Attracting Flies with Honey1984, George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, shot to the top of Amazon's best seller list a year after the 2016 election. Phrases like "Fake News" and "Deep State", inflamed fear of insidious manipulation across the political spectrum and 1984 seemed to foreshadow our current state of engineered confusion.
As the novel’s hero, Winston Smith, sees it, the Party “told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears,” and he vows, early in the book, to defend “the obvious” and “the true”: “The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center.” Freedom, he reminds himself, “is the freedom to say that two plus two make four,” even though the Party will force him to agree that “TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE” — not unlike the way Mr. Spicer tried to insist that Mr. Trump’s inauguration crowd was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” despite data and photographs to the contrary.Published in 1949 as an illustration of propaganda's oppressive power, Orwell's vision does not include the insight that there are much less coercive yet effective ways to exact obedience. But Edward Bernays, Freud's opportunist nephew cited at the beginning of this essay, was laying out the framework for just such an approach as early as 1928. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's prime media man, even used Bernays' early work, Propaganda (1928) and Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923), as guidebooks.
Why ‘1984’ Is a 2017 Must-Read
New York Times - Jan 2017
In 1947, a few years before Orwell's book was published, Bernays concluding that, "if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace...the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society". He laid out his method for turning propaganda into marketing in a treatise called The Engineering of Consent.
FREEDOM of speech and its democratic corollary, a free press, have tacitly expanded our Bill of Rights to include the right of persuasion.By demonstrating and documenting how the human psyche can be seamlessly hacked, Bernays distilled the essence of marketing. Through the foibles of our basic emotions - vanity; fear; insecurity; avarice; and even love - we can be unconsciously enticed to a particular end. Adopt a behavior, believe an opinion, purchase a product. It's a reality as old as human nature.
...the engineer of consent must create news. News is not an inanimate thing. It is the overt act that makes news, and news in turn shapes the attitudes and actions of people. A good criterion as to whether something is or is not news is whether the event juts out of the pattern of routine. The developing of events and circumstances that are not routine is one of the basic functions of the engineer of consent. Events so planned can be projected over the communication systems to infinitely more people than those actually participating, and such events vividly dramatize ideas for those who do not witness the events.
The imaginatively managed event can compete successfully with other events for attention. Newsworthy events, involving people, usually do not happen by accident. They are planned deliberately to accomplish a purpose, to influence our ideas and actions. Events may also be set up in chain reaction. By harnessing the energies of group leaders, the engineer of consent can stimulate them to set in motion activities of their own.
But Bernays also saw beyond the basic premise of manipulating emotion to achieve a desired result. He recognized the critical role of mass communication in the Jackpot VC Trifecta we now worship - Infection, Addiction, and Transmission.
...the expansion of the media of free speech and persuasion...provide open doors to the public mind. Any one of us through these media may influence the attitudes and actions of our fellow citizens.
The tremendous expansion of communications in the United States has given this Nation the world's most penetrating and effective apparatus for the transmission of ideas. Every resident is constantly exposed to the impact of our vast network of communications which reach every corner of the country, no matter how remote or isolated. Words hammer continually at the eyes and ears of America. The United States has become a small room in which a single whisper is magnified thousands of times.
Knowledge of how to use this enormous amplifying system becomes a matter of primary concern to those who are interested in socially constructive action.
...This web of communications, sometimes duplicating, crisscrossing, and overlapping, is a condition of fact, not theory. We must recognize the significance of modern communications not only as a highly organized mechanical web but as a potent force for social good or possible evil. We can determine whether this network shall be employed to its greatest extent for sound social ends.
For only by mastering the techniques of communication can leadership be exercised fruitfully in the vast complex that is modern democracy in the United States.
The Engineering of Consent