I got the comment below from a smart, grown-up (over 30) American. I didn’t approve it. I decided instead to give it its own post.

I hate politics. It is honestly one of the few times in my life that I feel stupid, I do not understand anything and when someone tries to explain policies to me, I swear my brain shuts off.

This is such stuff as the government’s wet dreams are made on.

Did you know that ever since the 20s, the American government has perpetrated a special kind of manipulation on the American public to distract and control them? It’s true. It’s because there were (and still are) a lot of people who, deep down, think that handing power (in the form of Democracy) to the seething masses is a bad idea.

When Woodrow Wilson saw how well pro-American propaganda worked overseas in WWI, he decided to start a propaganda campaign at home to keep people in line. He gave Sigmund Freud’s American nephew, Edward Bernays, the job. Bernays called what he was doing public relations (because propaganda left a bad taste in the mouth).

Bernays decided that what they needed to do to keep the mob fat and happy was to artificially create need by appealing to all those baser instincts Uncle Siggy talked about, and then give them the means to satisfy their potentially disruptive urges. He took marketing in a completely new direction. Before the war, ordinary people only bought things they needed, when they needed them. Bernays’ PR was about getting people to want things they didn’t need and to buy them.

It worked. In 1928, a newly elected President Hoover congratulated a group of advertisers and public relations men, saying “You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines. Machines which have become the key to economic progress.”

What does this have to do with my reader’s comment? Almost 90 years and two generations into that government/corporate PR campaign, Joe America is an automaton. His primary preoccupation is satisfying his artificially created needs. He’s so busy doing that that he doesn’t have the time or motivation to get informed or pay attention to what his government’s doing. Joe doesn’t think for himself. The only dynamic he understands is one in which someone tells him what to think or what he needs, whether it’s the latest flavor of designer coffee, a tax cut, or a war.

That’s exactly how They want it.

There’s a fascinating BBC documentary series called The Century of the Self that chronicles the history of this phenomenon. The points I bring up in this post (and a lot more) are covered in the first episode. You can read the complete transcript of that episode or watch all four of them here.

Watch it. It’ll blow your mind. (That’s a good thing.)

Thanks to sknob for the link to the BBC series.