Self-Destructive Social Habits, Loneliness, and Propaganda

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

    T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

When many people share thoughts, speech, or conduct that is frequently repeated and becomes automatic, it is fair to call it a social habit.  Such habits tend to become invisible and unspeakable. They become part of our taken-for-granted-world.

When I recently wrote an essay about hoarding – “The Last Temptation of Things,” many people got angry with me.  A friend wrote to me to say: “I congratulate and curse you for writing this.”  He meant it as a compliment.  I took it as meaning I had touched a raw nerve and it touched off a series of further thoughts about social habits and people’s angry reactions when they are challenged.

Some people who criticized me absurdly complained that I was supporting Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum’s “You Will Own Nothing” campaign, something I have opposed from the start.  Others said that I was attacking people who kept mementos and photographs, etc. and that I was advocating living in a shack.  This was clearly false.  Some got it, of course, and knew that I was using an extreme example to make a point about excessive saving of all sorts of things and how debilitating it is to surround ourselves with far more than we could ever use, need, or even know we have.  My case study was a friend’s house that my wife and I had just cleaned out in an exhaustive case of what felt like an exorcism.

Now I see that there is a clear connection between hoarding – or whatever word you choose to give it when the saving of things is excessive – and propaganda. Both are forms of habitual clutter, one mental and the other physical, the former imposed from without and accepted passively and the latter self-created to try to protect from loss.  In both cases, the suggestion that your social habits need to be examined is often greeted as a threat to one’s “existence”  and elicits anger or dismissal.

Sociologists, of which I am one, have various terms for what I am calling social habits.  They don’t speak the language of ordinary people, and so their lingo rarely enters into common discourse to be heard by most people. Such verbiage often just mystifies.

But habit is a plain and clear word, and social habit simply extends the meaning I am referring to.  José Ortega Y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, and Max Weber referred to it as “usage” before settling on habit.  While usage is accurate, it lacks the stickiness of habit, which is the simplest word and one everyone understands as behavior that has become automatic through frequent repetition.

For example, in the inconsequential realm of clothing fashions, men are now wearing tight leg-fitting pants, and it seems normal to most, just as loose pants did in the past.  It will change, of course, and a new or ”old” social fashion habit will replace it and most will go with it.  Either way you choose you lose – or win – depending on whether or not you follow the fashions of dress, which mean little or much depending on whether you interpret them symbolically as signifying  more than their appearances present.

It is true that all ideas, language usage, and behavior become second nature until they are not.  For example, “my bad” may no longer be good, as far as I know, a phrase I have avoided along with “a ton of fun,” “you guys,” and “overseas contingency operations.”

Some social habits persist for a very long time because they are continually reinforced with propaganda that created them in the first place.  As Jacques Ellul has emphasized, such propaganda is not the touch of a magic wand.  “It is based on slow, constant impregnation.  It creates convictions and compliance that are effective only by continuous repetition.”  Like a slowly dripping faucet, it drips and drips and drips to reinforce its point.

Take the hatred of Russia promulgated by the U.S. government.  It is more than a century old.  Few Americans know that the U.S. invaded Russia in 1918 to try to stop the Russian Revolution.  Today’s U.S. war against Russia is nothing new, yet many people buy the daily lies about the war in Ukraine because it is a habit of mind, part of their taken-for-granted-world.

Take the CIA assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother, Robert.  For decades the U.S. media has worked hand-in-glove with the CIA to reinforce the official lies by calling those who have exposed those lies “conspiracy theorists,” a term that the CIA itself promoted and the media continues to use daily to ridicule dissent.  The phrase “conspiracy theorist” is a handy social usage regularly used now to dismiss critics of any official claim, not just the Kennedys’ murders.  Additionally, it is used to lump together the most absurd claims available – e.g. a Martian woman gives birth to a cat in Las Vegas – with the exposure of real government conspiracies in order to dismiss both as ridiculous.

Take the U.S. government assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that has been covered up by giving MLK, Jr. his own holiday and reducing his message to pablum.  Now you can have a day of service to forget King’s passionate denunciation of the U.S. government as the most violent nation on the earth and the government’s murder of him for his powerful anti-war stance and his campaign for economic justice for all.

Take the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent anthrax attacks.  They too were wrapped in propaganda from day one that has been reinforced since, resulting in the social habit shared by the majority that Osama bin Laden and nineteen Arab hijackers planned and carried out the attacks.  This propaganda supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the so-called war on terror that has never ended, the destruction of Libya, Afghanistan, the ongoing war against Syria, the aggression toward China, and the U.S. war against Russia, to name the most obvious. And it ushered in twenty-one years and counting of the squelching of civil liberties, government censorship, and surveillance.  All this with no mass resistance from a population lost in the taken-for-granted world of mind control.  Their minds cluttered with lies.

Take the Covid pandemic propaganda that introduced  the New Normal in March 2020 and continues today.  Destroying small businesses, crippling the economies, fattening up the elites and the wealthiest classes and corporations, injecting millions with untested mRNA so-called vaccines, this diabolical Big Lie has accustomed people to accepting further restrictions on their natural rights under the guise of protecting their health while severely damaging their health.  Despite the fact that all the official claims have been proven false, the fear of death and disease, promoted for many years, has dramatically entered into the social bloodstream and additional censorship of dissenting voices has been embraced.

In all these examples and so many more, people’s minds have been slowly and insidiously filled with ideas and distorted facts that are false and controlling, similar to a hoarder’s accretion of objects that can overwhelm them. The propagandists have stuffed them with “things” that can assuage their fear of emptiness and the consequent possibility of being able to think clearly for themselves. Excessive information is the last thing people need, for as C. Wright Mills said sixty years ago, “… in this age of Fact, information often dominates their attention and overwhelms their capacities to assimilate it.”

Ellul describes the modern person thus:

Above all he is a victim of emptiness – he is a man devoid of meaning. He is very busy, but he is emotionally empty, open to all entreaties and in search of only one thing – something to fill his inner void …. He is available and ready to listen to propaganda. He is the lonely man …. For it, propaganda, encompassing Human Relations, is an incomparable remedy.  It corresponds to the need to share, to be a member of a community, to lose oneself in a group, to embrace a collective ideology that will end loneliness. Propaganda is the true remedy for loneliness.

And whenever one questions any of the social habits that sustain people’s illusions, their reactions can be sharp and shrill.  To suggest that people collect too many things out of a fear of emptiness, as I did with the hoarding piece, becomes a direct attack on some deep sense they have of themselves.  As if the “stuff” were an extension of their identities without which they would drown.   Even more threatening to so many is to question their opinions about Covid 19, JFK, RFK, the U.S war against Russia, 9/11, etc., and to suggest they have swallowed massive doses of deep-state propaganda. This often infuriates them.

It is “unspeakable,” as the Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, as quoted by James W. Douglass in his extraordinary book, JFK and The Unspeakable:

One of the awful facts of our age is the evidence that the [world] is stricken indeed, stricken to the very core of its being by the presence of the Unspeakable …. It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said; the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss. It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude of his obedience …

Social habits are very hard to break, especially when they are reinforced by official propaganda.  They tend to be addictive.  Ownership and use of the cell phone is a prime example.  Such phones are a key element in the digital revolution that has allowed for increased social control and propaganda.  Few can give them up.  And when your mind is filled with years of propaganda that has become second-nature, your ability to think independently is extremely limited.  There is no place for the creative emptiness that leads to genuine thought.  Dissent becomes “conspiracy theory.”

Hollow heads filled with straw indeed.

But Eliot may have been wrong in the way he ended his poem:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

It may end with a bang while many just whimper.







15 thoughts on “Self-Destructive Social Habits, Loneliness, and Propaganda”

  1. It’s so true and something I talk about all the time. Modern media exists to fill your mind with trinkets. With time you grow fonder of some of them and attach yourself to them. Often at the expense of attachment to real things you can touch and affect directly. I use the one example you leave out:. Syria. Eight years under Obama brought almost daily updates on Syria. Their evil ruler, his attacks against his own people, the righteous separatists and the humanitarian globo-homo forces trying to stop the madman. We had nicknames for people. There were some we felt might be double dealing. There was continuous animated coverage on all the news networks. On and on for 8 years. But none of us had ever been to Syria. We probably didn’t know any Syrians nor could we find it on a map. It was just a daily drama replete with names and statistics to tune out to. To avoid real life and fancy ourselves in the fight for the greater good. And when the coverage ended we forgot about it. Never mind that 8 years later the bad guy is still in charge, the country is stable and you never hear a question about why we were there. Never mind that the drama you all enjoyed so much came at the expense of real lives and turmoil, and the damage is still being repaired to this day. And never mind that while you were transfixed on all this, Fentanyl was showing up on our streets, and possibly in your children’s bedrooms. Just in time for a new drama as the last one wrapped. How many have there been since? How devoted are it’s devotees today? Who even remembers? Hey whatever it was the 2010s!

    Media is a drug. Far more powerful than pharmaceuticals. A hallucinogen that never stops. But at the bottom of it all is just people hoarding false virtue because real virtue comes at a very high price. If you want to live in a world of virtue then you have to pay that price. Sadly so many choose to instead seek meaning in memories of endless false charades and the false sense of virtue it gave them. And just ignore the fact that none of it is real. It’s only fitting that in the end they will all surrender their lives to take this vaccine. To save Grandma of course. All junkies eventually OD on their drug of choice…

    1. Reminded me of…., “Not only has man accepted his enslavement, he has even become proud of his enslavement…, and this is a terrible thing “

  2. I know this will be of interest, Ed, on the topic of Ukraine and the hatred against Russia.

    RFK Jr, on Megyn Kelly, talks about many things, from C19, Fauci, Politics, and Ukraine.

    His son — one of his sons, Conor — big strapping fellow, told his dad, RFK Jr, that he was taking a step back from law school with a big chance at a corporate law office job in LA to go “do something.”

    For two months, Conor did that typical American thing — he wanted to go to a country and put his skin in the game. Imagine that, he was with the UkroAzovNaziLandians.

    It’s complicated, for sure, but RFK, JR, well, he also thinks Putin is a thug and gangster. Very interesting how the mind works. RFK JR said he can change his mind.

    That is around 1:38 on his son in the UkroNaziAzovLandia Foreign Legion. Interesting, that this dad had little effect on his young son.

    Where did this son get the idea around Putin being a gangster? Listen to RFK, says the same thing about Putin. 1:44.


    This is a mindset of adventurism, and truly, so much can be said about sons, fathers, mothers. Conor did not tell his dad where he was going or what he was doing.

    RFK JR also was asked about the politician’s personal life versus their supposed separate public life, you know, we are all flawed people, all messy, so, darn, Herschel Walker can have this and that issue tied to his background and his history, but somehow we have to separate that from Walker that potential politician.

    Very interesting, really, this slippery slope, and this belief that a slave owner, somehow, that slave owner can be a great human as a politician.

    Here’s the show’s blurb:

    Megyn Kelly is joined by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., author of “A Letter to Liberals,” to discuss COVID pandemic orthodoxy, the need for discussion and debate, the elimination of freedoms due to the COVID pandemic, Dr. Fauci demanding blind faith in authority, the important issue of whether the COVID vaccines prevent transmission, myocarditis risk from COVID and from vaccines, rise in “unexplained” deaths in a post-COVID vaccine world, the truth about how many lives COVID vaccines saved and lost, the lack of important data needed to understand the rise in deaths post-COVID, what Fauci said about vaccines that could have an adverse effect before the COVID vaccines were available, the absurdity of the new booster which was only tested on eight mice and no humans, Pfizer’s involvement in the Trump administration, Alex Berenson and tech censorship, RFK’s disbanded “vaccine safety” commission, Scott Gottlieb and our supposed medical elite, American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations, problems with the VAERS system, personal backlash from family and friends, his views of Donald Trump then and now, Herschel Walker and our politics today, the war in Ukraine, American imperialism, RFK’s personal connection to the war as his son Conor was fighting in the country, and more.


    Makes me go to Eduardo Galeano:

    The nobodies

    Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog,1
    and nobodies dream of escaping from poverty,
    that one magical day
    good luck will soon rain,
    that good luck will pour down,
    but good luck doesn’t rain, neither yesterday
    nor today,nor tomorrow, nor ever,
    nor does good fall from the sky in little mild showers,
    however much the nobodies call for it,
    even if their left hands itch
    or they get up using their right feet,
    or they change their brooms at new year.

    The nobodies: the children of nobody, that masters of nothing,
    The nobodies: the nothings, those made nothing,
    running after the hare, dying life, fucked, totally fucked:

    who are not, although they were.
    Who speak no languages, only dialects.
    Who have no religions, only superstitions.
    Who have have no arts, only crafts.
    Who have no culture, only folklore.
    Who are not human beings, but human resources.
    Who have faces, only arms.
    Who don’t have names, only numbers.
    Who don’t count in world history,
    just in the local press’s stories of violence, crime, misfortune and disaster,.

    The nobodies who are worth less than the bullets that kill them.

  3. Can’t think of a great thinker in whose work I find more flashes of truth than in Ed Curtin’s.

    I live in Eastern Europe where the average person owns much less than the average “Westerner”, yet it’s still way, way too much.

    The stuff serves a critical purpose in the project of enslaving humanity though. Most critically, it makes us dependent, spoiled, incapable of living and surviving without these aids. Secondly, it keeps us distracted and busy servicing it as noted above.

    In some places in the world they hunt monkeys by creating a hollow in a tree (or a secured coconut) where they place a shiny object. The monkey sticks his hand in and as he grabs it his fist cannot come out. He won’t let go though. Attachment to matter becomes his nemesis. This is what the Great Architects of modernity have done to us.

  4. All of us came from a womb…, should we inquire, seek our sameness ? Our attention is diverted in so many ways, we are no longer attentive to anything that is real. She said; ‘I feel the loneliest when I’m among a crowd of people”

  5. Here’s a light story that is probably full of errors because I can’t find the original:
    Paul Desmond, sax player who worked with Brubeck, fell in love with and considered proposing to a young woman in California. As soon as things got serious, however, she told him that his life as a “whimsical” musician did not provide enough financial stability. She ended up marrying a wealthy financier. When learning the news, Desmond said: “So this is the way Pamela ends, not with a whim, but a banker.”

  6. Let’s probe this a bit more, regarding what we believe to be true and what others don’t (i.e., embrace the official narrative).

    I recently read an essay by a strident self-proclaimed anarchist, someone I mostly agree with, on the topic of the nuclear threat. His essay on this embraced the notion that such a threat was real and that this was one of many examples of the madness that rules.

    I wrote him that there’s evidence, some conjecture and hypotheses that Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not hit by two separate nuclear bombs. I shared with him where my evidence came from and thought he would be somewhat convinced or willing to entertain the notion since he trusts absolutely nothing the state/government puts out. But his reply was absolutely NOT. He’d been to Japan and knows it was bombed by nukes (regardless of the level of propaganda pushed on the Japanese population and the world at large). He could not be persuaded that there were motives for a faux nuclear bombing in spite of eyewitnesses who could not see how these two shanty towns had been damaged any more or differently than all the other Japanese (and German) cities which were all firebombed.

    I could sense an anger in his response, this from someone whose writings I had been admiring for quite a long time. It was a dogma (like germ theory), a belief he could not shake, I think because, yes it was a kind of habit, but more than that, Ed, it served a variety of purposes and beliefs he would not abandon.

    For years I thought CO2 was the cause of some immediate calamity if WE didn’t do something about reducing it in the atmosphere. But the more I investigated the more I moved away from the propagandized dogma that served another purpose.

    Why have some done this but others haven’t (can’t)?

  7. Ed I understood your piece on “hoarding” as a metaphor, even if it came from a personal experience.

    I think the human condition such as it has unfolded is much more nefarious than a national conspiracy, though I do agree that many official hands were summoned to execute a variety of events (most specifically the ones you mentioned).

    However I think what rules is an international network as written in great detail by Carroll Quigley in his opus (1,300 pages) Tragedy & Hope. I recommend an abbreviated version by Joseph Plummer given the length and digging into who Quigley was and how he came to write this insider’s view.

    I think many who see problems, deep problems, have been deluded to think we once had “democracy” when in fact this has never been the case. What has happened under this delusion is to accentuate the facade (George Carlin in a comedy sketch depicted this with great gusto, calling the network players, owners).

    Propaganda is very old, and it is a powerful tool, but only one of many. The network has been controlling and performing illusionist tricks for hundreds of years (perhaps more) and these have been perfected with the use of technology (mostly in the field of communication).

    Knowing this I would say it has never been more important to Question EVERYTHING. Not just the incidents of the 20th century up to operation covid, but to go behind the scenes to the real “owners” not their stooges or puppets and the institutions which are unimpeachable and running the performance for the audience while the real masters shape the geopolitics.

    For instance, yes I agree the US and other Western “powers” invaded Russia in 1917; but the Western finance and industrialist powers provided the necessary means for the Revolution, and later they provided the Hitler’s means to power.

    Just one of many examples. Is N Korea really an enemy of the West, or a stooge like Biden and the EU crowd? Why does the US care about Russia’s claims to Ukraine (as a buffer against invasion)? Why does the West/NATO surround Russia? Is it just some kind of Russophobia?

  8. “people’s minds have been slowly and insidiously filled with ideas and distorted facts that are false and controlling, similar to a hoarder’s accretion of objects that can overwhelm them. The propagandists have stuffed them with “things” that can assuage their fear of emptiness and the consequent possibility of being able to think clearly for themselves.” – A wonderful observation and a great piece Ed.

    I was pondering recently why I find it completely impossible to speak about my actual thoughts and feelings about “the real world” with the vast majority of friends and family. Your essay addresses that quite nicely. Most are quite nicely and throughly propagandized with official narratives, but know nothing of the massive trove of factual information that shatters those narratives. Their “propaganda cupboard” is overflowing – while their “fact cupboard” is thread bare.

    One other thought comes to mind as to why those I love seem to glaze over and shut down should I dare (no matter how tactfully) bring up something outside their knowledge base. It strikes me that being faced with information we don’t already possess perhaps seems like some sort of slight or insult to one’s self-esteem (maybe even at an unconscious level) – to the point that one’s fall-back intellectual response is something along the lines of – “well, if I didn’t know this already how important could it really be?” “I mean if I didn’t hear about this already on NPR – is it really ‘real’ and actually – ‘important?'” “I think not.”

Comments are closed.