In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, with respect to their exercising of free speech in the form of political campaign spending. But could some big businesses also be compared to a very specific type of person: a charismatic cult leader? Do big businesses use some of the same tactics leveraged by cults to win followers and suppress dissent? Are they using a form of neurological manipulation? As medical research goes forward, will it unwittingly help teach big business how to control the public brain?

Comparing Cults and Corporations

Let’s consider some apparent similarities:

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  • Cults have been known to use sleep deprivation and limited protein intake to weaken targeted individuals’ bodies and bend them to their will
  • Cults use rewards to reinforce behaviors they seek, such as loyalty
  • Cults encourage an immersion into group mentality, peer pressure, and groupthink to keep everyone toeing the party line, and to discourage individual creative thinking and dissent
  • Businesses have been known to use undue influence, such as trading on brand familiarity and using deep pockets, to grab media attention and even to influence legislation in order to create a more favorable business environment
  • Through press coverage, lobbying, advertising, public relations, marketing, and more, businesses encourage groupthink to influence the masses to buy their product or eat their brand of potato chips
  • Businesses may hire celebrities or industry experts as spokespeople (or evangelists) to recommend their products. Is this creating a cult around the product or merely making it attractive to a certain audience who might find it useful?

Developments in Brain Mapping and Control Mechanisms

When influence verges on the extreme and ventures into the territory of mind control, that’s when we should step back and reevaluate whether we want to work for, or do business with, corporations using the more extreme, cult-like practices. As technology and brain research continue to advance, however, the scientific community may be arming businesses, cults, and regular people with new ways to exercise influence. For instance, information about eye movement and eye tracking (eye movement data analysis) has long influenced the positioning of ads online. This use of science by big business may be a necessary evil (or worthwhile side effect) of neurological research to find treatments for brain diseases and new ways to rehabilitate the brain.

New Discoveries and Ethical Dilemmas in Neuroscience

Today, there is even more attention being paid to work aimed at mapping the brain, encouraged by the Obama administration’s focus on its BRAIN Initiative, which will receive $100 million in funding this year. As the medical community learns more about how the brain works and how brain functions can be controlled to further the healing arts, we may discover strategies for brain manipulation that could be misused. The agencies involved in the BRAIN initiative include the NIH, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA; Department of Defense), and the National Science Foundation. Scientists and medical professionals will have to keep vigilant watch over them.

What do you think? Are we being too hard on big business? What is the next milestone in neurological research that has a potential for abuse by big business, politicians, or other mass influencers?


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