Scary Ways Governments Control Your Behavior
Let's investigate some scary ways governments control your behavior!Secrets
You may think you’re in complete control of your life, but what if I told you your every move was being manipulated by the very organizations that claim to protect you? From the sneaky and subtle to the big and bold, here are some of the downright scariest ways that governments control your behavior.
You might not have heard much about Turkmenistan, the middle eastern country bordering Iran and Afghanistan. However, it has one of the most repressive regimes in the world. News that isn’t vetted and controlled by the Turkmen government is completely banned, and the Internet is heavily censored. That means no Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
Crafty university students have found workarounds, utilizing illegal VPNs to access the wider web. But the government knows this and has come up with a terrifying solution – forcing professors to spy on their own students! That’s right – and if they don’t comply, they could lose their job.
The snooping doesn’t stop at the country’s borders, though. The secretive state sweet-talks students into studying abroad with promises of financial aid, and then forces them to spy on their classmates as well!
Every single overseas dorm of Turkmen students has at least one informant, and each are given a list of fellow students to spy on. The whole messed up situation has led to intense distrust among Turkmen students, and who can blame them? Literally anybody they talk to could be working for the government.
It gets even more bizarre when you read some of the notes made by the student spies – one wrote “a student received low grades, therefore he should be questioned”. Low grades are supposed to turn them into a threat?!
It makes you wonder how many of the so-called “informants” just make things up to punish people they don’t like. Bullies are bad enough as it is without being given government powers.
Big Brother Is Watching You
It might sound like something out of George Orwell’s 1984, but sinister posters of the government’s ever-watchful eye aren’t limited to fiction.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died in 2013, but that hasn’t stopped him watching over the Venezuelan people. Shortly after his death, Chávez’s eyes, known to locals as “Los Ojos de Chávez”, started appearing all over the country – on walls, billboards, and steps!
Of course, Chávez himself can’t be responsible – so who is? Perhaps surprisingly, they’re the work of his successor, Nicolás Maduro, who adopted the design in his 2013 election campaign.
Maduro claimed that by propagating the image, he was showing that he shared Chávez’s ideals. But the truth is far more sinister – the eyes’ real purpose is to keep the country’s population obedient and scared. You see, there’s a lot of power in a pair of eyes.
Researchers at Newcastle University in the UK put up two different posters in a restaurant, reminding people to clear away their trash. On one day, the posters had flowers on them, and on the next they had a pair of staring eyes.
On the day people were subjected to the peeking peepers, they were twice as likely to do what the posters said! So, next time you want somebody to do something for you, try staring them into submission.
Scary Social Credit
Credit scores are pretty common around the world. If you pay your bills on time and do your taxes, your credit score goes up and banks are more willing to lend you money. Seems fair.
China’s “Social Credit” system is way more invasive though, where having a low score affects every single part of your life. Plus, everything from posting on social media to buying too many videogames could lower that score!
In 2018 alone, 5.5 million Chinese citizens were banned from trains just because of their scores. But even if you have a good score, it’s no guarantee you won’t be punished – one unlucky student was suspended from university because of his dad’s bad behavior! Punishing a son for his father’s actions is messed up, but you can guarantee it ensures compliance.
Speaking of families, your social credit score can also plummet if you don’t visit your parents often enough. This is because Chinese culture is rooted in Confucianism – the fundamental belief that parents can do no wrong. So, it doesn’t matter if your mom’s so evil the devil sold his soul to her – you’ve still gotta visit her.
And don’t think sending your brother will work – facial recognition cameras are all over the place. So much so that the state says it can find your exact location in as little as seven minutes. You’ve probably heard of the “nanny state” but this is more like the “overbearing mother” state!
If you’re ever unfortunate enough to get lost in the desert and feel like the cacti are watching you, it might not just be an effect of dehydration. Over in Paradise Valley, Arizona, the cacti really do watch you!
Back in 2015, the government built giant metal replicas of the plants and installed secret cameras inside them designed to slyly read vehicles’ license plates. City officials say the succulent surveillance only checks for stolen vehicles, but they know its presence puts people off speeding too.
And cacti haven’t just been used to hide cameras either – elsewhere in Arizona, they hide whopping great cell towers! Before you grab your tin foil hat though, hold on. These towers don’t brainwash you with their 5G powers – they don’t need to – they influence your emotional response instead.
The reasoning is that if the government built an ugly metal tower outside your house, you’d be pretty miffed, right? However, if it looked like a friendly plant, you’d be far less likely to complain to your local council.
And governments really don’t want you complaining, so they disguise their comings and goings whenever possible. The parking lot “palm tree” below in San Diego is another example.
Pretty Pink Prisons
When you think of a prison, you probably imagine orange jumpsuits and gray cinderblock walls. However, the reality can be a little rosier than that – but not because jail is fun. For a surprising reason, prison walls are sometimes painted pink.
Back in 1979, psychologist Alexander Schauss came up with a crazy theory – that the color pink makes you weak. To test his hypothesis, he asked 153 men to stare at a pink card, then lift some weights.
After this, they were asked to stare at a blue card and do the same. Astonishingly, Schauss found that over 98% of the men were significantly weaker after seeing the pink card!
What’s more, he later discovered that a certain shade of pink – called “Baker-Miller”, had a calming effect on angry prisoners after just 15 minutes in a pink detention cell. So, together, the color could make people both weaker and more subdued!
Word got around, and prison managers started painting their jail cells pink in an effort to make their convicts better behaved.
Inmates in Maricopa County Jail, Arizona, were even forced to wear pink underwear – though there was no evidence that calmed them down!
In fact, nobody has ever successfully recreated Schauss’s original results – and one study even showed that prisoners in pink cells became more aggressive in the long term. I guess the prison guards won’t be tickled pink at that news.
If the unthinkable happened and you lost your home, at the very least you could catch some shuteye on a bench, right? Well, not if the government has anything to do with it! Cities like Washington DC have installed extra arms on their benches to make it impossible to take a snooze on them.
We call this “hostile architecture”, and governments around the world use it to keep groups they see as undesirable out of public view – like the homeless.
A bench outside London’s Royal Courts of Justice is particularly nefarious in its design. Solid stone might be a good idea to protect pedestrians from vehicles but what about those thin metal strips?
They’re only there to prevent people from lying down! Not that it actually stops anyone sleeping – it just forces rough sleepers to go to more dangerous areas, making them even more vulnerable.
And architects love getting creative with the ways they can displace people. From ridged seats to no seats at all, these benches are barbaric, and people are understandably outraged that their cities are installing them.
One artist called Nadia Kaabi-Linke protested against hostile architecture in Bruges, Belgium, by installing a satirical spiked bench there.
It’s obviously not meant to be sat on – thousands of pins don’t make for great seats – but is it really much worse than some of the other examples we’ve explored? Hopefully the local government will get the ... point.
With one security camera for every six people, the US has the most CCTV per person of any country in the world. You’d think there’d be no space left for more cameras then! But in 2017, the city of San Diego in California said, “just watch me”.
In an effort to improve transport around the city, the local government set up hidden cameras inside streetlights. The idea was that by monitoring the flow of traffic, they could gain data to improve the roads. It didn’t take long however for the spy-lights to be used for other means.
The police quickly realized they were perfect for surveillance, and by August 2020, they’d tapped into over 400 of the hidden cams! So, despite a non-invasive original aim, they were repurposed into a scarily vast and covert state surveillance system.
And across the pond in Britain, the lampposts don’t just watch you, they listen to you too! In 2010, several British cities bugged their streetlights with a microphone that could detect aggressive language.
If somebody sounded angry or distressed, the mic sent a signal to a nearby camera, which would zoom in on the direction the voice came from!
Okay, so governments all over the place seem dead set on controlling their peoples’ behavior. But surely something as simple pushing a button to cross the street is outside of their influence, right? Wrong.
In New York City, a whopping 91% of those crosswalk buttons aren’t hooked up to anything! Indeed, the traffic lights are actually just on a timer to keep the roads moving predictably. So why bother with buttons at all if they don’t work? Turns out, it’s basic psychology.
People like to feel in control, and if we feel like we’re in control of the traffic, we’re more likely to wait before crossing the road. Which means less people are turned into crushed cafeteria meatloaf! It sounds like a great idea, but it's concerning how easily we’re influenced by something as simple as a button press.
A lot of governments spy on their citizens. While most are fairly subtle about it though, some have all the subtlety of a brick to the face.
Like the British Home Office, who decided to collaborate with Amazon to track people’s online purchases. Brits who’d recently bought candles found their smart speakers suddenly started spouting government fire safety advice at them.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting people to be safe from fires – but there is something inherently creepy about tracking people’s activity without their permission. Who knows what else they could’ve been looking at?
And in the US things are equally suspicious. Will Baur from South Carolina decided to ask his Alexa straight up if it was spying on him:
The NSA is the US National Security Agency, so it’s super creepy that Alexa refused to answer. Amazon says it’s only a glitch, but it's undeniably dubious!
Fake Fire Hydrants
In New York City, you can be fined $115 for parking by a fire hydrant. After all, they’re there to save lives, not to save you a prime parking spot! But did you know a load of those hydrants don’t even work, and for fifteen years the government still charged people for parking by them?
At the turn of the twentieth century, buildings in the Big Apple were getting taller, which meant its fire hydrants needed to be more powerful to reach the upper floors. So, in 1904, the government installed a new high-pressure system of fire hydrants known as “stubbies”.
They worked for a time, but after a few decades more modern hydrants were installed, making the stubbies obsolete. Despite being decommissioned though, the hefty 600lb stubbies stayed firmly put for many years.
Rather than despairing at this wasted space though, the NYC council saw dollar signs, and continued to fine people for parking by them. Pretty deceitful! Those stubbies were only there to manipulate you out of your hard-earned cash.
Nowadays, most of the fake hydrants have finally been removed – but a few stragglers remain. There’s one sure-fire way to find out if one works or not though. Park by it! If it’s real and a fire breaks out, you might find out that firemen care more about stopping fires than they do about your car:
Little Privacy, Please
Nothing screams America like apple pie, 4th of July barbecues and half-inch gaps in bathroom stalls so you can make awkward poopy eye contact with people! US cubicles are known to be way more exposed than other countries, and it’s all to keep people in line.
Supposedly, the peer pressure of being watched makes people behave better. Therefore, they’re less likely to get up to any naughty business when they should be pooping.
However, the design of a washroom in the Washington State Convention Center takes things too far. With gaps under the doors that are higher than my ankles, and enough space above the doors to fly a plane through, there’s zero privacy from the washroom lobby.
Every country dealt with the coronavirus pandemic in their own way. But the nation of Singapore had a uniquely dystopian way of enforcing its social distancing rules: robots.
It’s not quite the terminator, but this guy is still a scary sign of government enforcement. The bots are set to patrol busy spaces barking out orders for people to stay apart. They’re not just fancy speaker systems though.
Each comes equipped with seven cameras and an inbuilt artificial intelligence designed to spot so-called “undesirable behavior”. Anybody not abiding by the strict rules will face swift consequences – the bots notify real police officers, who quickly appear on the scene.
When you consider that in Singapore you can be jailed for three whole years just for logging into someone else’s Wi-Fi, it really makes you wonder what the government will do next. Maybe, they'll build an army of Internet-defending robot dogs?
Managed ‘n’ Measured
It’s in a government’s best interests to have a healthy population. A fitter, longer-living populous contributes more to society and generates more income for a country. Japan is hyper-aware of this, as such has one of the lowest obesity rates in the world – at just 4%, it’s ten times less than the US’s.
This impressively low figure is partially down to a controversial law the Japanese government introduced in 2008. It’s called the Metabo Law, after metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions caused by excess body fat.
But what actually is it? Well, employers are required to measure the waistlines of all employees over the age of 40. If the men’s waistlines exceed 33.5 inches, or the women’s exceed 35.4 inches, they’re forced to attend weight loss counseling sessions!
Essentially, the government is using the fear of shame to stop its citizens from overeating. And any employer that refuses to carry out the humiliating measurements can be fined for their disobedience, so there’s no escaping the ordeal.
As demeaning as it may be though, there’s no denying the results. The average American man has a waistline almost 7 inches over Japan’s limit, and American women average over 3 inches more – so over half of all US adults would fail the test!
Mind Control Music
Nobody likes being put on hold when they’re on the phone – and the irritating music is one of the worst parts. Did you know there’s a devious reason for that music though?
It’s actually used by governments and other organizations to keep you waiting around for longer! Believe it or not, we’re more likely to stay on hold if there’s music than if there’s something like a pre-recorded voice message.
Do people actually like that tedious 30-second loop? Not quite. Music influences the way we view time, so even if the tune’s objectively terrible, it can still trick us into thinking we’ve been on hold less than we really have. Apparently, time flies when you’re having absolutely no fun at all!
And music has been used for other nefarious reasons too. Back in the eighties, behavioral expert Dr Hal Becker experimented with adding subliminal messages to songs. By hiding barely audible words in the tracks, he theorized that he could change the behavior of the people who listened to them.
Around 50 department stores in the US were so interested in the idea that they started pumping the special music into their elevators, laced with subliminal anti-theft messages.
Shockingly, it worked really well. Theft dropped a staggering 80% across stores, leading Becker to suggest that governments could use the technique to keep crime rates down across the board. Despite the success of the music though, this didn’t get adopted (at least, as far as we're aware).
Cardboard Cop Cars
From stop signs to speed bumps, governments around the world have tried just about everything to slow down speeding drivers. Officials in Turkey however have got particularly crafty about it.
Instead of paying flesh-and-blood traffic cops to keep the roads safe, the Turkish government have put out cardboard ones instead. From a distance, it’s tough to tell a genuine police car from its cardboard counterpart, so drivers slow down even though it’s all fake!
In fact, it’s worked so well that crashes were slashed by 17% in just one year. The really scary part about this isn’t the cardboard cars though, it's the people who still insist on speeding. Let’s just hope they cop on soon.
If you’ve ever been to the UK, you’ll know needing to pee when you’re out and about can be a real pain in the piddler. If there’s a public toilet at all, it’s often subject to a fee to use it. By sealing public restrooms behind a paywall, governments earn more tax dollars and don’t have to spend so much money on bathroom maintenance.
However, paywalled toilets have had other, more startling, consequences. One British study found over half of its participants intentionally dehydrated themselves when they went out, just to dodge paying a bathroom fee.
Furthermore, another 20% avoided leaving the house altogether! It goes without saying but dehydrating yourself is not healthy – and neither is staying in the house all day out of fear!
Go back in time to mid-nineteenth century Britain though, and things were much different. Free public toilets were all over the place if you were a man, but if you were a woman? Well, good luck, there were zilch.
To reinforce now outdated gender roles, the government solely built public toilets for men. This meant women could only travel as far from home as their bladders let them, effectively leashing them into domestic life.
It wasn’t until the 1880s that women were granted the basic right to take a pee outside of their homes, and even then, it was only to get them to spend more time shopping! Indeed, if you were a woman in Victorian London, then "urine" trouble.