“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
― Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda
Now there’s a quote that gives me chills. Edward L. Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and in many ways could be considered a godfather of modern culture. He was definitely the father of public relations. As a young man he worked for the Committee on Public Relations which helped sell American involvement in WWI to Europeans. He came back home to the United States with the idea that the propaganda model he learned could have peace time applications and so became the first public relations representative.
Among other things that he was responsible for was:
Making it publicly respectable for women to smoke in public (by selling the concept as ‘torches of freedom’
product placement in movies
the first celebrity endorsement of politicians
focusing not on selling people what they need but on what they desire and speaking to those unconscious desires thus helping to create consumer culture
These are just some of the reasons why I describe him as a ‘godfather’ of modern culture. Those interested can find out a lot more about Edward Bernays, and other influential members of his family by watching Adam Curtis’s fascinating four part BBC documentary, The Century of the Self. You can download and watch this documentary at
While I dislike most of what he stood for (almost all of it) and many of the applications of it, I have to point out on reflection, that without the idea of being able of merchandising culture, most modern ways of communication and entertainment wouldn’t exist including things like Face Book>
My question would be how do we use these techniques to empower people, to help promote taking responsibility for our own decisions and actions and evolution and promote the ideas of love and compassion rather than greed? For a very long time, we’ve had some pretty destructive memes floating around out there. Can we find healthy ones that promote self-actualization and start propagating them? What do you think they would be?
Click on images to see full-size
Mind Field by G A Rosenberg
Sky Dragon by G A Rosenberg