Collective Beliefs as Method of Mind Control

In discussing the end of Mind of My Mind last week, my group was led into a conversation in which we contemplated the reasons we believe what we do and how collective beliefs seem to influence society. One thing we discussed was Americans’ desire to always want more, especially as compared to others. Someone in my group suggested that the proper functioning of society relies on inequality—certain people benefitting, while others are left out. This is not a rare argument, but to me it seems irrational that a functioning society should rely on inequality, an inherently dysfunctional characteristic. During discussions on how/why children are loved I keep considering how useful the idea of family and loving children is to society. What if the majority of children weren’t loved? Where would they go and how would they turn out? Doro and Mary create a race “that could not tolerate its own young,” and the results are messy and the solutions are complicated. In thinking of mutes in Mary’s society, I began to consider how different conformists are from Mary’s people, particularly the mutes and especially considering the consequences faced by those who antagonize societal norms in the real world (those who don’t have the capacity to love their children for example). If we only believe that in order to be happy and successful we have to always seek more because this idea is promoted to support society’s current structure couldn’t we be made to desire and work towards a more egalitarian society in much the same way? Mary uses brainwashing techniques to restructure society, which seems manipulative and fantastical, but is anyone who is a part of any society manipulated by societal expectations and collective prejudices?

A recent op-ed by Nicholas Kristof cites a study revealing that even when only fourteen percent of grocery store shoppers realized they were listening to music, shoppers were “more likely to buy French wine when French music is playing, and to buy German wine when they hear German music.” Kristof points out that such studies “are a reminder that we humans are perhaps less rational than we would like to think, and more prone to the buffeting of unconscious influences.” In Mind of My Mind, Mary claims of the mutes “I’m not pretending that theirs is the best possible way of life…although they think it is” (417). Kristof seems to suggest that we are similarly influenced. In reading a speech by Malcolm X for another one of my other classes, I immediately drew parallels between my group’s discussion in class about collective beliefs and this idea of mind control and the manipulation he sees being used in the U.S. against African Americans in the sixties. Speaking of the white man, he says: “You know why they always say Negroes are lazy? ‘Cause they want Negroes to be lazy. They always say Negroes can’t unite because they don’t want Negroes to unite. And once they put this thing in the mind, they feel that the Negro gets that into him and he tries to fulfill their image. If you say you can’t unite him, and then you come to him to unite him, he won’t unite because it’s been said that he’s not supposed to unite.”

An understanding of this phenomenon should render it simple to make society open to an environment meant to advocate the common good except for the fact that those with the power to manipulate (like Mary) in the real world aren’t usually in positions where they would benefit from or desire greater equality. Someone mentioned in class that although Doro is dead, Mary’s takeover is just another arrangement of power. While Butler calls attention to the short fallings of current power structures in the modern world she also identifies the complexities that inevitably accompany change for the reason that there will always be some sort of power dynamic at work. Such complexity is evidenced in instances of gentrification occurring in many urban centers around the country. While many view, the revitalization of impoverished neighborhoods positively, natives to those areas are being forced out of their homes as a result. The article we discussed in class last week says, “We know what we want to know. We believe the ghetto is manifestation of individual will and amorphous culture values because that is what we would prefer to think.” This is yet another example of how we are being unconsciously influenced, in this case by those producing racist housing policy and those proposing, “‘We should not dwell on the past,’” while celebrating the Fourth of July so that this is allowed to continue.




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