July 18, 2013
If you’re going to control people, you have to control their thoughts, but how do you do that? There is a fascinating BBC documentary series called The Century Of The Self which I watched last week. It consists of four one-hour broadcasts. The entire series focuses around how Sigmund Freud’s ideas have been used to try to control crowds of people in our age of democracy. It’s brilliant.
We’re first introduced to Sigmund Freud and his psychological ideas of the unconscious. He discovered that underneath our conscious everyday thought lies these irrational forces focused around things like sex, procreation, and aggression. While Freud’s attempts to understand the mind were both academic and clinical (to treat neurotic patients), his nephew Edward Bernays thought it might be interesting to see if he could control these irrational unconscious drives and get people to do what he wanted.
So, Bernays decided to market himself to large corporations and soon became an extremely wealthy consulting expert. For example, he was hired by tobacco companies to get women to smoke cigarettes. During the early twentieth century, there was a taboo against women smoking and they wanted him to change that. So how do you manipulate people into buying something they don’t need? How do you get all these women smoking cigarettes which are bad for their health?
Bernays visits one of Freud’s pupils, A.A. Brill, and has him deeply psychoanalyze women. After considerable thought, Bernays realizes that the real problem with women in that era is they had an unconscious grudge against their husbands as they weren’t given any freedoms in their society. They couldn’t vote, they couldn’t work, etc. The women would never admit this. After all, they loved their husbands and would never admit that they’re angry at the fact that such a loving man was actually controlling them. So, Bernays gives them a way to outlet their frustration without them even knowing it. Cigarettes were to become “torches of freedom.”
He uses celebrities at the time to smoke cigarettes and markets them as this symbol of freedom. Though this is never directly said in the advertisements, the underlying hidden message is: Do you want to be an independent, successful woman like these movie stars? Tired of the boring life of a housewife? These women don’t need a man supporting them. They’re independent! Puff on one of these! Everything from the graphics to the ad copy all speaks to that primitive brain of these women.
Before long, women were smoking. To this day, smoking cigarettes is associated with a symbol of independence and freedom. After all, who is the man of freedom? The cowboy, riding his horse in the open field. Hardly anyone lives that life, but a lot of men want to think of themselves as free spirits, so they market their cigarettes to appeal to that unconscious drive.
When you think of brainwashing, you probably envision some man or woman strapped to a chair, staring into these flashing lights, given mind altering drugs, and scientists infusing hidden thoughts into their brain. In actuality, manipulate is much more subtle. Primal animal like passions deep within people are exploited and used to modify people’s behavior through things like image based advertising.
The whole first episode is about the application of Freud’s ideas to big business, spearheaded by Edward Bernays. The second episode is just as fascinating. The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels reads Bernays books and is fascinated. They hire psychoanalysts to analyze all these everyday people and they learn about their frustrations living in Germany at that time. That’s when they bombard the minds of the people with these Freudian unconscious techniques and they’re all swept away. Everything from the speeches, to the uniforms, to the architectural style of buildings is all designed to appeal to the people’s unconscious hopes and frustrations. Within a very short time Hitler becomes this mythical figure, almost unreal.
You have to remember the history. After World War I, Germany was blamed for everything. Their economic situation spiraled out of control and left them with massive inflation. Many lost their life savings, their businesses, everything. A great people were being trampled on, abused, and they were all frustrated. Hitler’s message was, “You’re the greatest people on Earth! Why do you put up with this? We have the greatest history known to man!” He erects these statues from past epochs of their history, romanticized. There’s flags everywhere, fiery speeches are delivered in massive religious like halls, marching bands parade away, and on and on. For example, take this statue. It’s the eagle, soaring high in the sky, strongly carrying a symbol of their people far up in the clouds. All the statues were placed high up to get people to lift their heads toward the sky.
I’d recommend you listen to his speeches as well. Notice how they appeal to emotion and never reason.
Hitler never encourages critical thought or individuality. He wanted fanatical obedience. He tells them to believe and have confidence in him, appealing to reptilian instincts to follow the strong man. If you read books like Ernest Becker’s The Denial Of Death, you learn that there are strong instinctual drives within our brains for what he calls “immortality projects”. Even if unconsciously, our minds are always thinking of death and what we’re leaving behind. We want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. Hitler (or maybe we should say Goebbels) creates the Nazi party as an immortality project for the people, a great nation that will last forever. All of these things infuse people’s minds with meaning and purpose, especially the youth who haven’t yet to be disillusioned to the scam.
After this Nazi nightmare, the U.S. government was terrified. How were they going to control these new unconscious forces and maintain order? I agree with President Roosevelt that people can be rational and trusted to make sound decisions, assuming we give them reliable and accurate information. People with this same line of thinking created the Gallup polls, to rationally poll the people to hear their desires and opinions on things. That’s the right direction, not manipulation. Even in polling, asking loaded and emotional questions is greatly frowned on, as it should be.
The third episode is an equally fascinating examination of the rise of the self-help industry which arose in the 1960s. All of the sudden, everyone was obsessed with individuality. Problem was, people weren’t sure what it meant to be an individual, all they knew was that they needed to be one. There’s this huge rise of hippies and gurus and other masters offering to help the masses find themselves.
People were in the streets protesting, dancing to their rock music, exclaiming that they weren’t going to be a part of “the system”. They didn’t want to dress the same way, or drive the same cars, or eat the same foods. They were tripping on acid and felt they were infinite consciousness, all possibilities, the totality of all that is. They didn’t want to be trapped in a box.
This worried big businesses because their manufacturing processes relied on making large quantities of the same thing in order to be efficient. If everyone was wanting different things, how in the world would they know what to produce? How could they make this work?
Here comes the real irony. It turns out people aren’t infinite possibilities after all. Stanford psychologists were hired to analyze people using Freudian like techniques and it turns out that all people, even the hippies, easily fall within a few set categories. Businesses changed their marketing and product lines to match the new demand and things smoothly sailed on.
I really enjoyed the interview with this hippy guy living in this shack on the beach. Apparently he was a leader of one of these movements. He tells the documentary maker, “Out of nowhere, the corporations started making products that even a guy like me, a man of infinite consciousness, would want.” His house was filled with hippy swirls, weird lights, and strange glass windows. I paused the video and laughed and laughed.
It’s also really interesting how this “individualism” movement turned out. Whereas before, people would be perfectly content with a nice living room and kitchen set, now they had to have their own, unique kitchen and living room set, setting them apart from the person next door. Big business had a heyday with this. “Don’t be like everyone else, buy the new [fill in the blank]…” In the end, the whole movement to “find yourself” ended up being reduced to shallow consumerism, people buying things they didn’t even need, and everyone looking over their shoulders to compare themselves to someone else.
The final episode deals with politics, primarily focusing on the Clinton administration in the 1990s. In order to win the election, he started using these Freudian techniques in his speeches to appeal to different demographics. Bill Clinton is big into psychoanalysis. In his autobiography, he said that he’s read The Denial Of Death over and over.
In elections, there are two huge chunks of people, some who will always vote Republican, and others who will always vote Democrat, regardless of who’s running or their policies. Clinton knew this, so he directed these Freudian tactics at swing voters. He hired analysts to psychoanalyze everyday people in the swing states and got deep into their minds. Then in his speeches he went on and on about all these petty things that those swing voters were concerned about. Things like chips in televisions to block pornography and other weird things like that. His popularity soared in those key demographics and was elected and reelected.
Before this time, politicians had messages about the future direction of the country, about their own vision. Now politicians are becoming more and more opportunistic, appealing to short-term interests of these random people for votes. This has made it incredibly difficult to govern. Policies are no longer even coherent, appealing to the random whims of all kinds of people who don’t even know what they’re talking about. They cut funding for railroads and then those same people get mad at their leaders when the trains aren’t working well. Stuff like that. It’s complete madness and it’s swept the world by storm. It’s become the norm for politicians in Europe and all over the world.
We’ve went from a nation of self-responsible, socially conscious citizens to these petty narcissists who believe that everything should conform to our desires, even if we know nothing about the issues at all.
You guys can probably now easily see why I have a picture of Sigmund Freud in my website’s top graphic. His thought is so important to understanding the past hundred years, whether it be history, society, or individual psychology. It makes me wonder, what if Sigmund Freud had never lived? What if these discoveries of the unconscious had never been brought to light? Our culture would be totally different, the Nazi’s may have never been as successful as they were, and even our politicians would govern differently, based on reason instead of emotion. Quite a profound thought. Freud unleashed a torrent of a madness over our world. Who would have thought!
Here is the entire documentary series on Youtube, if you want to see it. If this video is taken down, just Google it and you’ll easily find all the episodes on sites like Vimeo and others.
July 16, 2013
DARPA has been sinking a lot of money into robotics research and we’re seeing some impressive progress. Their latest and most advanced robot is made by a company called Boston Dynamics and it’s called ATLAS. Check it out in the video below.
July 8, 2013
I just recently finished watching a really interesting set of documentaries called The Trap, made by the BBC. The series explores the concept and definition of freedom, but from a very interesting perspective, specifically, “how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic creatures led to today’s idea of freedom.”
They begin by going back to the Cold War and examining the origins of Game Theory, which attempts to model human behavior into these strategy “games” where players try to outwit each other using probability theory. Back then, the United States and the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles aimed at each other at all times. There were planes and submarines moving all over the place, ready to fire off warheads if either side tried anything at all. You read about this in history books and think to yourself, “My gosh, how did we even survive? I can’t believe we’re still here. The slightest provocation could have sent the world spiraling into a nuclear holocaust.” What were our leaders thinking?
Well, they were using Game Theory! The mathematical models they applied were literally created by a paranoid schizophrenic named John Nash who was admitted to a mental institution a few years later. Nash was hearing voices in his head, feeling as if he could hear other people’s thoughts. He was firmly convinced that all his colleagues were trying to steal his work and the very basis his mathematical models was that nobody can be trusted, and that the rational choice in every situation is to betray your opponent without even considering cooperation. That absolutely insane line of thinking became the very basis of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons policy throughout the Cold War!
As you watch the series, you sit in your chair thinking, “Man! This is nuts!” and these terrible ideas embedded in Game Theory just propagate their way through academia and government. For example, we’re introduced to a famous psychologist named R.D. Laing who was really big in the 1960s. He applied these same mathematical Game Theory models to the family and came to absolutely absurd conclusions. For example, true love was an illusion and really there was always a constant power struggle going on within the home. Husbands and wives were in a constant battle, vying for command of the home’s resources, lying to children, trying to get the better of one another, and so on. Then he applied the ideas to society at large, and mental illness was pronounced a tool of the state to silence dissent and all of psychiatry was a fraud.
A brilliant young psychologist named Rosenhan attended one of his lectures and devised a rather ingenious experiment to confirm whether or not psychiatry really was a sham. He asked normal everyday folks to approach mental hospitals and tell the staff there, “I hear a faint, unclear voice uttering ‘thud’.” Other than that, they were to act perfectly normal and never mention the voices again. All of them were pronounced schizophrenic and mentally ill, and many of them were unable to leave the mental hospital without taking powerful psychotropic medications and pretending to get better. Once the results of these studies were released, the psychology profession was thrown into disarray. They needed a new way to diagnose mental illness which was objective and scientific.
This led a psychologist (I can’t remember his name now) to create a series of tests which could diagnose mental illness without the need for a psychiatrist. The problem was these new tests had no way of taking into account a person’s individual life and circumstances, because all of that would be too complicated. So we instead end up with a very superficial, shallow model of mental illness and the human mind. Countless mental “disorders” are created, and normal human suffering is treated as a disorder. Drug companies have a heyday with this and create pills for everything. Normal people trying to cope with the issues of everyday life feel there’s something wrong with them and start visiting psychologists to “fix” them.
All of this is rooted in shallow, superficial models of human beings and our minds. We’re very complicated creatures and we don’t fit into a math equation very easily. You have to remember, none of Nash’s models work if people decide to cooperate and love each other. His models always assume people are all out for themselves because if people love one another, and help one another without reason, and work together out of spirit of brotherly love, the models get way too complicated and he can’t put it all into equations. So, in order to get things to work out, he had to simplify the human mind to something it’s not. And strangely, the only solution he was able to work out, the so called Nash equilibrium, had to assume people were all out for themselves, and therefore the rational decision each and every time was to betray everyone else around you. He proved that there was a stable system which would emerge if everyone pursued their own interests at all times.
Free market economists took this as proof that if everyone just pursued their own self-interest without regard for anyone else, a stable society would emerge. Because these ideas were cloaked in mathematical equations and models, everything seemed scientific, so over time they were applied to the economic sphere and became embedded in our financial institutions and even our government.
All that I just mentioned was just the first episode. The second episode goes into how attempts to put these ideas into our governmental institutions were a disaster and led to a very strange form of freedom. A pseudo “market” was imposed on our social institutions, filled with quotas, targets, and plans. People then cheated the system and the numbers themselves became unreliable. To counteract this, new oversight agencies had to be established to verify that the numbers were being reported reliably and the whole system became very authoritarian. A noble attempt to give social workers freedom to achieve goals any way they want ultimately led to a huge system of control.
For example, politicians tried to impose crime targets on police officers. Every year the police had to find a way to lower such and such a crime rate, but what actually ended up happening is police officers reported severe crimes as if something of much less gravity happened in order to get their numbers down. Rapes were reported as minor domestic disputes, and so on. After all, if they didn’t bring that rate down, they didn’t get their raise, and in some cases lost their job entirely. So, we then needed federal agencies to always watch the police officers, and you can see how this would soon spiral out of control.
The third episode deals with the Bush administration and how it was overrun by neoconservatives who wanted to bring democracy and freedom to the world by force. That’s such a bizarre idea. And strangely, as we’ve tried to free the world, we’ve ended up enslaving ourselves. As we invaded all these countries which have done nothing to us, we’ve incited all kinds of hatred. Now we have terrorists seeking revenge, their numbers all over the world are on the rise, and in order to protect ourselves from them we need to beef up our surveillance. This brought us the Patriot Act and all the stories you’ve been hearing about lately, such as the recent NSA scandal. Civil liberties are being taken away from us left and right, and our right to privacy is a thing of the past. See the contradiction?
I would highly recommend watching the series. It’s all on Youtube. I’ll post the first episode.
July 4, 2013
The past month or so, I’ve found myself thinking on freedom. I’ve had all sorts of thoughts on the topic, and after weeks of churning on the ideas, I ended up having the strangest dreams. I’ll tell you all about two of them, but there have been others which I don’t remember as well.
In the first dream, I was in a classroom with some old friends of mine from the basketball team in high school. We were sitting in a math class and we were at the far side of the room. None of us were paying attention and I remember telling them, “I already know this stuff. Why am I in here? This is such a waste.” The teacher was handing back exams, and I showed them that I got 100%. My friends laughed and eventually the bell rang and we were released.
The three of us got up out of our seats and headed out of the building into the parking lot. This is where things get strange. I turn around and notice a jock in a letter jacket and his girlfriend walking out the school doors, and then I turn back and notice my friends who were about to get into their car. That’s when this strange feeling comes over me like some invisible presence entered the dream and handed me some sort of key. I was given full control of the dream world and entered a fully immersive lucid experience. And you want to know the strangest thing? Most people will tell you how wonderful lucid dreams are, but it was the total opposite for me. I immediately was angry! Why?
Well, I grabbed that football player with my “mind” and drew him toward me, like those Star Wars Jedis do with the force. The strange thing is, the football player didn’t even get nervous or even change his facial expression. He remained in the same bodily position, staring off toward his girlfriend. As he came toward me under my mind’s influence, I remember thinking of him as a sort of computer rendering. I write a lot of 3D simulators, and at that point he was not unlike a complex static 3D model, not moving, no emotion, lifeless. I then put him back and found that everything had stopped. Everything stood absolutely still. If something else was to happen from that moment onward, I had to make it happen. I had to specify what was going to happen, think it out, and consciously use my little pea brain to direct the workings of everything, and I mean everything. If the wind was to blow, I had to tell it how hard, the direction, everything. Will the wind rustle the leaves, or will it just be a feeling on my cheek? Will it make any sound in my ears? Every movement, every sound, every spoken word, I had to direct it. Everybody was just mindless puppets and the world was lifeless, without any spark or even wonder.
I immediately exclaimed to that invisible presence, “I’m not qualified for a job like this!” Then I levitated myself a few feet off the pavement (I was in the parking lot) and went into a lotus position, just floating floated around this world that had suddenly stopped. I thought to myself, over and over, “I don’t like this. I don’t like this one bit.” I looked over to my friends who were just about to get in their car and exclaimed to that presence, “What are they? Puppets? They’re my friends! Move!” But they wouldn’t move, not on their own at least. Like I said, I was given complete control.
There was no love in that world. No friendship. No bonding. It was just a thing. A super complicated thing which was waiting on me to direct it, but I didn’t want that sort of control.
Disgusted, I ended up levitating my way to this sign in the parking lot and noticed some strange words in an unknown language. They were written in normal English letters (Latin script) though, sort of like how you can see Japanese words written in the Latin script (Romanji). I stared at the sign for quite a while. It was a wooden sign, with the words painted in blue, and there were green trees painted as well. It was very nice. After memorizing what the sign said, I yelled out, “I want out of here!” Then I woke up and found myself in my bed. That’s a recurrent theme among all these dreams I’ve been having. I’m given some sort of control but then get angry, disgusted, or disappointed, and then say, “I don’t want this…” and wake up and end up back in this world, the real world.
The whole dream had me puzzled, so I turned on my computer and wondered what the words on that sign meant. I expected it to be garbage, meaning nothing. Random letters strung together. I googled the text and after doing a little digging, I found a translation, which freaked me out. The words, which I had written down after waking up, not having any idea what they meant, translated to, “A playground for God’s friend.” They were Hebrew. They were real. And even stranger, I don’t know Hebrew. I’ve never studied Hebrew. I know nothing at all about Hebrew. I paced up and down the hallway, up and down, up and down. I’ve never been exposed to Hebrew. Why are Hebrew words showing up in my dreams? Maybe I had learned a little Hebrew at some point but just don’t remember it? I just kept exclaiming to myself, “This can’t be! I don’t know Hebrew, at all!” It was an experience which left a strong impression on me.
But as I mentioned, that wasn’t the only strange dream I had.
A few nights later I found myself in another dream world. I was a bit older than I am now, and I was in this beautiful wooden home, in a secluded forest. There was also someone living with me and it wasn’t a woman, to my surprise. It was a crippled old man who couldn’t move. I knew him and we were friends, but he was completely paralyzed and wasn’t even able to speak. He couldn’t move at all. So, I would sit there in this secluded home, talking to him. I then told him, “You know the problem with this place? Friends and family are what make a place home. It’s too lonely out here, just you and I.”
That’s when I quickly learned that my disabled friend had great powers. Tremendous powers! Without moving he just thought of “change” in his head and all of the sudden all of my family, and all of my friends throughout my entire life were packed into this woodland home. Everyone was laughing, eating snacks, and having a great time, but I still felt lonely.
I walked around this beautiful home, and though everyone was smiling, partying, and in utter delight, none of it felt right. It felt empty. It felt forced, if that makes any sense. I knew, deep down, in some way I couldn’t explain, that I wasn’t in the right place. I then told the disabled man, “This is the past. This is all old. This isn’t right.”
Nobody seemed to notice my disappointment, and they all went on their way. It was a party at my house, but it didn’t feel like “my” party. It felt like a bunch of other people just getting together in my house and I wasn’t integral to any of it. I then found my disabled friend off in the corner, all by himself. Expressionless, emotionless, lifeless. He sat there paralyzed, unable to move. I sat beside him and said, “This is no party.” He then “thought” again and we were again alone. Everyone but us disappeared and we were left alone in the log home.
Realizing this man’s powers, I thought, “You can make any life I ask you to… This is the home I’ve been dreaming of for years and you made it for me, didn’t you?” But he sat there, not moving at all. He couldn’t even control where he looked and he was locked into some stare at the corner of my room. Then I sat down in a chair beside him, frustrated. “But this isn’t right. This is no good. No good at all.” Words then sprang out of me, “My life right now, as I’m living it, is more interesting than this.” Then I woke up in my bedroom again.
That dream also had a profound impact on me. After all, who was the man in the wheelchair? It took me some time to realize it, but eventually I figured it out — it was God. Instead of letting the great powers of the universe write my life’s story, I instead wanted to, and I found myself woefully inadequate for the task. The great power of the universe was bound to following my wishes, and I had no idea what I even wanted to experience.
As I’ve often mentioned, I’ve grown up in a deeply religious home. Obviously you can see religious themes in my thought and even dreams. But you know, I used to think that faith was believing you could achieve something you set out to do. After thinking deeply about freedom and having dreams like this, I’m realizing that faith is a sort of blind commitment, an openness to the world, letting the old man (the world) fill in all the complicated details of your story, even if you don’t know what’s going to happen or fully understand what’s going on. If the world had a voice, it’s a willingness to listen and let it reveal itself to you. That’s how you let the old man out of the wheelchair. He (It?) can write a much better story than you ever could, but only if you let it loose.
July 2, 2013
Are you fed up with the continual erosion of our privacy and civil liberties? Are you outraged that the NSA is spying on each and every one of us? Are you looking for a way to help?
The solution is simple: Learn to talk like a terrorist and make it a part of your everyday vernacular. It’s brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that?