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Victims of our own propaganda: cradle life, mother herd, and the pleasure principle

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This article examines the roots of propaganda in social, political, and economic life, and the unconscious. I describe how Freud's nephew, Edward Bernays, led international developments in the use of propaganda in peacetime, based on his American experience during World War I. In 1929, his "Torches of Freedom" March, used Freud's work on unconscious symbolism, to create a practical paradigm that would exploit unconscious associations and establish leadership of a mindless mass following for marketing purposes (Curtis, 2002). I argue that the power of Bernays' propaganda methods is additionally founded in its exploitation of sensory communications which resonate unconsciously with the protomental roots of early experience which endure into adulthood. I suggest that an easily led, herdlike and infantile mentality results, characterised by blind loyalty and the absence of a moral sense (Bion, 1961; Freud, 1921c; Trotter, 1916). Propaganda techniques are being used successfully today to win the "war of spin" over the status of evidence on the existential threat to planet earth created by the Anthropocene epoch. I argue that the seductive power of such propaganda unconsciously evokes cradle life, with the accompanying survival and dependency needs of belonging to a "mother herd".


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2023

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  • Organisational and Social Dynamics is a forum for the publication of theoretical and applied papers that are relevant and accessible to an international readership; and, one where writers from psychoanalytic, group relations, and systems perspectives can address emerging issues in organisations and societies throughout the world.

    It aims to sustain a creative tension between scientific rigour and popular appeal, both developing conversations with the professional and social scientific world and opening up these conversations to practitioners and reflective citizens everywhere. We wish to attract manuscripts from contributors who are aware of their own values, suppositions and assumptions, the influence of counter-transference in their work, whatever form it takes, and the ability to connect the internal world of individuals and groups with societal and global processes.
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