THE ATON PROJECT NEWSLETTER - June 2009
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DID I BUY THAT?

     

     

      One can say that psychology received its birth somewhere around the same time as the birth of democracy, in 6th century Greece. It was the Greeks that placed the study of the brain playing an important part in the “reasoning” process as an aspect of medicine. At that time there was no concept of a “soul” because there were no “religions” as we know them today. Toward the end of the 5th century Pythagoras developed a philosophy that included a “soul” that permeated the body of all living organisms. Plato and Aristotle carried on this concept which eventually was accepted by the Christian religion. Over the next few centuries and through the Middle Ages psychology as a science had to take a back seat to religion and philosophy.
     
     After the French Revolution and the new discoveries in science the field of psychology started to emerge once more as a science onto itself. The history of the 19th century can be viewed as a history of various schools of systematic thought about the mind and of fields of research and experimentation into the mental apparatus. Mental tests emerged along with the functional psychology of individual differences. Urban areas were growing at a rapid pace and there was a need for a remedy for much of the ills that accompanied the problems inherent in poverty and overcrowding. Sigmund Freud’s initial research into the mind started with his experiments with poor patients at an institute in France in the late 1800’s.
     
     In the early years of the 20th century there was widespread resistance to the mechanization and the wage system itself. Most of the American population lived in rural areas where radios and the telephones were a rare. The majority of the population of this time felt alienated from the newspaper reports of what transpired in the major metropolises that may have been just a couple of hundred miles away in Illinois or New York. Business men of the time saw the need to integrate this new working man and his family into the social order. The development of “consumerism” became imperative as a means of social control and it also answered the need for goods distribution.
     
     The field of psychology, at this time, was firmly intact but divided into two schools of thought: the introspective practitioners and the “functionalists” (scientists interested in a person’s ability or inability to function in society). Functionalism actually started as a reaction to psychoanalysis which was beginning to receive much interest around this time. Gestalt therapy, which was born in Germany, was also in its nascent form at this time. The newspaper industry with its blending of art and language was an effective tool in reaching the public but most newspapers were considered “muckrakers”, eager to dig up dirt on the rich and powerful. With its pesky young journalists looking for a good story to topple the Robber Barons or rival newspaper barons because of some indiscretion, the newspapers of the time were a thorn in the side of crooked politicians and corporations. However, creative minds saw the promise of marrying the advertising power of the journalist with the psychologist in order to ramp up demand for new products, thus creating a new consumer economy.
     
     The Rockefeller family and the Pennsylvania Railroad were among the first to utilize the services of a “Public Relations” person because of their much hated reputations at the time. They both sought the services of Mr. Ivy Lee, a reporter who used his skills to start representing corporations that had bad reputations. Ivy Lee was soon joined by a number of other former newspaper men entering this growing field of enhancing the image of large corporations. One of those in the upstart business of Public Relations was another former journalist, Edward Bernays (nephew of Sigmund Freud). Bernays’ success can be attributed to his regular consultations with psychoanalysts in his family and those associated with his family. His utilization of psychological methods to tap into the unconscious of the public ( he called it the public’s “herd instinct”) took advertising to a new level. His work was so effective that government agencies used his services to promote programs that may have been controversial at the time. Bernays introduced this new element into the corporation’s almost militaristic propaganda campaign to instill social control through consumerism. Advertising and public relations gave the individual the feeling that, in buying a product, he was becoming part of a cultural whole. This was something that politicians were not yet capable of accomplishing. The science of psychology was to help the corporations tap into the unconscious of the consumer and to develop ways of creating “needs” for products that they may not have taken notice of. Gradually a number of social and psychological researchers started making the switch from helping the emotionally disturbed individual to helping the financially astute corporation.
     
     In Part II we will look at the Great Depression and Beyond.
     

     


     

     


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