Propaganda in the World

Propaganda in the World

The manipulation of the American mind: Edward Bernays and the birth of public relations

Edward Bernays applied the principles of propaganda to marketing. Bruce Henschel/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Richard Gunderman, IUPUI

“The most interesting man in the world.” “Reach out and touch someone.” “Finger-lickin’ good.” Such advertising slogans have become fixtures of American culture, and each year millions now tune into the Super Bowl as much for the ads as for the football.

While no single person can claim exclusive credit for the ascendancy of advertising in American life, no one deserves credit more than a man most of us have never heard of: Edward Bernays.

I first encountered Bernays through an article I was writing on propaganda, and it quickly became clear that he was one of the 20th century’s foremost salesmen of ideas. The fact that 20 years have elapsed since his death provides a fitting opportunity to reexamine his legacy.

Bernays pioneered public relations

Often referred to as “the father of public relations,” Bernays in 1928 published his seminal work, Propaganda, in which he argued that public relations is not a gimmick but a necessity:

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, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.

Edward Bernays’ landmark book. chrisch_, CC BY-NC

Bernays came by his beliefs honestly. Born in Austria in 1891, the year Sigmund Freud published one of his earliest papers, Bernays was also Freud’s nephew twice over. His mother was Freud’s sister Anna, and his father, Ely Bernays, was the brother of Freud’s wife Martha.

The year after his birth, the Bernays family moved to New York, and Bernays later graduated from Cornell with a degree in agriculture. But instead of farming, he chose a career in journalism, eventually helping the Woodrow Wilson Administration promote the idea that US efforts in World War I were intended to bring democracy to Europe.

Bernays rebrands ‘propaganda’

Having seen how effective propaganda could be during war, Bernays wondered whether it might prove equally useful during peacetime.

Yet propaganda had acquired a somewhat pejorative connotation (which would be further magnified during World War II), so Bernays promoted the term “public relations.”

Drawing on the insights of his Uncle Sigmund – a relationship Bernays was always quick to mention – he developed an approach he dubbed “the engineering of consent.” He provided leaders the means to “control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it.” To do so, it was necessary to appeal not to the rational part of the mind, but the unconscious.

Bernays acquired an impressive list of clients, ranging from manufacturers such as General Electric, Procter & Gamble, and the American Tobacco Company, to media outlets like CBS and even politicians such as Calvin Coolidge. To counteract President Coolidge’s stiff image, Bernays organized “pancake breakfasts” and White House concerts with Al Jolson and other Broadway performers. With Bernays’ help, Coolidge won the 1924 election.

Bernays’ publicity campaigns were the stuff of legend. To overcome “sales resistance” to cigarette smoking among women, Bernays staged a demonstration at the 1929 Easter parade, having fashionable young women flaunt their “torches of freedom.”

He promoted Lucky Strikes by convincing women that the forest green hue of the cigarette pack was among the most fashionable of colors. The success of this effort was manifested in innumerable window displays and fashion shows.

In the 1930s, he promoted cigarettes as both soothing to the throat and slimming to the waistline. But at home, Bernays was attempting to persuade his wife to kick the habit. When would find a pack of her Parliaments in their home, he would snap every one of them in half and throw them in the toilet. While promoting cigarettes as soothing and slimming, Bernays, it seems, was aware of some of the early studies linking smoking to cancer.

Bernays used the same techniques on children. To convince kids that bathing could be fun, he sponsored soap sculpture competitions and floating contests. These were designed to prove that Ivory bars were more buoyant than competing products.

Bernays also used fear to sell products. For Dixie cups, Bernays launched a campaign to scare people into thinking that only disposable cups were sanitary. As part of this campaign, he founded the Committee for the Study and Promotion of the Sanitary Dispensing of Food and Drink.

Bernays’ ideas sold a lot more than cigarettes and Dixie cups

Even though Bernays saw the power of propaganda during war and used it to sell products during peacetime, he couldn’t have imagined that his writings on public relations would become a tool of the Third Reich.

In the 1920s, Joseph Goebbels became an avid admirer of Bernays and his writings – despite the fact that Bernays was a Jew. When Goebbels became the minister of propaganda for the Third Reich, he sought to exploit Bernays’ ideas to the fullest extent possible. For example, he created a “Fuhrer cult” around Adolph Hitler.

Bernays learned that the Nazis were using his work in 1933, from a foreign correspondent for Hearst newspapers. He later recounted in his 1965 autobiography:

They were using my books as the basis for a destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me, but I knew any human activity can be used for social purposes or misused for antisocial ones.

What Bernays’ writings furnish is not a principle or tradition by which to evaluate the appropriateness of propaganda, but simply a means for shaping public opinion for any purpose whatsoever, whether beneficial to human beings or not.

This observation led Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter to warn President Franklin Roosevelt against allowing Bernays to play a leadership role in World War II, describing him and his colleagues as “professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism, and self-interest.”

Today we might call what Bernays pioneered a form of branding, but at its core it represents little more than a particularly brazen set of techniques to manipulate people to get them to do your bidding.

Its underlying purpose, in large part, is to make money. By convincing people that they want something they do not need, Bernays sought to turn citizens and neighbors into consumers who use their purchasing power to propel themselves down the road to happiness.

Without a moral compass, however, such a transformation promotes a patronizing and ultimately cynical view of human nature and human possibilities, one as likely to destroy lives as to build them up.

Richard Gunderman, Chancellor’s Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy, IUPUI

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Aldous Huxley on Overpopulation: Are Doomsayers Crazy or Acutely Aware?

Aldous Huxley on Overpopulation: Are Doomsayers Crazy or Acutely Aware?

Will economies and societies continue to innovate, finding new ways of increasing agricultural efficiency or will insufficient resources lead to catastrophes? In a 1958 work, Aldoux Huxley offered an answer.
14 August, 2016

The human population is growing rapidly. A quick glance at the population-counters from Worldometers reveals that far more people are being born than are dying everyday. If the amount of available natural resources increases more slowly than the human population, are we doomed as a species to catastrophe? As early as 1798, the English scholar Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) meticulously detailed and described concerns about these relative rates and their implications for human civilization.

In An Essay on the Principle of Population, Malthus observed – having accumulated and studied a wealth of empirical data about birth-rates, death-rates, childrearing, and more – that the rate at which the production of food increases is categorically slower than the rate at which the human population increases. More specifically, he argued that food-production grows arithmetically (i.e., linearly) whereas the population grows geometrically (i.e., exponentially).

Although Malthus himself did not conclude that people are doomed, several of his readers did. Scholars and commentators continue to invoke his arguments to suggest that unchecked population growth presents a grave danger. Malthus himself, writing before the industrial revolution, underestimated how high the population could get. Still, given how advances in science and technology have allowed the human population to surge through continual technological innovation, many suggest that population growth is nothing to worry about: systems of incentives will allow civilizations to adapt and grow.

The renowned author and philosopher Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) argued that the implications of unchecked post-industrial population growth would be very bleak, indeed. He is famous for, among other works, his 1932 novel Brave New World, a story of a dystopian world in which populations are controlled and placated thorough intellectual censorship, deliberate conditioning, and omnipresent access to hedonistic pleasures. In 1958, Huxley reflected on that novel and the ways in which society, as he understood it, had developed toward that vision of the future years later in a work of non-fiction, Brave New World Revisited. In it, he describes just how bleak the problem of rapid population growth’s strain on resources is:

At the rate of increase prevailing between the birth of Christ and the death of Queen Elizabeth I, it took sixteen centuries for the population of the earth to double. At the present rate it will double in less than half a century. And this fantastically rapid doubling of our numbers will be taking place on a planet whose most desirable and productive areas are already densely populated, whose soils are being eroded by the frantic efforts of bad farmers to raise more food, and whose easily available mineral capital is being squandered with the reckless extravagance of a drunken sailor getting rid of his accumulated pay.

Huxley observes that the human population continues to grow rapidly (as does the rate at which this growth accelerates) at a time when the strain on natural resources is close to a threshold. If Huxley is right on these counts, then no increases in agricultural efficiency will be able to accommodate the rapidly surging populations of the world.

Now over a half a century later, we can ask ourselves whether Huxley’s description of population growth an accurate characterization of modern trends. At first glance, it might not seem so. The World Bank’s data on changes in the rate of population growth over the past few decades shows that, although the rate of growth is still positive (i.e., people are being born more quickly than are dying), that rate is slowing down and is lower now than it had been for several years.

Regarding the legitimacy of the threats of overpopulation, however, this might be misleading. Considering these data in the broader context of population growth since the beginning of agriculture, the population continues to surge at unprecedentedly high rates. According to the United States Census Bureau, the world population was approximately five million in 8000 BC. Around 15th century AD, the number had grown to between 350 million and 374 million. So over 9.5 millennia, the world population grew by about 345 million. In the 20th century alone, the world population grew by 4.35 billion: from 1.65 billion to 6 billion. For the world population to increase at a rate of billions per century or to more than quadruple within a century is unprecedented in the history of our species. Given the declining growth rates, the United Nations Population Division projected that the population would take about two centuries to double again. While that is indeed meaningfully slower than the population growth of the 20th century, increasing the population by over five billion in two centuries is far from negligible. Even if it reflects a decrease in the growth rate, Huxley seems right to be wary of the strains on natural resources. It is not apparent that increases in agricultural output will scale appropriately with increases in the world population.

What would be the implications of such a monumental shift in the demand for finite, life-sustaining resources? According to Huxley, such consequences of rampant population growth will facilitate the increasing centralization of power and authority of governments. He described in Brave New World Revisited:

Whenever the economic life of a nation becomes pre­carious, the central government is forced to assume additional responsibilities for the general welfare. It must work out elaborate plans for dealing with a critical situation; it must impose ever greater restrictions upon the activities of its subjects; and if, as is very likely, worsening economic conditions result in polit­ical unrest, or open rebellion, the central government must intervene to preserve public order and its own authority. More and more power is thus concentrated in the hands of the executives and their bureaucratic managers.

Overpopulation will precipitate huge economic and humanitarian crises for which it will be necessary for governments to intervene in a direct and dynamic way. Thus, it might not be merely an irrational doomsday hypothesis that unrestrained global population growth could precipitate an unprecedented expansion in the authority and control of the state. Given modern concerns for excessive concentrations of political power, this merits critical reflection.

How could we resolve the impending problems of population growth? The drastic solution in Brave New World is for the government to control the population directly: natural reproduction is abolished and the government controls exactly how many people there are in each social class by manufacturing them in factories explicitly reminiscent of Henry Ford’s assembly lines. Some have posed less dismal solutions. World Population Balance, for instance, advocates implementing national and global campaigns for increasing awareness regarding the dangers of accelerating population-growth. The organization also calls for the formation of a think tank and campaigns for engagement with these issues with the participation of experts on biodiversity, poverty, and more. In any case, it seems that intervention by governments is necessary to addressing these issues. If such problems are raised, discussed, and addressed today, we can avoid the extreme takeover by the government described in Brave New World.

Malthus’s contemporaries escaped the Malthusian nightmare with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Today, we look forward to an even more perilous predicament. What will the next revolution look like? If this subject conjures up dystopian futures and existential crises, distinguished comedians Bill Burr and Doug Stanhope, both of whom have characterized overpopulation as a problem and population control as a solution in their performances, can help us cope by means of their potent if grizzly humor.

Missing Q Document

Missing Q Document

One Place, Many Possibilities, Your Truth

More About Q and the Gospel of Thomas

An accidental discovery in Egypt seems to confirm the existence of the ‘lost’ gospel of Q.

by Marilyn Mellowes


Q is the designation for a gospel that no longer exists, but many think must have existed at one time. In fact, even though no copy of this gospel has survived independently, some nineteenth-century scholars found fragments of such an early Christian composition embeded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

By putting these two gospels beside that of Mark, scholars realized that when Matthew and Luke are telling the story about Jesus, for the most part they both follow the order and often even the wording of Mark. But, into this common narrative outline, Matthew and Luke each insert extra sayings and teachings of Jesus. And although Matthew and Luke do not put these sayings in the same order, nevertheless they each repeat many of the same sayings, sometimes word for word.

Since for other reasons it seems unlikely that either Matthew or Luke could have copied from the other, how can this sort of agreement be explained? The answer appears to be that Matthew and Luke each had two sources in common: the Gospel of Mark and another gospel, now lost, a collection of sayings known only as Q.

Q stands for “Quelle,” the German word for source. Although no actual copy of Q has ever been found, many scholars are convinced that such a document once circulated in early Christian communities. Since it was difficult to get excited about something that did not exist, Q remained a hypothesis that lingered on the edges of scholarly research. But in 1945, a chance discovery in Egypt provided surprisingly new evidence that rekindled interest in the possible existence of Q.

Two brothers were looking for fertilizer at the base of cliffs in the Egyptian region of Nag Hammadi, where the Nile bends on its way from Chenoboskeia to Pabau. As they searched, the brother called Mohammad Ali hit a hard object, concealed under the ground. It proved to be a huge earthen jar, closed with a shallow red dish. At first Mohammad Ali was afraid to open the jar, lest a jinn might be closed up inside it. But finally he summoned the courage to break it, hoping that it might contain gold. Out tumbled, not gold, but twelve books bound in gazelle leather.

These books would prove one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century. And one of the reasons for their importance is the valuable evidence they provide for the existence of the sayings collection known as Q.

These manuscripts, now known as the Nag Hammadi Library, contained a complete manuscript of the Gospel of Thomas. A fragment of this gospel, written in Greek, had been found earlier at Oxyrynchos in Egypt. But it was only a fragment. The text found at Nag Hammadi, although complete, was written in Coptic, which was the form of the Egyptian language in use during later Roman imperial times.

On the basis of this text, however, scholars were able to reconstruct the Gospel of Thomas in Greek, the original language of its composition. By this means, they were able to compare its contents with those of writings found in the New Testament.

The Gospel of Thomas is very different from the gospels that have become part of the New Testament. It contains no narrative material, nor is there any story of the birth, the life, or the death of Jesus. It consists only of sayings, 114 in all, each preceded by the phrase, “And Jesus said.” The collected sayings of the Gospel of Thomas are designated by its author as “the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke.”

Some of the sayings from the Gospel of Thomas are very much like those found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, for example:”Jesus said, ‘Come to me, for my yoke is easy and my mastery is gentle, and you will find repose.'” (#90) But others are puzzling: “Jesus said, ‘Become passers by.'” (#42).

According to this author, salvation is achieved in the recognition of one’s origin (the light) and one’s destiny (the repose). And in order to return to his or her origin, the disciplemust separate from the world by “stripping off” the garment of flesh and “passing by” corruptible human existence.

For New Testament scholars, one of the most interesting things about this gospel is that its author (who calls himself Didymos Judas Thomas) appears to have used sayings from the same collection used by Matthew and Luke. But for this author and his community, the meaning of these sayings was clearly very different. The Gospel of Thomas, therefore, provided exciting new evidence for the existence of an earlier collection of sayings used by a variety of Christian communities.

In 1989, a team of researchers led by James M. Robinson of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity in Claremont, CA, began a most unlikely task: the “reconstruction” of the Gospel of Q. Robinson and his team are accomplishing this by a highly detailed literary analysis of Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. Their painstaking work goes “verse by verse, word by word, case ending by case ending.” After nearly ten years of work, the results of their efforts are soon to be published as the Critical Edition of Q.

The “recovery” of the Q gospel has stimulated a debate about the nature early Christian communities, and by extension, the origins of Christianity itself. One scholar, Burton Mack, has advanced a radical thesis: that at least some Christian communities did not see Jesus as a Messiah; they saw him as a teacher of wisdom, a man who tried to teach others how to live. For them, Jesus was not divine, but fully human. These first followers of Jesus differed from other Christians whose ritual and practice was centered on the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Their did not emerge as the “winners” of history; perhaps because the maintaining the faith required the existence of a story that included not only the life of Jesus but also his Passion.

Read more on the Q in this Atlantic Monthly article The Search for a No-Frills Jesus.