We’re all brainwashed

East Hartford, CT. (TFC)  Charles Rae writes about how deeply we are influenced by scheduling and messaging. Rae uses the sociology of demoralization and studies done on brain function to explain social manipulation.

It seems to be a common narrative these days that the 1% control our institutions, but how much do they control us, our minds? The simple answer is: we’re all brainwashed. You might have said that about other people before, but I would guess that you haven’t said that about yourself. I’m talking about you, too. We all are.

So how does indoctrination work? An apparent example is the forced assimilation of Native peoples in the US from 1790–1920. This was done through sending the youth to boarding schools where “they insisted that students drop their Indian names, forbade the speaking of native languages, and cut off their long hair. Not surprisingly, such schools often met fierce resistance from Native American parents and youth.”

As Capt. Richard H. Pratt said in all seriousness, framing the epitome of indoctrination:

“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Have you ever been expected or forced to adhere to dress codes? Did they meet the fierce resistance in you? No? You are brainwashed. 

Another example is the monitoring of spaghetti straps and skirt levels with young girls. It’s a way of desensitizing girls. They’re taught that others have authority over them, and that they are responsible for others (boys) reactions to their clothing. Condition girls this way, and they even think what they wear is a choice.

It’s not only what we wear that is controlled, but where we spend our time, who we have to talk to, what kind of things we can say or not say, and when we can take breaks. From childhood to adulthood. These are methods of control, they are behaviors which imprint in our neural structures, and are the first small steps of demoralization. It’s a gradual process of training people to obey.

So stop and imagine for a moment. Picture your most fulfilling, ideal life.

Does that include 40 hour work weeks? 8 hour shifts? What retirement age would you pick? Does your dream involve a job that most likely isn’t in your field? How often would you stress over bills? How many times would you go into debt? Who would you be?

Or better yet, why do you do these things now? Are they the best choices? Are they the only choices? Are you afraid of the consequences if you don’t?

We’ve been handed out lives that make us miserable so we can seek enjoyment in escaping them. Have you ever asked yourself who really makes your schedule?

Take work, the primary means of exploitation which manipulates people into prioritizing survival over self-actualization. Not long ago there were no labor standards at all. “In England 1833, a law was passed saying that any child under the age of 9 could not work, children age 9–13 could only work 8 hours a day, and children aged 14–18 could only work 12 hours a day.”

After industrialization took off, 10–16hr work days were the norm. Labor unions and resistance movements took off too. In some places there was even fierce resistance. Though labor standards have gotten better in first world countries, exploitation has become easy to manage within their contexts.

In the States we still work (read: waste) most of our lives, and it increased their profits. It’s the perfect median for those in power. Enough time working so we don’t have the energy to question our society, to resist, but not enough that we’re dying in their buildings. 

On top of these bodily controls, our brains themselves are easy to manipulate. A study by Bargh, Chen and Burroughs show that much of our behavior is unfiltered by our conscious or judgmental processes, and that priming can manipulate our behaviors. Our brains make implicit associations constantly. A Stanford study confirms our neural function decreases when stimuli is repeated, so we are more likely to choose options we’ve had more exposure to.

This sounds weird because most of us think we are the authors of our choices and thoughts, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. We are products of all that we are exposed to, which molds us. So what are we exposed to? Corporate news and messaging. We’re seeing an average of 5,000 adverts throughout a day.

We’re shown what will improve our social status, sex appeal and reputations, which frame our conversations and result in groupthink. Reality is packaged with hyperbolic language so we’re filled with the fear of missing out. Our media is rife with historic and symbolic erasure. These messages influence our thought processes even if we don’t want them to. We physically don’t have enough energy, time, and thus desire, to consider deeper analysis of these messages.

The bright side is that scientists have learned much about the brain within the past 100 years, including that they demonstrate enormous capacity for neuroplasticity. Learning to see propaganda is resistance. Knowing how our brains work is resistance. Noticing what influences us is resistance. Through re-educating ourselves to understand propaganda, we can have serious impacts on our pathological responses.

How can we go all the way, though? We’re brainwashed.

Charles Rae is a theorist, journalist, and artist. Rae writes frequently about law enforcement and power dynamics, as well as other social justice theories.