The Century Of Self: Happiness Machines (Episode 1)

This episode is about Sigmund Freud’s American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays is almost completely unknown today, but his influence on the 20th Century was nearly as great as his uncle’s – because Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses.

The Century of Self (2002)

The Psychology of Propaganda

Like all science, psychology has the potential to be used for good or bad. For instance, psychology is the secret ingredient in all powerful propaganda that is used to manipulate the thinking, emotions, and behaviors of massive groups of people (i.e., the masses).

Propaganda is age-old. But in the early 20th Century, Edward Bernays began promoting an organized approach to psychology-driven propaganda. His goal was to help governments and large corporations become more successful.

The Motive of Propaganda

So, is all propaganda bad? We must ask ourselves…. What is the motive behind this message? What ultimate outcome does it support? Who would benefit from such an outcome, and who would be negatively impacted?

Perhaps an effective campaign program designed to avert climate change is worthwhile propaganda. Perhaps propaganda that stirs up fear and readies people for war, is not. You be the judge.

The Prevalence of Propaganda

You find propaganda everywhere: Television commercials, political rhetoric, schools, even church pulpits, and most certainly in every department of Public Relations. In fact, Edward Bernays was instrumental in replacing the straight-forward term “propaganda” with the euphemistic phrase “public relations.”

The Awareness of Propaganda

Don’t allow the prevalence of insidious, insinuating propaganda make you feel paranoid. That is no fun.

Instead, play a game of awareness. When you’re confronted with a manipulative message, ask yourself – Is this something that would actually increase my happiness and well-being? Try to catch yourself, before unwittingly taking the bait or getting reeled in.

Propaganda Depends on Emotion

Propaganda depends on emotion over reason. Why? Because people are easily led by emotion, whether it’s fear, anger, lust, or love. While relying on this very aspect of the human condition, Bernays considered the masses to be “stupid.” And, well… his techniques work. (Just ask Rush Limbaugh.)

Here’s how I see it. It is not stupid or weak to feel emotion. Emotions are a vital part of our psyche, particularly when it comes to personal relationships. But you can choose when to be in feeling-mode or thinking-mode.

Wear Your Critical-Thinking Cap

Save your feeling-mode for personal relationships and artistic expression. Save your feeling-mode for the breathtaking wonders of God and Nature.

Otherwise, wear your critical-thinking cap. The powers-that-be are trying to persuade you!