Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Mind-Warping Potential of Fake Video

A colleague sent the following to me in an email today.

His interest is principally in political sociology, and currently, "fake news" (see Guess et al). But mine being (in part, anyway) in cultic mind control, I was instantly transported back to several experiences I'd had since the mid-1970s. These occurred in large group awareness trainings and new religious movements that used intense, emotion-provoking, multi-media presentations to influence (as per Arendt, Bernays, Cialdini, Lippman, and Woodward & Denton in the References at the end hereof) the belief construction (see Berger & Luckman, Burrow, Cooley, and Gergen, as well as Arendt, Asch, Ewen, Grunberger, Haslam et al, Hoffer, Hook, LeBon, McDougall, McLuhan & Fiore, Parsons, and Weber & Parsons) among newer members at the first through five levels on their cultic pyramids.

If multi-media presentations were "contorted" in the era before Photoshop, Illustrator and other technologies enabling the construction of a digital (pseudo-)reality (see Postrel, and Ries & Trout), how much more influential ("flue" = "flow," so in-flow-ential) could such presentations be made to be in the modern age? 

I saw crude evidence of such tactics in a multi-media show at a large (about 1500 people) tent ("revival") meeting, and, later, far more sophisticated use thereof at a large, "high-tech," evangelical, ostensibly Christian church about a decade ago. That particular church was itself considerably in-flue-nced by the apocalyptic beliefs (think Marshall Applewhite & Heaven's Gate and David Koresh & the Branch Davidians, as well as Jim Jones & the People's Temple) (but also see Pagels) of the two sizeable collections of what I will call "semi"-Christians (Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists) in the surrounding area... including the very same "semi"-Christian sect that had put on the tent meeting (SDAs). 

The mixing of actual -- or "real" -- imagery with emotionally provocative images and music did not include the fakery used in the samples in the article cited at the beginning of this piece. But, looking back, it's easy to see how the more modern technology could be employed to convince the unsuspecting (and conspiracy-oriented) that cynically evil forces are conspiring to bring damnation down on the innocent and God-fearing. 

The fake photo of Barrack Obama with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the title article here is a good example. But suppose one concocts a fake video or audio recording of several, well-known and highly respected "environmental scientists" asserting that "millions will die in monstrous, apocalyptic storms before 2050"... or a group of equally renown and respected psychologists and psychiatrists joking about how the "frauds of psychiatry and psychotherapy we've been selling to the suckers" have made them all wealthy. (One who's into cult studies doesn't need to think very hard about which organizations might be tempted to try such things.)

Further ("toothier") examples might include placing the guru and/or others near the top of the cultic pyramid in positions they've never been in (and never will be) like hanging out with respected political, sports or entertainment figures they have no connection with whatsoever. Or lecturing enormous crowds of devoted followers in foreign lands. Or even placing the guru at the site of some concocted "miracle" with which he or she had nothing whatsoever to do. Or even purporting to show the guru and his or her upper-level followers visiting the "other dimension" to which they will return when the apocalypse arrives. 

The use of imagery and group dynamic manipulations to induce "thought reform" was well-described in Robert Lifton's work. But the systematic creation of a different reality in the minds of the masses goes back at least as far as the development of parable- and/or myth-based Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Aegean religions in the early city states of about 4,000 years ago (see Armstrong, Assman, Berger, Bottero, Durkheim, Freud, Fromm, Miles, and Smith). One need only read the first five books of the Judeo-Christian Old Testament to see the constructions of mythical (pseudo-)reality of that period.

What is more difficult for us to see and understand in light of the now-well-established traditions of modern scientific research, as well as evidentiary jurisprudence, based on rational empiricism (which is only about 250 years old, one must be reminded; see Gay, Jaspers, and Kant), is the immense power of well-designed -- and constructed -- myth. Mankind has spent tens of thousands of years indulged in animism and mystical deism as mechanisms of explaining "how it all works" and "what the future will bring for the faithful." And for most of those who never made it to freshman critical thinking class (see Bloom, Krishnamurti, Rousseau, and Ruggiero), rational empiricism and the questioning of ideas handed down by "recognized authorities" are wholly off the table.

We have lived in an age when the ability to use our eyes, ears and other senses to accurately perceive reality came to be taken for granted (see Hedges, Luce, and Russell). In 2018, however, that's no longer the case. And certainly not among those who understand that reality is the product of interpretation of perception according to in-flue-enced beliefs. 

How the new science of "reality construction" will be used in the new era of "post-factual reality" by the cynics and sociopaths at or near the top of the cultic pyramids is anyone's guess. But one can be certain that at least some of those people are watching the use of this technology for political purposes very carefully. 


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Karen Armstrong: A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam; New York: MJF Books, 1993.

S. E. Asch: Effects of Group Pressure upon the Modification and Distortion of Judgments; in H. Guetzkow (ed.): Groups, Leadership and Men; Pittsburgh: Carnegie Press, 1951.

Jan Assman: Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism; Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1998.

Jan Assman: The Price of Monotheism; Palo Alto, CA: Stanford U. Press, 2009.

Peter L. Berger & Thomas Luckman: The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge; New York: Doubleday, 1966.

Peter Berger: The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, New York: Doubleday, 1967.

Edward L. Bernays: Crystallizing Public Opinion; New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926. 

Allan Bloom: The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987.

Jean Bottero, et al.: Ancestor of the West : Writing, Reasoning, and Religion in Mesopotamia, Elam, and Greece; Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 2000.

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Robert Cialdini: Influence: Science and Practice, 4th Ed.; New York: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

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Erick Fromm: Psychoanalysis and Religion; orig. pub. 1950, New Haven, CT: Yale U. Press, 1973. 

Peter Gay: The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism; New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.

Peter Gay: The Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom; New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Kenneth J. Gergen: An Invitation to Social Construction; London: Sage Publications, 1999. 

Richard Grunberger: The 12-Year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany 1933-1945; New York: Da Capo Press, 1971.

Andrew Guess, Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler: Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the consumption of fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, January 3, 2018 (pre-publication).

Alexander Haslam, Stephen Reicher: Contesting the "Nature" of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo's Studies Really Show; in PLOS / Biology, Vol. 10, No. 11, November 2012. 

Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle; New York: Nation Books, 2010.

Chris Hedges: Death of the Liberal Class; New York: Nation Books, 2010.

Eric Hoffer: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements; New York: Harper and Row, 1951, 1966.

Sidney Hook: Reason, Myths, and Democracy; Buffalo NY: Promethius Books, 1940, 1991.

Karl Jaspers: The Axial Age of Human History, in Maurice Stein et al (editors): Identity and Anxiety: Survival of the Person in Mass Society; Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1960.

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Jiddu Krishnamurti: Education and the Significance of Life; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco (1953) 1975. 

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Jiddu Krishnamurti: Freedom from the Known; New York: HarperCollins, 1969.

Gustav LeBon: The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind; orig. pub. 1895, Minneola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002. 

Robert J. Lifton: Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China; New York: W. W. Norton, 1961.

Robert J. Lifton: Revolutionary Immortality: Mao Tse-Tung and the Chinese Cultural Revolution; New York: Random House, 1968. 

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Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism; New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017. 

William McDougall: The Group Mind: A Sketch of the Principles of Collective Psychology; orig. pub. 1920, North Stratford: Ayer Company, NH, 1973.

Marshal McLuhan, Quentin Fiore: The Medium is the Massage; New York: Penguin Books, 1967. 

Jack Miles: God, A Biography; New York: Random House 1996. 

Jack Miles: Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God; New York: Random House, 2001.

Elaine Pagels: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation: New York: Viking, 2012. 

Talcott Parsons: Social Systems and The Evolution of Action Theory; New York: The Free Press, 1975.

Virginia Postrel: The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion; New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. 

Al Ries, Jack Trout: Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind; New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Emile, or On Education, orig. pub. 1762; Allan Bloom translation: New York: Basic Books, 1979.

Vincent Ruggiero: Beyond Feelings: A Guide to Critical Thinking, 5th Ed.;  Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1998. 

Bertrand Russell: The Impact of Science on Society; New York: Columbia U. Press, 1951. 

Huston Smith: The World's Religions: The Revised & Updated Edition of The Religions of Man; San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991. (First Ed. 1958.) 

Larry Tye: The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations; New York: Henry Holt, 1998.

Max Weber, Talcott Parsons (translator): The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism; Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1930. 

Gary Woodward & Robert Denton: Persuasion & Influence in American Life, 4th Ed.; Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 2000. 

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