How To Avoid Being Manipulated – Bread & Circuses In Our Time

(Note: This post focuses on societal, economic and political, manipulation. To explore interpersonal manipulation, see a series of 4 posts titled: “Co-Dependency, Issues of Personal Power, Adler, and Soldiering in Our Time, Parts One, Two, Three & Four.”)

(Note: JULY 2013 – this post draws heavily on concepts available in “Century of Self”, a BBC documentary series on history of modern ‘science of marketing and persuasion’.  If for any reason links Ive given throughout the text below – to Century of Self at YouTube – don’t work, please see this post on ‘availability problems‘.

In fact, we are far more influenced and entangled with manipulation than we realize.

In fact, we are far more influenced and entangled with manipulation than we realize.

Dear Readers!

Manipulation is ‘mainstream’. Most of us know this. We like to think that because we know manipulation happens we can’t be duped. We’re ‘savvy’ – no one’s going to lead us down any illusory garden paths. Other people, maybe, but not us.

In truth, the manipulation is far more well-entrenched in our cultural practices than we know; we’re influenced and entangled more than we realize.

Modern, intentional, manipulation has a good and solid history – verifiable, documented!  Century of Self, is one of BBC’s most essential-to-view documentary series. Four episodes, one hour each. The Century of Self series has become so popular since I and others wrote of it ‘back when’ that it is now widely available.

One site that offered Century of Self until recently is Of interest are 10 points they make on their donation page. Consider these three:

  • “No matter what issue you feel passionate about, education about that subject is the first step to change.
  • “Political leaders will not take a moral stand unless educated, informed citizens ask them to.
  • “Too often, misconceptions are propagated by mainstream media, often for the benefit of a few powerful corporations.”

The last point is of special relevance with the documentary Century of Self. The four episodes trace development of intentional manipulation of “minds of the masses” for the sake of guiding voting choices and also to develop and guide “consumerism”.

The intentional manipulation was developed from ideas that emerged with Freud’s studies of the human subconscious. No matter your views on Freud (mine are not fully kind!), one major “new awakening” he brought to early 20th Century was individual curiosity about “who I am”, “why I feel this way or that”.  We dared to begin to ask questions about our psychology!

Psychology has been ‘sensed, understood’, and used skillfully throughout much of human history, but was not identified as a distinct field of study until Freud “made it so”.  (Jung and Adler were contemporaries of Freud and I am particularly fond of Adler’s findings and practices – but it remains true, that Freud, even if out of a personal need to “reign supreme”, launched “psychology” as a popular interest in the general population.)

Freud explored questions of what influences thoughts, beliefs, behaviors. He was not particularly interested in “application” by manipulating the masses. BUT, it so happened, Freud had a nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays was very, Very, interested in “application”! It was Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who had the inspiration that people could be persuaded to adopt beliefs and behaviors by manipulating information given them.

Bernays began testing his ideas, and was wildly successful! In fact, Bernays’ success, in effective manipulation of large group belief and behavior, was nothing short of astounding.  I’m not sure anyone has come close to matching what he, as a single individual, accomplished.

Bernays was so successful that others quickly learned and have followed, improving along the way.  Consequently, we are immersed in a media and advertising cacophony that continues to strategically use manipulative techniques

The essential trick is to stir emotions, especially of fear, insecurity, and longing. In persuasion, this stirring is far more effective than offering straight information. 

We are ‘encouraged’, not always gently, to believe what we are told, and to trust another’s credentials and authority. We are often actively discouraged from wanting more details so we can form independent conclusions.

ALL political campaigns and  electioneering, ALL consumer campaigns, ALL persuasion that we have good cause to go to war … ALL of this is thoroughly corrupted with manipulative language – and one of the worst aspects of this manipulation is that it is very often very intentional.  The target – yes, the word ‘target’ is entirely appropriate – is viewed as either “too weak to be allowed to think for hrimself” or “ripe for the picking“.

We also manipulate one another in ‘public opinion’. Once we have been “trained” by masterful advertising (whether directed at voters or consumers) to spout assorted catch phrases among ourselves, we do a lot of the manipulating on one another at street level.

I dare say, this same unconscious manipulation of self/other also occurs well above ‘street level’. Many (likely most) of our law-makers state conclusions they believe valid but are quite biased. Yet many (likely most) sincerely believe they know ‘the facts’ and ‘what policy is best and why’. They have lived in our culture – they, too, are ‘targets’ long before they become legislators on our behalf.

For the most part, we don’t know we’re repeating phrases that are effectively mass group-hypnosis of one another. We have no idea we are doing this. Our not knowing, our lack of awareness, is one of the reasons why the 4 part documentary series, Century of Self, is of extraordinary value.

IF I were teaching middle school, secondary, or early university classes, I would make this series mandatory for my students. We’d watch, discuss and projects would be developed. This could work in any of the “soft sciences” courses: history, consumer, psychology, sociology, and also in any classes that explore language effectiveness.

As a home viewer, I’d pop the corn, gather friends, family and neighbors. The viewing is prime material for a great and valuable discussion.

I suggest this information is so vital to our eventual “recovery of ourselves” that the entire adult population (all ages) of any consumer driven culture in any country should view it.

I believe this information essential if we are to find our way to truly autonomous thinking and choice making.

We can become aware by other books and documentaries, but this specific documentary series sticks close to its subject, offers rich detail and background. The ‘sleep-walking’ we find so mysterious in our public behaviors becomes very well understood as one views the four episodes.  The series brings us to very recent time. If I remember the 4th episode correctly, it ends with Clinton’s election in the United States.

Century of Self is written by Adam Curtis and was released in 2002. Curtis has made a number of excellent documentaries – Century of Self has become especially well known, rates as a classic among informative documentaries.

See also:

Edward Bernays, Wikipedia; The Century of Self, Wikipedia; and Adam Curtis, Century of Self more details.

Documentary viewer comment: A 2006 viewer comment entry at the ‘Adam Curtis’ site says:

I can’t get across how important this film is. Well researched, entertaining use of archive footage and the cold hard facts about why it’s right to be cynical about capitalism. The marketeers are fighting an anti-humanitarian dis-information war. This is a good place to start for people who want to build their defences. Be warned, if you live in a bubble, prepare yourself for a wake up call.

I do hope if you have not viewed these four episodes, or have not viewed them in the last year or so, you will treat yourself and those around you to one of the best “citizen awareness” programs available.

We may not always be in control of our own psychological inclinations, our responses to wants over needs, our impulses to emotionally driven choice.  We may not always avoid being manipulated.

But we can be much more alert to the devices and means by which manipulation occurs. And with that, we boost our “free” measure considerably!

Enjoy! – and My Best! –MaggieAnn


About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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