The first popular works of Sigmund Freud in America strongly influenced the journalistic intelligentsia of the 1920s. They were fascinated and frightened by the Freudian image of a man with hidden perilous forces lying almost on the surface of the society of that time.
Everyone was scared by the subconscious forces that could easily flare up to create a mighty mad crowd, which could even overthrow the government. Journalists and political scientists believed that this was what happened in revolutionary Russia. For many, this meant that one of the most important principles of universal democracy — namely, the belief that people could be entrusted with making rational decisions — was inherently wrong.
Walter Lippmann, an outstanding political writer and columnist, believed that if subconscious irrational forces guided people, then it was necessary to rethink democracy. As an assistant to Theodore Roosevelt’s military aide and one of Woodrow Wilson’s allies, taking part in all US political campaigns of that time, Lippman said that it was necessary to create a new elite that would run a “mad herd” with the help of psychological techniques that could control the subconscious and the feelings of the masses.
Freud’s follower and nephew (or, instead, a talented conman who capitalised on his uncle’s name), Edward Bernays, who called himself a “public relations specialist” and worked in the United States, started to use the ideas of Walter Lippmann, claiming them as his own. He called his technology of controlling the masses “the engineering of consent.”
Freud, Bernays’s uncle, was himself extremely pessimistic about the ideas of equality and democracy. He believed that the ability to limitless self-expression could free up in man the dangerous subconscious forces that would lead to self-destruction and the destruction of society due to their uncontrollability. Given that, he thought that equality itself (that is when everyone can have endless possibilities for self-expression) was practically impossible.
In Bernays’s model of democracy, which he proposed to American political and commercial leaders at the beginning of the 20th century, people were not active citizens but passive and non-participating consumers.
They were driven not by active civic stance but the desire to consume. The tremendous uncontrolled growth of selfish consumption in the United States in the 1920s led to the collapse of the financial market when frightened investors began to sell off their securities, stuffed with the culture of consumption, engendered by PR specialists, and with the desire to meet their needs without delay and effort.
The Great Depression that followed was one of the first payoffs of “capitalist and democratic” humanity for the introduction of liberal democratic values of unrestricted freedom of expression.
In fact, the same dissatisfaction with the democratic system of society rose in post-war Germany in the late 1920s. This was taken advantage of by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) and its leaders, who championed the idea of dealing with problems and dissatisfaction by reducing the number of parties and consolidating the protest sentiment in society.
That is how Adolf Hitler’s party came to power — through free democratic elections, promising to “eliminate democracy” because of chaos and unemployment that it had brought on.
It has been almost a century, and we still cannot make up our mind whether we believe that citizens make rational, well-informed decisions and do not act on a whim.
In fact, decisions based on emotional reactions underpin most of the tools of hybrid warfare and the spread of misinformation, manipulation and fakes.
Now that we observe the active development of the information space and have virtually complete access to various sources of information, there is no question about the lack of tools of verifying objective facts.
With some effort, anyone can collect enough objective facts to come up with and take a sensible and reasonable decision. However, this does not happen.
In analysing the developments around Ukraine’s presidential election, many experts in the fields of psychology, sociology, and civil society use the word “infantility,” calling the behaviour of Ukrainian voters infantile. What does this mean?
This means that, over the last hundred years, the patterns of human behaviour, determined by their motivations and subconscious and conscious mental processes, have not changed that much.
The modern information world has only taken them to a new level, putting in the hands of people a dangerous and potent force, namely the direct application of the foundations of the democratic development of society — freedom of speech.
Among other things, consumer society, which has gained its momentum at the turn of the last century (as has already been noted above), is characterised by constant discontent of a man with his current status and various aspects of his life.
Such constant and endless frustration provides such society with an “economic perpetual motion machine,” which pushes people to constantly change their lives and believe that, by satisfying their desires (buying new goods, changing jobs, moving to another place, changing a partner, etc.), they make their lives better; they feel that their lives are better…
In other words, the concept developed by Edward Bernays has become an inexorable tool for self-satisfaction through the adoption of “consumerist” decisions, which are not necessarily related to goods, but also the other spheres of human life.
However, the other “side of the coin” of such constant dissatisfaction and frustration does a lot of harm to the human psyche — especially when the desired cannot be attained. Consumer society makes a person feel abandoned, unprotected, unloved, weak… Neuroses on a large scale only add to the complexity of the situation. They take people back to the nostalgic feelings of “childhood dislike” and further increase frustration from not attaining the desired.
It is said that “if you did not have a bicycle in your childhood, and now you are a successful businessman, you still did not have a bicycle in your childhood.”
On top of all this is the pressure of the global world, which manifests itself through the media and makes people believe that they are so miserable compared to global powers that their lives make no difference, and their opinion does not matter.
And at this point, social media offer people an uncontrolled placebo that supposedly appeases the painful symptoms of the problem — in fact, only worsening the overall condition.
With the extensive development of social media, which exemplify unrestricted self-expression and freedom of speech, a person online develops an ungrounded impression that their opinion is precious, and their decisions can make a difference.
Such impressions suppress neuroses and increase the release of happy hormones and other positive biochemical reactions when a person interacts in social media. Besides, this is connected with the activation of aggressive behaviour in the same social media.
By themselves, those mechanisms are not threatening at all; however, multiplied on a global scale by the forces of the “global digital village,” they destroy the ability to take and carry out rational and difficult decisions due to massive irrational behaviour.
Social media and online platforms provide an opportunity for an undereducated young mother to have an equally authoritative voice and opinion with a professor of medicine with 40 years of experience, who persuades his fellow citizens to vaccinate their children.
Those mechanisms put a neighbours’ Viber chat on par with major international scientific conferences of the World Health Organization (WHO).
All this leads to the global destruction of the authority of expertise and guidance when total equality — which is a mere illusion — “levels” the voices of experienced professionals with critical thinking and of infantile, undereducated people prone to simple decisions. The same is also used by concerned actors, which take to manipulations.
All this leads to the failure of political and social systems around the world — the 2016 US presidential election, Brexit, and elections in Europe (Italy, Greece, Austria, Sweden, Hungary… Ukraine).
And this is the effect of the immense influence of the information space and its extensive development, provided with trillions of investments in the tools of freedom of speech and the plurality of opinions, without any “safety locks” in the form of taking responsibility for information that is distributed.
One of the most striking examples of the devastating effects of such mechanisms was the Anti-Vax Movement. It is fundamentally wrong to assert that there are no problems with
· low-quality vaccines,
· poor public health administration,
· murky liability of health workers,
· lack of insurance for post-vaccination diseases, etc.
All this and many other things are serious challenges not only for Ukrainians but also for the world community. Nobody doubts it. All this is part of our reality, and it does not suit anyone. It must be changed!!!
However, on the other hand, global health care and science (which cannot be untrusted because humanity still does not die, despite the epidemics of smallpox, plague and non-typical flu) claim that complete renunciation of vaccination is self-defeating.
Nevertheless, the Anti-Vax Movement is a global trend, manifesting itself in dozens of countries. It calls into question the statistics, hundred-year studies of doctors and expensive WHO programmes only because “my neighbour’s mum’s friend, the one who married an alcoholic, said that her compadre’s sister’s child fell ill with autism after vaccination.”
The milestone of our era is the “extinction of adults.” The world over, decisions about our future are taken by children aged 18 to 70. They are children not by age, health, well-being, or the emotional state — but by their (in)ability to bear responsibility for their words and deeds; by their willingness to believe in simple decisions and the black-and-white world (“vaccinate or not vaccinate”).
It seems like it has always been the case. For thousands of years of human history, “conditional adults” have ensured the survival of “conditional children” through the creation of legal norms and rules of cohabitation, liberation from slavery, inventing and ensuring progress, etc.…
However, only over the past ten years, “conditional children” have taken up arms, with which they have won almost the entire world (i.e., social media). Given that this can lead to the self-destruction of humanity, the pendulum of history risks swaying in the opposite direction…
And on the opposite, despotism and dictatorship awaits us. Or, in other words, the forcible seizure of control over those processes, which will eliminate the risks of “self-destruction,” and with them, criticism of the government. I think that is how it has happened more than once in history. Examples are easy to find.
This election is one of the signs of the infantility of Ukrainian society. However, this is not a problem — because society has the ability to mature, most often not step by step but by leaps. The problem is that there are now all the signs that for our maturity, we will pay by going through dictatorship and authoritarianism.
What are we to do?
The recipe has not changed since 1918: Uniting, putting aside emotions, preparing for the resistance of the critically minded minority against the infantile majority, believing in our strength and Ukraine, remembering the dangers of the Kremlin — and always keeping them in focus, resisting manipulations, and working, working, working…