Preye Raymond is a leading content writer who enjoys a blend of pragmatism in his self-help topics.
Recently, I argued with a friend. He had an opinion that we are all instruments of society, structured from birth to go along with whatever society dictates.
I countered his opinion and I made him recognize the existence of individual choices and preferences. But he kept on insisting that individual choices and preferences were mere illusions: we are made to think that we are in control of how we choose to live our lives, but in reality, those choices are manipulated by society.
Days after, I realized that his argument made sense. The realization came while I was watching a documentary on Chairman Mao, and how he socially conditioned the youths (setting up the Red Guards) to carry out the Cultural Revolution in China in the 60s.
It is common knowledge that our values and identities are often reflected through our environment, societal norms, and standards. However, social conditioning explicates how specific entities and factions manipulate these norms and standards to dictate their ideologies to the public–either through psychological means or violent means– n order to influence the choices and character of each individual unconsciously.
Instances of Social Conditioning
The saying ”Man is by nature a social anima,l” by Aristotle, has become a weapon of social manipulation throughout history by the so-called great minds.
In the early 20th century, Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, became known as the father of propaganda. Bernays had contempt for public opinion. He saw public opinions as primitive and incapable of making concrete decisions. He wanted the populace to be ruled by a handful of people that were capable of shaping opinions and society in general.
His vision was to shift norms and culture by changing what is expected and standard in the world and each society, then use that to control or manipulate people into taking certain actions without them overthinking. His ideology led to the innovation of public relations, which steered an effective campaign in sales and advertising in the United States.
Another example of social conditioning is Neo-colonialism. This is an ideology that grips most African indigenous societies and institutions, giving priority to western knowledge and social dominance. For instance, most Africans (including their scholars and their government) have been conditioned to think that western thoughts, pop culture, and technological advancements are utopian and should be the standard of development for most African societies.
Almost every community and society experiences social conditioning in one way or the other, and their citizens make unconscious choices based on that. We are often blind to the existential crisis posed by social conditioning and we fail to see how some of these social norms negatively affect our lives.
How the Excesses of Consumerism Condition Individuality
Throughout the years, Bernays’ propaganda and public relations ideology greatly influenced the consumer market. He succeeded in shifting cultural norms and well-recognized institutions to control the buying intent of the public to increase sales and profit for companies who hired him.
The effects of his ideology are still very much in existence today, and it grew worse because people no longer buy what they need, but what they want. And some confuse what they want with what they need, a Ferris wheel that keeps swirling.
The manipulation of consumer choice by businesses, brands, and advertising agencies has intensified the feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem among individuals. And, the media, entertainment industries, and famous personalities have continued to feed this manipulation.
For instance: A James Bond movie depicting a car perfect for every confident man, or an ad showing off a glamorous dress worn by a model with an hourglass figure and radiant skin depicting how every woman should look like. Using glamorous personalities and content to exploit our desires and whet our appetite for high-class consumption.
The middle class and the rich are the most vulnerable to fall for this sort of manipulation because they enjoy the idea of standing out in society or being publicly adored. Therefore, to keep up such prestige, a ‘Bond-like’ car would do the trick, or the glamorous gown worn by the model in the ad will gain stares (even though your wardrobe is already cluttered with various designer wears).
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It is not a debate about having the money to afford anything you want and desire, it is a question of: How is buying and consuming everything you desire helping your mental, emotional and financial health? How is buying everything you want making you feel in control of your life and decisions?
A Cloned Identity
In Nigeria and other prominent African countries, westernization plays a major role in our political policies, economic policies, social policies, environmental policies, and education—making it extremely difficult to carve out a true and unique African identity.
In one of his lectures on African Philosophy, Dr. Sylvester Odia, a philosophy lecturer from the University of Benin, stated that most notable African philosophers and their works –from Placide Tempels’ Bantu Philosophy to Kwasi Wiredu's Conceptual Decolonization– were subtly conditioned to adopt western principles and foreign concepts (even though they claimed it had a unique African perspective and identity). For instance, Placide Tempels wrote his Bantu Philosophy in French, Kwasi Wiredu's Conceptual Decolonization was written in English (with English concepts and terminologies).
(These cases are not highlighted for criticism, but simply to illustrate the terrible effects of social conditioning inflicted by colonialism on an entire race of people, saddling them with a cloned identity in culture, history, and academics.)
This is also happening in our everyday lives especially with the advent of social media. People choose to clone their identities on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, etc. They are not aware that they are living a double identity because it seems normal and it’s part of the trend.
It has become normal to smile and look pretty for the camera, even though you feel awful, depressed, and sad inside. It has become normal to post motivational speeches and criticize others online, even though in reality you don't practice what you preach or you are as worse as those you are criticizing.
The worst part of all this is that we feel so insecure about ourselves that we start emulating the lifestyle and identities of different individuals we see online.
That is why it is almost impossible to find out the true character of those you relate with because every one of us wear different personalities and identities that are not ours. (And this is an implication of how we've been conditioned to believe certain practices and behaviors in society as being normal.)
Entitlement and Narcissism
Civilization has made our reality a more comfortable place to inhabit. But sometimes it is necessary to hesitate and question whether civilization is moving too fast and going to an extreme, ripping apart our rationale.
The excesses of consumerism and our cloned identities (discussed above) are both consequences of civilization–which have resulted in entitlement and narcissism.
Civilization has socially conditioned most people to feel entitled and self-centered by providing a wide range of choices and by shouldering responsibilities. Whether it is driving a Bond-like car because you want to be the star of the party (narcissism) or feeling that you are not successful because the current government has not done well to create enough jobs (feelings of entitlement) when there are multiple skills you can learn, and good financial investments you can venture into.
We've all become gods in our own eyes and everyone has an opinion of how they've not been treated fairly. Nowadays, most people rely on society and civilization to solve their problems more than ever.
Strangely, society encourages such behaviors, because it sometimes benefits the powerful and influential few who are pulling the strings (using the media and the economy) to achieve their objectives.
Social conditioning is a very crucial issue that can alter your self-improvement if you don’t discipline yourself to be self-conscious of your decisions. Because what impacts the mental and physical state of an individual is not always genetically engineered but also induced by the social environment. (You have to be constantly conscious of social influences and how they affect your decisions and lifestyle.)
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Preye Raymond