We are manipulated through ingenious corporate strategies using the latest techniques in advertising and psychology to desire certain products or services. Although propaganda is as ancient as civilization itself, it has taken on a new force with the ubiquitous power of modern technology. This enhanced form of reality manipulation is used to influence us regarding the most trivial to the most momentous situations, and these persuasive techniques have far-reaching effects on the human condition.
To illustrate the trivial, I go into Starbucks or a similar coffee shop to order my usual black Americano coffee. As I stand at the counter, I am eye level with a wraparound display of enticing, delicious, scrumptious, appealing cakes, pastries, and croissants, which not only look lovely but also have a delectable “fresh-baked” aroma.
Am I tempted? For sure I am. So there I am standing there with my mouth watering, considering adding a luscious cake to my order, until the inevitable and always innocently put question by the counter person: “Would you like anything more?” I think, “Here we go again.” If only they had said nothing, maybe I would have ordered a cake, so I brusquely reply, “No, thank you. Just the coffee.” This kind of selling technique is a bit too Pavlovian for my taste.
Small, pocket-size products in their shiny and colorful packaging are always on display at the supermarket check-out counter. It is just another way, albeit passively, to manipulate our reality. Language is also part of this. When you see platitudes along the lines of “we are here to help you” and “we are here to serve you,” these cynical statements actually mean “we are here to make it easy for you to spend your money.”
The Battle We All Face
This is the battle we all face, to be strong and prevent another person or organization from distorting, twisting, and negating our experience, to be certain of our own reality. This struggle is ubiquitous and takes place on a social, a national, and a personal scale. As an example of manipulation that has grave and consequential repercussions, this harrowing sentiment was expressed at the Nuremburg war crime trials by Herman Goering. He is one of the most reviled and detested figures of the twentieth century, a man who was involved in the most abominable example of genocide in human history. He said:
Naturally the common people don’t want war, neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country. [Nuremberg Diary by G. M. Gilbert]
What he said remains to this day lamentably valid, and the fact that this was expressed by Goering should make us all feel very uneasy indeed. You only have to look at the never-ending War on Terror or the Iraq war to unseat Saddam Hussein because he possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). We were told unequivocally that his WMD could be deployed within forty-five minutes and were aimed at European countries.
All these claims were subsequently proven to be a misrepresentation of the facts, in fact, bare-faced lies. Yet this type of gross deception goes on and on, just the names of the countries change. However, if this approach fails, there is always the well-trod tirade, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” This was taken to new and dazzling heights by George W. Bush: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
This statement and its insidious variations force people into a nonnegotiable position. If you are not “with us,” you are, by definition, an enemy. No room is allowed to accommodate a neutral, unaligned, or disinterested position. This is an example of gangster-style, brute-force reality distortion and manipulation. You are put in a position in which you have no discretion to choose; you must think and act in a certain way; otherwise, your goose is going to be cooked.
The Manipulation Occurs At Every Level
We have been effectively conditioned to believe that our bodies are not right. We have been convinced, for example, that something is fundamentally wrong with our natural human body odor. Hundreds of millions of people deal with their perspiring armpit situation by spraying antiperspirants or applying roll-on products, many of which contain toxic substances such as aluminum. And by the way, this toxic metal is increasingly regarded as a causal factor in dementia.
In this “there is something wrong about you” paradigm, our very identity, our gender is also a target. Intimate feminine deodorants often marketed with wonderful names evoking freedom, spiritual liberation, and magical sojourns in tropical paradises have been around for a long time. Even my testicles are also up for grabs, so to speak, with new products, one aptly named Fresh Balls. The deodorant trade is valued annually at billions of U.S. dollars, and they have successfully executed a phenomenal and indeed masterful act in the manipulation of our reality.
Conformity in Group Situations
In 1951, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments in social psychology about conformity in group situations. These experiments were set up to investigate how social pressure could influence an individual to conform to a group. While most of the group knew this to be the purpose, one participant did not, and in fact that person understood that the purpose was to test visual abilities.
The group was asked to determine the lengths of lines of differing sizes. The participants who were “in” on the purpose unanimously gave the wrong answers to the tests, leaving the sole uninformed participant in a quandary. Eventually doubting the evidence of his own eyes and his cognitive faculty, he sided with the majority. Ask yourself this question: Do I go along with the majority, or do I trust the evidence of my own eyes? It is something worth considering.
I have been giving both trivial and nontrivial examples because it is all a part of the same cloth. The perfidious doctrine of original sin, one of the foundational myths of Christendom, states that we are born bad, unacceptable, and undesirable; it provides the fabric into which all of these manipulative threads are woven. It is the legendary poison chalice that we have collectively drunk from.
Copyright 2017 by Howard G. Charing. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Destiny Books,
a division of InnerTraditions Intl. www.innertraditions.com
The Accidental Shaman: Journeys with Plant Teachers and Other Spirit Allies
by Howard G. Charing
Sharing profound teachings and extraordinary experiences from his more than 30 years of shamanic healing work, Howard Charing explains how he accidentally became a shaman and completely changed the course of his life. He describes his work with plant spirits, entheogens such as ayahuasca, and indigenous shamans during his 20 years of fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon, including his studies with the late visionary artist Pablo Amaringo. Investigating altered states of perception, he provides visionary techniques for exploring non-ordinary reality, exercises for expanding sensory perception, and practices to open your creative artistic visionary potential.
About the Author
Howard G. Charing is a director of the Eagle Wing’s Centre for Contemporary Shamanism and has taught at Dr. Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies. He holds workshops internationally and in addition runs Plant Medicine Retreats in the Peruvian Amazon. He lives in England and Peru. His books are; Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA) 2006, The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo (Inner Traditions USA) 2011, and The Accidental Shaman (Destiny Books USA) 2017. He has written numerous articles that include original source field interviews of indigenous shamans. Howard’s personal website features his workshop program, his visionary art, and a solid selection of articles and interviews. For more info, visit www.shamanism.co.uk/