Three Types of Mind Control

Here are three more books that I have recently read and my thoughts about each of them. They all involve some sort of mind control but in very different ways.

End of Watch by Stephen King

This is the third in a trilogy about police inspector Bill Hodges (retired), but it is a standalone story. As with all Stephen King novels, the horror component requires the suspension of disbelief in order for the storytelling to engage the reader. In this case, the horror is of a mass murderer who is in hospital in a persistent vegetative state but who is awake and aware. As he watches his doctor and the nursing staff engage with him, he trains himself to use mind control to affect their behaviours.

As if this were not scary enough, he also manages to have someone program a game on a computer tablet so that those who play the game become mesmerized and subject to his mind control. King has cleverly combined two of our greatest fears; being entirely dependent on others and not knowing who is influencing our loved ones through their computers.

It is a thoroughly engaging story that leads the reader down dark paths, but always with the hope that somehow Bill Hodges and his colleague, Holly, will save the day.

(If you have been wondering why I have been reading a lot of Stephen King’s novels lately, it is because our family’s fifteen-year-old was sorting out his bookshelves and I rescued some from the giveaway pile.)

On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder has spent his life studying history and specializing in the Central and Eastern Europe and the Holocaust. He is the Levin Professor of History at Yale University. Academics usually tend towards lengthy discussions and scholarly language, but this book does neither. Snyder has found a way to write a very short book about tyranny that is accessible to the lay person.

He has boiled his extensive knowledge down to its essence and presents twenty lessons from the twentieth century, adapted to today. “Today,” for this work, refers to 2017 when the book was published. That is also the year in which Donald Trump became president of the United States.

Each chapter’s title is his advice to his readers. For examples: Do not obey in advance; Defend institutions; Believe in truth; Learn from peers in other countries. Essentially, he is telling us that we cannot say we were deceived and use that as an excuse for our political failures. But this is not a scolding. Snyder is giving good advice and suggestions for a way forward.

I usually give books away after I have read them, but this one will be staying on my shelf. I want to be able to use it as a reference at any time when I suspect something disturbing may be happening politically.

The Underwriting by Michelle Miller

This story combines Wall Street with Silicone Valley and with powerful people in NewYork, San Francisco, and London.

This tale is about the ways in which a dating app gets a stock market launch. Apparently, it involves a lot of schmoozing, drinking, and indiscriminate sex. Certainly some of the characters have redeeming qualities, but most of the people we meet are self-centred, rude, and have an inflated sense of their own abilities. They engage in mutual reinforcement of the worth of their endeavours, and dangerously disregard any contrary information.

I almost didn’t finish reading this book because the “ick” factor was too strong, but about half way through I began to see that a few characters are able to resist the corporate and professional straightjackets to draw upon their innate morality. Even so, I came away thinking that what most of us consider to be ethical behaviour is not valued in these worlds. What matters is presenting a polished and united image regardless of the dirty underbelly. In both Wall Street and Silicon Valley, a person’s boss decides what is right and good, and that is easier to go along with if you drink the Kool-Aid.

The author Kevin Kwan found this book be “Hilarious, exhilarating, and so, so clever.” I, on the other hand found it unfunny, exhausting, and just so-so. In a letter from the author at the end of the book, she gives some background into the inspiration for it; she wanted to see if she could create empathy for investment bankers in the same way that some television shows created empathy for mobsters. It’s a nice try.

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