Written by Daniel Greenfield
We often talk about a culture war, but we don't usually talk about what that means beyond protests over movies and art exhibits.
Culture is programming. The culture war is a programming conflict. Ideas are code. They're viruses. They're memes.
Our form of code is communication. A man alone isn't an island, he's one of those feral wolf children that sometimes turn up in abusive households or backward countries. And those children are never fully human because they are missing something basic. They have never been shaped by talking with another member of their species.
The communication that we engage in, through reading and talking, comes to define who we are. It programs us with concepts and ideas, which we bash up against other concepts and ideas, both very sophisticated and very simple.
Brainwashing is the hostile takeover of a human mind. The most effective way to brainwash someone is to take a lonely individual and embed him into a peer group which bombards him or her with love and acceptance that is conditional on accepting an idea or belief.
That is how cults do it and it works frighteningly well. Governments attempt to replicate it on a national scale, but it never works as well as it does in a compartmentalized cult or ideological cell. And as a history of Communist groups around the world shows, the two can be very hard to tell apart.
The second most effective way is to take that individual and place him at the disposal of people who have complete control over him. This is how police extract false confessions on a regular basis, sometimes even without meaning to. And at the opposite end of the law enforcement scale, this is how Stockholm Syndrome works.
People adapt to the group. Unlike animals, we are verbal creatures. We depend less on non-verbal signals for flocking behavior and more on direct communication to tell us where the group is going and what we are supposed to do to fit in with it. That is why controlling communication also means control of the group.
Cultural programming is a simple thing.
Like Pavlov's dogs, people are programmed through emotional control points. Empathy, guilt, love, hate, fear, pride, etc. Instead of associating a ringing bell with food, an idea, attitude or worldview is associated with a particular emotion or set of emotions.
Suppose you want to program your test subjects to hate guns. The simple way is to keep showing them dead kids and guns together. And that's something you can see on every television news hour. Children are a primal control point. It's a button that everyone overlays a message on. In this case, the message is that guns kill but government can keep you safe.
Programming isn't debating. Not in the conventional sense. It's about instilling responses that are emotional, even if the subject convinces himself that they are actually the result of his own careful consideration of an issue. Those responses then short circuit any more reasoned approaches with an emotional response overlaid with a 'shortcut' message.
A 'shortcut' message is code. It encompasses a larger idea in an easily accessible form. Think of it as an anti-virus program for the meme. Once the meme has been implanted, it's used to defend against any competing ideas. An anti-gun meme might be, "Do we care about kids or about guns?" while a pro-gun meme might be, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."
People have open idea receptors. The meme's goal is to flip those receptors from open to closed by bonding with the idea receptors. From, "I want to learn more about this" to "I already know what I think and this is it and I don't want to hear any more about it except if it reinforces my beliefs."
The goal of cultural programming is to create an automatic response system for a set of ideas that operates below the conscious level. This is the automatic response system that we farm out work to that we don't want to waste time consciously dealing with. It's a sub-program running on the mind that we have conscious control over, but, like viruses on a computer, whose existence we are not always aware of. The task of a cult deprogrammer lies in removing all these subprograms, these automatic responses, to free the person within by engaging their core emotions and intellect.
If you have ever tried to win an argument with someone who fundamentally disagrees with you, only to realize that it is going nowhere, the reason is because you are spending as much time arguing with his sub-programs as you are with him. Eventually both of your sub-programs argue with each other and it becomes a festival of cliches. Deprogrammers, police interrogators and other people in a line of work that requires them to get past automatic responses focus on engaging the core person through their emotions while bypassing the sub-programs as much as possible.
Sometimes these sub-programs are consciously programmed by us. We program ourselves to get up at a certain time. We program ourselves to avoid foods that are fattening. We program ourselves to like certain people that we dislike, and to our surprise it works if we are really serious about it. But we're not the only ones programming ourselves. We are also being programmed.
Culture is programming. The moment we link up to other people, we begin getting signals that trigger other signals. This is communication that eventually sets up automatic responses that become the sub-programs that run in the background. We learn to ignore certain people and pay attention to others. And the same goes for the ideas that they communicate.
Mass culture is the same thing, except much bigger. It's a mass group signal from something that isn't a group. NBC News is not a peer group, but its mass broadcasting power makes it seem like one. Lean Forward is flocking information. So is Forward! even if it is, lemming-style, over a cliff. People automate enough of their behavior so that they can be programmed to do stupid and evil things.
People have murdered babies while following orders. They have jumped off cliffs while undergoing training teaching them to obey unquestioningly. Once the sub-programs run, you can build your own army of suicide bombers programmed to go off when they are told to, even if the programming code is in an ancient book known as the Koran. Once you convince an individual to outsource the decision making to a subprogram that is programmed by an outside authority, then you have something that begins to resemble a killer robot that is aware of what it is doing, but does not feel entirely in control of it..
Mass culture however is a slightly different kind of programming. Its form of communication is the ancient one of the narrative.
Human beings are natural storytellers. We tell and receive stories, both real and fictional, and respond emotionally to them. The basic story has a protagonist who seeks to accomplish a worthwhile goal and an antagonist who seeks to prevent him from accomplishing that goal. Mass culture programs people by providing narratives in which the protagonist mirrors its goals while the antagonist has the goals of an opposing philosophy.
Narrative is how we identify with others. The stories that other people tell us enable us to form deeper bonds with them. Mass culture programs ideas by maximizing identification with the hero of the story and by extension with his ideas using existing archetypes.
The plucky underdog struggles against the powerful evil man is a theme that most people can identify with. In mass culture, the plucky underdog becomes an environmental crusader fighting an evil corporation. But to flip things around, he can just as easily be an inventor with a brilliant new technology fighting the EPA. It's the same story with different masks and the choice of masks reveals the agenda of the programmers.
Programming associates the archetype with the idea until the idea becomes shorthand for the archetype so that when we think plucky hero, we think environmentalist or social justice crusader. And while we may not think that way, a generation of teenagers has grown up with that archetype. Association is one of those sub-programs that runs in the background, sorting and classifying items according to their perceived relevance. Manipulating associations is one of the simplest forms of programming.
The narrative forms the personal and tribal identity. It tells us who we are individually and as a group. When media types talk about "Explaining America to itself", they mean using mass media to define tribal identity through narrative. Their choice of narrative is meant to form specific associations. Run enough stories about America's racism and that becomes the association. Run enough stories about America at war and we become a nation of soldiers.
Associations alone do not brainwash an individual. What they really do is shift his affinities. That is what advertisers do with commercials, which don't immediately convince customers to buy a brand, but build up positive associations with that brand so that when you think of Coca Cola, you think of Santa and polar bears and traditional Americana, or modernism, new generation and fun when you think of Pepsi. But ideologies are after bigger things than just influencing your preferences.
Affinity shifting prepares people for brainwashing by making them receptive to the actual ideology. It breaks down their boundaries and opens their minds to a more complete program. A trojan in a computer just opens the door for other malicious programs to get in and take over. The goal of any ideology is to open a door. Once the door is open, by any means, a lot of other things can come inside.
True brainwashing goes beyond just running sub-programs. Its goal is total identity reprogramming. Identity reprogramming means that the individual must adopt a new identity that is based on the ideology so that the individual and the ideology are inseparable and the identification is so total that the individual becomes willing to die for the ideology. Then the individual is no longer running "Communism" sub-programs covering a set of responses to domestic repression and foreign capitalism, but he has achieved total identification and has actually become "Communism".
Before this can happen, the sub-programs must begin running linking his emotions to automatic responses. People program most naturally in response to personal experience. A liberal is a conservative who got a drug test. A conservative is a liberal who got mugged. The association generates new sub-programs. Conservatives are associated with authoritarianism. Liberals are associated with crime. Arguments between the two are handled by sub-programs running on the emotions generated by the original experience so that the experience has become the ideology.
Radicalization is the process by which the sub-programs become the program and the individual experience becomes the generalized collective experience of the group. The radical leader embodies the ideology with his ego. The radical follower subsumes his ego into the ideology. The two are no longer responding to the ideology as a function of their individual or group interests. The ideology is now the group and there are no more individual interests. There is only the program whose perfection of purpose will achieve all their goals in some unspecified way.
Purity of purpose is the difference between the program and the sub-program. Sub-programs are never pure of purpose. They are subservient to the individual and the group. Programs are the pure purpose. They are subservient to nothing. Not even the death of the people running them.
The sub-programs become the program as they take more and more of the core functions of the program.
The core functions are how we do things and why. The sub-programs allow us to cope with the external. The core programs are the motivations for the things that we do. Sub-programs automate existing motivations and associate them with ideas.
An environmental sub-program tells us we should vote for Democrats to avoid being killed by pollutants, taking an existing motivation, the avoidance of harm, and linking it to an idea. An environmental program however tells us that we should die sooner to avoid being a burden on the planet. This reprograms a natural motivation, survival, and replaces it with a new group motivation that is suicidal, on individual terms, and even for the species, but that runs on hijacked emotions.
A programmed person does not own his emotions and therefore he does not own his motivations. The program decides what he will feel and in response to what. The program can make death seem beautiful and self-defense seem horrible. It can make children seem vile and the murder of children an act of empowerment.
At the start, the program runs by associating a person's interests with its goals. By the end, the person is utterly incapable of identifying or defending his own interests and the emotions once associated with his interests are welded to the program's goals.
Collectivism occurs when mass culture hijacks group communications. By transforming group identity through programming, mass culture can promote any number of horrors from genocide to mass suicide. People can be taught to kill themselves for the survival of the group ideology. Martyrdom being the idea so compelling that people will die for it.
Collectivism offers the individual immortality and transcendence through the destruction of the self. By accepting the program, the individual becomes more than the self, he becomes the group. With the program he transcends his flaws and takes on the imagined strengths of the collective. His identification with the group is so total that he does not fear death. As Muslim terrorists chant, "You love life, we love death."
The ideology is not truly the group, it is an idealized version of the group that becomes a substitute for the group, even to the point of a willingness to destroy the group for its idealized version. Think of Japan in WW2 or Western liberals today who care more about the moral high ground than national survival. The idealized group is so transcendent because it is elevated above all individual and group limitations. It is impossibly perfect and destined to fail.
By hijacking group messaging, mass culture falsely conflates the ideology with group welfare and survival, so that, for example, being American comes to mean following international laws of war, supporting immigration and international democracy, when it really has nothing to do with any of this. But by associating America with a set of values, in the hope that those values then come to be shorthand for America, the absence of those values then comes to be defined as the death of America. Those values become the things that we would rather let America die than allow it to abandon.
Programs like these penetrate trojan style, by pretending to be something that they are not. Educational systems disguise Liberalism as Americanism. The ideology gets inside by pretending to represent the group. Ideological programming is conflated with group flocking behavior. Once a sub-program begins running, then group interests become overwritten by ideological agendas. That is what happened to many minority groups in America, including the Jews.
The left has always excelled at using cultural technology like this in its culture wars. It studies the mechanics of how people can be convinced of something with far more intense interest than any car salesman. It is not interested in winning the debate, but in rigging the debate. It does not want to convince you that it is right, but to change you into the sort of person who innately understands that it is right.
It is trying to program you. It has been doing so since you were born. It will go on doing it every time you turn on the television or set foot in a movie theater. It will do it through your interactions with those who are already running its programs or sub-programs. It will target you demographically, by race, sex, income level, regional area and so on and so forth. It will combine all the information it has about you with all the information about what types of arguments will work best on someone like you and it will hit you with them over and over again.
This election was a warm up. For the first time, the left had the backing, money, power, expertise and technology to really do what it has always wanted to do in this country. And it worked. The left is not any good at policy, but it is very good at controlling people. Like the world's worst car company, they can't make a car that works, but they have a hell of a sales staff.
We are in a culture war and that means it is time to understand the nature of that conflict. For the left, American identity and any other kind of identity, just scroll through the many options on the rainbow coalition of the Obama campaign site, is a program to be overwritten by their program using their cultural technology. Resisting that effort requires awareness and learning to use those same tools to fight back by spreading awareness, building mental anti-virus programs to fight infection and virus programs that attack the mental programs and sub-programs of the left.