What is a Psyop?

On the Concept of the Psyop and the Psyopped

What is still presented as the news or reiterated as the narrative, consumed as shows or circulated as the products of the global cybernetic culture industry is now acknowledged by increasing numbers as a carousel of psyops, or the unfolding of one giant psyop which started running at an uncertain point in time, perhaps the dawn of time, and has been accelerating ever since. But what a psyop is remains obscure.

The term originates in military intelligence. According to Michael Aquino, the founder of the Temple of Set who developed psyop doctrine for the US military in the eighties: “You seize control of all the means by which his government and populace process information to make up their minds, and you adjust it so that those minds are made up as you desire.” Before Aquino, similar approaches had been already pioneered in advertising by Edward Bernays, whose great nephew Matthew Randloph Bernays was the co-founder and first CEO of Netflix, and developed in a different way by totalitarian states. 

In the sixties American intelligence agencies used media assets to implement multiple psyops including the successful operation to stigmatize the concept of conspiracy theory in the wake of the Warren Commission report. Even today the possibility of a critical conspiracy theory remains undefined. Meanwhile, rumors of the unfolding of a vast global conspiracy whisper psyop after every cryptic action. 

What lies behind these rumors? What is the connection between a network of strategic global bodies operating in pursuit of an announced agenda, yet nowhere scrutinized, and the esoteric and alchemical, if not Satanic symbols, which now seem to feature regularly in spectacles and global media events? What is the significance of military intelligence in contemporary social engineering operations, and who controls these forces? What is the relationship between intelligence and occult psychological techniques? 

Is a critical analysis plausible? The question haunts the theorists. As the schizoid mind amasses catalogues of nested motives and inexplicable associations, across the vast online Akashic archives of suspected operations the problem crystallizes at the intersection of totalizing paranoia and political epistemology. What is it possible to know? 

A psyop is a weaponized psychological phenomenon. Executed to manipulate behavior, often in conjunction with other methods of conditioning, psyops extend, refine and rationalize a deeper social architecture. Julian Jaynes describes the situation under ancient despotism as a world of schizophrenia in which populations would experience auditory hallucinations corresponding to their Sorcerer-Emperor’s commands. “Ever dig the Mayan codices?” writes William Burroughs, “I figure it like this: the priests… made with one-way telepathic broadcasts instructing the workers what to feel and when.” But “the Mayans were limited by isolation. Now one Sender could control the planet.”

Burroughs predicts that shortly after birth, “a surgeon could install connections in the brain. A miniature radio receiver could be plugged in and the subject controlled from state-controlled transmitters.” Today this object is a smartphone, permanently tethering individual nervous systems to a total media environment structured as a network of programmable associations. 

The phone relays information to the network, (status and location updates, transaction information, and periodic signals of distress) and it modulates in calculated echo. Data is recoded by the will of the machine and redistributed. Routines combine with others, loops develop into programs and mutate into a type of virtual individual or network sector, smeared across the body without organs which composes cyberspace in its pure form. 

Deleuze imagines a system of “ultra-rapid forms of free-floating control… like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.” The social product is identity, or simulation, encoded with symbolic information to mediate relations. Personality is no longer integrated into moral characters but aggregated as ideological attributes. Updates can be pushed over the air to users with precise symbolic patterns to stimulate desirable reactions. By connecting positive or negative associations with central themes and symbols, group psychology can be triangulated on an individualized basis.

A psyop can be shot like a firework, blow-up like a car bomb, or spread like a pandemic. There is never just one psyop and the psyops never end: what defines them as category is the deliberate manipulation of psychology to achieve strategic goals. Goals can be more or less ambitious, and efforts to achieve them will unfold at different speeds. Operations may consist of recurrent imagery in global advertising, astroturfed campaigns, circulated mantras/slogans, the production and manipulation of child stars, breaking news and creating and destroying myths.

Psyops are projects of conspiracies, beginning with an original conspiracy of self-deception, and extending to designs of clandestine bodies pulling strings behind the scenes, if not the theatre. Nothing here is controversial. Every operation with a front stage has a back stage, including every human individual. Hidden motives or conspiracies of motives are not necessarily malign and evil forces are not always hidden: there are open conspiracies and perhaps also secret chiefs. 

Every bureaucratic organization, like a psychological formation, is subdivided into independent centers that constitute proto-conspiratorial formations; these formations have material interests as well as spiritually implicit interests, capacities, and opportunities as reflected by their modes of operation. In principle, conspiracies can mutate, be more criminal, be more patiently ambitious and more insane.

Individuals are psyopped through administrated social games. On algorithmically behaviorally conditioned social media, impressed incentive structures of reward and punishment encourage or discourage the expression of specific themes, ideas, lexicons, images, articles, links and stories as approved or disapproved communications. This stream of alternately painful and rewarding signals creates a form of psychological conditioning or behavior like hypnosis. 

Users join a choir, or a rival choir, for the performance of a liturgy. What unfolds through this performance, before an audience of algorithms and imaginary friends, is the extension of a set of forces camped at the symbolic crossroads of coordinated mental structures. Individuals become a medium for the reiteration and recirculation of symbolic information and emotionally invested in this function. Other kinds of information is disinformation, and experienced as painful interference. 

A psyopped person has no knowledge of the forces they are serving. As Burroughs put it, “Only a very few Senders know what they are doing and these top Senders are the most evil and dangerous men in the world.” The subject one encounters is a construct, or regenerative personae, not a moral person with the capacity for critical self-reflection.

The discourse of the psyop is not composed of propositions, or available for dialectical analysis. What one encounters is a matrices of codes and symbols of submission. Psyopped individuals can turn away in pure indifference from questions of direct individual importance, or become disturbed, even psychotic if a pressure point is activated. These points are not distributed logically but exist in shadowy relations as a tangled web of psychic knots and orphaned symbols. They are intensely personal, or rather pseudo-personal: they are not critical positions, but psychological positions, under symbolic occupation.

Giordano Bruno in De Vinculis in Genere, describes psychological taxonomies organized by models of receptivity to what he calls vincula, or bonds. “For example, some humans are like fish, others like birds, others like snakes, and still others like reptiles.” Because bonds bind different men in different ways, in order to bind someone it is necessary to know what kind of man they are. This information can now be generated with mathematical precision by mining psychometric datasets from social media. 

Through strategic platform coordination, identities can be independently, but simultaneously addressed and choreographed into ornaments and vectors of a carefully planned agenda. Whoever, or whatever controls this information already has their fingers on the psychic pressure points of every human nervous system on the planet and their grip is tightening. What is the nature of this entity? What is the logic of the power to reshape reality? What is the reality beyond this power?

This question moved the Gnostics. In his 1953 correspondence with McLuhan Voegelin traces the emergence of the gnostic vision to “the establishment of empires that relegate the individual to complete privacy and ineffectuality. It is a situation similar to the contemporary [one] of the individual caught in the net of interdependence in an industrialized society.” Theorizing the “world as a prison, constructed by evil forces, in which the sparks of the spirit are held captive until liberated” Gnosticism appears whenever reality has “become senseless to the men who live in it,” but “responsive spirituality is not vital enough to… find order in new communities outside the prevalent political order.”

This situation is our own. Thrown into interlacing cybernetic rings, an individual anon wanders lost across the radiated surface of the planet. Everywhere is systems rematerializing parasitic structures of incentives ascending to a secret apex like an eye which sees, but can’t be seen. The problem is no longer the crepuscular disappearance of the real, but its midnight reappearance as a maze of mirrored screens. The problem also is the relentless drive of capital/AI, as the supreme expression of instrumental rationality, or what Heidegger called enframing, all the more sublime for its insatiable stupidity. Man accelerates into a slavery he mistakes for liberation, because of a dream of liberation, just as he mistakes a psyop for the truth. Perhaps this always was his destiny. The mythic version of this story is the sorcerer who succeeds in summoning a powerful demon. “I have summoned you,” the sorcerer says, “Now you must obey me.” “On the contrary,” the demon answered, “It is I who summoned you.”

Daniel Miller is a writer, critic, and a contributing editor of IM—1776.

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