I watched a recent brilliant interview of Dr. Peter Breggin, a discussion during which interviewer John-Henry Westen and Breggin joined a growing number of COVID realists in expressing amazement that so many of our colleagues and fellow citizens remain, well into 2021, paralyzed or panicked with viral fear. This, even as more and more evidence makes clear that our recent “pandemic” is in every sense of the phrase a plannedemic, and one that even brazenly inflated casualty numbers cannot render any more deadly than is a typical bad flu season.
Don’t get me wrong: Six members of my immediate family tested positive for COVID. (And each recov ered fully, thank God). So I am not a bit cavalier about the real suffering of the last 18 months.
But my friends and neighbors sometimes appear to be in a literal race to embrace the entire spectrum, from vapid to vicious, of whatever soul-crushing and freedom-smashing offal spews over us from the mouths of the pundits and “news” anchors haunting the corners of our living rooms, offices, and ear buds. To wit: last fall there was a local fish monger who shouted me down for the grave crime of not fully covering my nose. Her loud, unrelenting insults showered over me like foul residuum from a sickly sneeze. Or this spring my wife observed a shopper who literally screamed accusations of murder at a fellow shopper, a mild-mannered woman also guilty of the naked-nose atrocity. And how quickly we changed our entire society: just two years ago someone irrationally shouting accusations of murder in the marketplace would have faced potential litigation for slander , or worse, been dragged away for (much-deserved) observation.
Far too many of our erstwhile friends are morally goosestepping their way through supermarkets and dollar stores, ensuring all around them have their scarlet A’s tucked firmly about nose and mouth. The infamous propagandist, Edward Bernays (1891-1995) and his undue influence explain the Nazi-rally-like behaviors of so many of my neighbors and friends. They likely would not have reacted as they did without the groundbreaking, er, make that soul-breaking, work of Sigmund Freud’s most famous nephew
I came to Bernays and the pernicious influence of his writings via the same question Westen and other realists are asking increasingly: How in the name of all that’s holy have we come to the place that we offer up with nary a whimper our right to assemble, the health of our businesses and economy, our religious freedoms, medical privacy, and even the simple dignity of being deemed innocent until proven COVID- guilty?
Having given these questions some thought, here’s my short response:
If Christ held out to us “the Way, the Truth and the Life” as the goal of our existence, anyone, any system, or any philosophy that pulls us further from encountering His ontological foundation is, by definition, of the devil. What follows are a few specifics as they relate to Bernays’ enabling of the simpering surrender we see all around us.
What is truth?
Yesteryear we had the concept of “the noble lie”. Whatever else one could say about that concept, it was understood that “good leaders” would use the noble lie to withhold information from the public (read, “the people”) by exception, never by rule.
People like Bernays helped change all of that in a flash. Before Bernays, we of course already had the word (and the concept of), “propaganda”. That phrase had known baggage and came with widely acknowledged negative connotations. If any would -be dictator – whether said person walked the halls of congress or enjoyed the padded seats of a corporate boardroom – became too comfortable with the use of propaganda, reputations of both the leader and the related institution would suffer rather directly.
But Bernays reflexively used his own verbal gymnastics and manipulations to cover his purveyance of propaganda in a thin, shiny veneer of respectability: by renaming propaganda as “public relations”, in one fell swoop he both swept the concept of the noble lie into the dustbin of history and normalized the manipulations, machinations and ubiquity of propaganda. No longer was selectively hiding and showing elements of the truth considered to be a lie. In fact, if one reads Bernays’ various justifications, it’s apparent that he was quite happy to repackage intentional prevarication as much-needed public discourse.
He systematized use of the lie, of the half-truth, in order to dampen the once-n ecessary thuds and blows of the most important of public-affecting decisions. Did he quell fears and fevers? Certainly. But those fevers once served the purpose of alerting us to the threats of disease to the body politic. Bernays and his inevitable followers, having made it broadly acceptable to enable only a select few to have the “big picture” of the impacts of various events and policies, did the devil’s work of reducing the masses to sheep for the slaughter.
Among the many, many fallouts from this change to our understanding of our relationship to the truth are the following:
Slow but steady erosion of the ability to discuss any topic in depth, regardless of how profoundly said topic impacts our souls, our existence, or our salvation
Movement of horrifying spy-world concepts and actions to the mainstream
Tweeting (aka, bumper stickers for millennials)
Shallowness (in every corner and byway)
Disposal of the town hall
Court jester as a broad and deep career field
Willingness to accept online chatter as a substitute for face-to-face relationships
Political intelligence as a cheap and ready replacement for genuine statesmanship
Government secrecy and deception are no longer necessary (and rare) evils, but are now “cool” and have, in the most literal sense, become societal norms. And if there be any doubts about the evil nature of this normalizing of deception, just reflect on what now-common phrases like “limited hangout”, “gaslighting” or “cancelling” really mean. If even that consideration is too much effort, simply think of your own reactions to the name, 007.
The heinous character of Bernays’ impact can hardly be overstated. And to paraphrase an old saying, “there’s no new evil under the sun.” When Bernays normalized propaganda in the svelte new clothing of public relations, he tapped into the ancient Christian heresy of gnosticism. That heresy is many things to many people, but its central tenet — that only those with special knowledge are chosen — found fertile soil with Bernays and his ideological heirs.
When any of today’s legions of Bernays wannabes uses manipulation in lieu of reason-based discussion and persuasion, he is, exactly at the point of that manipulation, helping to subvert at least one more facet of an erstwhile human being into a sheep (at best) or a machine/automaton at worst. The ligament or limb that yesterday could be persuaded to action through the growth of the human spirit is now instead spasm ed into movement via an edgy jolt of external manipulation. And the newly-manipulated-one is now twice deprived: his action of the moment is tainted (as is any action whose lofty ends nevertheless fail to elevate the agent above the depravity of unmoderated means) and some aspect of his ability to rise above the level of an automaton is dulled, and dulled permanently.
Bernays’ push for propaganda represents the inverse of “teach a man to fish….” Specifically, under Bernays’ deft touch the old chestnut transforms to, “teach a man to acquiesce and you’ll teach him permanent dependency”. Follow Bernays’ advice — deem the masses incapable of rational conduct, give them only enough stimulation to act according to your will, and steadfastly resist any urge to educate and uplift — and you will simultaneously feel in control and solidify your future ability to maintain that feeling.
Perhaps saddest of all is that for Bernays, the dependencies his technique s generated were not a liability to the type of society he proffered. In his world view, some among us can see “the big picture”, and among those an even more “select” group can recognize and wield the means to move others in the direction of that big picture. And all of that matches perfectly with what we see today: the government-media-corporate complex can invent one boogeyman after another, and the public reacts (or worse, acquiesces) with truly alarming predictability and regularity.
Yes, the genuinely insane reactions all around us, the window smashing, the banner waving, rallies held for the express purpose of persuading the few remaining lovers-of-freedom to fall in line — all of this is heartbreaking in the most literal sense. It was put in place, however, quite deliberately. And that is perhaps the saddest aspect of the hell burgeoning all around us.