The Trick

“Something new is radically afoot. What this means is that the success of your brand depends upon a cultural consensus about its worth. It is no longer possible to control the information the public has about you. Even if you are successful in keeping discrepant information out of the papers, you cannot keep it off the internet. The trick here is to influence consciousness without the ability to censor or control it” (Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson, The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes, p. 157).

Read any book on contemporary branding praxis, or propaganda, and the concern with “power” and effective power — the power “to influence consciousness” — is the dominant issue — The Power of Archetypes, or Frank Delano’s The Omnipowerful Brand, for example. This concern with power — with getting it, holding it, exercising it — is associated with the magical structure of consciousness, and is the issue of what Algis Mickunas calls “technocratic shamanism”. “Dark power”, as we might call it, was the issue of Vance Packard’s famous book The Hidden Persuaders, (1957). Packard had a follow-up book, published in 1977, called The People Shapers, (which I’ve ordered, but which hasn’t arrived yet). “People shaping” is the aim of this power.

Being an avid student of the origins, history, and evolution of human consciousness, I take an equally avid interest in those who try to “influence” that evolution, and guide it in certain directions — whether they be parents, shamans, prophets, philosophers, artists, mystics, gurus, teachers, scientists, politicians, mass marketers, or propagandists and so on. Few of them question their own assumptions about what awareness is or what it means to be aware, but all of them are, in some way or another, involved in influencing consciousness. In fact, we’re all involved in this, in some way or another — even in gossiping — the cumulative effect of it all resulting in a veritable Tower of Babel.

Different cultures have developed different protocols and ethics about what is and what is not permissible in influencing consciousness. Socrates, the exemplar of the mental consciousness, was condemned and executed for “corrupting the morals of youth” — those of the mythic consciousness. The mythical consciousness, on the other hand, specifies that “thou shall not suffer a witch to live”. An extremely interesting episode in early Christianity is the contest between the sorcerer Simon Magus and the early Church (all subsequent “heresies” in the Church were attributed to the influence of Simon Magus, who even has a sin named after him — that of “simony”). Simon Magus may well be the precedent for the figure of the magician Klingsor in the Parsifal legend. Simon Magus may also be the forerunner of our contemporary “brandmeisters”. (It’s something I’ll have to spend some time looking into).

Influencing consciousness is what we mean by the word “persuasion”, and there were certain rules and protocols in the Modern Era, largely influenced by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, for this persuasion called “rational discourse”. The proper construction of premises and syllogisms, the process of constructing argument and conducting debate — the dialogical method, as it were. Trust between speaker and listener was a result of a mutual agreement to follow and respect certain rules and protocols, sometimes formalised as in “Robert’s Rules of Order”.

The different structures of consciousness also have different protocols for turning wish into command: the magical structure relies on the chant or spell-casting, the mythical structure on prayer, the mental-rational structure on petition. These different styles or protocols for achieving a certain outcome are certain indicators to different structures of consciousness. Chant, prayer, and petition have a certain affinity in that regard within which lies a common intent. In various proportions and degrees, magic, myth, and mentation are implied in all of them because grammar itself contains and retains elements of magic, myth, and mentation. As noted earlier, the earliest use of the word “technology” was in relation to the study of grammar, meaning, and the power of naming, while grammar itself had even earlier associations with magic and spell-casting. These all remain discernible elements in grammatical, articulating speech and as “propriety”.

Structures of consciousness are largely grammatical patterns, and the history and evolution of consciousness is still imprinted in the patterns of grammatical speech, which is why Gebser refers to “the grammatical mirror” and Rosenstock-Huessy developed his “grammatical method” to supplant the Cartesian one. Changes in consciousness are mirrored in shifts in speech patterns, and in the meaning of key words and the sense of “propriety”. And one of those current shifts is in the meaning of the word “persuasion”.

The model of persuasion by reasoning is Socrates and Socratic dialectic — the method of respectful question and answer, which is dialogical. For Socrates, thinking was largely a public affair, a process of speaking and listening in turns. It’s the model of the “public conversation” and discourse. It follows shared logic and shared protocols. The interlocutors in the dialogue are united by their desire to achieve a common clarity and agreement.

This model of “persuasion” has become obsolete at least since the First World War, and most especially after the Second World War. By and large, it no longer follows the rules and protocols of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. Instead of the respectful Socratic dialectic of question and answer, of speaking and listening, “persuasion” has morphed into the abstract “behavioural” dialectic of stimulus and response — a purely mechanical and technocratic process. “Persuasion” is no longer about constructing valid or logical arguments for purposes of reaching a common truth, but of engineering certain stimuli or conditions in order to elicit a desired pre-planned and pre-patterned response, which is properly speaking “behavioural engineering”. What has particularly alarmed observers and critics of Late Modern or post-modern society is that “persuasion”, at least since the First World War and the development of a “science” of propaganda, has almost nothing to do with reasoning, or with following the proper protocols for “influencing consciousness”. It has become a technology of political and social control which utterly avoids reasoning and eschews dialogue. It is, in effect, a monologue.

This is, as Gebser points out, the mental consciousness structure now functioning in “deficient mode”, the mode called “technocratic shamanism”, because “persuasion” by the deployment of a technique or technology, in order to gain power over something, belongs to magic, particularly the deficient form of magic that Gebser called “sorcery”, which does not seek dialogue with man or nature, but command and control. In fact, it’s probably more properly called “necromancy” because it is hidden and proceeds in darkness.

So, that brings us again to “marketing 3.0” or capitalism 3.0 and to the question of “the trick for influencing consciousness” in a time when, apparently, the old methods of “censorship” and “control” (ie “perception management”) seem to have become ineffective or to produce unsatisfactory and unreliable outcomes for the “Magician”, that is, the brand master. What’s the new “trick” of persuasion if the old methods associated with marketing 1.0 and 2.0 — the censoring and control of consciousness and perception — have been, essentially, over-exposed? What new “trick” can be devised to, in essence, achieve the exact same outcome as before — to lock consciousness into “branded behaviours” and pre-determined patterns of consumption called “brand loyalty”?

Well, the seeming consensus about “marketing 3.0” is that branding must now evolve its strategy from regulating “perception” to the making, manufacture, and marketing of meaning — consequently, from selling a “way of life” to selling a “reason for being”. And your reason for being is, essentially, to consume not so much goods and services, but to consume meaning and meanings, or otherwise to brand your dreams and then sell them back to you as brand meanings.

This drives into something more fundamental than “perception management”, although certainly this is still involved in marketing 3.0. This attempts to manipulate the intentionality of consciousness that is more implicit in the act of perception, and with that we are in the realm of magic and sorcery, because it is intent or intentionality that is involved in the placebo or nocebo effects. Technocratic shamanism is the shaping of intent for the purpose of causing a desired response — “branded behaviours”.

And you can’t rely on government to reign this in, either. Governments are partners in this because they have an interest in promoting a consumer driven economy. Governments rely on advertising and public relations to keep the machinery of production and consumption running. And in some very real ways, marketing 3.0 represents the ultimate profanation or hubris — the commodification of religion, and not just “religion” so much as the commodification of the soul. What otherwise does it mean to turn Jung’s “archetypes” into “brand images”, “brand identities”, and “brand personalities”?

There is also another issue. In order for technocratic shamanism to be effective, it must rely on a “group consciousness” or “groupthink” — a cultural consensus or shared belief system. Since magic relies on suggestion and auto-suggestion, not logic or reason, it is only effective where there is a kind of tribal consciousness. As Gebser pointed out, the Aztec sorcerers were ineffective against the Spanish conquistadores, who did not share the group consciousness of the Mesoamerica civilisations, being more “individuated”. This need for a “cultural consensus” in order for technocratic shamanism to be effective (Mickunas calls that “the conditions”, the circumstances) is what is implied in that sense from the quote above: “What this means is that the success of your brand depends upon a cultural consensus about its worth”. So, the “trick” lies, then, in how to create this “cultural consensus” in order for the magician to accomplish his magic. This is the proper task of what Mark and Pearson call “the manager of meaning” — the “Merlin” or archdruid of our time.

Can our presumptive regulators of “branded behaviours” through “management of meaning” pull that off? They seem certainly confident that they can. It’s their hubris in that respect that often rankles as you read their books. There is something of a precedent for it even in modern times — the fascist period. And Jean Gebser and Algis Mickunas were certainly concerned enough about it to pay some close attention to it. In any case, seeing what has happened to the meaning of “persuasion” over the course of the last century certainly seems to attest to Gebser’s observations about the breakdown of the mental-rational mode of consciousness (or Mary Settegast’s Mona Lisa’s Moustache: Making Sense of a Dissolving World). It’s precisely in such conditions of fragmentation and dissolution that the magical consciousness structure tends to assert itself as will to power.

There probably isn’t a single institution in Late Modernity in which the solitary individual can find sanctuary from the pressure towards this “groupthink” (which is the unhealthy aspect of tribalism). That is, in part, the message of Robert Twitchell’s Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megchurch, College, Inc, and Museumworld. They’ve all succumbed to the marketing or branding imperative — the manipulation of the image. I’ve already mentioned the contemporary schizophrenia of the universities. While the humanities teach logic and the proper construction of argument as the art of persuasion and as intellectual self-defence against propaganda and manipulation, another part of the university is teaching exactly the opposite — how to defeat logic and get around the shields we erect to protect the integrity of our consciousness against violation and invasion.  The devaluation of the humanities in our time is certainly cause for concern, but entirely symptomatic.

As for marketing 3.0. It may be a different fleece that the wolf is wearing. But it strikes me as being, still, the same old wolf.



2 responses to “The Trick”

  1. davidm58 says :

    This explains the success of Donald Trump, which the mainstream intellectual elite do not at all understand. I noticed, listening to National Public Radio (NPR), that after the Orlando shootings, they were regularly playing back the outrageous statements of Donald Trump,and pretty much ignoring the statements of Hillary (except in the context of what Trump said about her statements). NPR is constantly trying to analyze and contextualize Trump. They are trying to use reason to combat Trump, who is effectively using, as you say, “technology of political and social control which utterly avoids reasoning and eschews dialogue. It is, in effect, a monologue.”

  2. abdulmonem says :

    Sometime I ask my self who is the main benefiting party from such killing fiasco in order to widen the chasm and hatred between the Christian and the Moselm. Who will be harmed from any intimate relation between the moslem and the christian. Who are behind those fanatic who wrongfully call themselves religious. I think it is high time to study this phenomena in a wise scientific manner away from gossips and ill use of this recurrent and repeated events, in order to avoid misleading peoples instead of guiding them. I think we are living in a time that the voice of truth will not be silenced any more and will enter the outburst thundering mode to stop the ugly lie that has contaminated the human relation. I think also that the integral consciousness is the tongue of truth that is moving in that direction.

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