Social Engineering: Good or Evil?

“This love of facts translated to an engineering approach to public relations, what Fleischman and Bernays called the “engineering of consent.” A husband and wife team who began a successful public relations firm together in the 1920s, Bernays and Fleischman argued that consent engineering could take place via communication technologies, particularly newspapers and radio. Their use would be guided by the facts gathered from the emerging social and psychological sciences to understand and target “the group mind.” With “the aid of technicians . . . of communication” deploying the cutting edge, social scientific data collection and analysis techniques of the day — e.g., polls, surveys, interviews, and statistics — they believed that political leaders would be able to achieve the engineering of consent for their programs and to do so “scientifically.” Knowledge of the group mind would allow consent engineers to move beyond the techniques of “the old-fashioned propagandist,” who was not versed in science, to control crowds through systematic engineering.

Like Lee, Bernays cautioned that we must recognize that the emerging tools and techniques of mass communication could be used for good or evil, to promote or to subvert democracy, and that, as a result, “mastering the techniques of communication” for promoting socially constructive ends would be necessary for the maintenance of democratic societies. If done right, the consent engineers can become an “invisible government . . . the true ruling power of our country.”

This is not a topic exclusive to left or right – Noam Chomsky is famous for his work, based on Bernays’ book, “Manufacturing Consent.”

This is a BROAD subject, on which much could be said, and I will likely for that reason, revisit it, but for now, some questions:

  • To what extent are we being socially engineered?
  • Is social engineering a worthy endeavor or an inappropriate intrusion?
  • Given the power, can elites be trusted to only engineer society for the good, eschewing any personal financial or ideological interests?
  • Are any human beings or group of them capable of determining what is “right” for society?
  • Should society be guided by “elites” or organically by the populace?

R&I –  relegated to old news (6/29) – TP


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