Posts Tagged ‘Happiness machines’

A century of psychology and social control

May 18, 2011

Links updated 9/17/2016:  Click on this if the embedded videos don’t work.

Recently I came across this four-part BBC series on how the corporate and governmental elites use the ideas of Sigmund Freud to manipulate and control the public.  It is full of fascinating facts I never knew.

Freud taught that human beings are at the mercy of powerful desires and emotions arising out of the subconscious mind.  The theme of this series is how corporations and governments in the 20th century sought to bypass critical thinking and manipulate the public by tapping into these desires and emotions.

The first program in the series is above.  It describes the early career of Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, founder of the profession of public relations.  Born in 1891, Bernays was brought to the United States as a boy, and he served during World War One in the Wilson administration disseminating war propaganda.

During the 1920s, Bernays pioneered the use of advertising based not on the objective merits of a product, but on the consumer’s desires and anxieties.  He broke the taboo against women smoking cigarettes in public, for example, by making cigarette smoking a symbol of women’s liberation.

Bernays believed that the average human being was too stupid to be an intelligent decision-maker in a democracy.  If American business could find out what people wanted on a deep level and provide it, then traditional democracy would be unnecessary, he thought; if people could express themselves through focus groups, traditional political participation would be unnecessary.

Producer Adam Curtis follows Bernays into the 1930s, when he advised the National Association of Manufacturers on its propaganda offensive against the New Deal, and helped organize the 1939 World’s Fair, a tribute to the ability of the free enterprise system to satisfy the public’s needs and wants.  He touches on now Nazi propagandist  Joseph Goebbels openly rejected rational argument, and appealed to deep emotions and instincts.  It would have been interesting to compare Nazi and Soviet propaganda, inasmuch as both ideologies rejected the ideas of Sigmund Freud, but you can’t get everything into a one-hour program.

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