DID I BUY THAT?
The election of Richard Nixon was an outcome of the liberal and radical movements’ reluctance to become active in all things traditional – including electoral politics. However, the Republican administration’s “Law and Order” policies spelled the end of most liberal and student activist movements in America. As the government started taking a hard line against any attempts to change the status quo, more and more hippies, student activists, and middle class liberals started turning inward through communes, cults, and fundamentalist organizations of all kinds. The Esalen Institute, a psychotherapeutic retreat in northern California, became the Mecca for many of the New Age psychotherapists of the time. Esalen received much of its inspiration from the teachings of Freudian heretic Wilhelm Reich who was eventually imprisoned for fraudulent therapeutic practices.
Reich eventually died in prison but his legacy was carried on by one of his disciples, psychiatrist Fritz Perlz. Perlz and Reich believed that Freud’s system of sublimating the inner drives was anathema to one’s mental health. Perlz and his associates at Esalen felt that mental health would be accomplished by letting go of society’s strictures. This was accomplished through intensive encounter groups where the clients were encouraged to “release” their drives in the process of developing “free expression”. In 1971 a young entrepreneur named Werner Erhart developed the EST encounter groups based upon what he had observed of Esalen and some of its apostles. EST rapidly became a multi-billion dollar corporation which was helpful in identifying a market block from which the large corporations found a new concept for product development and advertising campaigns.
The social turmoil of the 1960s created a significant number of disaffected consumers. The discovery of the new “independent self” by the new psychoanalysts like Fritz Perlz and psychologists like Abraham Maslow (of the Self-Actualization Pyramid fame) gave advertisers a new approach to corporations. Instead of getting Americans to buy into the old dominant middle class culture, the new approach would be to appeal to the free expression of the “Inner Self”. The 1960s emphasis on social activism was no longer “in”. It was now about “me” and what I “need” to express my individualism. In 1978 the government funded the Stanford Research Institute to study this new “self expressive” movement. The scientists provided companies with categories of consumers called “Values and Lifestyles”. The study earned the Institute an award from Advertising Age as a major advertising breakthrough in getting a grasp of the changing American mindset. Ironically, the researchers found that in the public’s efforts to find their “inner” independence they were growing more docile and apathetic to their neighbor’s plights and more self-critical, thus making themselves open to well planned marketing campaigns.
Politicians were not oblivious to these studies and social pastimes. In fact, the Republican Party utilized much of these methods to develop a new rallying cry just a few years after the Watergate scandal. Ronald Reagan won the presidency by a landslide in 1980 by appealing to this new “independent”, “self” absorbed corner of the population. With the support of the business community the Republican Party went on to dominate American politics and philosophy over the next 2 decades in spite of repeated scandals and questionable military adventures all over the globe. The era saw an ever widening gap between rich and poor, and a steady decrease in real income for the average American worker.
Over the years the corporations, politicians, and their social scientists told us that we “deserved” to have the best that the “American Dream” had to offer and we bought the pitch with ready credit at usurious interest rates. The less fortunate only had themselves to blame if they were unable to achieve these goals. We are now reaping the whirlwind of this philosophy. It is that this economic downturn will help us to absorb the other side of Freud’s theory which emphasized that no amount of money or possessions will ever make us happy and that true happiness comes from those things that made us happy in early childhood: loving and being loved.
Social psychology has shown us that the human mind can be manipulated in so many ways, especially under various authoritative and group influences. During the golden years of the Reagan administration extensive cuts were made in the government funding of mental health programs while politicians and big businesses increased their investments into psychological “treatment” for their PR and marketing departments. They have benefited from psychological services. In these times of financial difficulty and “jobless recovery” it is important that those affected by predatory lending and deregulated business practices seek help to cope with emotional impact of it all.
In an interview in his later years Sigmund Freud was asked about his nephew, Edward Bernays. His response was indicative of his feelings about the American materialistic way of life. He described Edward as “an honest boy when I knew him. I know not how far he has become Americanized.” Bernays’ daughter described her father, in later years, as something of a haughty man who regarded the masses of American people as “stupid” and easily manipulated.
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Tony VanSluytman - the Author
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Tony VanSluytman - the Author
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