We live in a more or less permanent reality distortion field, where the truth is hard to discern.
Every day, we are subject to messages, via advertising, social media, the mainstream media and through government public relations that tell us “the way things are”. In every case, the aim of all of this communications activity is so that people are manipulated to think and act in desired ways.
Desired by whom? In the main, we are subject to the instructions and wishes of corporations. Corporations spend the most on advertising. They lobby governments to adopt corporation-friendly policies. Social media massages the content of our timelines so that we are sold what corporations want us to be sold. The mainstream media agenda is also largely corporatist and pro-business. We are, everywhere, saturated by corporate influence.
Does it matter? If it’s ambient, don’t we all simply learn to ignore it and carry on regardless? To some extent we do tune these messages out, but if that leaves a vacuum of ideas, we’re more inclined to cherry-pick the corporate messages we find more palatable and to discard those that we don’t like so much, thinking this is the same as thinking for ourselves and being awake to the truth. It is nothing of the sort. All we are doing is filtering corporate influence. We’re not acting independently of it.
I previously addressed the subject of why we are so violent, as a society and what artists can do about it, in a previous blog post: “Art, Violence, Fear and Self Awareness” https://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/art-violence-fear-and-self-awareness/
That blog post cited a very important paper http://dkeenan.com/RJB-WhyViolence.pdf. It talked about the root causes of violence and how we are, as young children, all subjected to visible, invisible and utterly invisible violence, which in turn causes feelings of fear, powerlessness and terror and how those feelings, subsequently, beget a new generation of perpetrators of violence and collaborators upholding violence. This blog post will address non-stop manipulation. What are its effects and how does it relate to fear, terror and being afraid? Finally, does corporate influence cause a violent society to perpetuate? What can artists do about it?
In the paper “Why Violence”, an extensive list of examples of invisible violence was given. The paper held that these were examples of the ways in which young children were terrorised into modifying their native, organic, human behaviours into behaviours deemed to be more docile, tractable and acceptable to adults. It gave a long list of how children are manipulated and terrorised into being the people their parents want them to be, instead of themselves. Below is a partial list of those methods of inflicting invisible terror, from parent to child (quoted from the paper):
- Dysfunctionally/compulsively seek child’s attention and/or distract child from paying attention to itself (child will lose capacity to focus intently on itself)
- Try to persuade child (child will be scared that it is not allowed to choose freely)
- Complain about child (child will be caused fear, pain, anger and/or sadness as it tries to respond to your powerless and dysfunctional behaviour)
- Demand child’s time to do tasks for you (child will not learn to manage its time in accordance with its own self-will, it will learn to resent helping others and it will learn to demand the time of others)
- Cajole child into doing what you want it to do, for example, to eat what you want it to eat (child will become fearful that it is not allowed to act out its own Self-will)
- Manipulate child into doing what you want out of fear of dealing openly and powerfully with conflict (child will learn to fear conflict too and will learn to manipulate others as a result)
- Blame child (child will learn to avoid responsibility)
- Condemn child (child will learn to condemn others)
- Insult child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to insult others)
- Deride child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to be derisive)
- Mock child (child will be scared out of clearly explaining itself)
- Goad child into behaving in a way that will allow you to justify to yourself getting angry with it (child will be caused enormous pain, anger and confusion as it grapples with this mindbender)
- Be sarcastic with child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to be sarcastic with others)
- Embarrass child (child will feel embarrassed at trying its best and will learn to embarrass others)
- Humiliate child (child will feel humiliated at its ‘failure’ and will learn to humiliate others)
- Shame child (child will feel ashamed and will learn to shame others)
- Taunt child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to taunt others)
- Tease child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to tease others, particularly younger children and pets)
- Snub child (child will experience enormous fear, pain, anger and/or sadness, and develop a low sense of Self-worth)
- ‘Shut out’ child unless it does what you want (child will be scared into suppressing awareness of its own Self-will and submitting to yours)
- Give child unsolicited advice (child might learn to rely on others rather than work out what to do for itself)
- ‘Motivate’ child to do what you want and pretend that child is doing what it wants (child’s natural capacity to listen to, and act on, its own Self-will is warped and, eventually, destroyed)
- Guilt-trip child into doing what you want (child will learn to feel guilty for acting out its natural Self-will)
- Moralise with child (child’s natural morality will become warped)
- Judge child (child will lose faith in its own judgment, particularly about itSelf)
- Deceive child (child will experience fear and pain, its awareness of which it will probably suppress, and will learn to deceive others)
- Trick child in a nasty way (child will experience fear and pain, its awareness of which it will probably suppress, and will learn to trick others)
Substitute the parent / child relationship with advertiser / consumer, or government / electorate or mainstream media / audience, or social media proprietor / subscribers and something uncanny is revealed. Does any of this resemble corporate messaging to the populace?
I think it does. I think that you can read the efforts of advertisers to shame and humiliate a potential customer into buying their product as exactly analogous to a parent doing the same to a child, which is an act of invisible violence. Social media and advertising will distract you. Governments have deceived us. Companies often trick us in nasty ways. They do manipulate us into eating what they want us to eat and cajole us into acting the way they want us to. The mainstream media does humiliate celebrities, through prurient reportage, that demeans us all. In plain sight, we are having violence perpetrated upon us, by private corporate interests, pretty much constantly. We are absorbing a tremendous amount of invisible violence on a daily basis.
Some people claim that:
“There’s nothing intrinsically evil about the idea that large corporations might be trying to manipulate your experience and behaviour. Everybody you interact with–including every one of your friends, family, and colleagues–is constantly trying to manipulate your behaviour in various ways.”
This, to me, is an ample demonstration of how invisible, all-pervasive and banal the violence has become. We’ve so internalised it, that we’ve become collaborators in it. We don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with being manipulated constantly, by private interests, for their own gain. It’s as if we have surrendered dignity, self-determination and freedom, so that we can enjoy the abuse and think of it as entertainment (or worse, as truthful information).
The thesis of the paper “Why Violence?” is that whenever you, as a human organism, are coerced into behaving however somebody else wants, instead of according to your own will and needs, through the subtle intimidations of the techniques of invisible violence, we are sustaining damage to our psyches. We’re becoming just that little bit more afraid of punishment for non compliance, just that fraction more terrorised and a tiny bit more afraid of standing up against the barrage of violence. We acquiesce. We roll over and comply, instead. Some of us join the gang and become perpetrators of this kind of manipulation ourselves, while others aid, abet and enable the manipulation, as willing collaborators. We are all poisoned and damaged by it, in one way or another.
The constant downpour of messages telling you to be fearful, ashamed, afraid, isolated, guilty, self-loathing and blameworthy for your own failures is what does the damage. Corporate controlled advertising and government policy increasingly deliver precisely those sentiments. When the powerful, revered and admired are constantly telling you that you are unworthy, unsuccessful, unwanted, unloved, unlovable, weak, powerless or inadequate, unless you do what corporations (or corporate influenced governments) wish you to do, it is little different from the scenario where a parent exerts psychological violence on a child to get them to behave in their desired way. There is a power inequality and it is being used to bludgeon the less powerful into fearful submission.
What’s the result of this violent onslaught, without end? Violence begets violence. Fear instils fear. We live lesser lives, because we are subject to the controlling and manipulating messages of corporations, the corporate media and institutions run by manipulators. We’re conditioned to do the same to others, as if it were normal.
There are some commentators that reject the idea that corporations influence by fear. They draw a distinction between fear and seduction, arguing that manipulation by flattering deception is not the same as manipulation by fear. Here’s a typical position statement:
“Seduction, rather than fear and coercion are the currency, and as such, they are a lot more effective. (Yes, short of deep totalitarianism, legitimacy, consent and acquiescence are stronger models of control than fear and torture—there are things you cannot do well in a society defined by fear, and running a nicely-oiled capitalist market economy is one of them.”
Well, actually no. I disagree. I would argue that seduction and acquiescence are merely different flavours of invisible violence and that as a consequence, society is utterly defined by fear. If it’s not fear of being detained, imprisoned, tortured and shot, it’s the fear of not fitting in with the crowd, of saying and doing the wrong things, of not being acceptable and of stepping out of line. The evidence we have before us is that the nicely oiled capitalist market economy runs very nicely on this brand of fear, in fact (though that doesn’t justify it).
It follows that we’re violent because corporations and governments are constantly seeking to manipulate, straighten and correct us. Do we truly need governing and influencing, in an incessant, belittling manner, when what we reap as a consequence is a violent society, full of psychologically broken, fearful and afraid people?
We engage in damaging the psyche of everybody, by creating insatiable desires for unnecessary purchases, which we can only fund through indebtedness (and the guilt, restriction of choice and obligations which that course of action entails). We infect everybody with mindless emacity. Buy this, don’t do that. Shame is used as a tool. Our vulnerability is exploited as a weakness, rather than celebrated and embraced as part of the shared human condition and experience that we all have in common. Predators are constantly seeking to make the rest of the population into prey.
As artists, do we wish to support and prolong the violence disguised behind corporate influence? Do we want to enable it, or subvert and disable it? Is our art being used to bludgeon our fellow humans into some sort of submission to the will of corporations? Isn’t that a big deal?
Artists have the power to create emotionally affective works. It’s our stock in trade. We therefore have the tools of influence in our skill set, which is why corporations seek us out. As artists, will we produce works that illuminate, rather than manipulate? Will we edify humanity, or vilify it? Will our works inform, or deform? Is our art in the service of education, or discombobulation? Do we promote and uphold life, or peddle death?
Good-hearted people, many of them artists, try to simply earn a living through working in advertising, but most (if not all) are unaware of the wider consequences for society. By feeding the perception manipulation beast, we enable it to prey on the minds of people who might not, under different circumstances, be made to feel so small, powerless, fearful and afraid. In acting to conceal their terror, these people, in turn, make others feel small and afraid. We unleash an unstoppable cascade of violence, on an unimaginable scale, like a hideous, doomsday, domino effect, simply by creating ads that seek to manipulate.
Is the ultimate purpose of life really as impoverished as to merely submit to constant manipulation? Are we put here to manipulate or be manipulated? Isn’t the desire to manipulate fundamentally psychopathic in its nature, stemming from the fear of not being in control in the first place? Do we need the constant, stealthy, insidious nudges to shape our behaviour, through social media and its algorithms? Why can’t we be left in peace?
The wise among us know that we’re not left in peace because there is no money in it. A population at peace with itself doesn’t need to consume, dominate or compete quite so avariciously or rapaciously as one in constant fear of falling behind or being sanctioned by the authorities. Fear is good for profits. This seems to be the only reason that can be given for why we can’t be left in peace and quite frankly, it’s not a good enough reason. If we want a less violent, more peaceful world, then we’re going to have to rethink quite a lot of the things we accept today as “just how things are.”
Advertising is not fluffy, friendly and harmless. Corporate influence is not anodyne or cost-free for society. It inflicts invisible violence on all of us, all the time, in ways we’re sometimes not even aware of. It’s relentless. It insults us. It demeans us. It makes us fearful and afraid. We are entitled to reject it. We are entitled to live our lives, free from perpetual, concealed, insidious manipulation.