5 February 2012

All in the Mind

I've been thinking about the idea of a 'conspiracy theory'. This seems to be used as a phrase of condemnation these days, suggesting that anybody who does not believe the official version of events, the spun version of reality, is some kind of nutter. I began to wonder whether it is time to rehabilitate the conspiracy theory - perhaps have some t-shirts printed saying 'We are all conspiracy theorists now?'

We could take this further, and suggest that the cognitive dissonance that is required of us to live in a world where the Conservatives can claim to be the greenest government ever and yet focus the political strategy on returning to growth and cutting funding to renewable energy, the only available intellectual response is an inherently mistrustful one. Is it that in the era of mass democracy and an educated electorate politicians are avoiding the explicit political debate and engaging in deception instead? Perhaps consideration of their real motives, whether conspiracy theory or conspiracy fact, is the sanest response.

In 1928 Edward Bernays published a book called Propaganda. It is hard to get historical framing right, but my understanding is that at the time this was not seen as a problemtic title, and that Bernays felt no need to be ironic. Much is made of the fact that he was Freud's son-in-law, but whether or not this is important he certainly relied heavily on the insights of psychology, and how these could be used for what he considered beneficial socio-political ends. In the book he claimed that:

‘If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it . . . Mass psychology is as yet far from being an exact science and the mysteries of human motivation are by no means all revealed. But at least theory and practice have combined with sufficient success to permit us to know that in certain cases we can effect some change in public opinion . . . by operating a certain mechanism.'*

In this thinking lies the origin of nudge, the avoidance of political debate by lazy or insecure policy-makers so expertly dissected by Andrew Dobson in a recent report for Green House. Perhaps the origin of the conspiracy theorist's enthusiasm can also be found in this determination by those with power to subvert democracy without our really understanding how.

*quotes in Ewen, S. (2001), Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (New York: Basic Books), pp. 83-4.

1 comment:

  1. If people don't understand how democracy is 'perverted',then maybe they have no wish to know.How can it otherwise be explained?Especially since we have internet.Nearly forty years ago I read a book titled "The Rich and the Super-Rich".Since the sixties books analysing everything and all things have become widely available.But even now,one meets people who have strong feelings about the state of the nation,the world and humanity,politics,you name it,yet ask them what books they have read,and the fervour is already in remission.Next you start about people reading and thinking to find out how it works,so they become annoyed.Almost invariably it is to do with political leaning,if that is not too mild a word.The further Left you go,the more people have a certain conviction which they are unable to defend,other than by repeating what they have been told by their 'betters'.We just have to accept that people have free will only to the degree they are willing to reason freely.Of those who are willing to reason on the basis of facts,the majority,experience and the facts as observed teaches,will not follow their professed beliefs.They talk one way,but seek in practice to do the best for themselves for the moment.They live for short-term survival(In the long run we're all dead,anyway).Where there is a will,there is a way.Unfortunately,the majority of people wish to only learn the hard way;Which means,if they are able to keep postponing their learning,which the majority spends extraordinary time,effort and money doing(the postponing) with great tenacity,they end up learning the really,really hard way(Sounds familiar?).I have long come to the conclusion that the result of any given situation is entirely democratic.The result is the resultante of the total of the collective state of mind,attitude and action or lack of on the part of all involved.It was ever thus.(Jacob Jonker(.