The Century of Deceit – Revealing the Abuse of Psychology in Promoting Consumerism

The Century of Deceit – Revealing the Abuse of Psychology in Promoting Consumerism

By Nataša

Many people today are not even close to being aware of the scope of use of psychological knowledge by promoters of consumerist societies to inspire us to buy products we don’t need, to do certain things and to have certain opinions.

Psychology has been purposely used and abused by corporations and politicians to mold our minds, our opinions and our behaviours for almost a century. Most people still believe that when they go to the supermarked that they freely can choose what to buy and what not to buy. That simply is a delusion of a mind conditioned in a certain way since early childhood and for generations. We buy what we are conditioned to buy.

My interest for the subject of mind manipulation led me to the early beginnings of a large scale consumer culture in US, which spread to the rest of the world during the last century. One name popped out, Edward Bernays (1891-1995), called the father of public relations (PR) in the BBC documentary „The Century of the Self“.

Bernays quote

Edward Bernays is considered to be the first person who used awailable knowldge of human psychology to influence behavior of large groups of people. He was interested in group psychology and wanted to know how masses could be influenced in a democratic society for the purpose of the governing class.

In his book „The propaganda“, published in 1928 he writes:

“THE conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

Bernays saw people as irrational and irresponsible individuals driven by inner desires and fears. Inspired by Freuds teaching about unconscious processes he discovered an ingenious way to manipulate public opinion. One of his most known experiments is the women smoking campaign in 1920-ies. At that time woman smoking in public was still a great taboo and women weren’t even aloud to smoke in public places.

In an interview (you can watch it at the end of the article) Edward tells the story.

“One day George Hill, the president of the American Tobacco Company, one of the largest tobacco companies at that time, called him in and said “that they were losing half of the American market due to the taboo of men that does not permit women to smoke.” He asked Bernays to help them break down that taboo.  Bernays asked for permission to see a psychoanalyst about the matter.”

He visited one of the most prominent psychoanalysts, the student of Freud. Bernays asked him about what cigarettes mean to women?

(Bernays points out that at the time it was not known how dangerous cigarettes could be for your health and that that was discovered 30 years later. This is irrelevant and I believe he only tries to divert our attention from the real issue. It could have been anything else, even carrots. The real point is a deliberate manipulation of human mind for the sake of money and ego driven curiosity)

Bernays continued:

“Cigarettes were regarded as symbols of manhood at the time. Small boys smoked to prove that they were older than they were. They were also considered as symbols of the power in society and as a pleasurable activity”.

But what they meant to women? Asked Bernays.

Psychoanalyst gave him an answer:

Cigarettes are “the torches of freedom” to women. They want to smoke to dramatize man’s taboo against women by not permitting them to smoke and that is why they want to smoke. And then he added as an afterthought, and they titillate the erogenous zones of the lips.”

Barneys paid the psychiatrist 128$ for the information, but what will he do with that precious information?

He continues his story by saying that he decided to use the event “The Freedom of the Spirit Easter Sunday”, and it occurred to him that any debutant at the time that was aware of the times and herself as a woman being discriminated, would be delighted to walk in the Easter parade with a cigarette to dramatize the idea that cigarettes indeed are “the torches of freedom”, and to invalidate the taboo against woman smoking.

Bernays called up his debutant friend and asked her to find another woman she knew and that they should find two young men that they liked, and he also instructed them on how to give the information about what they did to the newspapers and press associations and where to walk during the parade lighting torches of freedom (cigarettes).

The morning after the parade there wasn’t a newspaper in the US that did not write about this event and New York Times had a front page story “Debutants light torches of freedom to protest man’s inhumanity towards women by a taboo against smoking”

Bernays tells, with a glimpse in his eye, that within three days papers were writing about other incidences of women smoking in public places all over the US. What surprised him even more was that in about 6 weeks a theatre, where woman smoking was banned, allowed women to smoke. The trend was set and the sale of cigarettes was on the rise. [1]

add for cigarettes      Lucky add 2

Really indoctrinated people would probably tend to believe that Bernays contributed to the liberation of women. He sure did make them more visible and a new consumer group in a corporate race for customers was created. The life of a free woman began to evolve as a commercial story in itself. Many new advertizing campaigns were created, and they offered products that promised realization of the story of female liberation.

Just buy our products and you will be seen as a free woman, as desired, admired, loved, respected, cherished, spoiled, you will be pretty, slim, you will have perfect hair, perfect body and style, and perfect life. You will be perfect mother, and daughter and a worker.

Hollywood contributed greatly by linking consumer mentality and the desire for liberation and good life. In 1920 Hollywood was becoming one of the largest industries in US and it represented glamour and luxury everyone wanted to have. Perfect place to create the dream that still infects our imaginations.

Hearing about Barneys and his social experiments for the first time was one of the most important eye opening discoveries that moved my understanding of psychology of manipulation much closer to accepting the fact that humanity really has been deceived by design.

It is a scary fact that we are so susceptible to mob mentality, which makes us an easy prey for individuals that are aware of that fact and are prepared to use all the means they have to abuse that knowledge to promote their own goals and interests. This realization made me really angry, pulling me mercilessly out of my trusting state of mind.

Instead of learning others about this fact powerful individuals in our history used this knowledge to herd us into this large consumerist prison, where your sole purpose in life is to pay for the experiences which you can get for free: joy, love, compassion, happiness, satisfaction, adrenalin rush, pleasure, knowledge, health and freedom.

Consumer mentality was created out of the belief that majority of human population is a non-thinking, irresponsible mass in need of educated people to tell them how to live and how to think.

Happiness and all the other positive experiences were equaled with owning things and showing of. Persons that were considered popular were the greatest consumers rewarded with great sums of money, which enabled them to own tremendous amounts of things, which average person never could get with their own average pay. However, the average person was ready to pay for entertainment (Hollywood) more than they earned themselves, just to get a bit closer to the dream. Famous persons are still paid to promote certain products, fashion, ideas, and projects. Most people are aware of many of these facts, but somehow we got really good at finding excuses for our choices and we say: “I am just a human, so forgive me for buying more than I nead”

The pay check is measured by the amount of success the person/worker can produce for a certain company, resulting in many more customers and thereby much more money and much more power to control the market and the flow of useless products. Celebrity stories sell really well.

Consumer society revolves around money. Money is equaled with success and closeness to the top of the society, which consists of rich families, educated people, people who by blood remain at the top such as royal families, and then the politicians who give orders to the rest of the herd, and who are advised by scientists and academics whose research is funded by those who have control of the money supply and those who have control over the money supply have free access to earth’s natural resources, which belong to all of us.

money ladder

This is the lifeline of the consumer society, which we ourselves are sustaining by continuing our consumer behaviors and buying stuff we do not need and by complying with the rules that keep it going. By complying we are supporting this destructive paradigm that ownership is good for the development of human society and that the high rate of consumption and spending is a basis for a sound economy .

Clever psychological manipulation of naïve human mind was perfected during the last century creating such a strong consumer mentality, that many people do not see another purpose in life than buying all the toys they are being offered and most of them believe that these toys are making their lives easier and happier.

If we look at what our ancestors were fighting for we will see that it was the ideal of freedom and free time to express our human creativity. Have we attained that? Do we have more time to dwell on our thoughts and ideas, and create things with our own hands?

Now, there is growing knowledge about the fact that consumer paradigm is totally and utterly wrong. Consumerism is not leading our society towards prosperity; it is on the contrary leading our societies towards the point of self destruction.

Manipulating with our fears to buy entertainment

In the last hundred years the minds of our grandparents, parents and our minds were continually fed with all kinds of fears.

Weren’t we thought that there is some evil enemy who wants to destroy us? What enemy?

Weren’t we thought that the enemy was the nuclear power?Weren’t we thought that drugs were the enemy? Weren’t we thought it was the communists? Weren’t we thought it was the terrorists?

We think now it is the economic crisis or climate change, and that it probably will be some nasty disease.

But what is our real enemy?

Hundred years of background vibrations of fear are still vibrating in our collective mind plus all of our early history too.

The history of the last hundred years is very alive in the stories and the pictures planted in our minds and it still shapes our understanding of ourselves as individuals living in any society today.

What is on the other side? How did we cope with all these fears?

The only thing that still keeps us happy is the entertainment industry, which constantly creates stories that make us feel that impossible can be possible. Hollywood movies are a large scale commercials that still keep us stuck in consumer mentality.

Movies need funding and we gladly buy products promoted in movies, thus we are funding the commercials that feed our fears. Do not think that Hollywood is there to enlighten you. Hollywood is just another industry working on the principles of consumerism. It is all about profit and the system depends on us doing just that, thinking about profit and spending money.

Another commercial story fed to us is the race for success. This story sells really well.

Consumer society is highly hierarchical. If everyone had the same amount of money to spend we would not be living in a consumer society. What then is the road up the ladder of consumerist hierarchy?

Being at the top of the ladder is on one hand described as a fairytale and on the other as very hard. The road up the ladder is portrayed as a courageous adventure, as creative and attractive and is being equated with high intelligence in learning different skills. To attain success is considered to be something near to superhuman, but from time to time we hear stories of some worker jumping in and joining the stars. That is the most powerful commercial which activates all the hero programs of our minds and acts as a powerful motivational force for the average guy to work his ass off to get up there.

From time to time we also hear stories about celebrities that take their own lives or die of a deadly drug abuse. And we are fed with the background story of how hard it really is to be a celebrity, to be on the top, as though these things do not happen to the average guy too. These stories make us identify with these persons and then we love them even more.

What is then our worst enemy?

It is probably our naive proneness to manipulation and tendency to believe in great stories, even the stories that promise that suffering in this life will pay off in afterlife, which we really have no idea about.

The time has come to learn about the truth, about the manipulation and abuse of our goodhearted believing mind? We have to stop being herded as thoughtless sheep.

Have you ever seen sheep in nature, with your own eyes, observed them and watched what they did if threatened?

I noticed they always keep close to each other, heads in grass and if one looks up all do. Even on their way to the sheepfold they would keep close to each other, going in a queue.  Some are more courageous, and they walk away from the herd, but often those courageous ones get lost or get taken by a wolf, say the natives. Those animals rely on the movement of the herd and are generally very jumpy and react on novel sounds. One sheep moves and they all do and the herd can keep running pointlessly and then suddenly stop.


Quick response and sticking to the herd means better survival in the world where there are predators, in the animal world. And we get confused about this too. On the one side we are thought to protect animals and to protect nature, but on the other side we are thought that it is OK to eat animals, especially if they are produced by humans, put in delicious sauces and rubbed in most healthy spices and herbs. We buy that illusion too without blinking our eyes. But how many of us would kill an animal if we were given a choice to kill an animal or to eat something else? Would you?

We are conditioned to think that we need meet. All people who chose the vegetarian road were probably met with concerned comments like, but what about the proteins? All the large businesses depend on our collective thinking that we need all that stuff and meet and proteins and what not.

What we really need is quality, things that last and can be improved without causing garbage crisis, pollution, and famine, and hunger, extinction of species, wars and disease. We need clean and sustainable energy, and most of all we need to learn to share.

But sheep tend to accept the dog and the man to watch over them and they do not escape even when the man takes one of their own. They kind of sacrifice one of their own and accept the guardian who protects them from the wolf, even if the guardian eats them too. Living with the man has some advantages. Wolf does not give them shelter during the night; wolf does not give them hay in the winter and water in the summer. Man does that and they stay with him.

In many points, the mass mentality that have maintained the consumer societies in the west for the last hundred years resembles the life of the herd of sheep guarded by a dog and a man; where the dog is the army/police and the man is the boss, a king, a tsar, a pope, a president or a prime minister.

Barneys campaign is considered to be the first commercial campaign which used concepts such as freedom, liberation and discrimination to promote a sale of a simple product. This was only the beginning and Barneys, armored with knowledge that humans can easily be manipulated with on a mass scale, became very sucessful and wanted man.

In a documentary „ The century of the self“ his daughter describes him as a person who did not like other people and that he considered people around him as mostly stupid. No wander he thought that of people having in mind how easy it was for him to manipulate peoples minds and opinions by just giving them a story that touched upon their innermost desires for freedom and happines.

As we have seen, the consumer that Bernays created does not buy stuff because he or she needs it, but to improve his personal image, to promote certain ideas, to gain power, to attract certain people or to gain social status. The idea of a perfect consumer was born.

ipod add

Picture illustrates a modern commercial. Modern technology and and “the fist” as a symbol of power.

As long as we buy the stories that sell stuff, our way of living will continue. Advertizing is a very important part of consumer society. It has even become popular to use humor and jokes about own products and in that way make the consumer pay attention to the product. The market is floded and all kinds of tricks are being used. The awakeining is also a consumer story that can atract customers to buy certain products. Consumerism is to be found in all aspects of our lives. Nothing is sacred to those who want to sell.

So on the one side we have psychology that turns people into consuming addicts and on the other side psychology that struggles to heal the addictions produced by the same society it was used to create. Addictions are many. You can be addicted to shopping, food, sugar, fitness, power, money, drugs, movies, internet and what not.

The knowledge of psychology has been used and abused and still is. Psychology has become a corporate/system tool for enslaving human minds instead of being a tool for freeing and empowering the human mind.

Psychology is not only used by corporations but also by social institutions and power structures in our societies to promote certain behaviours and certain political views.

In the documentary The Corporation, a marketing psychologist discussed one of the methods she used to increase sales. Her staff carried out a study on what effect the nagging of children had on their parents’ likelihood of buying a toy for them. They found out that 20% to 40% of the purchases of their toys would not have occurred if the child didn’t nag its parents. One in four visits to theme parks would not have taken place. They used these studies to market their products directly to children, encouraging them to nag their parents to buy.

We are so profoundly indoctrinated into this system and the paradigm of commercialized living that it has become very difficult for the most people to discern a real need from the needs imposed on us by so called experts, who are financed by companies whose first priority is to sell their goods. So we do not only pay for products that we do not need, we also pay for the opinions of experts that we mostly do not need, because most of expert opinion is a product of consumerist thinking.

Most of the experts today are financed by corporations and the state thereby representing only certain views. So do not be fooled. This is the time when you have to start thinking on your own, and when more and more experts will hopefully stand up to defend their field of knowledge against abuse by corporations and the states.

Open your eyes and your mind and ask yourself what really makes you happy?

Be aware of the fact that most of the advertizing has a sole purpose to sell you a product, not to improve your health or to educate you. It is you who have the power and it is you who pays, so use that power carefully and mindfully. We are all in the same boat so help people around you understand the knowledge about the ongoing manipulation of human mind into a consumer mentality.

Go to your home and take a look at how much stuff you have that you do not use. Why?

The story of mind manipulation is much, much longer and methods have become very profound. This article is only a droplet in the sea of information that you can get if you really want to know the truth.

Do your own research and start paying attention to how advertizing affects you and also pay attention to hidden advertizing and all the stories about the perfect life, about success, the power and the money.

With love



[1] – Bernays speaks about ”torches of freedom”.



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