Advertising, Public Relations, Population Management, Politics –
Glimpses in History
I use ‘glimpses’ in my title as I lay no claim to comprehensive study of this topic. I hope interested readers will search out insights from comprehensive sources for their own mindful awareness.
Most of us are short of time for deep investigation on any topic. Thanks to internet, most of us can become intelligently aware. Aware of our individual personality interests and biases; aware of social, political, and economic forces. We can be aware of how larger interests in our culture feed into personal lives. We can be aware of how our personal choices feed back into the broad culture.
I believe human community exists – as better or worse – depending on the quality of input from individuals, who in turn influence group behavior, etc. I believe we contribute from individual thought and choice. We contribute by action and inaction alike. I believe no individual can rationally separate him/herself from the larger whole. I believe it is our responsibility to acknowledge our place in community, to assume responsibility for human betterment of self and group. To deny the illusion that we can bring “our best” to the table without keeping in mind the needs of everyone else.
We cannot stop with awareness alone. We may say: “Yes, I know” when a concern is brought to our attention, and take it no further. But such a “not-interested” choice is unhelpful.
I set aside those in situations already exhausting – sometimes individual circumstances are such that one simply is caught in real crisis. Most of us, much of the time, have capacity and energy to become a bit more aware, to gather a bit more information, to ask at least a couple of pointed questions, before we make a personal choice. Wise. Because choice impacts any group to which we belong. (The largest group, of course, is the whole of humanity.)
If we do not practice informed awareness in decision making, we are functioning by habit alone. We are as a child playing ‘ghost’ wherein we agree to be blindfolded and directed toward some outcome determined by others. (I have no idea whether children continue to play this game. My siblings and I played it and I don’t even recall the point! The blindfolded child walked about, responding to shouts of direction by others. Being blindfolded was a positive experience the way we played it, who knows why – perhaps because the blindfolded child was full center of attention. Much laughter seemed to be a main outcome!
Perhaps another ‘point’ of our ghost game was pure diversion. It was funny to shout instructions, to play the role of manipulator, and funny to obey them, to allow oneself to be manipulated. It was ‘make-believe’, entertainment. But running a country, participating as a citizen in a democracy, is not, at the material world level, make-believe entertainment. Opting to be manipulated is hardly sound ‘patriotism’.
Manipulation of one human by another of course is so common as to likely be ‘hardwired’ into us. Children develop great manipulation skills of other children and also of adults. Adults continue the practice. Whenever one wants a specific behavior from another, manipulation is always a possible strategy. (Manipulation is not restricted to humans; I have witnessed dogs manipulating dogs and even ravens manipulating dogs – in both cases for the sake of getting at food.)
In claiming ourselves to have ‘awareness’ we might as well admit to manipulation as human reality. A strategy we can practice, or have practiced upon us. No honesty in claiming otherwise.
Not everyone practices manipulation of others as a general life strategy. The more honest, emotionally secure, and mature among us (of any chronological age, although usually older) may intentionally choose to avoid attempts to manipulate. These individuals may monitor their own inclinations, and in the flash of a moment, unknown to a potential ‘manipulatee’, may choose against manipulation, even if an opportunity is “ripe”.
But “manipulation” is the whole purpose of consumer advertising, and has become a major strategy of political gain.
Last evening I watched 4 programs, one hour apiece, of a BBC production titled: “Century of Self”. The program examined 20thth Century, when Freud began to share his findings, right through to elections in the US and Britain, ending with Clinton and Tony Blair. Century western culture, particularly as practiced in America, and also, eventually, in Britain. It also examined efforts to manipulate the masses, examined the ‘mystery’ of Hitler’s success in Germany. Social/political events were covered from the late 19
Lurking behind the scenes in electioneering propaganda, throughout and with growing development during the 20th Century, was the phenomena of “public relations’ professional study; professional guidance toward winning public votes. The primary developer was Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays used Freud’s observations of human “unconscious” choice as the foundation for his highly successful Public Relations (advertising) work. Politicians eventually adopted the strategy of mass manipulation, hiring already skillful public relations experts from industry.
The citizen body participated, went willingly along. Simultaneous to the discovery of value in manipulating the public for votes, the public became increasingly “self-centered” with individual wants/desires. Big business advertising skill floundered briefly during the 1960’s counter-culture revolution. The revolution used a lot of activist language, seemed bent on social change, on avoiding “mindless consumerism”. Corporate public relations staff were advised by forward thinking pros to discover ‘what made the rebellious generation tick’ – to find out what they really wanted. It turned out that what a majority really wanted was an experience of “individual identity” – this elusive experience trumped “social change” as a deep personal ‘longing’ for many.
You begin to see how valuable is information! Armed with insight into what counter-culture individuals really wanted, business knew how to interest these ‘rebels’ to make otherwise unneeded purchases. Simultaneously, new explorations in psychology developed. New psychology practices on the one hand supported honest individual personal inquiry into “the mystery of self” (mockingly called ‘navel gazing’). New practices also supported “need” to experience “standing out among the crowd as a unique individual”, knowing oneself as “successful” in modern terms, (embraced as the Age of Excellence.)
Simultaneous collections of forces, of directions in cultural development, are unavoidable. There is ‘bleeding’ of ideas and practices into one another. Transformation occurs as forces intermingle and move toward unfolding future. Business found a way to effectively advertise to the ‘counter culture’ generation. Some of those exploring, leading, new ideas emerging in psychology, hawked self-discovery training at profitable prices. A goal of self-satisfaction – or work to experience the same – became dominant.
Out of all this, eventually there emerged a ‘rational’ claim that the individual was not responsible, could not be held responsible, should never be held responsible, for the plight of anyone else.
This became such a pervasive individual/group view, as it bled into thoughts of individuals who never set foot in a ‘self-actualization’ workshop, that it nearly sank the Democrats in the US and the Labor Party in the UK. Both these parties had gained favor when times were tough enough that the citizen body wanted government leadership and action to develop new strategies to serve the national community. Leadership and action that acknowledged basic human needs, fundamental human dignity. The ‘new paradigm’ was that each was his/her own ‘leader’ especially in terms of material success. (Self-leadership by holding ones own inquiry into forces at work was not, and has not yet, developed – an entirely different kind of “self” development!)
As events unfolded out of the counter-culture revolution in the 1960’s, as individuals participating in the movement were romanced by advertising to aim at satisfying need for unique recognition, as the bulk of the more materially comfortable population also shifted toward the same need, “communal need” (common weal) lost importance. Social change, social service, dropped to a lower place on the list of things for human community to achieve, or disappeared altogether.
(Interesting to me! I was a participant of sorts in the counter-culture revolution. I heard it observed: “we are being co-opted by business”. I assumed awareness was so widespread that “ploys by business” would be resisted. I assumed “we” would continue to challenge status quo where and when it needed challenging by humanitarian and justice standards. I, along with many others, witnessed individuals who seemed delighted to “purchase” counter-culture effects. But I had no idea how massive the swing to experience “individual unique recognition” was. I had no idea from my vantage point that the entire culture was turning onto a path in which individual choice was primarily oriented to self-satisfaction. I had no idea the “middle class” (also upper middle and above,) were beginning to adopt a “no responsibility for anyone else” attitude.)
And I certainly had no idea that a “new kind of democracy” was being defined – a belief that “democracy” could function with both manufacturers and politicians inspired to “feed the dreams of a people” by offering glitter over substance. By polling the public for “underlying aspirations for personal satisfaction” rather than polling for thoughtful pronouncements on how a democracy needs to function to sustain itself.
Throughout the 20th Century, citizen role shifted to consumer role materially and politically. As citizens, we helped this shift to happen. With cheap oil as fuel to operate our manufacturing, we were able to acquire goods and services, to explore our own stardom, however localized, without thought to larger national or global issues.
Eventually, it has come to seem perfectly rational to say of someone whose life is especially challenged: “All she/he really has to do is believe in the magic of positive thought”. It has come to seem perfectly rational to say “she/he chooses to live in crisis”; and from there perfectly rational to say “another’s struggle is not my affair.”
We have come to “reward ourselves” with avoidance of contact with meaningful human struggle. We have developed an active distaste for it. We seek and find means to separate from misery. We feel a rational truth to the statement: “Each person stands alone.”
(BBC: “Century of Self”. If I had a classroom of students, grade 5 through early university, I would purchase this set and develop a study program around it with additional supplementary materials on the effect of advertising, how it works.) My essay has been ‘in mind’ for a long while. “Century of Self” confirmed much I already observe; added names, facts, additional insight worth every minute of viewing! The process continues so long as we remain asleep to its effects.)
My Best To All! MaggieAnn