By Todd Howe
“If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it? The recent practice of propaganda has proved that it is possible, at least up to a certain point and within certain limits.”
- Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 2005 ed., p. 71.
In one of the earliest Peanuts comic strips by Charles M Schulz, we see Linus’ sister Lucy berating him about his beloved security blanket:
Lucy: “You and that stupid blanket! You’ll be carrying it around for the rest of your life!”
Linus: “That’s not true! I have tremendous will power! Why, I could give up this blanket right today if I had to!”
Lucy: “All right! Let’s see you give it up today!”
At this point, Lucy snatches Linus’ blanket from his grasp, and the expression on his face is telling as he stands, devastated:
Linus: “Good grief! What have I done?!” 
Linus’ security blanket provides him with what is otherwise known as a ‘transitional object’, a term coined by psychoanalyst Donald Winnicot during his study of early childhood . In his view, all infants go through a time during which they begin to realize that their mother is a separate person from them, and that the narcissistic world in which they had lived prior to that point – one in which a sense of constant security was afforded them by her attention – cannot continue indefinitely. The object serves as a temporary proxy for the mother when she is absent, and helps to alleviate the anxiety the child feels during the important developmental period in which the concept of independence is developed.
In his theory of object relations, Winnicot developed the crucial connections that exist between the formation of the infant’s concept of self and the ways in which he or she relates to objects in the environment. Apart from certain exceptions (notably, autism), the child eventually learns that its sense of omnipotence or control of the objects around it was an illusion created by the mother’s responsiveness (an early instance of what in adults is called ‘magical thinking’).
What’s the point of all this? The human need for security is a particularly deep seated one, and that it arises in infancy before the development of a full-grown, conceptual consciousness or even self-awareness. Although an adult’s needs may be consciously expressed in terms of value-judgements, (since those things that promote well being are of value to the individual), many of the processes and motivations around the issue of security still occur at the subconscious level.
The covert, unseen nature of these processes are helpful insofar as they facilitate rapid judgements in critical situations, eg; when one’s security is threatened by direct attack. It’s ironic, then, that this same shortcut to the emotions renders us vulnerable to manipulation by those who know how to play on human fears and desires. This, of course, is the province of the confidence man and the propagandist.
It’s interesting to observe just how closely the history of modern psychology has paralleled the development of propaganda: the interest of both fields is the operation of the subconscious. But while psychology is generally viewed as a benevolent if inexact tool for personal growth and healing, propaganda’s role has been seen to be almost entirely exploitative.
A Survey: Modern Psychology’s Roots in Propaganda
There are deep historical connections between the fields of propaganda and psychology. The work of Gustave Le Bon, arguably one of the earliest pioneers in the field of crowd psychology, was to exert considerable influence on the thought of both Sigmund Freud and Adolf Hitler.  One example of Le Bon’s thought will suffice:
“As soon as a new dogma is implanted in the mind of crowds it becomes the source of inspiration whence are evolved its institutions, arts, and mode of existence. The sway it exerts over men’s minds under these circumstances is absolute. Men of action have no thought beyond realising the accepted belief, legislators beyond applying it, while philosophers, artists, and men of letters are solely preoccupied with its expression under various shapes.”  (83)
While the idea of the unconscious mind and unconscious (or group) motivations had been known since antiquity, Le Bon and Freud gained much of the credit for popularizing and codifying the idea.
Freud, in his turn, exhibited influence upon the members of the British Psychoanalytic movement including Wilfred Trotter, Ernest Jones, and Wilfred Bion,  who would go on to found the groundbreaking Tavistock Clinic. Initially a private venture, the Clinic was transformed in the crucible of wartime experience within the Directorate of Army Psychology and, aided by a grant from the Rockefeller foundation, became the Tavistock Institute after the war. The Institute was, in its early years, run by a tightly knit group of members who would go on to hold high office and influence in such organizations as the World Federation for Mental Health, the World Health Organization, and the British National Health Institute. It would become a focal point in Britain for the study of psychodynamics and psychoanalysis, enjoying associations with a broad range of experts in the developing field, including Carl Jung and Melanie Klein.
The Institute’s particular specialty was the study of social psychology. Its wartime role had been to assist in the selection of leadership candidates for the British Army, and this interest was carried forward in its work on the study of social (especially corporate) cultures and networks.
“Experience during World War II had shown that psychoanalytic object relations theory could unify the psychological and social fields in a way that no other could. This was the reason for making psychoanalytic training an essential ingredient of the capabilities required to fulfill the post-war mission of the Institute. It soon led to entirely new concepts: those of Bion (I96I) concerning basic unconscious assumptions in group life, which he linked to Melanie Klein’s (1948) views on the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions; and Jaques’s (I953) theory on the use of social structure as a defense against anxiety.” 
This study of social networks culminated in a theory of ‘social ecology’ and organizational change. In the conclusion of Eric Trist’s summary of Tavistock history, it is stated (in somewhat opaque terms) that:
“The socio-ecological approach is linked to the socio-technical because of the critical importance of self-regulating organizations for turbulence reduction. It is further linked to the socio-psychological approach because of the need to reduce stress and prevent regression. Primitive levels of behavior can only too easily appear in face of higher levels of uncertainty. This is one of the greatest dangers facing the world as the present century draws to its close.”  (Emphasis added)
In other words, having some understanding of how the dynamics of a group creates order or disorder is valuable in the understanding of a group’s behavior. Uncertainty leads to anxiety, regression, and a primitive level of functioning. The answer to the threat of organizational turbulence is “the building of inter-organizational networks that can address ‘meta-problems’ at the ‘domain’ level” to “improve social coherence and to envision more desirable futures.” In other words, a self-regulating network of psychological think-tanks.
Freud’s influence was also evident in the thought of his nephew, Edward L Bernays, who helped found the field of Public Relations. In Bernays’ view, manipulation of public opinion in a democracy was necessary due to the irrational and dangerous effects of crowd psychology when left unchecked. However, Bernays was not above offering his services to promote commercial interests, as demonstrated in his essay “The Engineering of Consent”, in which the subject is defined as “the art of manipulation of people; the masses, consumers, businesses, citizens or the government, to make them want things that they do not need by linking those products and ideas to their unconscious desires.” 
In the words of one commentator, “Bernays liked to think of himself as a kind of psychoanalyst to troubled corporations.” 
Snatching the Blanket: Generating Loss and Aggression
There are few unconscious desires stronger than the desire to maintain security in one’s life. This goes deeper than any conventional notion of alarms, fences, and locks. The fundamental issue is one of personal identity.
One of the great successes of developmental psychology has been to show how the self is developed in relation to objects and situations in the external world. The beloved teddy bear, blanket, or other comfort object demonstrates the power of this identification.
“In a later stage of the development the child no longer needs the transitional object. He is able to make a distinction between ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, and keeping inside and outside apart and yet interrelated. This development leads to the use of illusion, symbols and objects later on in life.” 
Sadly, this crucial human connection – identification, empathy between internal and external aspects of the self – may be manipulated, attacked at its root by a process known as emotional priming. And one of the most effective, primal emotions for this purpose is fear. Fear, in the words of Frank Herbert, is the mind killer. When reason is brought to bear, manipulation may be identified and stopped. Introspection and reflection offer insight into the dynamics between one’s personal thoughts, emotions, and events in the external world. But the presence of mind required for reflection of this sort becomes increasingly difficult in an environment filled with anxiety.
As was covered in the first installment of this series, we are living in a time when fear has entered the popular culture like never before. It seems as though the tectonic plates of culture are shifting, unseen, beneath our feet. Thrown off guard by the aftershocks of September 11th, 2001, we’re left with the distinct impression that whole populations are casting around for some new belief, some new object to attach to. We are as bewildered as Linus without his blanket.
In their book “In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror”, Thomas Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon and Jeff Greenberg developed work dating back to the 1980s at the University of Kansas on a set of ideas called Terror Management Theory, or TMT. The ideas of Pyszczynski et al. were influenced by the work of one Ernest Becker, who held that a primary motivation of the human psyche is the denial of death . This denial manifests in the child as a clinging need for and focus on the mother, and in the adult as identification with one’s culture and its symbols of power. When children become increasingly aware of their parent’s mortality and their own,
“their security base must broaden to something bigger than their parents: something large enough to provide protection from these bigger threats … the child consequently shifts the basis of his or her psychological security from maintaining a sense of value in the eyes of the parents to maintaining a sense of value in the eyes of the culture at large and its deistic and secular representatives.”  26-27
Pyszczynski, Solomon, and Greenberg explain the role of culture as an insulating layer of associations and metaphors by which people understand the world around themselves and give it meaning. Culture becomes imbued with such significance that it takes on a nearly metaphysical role:
“At the most fundamental level, cultures allow people to control the ever-present potential terror of death by convincing them they are beings of enduring significance living in a meaningful reality. That is the core proposition of TMT. And the core implication of TMT is that to maintain psychological equanimity throughout their lives, people must sustain 1. faith in a culturally derived worldview that imbues reality with order, stability, meaning, and permanence; and 2. belief that one is a significant contributor to this meaningful reality. … in this way, we live as valued participants in a culturally based symbolic vision, rather than as vulnerable animals fated only for death and decay”  16-17
As they develop this line of reasoning, the authors argue that either a direct threat to the security of one’s own person (such as a gun in the ribs) or a threat to one’s beliefs and worldview (as in, say, a debate about one’s philosophical or religious beliefs) will have the same result, an increase in anxiety. They identify the mechanism in both cases as being mortality salience, or the confrontation with the fact of one’s own impermanence and impending death. While in the first case the threat is a direct one, prompting a response of fear and a desire for ‘fight or flight’, the threat in the second case is indirect. However, the effect is the same and “threatens to unleash the overwhelming terror normally mitigated by the secure possession of one’s existing beliefs”  29
The most interesting part of Terror Management Theory, however, is its explanation of the dual aspects of the processes which serve to keep the knowledge and fear of death away from conscious awareness. These processes have a conscious and a subconscious component and operate in tandem to ensure we are able to make it through our days without having to cope with continuous thoughts of mortality and insecurity. Rather than simply suppressing knowledge of death, there is a wide body of evidence now to support the central idea of Terror Management Theory – that people retain their sense of stability and security by a) actively, consciously denying, dissembling, or ignoring in regards to unpleasant information and b) subconsciously bolstering their worldview to compensate for a perceived threat by artificially inflating self-esteem.
Laurie Manwell, PhD candidate in Nueroscience at Guelph University, neatly sums up the action of the conscious processes. In this case, the example given is the threat of being confronted by information implying that the collapse of the twin towers was caused by the American government, a position dissonant with the widely-held expectation that a centralist state provides security:
“Thus, considering that increasing evidence points to the fact that most people only become defensive or aggressive when they believe that they are under some form of attack (Berkowitz and Alioto, 1973; Berkowitz et al., 1986; Cohen and Nisbett, 1994; Baumeister et al., 1996; Baumeister, 1997; Bushman and Baumeister, 1998; Baumeister, et al., 2000), it is quite understandable that many people first question the legitimacy of the threat before questioning the legitimacy of the evidence when discussing the events of 9/11”. 
Pyszczynski et al. demonstrated the action of the subconscious process by citing a study (Roseblatt et al, 1989) in which 22 Municipal Court judges were asked to complete a set of questionnaires and standard personality assessments. Half of the judges had a ‘Mortality Attitudes Personality Survey’, designed to remind the judges of their own mortality, while the control group had surveys unrelated to mortality. After completing the surveys, both groups of judges were given a case study about a prostitute and asked to set a bond – the judges who had been recently reminded of the possibility of death set bond at levels almost 10 times higher than the control set of judges, which led to the conclusion that:
“the effects of thoughts of mortality on human judgement and behavoir are greatest when they are accessible but no longer in focal consciousness or working memory”  56
Another experiment was conducted to ‘prime the subconscious’ with death-related words by flashing them on a screen at a subliminal rate, hidden amongst neutral ‘masking words’. It was found that the presence of the death-related words increased the tendency to defensiveness in a followup test, whereas control words had no effect. The authors concluded that “subtle reminders of mortality produce more vigorous worldview defence than more sustained (and therefore presumably more conscious or salient) mortality salience inductions”  68
These ‘inductions’ included, but were not limited to: prejudice, aggression, even the exaggeration of trivial differences. One lone positive result of these tests was the discovery that some individuals would express the desire for greater meaning and value in their lives, but in most subjects they had the result of intensifying patriotism and nationalistic sentiment, the desire to suppress dissent, and the intensification of bigotry.
None of the test subjects were aware of the extent to which they were being manipulated.
Manufacturing a Market for Security
Let’s return briefly to the thought of Edward L. Bernays. Freud’s nephew, master marketer, public relations maven, expert on the ‘engineering of consent’. From his early masterwork, “Propaganda”. Chapter 1, Paragraph 1:
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”  (9)
And from an interview in 1990, shortly before Bernay’s death:
“We’ve had no direct contact with the mass media for about fifty years.” Rather, he continued, the job of a public relations counsel is to instruct a client on how to take actions which “just interrupt…the continuity of life in some way to bring about the [media] response.” 
The dramatic uptick in the perceived need for security in recent years has generated a windfall for any company able to provide some new technological security assurance, temporary distraction from the need for same, or both simultaneously. Naomi Klein writes in the Guardian that, in regards to Israel (a country that knows a thing or two about field-tested defence products), “suddenly new profit vistas opened up for any company that claimed it could spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack, and extract confessions from closed-mouthed prisoners.”  A blurb on the web page for a Seneca College security program, by no means an isolated example, states “Public concerns [sic] over recent violent events and the financial restraints at all levels of government with respect to funding for police services, has resulted in an increase in demand for private policing and investigations services.”  Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest military contractor and exporter of arms, was awarded the contract to “saturate the subways with 1000 video cameras and 3000 motion sensors” in the New York city subway system, the New York Times reported in 2005.  Video games serve as recruitment tools for the US Military , and entertainment and news now blend together into the same entity, with simple morality plays being incorporated into the presentation of ‘evil-doers’ in both the evening news  and serialized drama such as 24 that crib their plotlines from the headlines.
As Lex Luthor put it in the movie Superman IV, “The more fear you make, the more loot you take.”
As the bottom line of the security industry swells and the temperature of the rhetoric surrounding the Global War On Terrorism continues to heat up, a cultural feedback loop is created, pulling more resources into the business of making sure we’re Safe Enough – a target that hangs tantalizingly close but recedes as we approach it, a mirage of our own making. Stories of the shadowy enemies create fear, which amplify individual beliefs and emphasize differences amongst groups. The “philosophers, artists, and men of letters” in the mainstream who ought to know better take up the call to man their walls, producing more of the same myopic programming. And it is unlikely that the cozy links between the media and the military-industrial conglomerates that profit from international conflict  will provide any incentive to put the brakes on the trauma-inducing narratives that we’re presented with on a nightly basis.
The question that may very well be asked in response to these issues is whether the need for security has created the ongoing trauma – or whether the trauma was executed and is being drawn out to create an ongoing need for security. What’s clear is that there is an expectation that we are to feel shattered and saddened. We are assured that the “world has changed” , that the “world changed on that day” , even a call for the President to “use this disaster to carry out … a new world order” . Would this meet Edward Bernay’s criteria for an ‘interruption’ in the continuity of life?
Carl Jung, once a protégé of Freud’s before their own famous schism, speaks of the means by which the destructive ‘shadow’ of the conscious mind may be called forth:
“[cultural symbols] can evoke a deep emotional response in some individuals, and this psychic charge makes them function in much the same way as prejudices. They are… important constituents of our mental makeup and vital forces in the building up of human society; and they cannot be eradicated without serious loss. Where they are repressed… [this] serves to revive and intensify whatever is uppermost in the unconscious – tendencies, perhaps, that have hitherto had no chance to express themselves or at least have not been allowed an uninhibited existence in our consciousness.”  (83)
It seems as though we have been robbed of one worldview which, despite its faults, had something at its heart. The solution has been to offer a counterfeit, characterized by the absence of two iconic spires. One day, they rose like the gates of an ancient temple with an iconic silhouette, a monolith of commerce at the heart of the Western community – the next, leveled in the cataclysm. In exchange, America has been offered a seductive new national myth, the recreation of some twisted demiurge – to replace the story of the Virginians in their unspoiled garden.
This is a cosmology befitting the birth of Empire, with its symbols of power and a sense of righteous domination. Born in pain and the regression caused by the ongoing reminder of our trauma, the new culture is fearful and seeks the assurance of a stern father. It is to an investigation of these symbols, and the question of how their power over our lives may be broken, that we now turn.
 The Official Peanuts Website: Meet Linus
 Wikipedia – Transitional Object
 Wikipedia – Crowd Psychology
 Gustave Le Bon – The Crowd, A Study of the Popular Mind
 Eric Trist, Hugh Murray: The Social Engagement of Social Science, A Tavistock Anthology
 Wikipedia – The Engineering of Consent
 Wikipedia – Edward Bernays
 The Ernest Becker Foundation
 Pyszczynski, Thomas A., Greenberg, J, Solomon, S. (2002) In the wake of 9/11: the psychology of terror. Washington: America Psychological Association
 Laurie A. Manwell: Faulty Towers of Belief: Part 1. Demolishing the Iconic Psychological Barriers to 9/11 Truth
 Propaganda (How the Media Molds Your Mind)
 PR! A Social History of Spin – Chapter 1
 How War Was Turned into a Brand
 Seneca College: Advanced Investigations and Enforcement
 NY Times: New Cameras to Watch over Subway System
 Military.com: Video Game Used to Lure New Recruits
 Media Fear Mongers Always Cry Wolf
 Who Owns CNN? Or MSNBC? ABC?
 President Addresses the Nation in Prime Time Press Conference
 George W Bush Memorial Website 911
 VIDEO: Gary Hart at CFR, Sept 12, Calling For New World Order
 Jung, Carl (1964) Man and his symbols. London: Aldus Books Limited