Mar. 24, 2017

Edward Bernays and the Corruption of Desire and Fear

Edward Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, as well as the father of public relations in America. Bernays used Freud’s psychological theories to move the public to purchase products and also applied these theories in politics. There seemed to be two perspectives of why people behaved the ways they did. One is that people are basically good at heart and given the best information, will make decisions to increase the public good. The other much darker perspective holds that people are truly barbarous and make decisions based on emotion and self-interest.  This was Bernays’ perspective. The masses could not be trusted with the public welfare and therefore needed to be manipulated and controlled. Bernays used Freud’s work on the unconscious as a means to tap into people’s inner desires or fears to influence the public. He was able to make people believe that certain products will fulfill their desires, give them happiness and keep them docile and manageable. He also used these same tactics to influence public opinion in politics.

Manufacturers feared that people would finally buy all the things they needed- what then? Using advertising, billboards, movies, and even op eds in newspapers, Bernays created the consumer citizen by training them to want new things. He tapped into the inner needs of humans for safety, sex, love, prestige, power, belonging and fitting in. During the 1920’s, he was hired by a tobacco interest to increase sales. He used the slogan, “Torch of Freedom” to tie women’s struggle for equal rights to breaking the taboo of woman not smoking in public. Bernays was the first to use product placement in movies. As the public relations representative for the National Association of Manufacturers, Bernays propagated the idea that corporations were the heart of a democracy in an effort to turn American citizenship from active participation to passive consumerism. Bernays was the organizer for the 1939 World’s Fair, which he used to manipulate the masses into believing that a true democracy can only flourish in a capitalistic society. He created an emotional attachment between big business and the public convincing them that business, not government built modern America, with all the modern comforts and conveniences.

There are several examples of Bernays’ influence on politics. During WWI, President Wilson engaged Bernays to move public sentiment towards involvement in the war. Bernays created the slogan, “Make the World Safe for Democracy.” President Coolidge hired Bernays to increase the president’s popularity. Bernays brought movie and theater stars to the White House to take pictures with Coolidge. Bernays was later an advisor to President Eisenhower during the cold war, but continued to work in public relations for corporations. One of these corporations was United Fruit. This company had been using corrupt dictators to obtain and transport tropical fruits for cheaper prices. But this was stopped by a political coo in Guatemala. The new government would not cooperate with the company. Bernays used cold war fears to change things for United Fruit. He created a fake newspaper to influence popular opinion, claiming that this new government was communist and that Moscow would use Guatemala as a beachhead for invasion. He convinced Eisenhower to use the CIA to take down the new government. Bernays even provided Marxist propaganda pamphlets to provide fake evidence that the new leader was a communist. The headline on his fake newspaper read, “Liberation of Guatemala by Freedom Fighters.” Bernays used people’s fears to engineer public consent that interests of business and democracy must be protected from communism. This notion, created by Bernays may have led to US intervention in Korea and Vietnam.

So to a large extent, Bernays influence has had a tremendous impact on the United States and on the rest of the world. Our consumer society has a huge impact on natural resources and climate change. Advertising, which is essentially propaganda, is used to support a non-sustainable lifestyle and support corporate and manufacturing interests. This has primed the American public to susceptibility to the information war that Russia has implemented on our country. Here are quotes from McClatchy D. C. regarding this attack on America:

Russia used “trolls,” hundreds of computer operatives who pretended to be Trump supporters and posted stories or comments on the internet complimentary to Trump or disparaging to Clinton. Sources close to the inquiry said those operatives likely worked from a facility in St. Petersburg, Russia, dedicated to that tactic.
Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as “bots,” to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.
The bots’ end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said. Some of the stories were false or mixed fact and fiction, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the bot attacks are part of an FBI-led investigation into a multifaceted Russian operation to influence last year’s elections.

The propaganda from the Russians certainly affected the outcome of our democratic process. Obviously Putin did not want Clinton in the White House because Clinton has checked him in the past and would most likely continue if she were president. It is time for people to recognize that information is being used against their own best interests turning them into sheep. As Herbert said in Dune, “The sleeper must awaken!”