News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Freud Converts the Masses

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Freud Converts the Masses

This BBC video, "The Century of the Self," explores how Freud's theories influenced propaganda efforts, especially through his nephew Edward Bernays. I believe that Bernays was a type used by Dos Passos in his USA trilogy.

One fact I did not know is that Bernays' spearheaded the translation of Freud's works into English. Does this mean that Freud's works would have remained a blip in the history of the history of ideas? Though I had an inkling that Walter Lippmann was influenced by Freud, this documentary makes that plain.

In part 2, I discovered the role that Freudians played in working with the Army during and after WWII. Compare this fact with recent stories of psychologists working with the CIA and others to develop forms of torture. (See this Salon article on one man's experiences at a CIA black site Also see this translation by Juan Cole of a US soldier's eyewitness account of torture at Bagram.)

I accept the notion that political reality is manipulated via emotions, aka the will, and not reason. The challenge, then, is to identify a way to bring to bear on the will the desire for justice over the destructive and selfish wants and desires. I also believe that the reason why many Leftists simply don't get this, some like Zizek are important because they understand--through Lacan--that the reality underlying political and ethical behavior is inherently irrational.

This statement does not mean that I am a Lacanian or Zizekian, yet I do think that the latter understands things that others simply disregard because it does not fit their Enlightenment models.

This documentary can also be put into a wider historical perspective. As JGA Pocock notes in several of his books on English history, the beginnings of capitalism included an awareness that it opened up a vast reservoir of anxieties and dark passions. Economic theorists of the day spent numerous pages on trying to figure out how to stem the tide of these passions from overwhelming the economic stability of the country.

I was reminded of these remarks the other night when I saw a TV ad for an online stock trading program, TDAMERITRADE (the video loads very slowly, even on DSL). It quite overtly assures the prospective customer that the software would allow them to make stock-buying decisions rationally as opposed to emotionally.

No comments: