The Tragic Success of Operation Mindfuck

With  Discordianism, Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill wanted to spread confusion. They created an overtly self-contradicting ‘religion’, with the aim of amusing people while making them question their assumptions. The ideas spread during the sixties, mainly through underground media and the mail, writing about new anarchist systems and inventing conspiracy theories.

One idea they spread was that of the Illuminati. This was a secret society, based on a real organisation founded in 1776 to spread enlightenment ideals. Contrary to historical accounts, it was claimed the group had continued in secret to the present day. This idea has become a major part of modern culture, appearing in the works of Dan Brown, hip-hop etc.

Among the early Discordians were Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea, who were working as editors at Playboy Magazine. They were drawn into the movement through various odd pieces of mail, which they replied to. Wilson began messing with his readers by publishing as many of these often contradictory stories as he could.

Wilson says he did not consider this a prank or hoax but “guerrilla ontology”.  He became increasingly exasperated with the fixed views on both the right and left of politics and wanted people to question the information they received, and to stop seeing their beliefs as inherently true. This ongoing mission of disinformation, of anti-propaganda, was named Operation Mindfuck. As John Higgs put it in an article for Darklore Magazine “The aim of Operation Mindfuck was to lead people into such a heightened sense of bewilderment and confusion that their rigid beliefs would shatter and be replaced by some form of enlightenment.”

Over time, the operation grew, with Wilson and his associates beginning to receive letters from outside their group (as far as they could tell –  although they were becoming sceptical of everything).

Now, almost 50 years later, it appears as if Operation Mindfuck is present all around us. We are deluged with contradictory information. Both sides in the recent referendum marshalled statistics, facts and arguments to show how their side was correct. Without a decent amount of political and economic knowledge, there was no way to pick them apart. Rumours were reported as news, and those reports became news elsewhere. Truth became devalued in an era of fake news.

This has not gone entirely well. As John Higgs wrote about the results of Operation Mindfuck in January 2017, “the ideas behind Operation Mindfuck have since become a tool for those with a lust for political power, most blatantly Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov”. John linked to a short Adam Curtis film looking at Surkov’s career:

A Russian politician, Surkov came from the world of avant garde art to use the ideas of conceptual art in politics. He would sponsor various different groups and organisations, some of which were working directly against him. He then revealed this was happening, “a strategy of power that keeps any opposition hopelessly confused“. Like the Discordians, Surkov didn’t aim to put forward any particular worldview, rather to bewilder and confuse his opposition. As the economist magazine described it:

As the political mastermind for Vladimir Putin for most of the 2000s, Mr Surkov engineered a system of make-believe that worked devilishly well in the real world. Russia was a land of imitation political parties, stage-managed media and fake social movements, undergirded by the post-modern sense that nothing was genuine.

Operation Mindfuck began as a playful and active response to the world. Now it has been taken to its logical extreme in an increasingly dystopian world. Which raised the question: what next?

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One thought on “The Tragic Success of Operation Mindfuck”

  1. I am here in 2021 trying to make sense of the world we currently find ourselves in.
    I was researching deeper after watching Adam Curtis’s new doc on the BBC which mentioned ‘operation mindfuck’.
    Just wanted to say thank you for writing this and offering me some deeper info than I got from the documentary.
    Personally, I had already reached the ‘agnostic’ point of view, but sadly so many people I know have fallen into ‘paranoia’. It was really helpful to see that distinction as I hadn’t consciously made that clear in my own mind. Wishing you well and thanks again

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