The thesis of the essay, which was written by Susan Andersen and Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, is that a sort of mind control exists in the most “mundane aspects of experience”. Because of this, it is possible to reduce “unwanted coercive control” by “increasing our vigilance and learning to utilize certain basic strategies of analysis”.
The authors of the paper refer to these strategies as resistance strategies, which can be broadly applied to the many mind-manipulation attempts that human beings are subjected to daily.
As intelligent, independent, thoughtful and educated human beings, it may be hard to believe that you are easily influenced, manipulated and vulnerable to these mind control experiences. However, the Office of Naval Research paper asserts that “mind control” is actually practised on a daily basis in the most mundane situations.
Mind control takes place, according to the paper, when:
“Information is systematically hidden, withheld or distorted it is impossible to make unbiased decisions. Under these circumstances, people may be subtly led to believe they are ‘freely’ choosing to act.”
Humans are Always Being Controlled
This ‘control’ the thesis asserts, is actually most effective when a person is subtly led to believe that he or she has freely chosen to act. Andersen and Zimbardo state that humans are therefore always being controlled:
“Politicians influence our votes; teachers our thinking; religious leaders our morality. Advertisers emphasis our ability to make ‘rational’ decisions between products they have apparently compared, and then urge us to buy the one of their choosing whether we need it, want it or can afford it.”
The bulk of Susan Andersen’s and Philip Zimbardo’s paper is aimed at highlighting various strategies to resist that routine manipulation and control of the mind that people are subjected to in almost all walks of life.
One such strategy that the authors recommend is to “develop a critical eye”, which essentially involves being disengaged from our social world so that we can “maintain a critical analysis”.
In order to become disengaged from our social world, we must, according to the paper, “…learn to be vigilant to discontinuities between the ideals people espouse and their concrete actions.”
To build a critical evaluation of situations requires, according to Andersen and Zimbardo, assertiveness and the ability to examine situations from different perspectives. We should, the academics advice, “practice thinking ahead, anticipating what will come next”, and then checking for discrepancies while noting how we feel about them.
Recognize Conditions Where You are Vulnerable
As well as being able to disobey simple situational rules to resist social mind control, the Office of Naval Intelligence report warns that you need to be able to recognize the conditions under which you are most vulnerable to accepting persuasive appeals.
The report maintains a fairly ‘black and white’ view of social mind control and of those who actively practice mind control, as well as those who passively succumb to it.
For example on page 11 of the report, the authors mention research that revealed that powerful people “…express confidence and self-assuredness across all channels of communication – though body language, through words and Para-linguistically.”
“Someone who looks us straight in the eye, stands very close and speaks forcefully is not intimidated, but intimidating, and perfectly in control of the encounter.”
“In reaction, those who get persuaded,” the report continues, “express doubt; they do so as much by what they say as by what they don’t say.”
There is an element of truth in this. For example, we all know that successful salesmen are brimming with self-confidence, but the “mind control” aspect of the sales interaction is not so black and white – there are grey areas involving more complex and subtle reasons for the success of mind control efforts.
For example, if we are tired or in a hurry, we may be more inclined to give in to the person selling double glazing on the doorstep, whereas any other day we would have told him where to go!
There is, unfortunately, a small portion of the population, albeit usually the most vulnerable, who may be tricked by criminals and conmen. According to sociologist Irving Goffman, those criminals are able to “…conceal their intent amid ‘normal appearances'” (cited in the Naval report).
Con Jobs and Mind Control
While I was watching the news recently, just such an incident was reported in London, involving a lady in her 90s being conned out of £5,000 by a man who claimed he was from British gas. He told her that he had to change the lady’s gas system so that it complied with current laws.
While the conman’s dress, persona and ‘confidence’, would have made even the most suspicious of minds trust his sincerity, I don’t think the majority of people are so easily duped and prone to social “mind control” as the 1979 document makes out,
After all, this is why such criminals target the old and vulnerable, as they are often not as judgemental and shrewd as they may once have been.
Other tactics listed in the Office of Naval Intelligence Report to resist social mind control suggests that while you are in conversations with others, assess the power base of those who “hold the reigns”.
Then, question whether you really need the “attention, respect, security, approval, money or whatever these ‘powerholders’ are offering you.”
In making such challenges, the authors believe you will be making a firm commitment to escape a system of mind control if and when it is ever possible.
Although the authors of the paper do mention that becoming obsessively critical or suspicious of others would be dysfunctional. In critically evaluating every situation, from teachers, doctors to our own family and friends – and watching for elements of mind control – surely it would lead to becoming ultra-paranoid and socially defunct wrecks!
What is interesting about this report is the fact that even though it was written in 1979, very little has changed in the multi-faceted and highly psychological world of advertising and marketing when it comes to “mind control”.
Of course, the truly effective techniques to resist letting others control our thoughts and actions remain as ambiguous as ever.