It will no doubt strike the reader as odd to find ‘modernity’, immersion in a consumer hyper-reality, described as an altered state, but that is exactly what it is. Nor is this state of affairs an accidental or inevitable outcome of ‘historical forces’. It is the result of the deliberate choices and planned acts of an elite who saw their financial and political control threatened by the very historical processes that they themselves had set in motion.
“We must shift … from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed … Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”(1)
The mass democracies that emerged in the early 20th century out of the processes of industrialization created new challenges to traditional mechanisms of political, economic and social control. One response to these challenges has been to engage in the mass manipulation of awareness, the ‘engineering of consent’(2) , through propaganda and the manipulation of desire via the mass media,
“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. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”(3)
This manipulation of desire hinges upon the creation of a gap between a media projection of an idealized persona and each person’s imagined progress towards its realization. It is, essentially, a manipulation and falsification of self-concept designed to trigger the kinds of behavior – engagement with financial and market mechanisms – that provide a temporary sense of ‘completeness’ through the acquisition of products and services. The pervasiveness of media controlled images and the celebrity culture that mediates this process has created societies driven by greed, distracted by trivia and in thrall to spectacle , even when that spectacle(4) includes live broadcasts involving the destruction of other cultures and societies.
To these sources of distortion we can add environmental, pharmacological(5), and electromagnetic pollution on a massive scale; the manipulation of mood via entertainment, food industry additives and a whole range of narcotics – legitimate or otherwise – to conclude that modernity – the typical form of consciousness emerging from the confluence of these forces – itself constitutes a potent altered state of consciousness (ASC), an extreme condition of ‘hyper reality’(6) – were reality and fantasy become indistinguishable (‘simulation’) or were reality is dispensed with altogether in favor of fantasy (‘simulacra’)(7) .
It is self-evident that such conditions tend to undermine, if not reverse, the evolutionary processes identified by developmental psychologists, such as Claire Graves, as the “subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems”(8) . In other words, as humanity, we are faced with a direct threat to our ethical, personal and cultural evolution. Recognizing that the modes of awareness arising out of modernity are dead ends engendering potent altered states of self-absorbed fantasy that nevertheless support corporate objectives, what can we do to re-establish our relationship with the broader, evolutionary field of spiritualized awareness?
1. Wall Street banker Paul Mazur from the 1930s, cited in Adam Curtis’ documentary ‘The Century of the Self’
2. Bernays, EL. (1947) ‘The Engineering of Consent’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 250 p. 113.
3. Bernays, Edward (1928) Propaganda p.1
4. Debord, G. (1967) The Society of the Spectacle
5. eg. recent concerns about the levels of prescription of antidepressants (such as Prozac) and their resulting contamination of the water supply
6. Eco, Umberto (1976) Travels in Hyper Reality
7. Baudrillard, Jean (1976) Simulacra and Simulations
8. Graves, C. (1974) ‘Human Nature Prepares for a Momentus Leap’ The Futurist, April 1974 p.72-87