While reading online about the ongoing protests in the United States, I saw numerous pictures of protesters holding placards bearing the words: “I can’t breathe” or “Black lives matter”. This signified a sense of unity to the protests that I had not experienced during my time in the Occupy Movement in 2011, where people with all sorts of agendas and motivations were on board.  

Every now and then, however, the words of a sign or placard stood out to me with messages that considerably deviated thematically from the others. What caught my attention most in this regard was some graffiti on a wall of one of the looted areas that the press so loves to focus on. The following was written in large black letters: “Free Us From Mind Control”. 

This was an instant reminder for me that although the present protests are specifically about deeply rooted systemic racism and unacceptable discrimination-fuelled police actions, the protests can also be contextualised in a much broader manner. In offering my thoughts on this broadened context here, I do not wish to detract from the importance of the racial issues that are presently in the spotlight across the globe – I fully acknowledge that these specific issues are in desperate need of being addressed. The following is merely an addition intended to provoke further thought.

Rewinding by only a few days in some places and weeks in others, billions of people worldwide have been in situations of lockdown and social isolation because of dubious decisions made by numerous governments across the globe. Anyone who bothers to look into the full spectrum of startlingly diverse views espoused by scientists, experts, and specialists, will quickly realise that there is no possible way to defend “the science” behind governmental decisions to control civilians to the extent that they have been controlled in many countries. 

Instead, as is becoming increasingly clear, various governments took advantage of the pandemic in true disaster capitalism style. So when a government or an individual summons “the science” or “the data”, or “the advice given by experts”, to defend the deprivation of what remains of civilian freedoms, they are guilty of a dangerous type of oppression.

The type of oppression I have just mentioned is, to be sure, different from the racial oppression being protested against mainly in the US. Racial oppression is particularly easy to spot. Continued instances of it form a pattern, and widespread repetitions of the pattern make things conspicuous. The other kind oppression I have alluded to is less conspicuous and is therefore much harder to spot. 

To see it, one actually has to conduct a proper investigation, and dig much deeper than mainstream sources. In the Covid-19 fiasco, this would mean not only looking at information made available by the World Health Organisation, Johns Hopkins University, the Imperial College of London, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and numerous other “official” sources, many of which coincidentally received or continue to receive sponsorship from Bill Gates.

One would have to take on board several dozen hours’ worth of analyses and commentary from a wide range of experts. In the Covid-19 fiasco, this would mean eventually being exposed to people such as the Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt, who makes it crystal clear that there was an “anti-scientific dynamic” driving the decisions made by various governments in response to the pandemic, and he draws attention to the partisan politics involved. So much for the science behind lockdowns.

There are hundreds of interviews with, and articles by, experts showing clearly that the official and mainstream windows to the world of Covid-19 information are more like tiny slits obscuring the bigger picture of the real world. I do not think it is inappropriate to call this obscuring effect a form of “mind control” if the term is applied very loosely. 

The bigger picture, made visible by tearing open the official slits through which so many people peep at the world, is a world in which civilians have been unduly influenced by governments and other nefarious organisations for decades, not just in the lead-up to the lockdowns. 

One need not invoke MK Ultra or Darpa to make the point that civilians are subjected to what may loosely be called “mind control” (though if you don’t know about them, you should). Rather, one can point to the Hollywood culture that pervades the US, something that has for many decades been exported to rest the world. From a young age, people are exposed via television, films, the news, sports celebrities and so on, to the values of the consumer capitalist culture epitomised by Hollywood. Note also that the home of Hollywood is Los Angeles, which has recently been brought to something of a stand-still by protesters — this is surely a symbolic event.   

Although I believe that some films break the Hollywood mould and can even facilitate the development of critical thinking skills, the bulk of Hollywood films do not do this. Rather, for the most part, like so much content on network channels, they have normalised the socio-political and economic dispensation created by historical processes in which winners took all and created the illusion of the “land of the free”. 

As the revolutionary comedian Bill Hicks once said, however, freedom here denotes the freedom to do as you are told:

Go back to bed, America. Your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control again. Here. Here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here’s American Gladiators. Here’s 56 channels of it! … Here you go, America! You are free to do what we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!         

Bill Hicks

Hicks provided this close-to-the-bone commentary during the 1990s, at a time when the internet had not yet pervaded most people’s private and/or professional lives. It is now common knowledge that various internet platforms actively manipulate users to behave in specific ways. Hicks would have had a comic field day with such material. Although internet manipulation of user behaviour might not be the same as mind control, we are in the same ballpark. 

Commenting in pre-internet times, Hicks took aim at the kind of material that falls under the category of Hollywood entertainment, and he occasionally drew attention to the unforgivable one-sidedness of network news. He popularised a few of the ideas that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman had penned only a few years before he became a counter-cultural mouthpiece. In 1988, Chomsky and Herman released a book with a telling title, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. I’m not sure if Hicks read the book, but he did quote Chomsky in a letter to a friend in 1994: “The responsibility of the intellectual is to tell the truth and expose lies.” Hicks would have had a much fuller schedule if he were alive and working today.

Hicks also noted the pernicious influence that marketing and advertising have on the public (an influence that can be categorised very loosely as mind control). His joke, which he went out of his way to introduce as not being a joke, was: “If you are in advertising or marketing, kill yourself”. Extreme, maybe, but excellent at conveying a point, which in this case may be that manipulation tactics are ethically reprehensible.  

It is safe to say that Hicks was a strong critic of the narrow set of positive freedoms that many people all over the world are force-fed as substitutes for actual freedoms. A positive freedom is of the type that Hicks mocked in his insightful way: the freedom to do as you are told. A negative freedom is the freedom to do as you choose without interference from the state or any other entity, on condition that you do not harm another person. 

Arguably, the emergence of democracy in France centuries ago was a movement away from the restrictive positive “freedoms” of the feudal system, towards negative freedoms that no king or queen was supposed to be able to negate. Democratic government formed in part to act as a buffer between powerful members of the monarchy and the average person, not as a system to control civilians.  

Much has happened in the history of democracy to drive the formation of a sad and sorry dispensation where democracy mainly entails the right to vote for your leaders. And once again, Hicks provides insightful commentary on this dispensation: “I’ll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. ‘I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs’. ‘I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking’. Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding out both puppets!” 

That “one guy”, I would add, is a symbol for a mixture of conformity values: conformity to consumerism, to economic growth, to individual success over all else, to the acquisition of material wealth and power, to stifling bureaucracies, to bipartisan politics that merely perpetuate the status quo, to sensationalised news of events that fit dodgy agendas, to endless public debt and untouchable private profits, to earning or dying, to winning or losing, to fame over wisdom, to pervasive legal corruption, to ecocide and mind control and various forms of oppression. All of this is systemic — the face of the leader may change, but as history has shown, the momentum of the system is immense, perhaps unstoppable. 

So, although it is clearly the case that the protests in the US are aimed at racial injustice, it is possible to situate the frustrations experienced by protesters in a much larger context. This is a context in which most people are free to do what their democrapitalist government tells them is acceptable, but not free to do much else — the Covid-19 lockdowns that occurred in various countries, and continue to occur in others, were and are a harsh reminder of this. 

Although the internet has been used as a tool to further achieve effects that can loosely be classified as mind control, it can also be used to gain a wider spread of information about what is really going on. Not through conspiracy theory channels, but through a multitude of information clearly depicting a system that manufactures consent to highly problematic and often destructive norms and values. 

As increasing numbers of people become aware of the iron cages in which they are forced to live under the reign of modern-day Pharaohs who occupy seats at the top of the pyramid scheme of the political economy, there will be more reasons for frustrated citizens to protest. These reasons will be especially clear to young people who somehow have to figure out how to survive off of what’s left of the pie. 

George Floyd’s murder is a very specific event, symbolic of the specific issues of racist police brutality and deep-seated systemic racism. Protests against these specific events and issues come at a time when the floodgates are opening with information about various other forms of public manipulation and oppression.      

North America now looks a little like a camel collapsing from overload, with the murder of Floyd being the final straw. As the contents of the baggage once hidden on the camel’s back scatter far and wide for more and more people to see, we should expect more unrest and disruption. Much more.   


  • David Pittaway holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of the Free State, South Africa. He lectured philosophy at the Nelson Mandela University for several years before venturing into a post-doctoral role there. Before that, he lived and lectured in the UK for four years, and participated in the Occupy Movement there. David returned to his beloved home country in 2012 to engage in relatively rustic and low-tech lifestyle solutions.


David Pittaway

David Pittaway holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of the Free State, South Africa. He lectured philosophy at the Nelson Mandela University for several years before venturing into a post-doctoral...

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