Book Review: Year of Consent–Rerun with Additional Commentary

I reviewed this book in 2021.  Published in 1954, it is set in the then-future year of 1990–a time when though the United States is still nominally a democracy, the real power lies with the social engineers…sophisticated advertising & PR men…who use psychological methods to persuade people that they really want what they are supposed to want.  Events in the two years since I posted that review have even more strongly demonstrated the almost overwhelming political power that is exercised by the communications industry–traditional media, social media, also academia–and I think the review is about due for a rerun.  I’ll add some additional thoughts at the end.

The social engineers who are the true masters of the country are aided in their tasks by a giant computer called Sociac (500,000 vacuum tubes! 860,000 relays!) and colloquially known as ‘Herbie.’  The political system now in place is called Democratic Rule by Consent.  While the US still has a President, he is a figurehead and the administration of the country is actually done by the General Manager of the United States….who himself serves at the pleasure of the social engineers.  The social engineers work in a department called ‘Communications’, which most people believe is limited to such benign tasks as keeping the telephones and the television stations in operation.  Actually, its main function is conducting influence operations.

One approach involves the publishing of novels which are fictional, but carry implicit social and/or political messages…via, for example, the beliefs and affiliations of the bad guys versus the good guys. Even the structure of novels is managed for messaging reasons: romance-story plots should not be boy gets girl…loses girl…gets girl back, but rather boy gets girl, loses girl, gets different girl who is really right for him.

Some methods are more direct, although their real objectives are not stated.  One such objective is population control: If the fertility rate is running a little low, advertising is ramped up for a pill called Glamorenes, which are said to create the “rounded, glamorous figure of a TV star…remember–it’s Glamorenes for glamor.”  Actually, the real function of Glamorenes, which is top secret, is to increase a woman’s sex drive and expand the fertility window.  On the other hand, if the birth rate is running too high, the ad emphasis switches to Slimettes for women and Vigorone for men, both of which have a contraceptive effect.  The book’s protagonist, Gerald Leeds, is one of the few who is in on the secret, and when he hears a Glamorenes ad, he realizes that this is the real reason why his girlfriend, Nancy, has been acting especially affectionate lately.

Few people, even at the highest levels of government, realize just how powerful the Communications Department really is.  “Even the biggest wheels only know part of it.  They think the Communications Administrative Department exists to help them–and not the other way around.”

The computer known as Sociac (‘Herby’) accumulates vast amounts of data on individuals, including such things as shopping, dining, and vacation preferences. “Thus, when the administration wanted to make a new move, they knew exactly how to condition the people so that it would be backed. Or they knew exactly what sort of man to put up to win a popular election.” Telephone calls are tapped, but are rarely listened to directly by government agents; rather, they are fed directly to “a calculator” (perhaps a front-end to Herbie) and added to “the huge stock of intimate knowledge about the people.”

8 thoughts on “Book Review: <em>Year of Consent</em>–Rerun with Additional Commentary”

  1. David,

    Alot of dimensions to the book you reviewed.

    One of the first thoughts that came to me was a book from the 2000s by Sunstein and Thaler called “Nudge” which promoted a concept they called “libertarian paternalism.” They felt that they could push acceptable behavior not by coercive means such as taxation or laws but by changing an individual’s decision-making matrix through social nudges. Their response to the two most-stated criticisms of their approach, slippery slopism and dishonesty, were as follows. 1) They felt that their approach should be judged on its merits not what others may do. 2) They felt all such efforts by the government should be open.

    I had serious problems with it then and it is not aged well. Their adoption of “paternalism”, which well-intentioned, reflects a fundamental shift in the relationship between the citizen and his government. In many ways this shift mirrors the change from a constitutional government to that of an administrative state. If you begin to see people not as citizens created with the divine spark capable of self-government but rather as those making sub-optimal choices that need to be guided toward better pne by government, then that is a radical change. In a sense Sunstein and Thaler are legitimizing tools that not only weaken the body politic but that can, nay will, be exploited by actors who don’t share their libertarian beliefs.

    One of the concepts I have been grappling with is that of social psychology. It is something that while we don’t explicitly talk about we acknowledge its influence on an implicit level. Our history book has numerous examples of the heavy-handed propaganda efforts of the Nazis and communists and the social debate from the 60s and 70s of the effect of Madison Avenue and our consumer culture, but then nothing. It is if those social technologies had run their course and then vanished.

    However they didn’t so much much vanish as disappear below the detectable horizon. You see those technologies as far back as in the book you review and they certainly are at play today in pushing various agendas such as CRT, LGBT+, and climate change not to mention “MAGA.” Goebbels and Suslov didn’t go away, they just evolved like your iPhone into new and improved versions . In fact the efforts by the Democrats and government in general to manipulate and coerce social media. The Biden Administration has taken it a step further and actually invited various social media influencers to the White House.

    In fact we better get this all figured out fast because the Democrats’ entire 2024 election strategy is based on social psychology. It won’t matter who they run (well besides complete idiots like Biden and Kamala) or what issues. Really what we see is an inter-functional elite that has created a certain acceptable consensus that they expect people to adhere to and that is reinforced by countless images promoted in the media and entertainment world. In many ways it is of the same intellectual lineage as Soviet Realism but far more subtle. It also has a hefty dose of fear worked in because if you venture out of the modern and progressive embrace of the consensus you will be at the tender mercies of MAGA where they burn LGBT+ people at the stake, force you to give birth, and kick puppies

    I also see that N.S. Lyons’ has thoughts on the subject in his new post ( About time, the lolly-gagger.

  2. From HotAir:

    “The American Experiment is strong enough to survive corrupt politicians. It was designed specifically to do so, in perhaps the best example of political genius in human history.

    But it likely won’t survive this: an entire information infrastructure with the single-minded purpose of deceiving the American people in the service of promoting the political power of an elite that is determined to pillage the country and suppress the freedoms of average Americans.”

    via Grim:

    One factor that does significantly improve the American Experiment’s chance of survival is the Musk acquisition of Twitter.

  3. Like most people here, I don’t buy into the “Nudge” crap in the first place, but it’s a lot less egregious when you’re talking about something that really is “just” a nudge. If you can be persuaded to eat healthy food because it’s front and center at the cafeteria and you turn down the cake because you’d have to bend over to put it on your tray, you probably really didn’t want the cake all that badly in the first place. If you can be persuaded to dump your girlfriend and hook up with a new one because of a trashy novel you read, your relationship probably wasn’t rock solid to begin with.
    Dosing people with horny pills (or worse yet frigid pills) goes way beyond “nudge” territory. If you’re lobotomizing the recalcitrant, I don’t see how you can possibly convince yourself that what you’re doing is “persuasion”.

  4. I doubt, though, that a control-oriented regime would be giving out relationship advice just because they wanted the people to be happy. My impression was that there was an implicit message there, ‘if you do what you are Advised to do (maybe by some kind of psychological testing), then you will be happier’

  5. Far be it from me to disagree with the darkest suspicions of the dystopians as to the intent of different actors in the MSM and government. Fortunately for the rest of us, they are proving as incompetent at thought control as they are at everything else. There are, probably many, YouTube channels providing such cutting edge content as quilting and auto repair that will show viewer numbers far larger than anything on MSNBC, CNN or even FOX, RIP. Where once, “losing” Cronkite was tantamount to losing the country, how many people below 70 can name even one of the network anchors?

    Not that they wouldn’t do it if they could, they don’t have the manpower to put all of our heads in clamps with our eyes held open while they force feed us their version of truth. The era of information being controlled by a handful of men on the East Coast ended about 1998 with a stained blue dress and it’s not coming back.

  6. David,

    One marked difference between the book you describe and our current situation is that the social engineers of the book are in t our time fully integrated into the government-business-academia elite complex. We have seen ample evidence of that in the past 3-4 years with social media companies suppressing stories through adjusting algorithms, Democrats and government agencies working with companies to actively suppress certain stories, and traditional media openly rejecting objectivity. Meanwhile academia provides a patina of intellectual responsibility to the whole thing

    As far as the credibility of that elite complex, I think we need to be careful. By the 1960s how many citizens believed what was in Pravda or indeed any Soviet media outlet? However those Soviet media outlets had an enormous impact because of its monopoly on mass communication; you may not believe what you were being told but you had no idea what else to believe. Sure there were those getting information from the West but they were relatively small, suppressed, and those politically ineffective.

    If we want to look at political social engineering or more prosaically social psychology what that elite complex above is doing is not filling your head with information as opposed to influencing how you feel about politics. When I read or watch the traditional media outlets you have to dig deep to find out that Biden is actually President because most of the politics revolve around Trump and Republicans. They do that not (just) because Biden is a dweeb, but because their strategy is to influence the public at large to view Trump and Republicans as unacceptable (some media outlets are very explicit about this) They don’t want to convince you and I , they just want to render us ineffective by making us toxic.

    A good example of this is how allegations of election fraud/irregularities have been handled by the elite complex. To raise any question about how elections are handled is to be derided as an election denier and by definition can be ignored, basically the 21st Century version of a counter-revolutionary. I have run into this phenomena by raising questions with how the 2022 election was held in Maricopa County and about the veracity of the McGregor Report, by doing so I have been branded a conspiracy freak

    I guess I could go after Sunstein’s and Thaler’s book on how naive it was to consider government agencies as either neutral players or willing to know their place. I could even go and discuss the constitutional vs. administrative state distinction. However to tie in with some of the issues you raise in your review, government bureaucrats may know more than me on a given issue but do they know enough to tell me what to do? If we go back over the previous 50 years there have been plenty of issues where various government agencies have waded in and promoted various policies through influence tactics only for us to find out they were quite wrong and with disastrous results. We had energy and various Malthusian endeavors in this country. There was the course the 1-child policy in China. The food pyramid promoting carbohydrate-heavy diets. Of course there was the various COVID policies (vaccines, lockdowns, masks…) and now we have the Climate Change policies.

    All of these were promoted with a high-degree of confidence as common sense, things that everyone agrees with and they, like a lot of early attempts at policy-making, have turned out to poor. I think of Twain’s dictum “It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So” because those policies have resulted in trillions of wasted dollars, imploding populations, and plenty of issues.

  7. Here’s a paean to propaganda in place of facts:

    Of course, the next phase is coercion after the failure of persuasion. Funny how these types always just assume that they will always be the ones deciding what the “truth” is. As if there weren’t mass and unmarked graves all over the foot prints of various regimes filled with true believers who’s existence became inconvenient when the narrative changed.

    Then there’s the assumption that the rest of us are so dumb we’ll never catch on.

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