The Impact of Science on Society, Part 4 – Mass Psychology and Education

Mass Psychology and Education

Originally Posted February 4, 2008

“For some reason which I have failed to understand, many people like the system [scientific totalitarianism] when it is Russian but disliked the very same system when it was German. I am compelled to think that this is due to the power of labels; these people like whatever is labelled ‘Left’ without examining whether the label has any justification.”- Bertrand Russell, 1952 (p56)

What exactly is the purpose of education? Does the government want to teach young people how to think and reason for themselves or is it a form of mass psychology aimed at propagandising the young? These questions are examined through Bertrand Russell’s 1952 book entitled The Impact of Science on Society*.

Education, a Modern Method of Propaganda

From Bertrand Russell’s The Impact of Science on Society:

“I think the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology. Mass psychology is, scientifically speaking, not a very advanced study… This study is immensely useful to practical men, whether they wish to become rich or to acquire the government. It is, of course, as a science, founded upon individual psychology, but hitherto it has employed rule-of-thumb methods which were based upon a kind of intuitive common sense. Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of

modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called ‘education’. Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the Press, the cinema and the radio play an increasing part.

What is essential in mass psychology is the art of persuasion. If you compare a speech of Hitler’s with a speech of (say) Edmund Burke, you will see what strides have been made in the art since the eighteenth century. What went wrong formerly was that people had read in books that man is a rational animal, and framed their arguments on this hypothesis. We now know that limelight and a brass band do more to persuade than can be done by the most elegant train of syllogisms. It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment.

This subject will make great strides when it is taken up by scientists under a scientific dictatorship. Anaxagoras maintained that snow is black, but no one believed him. The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakeable conviction that snow is black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark grey.” [emphasis mine] 40

The Intended Result of Education

“The completeness of the resulting control over opinion depends in various ways upon scientific technique. Where all children go to school, and all schools are controlled by the government, the authorities can close the minds of the young to everything contrary to official orthodoxy. Printing is impossible without paper, and all paper belongs to the State. Broadcasting and the cinema are equally public monopolies. The only remaining possibility of unauthorised propaganda is by secret whispers from one individual to another. But this, in turn, is rendered appallingly dangerous by improvements in the art of spying. Children at school are taught that it is their duty to denounce their parents if they allow themselves subversive utterances in the bosom of the family. No one can be sure that a man who seems to be his dearest friend will not denounce him to the police; the man may himself have been in some trouble, and may know that if he is not efficient as a spy his wife and children will suffer. All this is not imaginary, it is daily and hourly reality. Nor, given oligarchy, is there the slightest reason to expect anything else.” [emphasis mine] – 58

“Scientific societies are as yet in their infancy. It may be worthwhile to spend a few moments in speculating as to possible future developments of those that are oligarchies.

It is to be expected that advances in physiology and psychology will give governments much more control over individual mentality than they now have even in totalitarian countries. Fichte laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished. But in his day this was an unattainable ideal: what he regarded as the best system in existence produced Karl Marx. In future such failures are not likely to occur where there is dictatorship. Diet, injections, and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible. Even if all are miserable, all will believe themselves happy, because the government will tell them that they are so.” [emphasis mine] – 61

That is really worth repeating.

“Diet, injections, and injunctions [a command, admonition, etc.] will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and the sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable, and any serious criticism of the powers that be will become psychologically impossible.”

Some Miscellaneous Uses of Education

“…result from the elimination of war [and the establishment of a world government]. A great deal, also, is to be hoped from a change in propaganda. Nationalist propaganda, in any violent form, will have to be illegal, and children in schools will not be taught to hate and despise foreign nations. Active instruction in the evils of the old times and the advantages of the new system would do the rest. I am convinced that only a few psychopaths would wish to return to the daily dread of radioactive disintegration.” – 108

“The nations which at present increase [their populations] rapidly should be encouraged to adopt the methods by which, in the West, the increase of population has been checked.

Educational propaganda, with government help, could achieve this result in a generation.” [emphasis mine] – 116

The idea of using education or rather sex education to reduce the population of the west was further promoted in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich in his book The Population Bomb**: “We need a federal law requiring sex education in schools – sex education that includes discussion of the need for regulating the birth rate and of the techniques of birth control. Such education should begin at the earliest age recommended by those with professional competence in this area – certainly before junior high school.

By “sex education” I do not mean course focusing on hygiene or presenting a simpleminded “birds and bees” approach to human sexuality. The reproductive function of sex must be shown as just one of its functions, and one that must be carefully regulated in relation to the needs of the individual and society.” – 133

For more on Paul Ehrlich’s views on the use of education and other means of population control please read this previous article, Population, Religion and Sex Education .

The Governing Classes Only

Most people reading this article are the products of a state run educational system. If the above is not enough to make you reflect on the merits of universal education and on all of the things you were ‘taught’ as a child (and since then), hopefully the following quote will.

“Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen…” [emphasis mine] – 41

*Quotes from Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1952). ISBN0-41510906-X **Quotes from: Paul R. Ehrlich. The Population Bomb: Revised & Expanded Edition (1968, 1971). SBN 345-24489-3-150.


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