"If you will it, it is no dream."
- Theodor Herzl, Altneuland (1906)
The 2010 film Inception explored a world in which the subconscious mind may be infiltrated, manipulated, subverted and deceived as a form of corporate espionage. The general method of such criminal activity was to enter into a shared dream-space (sometimes a dream within a dream) with the intended targeted individual and extract a vital piece of information from their mind.
But the really impressive - and nearly impossible - task was not to extract information but to implant an idea so deep into a subject's subconscious that it germinated on its own and fooled the target into believing that this idea was genuine and spontaneous.
As described by one of the film's characters, "You need the simplest version of the idea - the one that will grow naturally in the subject's mind. Subtle art." While broad concepts can be suggested to the target's conscious mind, the feat of inception is achieved by going deeper and deeper into levels of the subconscious (dreams within dreams) so that those concepts may be translated by the target's subconscious mind and fed back to him/herself. That way, the target "gives himself the idea," which, we are told, is "the only way to make it stick. It has to seem self-generated."
Successful inception, therefore, is essentially a perfected form of brainwashing and propaganda. It forces someone to be fed an idea that he or she would not have otherwise generated by a self-interested second party in such a way that the target is wholly unaware that the idea - an idea then acted upon and which would change the course of one's life or belief system - is not his or her own. It is a foreign idea foisted upon the target by external forces but disguised as one's own.
Writer-director Christopher Nolan came up with the concept for the film in 2001 while, in his words, "exploring the idea of people sharing a dream space-entering a dream space and sharing a dream. That gives you the ability to access somebody's subconscious. What would that be used and abused for?"
But Nolan was not the first to tread such ground. In fact, the exact concept of inception had been articulated in an almost identical fashion about eight decades earlier by a leading Zionist recruiter Kurt Blumenfeld. Blumenfeld was the secretary of the German Federation of Zionists from 1909 to 1911 and the secretary general of the Executive of World Zionist Organizations from 1911 to 1914. In April 1921, he enlisted Albert Einstein, whose scientific theories had made him somewhat of a international celebrity and one of the world's most recognized and respected Jews at the time, to travel to the United States alongside WZO president Chaim Weizmann to help raise funds to to establish the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Before the trip, Blumenfeld wrote to Weizmann, warning him about Einstein's personal feelings about the Zionist cause:
"Einstein, as you know, is no Zionist, and I ask you not to try to make him a Zionist or to try to attach him to our organization... Einstein, who leans to socialism, feels very involved with the cause of Jewish labor and Jewish workers...It was not so much "naiveté," but Einstein's opposition to nationalism that worried Blumenfeld. The renowned scientist overtly opposed the creation of a "Jewish State" in Palestine and spoke often of the importance of Jewish cooperation with indigenous Palestinian Arabs, rather than the colonization of them.
"I heard...that you expect Einstein to give speeches. Please be quite careful with that, Einstein...often says things out of naiveté which are unwelcome by us."
Einstein biographer Ronald W. Clark explains the shrewdness with which Blumenfeld, who knew that for Einstein "Zionism and Palestine were only peripheral concerns," brought the eminent physicist into the Zionist fold:
Utilizing him for publicity purposes was thus a delicate matter and "was only successful if I was able to get under his skin in such a way that eventually he believed that words had not been put into his mouth but had come forth from him spontaneously."Thus was Blumenfeld's own conception of inception - the subtle manipulation of religious/cultural affiliation to help raise money for the Zionist cause - clearly articulated. Similarly, in response to Inception's main protagonist Dominick Cobb's explanation that because "the subconscious motivates through emotion, not reason...we have to translate the idea into an emotional concept," his associate Arthur wonders, "How do you translate a business strategy into an emotion?" The answer, at least for Blumenfeld, was obvious: hasbara.
But Einstein, to put it mildly, was no fool. He had no illusions as to why he had been asked along on this fund-raising tour. Shortly after agreeing to join Weizmann, Einstein wrote to his friend, Romanian mathematician Maurice Solovine:
"I am not going entirely willingly to America, but I am doing so only in the interests of the Zionists, who are obligated to ask for dollars for education in Jerusalem, and on this occasion I am to play the role of a little tin god and a decoy."As longtime Einstein expert Fred Jerome reminds us, he also wrote,
"Of course they don't need me for my abilities but only because of my name [which] they hope will have a fair amount of success with the rich kinsmen of Dollar-land."Though the trip was a success and Einstein did not at all regret undertaking the task, the fundraising tour offered him a glimpse of the true face of American Zionism. Upon his return to Germany, he sent a letter to his close friend, physicist Paul Ehrenfest, in which he lamented that, in certain circles of affluent Zionists, "a high-tensioned Jewish nationalism shows itself that threatens to degenerate into intolerance and bigotry; but hopefully this is only an infantile disorder."
Tragically, that infantile disorder remains the guiding force behind Zionism and the racist, discriminatory and violent policies of Israel today.
So, what lesson should be learned from Blumenfeld's attempted Einstein inception? Whenever someone starts spouting hasbara talking points at you, just hit 'em with this: