“On one occasion, so it was narrated, Stalin called for a live chicken and proceeded to use it to make an unforgettable point before some of his henchmen. Forcefully clutching the chicken in one hand, with the other he began to systematically pluck out its feathers. As the chicken struggled in vain to escape, he continued with the painful denuding until the bird was completely stripped. ‘Now you watch,’ Stalin said as he placed the chicken on the floor and walked away with some breadcrumbs in his hand. Incredibly, the fear-crazed chicken hobbled toward him and clung to the legs of his trousers. Stalin threw a handful of grain to the bird, and it began to follow him around the room, he turned to his dumbfounded colleagues and said quietly, ‘This is the way to rule the people.’” — Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God
The tendency of power—in the sociological sense of status, influence, authority and control—is to seek to extend itself over time, if possible indefinitely, by whatever means necessary. The question of benevolence and malevolence is secondary—even irrelevant—to this tendency, since everyone from Satan on down believes in the goodness of his or her motivations and whatever motivates us is ipso facto “good,” and vice versa. What is relevant is the means power employs to extend itself, and the ways in which this may be observable in our culture, society, and, most importantly, our personal lives.
Advertising and economic expansion provide a fairly good template, I think, for mapping these means. In the case of advertising, perception management and behavior modification are primary both as ends and means, since to manage perception is to modify behavior, and vice versa. The goals of any given psychological operation may change according to the agencies creating them; but it’s my impression that the methodologies remain fairly constant.
We all know (or think we do) that corporations and their algorithms manipulate our perceptions in order to influence our decisions (what we buy, consume, watch, “like,” or recommend to others). Through means subtle and coarse, corporations work day and night to exploit our values as a means to sell their products to us. At the same time, in a circular fashion, they design and direct their products to shape and mold our values, to make those values, and by extension us, more easily exploitable. The aim, however, is always the same: to get us “on-side.”
As above so below: as corporations operate, so do governments, military, intelligence, educational, legal, medical, and all other institutions. The higher up the sociocultural strata we go, the less easily identifiable the products become: a candidate, an administration, a policy, an ideology, a culture, these can all be seen—to one degree or another—as products, manufactured carriers of values that are themselves carried by the values we already possess—or are possessed by. All these things act as delivery devices to inject both our inner and outer worlds with their contents. One way or another, they in-form us.
In order for a ruling class or body to maintain and increase its power and influence in the world, it has to persuade ever larger numbers of people to depend on it. Love and worship are optimal attitudes, but where these cannot be inspired, fear and subjugation will do, as demonstrated by the afore-cited anecdote about Stalin and the chicken.
Psychological Operations Field Manuals
Once upon a time, the “psyop” or psychological operation was the stuff of “conspiracy theory;” now (surely) it is the stuff of history, even if still mostly relegated to the media margins and the footnotes of official history. What follows are some passages taken from U.S. military Field Manual, FM 3-05.30 MCRP 3-40.6, dated April 2005, “Psychological Operations” (emphasis added).
PSYOP are a vital part of the broad range of United States (U.S.) diplomatic, informational, military, and economic (DIME) activities. The employment of any element of national power, particularly the military element, has always had a psychological dimension. Foreign perceptions of U.S. military capabilities are fundamental to strategic deterrence. The effectiveness of deterrence hinges on U.S. ability to influence the perceptions of others. The purpose of PSYOP is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to U.S. national objectives. PSYOP are characteristically delivered as information for effect, used during peacetime and conflict, to inform and influence. (p. 1-1)
This underscores the essentiality of psyop to government and military maintenance of power. Keep in mind that, while the emphasis on foreign target audiences implies that psyop are not implemented domestically, this is almost certainly a misrepresentation of truth because of the classified nature of domestic psyop.
The mission of PSYOP is to influence the behavior of foreign target audiences (TAs) to support U.S. national objectives. PSYOP accomplish this by conveying selected information and/or advising on actions that influence the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign audiences. Behavioral change is at the root of the PSYOP mission. Although concerned with the mental processes of the TA, it is the observable modification of TA behavior that determines the mission success of PSYOP. . . . PSYOP help shape both the physical and informational dimensions of the battlespace. (p. 1-2)
Once again, to manage perception is to modify behavior. In a certain sense, influencing a Target Audience’s psychology is secondary to the shaping of their behavior, but in another sense it is primary, since the only means to change behavior is by altering perceptions. On the other hand, the only way to confirm that perception has been successfully managed is by observing the effective modification of behaviors. Psychological operations proceed on the understanding that, not just human society but awareness itself (informational dimensions), is a battlespace.
Even as one plan is about to be executed, planners are turning their attention to the next anticipated operation. Flexibility, adaptability, and adjustment are critical to all planning. The importance of adjusting PSYOP plans and series in response to events in the battlespace cannot be overemphasized. PSYOP planners must be agile to be successful in an environment that has simultaneous and competing requirements to plan for an event that is in itself an ongoing process. At any given moment, PSYOP forces may be disseminating messages while military forces are executing a PSYACT in support of PSYOP objectives. (5-1)
This passage points to the necessity of constant improvisation within the field. It indicates how, as a Target Audience’s perception of reality is altered via manufactured “messages,” their behaviors will also change in ways that can’t be predicted with 100% accuracy by the controlling forces. Since, presumably, there is no clear dividing line between passive media manipulation and that of live-action theater (in which psychological operatives interact more directly with Target Audiences), to some degree, the Target Audience is itself shaping the nature of the psyop by forcing it to adapt to the very changes it is bringing about. In marketing, this is similar to the old “supply and demand” question, a mutually reinforcing feedback loop in which the one is constantly creating and augmenting the other.
“Most PSYOP activities and accomplishments in Panama were hardly noticed by either the U.S. public or the general military community. But the special operations community did notice. The lessons learned in Panama were incorporated into standing operating procedures. . . . Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM employed PSYOP of an order of magnitude and effectiveness which many credit to the lessons learned from Panama.” USSOCOM Report, “Psychological Operations in Panama during Operations JUST CAUSE and PROMOTE LIBERTY,” March 1994. (5-1)
This passage is self-explanatory and conveys how every psyop serves not only to manipulate a Target Audience but also as a form of field-testing for psychological operatives to learn from and pass information back and forth, thereby improving their skills and methods and becoming ever more “operational.” Another way of stating this might be to say that, with each effective psyop, the battlespace of human society and human awareness is becoming ever more “secured.”
As one of the five core elements, PSYOP integrate their activities with those of electronic warfare (EW), military deception, OPSEC [operations security], and computer network operations to create a synergistic effect. PSYOP serve as a focal point for persuasion and influence strategy. PSYOP forces facilitate targeting by analyzing the various factors that affect and influence the behavior of an adversary, such as religion, ethnicity, economics, politics, culture, region, history, leadership, geography, demographics, and national interests. They use this analysis to nominate targets in order to change the behavior of TAs in order to deter conflict (whenever possible), facilitate military operations, and to support and communicate national objectives. (7-4)
This passage indicates the wide range both of technological means and of target audiences, and suggests that not merely populations but entire “disciplines” (i.e., fields of human interest and endeavor) can be “weaponized.” One way to better understand this might again be to compare it to more coarse forms of marketing, such as “product placement” when a movie or TV show is used to “sell” specific products to an audience without it consciously noticing or remembering. In this far subtler form, areas of human interest such as religion, economics, and the arts can be employed (reshaped) as carriers for the desired messages or ideologies.
Media analysis is the structured, deliberate tracking and analysis of opponent and neutral media (TV, radio, Internet, and print). Properly performed media analysis, although time-consuming and linguist-intensive, can identify trends and become predictive when the supported force considers a potentially unpopular activity. To be truly effective, media analysis must be conducted on a daily basis. PSYOP units usually do not have the organic personnel sufficient to accomplish this task. The TAAD [Target Audience Analysis Detachment] of the PDC [product development company] is best suited for conducting media analysis. (8-5)
Media analysis, like everything else when it comes to military application, has an active as well as passive aspect. Nothing the military incentive undertakes (and this would include not only the entire intelligence, legal, and police community but also to a degree the entire corporate world) is done so without the aim of aggressive application. To analyze media is to understand how to manipulate media; ditto with human psychology, religion, science, and so forth. Central to this “will to power,” this bid for total control, is the (equally militaristic) mindset of opposition: everything gravitates around the idea of a hostile other that must be dominated, pacified, or eradicated, by any and all means necessary.
Curiously, however, the means to accomplish this requires a constant reinforcement of the idea of an “opposition”—along with the whole-cloth invention of designated (and usually controlled) oppositions. This suggests that the split which psyop is constantly attempting to generate—both within society and human awareness—is a projection of a split within the psychological operatives themselves.
It is a veritable wound that never heals.
(Continued next week)