Societies are Dictated by Imaginations
The means to govern the human organism is the same means that allows the human organism to govern other animals. Put more precisely, the imagination controls behaviour as much as the imagination propagates the human species; thus, those who vex the general public’s imagination can obtain a wireless control.
The imagination’s ability to produce a theoretical future, albeit based on whim, is far from arbitrary. There is a logic to the operations of imagination, and it is this logic that the power-hungry intend to manipulate; to drive the imaginative system into a state which they can take advantage of. When fed disheartening information, it becomes overly pessimistic; when fed joyous information, it becomes overly optimistic. Put more precisely, when someone becomes overly pessimistic, they become like-minded with the person that received a terminal diagnosis. They foresee a limited future filled with insurmountable obstacles. The pessimist has given up before they have even tried, and the cause of the collapse is owed to the imagination. In comparison, when someone becomes overly optimistic, they are indistinguishable from those who win the lottery. They foresee a future with little to no troubles, not a single obstacle to overcome. The optimist commits to action without the least bit of consideration for potential downfalls and difficulties, they have imagined nothing but glory: a fool’s gold. To elucidate further the logic of imagination, consider yet another distinction, one perhaps familiar to the economist or investor. A pessimist will sell their beloved items when enough disheartening information about those items has been processed, and for a price which releases an obscene amount of dopamine in the brain of the buyer; hence why they bought. An optimist will buy goods and services when they have processed enough joyous information about those goods and services, and for a price far beyond the genuine worth of either. Such affairs can be summarized in the notorious saying: “The intelligent investor is a realist who sells to optimists and buys from pessimists.” ― Benjamin Graham, The Intelligent Investor
Thus, a government of imagination is a government of what someone will think about the future. So, then one wonders, what tools are at the disposal of those that seek to control our future via imagination. Certainly, newspapers, televisions, and public speaking are some of the frequently used information streams; however, these streams are tools of presentation, not control. Even the linguistic vessels that are sailed into the harbors of our imaginations are but tools of presentation, for they present us with plausible intentional states of a speaker; a vital part of communication. And however much variance these presentation tools contribute to control, they fall short of being tools for control.
The tools to control the imagination all have an underlining feature; that is, they rely on explicit, or implicit, declarations and assumptions about future states of existence. Be it a promise, a story, or prediction, these all paint our imaginations with a future of sorts. Rather than a description of the present moment, which may have an undeniable vestige of pessimsm, leaders can design an imaginative model of our future days through their promises and stories. Even amongst our most trusted circle of fellows, the construction of hypothetical futures is utterly prevalent. Whether it be a friend that promises to stop by for coffee tomorrow or a boss that demands projections for next years growth, information that relates to a future soon to arrive will be conveyed. So, the control over how one thinks about the future is achieved through promises, predictions, and things that are alike.
To understand this further, let us consider the nature of promising.
To Govern by Promise
A promise, put simply, is the commitment to some action that will bring about a specific future. Consider that a promise to pay back the money owed to a friend is a commitment to giving one’s friend said money; a promise to change one’s behaviour is a commitment to alter one’s current actions to bring about a different future. These distinct promises follow the same structure, which is the commitment to action that will bring about a specific future, and it is this structure that the power-hungry deploy.
When a populace needs to be driven toward a specific mindset about a particular topic, for whatever purpose, a person can guide the imaginations of the populace with a promise. Let us work with a specific example, so that we may both, my dear reader, be on the same page.
Suppose a leader wanted to enact a plan that would win them friends and influence amongst a powerful group of individuals, and this plan was to lay down a pipeline in the middle of a forest. Here, a tremendous difficulty awaits the leader; more specifically, to overcome the public’s fervor for nature, the leader must elegantly place into the imaginations of the masses a future full of prosperity. However, he cannot simply say, “we will be prosperous upon the implantation of the pipeline into the forest,” as this will stimulate the imagination far less than the wretched image of a destroyed forest. The leader must appeal to the imagination with a promise so utopian that it guides the mind into a vivid stupor, dripping in prosperity: a euphoric high. If this promise is successful, we will forgo our considerations about the potential dangers of forest pipelines, we will forgo a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, and we will, undoubtedly, forgo the semblance of principled reasoning we had left.
How can one consider the dangers of something so beautiful? A future with enough wealth to put all worries aside. We tend to think highly of beautiful things, so much so that we even tolerate more from beauty than its long-forgotten cousin, the ugly duckling. For example, in the domain of human relationships, people tolerate maltreatment longer from those who have the blessings of the Gods within their physical appearance (1). In the domain of vehicles, car owners will sacrifice performance levels for aesthetics. Even in the domain of food, we frequently rate prettier food as tastier food (2). Has anyone ever considered the potential dangers of heaven?
If the temptation of heaven blinds us to danger, potentially portraying murky clouds as pearly gates, then how can we engage in a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis? Indeed, when our human minds become excited about something, we become blind to the negatives of that something. In our most lustful states, we view potential mates with an overly positive attitude and attribute to them a superb set of character traits (3), all while having no justification to do so. In our most optimistic states, we appraise ambiguous situations as inherently good or favorable situations rather than inquire for more information (4). And when we are tempted by an immediate reward, too few of us hold out for the long-term reward. Joy and pleasure remove the caution signs to the mine-field and camouflage it with flowers and bunnies.
We are deceived into making decisions that are devoid of the principles long-ago established in our personal development; the very props which hold us up in the most deleterious situations become neglected because a threshold of excitation within our imagination has been surpassed. The principled environmentalist will compartmentalize their belief system when the advantages of owning a motor vehicle are made apparent; a person following the rules to a weight loss or muscle building diet will break such rules upon the temptation to unwind during an evening with some friends and a lot of chocolate-covered desserts. Evidently, in the midst of those things that tempt us sufficiently, we become swayed out of principled reasoning; the surge of pleasure chemicals being secreted into those microcosms of life we call synapses has altered our course. The event that causes this wave of brain-based pleasure is one that is anticipated; therefore, imagined (5). It is only in the aftermath of our impulsive behaviour, an aftermath littered with cognitive dissonance and regret, that we realize our error; we know that we have betrayed that which guides us in the darkest of times: our principles.
Thus, as we can see, a leader that seeks to construct a pipeline through the heart of our beloved forest must sway the public through illusion. Sell to them not the present but the future prosperity which they will experience; there need be no reference to the plan to build either. Tell them not of any safety procedures or precautions taken, relentlessly promise prosperity. If the promised future reaches a certain threshold of temptation, then there will, no doubt, be a pipeline constructed; for all humans can fall victim to idealism and temptation.
“I can resist anything except temptation.”
― Oscar Wilde
A Journey Back to the Present
With these last few grains of sand left to fall through to the other side of our hourglass, I will offer some positive comments about illusions.
It is human nature to think about the future, and it is even a central feature of intelligence, so our illusions will accompany us to the gravestone. This is not all bad, thankfully. Illusions, though they may make us susceptible to manipulation and malintent, also offer us hope.
Hope is that funny thing us irrational mammals have, its a driving lifeforce for humans. Despite all odds and rational mathematics, we hope that our best is good enough, we hope our children live wondrous lives, and we hope things continuously get better. Our imaginations have made us the hopeful mammal. Indeed, hope is an essential tool for humans; it alieves us from the echoes of pessimism found throughout society; it allows us to push ourselves towards a goal, irrespective of the challenges; and it, most importantly, makes the world a better place. Even in the worst of times, be it a war, a famine, or an economic collapse, we can still hope. What a miserable world it would be without imagination, for it would be a world without hope.
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- Branscombe, N. R., & Baron, R. A. (2017). Social psychology.
- Mlodinow, L. (2012). Subliminal: How your unconscious mind rules your behavior. New York, N.Y: Book
- Kahneman, D. (2015). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Ranyard, R., Crozier, W. R., & Svenson, O. (1997). Decision making: Cognitive models and explanations. London: Routledge.
- Linden, David J., & Pratt, Sean. (2016). The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods…learning, and Gambling Feel So Good.
- Festinger, L. (2009). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.