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Century of Self

(The following is a Chivalry-Now commentary of a three part BBC documentary. The author strongly suggestes that you take the time to see the entire documentary in order to fully understand the problems we deal with. The reports are available on YouTube at this link.)

Century of Self is a four part mini-series produced by the BBC that documents how elements of Freudian psychology have been used by governments and businesses to control entire populations in Europe and the United States. These influences are still found in today's rampant consumerism and political strategy.
    It is important for our own process of liberation for us to see just how these forces have been allied against us, and may still shape our thoughts and values.
    With this in mind, the following is a short rendition highlighting this documentary, especially in comparison to the concepts of Chivalry-Now.
    An obsession of Freudian theory invoked people's attention in the West soon after World War II. Part of the reason was that scientists were using these ideas to explain two war related phenomena.
The first had to deal with post traumatic syndrome of soldiers returning from the field. Half the soldiers were inflicted with this debilitating problem. Researchers concluded that the experience of war had triggered some irrational component inside these men. This irrational, primitive aspect had taken control of their personalities. Some became emotionally crippled, some prone to violence, and some permanently disabled.
    The second phenomenon focused on how Adolph Hitler was able to raise mass support for his aims and adulation for himself among the German people, who were considered among the most educated in the world. Otherwise civilized people were marching through the streets, saluting their allegiance to the Fuhrer, committing acts of violence, and, at the very least, tacitly supporting the genocidal killing of millions of people. It seemed as if something had been triggered in them so that they willingly sacrificed their individuality to some kind of group persona or herd instinct. Once again there appeared to be a dark, hidden nature in people that came out under certain circumstances.
    The writings of Sigmund Freud seemed to explain these phenomena. They suggested that all people have primitive, irrational elements inside them that could not be trusted. With that in mind, American scientists feared that the same thing that happened in Germany could also happen in the United States. Their conclusion was that Democracy was too risky to let it run on its own. Society had to find ways of reducing that risk, and that meant making people more docile and homogenized in order to keep irrational tendencies under control.
    Sigmund Freud's daughter, Anna, tirelessly contributed to developing these theories, and taught whole schools of psychotherapists. One of them, her cousin Edward Bernays, came to the United States to help scientists deal with their concerns. He successfully published his uncle's works in America, raising popular awareness of primitive, irrational undercurrents to human nature.
Bernays, who became very much in demand, extended his work into business marketing. He found ways of selling products by appealing to people's irrational weaknesses, fears and desires. One of his major "successes" was breaking the social taboo that had been imposed on women's smoking. Today's focus group dynamic, where people are interviewed for their opinions and gut responses regarding a product or idea, are also a result of his work.
    He was also hired by politicians, and provided a model for political polling.
    The overall goal was to lessen the risks of democracy by creating a society where products would be used to placate hidden desires in individuals. Sometimes this meant finding out what people wanted and giving it to them. Other times it meant generating unnecessary desires through suggestive or subliminal advertising. It aimed at the "primitive, irrational." In so doing, it effectively pushed aside the "moral, intellectual," which a vibrant democracy needs to thrive. This, of course, amounted to social engineering that disrespected certain concepts of personal freedom that continues today.
    In the tradition of Ed Bernays, commercialism has shaped capitalism into something beyond a healthy exchange of goods and services. Intellectually, we can scarcely separate subliminal marketing from economic dynamics, which has given capitalism a bad name.
In some respects, commercialism represents an anti-philosophy, whereby people are cajoled and led to believe that acquiring things is the surest route to happiness. They are expected to fit-in with the latest fashions; adhere to group identities; need the latest car; impress neighbors by their houses; and support certain political views. They are, in effect, not so much believers of commercialism, but unknowing pawns, shaped by the strategies and tactics of marketers and political propagandists.
    This successfully generated a homogeneity of American life during the 1950s. When the 60s came, and people dared to question things, seeking their own individuality, commercialism deftly turned their search for individuality into a profitable commodity as well. Anti-establishment hippies (who, for the most part, were only following the crowds) were quietly transformed into corporate yuppies. Peaceniks became neoconservatives. Even religion changed into big business. When today's "maverick" launches a national political campaign, he does so in ways that contradict his image, falling into line with prevailing Freudian tactics. Why? Because he did what his expert advisors told him to do. Although aiming at primitive, irrational fears may be an effective way to garner votes, it is also an insult to voters and the antithesis of what democracy is all about. The more that average people understand this, the less effective it is.
    The problem, however, is greater than political campaigns or devious corporate marketing. It is a threat to the foundation of freedom itself. No one wants government telling us who we are, what we believe in, what styles we should wear, what should be foremost on our minds. How is it that we tolerate the same from the business world? Instead of trying to sell products by appealing to our intellects, proving one product superior to the other, they focus on our insecurities, our fears, our envy, jealousy and vanity. Psychologically, that instills people with more insecurity, fear, et cetera. This is not just a marketing technique used now and then. It is a systematic campaign that fills our highways with billboards, our airwaves with commercials, our politics with needless anger and hate, and our movies and television programs with poor messages of what human beings are. It is difficult for most people to escape commercialism for even a short hiatus. We are subjecting children at young ages to these same influences, training them to be obedient consumers. One could easily refer to this as mass brainwashing.
    Thanks to the effects of rampant, mind-controlling consumerism, we have lost much of the fire of freedom that once dominated our hearts. Marketing strategists, political or otherwise, have worked hard to create a passively compliant population that will follow someone else's lead. To a large part, they have achieved that goal. People prefer believing what they are told, following the crowd, competing with the Joneses. New technology provides just enough distractions to keep us from thinking beyond them. Cell phone mania provides us with very little down time to think for ourselves. Pundits tell us how to judge candidates. Adulation of celebrities, no matter how shallow or artificial they are, carries the not so subtle message that shallow and artificial are not only okay, but goals for us to strive for. Titillating news replaces real human concerns. Predilections toward serial killers and rapists help instill and bolster feelings of fear and distrust, and a very real desire to lose oneself in consumerism. Morality is judged by amorality. The value of simple trade has been replaced by the sleazy get-rich-quick schemes of speculators and greedy CEOs who feel that no amount of profit is ever enough. Everyone wants everything. Thanks to State lotteries, we all have the chance of becoming rich, which changes our entire perspective.
    Limiting ourselves to the definition of being consumers is just what the business world wants us to do, stealing our personal authenticity, and putting a hypocritical and unseen elite in control.
    When political extremist talk show hosts Bill O'Reilly on the right, or Keith Olberman on the left, get really emotional in their extremist banter, which they often do, they are purposely provoking irrational feelings in their respective audiences, rather than appealing to their intellects, which would be far more discerning. This kind of rhetoric works to brainwash people into seeing things two dimensionally. Misleading half-truths, quotes taken out of context, bouts of self-righteous anger, are all it takes to raise a following of well-meaning people who are being duped.
    One need listen to Rush Limbaugh for only few moments to see these Freudian theories in play. Open-minded people who chance to listen to his diatribes wonder how anyone could possibly be deceived by such overbearing, irrational propaganda. The convert, however, accepts it without question. Even when falsehoods and hypocrisy are pointed out, it doesn't matter. The primitive, irrational elements of the psyche have no need for truth or fairness. They run on herd instincts, fear, insecurity and the kind of hate that is easily provoked. Propagandists who exploit these elements do a grave disservice to humanity itself, dragging down whatever heights human beings are capable of to a crass vulgarity, reckless, uncivilized and even dangerous. They are the enemies of both progress and tradition, in that they degrade them both.
    Whenever someone tries to sell ideas or products by purposely and surreptitiously connecting to and manipulating people's unconscious feelings, they cross an ethical line that we need to condemn. This is true no matter who does it, politicians, advertisers, telemarketers, media talk show hosts, lobbyists or clergy. Doing so, however, will meet resistance. We will be reducing their power over us.
    Precious democracy fails when citizen involvement is reduced to responding to irrational stimuli, instead of trusted with unvarnished truth. When commercial or political marketing purposely manipulates desire, anger, partiality, fear, insecurity, bigotry, lust, or hate, they break the sacred pact that democracy is based on. We are betrayed.
    This extends itself as a caution to freedom itself. Every innocent child who is born into today's Western society is subjected to the influence of professional exploiters, more aptly known as charlatans, whose sole purpose is to shape that child into an enthusiastically submissive consumer.
    To see how corporations and political strategists have made a cottage industry of manipulating people's fears and biases is not just reprehensible, but subversive as well. The essence of democracy involves trusting people to understand issues and events, and make intelligent choices. This was born from the Age of Reason, when rationality and optimism promised to create a better world. It demands truth, integrity, civility, and respect for people's ideas. Its reward? The full benefits of an authentic life.
    We are told that they are giving us only what we want, providing for our needs, which they hold focus groups in order to learn. If they are focusing on our most irrational instincts, however, their results lean too much in the wrong direction, encouraging fears and desires in place of rational decisions. They are purposely pulling society itself from a strong integration of rational thought, toward something more primitive and controlling.
    Giving people what they want may sound like good business, but it also provides the logic of the pimps and drug dealers. Pornographers declare themselves honest business people. Tobacco industries hide their guilt behind warning labels and cartoons. Exploitation film-makers refer to themselves as artists. They all focus on our coarsest desires, inviting us to engorge ourselves on whatever our hearts desire momentarily feeling, no matter what the cost.
    The focus group model designed by Ed Bernays might appear to be designed to determine our wishes so that politicians and advertisers know what we want, but the end results are always meant to manipulate us.
    Marketers openly admit that they want us to identify with their product. Think about that. What does it mean to derive personal identity from a product? What do we sacrifice of our integrity to become a lipstick? A car? The latest fashion statement? The type of soda we drink? These objects say nothing of who we are, except someone who is readily gullible to marketing hype.
    The cult of celebrity feeds on such dynamics, convincing audiences that celebrities are more valuable or interesting than we are. Very often, they are just the opposite. Celebrity status s just another marketing ploy to draws attention, and therefore money. We say money is not our god, but everything around us says that it is.
    The truth is, human beings have limited needs. Consumerism deceives us by trying to make those needs unlimited. Is this liberation? Or the kind of self-indulgent clutter that leads to slavery of the mind?
The underlying message of consumerism, as Ed Bernays often admitted, is this: people are stupid and not to be trusted. They need to be surreptitiously managed by a corporate, political and religious elite - usually for profit. Political strategists actually believe they are doing us a favor by distorting truth. Talk show hosts see themselves as leaders.     Wealthy elites view the middle class as expendable labor, and the middle class complies. The poor and uneducated hardly complain, as long as minimal needs are met the television allows them to live vicariously. Televangelists revel in the power of their words to the point that they actually believe that they are talking for God. Politicians themselves play with corruption with the hubris of being untouchable.
    Where does personhood and authenticity come in? Is it proper to divide humanity into docile sheep and the wolves who devour them? How did the influence of love become so insignificant? What about truth? Shouldn't justice be more than laws that clever people find ways to bypass?
    Western society should support an environment conducive to human growth and freedom. Individuality does not spring from cajoled homogeneity, or even a reaction against it. Individuality comes from a liberating encounter with the world through which we learn truth for ourselves.
    It's time we understand that we face an existential choice.
    We can become willingly limited products of consumerism, whose sole purpose is to comply to the wishes of the corporate and political elites, or purposely see through all the illusion they throw at us and take control of our own lives.
    Chivalry-Now advocates for the latter.

(You can see the entire four part documentary on YouTube. It is well worth the download time.)

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