Law in Contemporary Society

The Docile Masses

-- By TheodorBruening - 22 Apr 2009

Everyone’s a Realist

Are you being manipulated? Are the media, culture and current Zeitgeist destroying people’s individuality, making them believe and need things they otherwise would not? Most people think so. Welcome to the club.

Everyone has some idea about how everyone around them is being mislead, indoctrinated and deceived; be it by works of the liberal media, the corrupt government, the communists, the capitalists, television, conspiracy theories, pop culture, religion, the illuminati or the lizard people. It is only oneself, and maybe a small group of co-clairvoyants who, due to their enlightened knowledge of this propaganda, placebo effect, Pygmalion effect, NLP, language patterns, commitment/consistency, cognitive dissonance, social psychology, anthropology, sociology, Stanford prison experiment, evolutionary biology, morality, neurology, magic and con can cut through the manipulations and see the world for what it ‘really’ is.

How much would we like to shake up the people around us to make them see the world for ‘what it really is’!, but alas, too many years of propaganda and indoctrination have taken their toll and the docile masses of the people are mostly beyond help, foolishly continuing to believe their false gods of received wisdom, contently thinking within the box.


Interestingly, media of film, music and theatre do not play to this tune. Can anyone name a movie made in the last forty years which preached the values of homogeneity, subordination and unquestioning obedience? The most common themes in fact are rebellion against authority, suspicion of received wisdom, creative and lateral thinking and, most of all, individuality. From Rage Against The Machine to Gangster Rap, from The X-Files over MacGyver to The Simpsons, from Fight Club to American Beauty, from Jane Austen to J. K. Rowling, conformity and normality is to be loathed or ridiculed, never aspired to. This is true even in war and team sport movies – the protagonist inevitably bonds with the audience by going against some authority figure. Even more right-wing shows, such as 24 or Law and Order inevitably include an authority figure who is a stickler for doing things ‘by the rules’, which is an obstacle the protagonist must overcome in order to do ‘the right thing’.

This theme is so prevalent throughout society that the conclusion is equally obvious and ironic. Cultural influences and the media lead us to be suspicious of authority, to question received wisdom, to assert our individuality and to think outside the box. We, the individualists, the realists, who see the world for what it really is, who so contemptuously look upon the docile masses, we are trained to think this way due to the most extensive and persistent propaganda campaign in recorded history; the undeniable fact is that we are the docile masses.

To add to the irony, the medium through which this message of creative individualist thinking is most strongly and repetitively communicated is the one which Eben (correctly) asserted actually powerfully inhibits creative thinking – television.

The irony goes even further of course – this is in essence a realist essay, uncovering structures of how society really works…

Be Different – Conform.

Asserting conformity as an expression of individuality is of course a paradox, but one cannot help but wonder how individuality is even possible since the idea of revolution has become yet another growth market in which the Che Guevarra t-shirt is sold at Wal-Mart, much like the ‘free Tibet’ flag (made in China of course).

What happened to the Revolution?

There is an even more pressing, and connected question here. Despite the constant drive to think creatively, individually and skeptically, the vast majority of people do not take this bait, even though they certainly think they do. In the real world, there is immense pressure to conform and, amongst law students, join a corporate law firm. Is it possible that our desire to be different is today expressed through conformity? Lawyers often all act and look alike, as do internet start-up programmers: ‘Blue shirt, khaki pants/lookin’ like a line of ants’. Similarly any figure in Brent Easton Ellis’ American Psycho looks and sounds exactly the same; all of his figures are in fact very reminiscent of Lawyerland’s Something Split.

Indeed, if we, the docile masses, had long ago been convinced by this anti-authoritarian doctrine, society ought have crumbled into anarchy a long time ago. Maybe it did and no-one noticed. Are we escapist rebels so we do not have to rebel in our real life? Or do we all long to be different but no longer know how to, for any difference will merely assign us membership in a different market, or are we afraid to change? Also, if it is true that our special knowledge of public indoctrination and manipulation is trite, this calls into question the value of knowledge.

Is All Knowledge Relative?

But knowledge is not relative, for otherwise I would be spending tuition money in vain (which in turn prevents me from publicly devaluing it; cognitive dissonance at work). Real knowledge of things such as pygmalion effects, placebo effects, cognitive dissonance, etc can and do in fact lead to living a better, more efficient and maybe more just life. If this is true, then we have arrived exactly at the starting point of this essay. The only difference is that ‘the docile masses’ do not in fact exist; everyone’s a realist to himself due to his or her own ‘special’ knowledge and our narcissistic drive for being unique and separate from the masses combined with a very human addiction to epiphanies. In that sense realism reflects only the old adage ‘knowledge is power’.

The question remains why the media feeds on revolutionary themes while in real life conformity is the norm. Maybe this is an outlet for repressed urges rather than an inspiration; for Hollywood deals in emotions, not in facts. This would be a good topic for another essay which will uncover what is really going on…

(Side note: After some thinking I came up with three exceptions to the above question; first, any book by Robert A. Heinlein; second, any book by Terry Pratchett, who has a hilarious view of ‘heroes’; and third, Star Trek – a franchise in which obedience is valued, since a starship requires everyone to dutifully fulfill his or her role, obstacles are overcome through collaborative efforts in a strictly regulated hierarchical regime. Star Trek is exceptional in other ways too; ‘specialty’, such as being the starship’s Captain is awarded meritocratically due to devoted efforts and hard work, not merely for being ‘the boy who lived’, ‘The One’ or some Jedi progeny - these are suspiciously ‘passive’ achievements.)

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r2 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:43:36 - IanSullivan
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