How Corporations Influence You and Control Your Actions
Your mind is the battlefield. Be its commander, not its soldier.
I orignally wrote and posted this article in 2021. I’m reposting it here on Substack. Enjoy!
In the movie Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio and his team work by placing thoughts and ideas into influential people. Have you ever had a idea suddenly pop up in your head? If so, you might be a influential person.
Think back to when you’re going through your day, and boom — a crazy, completely random idea enters your mind. It’s frustrating and completely throws off your routine. You’re not alone. The worse part is that the thought seems to linger before disappearing — the inception.
We all have thoughts that come in out of left field and throw off everything. Whether you’re trying to study, or trying to focus, the IG post you saw yesterday or the article you just read, randomly comes to mind that’s doesn’t have anything to do with you.
These “inceptions” are the effects of what’s known as propaganda. Propaganda is “telling people what to think.” The act of thinking happens in the brain, which is made up of three separate brains:
Human Brain: This is the only part of your brain that’s you consciously control. It oversees all logical thought process.
Mammalian Brain: This is the first half of your subconscious. It oversees all emotional attachments. This is the largest brain.
Lizard Brain: This is the second half of your subconscious. It oversees survival and reproduction.
And that’s why propaganda is so dangerous — it doesn’t appeal to your logical mind; it appeals to your feelings, the language of your subconscious, the driver of 90% of the actions you take. By doing this, propaganda influences you to have certain thoughts that it placed there. These thoughts lead to actions like impulse buys, and before you know, you have new shoes everywhere.
The good news is that these aren’t your thoughts, and since they’re not, you can use this piece of information to form a solution. Identifying these thoughts and evaluating them stops the propaganda before it takes place.
The first step is understanding what propaganda, or inception looks like.
The Creator of the Propaganda Machine
To grasp propaganda, you need to know the man who made it famous: Edward Bernays.
Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud — the father of modern psychology — understood psychology and the working of the human minds, but more significantly, what made them tick.
If you want to go full-blown conspiracy, Bernays happens to be the grand-uncle of Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix. Talk about a first-class ticket to people’s subconscious.
Bernays effectively used propaganda to help companies sell products by appealing to the consumer’s wants and desires. How did cigarettes become so profitable? Thank Bernays. JC Penny, Sears, and other major retail giants? Thank Bernays. “You don’t need a new dress — you want a new dress because you know it’ll make you look good.” By using psychology techniques to appeal to the subconscious, Bernays and companies have been influencing consumers for years.
As with Bernays, Netflix has been keen on influencing the masses as well. Two examples include the R. Kelly trial and the orcas at SeaWorld. Both movements were driven by Netflix documentaries. After numerous years, R. Kelly went to jail, and SeaWorld had to change its policies. This shows the power of the propaganda machine, not just to increase sales but also to start a revolution.
Now that you know the history and have examples, let’s see how it affects you.
Propaganda, Propaganda, all that matters is Propaganda
You’ve encountered propaganda today, and had no idea. If you look at your favorite TV shows or music, you’ll see that some kind of product is being pushed. And it doesn’t have to be a physical product — it can be a narrative, a lifestyle, a way to look at the world.
We identify with certain celebrities, actors, politicians, and we see ourselves in them. So when they take stances or make statements, that leads you to take a similar perspective. Everything in our society has some form of propaganda because propaganda is very rewarding, especially to companies, industries, and countries.
What makes propaganda so dangerous is that when it’s properly executed (which is often), you, the target, think those thoughts as if they were yours, and then transform them into actions. “Yes, I want to buy a new purse.” “I should get a new car.”
Lastly, all propaganda has elements of truth in it. If it was an outright lie, you would automatically dismiss it. But with that truth, it bypasses your logic brain and enters into the emotional brain. When you take everything that propaganda does, you have:
Propaganda shapes your views on factual events taking place in the world
Propaganda convinces you the thoughts you have are yours
Propaganda persuades you towards one direct path
By now, you know the history of propaganda, how it affects you, and what makes it so dangerous. Now, we’ll discuss how to arm yourself against it.
You should’ve realized that Netflix isn’t the only propaganda machine out there. Every company with a marketing department is using propaganda techniques to capture you as a potential customer. But, as we said before, it’s not just companies. For generations, rulers, shamans, and politicians have been telling you what to think. The technology is a lot better now.
The first step to break this cycle is to step back. Whether it’s the news or a social media post, before responding or engaging, take a step back and ask yourself “how well informed are you on the particular subject?” This forces you to address what you know and don’t know. If you can’t speak to the counterargument, then you’ve been exposed to propaganda by one side and face a bias that makes you more likely to be swayed one way versus another. So it’s important to take a step back.
The second step to overcoming propaganda is to pay attention to the message being delivered. You may or may not know everything about the topic being shared, but you should expect whoever is sharing the topic to present a thorough argument. When attentive, you pick up on what angle the messenger is coming from. The more you’re actively engaged, the clearer you see the direction that the messenger is trying to take you.
The final step is to evaluate yourself. Remember, propaganda is here to move you towards a goal that it wants for you. So ask yourself, is this a goal that you want for yourself? Have you previously thought about this? If not, then you can easily flag that thought as a propagandist idea.
As the poem goes, “I am the master of my ship — the Captain of my soul,” by constantly stopping to pause, think and evaluate yourself, you ensure that you stay in control of your mental ship rather than relinquishing control.
Propaganda is all around us. Unfortunately, not many in the general population are aware of this age-old trick. But now you are. You’ve been informed against it, and you know that at the end of the day, propaganda wants to you to do its bidding. The question is, will you?
Once you realize that everyone is trying to get you to think how they want you to, you realize how truly influential you are. You then have two choices: blindly act and let your body take the wheel — or take a minute, ask yourself, “why am I doing this?”
That small moment to pause, breathe and reassess, ensures that you stay in control of your actions — and your life.
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Loved this article, thank you for your insight. At the end, you request feedback on errors or typos. I think there is a typo in the 1st paragraph, last sentence. 'If so, you might be a influential person.' Should that read "If so, you might be AN influential person.'? I don't mean to be picky. This really is a fantastic article. Take care.