Today, I went to my medieval philosophy discussion group. (Yawns erupt among readers.)

So what’s that about? We discuss questions of aesthetics and virtue. At the heart is the debate of whether reason springs from faith or if faith derives from what reason reveals. (another collective yawn.) I guess you had to have been there. Not to worry, the medieval thinkers themselves were engaged in similar questions.

I am increasingly engaged with why and how the underpinnings of our culture today came to be. Do we understand how Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud influence our world today?

One example, seemingly tangential, but actually central to our understanding of the current modernist, consumer-driven world is the work of Edward Bernays. He was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and he put Freud’s ideas of subconscious motives into his own field of public relations, and from public relations to advertising.

One afternoon in 1923, he had three women light up cigarettes on Park Avenue, New York City, and smoke. It was publicized, as it was intended to be. Women smoking openly, back then when women didn’t, was a statement of equality between the sexes. After that little staged event, more and more women smoked. Critical to understanding public relations, as demonstrated by what we now view as this egregious stunt by Bernays, is that public relations and propaganda were considered to be synonymous. Bernays wanted to direct how you think and your decisions. That is exactly what Josef Goebbels did.

My point is that it didn’t just happen. We live in a world where much of what we hear has been tested out on focus groups before we ever hear it. The opinion makers want to know how we will respond so they can adjust their messages, and ultimately lead us toward their way of thinking. There isn’t supposed to be pushback.

The Yellow Vest Uprising in France should not be taking place. The citizens of France were not supposed to have grumbled about a new tax on fossil fuels and taken to the streets. The tax was intended to discourage fossil fuel use and thus decrease greenhouse emissions. The problem is that French workers can’t afford to live in the cities where their jobs are, e.g. Paris. So they need gasoline to drive from home to work and back. French citizens are not acquiesing to this carbon tax as an affirmation of their global citizenship. There seem to be fewer and fewer people wanting to venture into the Brave New World dictated to them.