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Social engineering

The phrase ‘social engineering’ is basically about changing or influencing a person’s thinking, attitude, and behaviour. At the superficial level. Religious ideologies and beliefs occupy a deeper level, but they are also subject to manipulation. The professionals in their field say it takes 25 years or more to condition minds and change behaviour. Wrong. Consider a Pakistani at Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore. He is flying to Dubai via PIA. At the check-in counter, he behaves obnoxiously — arguing about his baggage allowance. At the immigration counter, he tries to jump the line. In the departure lounge, he smokes (no smoking area) and discards his butt (no pun) in the flowerpot. On the flight he asks for the Stewardess’ phone number 95 minutes later, on touch down in Dubai, he is a changed man. Fully compliant with all the protocols. He smiles obsequiously with the immigration officer baring his nicotine-stained teeth. For the rest of the year, in Dubai. He is the paragon of civic virtue.

Political leaders, throughout history, have tinkered with social engineering – with verifying results. The most glaring case was the attempt by the National Socialist Party of Germany to project Germans as the apex of the human race. Most Germans bought into this propaganda with harrowing consequences. South Africa’s Nelson Mandela was a lifelong opponent of Apartheid

Philosophy (White Supremacy). Yet when he became President in 1994, he did not overreach – no trials, no executions, and no bloodbaths. Only a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. A pragmatic approach, Mandela knew that the economic power rested with the European races. Mandela needed to coopt them. They had the economic power to destroy the emerging, new South Africa. Real politics triumphed over populism. Evidently even today, whites have most of the economic power. The most remarkable social engineering feat, in recent history, was accomplished by Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore. The People’s Republic of China is also being transformed. It is still a work in progress.

The most remarkable ‘behavioural change’ has been through corporate (business) intervention. Corporates have the financial muscle and profit motive, to change consumer behaviour; and in this information and artificial intelligence (AI) age, they have the Knowledge, the market research, and the delivery channels to be in the driver’s seat. My family elders used to tell me how the tea companies (mostly British) in the 1920s–30s would spread the word about drinking tea. The Connaught Place in Delhi, the central shopping district, was littered with tea stands offering free tea to passersby. Now tea is the favorite brew in the sub-continent. It is a British cultural icon. The evening tea is to be experienced. If you shell out Pound Sterling (£) 75 per head, please go to the Ritz in London or Rosewood Hotel or Fortnum and Mason. I can enjoy the same delicacy at my club in Karachi for the equivalent of £ 3/-. The American War of Independence was sparked off by “The Boston Tea Party”, circa 1870. The shipment of tea originated in Bengal and was dispatched by the East India Company to Boston. Nestle is the biggest food and nutrition company in the world. They can, and frequently have changed social behaviour. They convinced the masses of Europe, an educated lot, that infant formula was better than fresh milk. Much later the same company set out to convince the masses (or customers) that the infant formula was superior to the mother’s milk (i.e. breast feeding). The backlash forced them to backpedal. One advertising guru stated: “The customer is not a moron. It is your wife.” Great! But the media keeps talking about the masses. Remove the ‘M’ and what have you got?

Howard Schultz made coffee “Cool, Trendy and GEN Z oriented”. Starbucks Inc. swept the world and made it the choice of all segments – young, middle and old. The backup was provided by a ruthlessly engineered campaign to change consumer habits. Schultz left Starbucks some years ago, sales dipped leaving Investors worried. Schultz was recalled.

Starbucks, once again, Dazzles. The ‘Covid’ pandemic hit the world three years ago. National and international emergencies were declared. New social behaviour emerged, either self-imposed or forced. Societies changed overnight. Work habits and eating rituals changed. This was the first pandemic in the world where science triumphed over habits, culture and religion. People did not rush to temples and churches to beg for deliverance, as in the past. Their governments unleashed a science-based approach — R&D-based vaccines, rollouts, supply chains, group behaviour, individual responsibility, constant monitoring and international cooperation — and people complied. The “hidden persuaders” played a major role.

Farooq Hassan, "Social engineering," Business recorder. 2022-12-26.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social engineering , Democratic attitude , Human behavior , Political behavior , South Africa , Allama Iqbal , Pakistan

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