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A 1979 report was written by Stanford University Department of Psychology Professor Philip G. Zimbardo and Susan Andersen, published under the auspices of the Department of Naval Research, titled, “On Resisting Social Influence”. The report tends to focus on cult brainwashing and similarly overt abuses of influence on group thinking, but its findings have general application to the field of manufacturing public opinion.
Facts and Fairy Tales
It is a mistake to assume that most people are interested in knowing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. HL Mencken observed that most people positively prefer comforting falsehoods over harsh truths. Walter Lippman (Public Opinion, 1922) observed that in order for mass society to function, the population's mind has to be homogenized by propaganda. Edward Bernays (Crystalizing Public Opinion, 1923; Propaganda, 1928) built upon Lippman’s insights to create the form of modern all pervasive commercial propaganda known as “advertising”. And the population merrily converted themselves from duty bound “citizens” to entitled “consumers”.
So in the first place people "want" to be brainwashed with comforting fairy tales. And in the second place it is in the interest of those who want to control the population to feed them those fairy tales. Earlier influences on both Lippman and Bernays include Gustave LeBon, who publicized the phenomenon of “crowd psychology”, and Wilfred Trotter, who penned the self explanatory “Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War”.
Group Think and Electromagnetic Energy
In 1922 Bernays’ uncle Sigmund Freud published “Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego”, in which Freud comes very close to describing the phenomenon of group mind formation in terms that would be familiar to modern wave mechanics applied to interpersonal brainwave harmonics. Valery Hunt’s 1989 “Infinite Mind” shows that transfers of electromagnetic energy between people is a real measurable phenomenon, and harmonization of weaker em (electromagnetic) states with a strong coherent state actually occurs, so the idea of interneural harmonics is not science fiction.
Ideas are like notes and minds are like tuning forks. A dominant idea or mind resonates all the minds to the same note or a harmonic thereof, producing a harmonious group vibe that most people find pleasing and desirable; though individualists find the group vibe stiflingly cloying and even claustrophobic so they refuse to conform and resonate with the herd. The Stanford Department of Psychology authors of the 1979 resisting social influence article observe that pretty much the only way to completely avoid being brainwashed along with the common herd is to socially isolate yourself, so that you don't feel the social pressure to conform your mind to the fantasy world they are taught to believe in by the authors of the propaganda they are immersed in.
Harmonization of Thinking: A Path to Decline
The world is full of harsh realities and pitfalls along with its beauties and wonders. This applies to both the natural world and the world of human nature. Long term success as an individualist comes from learning how to navigate those realities rather than avoiding them with comforting delusions and flowing along with the herd. The individualist stands back from society and observes, and sees what is there rather than what he would "like" to be there. If he naively tells the truth about what he sees it is discomforting to all the people who have chosen to see a fantasy world created by propaganda, rather than the real world he sees with his eyes.
Paul Craig Roberts, one of the chief authors (now repentant) of Reagan’s supply side revolution, likens today’s America to The Matrix, where most people are still plugged in to the world that has been pulled over their eyes. At the conclusion of his 2000 book, “Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century”, Howard Bloom warns us to not allow the “conformity enforcers” to get the upper hand over the “diversity generators”. Excessive harmonization around a few coherent but limited agendas is a recipe for cultural impoverishment and decline.
Conceptual and Perceptual Realists
Turn of the 20th century philosopher-psychologist William James distinguished between "conceptual realists" and "perceptual realists". Good science is an example of the application of perceptual realism. Somebody comes up with a hypothesis, a possible theoretical explanation of how some reality works, then real world experiments are designed to test whether reality actually works like that. If reality consistently behaves contrary to how the hypothesis says it should behave, then the hypothesis is judged to be false. If test results are uniformly consistent with the hypothesis, then scientists can tentatively believe that they might have discovered some truth about how reality works. For perceptual realists, reality is the ultimate judge of the truth or falsehood of our ideas, no matter how attractive or comforting those ideas might be to us.
Conceptual realists, contrarily, take their ideas to be prior, and reality must be made to conform with their ideas. "Ideologues" judge beliefs and ideas by conceptual realism. They decide beforehand that they "know" how reality is, then they interpret everything in the real world so that it conforms to their "worldview". You cannot change their ideas by showing them facts that contradict their beliefs, because they will simply interpret those facts in ways that support their preconceived beliefs. Just as perceptual realists reluctantly abandon their favored ideas to preserve the sanctity of evidence, conceptual realists readily abandon contradictory evidence to preserve the sanctity of their cherished beliefs.
Seeing What You Want to See
Good conceptual realists are accomplished experts at twisting facts to fit their beliefs, and at denying the existence of contradictory realities that are staring them in the face. They don't "perceive" the world with their senses then build up an idea of reality based on real world evidence. They "conceive" a world in their mind, then they only allow into their mind 'evidence' that confirms their worldview. It is pretty much a waste of time trying to have an intelligent conversation with a conceptual realist, unless you happen to share their delusion. Therein lies madness - “The Madness of Crowds”, perhaps.
There are very few people to whom objective observers of human socio-economic realities can openly speak their mind in personal conversation, because harsh truths shatter comforting illusions, and most people very much prefer to keep their illusions intact. In writing one can access a far wider audience of listeners, and find some who share and enjoy open-eyed undeluded appraisals of reality. Writing communicates disagreeable observations from a distance, which reduces fist fights.
Defining Self with Externalities
In his 1992 book, "Descartes' Error", neuropsychologist Antonio Damasio describes how we construct our "neural self", which is our idea of who and what we are, our self image, our self identity. Most people get a great deal of their sense of who they are via feedback from other people. “I’m the funny one.” “I’m the bold one.” “I’m the hard working one.” All assessed in relation to the people around them, and to largely non-verbal emotional feedback from those people. They are made to “fit” in a mold created within the group’s space.
Defining Self Internally
A small minority generate most of their sense of self internally. Members of this minority are "self possessed". They have a strong internal sense of who and what they are, and other people's opinions about who and what they are have little effect on their self image. They have learned to trust their own judgment over the judgments of others, because they have found that other people's judgment is most often wrong and almost always inferior to their own. It is no mystery why perceptual realists discount the judgments of people whom they perceive to be “deluded” and living in a fantasy world.
Because they don't need constant feedback from other people to maintain their sense of self, individualists are able to stand back from society and observe objectively; whereas most people neuropsychologically "need" close society so they develop coping mechanisms that allow them to put up with it.
Those mechanisms include allowing themselves to be brainwashed or “harmonized” to conform their mind to the group mind. They value acceptance more than they value truth. It is more important to them that they "agree" with all of the group's ideas and beliefs, than that those ideas and beliefs be "true". Some of their beliefs contradict other of their beliefs, but they don't value logical coherency so they "choose" to believe in contradictions rather than try to correct their ideas to make their mind coherent. And insofar as some groups have developed ideologies that are internally coherent, the ideologies are not comprehensive. They have to deny any realities that contradict and don't "fit" their ideology.
Do You Believe What You Perceive, or Perceive What You Believe?
Physics is searching for the "grand unified theory of everything" that is both comprehensive and coherent, that explains all of reality within a single theoretical framework. It hasn't been found yet so humanity can't yet claim to "know everything". Reality is coherent; it "works", so a true “theory” of everything also must be coherent. So obvious contradiction is a good indicator that one or both of the incoherent ideas in a contradiction are false, not true to reality. So even though “objective” observers can't necessarily claim to know what is true, it is pretty easy to see what is false, for the minority who are able and willing to walk outside the herd, and outside their own preferences and preconceptions, and see reality clearly.
Perception is the relationship between external sensory evidence and internal mental representation and interpretation so pure "objective" observation is logically and practically impossible. But with dedicated effort we can learn to recognize which parts of our perceptions are interpretation and which parts are evidence, and we can at least approach objectivity in our observations. In order to see clearly we must dissolve the parameter walls of our conceptual worldview, of all worldviews, and start with a fresh perspective, a virgin mind.
I think the authors of the Stanford study did a good job of showing some of the everyday kinds of propaganda and brainwashing that create and sustain the comforting fantasy and prevent people from seeing the clear truths of reality. But people who need other people to constantly confirm and reinforce their neural self, their idea of "who I am", are more likely to welcome and embrace the brainwashing than to resist and avoid it.
Do Some Need to be Governed by Conception?
There are 7 billion unique human minds in this world, and most of them are operating from motives that you and I as rational truth seekers would consider "perverse". But that's their reality as human beings, and we can't judge them to be "wrong" for being what they are just because they operate from a values structure that is alien to us. "We" are the minority, after all, we who value harsh truth over comforting falsehood, who choose to perceive the real world rather than to conceive an imaginary world more to our liking; who would rather live alone in a real world than enjoy social bliss in a false world. They do what they do because of what they are, and we are not like them so we do things differently.
I'm not sure you can even apply "better and worse" to these differences. We are simply "different", and it takes lots of different kinds of people to make this world what it is. If we claim we "know" how this world "should be", so that we judge them wrong and us right, then we are guilty of conceptual realism, of knowing first then trying to make the world and other people conform to how we 'know' they're 'supposed to' be. Objectively, reality is what it is, "real", and reality cannot be right or wrong. What’s real and not real is the "judge" of right and wrong. "Ideas" about reality can be right or wrong, and ideas that contradict observed reality are probably wrong ideas.
Most people are brainwashed by choice, and they are determined to believe that their conceptual world is the 'real' world. They believe YOU are being blind or perverse for failing or refusing to see the world that is so clear in their mind. And they will fight to preserve the credibility of their mental world.
Ultimately Whose Propoganda Will Succeed?
That's a bottom line observation. The only live question is “whose” propaganda the public will be brainwashed with, and toward what ends. Plutocratic corporatists currently own and operate all of the media of mass communication, all of the propaganda amplifiers (except the internet), so the public is being subliminally and not so subliminally indoctrinated with the corporatist worldview that serves the plutocratic agenda.
Lippman is inescapable. Mass society requires mass mind. And Bernays is not being merely cynical in offering to mold the mass mind on contract to the highest bidder. “Somebody” is going to do it. The only question is, “Who?”
Brainwashing in Communism and Democracy by Frank Li and Derryl Hermanutz