarized politically when they are unable to express what they believe and how they feel to others.  PC squashes mutual understanding.  That’s what it’s for.

If you think it through, I think you’ll also come to realize that civil discourse is the biggest impediment to centralized power.  How so?  When people fear expressing their innermost thoughts to others, friendships cannot develop.  Personal associations are nipped in the bud.  And when friendships in society are minimized, people become less trustful of others.  They become more isolated and atomized, more dependent upon the “mass State” Jung refers to.  Political correctness only serves the consolidation of central power.  Nothing and nobody else.