The new mind control

Over the past century, more than a few great writers have expressed concern about humanity’s future. In The Iron Heel (1908), the American writer Jack London pictured a world in which a handful of wealthy corporate titans – the ‘oligarchs’ – kept the masses at bay with a brutal combination of rewards and punishments. Much of humanity lived in virtual slavery, while the fortunate ones were bought off with decent wages that allowed them to live comfortably – but without any real control over their lives.

In We (1924), the brilliant Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, anticipating the excesses of the emerging Soviet Union, envisioned a world in which people were kept in check through pervasive monitoring. The walls of their homes were made of clear glass, so everything they did could be observed. They were allowed to lower their shades an hour a day to have sex, but both the rendezvous time and the lover had to be registered first with the state.

In Brave New World (1932), the British author Aldous Huxley pictured a near-perfect society in which unhappiness and aggression had been engineered out of humanity through a combination of genetic engineering and psychological conditioning. And in the much darker novel 1984 (1949), Huxley’s compatriot George Orwell described a society in which thought itself was controlled; in Orwell’s world, children were taught to use a simplified form of English called Newspeak in order to assure that they could never express ideas that were dangerous to society.

These are all fictional tales, to be sure, and in each the leaders who held the power used conspicuous forms of control that at least a few people actively resisted and occasionally overcame. But in the non-fiction bestsellerThe Hidden Persuaders (1957) – recently released in a 50th-anniversary edition – the American journalist Vance Packard described a ‘strange and rather exotic’ type of influence that was rapidly emerging in the United States and that was, in a way, more threatening than the fictional types of control pictured in the novels. According to Packard, US corporate executives and politicians were beginning to use subtle and, in many cases, completely undetectable methods to change people’s thinking, emotions and behaviour based on insights from psychiatry and the social sciences.

Most of us have heard of at least one of these methods: subliminal stimulation, or what Packard called ‘subthreshold effects’ – the presentation of short messages that tell us what to do but that are flashed so briefly we aren’t aware we have seen them. In 1958, propelled by public concern about a theatre in New Jersey that had supposedly hidden messages in a movie to increase ice cream sales, the National Association of Broadcasters – the association that set standards for US television – amended its code to prohibit the use of subliminal messages in broadcasting. In 1974, the Federal Communications Commission opined that the use of such messages was ‘contrary to the public interest’. Legislation to prohibit subliminal messaging was also introduced in the US Congress but never enacted. Both the UK and Australia have strict laws prohibiting it.

Subliminal stimulation is probably still in wide use in the US – it’s hard to detect, after all, and no one is keeping track of it – but it’s probably not worth worrying about. Research suggests that it has only a small impact, and that it mainly influences people who are already motivated to follow its dictates; subliminal directives to drink affect people only if they’re already thirsty.

Packard had uncovered a much bigger problem, however – namely that powerful corporations were constantly looking for, and in many cases already applying, a wide variety of techniques for controlling people without their knowledge. He described a kind of cabal in which marketers worked closely with social scientists to determine, among other things, how to get people to buy things they didn’t need and how to condition young children to be good consumers – inclinations that were explicitly nurtured and trained in Huxley’s Brave New World. Guided by social science, marketers were quickly learning how to play upon people’s insecurities, frailties, unconscious fears, aggressive feelings and sexual desires to alter their thinking, emotions and behavior without any awareness that they were being manipulated.

By the early 1950s, Packard said, politicians had got the message and were beginning to merchandise themselves using the same subtle forces being used to sell soap. Packard prefaced his chapter on politics with an unsettling quote from the British economist Kenneth Boulding: ‘A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government.’ Could this really happen, and, if so, how would it work?

 The forces that Packard described have become more pervasive over the decades. The soothing music we all hear overhead in supermarkets causes us to walk more slowly and buy more food, whether we need it or not. Most of the vacuous thoughts and intense feelings our teenagers experience from morning till night are carefully orchestrated by highly skilled marketing professionals working in our fashion and entertainment industries. Politicians work with a wide range of consultants who test every aspect of what the politicians do in order to sway voters: clothing, intonations, facial expressions, makeup, hairstyles and speeches are all optimised, just like the packaging of a breakfast cereal.

Fortunately, all of these sources of influence operate competitively. Some of the persuaders want us to buy or believe one thing, others to buy or believe something else. It is the competitive nature of our society that keeps us, on balance, relatively free.

But what would happen if new sources of control began to emerge that had little or no competition? And what if new means of control were developed that were far more powerful – and far more invisible – than any that have existed in the past? And what if new types of control allowed a handful of people to exert enormous influence not just over the citizens of the US but over most of the people on Earth?

It might surprise you to hear this, but these things have already happened.


Autors apraksta vienu no t.s. attīstīto valstu problēmām, kas līdzinās indivīda saslimšanai, kuru psihoterapeiti apzīmē ar vārdiem ”nepārvaramā disfunkcija”. Bet šī sabiedrības saslimšana ir plašāka un ar mazāk redzamām patoloģijas pazīmēm. Plašāka tādā nozīmē,, ka: 1) mēs to neapzināmies; 2) neliela sabiedrības daļa, kura novirzes redz un apzinās, neko nespēj mainīt, jo tas nav iespējams; 3) novirzes jeb saslimšana nav iestājusies tāpēc, ka parādījušies kaut kādi ‘slikti spēki’, bet tāpēc, ka to parādīšanās ir ieprogrammēta mūsu ģenētikā. Pavisam vispārīgi to ir pateicis biologs E. O. Wilson: “mūsu mednieku-augu vācēju cilšu gēni nav piemēroti tam dzīvesveidam, kurā mēs gribot-negribot esam ielēkuši.” Kuru mēs paši neapzinoties esam radījuši. Konkrētāk tie ir zināmi mūsu pamatinstinkti (ņemt arī tad, kad tas izdzīvošanas nodrošināšanai nav nepieciešams, vairoties, apliecināt sevi, un vajadzība pēc kaut kā lielāka par sevi, savu ikdienu). Pirmais no minētajiem ir radījis to, ko mēs novērojam visas cilvēces vēsturē: materiālo labamu sadali, kas rada nevienlīdzību un tās saglabāšanas noteikumus. Tieši par pēdējo raksta autors: masu cilvēku apziņas kontroli, kas nodrošina tālāku nevienlīdzības palielināšanu. 

Šaurākā skatījumā katrs sagatavots mūsu sabiedrības indivīds spēj izvairīties no propagandas uzbrukumiem: izglītots cilvēks pastaigājas supermārketā, dzird patīkamu mūziku un pērk tikai to, kas viņam ir vajadzīgs. Līdzīgi arī ar informāciju: izglītots cilvēks izvairās no MIL radītā trokšņa un dzīvo savā pasaulē. Saņem informāciju no nedaudziem internetā pieejamiem rakstiem, bauda pagājušo g.s. mākslas darbus un kopā ar pasaules zinātniekiem apdomā to, kā veidot un uzturēt sakarīgu savu iekšējo pasauli, un kas notiek ar mūsu civilizāciju. 

Problēma ir ar bērniem, ar jaunajiem: kamēr viņi nav apguvuši pasaules (fizika, ķīmija, informācijas teorija) un savas (evolūcijas teorija) esības pamatus, viņi nespēj izvairīties no savas sociālās vides spiediena: informācijas teorija saka, ka tas nav iespējams. Mēs esam spiesti noskatīties, kā viņi neapzināti, bravūrīgi, priecīgi, aizrautīgi, pašpārliecināti un nezinot veido savas dzīves saskaņā ar savas vides standartiem, un pirms nāves pasaka kopā ar  Edgaru Liepiņu: “Es daudzas precības jau pārlaidis, bet nekur man nav izdevies”, vai kopā ar Oļģertu Kroderu: “Nav dzīvei jēgas. Nav.” I.V.


About basicrulesoflife

Year 1935. Interests: Contemporary society problems, quality of life, happiness, understanding and changing ourselves - everything based on scientific evidence.
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