AQ&A Topic 12  Date 8 January 2018 : Have You Been Socially Engineered by Governments & Companies?


Focus questions -

(feel free to add more focus questions) . Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding. Note: clearly not all of these questions can be properly covered in a meetup, but they give us a conscious choice about what to talk about while making the background context clearer. It is up to the people who come on the day to choose what aspects they would like to deal with.


1. Child raising - were you socially engineered, and who decided anyway?

2. Many governments and companies (i.e. people in power) want to socially engineer their citizens, and many citizens are content to comply. What is your detailed view on this? What evidence can you bring to support your view?

3. Obviously learning to live among others and cooperate is driven not just by personal experience, but by the formal & informal teaching mechanisms of each culture. What is the proper balance between learning from hard experience and accepting guidance from external sources?

4. Whenever I glance at a TV (not often) in any country, the first thing I notice each time is that whatever is running - soapbox, game show, comment, interviews, news ... - seems to be driven by a background agenda of coaxing viewers to think and act in certain ways by imitation. Are people who watch this stuff all the time aware that they are being nudged to think and act in these ways, or are they already too mentally numb to even notice?

5. What is the final purpose of social engineering by governments and companies? One view (you may dispute it): If we became entirely like an unthinking nest of ants with no ability for independent action, would that be an achieved ideal, or something evil? This (long) disturbing article shows how we are being transformed in just that way: "INSIDE CHINA'S VAST NEW EXPERIMENT IN SOCIAL RANKING" at  . China is a little ahead of the West in this transformation, but we are on the same track. "The philosopher Hannah Arendt, watching the Nazi genocidist Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem, realised that the most striking thing about evil was its banality" [from "On Evil" by Terry Eagleton]. Eagleton is right - evil emerges in everyday ways when people are too self-absorbed and unthinking to notice what is going on, or too brainwashed to even imagine that they are already under mind-control, or too cowardly to do anything about it.

6. One of the double-edged virtues of money is that it encourages people who might otherwise have nothing in common, or even hate each other, to cooperate for common ends. We can hardly live in complex societies without this. However, the China story (Comment 2 above) explores how a centralized 'big data' computer program is being weaponized against citizens: that is, financial 'carrot & stick' manipulation + controlling personal social reputation, is being used by the politically powerful to completely suppress any kind of opposition, as well as to stream people into privileged and deliberately disadvantaged groups. This is the near future. What can we do about it?

7. There is evidence that job interviews make no difference to the overall quality of people who are hired by companies and governments. However, 'human relations' professionals claim that they filter out applicants who don't fit particular 'company cultures'. What is your experience of this process? What do you think of the idea of 'company culture'? To what extent can or should companies try to shape the cultural behaviour of their employees?

8. Ethnic & national cultures survive across generations because they have powerful qualities benefiting particular groups of people. However each of these cultures also has particular weaknesses which can become fatal under stress. (You can play a parlour game picking out the critical weaknesses of each culture). It is a feature of human cultures that many or most of the players in each one refuse to acknowledge, let alone wish to change, the flaws in their culture which outsiders see. Given such resistance, how can (or should) cultural weaknesses be engineered out? Try to think of actual examples.

9. Professional societies and their members have worked hard for decades to engineer a particular view of their professions amongst the public. Medical professionals have been especially successful at this; (before the 20th Century doctors were widely regarded with fear and contempt). Lawyers try to foster an image of competence in managing complex legal problems, accountants foster an image of probity, academics claim unmatched knowledge, mechanics claim competence and honesty ... and so on. This kind of social engineering of public perceptions has brought great financial reward, and often monopoly advantages. Now much professional mystique is being challenged by bottomless public access to Internet knowledge. What is your personal experience in managing contradictions between the carefully engineered high reputations of professions, the competence or otherwise of actual professionals, and alternate sources of knowledge like the Internet?

10. What is the purpose of education? Working in universities for many years, I found that most students thought they were buying a job ticket. They actually resisted examining and learning new ideas & skills, or evolving new ideas themselves. Most left university with neither the interest nor the skills to pursue lifelong learning. I therefore considered their education to be a failure. Was I wrong, were they right? What kind of social engineering should formal education aim for? [A couple of prior articles by me around this topic may help: a) "So we had a few failures. Was that the end of university?" at  ; b) "The Purpose of Education - a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?" at ]



1. All past topic questions are now listed at

 2. From another meetup I run for English learners, twenty-four sets of 10x questions (from Thor) designed for students of  English as a Second Language are online at



[A couple of prior articles by me around this topic may help: a) "So we had a few failures. Was that the end of university?" at ; b) "The Purpose of Education - a hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy?" at  ]

Here is the hard face of social engineering, in this case in China: "The Guardian view on surveillance in China: Big Brother is watching - Editorial" at

Thor May
Focus question 8 looks at the dynamics of Social & Ethnic Cultures. Here are a couple of articles (among many) that I have written around this theme: a) "Cultural Operating Systems" (2010) @  ; b) "Super-Culture And The Ghost In The Machine" (1987) @

Thor May
Focus question 7 deals with the experience of job interviews and company 'culture'. My own experience has been that recruitment is typically incompetent and often corrupt. Now also most job wannabes are coached in so-called interview technique and questions. It is a loss all round which has been much researched but not fixed. Here is one of the better discussions on the subject: "Job Interviews Have Become Predictable and Ineffective – Here Are 10 Ways to Change That", John Sullivan (2017) @  . Also check this iconoclastic blog post: "Company Culture Is A Myth" (with many comments) by Laurie Ruettimann @

Thor May
Focus questions 5 & 6 deal with streaming people into social classes using money, as opposed to using money to facilitate cooperation and opportunity. Of course using money as a class weapon permeates most societies. An important question is a matter of the degree and deliberateness of intent. In the USA status education + money is weaponized in a way guaranteed to ruin the country: "The Best Class Money Can Buy", Matthew Quirk (Nov. 2005) @

Thor May
Focus question 4 looks at the way media shapes us, deliberately or inadvertently. Here is a piece I wrote in 2015 on the deliberate attempt. It includes many Internet links : "
How much attention has $529 billion of advertising bought?" @

Thor May
Focus question 3 asks about the balance between formal Vs informal learning. Actually, this is more a continuum than a contrast, especially now with Internet access. It is often said that informal learning is not intentional. This is only sometimes true however. Also, the information available via informal learning can be intentionally planted even when the learner acquires it accidentally, especially in highly controlled societies. Such hidden influence might be more potent on thinking than formal teaching. In any case, the present Wikipedia reference claims that "The average adult spends 10 hours a week (500 hours a year) on informal learning practices" [ ]. How about yourself?

Thor May
Focus question 2 deals with the very broad concept of social engineering. Any kind of teaching is social engineering, and it can obviously be beneficial or malevolent. Designing buildings or cities to influence behaviour is also social engineering. Designing any political system socially engineers outcomes. ... and so on. Inevitably social engineering also acquires narrow meanings in special fields. For example a whole new area of research involves the "social engineering" computer user psychology by criminals and governments ( ).

Thor May
Focus question 1 : Of course you were "socially engineered" as a child, by your parents, and certainly by the formal education system. But the odds are that you didn't really turn out as anyone planned. Why did the best laid plans go astray? Research & opinion on this stuff could fill a library. Here is one (very long) Internet report on the psychology of it all: "Parenting and its Effects on Children: On Reading and Misreading Behavior Genetics", @  . Here is an argument starter: "The connections that studies have found between the way parents deal with their children and how the children turn out are actually quite weak and have proved difficult to replicate". Anyway, if you want to change the world, change child raising everywhere. Just tell me how.


Have You Been Socially Engineered Discussion Questions ©Thor May 2018

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