The Empire of the Mind, Part 2

Posted on 02/03/2011 by

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A very reasonable question to Part 1 could go something along the lines of “just how, exactly, does the US government try to make an empire our of the minds of people?” Well, I’m so glad you asked, because that’s what this post is all about.

I think it’s necessary to first delve into the nature of the human mind. The best definition of consciousness which I have ever encountered arises from Reverend Thomas Malthus: it is the ability to say that having two ice cream cones is not better than having a spoonful of ice cream. In essence, consciousness is the ability to show restraint.

This is the thing which differentiates human beings from animals: we can choose to not be animals. Any given animal cannot be anything other than what they are: a cheetah is a cheetah, an ape is an ape, have a very lovely day. We cannot, in fact, wander about a city as a cheetah and hunt down the neighbourhood children as the afternoon snack, and still be considered a human being. At that point one is at least a menace to the peace, as well as practising a dietary regiment unbecoming of a human being.

A very related quality of human beings is their desire to be materially better off. In sociology this is considered ‘relative privation’, the situation where people’s ‘needs’ consistently outstrip their ability to financially secure those ‘needs’. What was a luxury yesterday becomes a necessity today, and a fact of life tomorrow.

Methods to tap into that socio-psycho-economic propensity are quite old, and are commonly known as advertising: it is a method used by corporations to convince people to continually indulge their desire for more material through-put. Advertising, at its core, is a set of techniques designed to get people to not exercise restraint, (ie ‘convince’ them to spend everything they make and go into debt to buy more.)

There is no more powerful drug in the entire universe than saying “abandon all restraint” and facilitating that with infinite cheap plastic crap and technological gadgets. One can’t go about saying this so baldly and expect it to work, but with subtle methods people can be socially engineered into abandoning restraint in favour of sating their ‘appetites’, as the 19th Century philosophers once wrote.

Relative privation can also be exploited in a different manner, with the aim of using those desires for increasing material stuff as a weapon to ensure docility. This goes under sinister title of ‘perception management’. Here, techniques are devised to pressure people into conforming and supporting a given agenda, for fear of losing the possibility of someday enjoying increased material through-put.

There is no stronger a coercive power than the threat of the possibility of asymmetric military action against you, should you get too far out of line. This is generally the USG’s domain, where it perpetuates the appearance of an omniscient military power, infallibly protecting itself and crushing its enemies before they can even organise. Much of the world has, up until very recently, bought this picture of the USG; a very carefully constructed picture, I might add.

Tying this all together: the US government is in an incestuous alliance with corporate interests. It is logical, therefore, that perception management and advertising are also allied, to the extent that they become inseparable and mutually reinforcing. One way to conceptualise these two methods are bribery and punishment, respectively; the immortal carrot and big stick.

This system of tools is constantly applied to everyone in countries where the USG and its corporate allies have any sort of penetration. US citizens see advertising almost every moment of their waking hours, whilst Iranian citizens see anti-US propaganda quite consistently. In the first situation, we see bribery; in the second, punishment.

In both cases, however, the USG/corporate complex is in the driver’s seat of the discussion: it has in both situations established its primacy. Advertising for stuff to buy helps defines the way that the US citizen sees the world, whilst the constant threat of the US military helps defines the world of the Iranian citizen.

Both hypothetical citizens have had their mental landscape shaped by the forces of advertising/perception management. In this manner, the USG and its corporate allies have established control over the way these people see the world. Given sufficient time and pressure, this ‘foot in the door’ can be exploited to actually manipulate people: “please ignore the man behind the curtain”.

In this general manner the empire of the mind was constructed. It has its modern roots in the dawn of ‘scientific’ advertising — a very interesting period of US history, during the early 20th Century — and seemed destined to grow until it enveloped the entire globe. With the fall of the Soviets, it seemed the US Empire was on the inevitable path to total conquest.

That all stopped on the 25th of January, when Egyptians decided they would rather die than not have their freedom. Such a sentiment is outside of advertising; you can’t sell an iPad 2 to someone who will lay down their life for the cause of ousting a dictatorial regime. More fundamentally, perception management doesn’t stand a chance against the iron resolve of death-or-freedom. Phantom bullets cannot stop those who are prepared to die.

Ironically, “Live Free or Die” was a rallying cry in the US rebellion of 1775. Perhaps it is fitting in a cosmic sense that a decadent empire is done in by the sentiments of its own patriotic ancestors.

At any rate, with the perception of the US military’s all-powerful omnipotence dispelled, there is nothing to stop protesters from taking to the streets, and taking back their countries. The US Empire has failed, because when push comes to shove, nothing can fully conquer the mind.

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Posted in: Analysis