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Commentary :: Education
10 Strategies of Manipulation Revisited
21 Jan 2015
Sylvain Timsit shows how society is influenced and what information is deemed relevant. Since information always leads to perception and perception is the basis of all action, information also explains the social reality and the change of social reality. Society can be manipulated without a critical mass of people realizing this

How whole populations can be guided

By Jascha Jaworski

[This article published on 8/10/2013 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

A list of "10 Strategies of Manipulation" [1] circulates on the Internet. These are strategies for steering whole populations. Sylvain Timsit is named in several places. Elsewhere a search ends with the French-speaking interdisciplinary journal Les cahiers psychologie politique [2] and Noam Chomsky is wrongly identified as the author.

Whether the strategies were or were not originally meant satirically is not important to me. That the strategies seem relatively plain, plausible and empirically observable - with a little everyday distance - is more important. Those persons may agree who do not only rely on mainstream media with its fragmented selection of themes and abridged information bombardment.

Whoever does this and sees the world from the perspective of a liberal pluralism according to which there is no power center, no elite (essentially closed in the long-term) and no rule in society but many different groups of actors who exert their influence in a somewhat balanced way so those ideas prevail that correspond to the fundamental interests of the majority will probably reject the list.


The keyword here is "insignificance." Attention is a very limited resource. If a democratic society should be organized so relatively few profit while most others have to watch, the majority must be occupied with such things so they do not get in the way of particular interests. Such a state of diversion was attested by Juvenal of the Roman Republic under the term "bread and circuses." [3]

Whoever respects the choice of themes in TV, radio, newspaper and conversations of fellow persons should ask about the relevance of particular themes for one's life or the life of fellow persons by focusing on the conditions of long-term joy in existence (for example in the sense of Epicurus) and then examine how the relation of employment time/ attention expense to relevance for life may reveal a kind of "inversion" of things.

To make certain themes sensational, there are special offers in the supermarket, tables of favorite teams, love affairs of the prominent, name curiosity of the neighbor child, advantages of medium-fat compared to normal margarine and so forth vs. dismantling civil rights, torture and threatened mass murder and secret wars [4] through western "models," anchoring war, racism and precariousness in normality as well as falsification of causes of war [5] and promotion of crises [6] through war ideologies [7] and so forth.


... When social problems are concocted to provoke a specific need for orientation in the population, that makes possible a solution in the ideological direction desired from the beginning. A serious crime is committed especially when the living conditions of people deteriorate.

Neoliberal advocates are very gifted as shown in the example of state financing that was increasingly destroyed [8] when public debts skyrocketed and the necessary fear was produced with the backing of the media and business lobbies [9] to carry out false solutions in the form of debt brakes. Ultimately these lead to follow-up problems (financing bottlenecks, economic stagnation, further rise of state debts) which revitalize the old familiar privatization concept as a subsequent solution [10] and strongly expand the sphere of influence for [massively concentrated (11)] private capital.

"This means privatization, deregulation and cutting state expenditures. Resistance against the trimming of the state on the spending side comes from the bureaucracy and subsidy recipients. Therefore the emaciation or thinning must probably start on the tax side with tax cuts to support the dictate of the empty treasury. This allows state deficits to climb as experience demonstrates," says Herbert Giersch, leading neoliberal, economic "wise man" and head of the Kiel Institute for World Economy (1991).

This kind of strategy can be seen in the current "Euro-crisis." Through social cuts, economic collapses are forced driving up mass unemployment. Dismantling the collective bargaining system [12] fuels wage cuts which lead to corollary problems.

In her book "The Shock Doctrine," Naomi Klein showed many examples of this process. Whoever sees the elites' information advantage over their diverted populations, particularly when the mass media acts as a "fourth branch" under resource scarcity and factors of capital-connection [13] and under a unanimous mentality [14] does not need much imagination to recognize how easily crises, catastrophes and other problems in many areas can be intensified and exploited. [15]


As is obvious for light, pressure and noise etc, the perception of political processes of change also depends on their gradation. The economization of all areas of life cannot be introduced in the crisis from today to tomorrow. Rather it must be culturally sedimented across generations by influential institution s if the cost-benefit, market- and management-model should become the all-pervasive social principle.

These techniques are also applied on a smaller scale. In the case of planned cuts in the school- and university area, an OECD publication [16] recommends keeping state grants constant and not lowering them on account of the danger of protests of "watchful political" groups...


If planned deteriorations of conditions for a large part of the population are on the agenda, the alleged reasons for this should be set out early. As long as the constructed problem is not yet acute, civil society will have little motivation to examine the assertions... When it is acute, the constructed problem is made to appear as a familiar fact.

In Germany, demographic change and global competition were put in the limelight [17] so wage-, pension- and social cuts appear as "painful" but modern necessities in times of permanent neoliberal breakdown. [18]

In the meantime, market logic was anchored in the daily routine so slogans like "There is no alternative" [19] (Margaret Thatcher) or "No alternatives exist" [20] (Angela Merkel) provoke verbal resistance but do not lead to immediate voting out of office.


To announce unpleasant subjects, vague messages are used where anything can be interpreted in what is said. No attack surfaces arise for serious criticism.

On the other hand, if the population is addressed directly, the collective counterpart is forced in the children's role by a plain language that renounces relevant details in a patronizing or solicitous sympathetic tone. [21] Early on people are accustomed to correspond to certain role models that are activated by environmental incentives. In a strongly conservative society with clear hierarchies and behavior patterns engraved, this technique may have the desired success in the form of unquestioning obedience and trustful acceptance inspiring confidence.


"Thinking" as ability is recent in evolutionary history. The basis of the human spirit is an emotional core that leads to powers of judgment at whose gates watchmen of reason simply refuse their service...

Inequality and unemployment increase quickly; "competitiveness" and population rivalry become the supreme motivations of humanity and German tank deliveries to dictators for quelling rebellions become the normal case.


Ignorance can include not-knowing and not-wanting to know. Both conditions may be coupled closely together. Not-knowing can trigger shame. Different possibilities of avoiding shame could then favor not-wanting to know.

One can completely stay away from milieus and themes of political power to take the shame-filled knowledge of one's not-knowing out of the limelight or one can deny the relevance of knowledge and jump out of the way in formulas like "nothing will change anyway!," "nothing can be done!" and "the world runs that way!" which like curtains are appropriate wherever the calm ambience would otherwise be disturbed. These are human behavior patterns used to the disadvantage of the majority of the population by the state and capitalist authority. An enormou8s discrepancy exists between knowledge and knowledge relevance in economic affairs. What is money\? What is the function of wages and productivity within a national economy\? What do the distribution conditions look like and how did they develop\? Who owns what and why\? Why is there mass unemployment and how does it affect the pecking order or balance of power within a society\?

Strangely enough, those questions are hardly discussed in school and commercial television or only in a non-controversial or fragmentary way - although the ideas bound with them always have the last work in justifying incisive changes of macro-social range. "That costs jobs!," "We cannot afford this social state anymore!." "We need structural reforms!" and "Competitiveness must be increased!" are heard. Comprehensive knowledge would be a democratic necessity here (at least if democracy should not be restricted to a blind motor act at the ballot box). However systematic ignorance of people is promoted by private enterprise lobbyism [22], through media brainwashing [23] or through increasing work concentration, income competition and status anxieties - that narrow the focus to the near environment.


One of the problems of elites in formal democracies is that part of the people despite diverting and veiling techniques are interested in macro-social, political and power-related developments and call others' attention to system crimes.

Triggering the right attitude in people so explosive information falls on unfruitful soil is crucial. "You are average! Don't worry about sublime problems that others tackle! That does not involve your environment!"

Standardized reality consists in working, consuming, taking advantage of mass entertainment possibilities and being honest in small things. People accept the standardized reality and obligingly pass it on to their fellow persons.


In a little book, Stephan Hessel, the renowned fighter of resistance and co-author of the human rights declaration urged: "Be outraged!" He aimed at the discriminating, anti-social and power-concentrated conditions of our time radically threatening civilization and pleaded for an engaged and informed standard of living that uses civil disobedience.

To sabotage the presuppositions of this kind of attitude, persons must be given a bad conscience paralyzing them in maintaining conditions from the perspective of the functional elites. They are told they are inadequate or even that human nature altogether is bad. The person is an egoist, greedy and lazy. The person who does not believe that is a "good person."

This implicit message can be heard in the varied TV entertainment [24], resounds in slogans like "We have lived beyond our means" or in devaluing and punishing life environments created through the social system that was accompanied by a public rabble-rousing against the socially disadvantaged.

The atmosphere produced here demoralizes large parts of the population since it steers the general aversion against those fellow persons who are bound to the social state instead of directing this aversion against the real collective causal agents of the suffering. Not only the directly affected are demoralized. This atmosphere breaks solidarity in that everyone is called to a bad conscience and urged to retreat in the near environment so they can be reliable and ready to achieve.


While all kinds of daily barrage and commercial attention magnets fix the population in ignorance and diversion about social conditions, those who have much to lose and extensive resources [26] do nothing to prevent this according to the motto "knowledge is power."

Think tanks for example function here as institutions that receive millions from powerful capital interests and produce dominant knowledge through studies suited for functional elites and decision-makers.

This form of systematic knowledge for social control was already known at the beginning of the 20th century, one of the founders of the PR industry Edward Bernays wrote in his 1928 work "Propaganda." [Edward Louis Bernays (November 22, 1891 − March 9, 1995) was an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, referred to in his obituary as "the father of public relations".[1] He combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud. He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he regarded as irrational and dangerous as a result of the "herd instinct" that Trotter had described]

"The conscious and goal-directed manipulation of behavior and attitudes of the masses is an essential element of democratic societies. Organizations that work hiddenly steer the social courses. They are the real governments in our country. We are governed by persons whose names we have never heard. They influence our opinions, our tastes and our thoughts. Still this is not surprising. This state is only a logical consequence of the structure of our democracy. These control processes are absolutely necessary for many persons to live smoothly together in a society.

If one views the world as a causal network where an endless variety of causes and effects are bound together on the most different planes, institutions with huge resources produce a fabulous intervention-knowledge on the social plane through extensive documentation and statistical analyses (big data and data mining), not radical academic theories. This serves their "soft manipulation" available to the whole population for immunization.


Zugegeben, eine Dauerbeschäftigung mit letzteren Themen würde nicht unmittelbar die Daseinsfreude steigern, doch geht es hier ja um die Sicherstellung der Bedingungen ihrer Aufrechterhaltung (was im Endzeitalter des Neoliberalismus immer unwahrscheinlicher wird). Zudem würde wohl eine größere Gelassenheit in so manches Bühnenstück des Alltags Einzug halten, wenn man sich vor Augen führte, wo die eigentlichen Probleme liegen, und zusätzlich eine glaubwürdige Erzählung darüber gewänne, was die abstrakten Ursachen hinter so vielen gesellschaftlichen Pathologien sind
[... ] Berliner Zeitung: "Aber das sind doch zwei unterschiedliche Dinge: Zum einen die Sparprogramme der Regierungen. Zum anderen Maßnahmen zur Lohnsenkung, die ein Land wieder wettbewerbsfähig machen sollen\?" Hans-Werner Sinn: "Das ist dasselbe: Die Sparprogramme führen zu Wirtschaftsflaute und Arbeitslosigkeit. Damit sinken die Löhne und das Preisniveau, und die Wettbewerbsfähigkeit wird wieder hergestellt. Das geht im Euro nur durch ein Tal der Tränen." [...], Quelle: Berliner Zeitung, 23.11.2012.
"Another politically risky measure would be to reduce the number (or amount) of grants paid to secondary school and university students. Even though this measure has no negative social effect if the government maintains all types of aid for the children of poor families, the risk involved is considerable, because the group affected is politically conscious, easy to mobilise, supported by the media and, in principle, close to the opposition. It is therefore preferable to proceed with caution, for example by freezing the nominal amount of the grants despite inflation, or introducing additional administrative constraints."
Diese spezielle Maßnahme hat wiederum den Zusatzvorteil, dass Inflation als Entreicherung selbst bei der überwiegenden Mehrheit derjenigen erlebt wird, die kein relevantes Finanzvermögen besitzen, so dass der Ruf nach "Preisstabilität" eine Fixierung auf Hartwährungspolitik ermöglicht, die die Bekämpfung der Massenarbeitslosigkeit dauerhaft verhindert.
So sind Dinge wie die feudale Selbstgefälligkeit von Konzernen (die ganze Bevölkerungen plündern oder ihre misslungenen Geschäfte aus der Gemeinschaftskasse finanzieren lassen), die Hybris lobbyverfilzter Politiker, die Beseitigung von Dissidenten (ob es sich nun um einzelne Personen oder ganze Regierungen handelt), die imperiale Kriegstreiberei, Massenmord und Folter usw. usf., die in ihrer Summe Ausdruck von struktureller Menschenverachtung in den obersten Machtetagen besonders auch der "westlichen Welt" sind, zu einem gewissen Grad sogar Thema der Mainstreampresse.
In Deutschland gibt so etwa die neoliberale Bertelsmann-Stiftung als einer der großen Thinktanks Strategiepapiere wie "Die Kunst des Reformierens"[1] heraus, die Analysen zur Durchsetzung von Reformen an den großen gesellschaftlichen Gegeninteressen vorbei liefern. So wird als erfahrungsbasierte Empfehlung etwa resümiert: "Policy-Designs, die gezielt die Schwächung der internen Kohärenz von potenziellen Vetospielern bzw. von starken Interessengruppen anpeilen, begünstigen Reformen. In Schweden wurden beispielsweise bei den berufsständisch organisierten Gewerkschaften bestimmte Klientele aus der Reform ausgespart und andere einbezogen, was den geschlossenen Widerstand der Gewerkschaften schwächte. In der deutschen Gesundheitspolitik wurden in den letzten Reformen die Hausärzte aufgewertet, um so die Einheitlichkeit der ärztlichen Interessenvertretung zu schwächen und deren interne Kohärenz zu mindern." Siehe: Rüb, Alnor, Spor (2009). Die Kunst des Reformierens, S. 65
Dieser Umstand wurde von dem US-Propagandisten und damaligen Berater von Präsident Wilson, Walter Lippmann, als "Fabrizierung von Konsens" bezeichnet, bei der eine kleine Schicht von "Spezialisten" der "verwirrten Herde" der Normalbevölkerung als ihrem "Handlungsobjekt" gegenübersteht.
Original, siehe Bernays (1928), Propaganda[1], S. 9
Die Frage, ob überhaupt Konzepte existieren, die im Falle gesellschaftlicher Phänomene eine reine Auflistung loser Techniken und Gesellschaftszusammenhänge gegen Theorien breiter Erklärungskraft ersetzen können, soll hier nicht interessieren.
Dies ist freilich als Tendenz zu verstehen, doch verengt gerade der zunehmende Wettbewerb und die unternehmerische Ausrichtung der Universitäten den Fokus auf das eigene Spezialgebiet und bringt wohl eher das hervor, was man als "leistungsbewusste Mitläufer" bezeichnen kann. Die Universitäten scheinen bislang jedenfalls nicht Vorreiter eines progressiven Widerstands gegen die unverschämten Entwicklungen zu sein.
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