In 1929 Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and creator of the term ‘propaganda,’ paid a group of young and fashionable women to smoke cigarettes in a suffragette march as an act of ‘resistance.’ Mr. Bernays’ goal was to convince women who had hitherto found cigarettes repulsive that smoking was an act of rebellion against male-determined conventions. What he accomplished was to consign several generations of women to poor health and diminished lives for the benefit of cynical (male) tobacco company executives.

Mr. Bernays’ ploy was spectacularly successful if exploiting social vulnerabilities for profit and social control can be termed ‘success.’ The women who were convinced to take up smoking were neither stupid nor more vulnerable to implausible suggestions than anyone else. And the paradox at work, selling psychological manipulation as self-determination, calls into question the very idea of self-determination. These women may well have felt liberated even as they ceded power over their lives to the forces they were nominally rebelling against.

In retrospect this paradox loses more ground still for the suffragettes because Mr. Bernays’ joined psychology to politics in order to take away the capacity for self-determination in any meaningful political sense. By framing the freedom to choose in terms of one’s ‘local’ choice of products, in this case cigarettes, but say Democrats or Republicans, the broader political-economy in intended to be…

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