THE COLD WAR AGAINST THE MIND
Only blind wishful thinking can permit us to believe that our own society is free from the insidious influences mentioned in Part One. The fact is that they exist all around us, both on a political and a nonpolitical level and they become as dangerous to the free way of life as are the aggressive totalitarian governments themselves.
Every culture institutionalizes certain forms of behavior that communicate and encourage certain forms of thinking and acting, thus molding the character of its citizens. To the degree that the individual is made an object of constant mental manipulation, to the degree that cultural institutions may tend to weaken intellectual and spiritual strength, to the degree that knowledge of the mind is used to tame and condition people instead of educating them, to that degree does the culture itself produce men and women who are predisposed to accept an authoritarian way of life. The man who has no mind of his own can easily become the pawn of a would-be dictator.
It is often disturbing to see how even intelligent people do not have straight thinking minds of their own. The pattern of the mind, whether toward conformity and compliance or otherwise, is conditioned rather early in life.
In his important social psychological experiments with students, Asch found out in simple tests that there was a yielding toward an ERRING MAJORITY opinion in more than a third of his test persons, and 75 percent of subjects experimented upon agreed with the majority in varying degrees. In many persons the weight of authority is more important than the quality of the authority.
If we are to learn to protect our mental integrity on all levels, we must examine not only those aspects of contemporary culture which have to do directly with the struggle for power, but also those developments in our culture which, by dulling the edge of our mental awareness or by taking advantage of our suggestibility, can lead us into the mental death — or boredom — of totalitarianism. Continual suggestion and slow hypnosis in the wake of mechanical mass communication promotes uniformity of the mind and may lure the public into the “happy era” of adjustment, integration, and equalization, in which individual opinion is completely stereotyped.
When I get up in the morning, I turn on my radio to hear the news and the weather forecast. Then comes the pontifical voice teling me to take aspirin for my headache. I have “headaches” occasionally (so does the world), and my headaches, like everyone else’s, come from the many conflicts that life imposes on me. My radio tells me not to think about either the conflicts or the headaches. It suggests, instead, that I should retreat into that old magic action of swallowing a pill. Although I laugh as I listen to this long-distance prescription by a broadcaster who does not know anything about me or my headaches and though I meditate for a moment on man’s servility to the magic of chemistry, my hand has already begun to reach out for the aspirin botle. After all, I do have a headache.
It is extremely difficult to escape the mechanically repeated suggestions of everyday life. Even when our critical mind rejects them, they seduce us into doing what our intellect tells us is stupid.
The mechanization of modern life has already influenced man to become more pssive and to adjust himself to ready-made conformity. No longer does man think in personal values, following more his own conscience and ethical evaluations; he thinks more and more in the values brought to him by mass media. Headlines in the morning paper give him his temporary political outlook, the radio blasts suggestions into his ears, television keeps him in continual awe and passive fixation. Consciously he may protest against these anonymous voices, but nevertheless their suggestions ooze into his system.
What is perhaps most shocking about these influences is that many of them have developed not out of man’s destructiveness, but out of his hope to improve his world and to make life richer and deeper. The very institutions man has created to help himself, the very tools he has invented to enhance his life, the very progress he has made toward mastery of himself and his environment — all can become weapons of destruction.
The Public-Opinion Engineers
The conviction is steadily growing in our country that an elaborate propaganda campaign for either a political idea or a deep-freeze can be sucessful in selling the public any idea or object one wants them to buy, any politial figure one wants them to elect. Recently, some of our election campaigns have been masterminded by the so-called public-opinion engineers, who have used all the techniques of modern mass communication and all the contemporary knowledge of the human mind to persuade Americans to vote for the candidate who is paying the public-relation men’s salaries. The danger of such high-pressure advertising is that the man or the party who can pay the most can become, temporarily at least, the one who can influence the people to buy or to vote for what may not be in their real interest.
The specialists in the art of persuasion and the molding of public sentiment may try to knead man’s mental dough with all the tools of communication available to them: pamphlets, speeches, posters, billboards, radio programs, and T.V. shows. They may water down the spontaneity and creativity of thoughts and ideas into sterile and streamlined cliches that direct our thoughts even although we still have the illusion of being original and individual.
What we call the will of the people, or the will of the masses, we only get to know after such collective action is put on the move, after the will of the people has been expressed either at the polls or in fury and rebellion. This indicates again how important it is who directs the tools and machines of public opinion.
In the wake of such advertising and engineering of consent, the citizen’s trust in his leaders may become shaken and the populace may gradually grow more and more accustomed to official deceit. Finally, when people no longer have confidence in any program, any position, and when they are unable to form intelligent judgments any more, they can be more easily influenced by any demagogue or would-be dictator, whose strength appeals to their confusion and their growing sense of dissatisfaction. Perhaps the worst aspect of this slick mechandising of ideas is that too often even those who buy the experts, and even the opinion experts themselves, are unaware of what they are doing. They too are swayed by the current catchword “management of public opinion,” and they cannot judge any more the tools they have hired.
The end never justifies the means; enough steps on this raod can lead us gradually to Totalitaria.
At this very moment in our country, an elaborate research into motivation is going on, whose object is to find out why and what the buyer likes to buy. What makes him tick? The aim is to bypass the resistance barriers of the buying public. It is part of our paradoxical cultural philosophy to stimulate human needs and to stimulate the wants of the people. Commercialized psychological understanding wants to sell to the pbulic, to the potential buyer, many more products than he really wants to buy. In order to do this, rather infantile impulses have to be awakened, such as sibling rivalry and neighbor envy, the need to have more and more sweets, the glamour of colors, and the need for more and more luxuries.
The commercial psychologist teaches the seller how to avoid unpleasant associations in his advertising, how to stimulate, unobtrusively, sex associations, how to make everything look simple and happy and successful and secure! He teaches the shops how to boost the buyer’s ego, how to flatter the customer.
The marketing engineers have discovered that our public wants the suggestion of strength and virility in their product. A car must have more horse-power in order to balance feelings of inner weakness in the owner. A car must represent one’s social status and reputation, because without such a flag man feels empty. Advertising agencies dream of “universitas advertensis,” the world of glittering sham ideas, the glorification of “munus vult decipi,” the intensification of snob appeal, the expression of vulgar conspicuousness, and all this in order to push more sales into the greedy mouths of buying babies. In our world of advertising, artificial needs are invented by sedulous sellers and buyers. Here lies the threat of building up a sham world that can have a dangerous influence on our world of ideas.
This situation emphasizes the neurotic greed of the public, the need to indulge in private fancies at the cost of an awareness of real values. The public becomes conditioned to meretricious values. Of course, a free public gradually finds its defenses against slogans, but dishonesty and mistrust slip through the barriers of our consciousness and leave behind a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. After all, advertising symbolizes the art of making people dissatisfied with what they have. In the meantime it is evident man sustains a continual sneak attack on his better judgment.
In our epoch of too many noises and many frustrations, many “free” minds have given up the struggle for decency and individuality. They surrender to the “Zeitgeist,” often without being aware of it. Public opinion molds our critical thoughts every day. Unknowingly, we may become opinionated robots. The slow coercion of hypocrisy, of traditions in our culture that have a leveling effect — these things change us. We crave excitement, hair-raising stories, sensation. We search for situations that create superficial fear to cover up inner anxieties. We like to escape into the irrational because we dislike the challenge of self-study and self-thinking. Our leisure time is occupied increasingly by automatized activities in which we take no part: listening to piped-in words and viewing television sreens. We hurry along with cars and go to bed with a sleeping pill. This pattern of living in turn may open the way for renewed sneak attacks on our mind. Our boredom may welcome any seductive suggestion.
Psychological Warfare as a Weapon of Terror
Every human communication can be either a report of straight facts or an attempt to suggest things and situations as they do not exist. Such distortion and perversion of facts strike at the core of human communication. The verbal battle against man’s concept of truth and against his mind seems to be ceaseless. For example, if I can instill in eventual future enemies fear and terror and the suggestion of impending defeat, even before they are willing to fight, my battle is already half won.
The strategy of man to use a frightening mask and a loud voice to utter lies in order to manipulate friend and foe is as old as mankind. Primitive people used terror-provoking masks, magic fascination, or self-deceit as much as we use loudly spoken words to convince others or ourselves. They use their magic paints and we our ideologies. Truly, we live in an age of ads, propaganda, and publicity. But only under dictatorial and totalitarian regimes have such human habit formations mushroomed into systematic psychologial assault on mankind.
The weapons the dictator uses against his own people, he may use against the outside world as well. For example, the false confessions that divert the minds of dictator’s subjects from their own real problems have still another effect: they are meant (and sometimes they succeed in their aim) to terrorize the world’s public. By strengthening the myth of the dictator’s omnipotence, such confessions weaken man’s will to resist him. If a period of peace can be used to soften up a future enemy, the totalitarian armies may be able in time of war to win a cheap and easy victory. Totalitarian psychological warfare is directed largely toward this end. It is an effort to propagandize and hypnotize the world into submission.
As far back as the early nineteenth century, Napoleon organized his Bureau de l’Opinion Publique in order to influence the thinking of the French people. But it fell to the Germans to develop the manipulation of public opinion into a huge, wellorganized machine. Their psychological warfare became aggressive strategy in peacetime, the so-called war between wars. It was as a result of the Nazi attack on European morale and the Nazi war of nerves against their neighbors that the other nations of the world began to organize their own psychological forces, but it was only in the second half of the war that they were able to achieve some measure of success. Ther Germans had a long head start.
Hitler’s psychological artillery was composed primarily of the weapon of fear. He had, for example, a network of fifth columnists whose main job was to sow rumors and suspicions among the citizens of the countries against which he eventually planned to fight. The people were upset not only by the spy system itself, but by the very rumor of spies. These fifth columnists spread slogans of defeat and political confusion: “Why should France die for England?” Fear began to direct people’s actions. Instead of facing the real threat of German invasion, instead of preparing for it, all of Europe shuddered at spie stories, discussed irrelevant problems, argued endlessly about scapegoats and minorities. Thus Hitler used the rampant, vague fears to becloud the real issues, and by attacking his enemies’ will to fight, weakened them.
Not content with this strategic attack on the will to defend oneself, Hitler tried to paralyze Europe with the threat of terror, not only the threat of bombing, destruction, and occupation, but also the psychological threat implicit in his own boast of ruthlessness. The fear of an implacable foe makes man more willing to submit even before he has begun to fight. Hitler’s criminal acts at home — the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the mass murders, the atmosphere of terror throughout Germany — were as useful in the service of his fear-instilling propaganda machinery as they were a part of his delusions.
There is another important weapon the totalitarians use in their campaign to frighten the world into submission. This is the weapon of psychological shock. Hitler kept his enemies in a state of constant confusion and diplomatic upheaval. They never knew what this unpredictable madman was going to do next. Hitler was never logical, beause he knew that that was what he was expected to be. Logic can be met with logic, while illogic cannot — it confuses those who think straight. The Big Lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason. While the enemy is stil searching for a reasonable counter-argument to the first lie, the totalitarians can assault him with another.
Strategical mental shocks were the instruments the Nazis used when they entered the Rhineland in 1936 and when they concluded their nonaggression pact with Russia in 1939. Stalin used the same strategy at the time of the Korean invasion in 1950 (which he directed), as did the Chinese and the North Koreans when they accused the United States of bacteriological warfare. By acting in this apparently irrational way, the totalitarians throw their logic-minded enemies into confusion. The enemy feels compelled to deny the propagandistic lies or to explain things as they really are, and these actions immediately put him in the weaker defensive position. For the galloping lie can never be overtaken, it can only be overthrown.
The technique of psychological shock has still another effect. It may so confuse the mind of the individual citizen that he ceases to make his own evaluations and begins to lean passively on the opinions of others. Hitler’s destruction of Warsaw and Rotterdam — after the armistice in 1940, a complete violation of international law — immobilized France and shook the other democratic nations. Being in a paralysis of moral indignation, they became psychologically ill-equipped to deal with the Nazi horrors.
Just as the technological advances of the modern world have refined and perfected the weapons of physical warfare, so the advance in man’s understanding of the manipulaton of public opinion have enabled him to refine and perfect the weapons of psychological warfare.
The Indoctrination Barrage
The continual intrusion into our minds of the hammering noises of arguments and propaganda can lead to two kinds of reactions. It may lead to apathy and indifference, the I-don’t-care reaction, or to a more intensified desire to study and to understand. Unfortunately, the first reaction is the more popular one. The flight from study and awareness is much too common in a world that throws too many confusing pictures to the individual. For the sake of our democracy, based on freedom and individualism, we have to bring ourselves back to study again and again. Otherwise, we can become easy victims of a well-planned verbal attack on our minds and consciences.
We cannot be enough aware of the continual coercion of our senses and minds, the continual suggestive attacks which may pass through the intellectual barriers of insight. Repetition and Pavlovian conditioning exhaust the individual and may seduce him ultimately to accept a truth he himself initially defied and scorned.
The totalitarians are very ingenious in arousing latent guilt in us by repeating over and over again how criminally the Western world has acted toward innocent and peaceful people. The totalitarians may attack our identification with our leaders by ridiculing them, making use of every man’s latent critical attitude toward all leaders. Sometimes they use the strategy of boredom to lull the people to sleep. They would like the entire Western world to fall into a hypnotic sleep under the illusion of peaceful coexistence. In a more refined strategy, they would like to have us cut all our ties of loyalty with the past, away from relatives and parents. The more you have forsaken them and their so-called outmoded concepts, the better you will cooperate with those who want to take mental possession of you. Every political strategy that aims toward arousing fear and suspicion tends to isolate the insecure individual until he surrenders to those forces that seem to him stronger than his former friends.
And last but not least, let us not forget that in the battle of arguments those with the best and most forceful strategy tend to win. The totalitarians organize intensive dialectical training for their subjects lest their doubts get the better of them. They try to do the same thing to the rest of the world in a less obtrusive way.
We have to learn to encounter the totalitarians’ exhausting barrage of words with better training and better understanding. If we try to escape from these problems of mental defense or deny their complications, the cold war will gradually be lost to the slow encroachment of words — and more words.
The Enigma of Coexistence
Is it possible to coexist with a totalitarian system that never ceases to use its psychological artillery? Can a free democracy be strong enough to tolerate the parasitic intrusion of totalitarianism into its rights and freedoms? History tells us that many opposing and clashing ideologies have been able to coexist under a common law that assured tolerance and justice. The church no longer burns its apostates.
Before the opposites of totalitarianism and free democracy can coexist under the umbrella of supervising law and mutual good will, a great deal more of mutual understanding and tolerance wil have to be built up. The actual cold war and psychological warfare certainly do not yet help toward this end.
To the totalitarian, the word “coexistence” has a different meaning than it has to us. The totalitarian may use it merely as a catch-word or an appeaser. The danger is that the concept of peaceful coexistence may become a disguise, dulling the awareness of inevitable interactions and so profiting the psychologically stronger party. Lenin spoke about the strategic breathing spell (peredyshka) that has to weaken the enemy. Too enthusiastic a peace movement may mean a superficial appeasement of problems. Such an appeal has to be studied and restudied, lest it result in a dangerous letdown of defenses which have to remain mobilized to face a ruthless enemy.
Coexistence may mean a suffocating subordination much like that of prisoners coexisting with their jailers. At its best, it may imitate the intensive symbiotic or ever-parasitic relationship we can see among animals which need each other, or as we see it in the infant in its years of dependency upon its mother.
In order to coexist and to cooperate, one must have notions and comparable images of interaction, of a sameness of ideas, of a belonging-together, of an interdependence of the whole human race, in spite of the existence of racial and cultural differences. Otherwise the ideology backed by the greater military strength will strangle the weaker one.
Peaceful coexistence presupposes on BOTH sides a high understanding of the problems and complications of simple coexistence, of mutual agreement and limitations, of the diversity of personalities, and especially of the coexistence of contrasting and irreconcilable thoughts and feelings in every individual of the innate ambivalence of man. It demands an understanding of the rights of both the individual and the collectivity. Using coexistence as a catch-word, we may obscure the problems involved, and we may find that we use the word as a flag that covers gradual surrender to the stronger strategist.