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3 Subtle Dangers of Social Conditioning You Must Know

Preye Raymond is a leading content writer, who enjoys discussing topics relating to self-improvement, self-education and social issues.


I once had a heated argument with a friend. The premise of his argument was that; we are all instruments of society, doctored from the very first day we were born to go along with whatever society dictates.

I countered his assertions, and I made him recognize the existence of individual choices and preferences. But he argued that individual choices and preferences were mere illusions that make us think we are in control of how we choose to live our lives, but in reality, those choices are manipulated by society.

My friend -Cliff, was a graduate of sociology from the University of Benin, and he had a solid footing behind his ‘societal control’ thoughts with numerous historical examples to give.

However, Cliff didn't use appropriate concepts and words for organizing his argument which made it seem arrogant and quite abstract at the time. It was months after, that I discovered that Cliff was actually talking about ‘social conditioning’. And everything he said started to make sense.

The realization came while I was watching a Criminal and Crimefighters documentary about Chairman Mao, and how he used social conditioning to set up his dreaded Red Guards to carry out his violent propaganda during the Cultural Revolution in China in the late 1960s.

It is common knowledge that people's values and identity are often reflected through their social environment and culture.However, the issue of social conditioning indicates how specific entities and factions manipulate societal norms and standards to dictate their ideologies to the public (either through psychological means or violent means) which influences the choices and character of each individual subconsciously.

A Background on Social Conditioning

Man is by nature a social animal...” a critical quote by Aristotle that excludes the concept of ‘individuality’ and has become a weapon of social manipulation throughout history by the so-called ‘great minds’.

In the early 20th century, Freud’s nephew, who became the father of propaganda -Edward Bernays, had contempt for public opinion. For Bernays, public opinions are primitive and incapable of governing themselves or agreeing on what they want. He saw the need for the populace to be ruled by a handful of people that are capable of shaping public opinions and society in general.

His ideology was to shift norms and culture by changing what is expected and standard in the world and each society, then use that to control or manipulate people into taking certain actions without them overthinking. His ideology led to the innovation of public relations, which steered an effective campaign in sales and advertising in the United States.

Neo-colonialism still clenches most African indigenous societies and institutions with western knowledge and social dominance. For example, some Africans still believe that having a white skin or a biracial skin is a standard for beauty. And that is why the ‘supply and demand’ rate of bleaching cream is ridiculously high. Most Africans (including their scholars) have also been conditioned to think that western thoughts, pop culture, and technological advancements are utopian and should be globally utilized.

Almost every community and society experiences social conditioning in one way or the other, and their citizens make subconscious choices based on their history or background. But most people don't see the existential crisis posed by this issue.

Oftentimes, we normalize the relationship between human relationship with society, and we think- ‘what’s the big deal, man is made to be social, and to be part of the society’, and we end-up being myopic to how some of these social norms is negatively interfering with our lives and mentality.

The Subtle Dangers! Of Social Conditioning.

The Subtle Dangers! Of Social Conditioning.

I) The Excesses of Consumerism on Individuality

Bernays propaganda and public relations ideology contributed immensely to how we make purchases as consumers. As we saw earlier, his ideology was to simply -shift cultural norms and well-recognized institutions to alter the buying intent of the public to increase sales and profits for companies (especially those who hired him).

The effects of his ideology are still very much in existence today, and it grew worse because people no longer buy what they need but what they want. And some actually confuse what they want with what they need, and the ferris wheel keeps swirling.

The manipulation of consumer choice by businesses, brands, and advertising agencies has intensified the feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem among individuals, and the media and entertainment personalities has continued to feed this manipulation.

Take for instance; a James Bond movie exaggerated to depict the suit fit for every confident man or an ad showing off a glamorous dress worn by a model with an hourglass figure and radiant skin depicting how every woman ought to be, thereby using influential personalities and content to exploit our desires and whet our appetite for ‘high-class’ consumption (for lack of a better word).

It is high-class consumption because businesses rarely sell to the poor(even though they still increase their desires). The middle-class and rich are majorly the target, and the most vulnerable to fall for this sort of manipulation because they enjoy standing-out in society or being publicly adored. Therefore, to keep up such prestige, a ‘Bond-like’ suit would do the trick, or the glamorous gown worn by the model in the ad will gain stares (even though your wardrobe is already cluttered with various designer wears).

It is not a debate about having the money to afford anything you want and desire, it is a question of -how is buying and consuming everything you desire helping your mental, emotional and financial health? How is buying everything you want making you feel in control of your life and decisions?

2) A Cloned Identity

In Nigeria and other prominent African countries, westernization still plays a major role in our political policies, economic policies, social policies, environmental policies, education, and scholastic research. Making it extremely difficult to carve out a true and unique African identity.

In one of his lectures on African philosophy, Dr. S.I Odia, a philosophy lecturer from the University of Benin, stated that most notable African philosophers and their works -from Placide Tempels’ Bantu philosophy to Kwasi Wiredu's conceptual decolonization, were subtly conditioned to adopt western principles and foreign concepts, even though they claimed it had a ‘unique’ African perspective and identity. For example, Placide Tempels wrote an African philosophy (Bantu philosophy) in French, Kwasi Wiredu's conceptual philosophy was written in English, and with English concepts and terminologies.

These cases are not highlighted for criticism, but simply to illustrate the terrible effects of social conditioning inflicted by colonialism on an entire race of people, saddling them with a cloned identity in culture, history, and academics.

Generally, this is also happening in our everyday lives especially with the advent of social media.People choose to clone their identities on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, and the amusing thing is -some of them are not aware that they are living a double identity because of how everything is ‘normalized’ and part of the trend.

It is normal to smile and look pretty for the camera, even though you feel awful, depressed, and sad in real life. It is normal to post motivational speeches and criticize others online, even though in reality you don't practice what you preach or you are as worse as those you are criticizing.

Another sad aspect is when people feel so insecure about themselves that they start emulating the lifestyle and identities of personalities and influencers they idolize online.

That is why it is almost impossible to find out the true character of those you relate with. Certainly, some things are always kept secret, but apart from the secrets people always wear different personalities and identities that are not theirs (cloned from someone else). And this is an implication of how they've been psychologically conditioned to believe certain practices and behaviors in society.

3)Entitlement & Narcissism

Civilization is blissful, a concept for the greater good. It has made our reality a better and comfortable place to inhabit, but sometimes it is necessary to hesitate and question if civilization is moving too fast and going to the extreme that it has torn apart our personal growth and self-improvement (Which it has to a large extent).

The excesses of consumerism, and the cloned identities (discussed earlier), are both consequences of civilization, which have resulted in critical existential issues like entitlement and narcissism.

Civilization has socially conditioned most people to feel entitled and self-centered by providing a wide range of choices, and by shouldering responsibilities-whether it is wearing a Bond-like suit because you want to be the star of the party (narcissism), or feeling that you are not successful because the current government has not done well to create enough jobs when there are multiple skills you can learn, and financial investments you can take advantage of (entitlement).

We've all become gods in our own eyes and everyone has an opinion of how they've not been treated fairly. Presently, most people rely on society and civilization to solve their personal problems more than before (even when they experience a slight misstep while taking a stroll).

Strangely, society encourages such behaviors, because it sometimes benefits the powerful and influential few, who are pulling the strings (using the media and the economy) to achieve their personal objectives.

Social conditioning is a very crucial issue that can stagnate self-improvement if proper awareness is not publicly shared. Because what impacts the mental and physical state of an individual is not always genetically engineered but also induced by the environment.

Contribute Your Thoughts

If you find this article interesting or incomplete, feel free to e-mail your thoughts, feedbacks, and questions here-

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Preye Raymond

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