“Hacking The Soul”, or “Lobotomy Economy” would have been equally apt headings for what I’m about to say, so take your pick, but please do read on.

Image by Howard Lake – source: Flickr

Yeah, let’s start with that title. All three headings I suggest here can be easily identified as “click-bait”. Like headlines in a newspaper, it serves primarily as a means to lure you in, dear reader. And what’s more, you actually know this, but still you let yourself be lured in by yet another sensational headline that’s meant to shock you in one way or another. That’s the first example of the constant battering of fake emotions we endure; the battle for our attention is won through the appealing to our emotions in ever more efficient ways. I’m not good at it, but I also am guilty of the occasional attempt to come up with that “catchy” title. And the other way around, I too get click-baited on a regular basis. This is not to point fingers, just an observation and an attempt to come up with a theory about it’s causes and effects.

This is important in my humble opinion because we are emotionally driven in everything. To act or to react, we have to feel one way or another about things. Emotions drive our actions and our moral behavior. Our capacity, through mirror-neurons, to imagine standing in another person’s shoes, and feeling something about it, drives us to universally accept in principle “The Golden Rule”, it’s what enables us to rush to someone’s aid, what makes us “turn the other cheek”, what makes us function as a society. Therefore it should make alarm-bells ring when you see signs of moral indifference or emotional bluntness rise in your society.

Lobotomy was outlawed in most western countries in the late 1950s. Nowadays the word is used mostly as a reference to medical or psychological barbarism. Lobotomy is a surgical procedure that involves severing connections in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. During our growth from baby to adult, this is the last part of the brain to develop, and it’s also the “most advanced” part that gives us most of the abilities that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The procedure was used as a treatment for a variety of mental illnesses, but almost always had severe side-effects:

“Following the operation, spontaneity, responsiveness, self-awareness and self-control were reduced. Activity was replaced by inertia, and people were left emotionally blunted and restricted in their intellectual range.” – source: Wikipedia

Dr. Walter Freeman, left, and Dr. James W. Watts study an X ray before a psychosurgical operation. Psychosurgery is cutting into the brain to form new patterns and rid a patient of delusions, obsessions, nervous tensions and the like. – Saturday Evening Post 24 May 1941 – source: Wikimedia Commons

“Surgically induced childhood” was another way to describe the effects of lobotomy, as the operation often left the patient with an “infantile personality”. Apathetic kids is what they often became, still able to feel emotions, but unable to formulate in their minds a proper response to them, sometimes unable to control them, but most of the times completely indifferent about them, emotionally blunted. And their personality changed forever, they weren’t the same person anymore.

And we aren’t the same society anymore. Society’s lobotomy isn’t as obvious as the actual surgery, but it’s causes and effects can be seen in many things. For one thing, the free market economy has unleashed an everlasting war with a perpetual psychological arms-race to win our attention and interest. Not rationality but emotions move us to go out and shop or vote, which calls for a constant bombardment of our senses with ever smarter bombs that ensure an emotional response. As a consequence we are becoming more and more desensitized:

“In psychology, desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative, aversive or positive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. It also occurs when an emotional response is repeatedly evoked in situations in which the action tendency that is associated with the emotion proves irrelevant or unnecessary.” – source: Wikipedia

A consumer culture with endless temptation and instant gratification, leads to emotionally blunted individuals with a child-like 30 second attention-span. We’re becoming emotionally confused by the constant signalling of happiness and content used in the war over our souls; in the drug-store, a place where sick people come to buy medicine, I’m surrounded by brochures and advertisement posters depicting happy, smiling people, and the cashier has a plastic smile to match.

Don’t kid yourself; billions of dollars are being spent on the technology and science needed to control our emotions, to hack our souls. I’ll never forget that psychologists are hired to target children in television ads to influence them into influencing their parents. It’s called “the nag factor” or “pester power”:

“Pester Power” or “The Nag Factor”, as the phenomenon is known in US literature, is the “tendency of children, who are bombarded with marketers’ messages, to unrelentingly request advertised items”. The phrase is used to describe the negative connotations of children’s influence in their parents buying habits. – source: Wikipedia

This is a war in which no one is spared, not even the children (especially not the children), and where not even the relationship between parent and child is sacred; could we eventually even be desensitized to the artificially induced emotions of our own children?

As adults we’ve become consumers of sensations and sensationalism; hence the click-bait, the sensational headlines, the increasing violence in movies and on television, the outrageous sensationalism in politics… When something bad happens and someone is in need of aid, the “bystander effect” takes a hold of us and many will immediately grab their mobile and start taking pictures or film, instead of using the damn thing to call for aid, or rushing to their aid themselves.

How are we supposed to feel bad about anything when we’re constantly told that “feeling bad” is something you just don’t allow yourself to do? Could it be that the constant demand for you to feel happy about life and about yourself, is related to the enormous profits that are being made with selling anti-depressants? And if we can simply choose to not feel unhappy by buying happiness in some form, isn’t unhappiness then a personal choice, your own fault? And could that realization possibly add to the depression? Add to the disconnect between the happy-bombs constantly being dropped and real life?

I don’t have immediate answers, just want to make you aware of the questions. And I know that this is a very one-sided and generalizing post; of course there are still people that do rush to that victim’s aid. And of course it’s also a good thing that citizens record evidence of events in society, seeing the unreliability of traditional or mainstream media. There’s always multiple perspectives on every issue, so please don’t hesitate to share yours in the comments section. But the way I see it, as a society we are becoming increasingly “emotionally blunted and restricted in our intellectual range”, and I suspect the pervasiveness of consumer culture, to the degree that even voters are being treated as customers, has something to do with that.

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