VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda VII

This reading carries on from here.

The seventh chapter of Edward Bernays’s Propaganda is called ‘Women’s Activities And Propaganda’.

Bernays is comfortable stating, in 1928, that women “have achieved a legal equality with men”. This doesn’t mean that their activities are the same – it simply means that their vote is of equal worth. This makes them particularly important to understand from a propaganda perspective.

He points out that women don’t have to occupy high positions of political power in order to have a strong political influence. It doesn’t matter that women are not taken as seriously as men in positions of high leadership, because they lead women’s organisations with great numbers of members, and the women leading them have a heavy influence on how their members vote.

Bernays considers the women’s suffrage campaign (which had won victory in America shortly before he wrote this book) to be a good example of the power of propaganda to bring societal changes. He credits the use of propaganda by women’s organisations for increased social welfare and alcohol prohibition. Many female propagandists were trained either by the suffragette movement itself or by the Government during World War One.

These clubs can hold events that draw large numbers of people, so if a popular enough event can be held, it will result in great numbers of people being influenced. Bernays is especially taken with the idea of such clubs sponsoring art or literary competitions. Such events can generate enormous amounts of goodwill.

Bernays is optimistic that an increased voice for women can help mould the world into a better place for all of us. He believes that the entrance of women into politics will allow them to focus on areas that men had previously neglected or were not interested in. This is primarily achieved by the introduction of new ideas or methods.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda VI

This reading carries on from here.

The sixth chapter of Edward Bernays’s Propaganda is called ‘Propaganda and Political Leadership’. Having elaborated upon the basics, Bernays now turns to what this book is best known for.

The chapter opens with an almost Machiavellian statement of anti-democracy. “No serious sociologist any longer believes that the voice of the people expresses any divine or specially wise and lofty idea.” The leader, then, has an obligation to use propaganda to induce the people to go in the right direction.

Curiously for 1928, Bernays is in a position to lament the apathy that already existed in the American voting population of the time. He presages the coming of Adolf Hitler when he states that this apathy only exists because of the failure of any political leader to capture the imagination of the public (this might be because propaganda has been used to destroy political communication).

Voter apathy is here blamed on the inability of politicians to dramatise themselves and their platforms in terms that have real meaning to the public. This cannot be achieved by a politician who merely follows the public whim. Given the strictures of democracy, “The only means by which the born leader can lead is the expert use of propaganda”.

Political campaigns ought to be planned and conducted as professionally and as meticulously as any advertising campaign of a large company. To this end, they would do well to be honestly funded. Bernays decries the “little black bag” method of funding, on account of that it lowers the prestige of politics.

A clever political campaign will outline, from the beginning, specifically which emotions it intends to appeal to. It will figure out exactly who it intends to appeal to, how to reach those people, and the areas in which multiple target groups have aligned interests.

Politicians, as leaders, ought to be creators of circumstances, not victims of them. In this, they have to be clever. The old-fashioned approach is to assault voting resistance head-on, through argumentation. The new approach is to arrange things so that such a conclusion seems dramatic and self-evident.

The best thing is to agitate the public into a sense of anxiety beforehand, so that when the politician speaks it is as if they are providing the answer to a desperate question. Bernays expresses a strong conviction that untrue propaganda will never drive out the honest, because the untrue propaganda will become weakened by growing public awareness of it.

Viewed from ninety years later, it seems that Bernays was altogether too naive and trusting. He wasn’t wrong when he says that the question of whether the newspaper shapes public opinion or public opinion shapes the newspaper is a bit of both. However, he didn’t appear to have anticipated that those who control the apparatus of propaganda would choose to pump it out ever more shamelessly, nor that mass media would see us soaked in propaganda 24/7.

A real leader ought to be able to use propaganda to get the people to follow them, rather than them follow the whims of the people. Again, Bernays emphasises that understanding the target audience is crucial: “The whole basis of successful propaganda is to have an objective and then to endeavor to arrive at it through an exact knowledge of the public and modifying circumstances to manipulate and sway that public.”

Government can be considered the “continuous administrative organ of the people”. To this end, an understanding of propaganda among its workers is vital for the sake of clear and accurate communication. Bernays prefers to describe this as education rather than propagandising. Perhaps the difference was more distinct in the 1920s.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

Why Victimhood Is Aggression

In a moral climate as degenerate as ours, weakness has become a virtue. We have come to believe that anyone who is weak must be innocent and the victim of misfortune or prejudice, and is therefore owed compensation. This has led to interest groups scrambling to position themselves as the biggest victim. This essay explains how victimhood is a form of aggression.

Justice is all about setting to rights what people are owed. If someone assaults another person, or steals from them, it’s important that the wider community steps in and sets things to rights. If they don’t, the original victim (or their friends and family) will seek vengeance, which historically has led to blood-feuding, which has frequently led to the destruction of entire areas.

Blood-feuding led to rulers and magistrates enforcing a code of laws – a codified, written set of laws and punishments for anyone who breaks those laws. The advantage of a code of laws is that aggrieved parties appeal to a magistrate for justice instead of taking revenge themselves, which means that grievances tend to settle down instead of festering into blood feuds.

The aggrieved party in any question of justice expects to be compensated. So the giver of justice, in order to keep the peace, tends to pass down rulings that favour the aggrieved. Because of the good nature of other people, it’s usually assumed that any party claiming a grievance must be deserving of compensation, and as a result, the majority of grievances are taken seriously.

The difficulty arises, as it has today, when some people start to realise that a sense of victimhood is highly profitable. A person, or group of people, with a deeply entrenched sense of victimhood can force the society around them to adapt to their wishes. This society does out of a fear of the implied threat of blood-feuding if those grievances are not settled. So artificially stoking a sense of victimhood can bring political power.

New Zealand anarchist philosopher Rick Giles has described this permanent victimhood as Victimhood Culture, one of the four major moral cultures of human history. Giles points out that, no matter how many concessions are given to people in victim mode, it’s never enough. This is because victimhood is an entire culture, a mindset into which people fall and into which they are often raised. It’s characterised by an absence of both honour and dignity.

There are genuine victims, but the proportion of them are ever fewer, and the proportion of grifters and chancers ever higher.

Making out like you’re owed, by exaggerating a sense of victimhood, is an act of aggression. The purpose is to intimidate good-natured people into giving up their wealth or freedom in order to compensate you for the supposed injustice. Because most people have trouble believing that anyone could be as shameless as to pretend to be a victim, most assertions of victimhood are taken at face value.

In reality, the world is an extremely complicated place. There are always a multitude of competing explanations for any political or historical event that might occur or have occurred, or for any sociological phenomenon that may have arisen. Therefore, it’s not always obvious to work out if you have been treated unfairly or not. So whether a person declares that they are a victim or not tells us much about them.

Take the example of the New Zealand Maori. The question of whether they benefitted from colonisation is one that draws a wide variety of responses. The competing explanations are that the British Empire showed up and rescued them from a life of intertribal warfare, slavery and cannibalism (on the one hand), or that they lived in perfect harmony with nature and with each other before the British turned up and corrupted them (on the other), or somewhere in between.

Therefore, it isn’t obvious for individual Maoris to know how much of a sense of victimhood they ought to feel. Inevitably, what ends up happening is that people feel a sense of victimhood that is proportionate to their own level of interpersonal aggression. This is why radicalism and violence go hand-in-hand.

This is true of people in any race, class or religion. If they are naturally aggressive, they will naturally want to take from others, and a sense of victimhood is the perfect justification. All that’s needed is some way of interpreting history so that you or the group you belong to were victimised by some other. Then, that other can be attacked until it pays compensation.

Unfortunately, this means that a sense of victimhood is worth money. If it can be stoked in other people, by suggesting to those people that they are victims and are owed compensation, then this victimhood can be parlayed into cash, jobs and other perks. A person claiming to represent a group of victims can easily siphon wealth into their own pockets. This makes it immensely tempting to stoke victimhood and to aggravate grievances.

The wise thing to do is to be exceptionally wary of anyone, whether an individual or a group, that claims to be a victim. Almost inevitably, this group will have managed to justify aggression against those who they see as oppressors. For this reason, a sense of victimhood, and perpetuating a sense of victimhood, can rightly be seen as a sign of aggression.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda V

This reading carries on from here.

The fifth chapter of Edward Bernays’s Propaganda is called ‘Business and the Public’.

Businesses have realised that their interactions with the public are not limited to selling their product. They also have to keep on side with that public, otherwise the latter will pass laws restricting the operational freedom of that business. This need to stay onside with the moral fashions of the public has created the public relations industry.

Incredibly for 1928, Bernays is already talking about the fact that it is no longer demand that causes goods to be supplied to the market. He is aware even then that demand is something that is created, and that this is economically necessary in an age of mass production owing to the size of the capital investment necessary to get started. This is entirely different to even a century beforehand.

It has meant that psychology is now necessary in order to conduct business. The minds of the market, both as individuals and as collectives, must be understood. The vast reach of mass media only makes this more important. “Business must express itself and its entire corporate existence so that the public will understand and accept it.”

A company must think hard about the impression that it creates on other people. This means that businesses have to think about things like the dress of their staff. Much of this sounds routine for 2019, so it must be remembered this book was written in 1928.

The propagandist’s work can be divided into two major groups: “continuous interpretation” and “dramatisation by highspotting”. The former is a kind of micromanagement of the public mind in all minor matters, whereas the latter attempts to create a striking and lasting impression. The appropriate method to use can only be determined after a thorough study of the needs of the client.

Bernays writes of his conviction that “as big business becomes bigger the need for expert manipulation of its innumerable contacts with the public will become greater.” Critical to this is finding common interests between the good or service to be sold and the public interest. This search can have an almost infinite number of dimensions. He emphasises against that the goodwill of the public is necessary for any success, in particular stock floats.

Competition is now so intense that almost every decision made by the consumer is someone’s interest. Even the choice of what to eat for breakfast impacts a large number of corporate interests, all of who want to sell their product. Bernays jokes that this might lead to people becoming fat out of a fear that manufacturers will go bankrupt if people don’t eat enough – bizarrely ironic considering our obesity struggles 90 years later.

Bernays finishes this chapter writing about the amusement industry, which has its roots in carnivals and “medicine shows”. They were the ones who taught business and industry about propaganda. Ultimately, propaganda is a dynamic industry that responds to changing trends, and therefore “Modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse”.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda IV


This reading carries on from here.

The fourth chapter of Edward Bernays’s Propaganda is called ‘The Psychology of Public Relations’.

The study of mass psychology made people understand the possibility of the invisible government. We learned that the group has qualities that are distinct from the qualities of individuals. Bernays poses the question here: “is it not possible for us to control and regiment the masses according to our will without them knowing it?”

Bernays says it is possible, with certain limitations owing to the fact that psychological science is not well developed (it’s worth noting here, again, that this book was written in 1928). Propaganda is a human science and can therefore, like economics and sociology, never be exact.

Bernays again makes the point that if you can influence the leaders, you also influence the groups that they influence. Man’s gregarious nature will make him feel that he is part of a herd, and part of this herd psychology is to allow the group to make its imprints on him. Bernays gives the example of the man who buys railroad shares because something has caused him to associate that company with good feelings.

The group mind doesn’t really think, as such. Rather, it has emotions and raw animal impulses. Its first impulse is to follow a trusted leader. In this sense, we can see that the group mind is very primitive. But when a leader is not on hand and “the herd must think for itself”, it tends to do so in the form of simple cliches, whether in word or image form.

The truth is that men are seldom aware of what actually motivates their actions. They believe themselves to be making rational and dispassionate decisions, when in reality they are influenced by crude egotistical and biological desires. Freud was one of those who made people aware of how many of our desires and behaviours are really just expression of suppressed instincts. A man buys a car for status, not for locomotion.

The successful propagandist must understand people’s true motives, and therefore cannot be content with the reasons people give for why they do things. Human desires are “the steam which makes the human machine work”, and only by understanding these can the propagandist control society.

Old propaganda used what Bernays calls “reaction psychology”, in which people are more or less told what to buy. The new propaganda is more subtle. Instead of advertising bacon, the propagandist convinces doctors to tell their patients to eat it. Instead of breaking down sales resistance by direct attack, propagandists now act to remove it through subtle means.

If the propagandist can make it the group custom to buy a particular good, then he has succeeded. The old propaganda asked people to buy that good; the new propaganda convinces people to go into the salesroom and ask to be sold that good.

The leaders who lend their authority to a propagandist’s endeavour will only do so if it accords with their own interests. For this reason, the propagandist must endeavour to understand the aspirations of as many people as possible. There will be cases in which the interests of many different groups overlap, and in that there is power.

The new propaganda is based on “enlightened self-interest”. Bernays concludes this chapter by saying that this, and the three previous chapters, were devoted to giving a general outline of how propaganda works, and in the remainder of the book he will look at specifics.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

The Three Fundamental Personality Types

If one chooses not to break the world into two, or into four, but into three, one comes across the three fundamental elements of mercury, sulphur and salt. Here the sulphur represents the masculine, the mercury the feminine and the salt the world. As this essay will investigate, these elements also reflect the three elementary personality types.

Anthropologically speaking, men can be described by the ethological niche that they fall into: they can be an alpha, a beta or an omega. This refers to their position on the dominance hierarchy, where alphas have high status and get the best women, and omegas have low status and no women. In modern parlance, these personality types can be described as chads, bugmen and soyboys.

The alpha is a creator. His nature corresponds to sulphur, which is the creative force. This creative energy makes things out of nothing; it imposes order upon chaos. He is Romulus, Gilgamesh, Alexander. He is the cardinal force, which makes something appear where once only chaos existed. This sort of man builds monuments, nations and empires.

Alphas aren’t generally interested in fitting into pre-existing systems. This is why he is also described as Chad, irresistible to women. The cardinal force is the most attractive to women because the essence of masculinity is precisely the capacity to impose order upon chaos. The chad imposes order upon the world around him, therefore he is masculine, and the feminine element naturally becomes devoted to him.

The beta is a maintainer. His nature corresponds to salt, which represents the world. In this sense, there is nothing remarkable about the beta. He doesn’t have a lot of personality, but he is extremely efficient when there are many like him in a bureaucracy – or a paramilitary group. Less intelligent than the alpha, the beta’s intellect can only encompass a limited sphere, but he is perfectly effective within it.

Betas are described as bugmen in modern parlance. This is because they appear to have neither personality nor free will, much like insects. Betas need alphas to give them direction, because they are afraid of doing the wrong thing and getting punished. He knows, however, that he is next in line to inherit the position of the alpha, and so he wants things to change the least. He therefore represents the fixed force.

The soyboy represents the mutable force, corresponding to mercury. This is because he is at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy, and therefore has nothing to lose and everything to gain from its dissolution. He represents the mutable force because the more things change, the better it is for him. He is also, for these reasons, the destroyer.

In this sense, mercury serves as the divine feminine in her representation as chaos. The soyboy is a natural loser, in that he never gets laid except for by pity, and the world seems to be rigged against him. Consequently, he is the one with the largest incentive to change things. This is why he is associated with resentment and other slave moralities. The mercurial element is unpredictable, because it resents having order imposed upon it.

These three personality types all depend upon, and interplay with, each other. Without the chads, there is no civilisation for the bugmen and soyboys to populate. Without the bugmen, the chads and the soyboys do not have enough in common for the ground to exist upon which a civilisation can be built. Without the soyboys, the chads and the bugmen are constantly at war with each other, having no mutually agreed weaker party to beat down upon.

The three are also natural divisions that reflect reality. This is why we can see the creator-maintainer-destroyer trichotomy in Hinduism, where Brahman acts as creator, Vishnu as maintainer and Shiva as destroyer. In Hinduism, however, it is understood that all three are necessary for life to function, and there is less emphasis on the mercurial element being unwanted.

In another sense, the chads and the soyboys follow each other around like the yin and yang of a taijitu, with the yin as mercury and the yang as sulphur. The bugmen are then like the unwobbling pivot of Taoism, as a kind of fulcrum around which the rest of the world turns. This is also reflective of reality in that yin and yang come and go, so that sometimes one is fashionable and the other not, and other times the reverse.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda III

This reading carries on from here.

The third chapter of Edward Bernays’s Propaganda is called ‘The New Propagandists’. Here, Bernays gets to the task of who it is that molds public opinion. “Who are the men who, without us realising it, give us our ideas?”

Bernays admits openly that these molders of public opinion decide for us who we admire and who we despise, and what we think about all manner of political issues. They decide our fashions, our speech, and even what jokes we feel like we’re allowed to make. They decide the shape of everything in our societies – but who are they?

These people include all of the top politicians, all of the leaders of the biggest industries, all of the leaders of the largest cultural organisations, the editors of the largest newspapers and magazines, the heads of the various industry groups, the chancellors of the most prominent universities and the main religious figures. Even so, most of these people, in their turn, get their ideas from elsewhere.

In some cases, it’s clear who the wirepullers are. In most cases, it isn’t. But these people control the destinies of millions. The degree to which a small number of people influence a large number of public figures is generally not appreciated. This number will, however, always be small on account of the great expense involved in manipulating the machinery of propaganda to form public opinion.

This has given rise to the new (in 1928) profession of professional propagandist, which has been euphemised as “public relations counsel”. This role is necessary because all governments, no matter what their type, depend on the acquiescence of the people. Bernays here gives us the maxim “Government is only government by virtue of public acquiescence.” Even commercial enterprises need public approval to succeed.

The propagandist is not simply an advertiser. Although he might use letters to the editor, radio, lectures, magazines and more, his work does not duplicate that of the advertiser. His first business is to make sure that his client’s product is something that the public can be brought to accept. The propagandist’s next job is to analyse the public, and how to approach the leaders of the various groups within it.

Bernays contends that, in the age of mass media, corporations found it necessary to give the appearance of conforming to the public’s sense of decency and honesty. As a result, and much like governments, corporations found propagandists necessary in order to get anything done.

The ideal of the propagandist’s profession is making the client understand what the public wants, and making the public understand the objectives of the client. Propagandising can therein be likened to a form of diplomacy. Bernays labours at length the point that the propagandist does not work to hoodwink the public, and lists the ethical considerations of the profession.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

VJMP Waitangi Day Address 2019

The only power that scares the Establishment is the unity of the people. Only when Maoris and white people come together, with strong bonds based on mutual appreciation of each other’s talents, do the ruling classes of this country sit up and take notice. Only then do they become afraid of us, instead of the other way around.

There are two very popular, and yet very false, narratives explaining why our society is the way it is. Both of these false narratives serve to divide the nation into two competing blocs, at each others throats. The first is the Imperialist narrative, the second is the Marxist narrative.

The Imperialist narrative has it that Maoris lived in a state of depravity and constant terror. Intertribal warfare and cannibalism were rife; life expectancy was 30 years if you were lucky. According to the Imperialist narrative, Maoris were rescued from this state by the benevolence of the British Empire, which made slavery illegal, and kindly dished out medicine, technology and an end to the Musket Wars.

The Marxist narrative has it that Maoris lived in a state of perfect peace and harmony with Nature. There was no violence and no hunger until the white man turned up. Then the Maoris were driven from their land under musket and cannon fire, into the wilderness to die. The British came here for no other reason than greed, and never saw the Maoris as proper human beings.

Both of these narratives are horseshit. Both have been designed to sow discord and hatred. Both are aggressive, supremacist ideologies, and both are supported by aggressive, low intelligence, egotistical people. Neither has a place in the New Zealand of the new century.

There is a lot of pressure for us to take on one of the false narratives. Many people find it gratifying to blame someone else for their problems, especially an entire group. Many people have chosen a side, not as a Kiwi, but as either a Maori or as a white person, and many of these see the other side of the divide as the enemy who seeks to steal from them.

The British did made slavery illegal, and they did bring technology and medicine here, that is true. They also did some bad things, especially with regards to swindling land from the Maoris, and with creating a society in which money and plastic was valued highly than social and spiritual connections. This is also true.

The Maoris might have problems with violence and abuse and neglect of children, this is true. They have also done outstandingly well compared to other indigenous peoples. Their intelligence and tenacity has enabled them to adapt to the tools of the white man in a way that the others never could. They are much wealthier than Tongans, who were never colonised. This is also true.

We need a new narrative, one that takes us forwards as brothers in arms. Not one that keeps us squabbling in the dirt. Esoteric Aotearoanism can serve as that narrative.

New Zealand society, for the majority of its existence, has been a co-operative enterprise between Maoris and white people. For better or worse, we’re stuck with each other. Neither group of people is going anywhere, and rates of intermarriage are so high that the time will come when there are not only no pure-blooded Maoris left but also no pure-blooded whites apart from immigrants. This is inevitable unless we are divided and conquered by outside forces.

Because of these immensely high rates of interbreeding, and because of the close, sometimes imperceptible, cultural exchange that we have had, Maoris and white people cannot be spoken of as two separate groups. They must be understood as the two major contributing factors to something that is greater than either of them: the Kiwi nation.

There are none of us who are pure Maori, unaffected by the white man’s influence, and neither are there any of us who are pure white people, the same as what can be found in Europe. We are now the yin and the yang of something greater than either of us. Both love rugby, live music, cannabis and exploring the wilderness just as much as the other.

It doesn’t matter what once was.

Co-operation is the only way forward. This demands that we reject the false narratives that cause us to fight each other, and adopt a new narrative that allows each of us to contribute to the greater good in their own way. It doesn’t matter what proportion of Maori blood you have, or what languages you speak, or even what your political attitudes are. There is a niche for you to contribute to the Kiwi nation.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

VJMP Reads: Edward Bernays’s Propaganda II

This reading carries on from here.

The second chapter of Propaganda is called ‘The New Propaganda’. Here, Bernays elucidates some of the differences between the original approach to propaganda that arose with the advent of mass media, and the “new” approach that was developed after the application of mass psychology techniques to making propaganda more effective.

The industrial revolution has made kings much less powerful than they once were, relative to the masses. It spread economic power, and, with that, political power. The old democrats used to believe that it was possible to educate everyone up to the level where they could participate in rulership – in reality, the average person falls well short of what is required.

Propaganda fills this gap, serving as the means by which the minority can still rule the majority. “Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible Government.” The education of the common man, instead of teaching him to think freely, only conditioned him to become receptive to propaganda. Now his mind is receptive to propaganda of all sorts.

Using examples from a daily newspaper, Bernays explains how propaganda works in the mainstream media. Anything stated as true by an authority, such as the State Department, is taken as such. Here Bernays gives us a definition of propaganda: “Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.”

In practice, very little is done nowadays without some kind of propaganda campaign alongside it. Propaganda regiments the public mind every bit as much as the Army regiments the bodies of its soldiers. A group so regimented can be every bit as effective as an army.

Today, the approval of the public is necessary for any large undertaking. Therefore, propaganda is necessary for any large undertaking. Formerly, rulers could set the course of history simply by doing things. Today, the masses have control, so propaganda is needed to wrest that control back. As a consequence, propaganda is here to stay.

It was World War I, and the astonishing success of propaganda in that war to manipulate public opinion, that made people aware of what could be done. This was the first time that not only a multimedia approach was made to encourage people to support the national endeavour, but also key men were brought on board in a massive range of industries.

The new propaganda doesn’t just target the individual, but takes into consideration the structure of society and the way that information spreads through it. This is now a feature of society, because new proposals for reform must be clearly articulated before they will be influential. No-one can get anything done anymore without propaganda.

Bernays concludes this chapter by noting that “In the active proselytizing minorities in whom selfish interests and public interests coincide lie the progress and development of America.” The world is controlled by the small number of men that control propaganda, who make the rest of us think as they will, and society only progresses when their will is in accord with the collective good.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2018 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis). A compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 is also available.

Why Intelligence Can Never Be a Fixed Concept

Intelligence is something that everyone appears to understand, but no-one can agree on a definition. Despite this, people are pretty sure that it can be measured. Although tests that measure IQ have been shown to have a lot of predictive value, a precise definition of term remains elusive. But as this essay will examine, intelligence can never be a fixed concept anyway.

What is intelligence? A common definition of intelligence is “ability to recognise patterns and avoid dangers”. Another is “the ability to apply knowledge and skills”, which assumes that intelligence is an entirely different thing to instinct. Other definitions involve a capacity for learning, logic, reasoning, self-awareness etc. Despite this variety, most people think they know it when they see it.

A previous essay here discussed how there are at least two different spectrums of intelligence, and how both of them might appear to be intelligent in some situations and not in others. Another essay suggested that there is both a masculine and a feminine intelligence and stupidity. What’s apparent from all of these different definitions is that some behaviours are intelligent in some circumstances, and unintelligent in other circumstances, depending on how adaptive they are to the environment.

For example, being able to faithfully repeat what you are told is a sign of intelligence when a student has a good teacher who educates them honestly. When the student is a political cadre being indoctrinated into a dangerous ideology, it’s not a sign of intelligence. However, the underlying neurological and psychological attributes that enable either are roughly the same.

Most people can also accept that intelligence is something that evolved, controversial as that may be when one gets into the specifics of it. The reasons for this evolution are presumably because intelligence provided a selective advantage in either staying alive or finding mates and reproducing.

The first one of these points seems pretty obvious: if you are smart you are better able to avoid the dangers that the natural world has created. Intelligence is highly correlated with pattern recognition, and recognising patterns is the key to recognising dangers. If you notice that the last person who did something died, you are less likely to do it. Therefore, you are more likely to survive to reproductive age yourself.

The second point is more subtle, but equally clear if one thinks about it. The more intelligent a creature is the better shape it will keep itself in, therefore the healthier it will be, and the more attractive a mate it will seem to others of its kind. This greater attractiveness will lead to more mating opportunities, and therefore more offspring (all other things being equal).

However, there’s a hidden paradox in this simple biological definition. If intelligence is biological, then it cannot be a fixed concept, because if it’s an adaptation to the environment it will change along with that environment.

Aside from the odd species like crocodiles, who have found one evolutionary niche and just stayed there, animal species tend to be opportunistic. They tend to range across a number of niches and take food, water and reproductive opportunities when they arise. The most excellent example of this is the human being, who has adapted to many environments and who is capable of anything.

As the environment keeps changing, so too will the optimal behaviours within each environment change.

For instance, much of the behaviour that we currently associate with intelligence has much to do with avoiding impulsive behaviours. Someone who stops and thinks before taking action will be almost universally considered more intelligent than someone who does not. Likewise, someone who saves money will be considered more intelligent than someone who wastes it, and someone who reads books will be considered more intelligent than someone who parties.

This is all well and good in a civilised, industrial society like ours. But if society should break down, then the equilibrium point will shift back from cautious deliberation towards opportunism. If there is no law and order, then there’s no advantage in taking one’s time to consider things. The advantage shifts towards those with the propensity to hit and run before the opportunity is lost. Intelligence would then become a matter of understanding the importance of not hesitating.

Another problem is that the kind of skills and aptitudes that made a person become considered intelligent by their peers in the ancient past are not necessarily the same today. Human survival in the past had a lot to do with astrology, animal husbandry and swordsmanship – all skills that are now only practiced by small minorities. A person might have been considered highly intelligent in the past on account of that their brain made them good at animal husbandry, but the same person might be considered low intelligence today if they can’t find a technological skill.

It might even go the other way. Society might continue to become more and more technological, so that the selective advantage wasn’t in favour of impulsivity but in favour of the kind of semi-autistic gadgetry obsession that distinguishes people who are today considered nerds. Such a society might no longer have any need for social intelligence but would rather operate on computer science aptitude.

In all of these cases, the society that results after massive environmental change will define intelligence as adaptation to it, not as adaptation to some other time and place. Neither will they define intelligence as an adaptation to the natural world in which we evolved, because such a thing no longer exists.

In the end, the concept of intelligence is a biological one, and therefore can only be understood relative to a specific environment, or set of environments. Because the natural world keeps changing – and our social world even faster – the concept of intelligence will keep evolving as humans do. It can therefore never be a fixed and clearly defined concept.

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