Today is about how one person changed the face of identity politics: Edward Bernays.
Edward Louis Bernays is undoubtedly one of the most influential human beings of the 20th century. The nephew of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, he is coined “the father of public relations,” and was one of the first proponents of the use of propaganda on mass populations in order to gain control over what he called “the sleeping giant.” This notion is based on crowd psychology, an idea first explored in the latter part of the 19th century throughout France, Italy, and Germany, in which social theorists began to see a new phenomenon emerge as a result of growing cities, where tensions and political biases were becoming part of the fabric of a once homogenous society.
They called this phenomenon “The Crowd.” The Crowd referred to the masses, those who were easily influenced by triggers in their environment that could lead to a breakdown in social constructs of behavior, resulting in a larger collective body that could become capable of mass upheaval of the current structure. Since Europe was already going through profound socio-political changes by the 19th century, rhetoric was already flourishing surrounding this subject and many people were eager to find a way to properly study and eventually control this new discovery of human behavior. Gustav Le Bon was one of those theorists, and he proposed that The Crowd was made up of three elements: anonymity, contagion, and suggestibility.
These three elements basically outline that when an individual is among a large group, there is a natural inclination to feel anonymous and thus free of responsibility, which could lead to instinctual action, which when seen by others will be imitated and the behavior will spread throughout the group. The group will then become a kind of larger collective body; its own organism with one or more leaders directing the flow of the body. These leaders are seen as the heads of the body, therefore their actions will dictate the actions of the body.
Edward Bernays understood this concept to be an impending threat to the order of society. His New York upbringing connected him with very important people during his time, and Edward Bernays quickly climbed the social ranks to a position of power. He worked closely with Walter Lippmann, a highly influential writer at the time, who had extensive knowledge on the use of propaganda in times of war and peace. It was during this time that Bernays began to experiment with “engineering of consent,” an idea he termed that would soon change the world. Engineering of consent is the notion that people’s opinions could be molded through propaganda without their knowing. This technique of mass persuasion used Freud’s theories of the subconscious and collective unconscious in order to effectively sway public opinion through subtle imagery and suggestion.
It was through these techniques that Bernays, along with other important figures at the time, convinced the American public to support American participation in World War 1. After the war, the word propaganda had gained a considerable amount of notoriety, and so Bernays cleverly changed the name of his approach to “Public Relations,” and the rest is history.
Bernays soon became one of the most sought after people in the industry. He helped create the ‘consumer’ by suggesting products that people would not normally want or even disagree with, and by doing so he created a false need. He came up with several techniques in order to subconsciously persuade the people, most notable his use of “third party authorities,” in which he explained as follows:
“If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.”
We see this technique being used almost ubiquitously today with celebrity endorsements, physician recommended products, political puppets, and in almost every major industry from food to fashion.
Edward Bernays had a utopian vision of society. He believed that by controlling the dangerous masses through persuasion, humans can live together in peace, buying the things they want and maintaining a stable economy that would be led by elite corporations that provide the products for the people.
Of course it does, Beloveds. It’s exactly what America has become, except it is far from utopian. Instead, the insatiable appetite of desire, mixed with the need to belong to something larger has placed American society in a gridlock. Classism is now the new racism, and it is defined by commodity and driven by capitalism. Fortunately, the sleeping giant that Bernays referred to is very much a real one, and the hour is near.
In the meantime, it is our sole responsibility as individuals to resist the hijacking of our identities by creating our own and rejecting the status quo. We must re-present ourselves in a way that is not dependent on any one idea or label. We would even suggest that, at this point, there is no counterculture, as the idea of a counterculture itself has been commodified and is ridden with impostors.
We stand at a point in time where all must be questioned, re-interpreted, and re-appropriated to fit the new function of humanity. Culture is no longer an organic formation, but a fabricated means to an end. Our duty is to make it organic once again, and the first step is to work on ourselves. This is why we here at The Dawn believe personal style is so essential, as it represents the extent to which the Self has been mastered.
We urge you to take some time to watch “The Century of The Self”, a fabulous documentary that provides an in-depth analysis of Edward Bernays’ legacy. His is a prime example of how ultimate knowledge can and will inevitably lead to ultimate destruction, for they are both sides of the same spectrum.
And with that, we depart.
Be real, and ever-growing.