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Talk the Talk
Humans are unique. Our ability to communicate far surpasses that of any other species on the planet. Language is the catalyst that propelled our simple, prehistoric animal brains into the realm of modern human minds. Each generation accrues a tad more information than the last by virtue of verbal—and eventually written—records of simple trial and error. What works and what doesn’t, which herbs will poison you and which will heal, how to make a non-lethal meatloaf, etc. Without language we would certainly be impoverished (and meatloaf-deprived) creatures, our mental capacity limited to vague impressions alone. It might be safe to say we can’t know how we would think if it weren’t for language—and even if you were able to imagine the state of your mind without the tool of language, how would you express those thoughts—Pictionary?
However, the wonders of language are fret with a potential confusion, manipulation and misunderstanding also far beyond the ken of our animal cousins. We are vulnerable to myriad false beliefs that are truly unimaginable to, say, dogs or chimps. All animals—aside from people—are atheists and anarchists by default. They’re not prone to deception from political rhetoric or a well-funded public relations industry—ignoring animal parallels like chest beating, bared fangs and angler fish, for now.
Linguists who study the origins of language (and Sly Stallonesque proto-language) don’t know when our ancestors started talking. Some estimate it arrived on the scene with our species 200,000 years ago, some say an astonishingly recent 20,000 years past, others say Rocky IV or V. Regardless, since the birth of language our minds have evolved exponentially, while our brains have changed very little from those of our prehistoric ancestors. How could that be? How does language and society evolve independent of biology, and at a much faster clip? (It’s worth noting that our minds may soon lap our biology on the Darwinian racetrack in the form of genetic engineering.)
The French philosopher Jean-Baptiste Lamarck is famously credited with being the first guy to get the idea of cultural and mental evolution completely wrong. A man of the Enlightenment, Lamarck attributed the evolution of human culture to a physical mutation in the living organism. For instance, if a highly educated couple lifted weights to excess then copulated, the ensuing offspring would be born both heavily muscled and well read. We all now know this isn’t the case.
The American psychologist James Mark Baldwin evoked Darwinian natural selection pressures to favor the rise of the clever human mind. Individual organisms, which were most deft at manipulating their external and internal environments through problem-solving, would produce descendants that were genetically cunning. The Baldwin Effect is how we get from mammals to primates and from primates to super primates, such as ourselves. But it still leaves us wanting for an explanation for the cultural and mental evolution of modern people whose mental hardware hasn’t been significantly upgraded. It also raises the question of whether our species is still subject to the same selection pressures that encouraged the proliferation of smart-minded organisms. A trip to your local Wal-mart may suggest otherwise.
Modern Darwinists, like the philosopher Daniel Dennett and ethologist Richard Dawkins straighten this issue out for us by employing the term “meme”—a term coined by Dawkins—meaning a replicating unit of cultural information. Memes can be scientific ideas, fashion trends, religious dogmas, jingles and jingoism. Memes, strictly speaking, can’t be quantified, but they’re a useful way to describe and—maybe one day—better understand the evolution of our minds. But, both Dawkins and Dennett remind us, memes replicate quite independently of the benefits provided their hosts (us). Like a parasite, memes can operate to the detriment of their host’s “fitness.” Martyrdom is a meme. It certainly isn’t to the benefit of the organism, yet that meme replicates laterally in what Thomas Jefferson might call “the marketplace of ideas.”
The brawn of brains
Our brains are powerful learning-things. A brain born in China will learn a dialect of Chinese. The same brain born in America will learn a dialect of English or Spanish—maybe both (Chomskyan Generative Grammar). The same brain born 10,000 years ago would be concerned with an entirely different set of data, mostly relating to nature, agriculture and attaining orgasm—still a modern preoccupation. I wonder whether early Homo sapiens would have ever really gotten off the ground as a species had there been access to internet porn.
Like the rapidly vanishing indigenous nature-based cultures found in places like the New Guinea highlands, the brains of our ancestors contained different—but no less sophisticated—information than, say, a modern American. For all of our html knowledge we would starve in the jungle, whereas tribesmen have a wealth of inherited environmental knowledge to draw from. Conversely, our biological predecessors—and I dare include indigenous adult New Guineans—would be at quite a loss in the virtual tubes of cyberspace we inhabit with ease. Their children, on the other hand, would have little difficultly using the internet if they were raised with it.
As the beneficiaries of a mind-having species, we don’t have to learn every idea which preceded it. It’s all been hard-won information: language, the written word, agriculture, domesticating animals, the internal combustion engine, economic theory. Modern people needn’t know how to farm apples, build a car or print money in order to drive to the grocery store and purchase a delicious red. We may not—and probably won’t—understand it, but we can read a Richard Feynman book about quantum mechanics without first having to absorb centuries of scientific advances that are its theoretical ancestors, nor does a modern reader need to learn—and then reject—the innumerable scientific false-starts that join the relatively few scientific successes throughout history. Knowledge of alchemy is not prerequisite to utilizing Mendeleiev’s periodic table of elements, and you don’t have to know Newton to learn General Relativity. In fact, the argument could be made that a firmly ingrained Newtonian outlook may be detrimental to truly grasping Einsteinian physics and a firm belief in alchemy will no doubt prove disastrous in a volatile Midwestern meth lab.
This accumulation of cultural data is simultaneously a boon and a burden, and undeniably used as a mechanism for societal control, both intentionally and unintentionally. Knowledge is power. Language is control: Control over our own mental acuity, our external environment, and ultimately, control over others.
The Birth of PR
Animals without sophisticated mental lives are locked in a biological arms race that may involve stealth or deception. Angler fish fool their prey with a dangly appendage that looks like food and so called “stick insects” have evolved impeccable camouflage to hide them from predators, who’ve in turn been forced to evolve ever more attuned ocular “stick bug” detection. It’s a classic battle for survival. Strictly speaking, however, it’s a bit disingenuous to regard environmentally influenced adaptation as something which is an act of conscious deception. Only we language users can do that. Only we lie. And to stifle further debate on this point, it’s safe to say were the only species that can lie well. Too well. Monkeys and lions may bluff, but it’s a stretch to say they’re aware of this. We don’t necessarily have to be aware that we’re fibbing either—those are the lies we tell ourselves.
Animals with complicated minds—like us—are locked in a similar arms race. It’s popular these days to refer to it as the battle for “hearts and minds.” The theater of war in this case is the world of ideas. (The Cold War provides an example where battling dogmas manifested themselves in a literal arms race.) And just because ideas or memes survive and replicate in other minds doesn’t mean they are correct. Old wives tales, myths and pure falsehoods flourish. It’s not “survival of the fittest,” as Charles Darwin might say—because he never said that. The man who coined that phrase was a Social Darwinist lunatic named Herbert Spencer. Somehow, and quite nicely illustrating my point, this quotation's false attribution to Darwin has managed to survive despite its being flat out wrong. Some of you may think lemmings commit Jonestown-type mass suicides by hurling themselves off of cliffs, too. They don’t. We are the only species that could imagine doing something so idiotic. Sometimes, the more implausible the meme, the more attractive. Understanding evolution and American tyranny takes a lot of reading; God and Uncle Sam are a magically catchy ditty.
Coke or Death
You may not need to know about Gutenberg in order to vomit on a copy of the NY Post, but it may be a richer experience if you do. That said, let’s backtrack a little to a time before minds as we know them and look at the cleverness selection of The Baldwin Effect. This is important for us to understand the evolution of choice and false choice, the kind that only arrives (or thrives) on this planet with human systems of societal control.
Things on this planet started off pretty dumb. And the things that existed then had no choice in their actions. They were just molecules following the laws of physics. Molecules begat macromolecules, macromolecules begat macro-macromolecules, macro-macromolecules begat simple encoding replicators like RNA, which begat DNA, and so forth. Eventually, two chemical “choices” became available to early single-celled organisms like bacteria. There wasn’t a lot to choose from—it was either move towards or squiggle away from “good” or “bad” stimuli. In the case of marine phytoplankton, they have the choice between curling up to protect themselves, and just chilling out. “Choice” is a bit of a misnomer when discussing simple life forms. It’s not like us choosing between Coke or Pepsi, but it may be more akin to it than we’re comfortable discussing. Single-cellular “choice” more resembles reflexive behavior like blocking your face from a blow or your foot shooting out when the doctor whacks your knee with a mallet—or breathing. There’s a stimulus and a bodily reaction, but no deliberation about what action to take. No “mind” is necessary.
From single-celled bacterial organisms with no real choice of action, the Darwinian arms race gave rise to multicellular invertebrates with decentralized sensing apparatus and eventually vertebrates with a complex central nervous system like a rat or pigeon. After the behaviorist B.F. Skinner, Dennett calls these creatures Skinnerian: “Skinnerian creatures ask themselves, ‘What do I do next?’”—even if their choices are limited to pushing one of two buttons in search of food.
To continue cribbing Dennett on the evolutionary road to freedom, “Popperian creatures ask themselves, ‘What do I think about next?’” Distinct lines are hard to draw between which organisms are behaviorally Skinnerian or Popperian. We are Popperian creatures, and this, "permits our hypotheses to die in our stead," according to the philosopher Karl Popper. This marks the advent of foresight and generating odds of future action from the outcomes of previous experience.
Dennett continues the evolutionary trajectory of minds and choice from Darwinian replicators (which have none) to Skinnerian (simple trial and error) to Popperians (hypothesizers), and adds a fourth category of mind-having creatures he calls, “Gregorian,” after information theorist Richard Gregory. According to Dennett, “Gregorian creatures ask themselves, ‘How can I learn to think better about what to think about next?’” I’m going to go out on limb and say not all humans attain a “Gregorian” level of mind. Some indeed do, but it might be safe to say, most humans live their lives as functional Popperians, or worse, as functional Skinnerians. Dennett may disagree.
As brains—and later minds—evolved on this planet from simple single-celled organisms, living things evolved more options, more freedom. The more complex the brain, the more numerous the choices available to the organism’s mind—which should be as good an indicator as any that the American two-party system should, and needs to evolve. Without getting too much into the “problem” of free will, we’ll simply steal another Dennett jewel and say, “Freedom Evolves” in direct correlation with organic life. In the central nervous system and resulting freedom of choice departments, we kick bacteria’s ass (if they had one).
Brains, minds and memes
Before going further, we should dispel the idea that the things represented in the above subtitle are at all dissimilar. They function together and overlap to produce our behavior, as I hope to demonstrate. Some still cling to the antiquated Cartesian brain/mind dualism. But modern thinkers cannot talk seriously of a non-physical mind, self or soul that somehow directs the brain, and ergo the body. This is one of those well-ingrained theories that persists to the detriment of true understanding of science and human nature.
Descartes posited the pineal gland controlled the rest of the brain and body with a system of tiny, arcane pulleys. The pineal gland was in turn affected by a non-material ghost agent, or mind, or soul. Today this is laughable to educated people—perhaps this is why it’s so damn popular in America. How could a non-material thing control a material one? Far too many folks still go in for this type of thinking about thinking. People are scared to give up this illusion because they fear it turns them into blind Freudian beasts, deterministic meaty robots. It’s worth noting that this myth of non-material entities interacting with material ones is at the heart of the modern God debate. It’s also a handy myth for societal control: “That’s the invisible hand of the free market!”
So now—our minds are our brains! But what of memes, and our unanswered questions about the evolution of human minds and cultural artifacts—and by extension—societal control? Well, one cultural artifact is a near-perfect analogy: the computer. Using simple binary code—a series of “on” or “off” electronic impulses represented numerically as 0’s or 1’s—we can install any kind of software we want onto our crappy Dell. “Dude, I’m getting a brain!” Biological evolution is hardware development, mental or cultural evolution is software development. Brains hardware; minds software.
Dennett goes a step further and draws a parallel between the Von Neumann series architecture found in most contemporary computers and human consciousness itself. Meaning, with each small step of our biologic evolution, we add a series, or a new “layer” of nominal thinking power. The computing power of our brains grows exponentially with each new layer of mind, as each new layer “talks” to the already accumulated series of “mind layers,” vastly multiplying our computational capacity. Human brains are like the newest, fastest Macs and the brains of our pre-human, mammalian ancestors were like the slow, punch-card-reading IBM models of the 1940s. It’s the same architectural hardware—just more complex, and far more powerful.
Memes are harder to talk about than minds and brains, and the term is habitually abused. They’re too nebulous to pin down. We’ll address them more below, without trying too hard to make them fit our well-established, and hard-fought analogies of computer minds and brains.
Coke, Pepsi, or death
Most are content to analyze societal control without first recounting the evolution of human minds. To get a good idea of how modern citizens are manipulated by the apparatus of government and industry, one needn’t travel back billions of years—only back one-hundred years to the birth of the modern PR industry. But it’s useful to think of us mind-having humans as the product of evolution in the context of societal control for one reason: Sigmund Freud.
Freud—a raging pessimistic misanthrope—believed people are nasty creatures, seldom if ever able to transcend their base animal urges. In his thinking, every act we “choose,” we do so because of hidden biological imperatives. We’re creative enough to wrap our “decisions”—if you can say that—in psychological mythology; we’re blissfully unaware of why exactly we do things like buy flashy, red sports cars or iPods. We buy them to get laid, but we just think they’re cool and we really think we just want one.
Freud is the de facto Great God-uncle of the public relations industry, the psychiatric Homo habilis to Homo sapien public relations. The industry’s proper father is Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays was a clever bastard who used his uncle’s theories to begin a dialogue, which continues to this day, between the base, animal urges of citizen consumers and a professional class of “Gregorian” societal managers. Bernays “engineered consent” (his terminology) by tying the agenda of his well-compensating clients to disparate social trends, with amazing success. For instance, he famously hired a fashionable group of flapper gals to smoke cigarettes at a New York City march for women’s suffrage. He called the media, they reported on the stylish, smoking feminists puffing their “torches of freedom” and cigarettes became—by proxy—fashionably feminist. Before that, smoking was regarded as unladylike and to be avoided by classy dames. Within a few short years of this PR stunt, cigarette sales nearly doubled. The new tobacco customers were largely women. We can still see this tack employed—none-too-subtly—in modern television advertisements: “Macho men buy product X—other brands are for fags!” Burger King does this a lot in its adverts. Instead of its ad agency exploiting the feminist movement, they’re exploiting homophobic American machismo.
From Pharaohs to Feudal Europe, societal control has always been with us. It’s the inevitable evolution of primate troupe power structure. As Noam Chomsky explains, “the hammer of the state” is too ugly for modern sensibilities (though it persists around the globe). In sophisticated modern societies, manipulation takes the form of sly mental trickery, rather than brute state—or troupe?—sanctioned violence. This form of control is far harder to fight, let alone identify.
Coke, Pepsi or embarrassed to death
We could have started talking about societal control in the parlance of psychologists, but we’d have only skimmed the philosophical surface of conditioned human behaviorism. Though, it would have worked just as well, if not better to just shout “Pavlov!” But, by taking the Darwinian route, we pick up some valuable understanding of freedom of choice, false choice and biological imperatives along the way. Language also allows us to talk about the same phenomena using different jargons. This speaks directly to the task of language-using manipulators: “We’ll call this smelly crap ‘Super-Stud Body Spray’ and the suckers will buy it up; we’ll call Latin American movements of democratic populism ‘evil socialism’ and the suckers will buy it up.”
According to Dennett, our minds are “virtual machines” created by the very complex interaction between brain-hardware and mental-software. When we look at the world this way, the ethereal and strongly intuitive sense of an indivisible Cartesian self dissolves in a vat of Darwinian “universal acid.” Without the Cartesian illusion we’ve been using for roughly four-hundred years, the mind is demystified into accumulated layers of cross-talking biological hardware and mental software. Like Freud, current marketing manipulators talk of tapping into the visceral layers of the human mind. Master of the PR craft R. Clotaire Rapaille (huge corporate whore) calls it our “reptilian brain.”
It’s fair to say that these “layers of mind” that PR and marketing jerks seek to exploit are by their nature exploitable exactly because they lack a wide freedom of choice. Somewhere in your head-meat computer, finding and consuming food is a big priority. We’re only conscious of this when we feel hungry. The thought: “I’m hungry” is first expressed in the chemical needs of our cellular biology, and only later revealed to us in what we would call our conscious mind. “Darwinian” replicators—below Skinnerian on the mental freedom hierarchy—have no choice at all, as we’ve seen. They will always “choose” to eat their favorite chemicals, if available, simply by following the laws of physics. We are basically composed of a trillion or so Darwinian replicators—cells. Adding to our “reptilian” mind-layers— the true audience of professional manipulators—is the Skinnerian, which can only ask, “What do I do next?” In the case of hunger, we are back to the simpler choices of simpler organisms: To eat or not to eat, that is the only question. Skinnerians almost always choose to eat. On top of that we have Popperian mind-layers asking, “What do I think about next?” Too quell the discomfort of hunger our Popperian layers can use past experience to determine where and how to get food. First, perhaps, we’ll test the “fridge hypothesis,” before examining the “theory of takeout.”
Now, if most consumers’ minds/bodies are built of Darwinian replicators, Skinnerian mind layers, and Popperian mind layers, then PR professionals are our “Gregorian” masters. They ask, ‘How can I learn to think better about what to think about next?’ or ‘How can I learn think better about what to sell you next?” You, dear reader, and many others, are no doubt Gregorian creatures; I don’t want to create the impression that highly educated PR hacks are truly superior to consumers. They just don’t talk to your Gregorian mind. They talk to the lower layers—and they keep getting better at it.
They do this by providing a slew of visual and verbal cues for our Skinnerian and Popperian minds. This is a scientific specialization. The most widely used tool to gain empirical access to the lower levels of consumer minds is the focus group. Tests upon tests are ingeniously designed to tickle our subconscious mind layers, and to elicit the best ways to commune with them. One banal example is color theory. Through testing subjects, scientists now know what Van Gogh knew instinctively: blue and orange are soothing colors. Look around on primetime TV—it’s awash in blue and orange, and that’s done quite purposefully. It’s not our Gregorian selves that have this mysterious fondness for blue and orange combinations. It’s an imperative built into our biologically evolved minds—perhaps because of the earth’s life-giving blue skies, water, and slightly oxidized soil. If we evolved on a planet with a plaid sky, we would find golf pants inherently soothing.
Get in touch with your inner Stalin
Until now, we’ve implicitly thought of the mind as a thing the individual owns exclusively. But minds are not made in a vacuum. Our minds are thinking, communicating things that need fellow thinking things to manifest true communicative mind properties (language wouldn’t have evolved if there were no one to talk to). Before examining what I’ll call the Jungian “meta-mind” created by language and shared cultural, archetypal experiences, and how memes tie it all together, we should reflect a bit more on the multiplicity of “minds” within each individual mind.
In his masterpiece Consciousness Explained, Dennett overthrows the brain’s Cartesian dictator and his biological minions with the “Multiple Draft” theory of consciousness. Our cross-talking mind-layers are constantly battling for priority, augmenting one another, revising and rewriting the script of our conscious experience. Befitting the topic of this essay, he identifies two methods of mental revisionism: “Orwellian and Stalinesque.” (Little Brother is watching!) We won’t get into the pre/post-experiential difference between the two, as they both amount to the falsification of our personal history, our memories and perception. Some revisions—throwing a traumatic event down the memory hole—may be “necessary illusions,” to borrow the phrase of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Others can be benign revisions of vanity and hyperbole: “Each time you tell that story the fish gets bigger!” Our minds “engineer” our own personal “consent.” You are our own personal PR hack.
You are what you eat; your mind is memes.
In his book of the same title, Richard Dawkins introduces us to the term Extended Phenotype. “Phenotype” is a fancy word for “body.” Each organism’s genotype is coded to produce its phenotypic characteristics (this is why you look like both your mom and the cable guy). “Extended phenotype” is a fancy way of describing an organism’s “environmental impact.” Spider webs, beaver dams, termite hills, and football stadiums are all part of their respective genomes’ extended phenotype. In humans, the extended phenotype can be used as a blanket statement for our minds and the way we use them to manipulate our environment—and each other.
A complex human society consists of a series of overlapping extended phenotypes, all battling, cooperating, influencing and augmenting one another in a way similar to Dennett’s mind layers. This is the Darwinian realization of Jung’s “Collective unconscious,” a term I don’t like because we can be quite conscious of our shared cultural influences. I prefer “meta-mind.” Culturally, the meta-mind is created by the sets of ethical, factual, and mythical memes shared by a particular culture or subculture. Your mind may be under the influence, and coauthor, of several interacting meta-minds simultaneously. Call it the “collective (un)conscious,” the “meta-mind” or the “memesphere”—we need this abstract entity to give our memes a proper home.
If our minds are meaty computers, then our language is the internets. And PR manipulators are the equivalent of malicious code-monkeys, working hard to develop literal and mental pop-up ads, links and stimuli for our Skinnerian minds to follow through the labyrinthine cyberspace of decision making. Show us a McDonald’s ad enough times, and a mental path can be carved in our psyche which bypasses our better Gregorian natures. With enough repetition, “I’m hungry” can mutate into “I want McDonald’s.” Skinner’s pigeons are alive and well in our minds, and they go with what they know. A disturbing example of this was a recent test which gave children a choice between two breakfast options: a delicious plate of real food, and a rock with a Scooby-Doo sticker on it—75% choose the rock!
Just as a malicious code (viruses) can infect the operating system and higher-order software on your computer, so too, can the test-marketed and thoroughly-vetted culturally replicating memes of the PR industry. The PR industry is basically a well-oiled meme factory. And, boy, do they make ‘em infectious!
The term “meme” gives abstract things like catch-phrases and dogmas a life of their own. In Breaking the Spell, Dennett draws an analogy between malicious memes, like martyrdom-inducing religion, to the Lancet fluke, a bizarre little parasite that, once eaten by an ant, works its way into the ant’s brain and compels it to commit suicide. The fluke drives the ant, like an SUV, up to the top of a long blade of grass. Once up there, it just waits to be eaten by a grazing animal. This way, the fluke can replicate itself in the animal’s stomach, its traditional breeding ground. The fluke, like the meme, replicates. And the ant, like a suicide bomber infected with fundamentalist Jihad, is profoundly fucked.
Darwinian replication is a “substrate neutral” affair (Dennett). A catchy commercial jingle (meme) can leap from the television, surf a gnarly sound wave, enter your ears and burrow into your brain. It can be said to lay eggs, for we continue hearing its offspring in the annoying, proverbial “ear worm.” Whistle the tune and you may infect another—the meme keeps replicating.
Memes, in their proper home, are a great way to explain groupthink and social modeling. Orwellian revisions of the cultural “meta-mind” directly influences our inner Stalin of Dennett’s Multiple Drafts model (Little Brother is Watching!). This creates, multiple, multiple drafts, as dogmatic memes leap from “meta-mind” to mind and back again—creating a mirrored room of cascading false choices, perpetuating the vicious cycle of fascism.
The memes that infect us change who we are at a fundamental behavioral level—for good or bad.
Similarly to growth of choice in the biological realm, language and cultural evolution expanded the possibility of choices available to mind-having species. We can choose from thousands of beverages, instead of being stuck with just water or that insufferable Mr. Pibb. It could be argued that today’s capitalist societies offer us too many options—if we have the cash.
The conception of democratic capitalism and its ensuing boom of professional perception mangers offers a unique point in the evolution of choice. As political speech writers and admen fight for a share of our lower-level mind-layers with catchy jingles and focus-grouped talking points, we are seeing a sizable plateau—hopefully not the peak—on the way up Mount Human Freedom. It’s been a bloody slog up this mountain of choice. We’re now stuck at a height permeated with false choice. Our species may be doomed by its own success. The selection pressures that gave rise to the evolution of intelligence have eased considerably. Statistics show the more educated and intelligent a modern human, the less likely that person will procreate.
Politically, our primate ancestors could only choose their leaders with physical battles between rival/wannabe alpha males. This gave way to Machiavellian struggles for the thrones of Europe and elsewhere. The French Enlightenment inspired the American experiment with democracy. Not all had choice then: blacks, women, and landless peasants weren't invited to the party. Freedom eventually prevailed, and now all get their vote (not so much in Florida or Ohio). Parliamentary democracy offers even more freedom of choice. So what is this plateau of false choices?
Language, writing, Guttenberg, radio, television and now the web enable those who control these media to be far better PR agents than any angler fish or King—these communication tools grant them access to your mind like never before in history. The modern media greatly amplifies the “meta-mind,” and hence the amount of influence it had over the individual mind. Corporate media is the meta-mind on steroids.
We are living in an age—if it has ever been different—of mental and economic feudalism. In his great book Unequal Protection, Thom Hartmann succinctly connects modern corporations to Medieval Lords, and modern citizens to serfs. Through manipulation we’ve become slaves to slogans and serfs to a patriotic narrative that—if we were better educated we’d see—doesn’t exist outside of the American mindscape. The mythology pounded into our brains since birth affects how our minds operate and skews our Popperian decision-making. And a poor education can all but doom the prospect of becoming Gregorian. Though to be optimistic, I have heard “our children is learning.”
Most Americans don’t accept that the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were fixed, because we’re ignorant of the past election-rigging the CIA has used to topple nearly one-hundred foreign countries. We’re not taught our appalling history, and cannot therefore make the modern, domestic connection, despite the available evidence—if it hasn’t already been destroyed in violation of federal court orders, like in Ohio. We do know all about the “third-party spoiler” narrative a la Lincoln, and we’re more comfortable blaming Ralph Nader than even considering we were victims of a homegrown coup d'état. But we were.
Arms race and class warfare
In the battle for the meta-heart and meta-mind, it’s the Gregorian manipulators versus the individual. And the GMs are slaughtering our alienated asses! It’s barely a contest. What Hitler and Goebbels—both huge Edward Bernays fans—knew is that fear is a great way to bypass the consumer’s better reasoning and exploit our skittish Skinnerian mental pigeons. We don’t need to look too hard to find modern parallels in today’s terrorist-terrified America. The “Jewish menace” of Nazi Germany and the terrorist threat hyperbolized in post 9/11 America provide two fine examples of manufactured false choice. “You’re either a Good German or you’re against us!”
And, finally, we come to it: the evolution of false choice in a capitalist society. Like the “free market” of Milton Friedman’s wettest dreams, the “marketplace of ideas” is heavily manipulated by well-paid professionals. These “markets” are virtually one and the same in the context of capitalism. Somebody’s always trying to sell you something—fear, beer, and all things in between.
In the case of “free market” capitalism there are a slew of manipulative forces at work: the WTO, NAFTA, the selective government subsidies predicted by Eisenhower’s parting “Military Industrial Complex” warning, the outsourcing of labor to countries with little regard for worker rights, pay or age, fraudulent Enron-type accounting, etc. The examples are numerous and I have left out many. Most understand that the “invisible hand” of the “free market” must by necessity be connected to an “invisible brain.” It would be dead meat otherwise. I’m guilty of anthropomorphizing, but in the battle for hearts and minds one must deploy cliché, fight fire with fire! If you’re going to talk about something like an invisible fucking hand, you must follow through to the logical conclusion that there must also be an invisible brain. It’s a collective “meta-mind” type of brain, sewn together with the “memes” that proliferate in influential economic circles. The seductive ideals of globalization that really turn on your basic economic pedagogues like Tom Friedman and his flat-earth ilk.
Jefferson’s “marketplace of ideas” is similar, if not one and the same as the free market (they most often act in collusion). Our multi-billion dollar PR industry is the spokesperson of all other industries. It’s not akin to yelling “CONSPIRACY!” to acknowledge that specific people have control over what ideas are successful and multiply. We call them the media. The media is literally owned by giant corporations, which are under direction from its board members and CEOs to maximize profit in accordance with their charter. If they do not maximize profit they get sacked. They are also shielded from personal responsibility. So I say to you audaciously myopic Ayn b-Rand of libertarian free-marketeers clogging the well of civilized ideas (to say nothing of the fountainhead), “Where is your iconic, individual Superman now?” Out at the quarry raping self-victimized women, no doubt.
Walk the walk, revolution imagined
Nietzsche once wrote, “A people is a detour of nature to get to six or seven great men.—Yes, and then to get around them.” Many would include Great God Uncle Freud on this short list of great men—and yes, we need to get around him. More than ever.
Whether or not I’ve made my case that true freedom is currently at risk because of the reinforcing interactions between our internal and external revisionists, one thing should be certain: the rule of mental despots is not inevitable. Humans, either viewed as intensely complicated robots, or accumulated layers of biology, are special. No question. We can all be shrewd Gregorian analysts. We can all transcend, or rather, fully actualize our biological potential. This will be difficult, as one of the main tasks of the Gregorian manipulator class is to keep us isolated and in the dark.
We need to shore up and protect our Darwinian imperatives, our Skinnerian and Popperian minds and become true free-agents! We must develop our own infectious memes to exert as much pressure as possible on the overlapping meta-mind of our collective extended phenotypes—we must awaken from this cascading fascist nightmare. If we own up and become diligent revisionist of our own minds (Little Brother is Waning!), we can out evolve Big Brother himself. The engineer Buckminster Fuller barely spoke for two full years in hopes of analyzing and overcoming his conditioned, Skinnerian responses. I didn’t say it’d be easy.
Firstly, we need to realize we’re being duped by those marketing professionals who use the entire accumulation of psychological knowledge to fuck with our heads. It’s sad that a modern-era Bernays like Frank Luntz can basically nullify support for the inheritance tax by simply changing the label to “Death Tax.” To our lower mind levels, death is scary and it should be avoided—even if you’d be richer for taxing it. Then, we need to actualize our potential for Sartre’s personal responsibility and overthrow the mental oppression created by the modern information age from the inside out. True freedom is the freedom to take responsibility for one’s actions. And if those actions are tantamount to rote, unthinking consumerism propelled by myopic Darwinian imperatives—we must evolve.
We may act it at times, but we are not unthinking automatons. Unlike our immune systems, which can’t see through the false advertisements of a sugar-coated AIDS virus, we can and must see through the sugar-coated lies which pervade our media and ethos. The public relations industry is a meme factory, which is trying—and succeeding—to alter our very minds, our national, political and personal identities!
Long before some mustached species of hack convinced you that outsourcing was good thing, our minds have always outsourced as much information as possible. Labels, libraries and databases are markers we put out into the environment. All that info needn’t be directly available to us. In most of our heads there simply isn’t enough memory space. It’s a handy trick to use visual cues to trigger minds—and that’s what PR is all about, both internally and externally. We do it with everyday mental tasks, like reminding ourselves to pay a bill with a bright yellow sticky-note, but we also outsource our opinions about fashion and politics, our morality, our ostensible core values. We outsource these decisions to pedagogical “experts” like Bill O’Reilly, the Pope and People Magazine. Most of us are completely unconscious of this outsourcing. When we leave ourselves a yellow note to pay a bill, we’re the Gregorian authors of our own conditioned mental behaviorism—we outsource to the environment and our Skinnerian and Popperian selves pick it up later and perform their robotic tasks. When we outsource the authorship of weighty ethical or intellectual tasks to think-tanks and morons like Glenn Beck, we’re just Skinnerian rubes. We’re just pecking at buttons on a false choice machine: “We can’t give poor kids free healthcare! That would be evil socialized medicine!”
When Skinner taunted his birds by randomizing when he rewarded them with food, they turned into insane, habitual wrecks. If pecking at their own bodies coincided with the arrival of food a few times in a row, they would peck themselves bloody, fiending to score a juicy pellet. This is what we’re doing now. When will we wake up and realize that we’re not getting any pellets anymore? Every couple of years we knock our faces against two fucking squares marked Democrat and Republican, yet since FDR we’re getting fewer rewards—our quality of life worsens.
Our chains are invisible, yet they persist in binding us through the cleverness of few and the laziness of many. We need to overthrow the masters of our minds, and truly own our whole biology. We need to take back what is ours at the cellular level and stop outsourcing our, jobs, minds, beliefs and internal revisions to external PR meme factories! We need to take back the country, the earth (look out for evil socialism!), and our humanity. We are not pigeons. We do not have to have to rip out our own feathers, neurotically and ineffectively searching for rewards. We are human beings with the capacity to see we are being conditioned. And it is our responsibility to fly out of our comfortable Skinner box, peck out the eyes of the Gregorian masters who rule us and take as many damn pellets as we want!
Now get to it.
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