Packard prefaced his chapter on politics with an unsettling quote from the British economist Kenneth Boulding: ‘A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government.’ Could this really happen, and, if so, how would it work?
he forces that Packard described have become more pervasive over the decades.
But what would happen if new sources of control began to emerge that had little or no competition?
And what if new means of control were developed that were far more powerful – and far more – than any that have existed in the past?
Packard had uncovered a much bigger problem, however – namely that powerful corporations were constantly looking for, and in many cases already applying, a wide variety of techniques for controlling people without their knowledge.
He described a kind of cabal in which marketers worked closely with social scientists to determine, among other things, how to get people to buy things they didn’t need and how to condition young children to be good consumers – inclinations that were explicitly nurtured and trained in Huxley’s .
How it does so is one of the best-kept secrets in the world, like the formula for Coca-Cola To understand how the new forms of mind control work, we need to start by looking at the search engine – one in particular: the biggest and best of them all, namely Google.
In 1958, propelled by public concern about a theatre in New Jersey that had supposedly hidden messages in a movie to increase ice cream sales, the National Association of Broadcasters – the association that set standards for US television – amended its code to prohibit the use of subliminal messages in broadcasting.
In 1974, the Federal Communications Commission opined that the use of such messages was ‘contrary to the public interest’.
But in the non-fiction bestseller (1957) – recently released in a 50th-anniversary edition – the American journalist Vance Packard described a ‘strange and rather exotic’ type of influence that was rapidly emerging in the United States and that was, in a way, more threatening than the fictional types of control pictured in the novels.
According to Packard, US corporate executives and politicians were beginning to use subtle and, in many cases, or what Packard called ‘subthreshold effects’ – the presentation of short messages that tell us what to do but that are flashed so briefly we aren’t aware we have seen them.