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Bookcase: The Hidden Persuaders

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

During the 1950’s there was a surge of popular interest in what drives social psychology. And I think for that reason alone, the 1950’s was a much more intellectually vibrant decade than the one we inhabit today. People actually wanted to know if they were being manipulated. They were far less likely to simply give in to having their behaviors and opinions directed by the likes of Oprah or Dr. Oz.

There was a trend towards more self-awareness in the 1950′ s because people seemed more willing to think independently about what drives our motives. So when Vance Packard started writing about how advertising was employing new methods of persuasion, people took notice and absorbed his message. But it seems that trend has been reversed — with the internet, with the dumbing down of education, with the breakdown of community. Whatever the cause of our new found ignorance, today we see very little awareness of the mass seduction that happens through “depth selling.” That’s advertising — or fundraising or any kind of campaign — that enlists the study of psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology in order to develop subtle methods of persuasion that exploit human fears and desires.

If Superbowl advertising is any indication, more and more people seem to be in a fog, very content to live lemming-like lives from behind the virtual reality of their big screens and I-Phones. This placid and complacent mood is a perfect climate for cultivating mass compliance.

So today, I am recommending a classic from the year 1957: The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard.

He wrote at a time when ad men were trying to perfect the art of “consumption engineering” and motivation research.

As you might predict, Packard was trashed by the advertising industry who accused him of a “paranoid” reaction. This is the old and familiar tinfoil hat accusation that gets pulled out every time someone gets a bit close to the truth.

Here’s one paragraph (among many) by Packard that sums up the theme of the book:

“The manipulative approach to politics is of course not a discovery of the 1950’s or even the twentieth century.  Napoleon set up a press bureau that he called his Bureau of Public Opinion.  Its function was to manufacture political trends to order.”

We're beyond the selling of soap or cereal.  The manufacture of political trends is where it all leads.  And that's exactly what has been going on by media and Hollywood elites.  Whatever the insane agenda item – whether it’s celebrating sex changes for 10-year-olds or Zeke Emmanuel’s claim that everyone should check out of life on their 75th birthday – you can be sure the goal is to promote hype, reform thought patterns, and manipulate political trends.

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