Consciousness, Perception, and Thought Control
Perception, as relative to conscious beings, is limited in its scope in ways that are similar to the finite spectrum of visible light. While vision is subject to the condition and properties of a given illumination, and objects exist beyond the pale of vision, perception is subject to and determined by factors which are shaped by imperceptible forces. Consciousness, or the perception of one’s existence and one’s relationship to the world is as mutable and finite as one’s capacity to scrutinize the visible world. Consciousness is filtered and consciousness is illusory. Consciousness is myopic and flawed. Consciousness is shuttered with blinds from the searing light burning behind the veil which threatens loss of sight and obscurity. Consciousness fails to apprehend the subtle blurring of focus and the overt manipulation of perception and the spectrum of light beyond vision.
The Field of Representation is the spectrum into which the object world becomes visible through the machinations of linguistics and conceptualization. The Field of Representation is the frame of reference which “crops” the perceptible within narrow, conceptual parameters, limiting and defining meaning and slanting the light to create gradations appropriate to the subject. Consciousness is developed within the Field of Representation and within the frame of reference, shifting through the filter of imperceptible conceptual manipulation and illusion. The Field of Representation is the frame of contention and conflict in which the war is a struggle between the idea and perception. Within the Field of Representation, the individual and consciousness are overshadowed and eclipsed by the dazzling light of the Idea.
All aspects of consciousness and awareness are infused by the systems of representation which predetermine the process and extent of comprehension, analysis, association, and identification. Autonomy in consciousness and identity is compromised by the construction of meaning though the determinative properties of the field of representation and the ideological governance of the system of signs.
Representation, as delineated by theorist Stuart Hall, “connects meaning and language to culture” (Hall 16) and “is the production of the meaning of the concepts in our minds through language” (17). Representation exists within the frame of reference constructed through language and the system of signs, “sounds or images which carry meaning” (18), established by regimes of power instituted to control thought and consciousness.
Consciousness is composed of signs, words, images, and impressions coded and encrypted as they slip, or are shuttled, through the frame of reference. The systems of power which create, control, and sustain meaning through this process do so by constructing language and its associative aspects, thereby linking thought to linguistic modes. Meaning is a production of filters and may be manipulated by veiling or suffusing objects, concepts, and images. For theorists such as Stuart Hall, “meaning is constructed by the systems of representation. It is constructed and fixed by code, which sets up the correlation between our conceptual system and our language system” (21).
Furthermore, Hall insists that, “signs are organized into languages and it is the existence of
common languages which enables us to translate our thoughts (concepts) into words, sounds, or images, and then to use these, operating as a language to express meanings and communicate thoughts to other people” (18). Hence, if one can connect a sign or set of signs to a predetermined value, one can designate meaning to such a set or its correlative set. This assignment will be transferred in relationship to the language in which the sign is utilized and will perpetuate and validate itself as it enters the consciousness both collectively and individually. The sign can, in turn, be used to reinforce similar or even opposing signs in the frame of reference, as meaning sediments upon meaning and integrates itself into the memories, knowledge, and culture extant under the determinative regimes of power.
The goal of signs, as constructed and manipulated through language, meaning, and cultural archetypes, is to control thought, behaviors, interpretation, relationships, responses, and awareness in conscious beings thus subjecting them to the authority of the dominant ideology present. Signs, used in concert with relative and discordant signs, establish a schema, or pattern, which directs meaning and thought along predisposed conduits established to constrain, limit, and demarcate acceptable or desirable modes of awareness. The intentionality of signs in language and related systems fosters a determined recognition and response to encryption and works to curtail deviation from the formulated patterns. In such ways, subjects of the system of representation existing under the auspices of the regimes of govern them are conditioned to respond to stimuli in the appropriate manner.
The repetition and reiteration of signs within the field and frame of representation reinforces the established codes, while acting to marginalize and isolate subversive or insurgent thought patterns and responses. Through redundant practices, modes constructed by sign systems become internalized and are grafted into consciousness and, subsequently, behavior. The associative properties conveyed by iterative signs influence and impress meaning, resulting in imitation and reflection of the corresponding system of ideas. Harmonic and choral conduct are produced by the synthesis of meaning, comprehension, analysis, and identification as administered through representation and redundant application of the process. James Lull reasons that, “repeated presentation of the dominant ideological messages continues to define or ‘indicate’ culture” (19).
Educational systems, religious institutions, governmental organizations, cultural associations, and media outlets and corporations operate to marshall subjects under the determinative principles of the dominant ideological structure. Through the unifying field of representation, seemingly disparate and unrelated conceptual systems act to institute civility and accord in a confederation of discursive practices. Hence, a symbiotic relationship exists between the myriad forces operative in the field of representation.
In his seminal work, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation)”, Louis Althusser explains that “ideology is a ‘representation’ of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” and that “ideology = illusion/allusion” (Althusser 162). The agencies and entities that control the illusion of ideology are termed the Ideological State Apparatuses and include
“-the religious ISA (the system of different churches),
- the educational ISA (the system of different public and private schools),
- the family ISA,
- the legal ISA,
- the political ISA (the political system, including the different Parties),
- the trade-union ISA,
- the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
- the cultural ISA” (143)
These entities, organizations and structures institute modes of thought and govern the behaviors, conventions, and designations of the subjects of the sign.
The reach and capacity of signs to convey meaning is not limited to strictly to linguistic and semiotics, as pictographs, visual imagery, gesticulation, and auditory modes are utilized in similar fashion to elicit associations. In Media, Communication, and Culture: A Global Approach, James Lull proposes that, “ideology is a system of ideas expressed in communication and consciousness is the essence or totality of attitudes, opinions, and sensitivities held by individuals and groups” (Lull 13).
James Lull posits that there are distinctions in the image systems which “emphasize that ideology depends on the patterned construction, representation, and transmission of ways of thinking in order to be influential” (17). Ideational systems composed of representational units, internal organizations, and suggested representations, and Mediational systems, including technological mediation and social mediation, demonstrate that the ideas, the foundation of ideology, are “never neutral” (17). The systems designed to transmit patterns of thought are a layered composition, a weave that is opaque, yet immaterial and intangible. The Mediational and Ideational systems interact in redundant processes, validating one another and bestowing legitimacy to the individual aspects of the ideological weave.
In an Ideational system of representation, organization and interpretation, one operant
force is commercial advertising, which as an agent of ideology, interlaces commodities with “the overarching political-economic-cultural structure and the values and social activities it embraces” (18). Through association with preexisting tropes and rituals, Ideational systems exploit the inherent and accepted modes of thought to distribute goods and services. An illusory and “reasoned” context, made plausible by linguistic, cultural, and ideological pretense, seduces the prey or target of the campaign and facilitates the eager embrace of the consumer. Lull contends that “these projected imagined situations are grounded in an overarching value structure with which the consumer is already familiar” (18).
Ideational systems extend beyond the realm of advertising and intone political and theological rhetoric and tendencies in a similar fashion. Political and nationalist oratories, the Pledge of Allegiance, oaths, worship services and practices, slogans, rituals, slogans, mantras, and clichés all reflect the native ideology that weaves national, religious, and organizational polices, programs, initiatives, and strategies together into cohesive and seamless messages for consumers and subjects. The motif common to all these disparate systems of belief is the motivation to create a unity of thought among receptors of the idea, irregardless of the bias, intent, or purpose of the foundational concept. If, as James Lull presents, “a fundamental objective of corporate advertising is to gain and maintain credibility by embedding specific messages in more abstract and encompassing ideologies in order to create Ideational image systems” (20), so to is the function of political, religious, and nationalist representations in speeches, pledges, diatribes, and sermons. The conceptual systems are effectively and efficiently marketed to a society preconditioned to accept the idea by the supposition of an imaginary, yet “legitimate,” relationship within the value structure underlying all principle. In essence, such systems thrive and maintain power and influence by “preaching to the converted.”
While perhaps credible and legitimate as confirmed and validated by the dominant and enduring belief structure, Ideational system, as with all ideology, are not necessarily true and may in fact be contradictory and deceitful. In the post-September Eleventh climate of the United States, national Ideational Systems, represented by surgical-strike marketing campaigns aimed at the consciousness of the America and asymmetrical modes of conceptual distribution, proliferated and thrived, while concealing the reality of foreign, military, and domestic policy. Stars and stripes saturated image systems, as flags, bumper stickers, lapel pins, and magnets telegraphed the jingoistic rhetoric of the governing agencies.
The mantra, Support Our Troops radiated from automobiles crowding the American highways, demanding allegiance to a dilating military enterprise abroad and demonstrating unilateral succor for martial forces. While the mantra was conceived and bound to policies dictated by the ruling elite and dispensed to an enthusiastic and vulnerable subject, the traumatized and malleable American consumer public, the slogan veiled the reality of the situations of soldiers serving in the War on Terror. As the public unyieldingly supported the volunteer military with its magnets, stickers, pins, and tax dollars appropriated by the rapacious military budget, the troops were not in fact supported by the agencies created to organize, train, outfit, and protect the forces. Military vehicles careening across the Cradle of Civilization, the land between the Two Rivers, were deployed without the armor and shielding appropriate to modern military conflict. Similarly, troops, supported and protected by magnets and bumper stickers in the Homeland, were delivered into the Theatre of Operations lacking adequate body armor and in troops levels deemed to be insignificant to dominate the projected guerilla insurgency which rose from the ashes of the vanquished Republican Guard.
Support Our Troops, and the deception involved in such propaganda, corresponds curiously with the nature of the military invasion and occupation of sovereign Iraq in that the endeavor was presented and marketed with fallacious and perverse reasoning, as well as inconsistent and erroneous information and testimony. The invasion was embarked upon based on the assertion that the rogue nation possessed weapons of mass-destruction, including a revitalized nuclear weapons program and mobile chemical weapons laboratories, had tangible and demonstrated links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, and had notions and aspirations of a military or terrorist attack against the United States. Rhetoric became demagoguery as it evoked images of mushroom clouds and terrorists in the streets of American cities. All of these allegations were supported and had their genesis in the loftiest offices in the United States government, including the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the President’s Foreign Policy Advisor. No weapons of mass-destruction were located or were found to have existed and no link to Al-Qaeda was ever established and has been since unequivocally disputed and rejected by foreign and and domestic intelligence reports, commission, and testimony. Yet, the Ideational systems which spawned and sustained this subterfuge have not relented in their insistence that the illusion is real.
Politically, Ideational systems have been utilized to mask irrational and perilous legislative initiatives as necessary, beneficial, and benign. A recent Clear Skies Initiative, proposed by the government, sought to repeal critical aspects of the Clean Air Act and allow industrial entities to increase the amount of pollution rendered by production plants. The Clear Skies Initiative would make the sky a veritable landfill and would do so by clouding the issues of conservation and industrial economic policies. Political and legislative initiatives act as commercial advertising in that it “not only asserts, references, and reinforces preferred ideologies, it often suggests that the products and services exist to help create a better world, despite strong evidence to the contrary” (21).
Ideational systems act in concert with what James Lull terms Mediational systems. Within such systems,
“ideology in any political-economic-cultural context is represented partly in language and interpreted through language and other highly elaborate codes - including visual forms and music - which are then further interpreted and used by people in routine social interaction. These communication processes all contribute to the ideological effect” (24).
Mediational systems, comprised of technological and social aspects, assist Ideational systems and are integrated into the dominant ideologies constructed by those that control the Field of Representation and all that it encompasses. Technological mediation allows for the communication and transmission of the system of ideas along specialized, restricted, and regulated conduits. Thus, the privileged and desired message or code may be conveyed through a variety of radio waves, printed media, including newspapers, journals, and magazines, cable and satellite television programming, broadband communications, internet media and portals, podcasts, cellphones, and a myriad of devices and processes. The range and scope of these Medaitional technologies is astounding, dynamic, and evolving and “modern communication technologies deliver values, perspectives, and ideas to people of various cultures, social classes, and ages all over the world” (25). Technology enables the dissemination of the sign, weighted and
designated in the Field of Representation, and acts to alter the consciousness as desired in the subject.
While reliant upon existing social archetypes and predetermined ideological realities, Ideational image systems and Mediational image systems are instituted to create, replicate, and diffuse seductive and compelling assertions that lend credence and perpetuity to the dominant political-economic-cultural infrastructure that permeates the Field of Representation and conducts and controls thought, behavior, and consciousness. If the Ideological State Apparatus proposed by Louis Althusser exist in a given society can mediate and govern the system of signs and the languages, behaviors, and conventions of a culture, then the collective “consciousness is influenced by the transmission of the dominant ideology to the extent that society’s powerful institutions can infiltrate thinking and affect human action” (29).
The infiltration of consciousness through the mediation and manipulation of signs is an incursion which is invariably imperceptible. The individual is indoctrinated within the system of signs and interpolated, or assimilated, within a distortion complicit with recognition, acceptance, and resignation. Domination of the Field of Representation and the Signified has led to the subjugation of consciousness and perception, heralding a new dark age where authenticity is rendered indistinct, vague, and irrelevant through representation.
Althusser, Louis. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation) . (Publication information unavailable)
Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage Publications, (date n/a).
Lull, James. Media, Communication, and Culture: A Global Approach. New York: Columbia UP, 2000.