Transforming Citizens Into Consumers
The Century of the Self
Part 1 (Happiness Machines) and Part 2 (Engineering of Consent)
Part 1 (Happiness Machines) and Part 2 (Engineering of Consent)
The twentieth century is frequently referred to as the selfish century. This documentary lays the blame for this at the feet of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays.
Prior to World War I politicians and businesses used facts and information to win votes or to persuade people to buy their products.
When Woodrow Wilson hired him to run his Committee for Public Information to produce pro-World War I propaganda, Bernays incorporated Sigmund Freud’s theory that human behavior was based on unconscious instinctual drives.
By appealing to these unconscious and irrational feelings, he succeeded in selling World War I to a profoundly isolationist American public.
As well as his pivotal role in engineering corporate and government propaganda, Bernays was also responsible for popularizing Sigmund Freud’s work by emphasizing its sexual content.
The Shift from a Needs to a Desire Based Culture
Curious whether similar techniques would also work in peace time, Bernays hired himself out to corporations to help them improve their sale of consumer products. His goal was to shift US society from a needs culture, where people only bought what they needed, to a desire culture, where they purchased products to make them feel better. Aware that the word propaganda had an extremely negative connotation, Bernays coined the term “public relations.”
Bernay’s stunning success gave birth to 1920s “consumptionism” and was largely responsible for the economic bubble that resulted in the 1929 crash. Already by 1927, social critics were concerned that Americans were no longer citizens but consumers.
Confident of their ability to engineer consumer demand, banks funded national expansion of department store chains and hired Bernays to persuade ordinary people to borrow money to buy shares in the stock market. Driven to record levels by borrowed money, the stock market collapsed.
During the Great Depression, Bernays shifted gears to focus more on influencing public political views. Neither Freud nor Bernays believed in the equality of man. Frightened by the rise of fascism in Europe, both believed that democracy was a fundamentally unsafe form of government (due to human beings’ dangerous unconscious drives).
Roosevelt Tries to Rein in Business
Unlike Freud and Bernays, Franklin Roosevelt believed that people were capable of knowing what they wanted and relied on the new science of public opinion polling (pioneered by George Gallup) to ascertain what people were thinking. His response to the Great Depression was to grant himself extensive executive power and subject business to central economic planning, which they hated.
In 1936, the National Association of Manufacturers hired Bernays to initiate an ideological campaign against the New Deal (and the rise of unionism as Alex Carey mentions in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy).
When World War II ended, the CIA hired Bernays to advise them on how to control the “irrational aggression” of the masses. In his CIA role, Bernays devised a campaign for the Eisenhower administration to convince the American public they were under imminent threat from Soviet Communism.
As part of this campaign, Bernays mobilized public and congressional support for the 1954 coup against Guatemala’s democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz. Bernays also worked for the United Fruit Company, which was concerned about Arbenz’s plans for land reform, i.e. breaking up their extensive Guatemalan banana plantations.
The Birth of the Focus Group
Meanwhile the public relations industry hired psychoanalysts to set up focus groups to use advertising more effectively to improve consumer demand for corporate products. These early focus groups employed psychoanalytic techniques to help advertisers improve sales by secretly appealing to unconscious needs and insecurities.*******
Corporate Brainwashing and Thought ControlTaking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda vs Freedom and LibertyDr. Stuart Jeanne Bramhall, New Zealand
Friday, July 18th, 2014
Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty is a collection of essays written by psychologist Alex Carey prior to his death in 1988. Carey’s book details the 100 year history of the deliberate manipulation of popular consciousness by the corporate elite.
Walking the Talk
According to Carey, the main purpose of corporate social engineering is to persuade the voting public to serve the interests of the privileged class, rather than their own working class needs.
This type of propaganda relies heavily on emotionally-laden symbols and a black and white view of society in which people and issues are either good or evil.
Owing to virtually unlimited corporate financing, it’s spectacularly effective. Conservative regimes that enacted reactionary social policy (in the US) between 1919-1929, 1946-1956, and 1976-2014 didn’t just happen – they were deliberately engineered by the business lobby and corporate propagandists.
Women and Blacks Win Vote In the view of the US business elite, a dedicated program of social engineering became essential at the beginning of the 20th century when women and northern blacks acquired the right to vote.
In 1880, only 10-15% of the US population was eligible to vote. By 1920, this percentage had increased to 40-50%. The corporate elite couldn’t take the risk that this large crop of new voters would elect candidates keen on regulating corporate activities that posed a threat to public health and welfare.
Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, played an instrumental role in advancing the art and science of corporate propaganda. During World War I, he assisted Woodrow Wilson, who ran as an antiwar president, in convincing a fiercely antiwar and isolationist American public to support US intervention in the war between Britain and Germany.
After World War I, Bernays worked for the National Association of Manufacturers and other corporate groups with a primary agenda of turning public opinion against unions, immigrants and the corporate regulation enacted by President Teddy Roosevelt between 1901 and 1912.
By combining a vast media campaign with concerted employee indoctrination, Bernays created a wave of anti-union and anti-immigrant hysteria. By convincing Americans that corporate regulation was akin to Bolshevism. In this way, he successfully ushered in the first (1919-1921) of three periods of corporate rule.
While post-war Europe enjoyed a wave of radical liberalism resulting in the rise of democratic socialism, the US was caught in the grips of a reactionary agenda that would set the stage for the repressive Red Scare and Palmer Raids (in which politically active immigrants were rounded up and deported).
Labor Paralysis, Korea and Vietnam
The other two periods in which a corporate agenda dominated US domestic and foreign policy occurred between 1946-1950 and 1976-80.
Between 1929 and 1946, the Great Depression and World War II dramatically curtailed the effectiveness of corporate propaganda. In the late forties, corporate interest groups roared back with a vengeance.
The ideological agenda they broadcast on radio and in print media equated free enterprise with freedom and democracy, patriotism with social harmony and the New Deal with creeping socialism. Liberals who supported corporate regulation were portrayed as communist sympathizers.
During this period, the Chamber of Commerce launched the first major publicity campaign warning that communists had infiltrated government, universities and other major institutions. Thanks to these propaganda efforts, in Republicans took control of Congress for the first time since 1928. In 1947 they enacted the Taft Hartley Act (1947), virtually paralyzing American unions.
By blanketing the media with their reactionary agenda, pro-corporate ideologues also laid the ground work for the second Red Scare, aka the McCarthy Era from 1950-1956.
Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Committee on Unamerican Activities had an even more destructive effect on foreign policy than it did on civil liberties. In addition to pressuring Truman to pursue an unwinnable war in Korea, McCarthy also forced Eisenhower to reverse US policy on Vietnam and China.
Under Truman, the US State Department had opposed the French return to Vietnam (i.e. they supported Vietnamese independence). They had also sought to mediate (in 1945) between Mao Tsai Tung and Chiang Kai Shek in the Chinese civil war.
After McCarthy succeeded in stripping the State Department of more than 500 personnel with Asian expertise, the ultraconservative, CIA-linked John Foster Dulles succeeded in throwing US support behind the incompetent and corrupt Chiang Kai Shek and transforming French opposition to Vietnamese independence into a battle to prevent world Communist domination.
The Rise of Pro-Corporate Neocons
(left: Noam Chomsky – still with us)
The anti-Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation and public anger over against CIA domestic spying led to a strong anti-business backlash during the late sixties and early seventies. Corporate ideologues fought back with the launch of "treetop" propaganda efforts.
As opposed to grassroots media-based propaganda, treetop propaganda focuses on recruiting rich conservatives to fund conservative think tanks to promote conservative "economic education" and lobby Congress to defeat consumer protection and labor rights legislation.
The American Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) (neoconservative think tank founded in 1970), the Heritage Foundation (founded in 1973) and would be instrumental in promoting "economic" ideological beliefs that full employment and clean air and water initiatives are detrimental to the economy because they hurt business.
These think tanks also hammered Congress and universities with the notion that the US would collapse under a socialist dictatorship unless corporate regulations were rolled back.
Their success in bombarding all sectors of society with these reactionary ideas would pave the way for Ronald Reagan’s election and the rollback of corporate regulation and social safety net programs that occurred during his administration.
During the early 1970s, these conservative think tanks began exporting these reactionary belief systems to British and Australian corporate interest groups. In Britain, American-inspired treetop and grassroots pro-corporate propaganda would lead to Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979.
Below is the 1993 documentary based on Noam Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent. The title is based on a term coined by Bernays: "engineering consent." Carey had studied with Chomsky at MIT.
Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992)
Science Of Persuasion
Science Of Persuasion