Essays on Institutional and Evolutionary Themes
Chapter 9: The Hidden Persuaders
Institutions systematically direct individual memory and channel our perceptions into forms compatible with the relations they authorize. They fix processes that are essentially dynamic, they hide their influence, and they rouse our emotions to a standardized pitch on standardized issues. Add to all this they endow themselves with rightness and send their mutual corroboration cascading through all the levels of our information system. … For us, the hope of intellectual independence is to resist, and the necessary first step in resistance is to discover how the institutional grip is laid upon our mind. Mary Douglas, How Institutions Think (1987) 9.1 INTRODUCTION In his bestseller The Hidden Persuaders (1957), Vance Packard painted a grim picture.1 The post-war vision of a prosperous world, in which genuine human needs were to be met by a strong, efficient and growing economy, was shattered. Instead of serving human needs, the big corporations were manipulating our very wants and desires, using everything from subliminal messages to the exploitation of sexual images. Arguably, however, the social influences on our aspirations are more general, and often more subtle. In the manner discussed below, many forces that mould our personalities are undesigned. The more deeply hidden persuaders are not the products of any corporate marketing department, or government office, but are those that emanate in some way from our social institutions and our history. This chapter is about these more deeply ‘hidden persuaders’. An aim is to examine how such persuasion is possible, and the possible causal mechanisms that are...
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