Book Review: Year of Consent–Rerun with Additional Commentary


Those individuals who resist the conditioning and are found to hold unapproved opinions–or find themselves to hold unapproved opinions–are said to have “communications blocks,” and good citizens will act on their own to request treatment for such blocks. The first level of treatment is the Psychotherapy Calculator, an interactive system which will help the patient change any objectionable opinions and behavior.  But in some cases, the PC determines that stronger methods are necessary, and in those cases, the patient is referred for a lobotomy.  The escorting of patients for mandatory psychotherapy and lobotomy procedures is done by a white-uniformed police force known as the Clinic Squad.

Citizens are, of course, expected to report any instances of unapproved beliefs or actions.  When the protagonist’s girlfriend Nancy overhears one of her colleagues expressing sympathy for a man who is in serious trouble, she reports the girl immediately. (“For the moment I disliked Nancy,” says Gerald.  “Then I felt sorry for her.”)  Nancy herself is concerned that there may be something wrong with her, and has considered reporting herself for voluntary automated psychotherapy.  “If I did have (something wrong with her), I’d want to be purged of it quickly before it could make me do something awful like that poor Mr Shell”…Gerald notes that her hand was shaking as she lifted her glass to finish the drink.

Gerald, the protagonist, works within the Communications Department…unknown to his superiors, he is a member of a resistance organization which aims to overthrow the existing system of government and to restore individual liberty. He must feign agreement when his immediate boss talks about how wonderful the system is and how misguided are those who oppose it:

Never has there been more freedom anywhere than in America today.  We’ve done away with police and even prisons.  Crime has been almost wiped out since we recognized it as a social disease.  We’ve done away with poverty. There are fewer restrictions on people than ever before in the history of mankind.  For the first time they’re really free.

Gerald reflects:

Even if it hadn’t been dangerous, I wouldn’t have argued with him.  He believed what he was saying. His faith was the faith of a Torquemada backed by science.  There was no way to make him see that the social engineers had taken away only one freedom, but that it was the ultimate freedom–the right to choose.  Everything…was decided for them and then they were conditioned to want it.

Gerald definitely has to watch his step: in addition to being subject to the special surveillance which is applied to all members of Security and Consent, concerns have been raised about one of his personal characteristics:  he has too much of a sense of humor, not viewed as a desirable thing.

There is another dissident group, quite distinct from the organization of which Gerald is a member: that other group is the Communists.  They are tolerated by the government, but confined to a reservation in South Dakota.  Gerald meets one of these people while on a government mission, and the man is just like you would expect a Communist to be, mentally rigid and talking about how wonderful things must be in Russia, where the Soviet government still holds sway.  Gerald tells him that in Russia today there “a few shortages.  And there’s not too much individual liberty.”

He looked startled, but his face quickly brightened.  “Of course,” he said.  “Why even the great Lenin said, “It is true that liberty is precious–so precious that it must be rationed.”

“Yeah,” I said dryly.  “Hobbyhorses.”


“Hobbyhorses,” I repeated. “Did you know that it is now almost two generations since hobbyhorses have been sold in toy stores in either Russia or the United States?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” he said doubtfully.

“I’m not sure why hobbyhorses withered away in the Soviet,” I said, “but the ban was started here by the playschool consultants, who were influenced by the social engineers long before the latter came into power.  They put the finger on hobbyhorses on the grounds that they did not develop the group spirit.”

He nodded thoughtfully.  “Of course. But you realize that it meant different things in the two countries.  Here the group spirit was used to build fascism while in Russia and the Soviet Countries it was used to build a people’s world.

The resistance organization of which Gerald is a member follows not Karl Marx but Henry David Thoreau, they seen government as a limited servant of the people rather than a master. They are known as the Uns because of their affinity for the United Nations. (The idea of the UN as a benign organization was more excusable in 1954 than it is at present; even Heinlein portrays the UN positively in some of his future history stories.)  And the Uns are viewed as much more of a threat by the government than are the boxed-in Communists.  Indeed, one of the major objectives of the Communications Department is to tie the Uns and the Communists together in the public mind, via novels and even popular songs making it appear that the two movements are the same thing.

The task facing the Uns in their attempt to change the order of things is not an easy one:

This is a fight to the finish between mass man and individual man.  It was a pretty even match until the advent of controlled mass communications.  Then the giant electronic brains completely tipped the scales.   ..there is no difference between our social engineers and those in Russia.  Both are out to turn the world into one of mass men–everyone conforming in every single way.  And they’ve damn near succeeded.

The Uns make a sharp distinction between revolution and rebellion:

Ours was not a revolution but a rebellion.  We suffered from too much revolution.  The Communists in Russia had won a revolution; the social engineers in America had won a more peaceful but no less effective one.  There had never been a revolutionist who did not insist that the individual must be submissive to a central committee–but we believed that central committees must always be submissive to individuals.

There is no limit to what may be done to the individual in the name of the revolution.  Rebellion, on the other hand, springs from a recognition that there are limits to what can be done to any individual.  Rebellion consists of saying: beyond this point we will not go….Every individual is naturally a rebel; he becomes a revolutionary, or the victim revolutionaries, when he ceases to be an individual. 

Year of Consent can’t be called great literature, on a par with 1984 or Brave New World, but it projects a future which is perhaps closer to the immediate threats facing American liberty in 2023 than do either of those two other novels.

I’ve previously cited something said to me years ago by a wise executive:  when you are running a large organization, you are not seeing reality. It’s like you are watching a movie in which you get to see maybe one out of every thousand frames, and from that, you have to figure out what’s going on.  If this is true of someone running a large organization–and it is–it is even more true of the voter in a large country such as the United States.  He cannot possibly have personal knowledge of all the things that should be factored into his political decisions; he has to rely to a considerable extent on the people and organizations that bring those things to him. And that gives those people and organizations enormous power–power which has grown as society has become more complex and less-localized and as personal interactions, which might once have taken the form of a conversation in a living room or over the telephone, are increasingly mediated by technology which is not passive in the way a traditional phone carrier was passive.

For the most part, influence by media has been a matter of focus and emphasis–what gets on Page One, what posts are escalated by the algorithm. Softball questions to a favored candidate who is facing a potentially embarrassing situation.  But sometimes it becomes much more blatant–the absolute Memory Hole, to use Orwell’s terminology, into which the story of the contents of the Hunter Biden laptop was dropped, for example.  Or the deceptive editing of videos–see a very recent blatant example at about 7:00, here.  And some media entities have been caught retroactively changing old stories about how many grandchildren Joe Biden has.  Some people apparently read 1984 as a source of good ideas.

In Year of Consent, the narrator says: “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.”  We are unpleasantly close, in 2023 America, to a situation in which the ability of any politician to get elected will be contingent on the consent of the major news media, ‘elite’ academia, and the senior levels of government agencies.  See my post The Rule of the Prince-Electors.

In the world posited by this novel:  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.  Don’t we see a great deal of this today, with the increasing power of the administrative departments–and, especially, the figurehead nature of the current President, all highly dependent on the goodwill of the Communicating Classes?

H G Wells’ 1933 novel The Shape of Things to Come posits the emergence of the Air Dictatorship: global rule established by a technocratic group that begins with the imposition of a monopoly over global trade networks and especially control over the air.  Benevolent rule, of course, as Wells saw it.

Are we in danger of de facto rule by a Communications Dictatorship, or at least a Communications Oligarchy?  I think the threat is clearly a very real one.

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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