Human Programming (Paperback)

Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom

By Scott Selisker

Univ Of Minnesota Press, 9780816699889, 248pp.

Publication Date: August 1, 2016

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (8/1/2016)

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Do our ways of talking about contemporary terrorism have a history in the science, technology, and culture of the Cold War? Human Programming explores this history in a groundbreaking work that draws connections across decades and throughout American culture, high and low. Scott Selisker argues that literary, cinematic, and scientific representations of the programmed mind have long shaped conversations in U.S. political culture about freedom and unfreedom, and about democracy and its enemies. 

Selisker demonstrates how American conceptions of freedom and of humanity have changed in tandem with developments in science and technology, including media technology, cybernetics, behaviorist psychology, and sociology. Since World War II, propagandists, scientists, and creative artists have adapted visions of human programmability as they sought to imagine the psychological manipulation and institutional controls that could produce the inscrutable subjects of totalitarian states, cults, and terrorist cells. At the same time, writers across the political spectrum reimagined ideals of American freedom, democracy, and diversity by way of contrast with these posthuman specters of mental unfreedom. Images of such “human automatons” circulated in popular films, trials, travelogues, and the news media, giving form to the nebulous enemies of the postwar and contemporary United States: totalitarianism, communism, total institutions, cult extremism, and fundamentalist terrorism. 

Ranging from discussions of The Manchurian Candidate and cyberpunk science fiction to the cases of Patty Hearst and the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, Human Programming opens new ways of understanding the intertwined roles of literature, film, science, and technology in American culture.

About the Author

Scott Selisker is assistant professor of English at the University of Arizona.

Praise For Human Programming: Brainwashing, Automatons, and American Unfreedom

"Human Programming is an imaginative and incisive account of how US culture—across decades, mediums, and institutions—has given form to dystopian fears of mind control as a way of buttressing a sense of the American self that is even more outlandish in its pretenses to autonomy. From Cold War politics to posthuman technologies, Selisker reconsiders who we think we are by looking closely at the forces that have told us what to do."—Mark Goble, University of California, Berkeley

"Lucid and compellingly conceived, Human Programming contributes much to the growing body of scholarship on postwar American anxieties about human agency and social influence."—Timothy Melley, Miami University

"The American rhetoric around brainwashing, Selisker shows, is inconsistent at the most basic level: it takes for granted that the programmed self is inauthentic, and that the real self is spontaneous and unlearned."—Los Angeles Review of Books

"Scott Selisker offers readers a fascinating new history of American anxieties along the borderland between the machine and the human mind."—New Books Network

"The scope of the book is impressive, and the author’s fusion of media forms and disciplinary approaches is creative and adept."—CHOICE

"Selisker’s history of the human automaton is far reaching and firmly grounded in evidence. His work provides a meaningful contribution to the interactions between culture and political thought, and his research will be of interest to academics with a variety of different research interests. This book has expertly answered the ‘what’; ‘how’; ‘when’ and ‘where’ of human automaton, and has made strong inroads into the ‘why.’"—British Society for Literature and Science