We’re All Brainwashed

co-authored by Charles Rae

Collage work by Charles Rae from the show ‘Edge of a Paradigm’

There have been rumors going around for ages, you might call them theories, that hidden powers act as invisible hands which guide the puppet strings of our lives. Here in The US we’ve called it things like The Man, The System, and Uncle Sam. People say the mysterious Illuminati includes the likes of Jay-Z and Lebron James. I bet most people would say they don’t trust “the media”.

In essence, it’s a shadowy group of rich men who use war to conspire and manipulate the world with the wealth they accrued off the backs of the poorer classes. Sound familiar? It’s a narrative we know. It was in all of our movies, cartoons, and history books. Not only that, but it’s mainstream to talk about the 1% now. So why does it sound like a conspiracy theory when I say the US has been hijacked by warlords?

Because. We’re all brainwashed. You might have said that about other people before, but I would guess that you haven’t said that about yourself. I’m talking about you, too. We all are.

Square one, how does indoctrination work? The most apparent example that comes to mind is the forced assimilation of Native peoples in the US from 1790–1920. This was done through sending the youth to boarding schools where “they insisted that students drop their Indian names, forbade the speaking of native languages, and cut off their long hair. Not surprisingly, such schools often met fierce resistance from Native American parents and youth.”

As Capt. Richard H. Pratt said in all seriousness:

“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Have you ever been expected or forced to adhere to uniforms or dress codes? Did they meet the fierce resistance in you? No? You are brainwashed. What happened to Native peoples is an extreme example of the tactics used to brainwash and herd masses of people, conditioning them to act the ways you want them to.

For example, monitoring spaghetti straps and skirt levels is a victim-blamey way of desensitizing girls to giving up their autonomy. They’re taught that other people get to choose their clothes for them, and that it’s their responsibility to not ‘distract boys’. They begin learning the delicate balance between what might get them called a whore, or into the dreaded office by an administrator, and what might get them called a prude or uncool in some other horrible way. Condition girls this way, and they come out other the end thinking what they wear is a choice. It was never a choice.

Our levels of conformity have always fluctuated depending on our situation and possible repercussions. For many of us, being ourselves is a ‘ sometimes in the evenings’ but ‘mostly on the weekends’ thing. That goes not only for what we wear, but where we spend our time, who we have to talk to, what kind of things we can say or not say, and even when we can take breaks. These methods of control imprint in our neural structures. This is normal. We go forth in unison and matching outfits to punch a time clock.

Why do our institutions have this kind of control over us? Turns out, that’s pretty simple. Our societies keep us vulnerable so we can be manipulated. If you put people in the position, they will prioritize survival far over self-actualization.

Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs

Everything is much worse if you’re poor (shocker). This is basic sociology. Poverty is a man-made problem. It could easily be alleviated by shuffling funds. Never forget that the government officials and celebrities who tell us what we should be doing to help, how ‘if the people only’ this or that, have the answer to our problems in their back pockets.

So stop and imagine for a moment. Picture your most fulfilling, ideal life.

Would you vote for 40 hour work weeks? 8 hour shifts? In this life you thought of, would you take a trip with your family only once a year, if that? What retirement age would you pick? Does your dream involve a job that most likely isn’t in your field? How often would you choose to stress over bills? How many times would you go into debt? Who would you be?

Or better yet, why are you doing any of these things now? Because they are the best choice? Because they are the only choice? Because you are afraid of the consequences if you don’t?

We’ve been handed out lives that make us miserable so we can seek enjoyment in escaping them.

Mondays are evil and Fridays can’t come soon enough (unless you work on the weekends). It’s a basic understanding that we all joke about.

Once it’s the weekend, the concentration shifts focus as we seek refuge. Have you ever asked yourself who makes these schedules?

The quick version is that there was a time not long ago that there were no labor standards and mostly everyone lived in tyranny. “In England 1833, a law was passed saying that any child under the age of 9 could not work, children age 9–13 could only work 8 hours a day, and children aged 14–18 could only work 12 hours a day.”


After industrialization took off, 10–16hr work days were the norm. That’s when labor unions and resistance took off too. Yup. Fierce resistance. Over decades, labor standards have gotten better in first world countries, which is more than we can say for third world countries, and it wasn’t without a price. Big business and fat cats from wall street fought it the whole way, sending cops to beat and detain those who rebelled against the status quo.

History rhymed during 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, showing the genX activists just how far cops were willing to go to enforce the party line of the oligarchy.

Now, we all still work most of our lives, and it increased their profits. We’re at the perfect median for those in power. Enough time working so we don’t have the energy to question our society, to resist, but not enough that we’re dying in their buildings. Now, rich people get to pretend they’re helping us out when they make more shitty jobs. Which is why, today, people waste so much time while they’re at work. Day after day. Week after week. Life after life. Wasted.

The monotony, the repetition, both physically and visually, and the exhaustion felt after a long week of work, puts one in the perfect position for hypnosis. The American Psychological Association defines hypnosis as, “a therapeutic technique in which individuals have undergone a procedure designed to relax them and focus their minds.”

We come home in a state where suggestions are readily accepted, while our brains are already suggestible by nature.

Yup, turns out, the brain is kind of a lazy organ. It is great at cutting corners and seeking out familiar stimuli in order to conserve energy. A study by Bargh, Chen and Burroughs show that much of our behavior is unfiltered by our conscious or judgmental processes, and that priming can manipulate our behaviors.

As an example, let’s say I told you a story about a time at the beach where my cousin laid down too close to the ocean. She didn’t realize the water was rising because she’d fallen asleep. We all had a good laugh as her belongings drifted out to sea.

Now, if I ask you the first laundry detergent that comes to mind, you’re much more likely to answer “Tide” than “Snuggle”. This is an implicit association. This sounds weird because most of us think we are the authors of our choices, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Corporate names and logos prime us every day. It’s not a small number, either. We’re seeing an average of 5,000 adverts throughout a day. The priming we’re subjected to includes solidifying binary gender role hierarchies, perpetuating racial hierarchies, furthering elitist ideals, and, most importantly, training on how to be obedient consumers. We are more likely to make cognitive mistakes when we work 25 hours a week too many, because we physically have less energy, time, and desire, to consider deeper implications and analyze messages.

A Stanford study confirms our neural function decreases when stimuli is repeated, so we are more likely to choose options we’ve had more exposure to.

Essentially, it’s not really hard to brainwash someone. You just get them to work for significant portions of the day all the while flashing them messages. They’re not even subliminal messages. They’re direct. Buy this. Your life will be better.

We’re shown how consumption can improve our social status, sex appeal and reputations. We’re battered with advertisements, news stories, and charity guilt which frame our conversations and result in groupthink. They influence our behaviors and actions. If you combine our natural susceptibility to cognitive bias with the tiring lifestyle that hypnotizes us, people become the sheep everyone says that they are.

Even the contexts in which we have fun are strange.

For instance, we go to amusement parks. We need gas. We sit in traffic. We pay for parking. We pay for entry. We pay way too much for food. We window shop. Maybe we stand in line for hours to get on a single roller coaster. If we want to splurge, we can literally buy time by purchasing a “cut-the-line” pass. Turns out, that line has a line, too. After winning weird-smelling stuffed animals from carnival games, we consider renting storage space just to keep all the crap. Meanwhile, the void in our wallets where money once was starts to bother us. We then convince ourselves it was a great day and post about it on social media.

That familiar angst lives even in our relaxation, turning a day off into an opportunity cost comparison of the bills we left on the desk at home.

We’ve built our functional realities around the messages that have been fed to us. Where to go for fun, what to wear, what to watch on TV to keep up with pop culture, which ring to buy if we’ve fallen in love (it’s really expensive, btw. Ask DeBeers. Just a coincidence, though!). We’re told lovely stories about how we’ll be able to pay our debts back with our fancy degrees, how we can find a great job if we just intern for free for a couple of years. One car commercial boldly shows us how our families will behave better if we purchase their car. Reality is packaged with hyperbolic language so we’re filled with the fear of missing out.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

When we make the purchases that are supposed to raise our status, the high is short-lived. The disappointment is depressing, and we look for the next thing to buy or wear that can heighten our status further.

Humans have learned an enormous amount about the brain within the past 100 years, including that they demonstrate enormous capacity for neuroplasticity. Learning to see this propaganda is resistance. Knowing how our brains work is resistance. Noticing what is influencing us is resistance. Through re-educating ourselves to understand propaganda, we can have serious impacts on our pathological responses.

We’re afraid to go all the way, though. Because we’re brainwashed.

Like what you read? Give Steven Romero a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.