Surely it’s obvious that we live in a mass communication world. What may not be obvious to those of us in the 21st century is that this has been going on for a long time now and the consequences were foreseen way back when.

In The Rape of the Mind (1956), Joost Meerloo digs into the various tools of mind-control developed in the 20th century. Some of his interest in the topic is no doubt rooted in his experiences as both a psychologist by training and a resistance fighter against the Nazis in World War II. In the post-War world, he saw the dangers that persisted in the ability of those seeking power or riches to manipulate the masses. As he wrote,

“If we are to learn to protest our mental integrity on all levels, we must examine not only those aspects of contemporary culture which have to do directly with the struggle for power, but also those developments in our culture which, by dulling the edge of our mental awareness or by taking advantage of our suggestibility, can lead us into the mental death – or boredom – of totalitarianism. Continual suggestion and slow hypnosis in the wake of mechanical mass communication promotes uniformity of the mind and may lure the public into the ‘happy era’ of adjustment, integration, and equalization, in which individual opinion is completely stereotyped.

It is extremely difficult to escape the mechanically repeated suggestions of everyday life. Even when our critical mind rejects them, they seduce us into doing what our intellect tell us is stupid.

The mechanization of modern life has already influenced man to become more passive and to adjust himself to ready-made conformity. No longer does man think in personal values, following his own conscience and ethical evaluations; he thinks more and more in the values brought to him by mass media. Headlines in the morning paper give him his temporary political outlook, the radio blasts suggestions into his ears, television keeps him in continual awe and passive fixation. Consciously he may protest against these anonymous voices, but nevertheless their suggestions ooze into his system.

What is perhaps most shocking about these influences is that many of them have developed not out of man’s destructiveness, but out of his hope to improve his world and to make life richer and deeper. The very institutions man has created to help himself, the very tools he has invented to enhance his life, the very progress he has made toward mastery of himself and his environment – all can become weapons of destruction.”

There’s a lot to digest there, but overall it rings true. Perhaps the first step in reclaiming our intellectual independence is to be aware of what’s happening around us. After that, we will each find our ways to win the battle against suggestions “oozing into our systems”. 

(Image Credit: Artist, Rene Magritte)