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Brace yourself, Joe. Worse attacks on your Reason are coming along. Soon, you'll see the fnords.
~ Illuminatus!, Part I: The Eye in the Pyramid.

In Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's novel The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the interjection "fnord" is given hypnotic power over the unenlightened. Under the Illuminati program, children in grade school are taught to be unable to consciously see the word "fnord". For the rest of their lives, every appearance of the word subconsciously generates a feeling of unease and confusion, and prevents rational consideration of the text it appears in. The uneasiness and confusion create a perpetual low-grade state of fear in the populace. The government acts on the premise that a fearful populace keeps them in power.

Fnords—occurrences of the word "fnord"—are scattered liberally in the text of newspapers and magazines, causing fear and anxiety in those following current events. However, there are no fnords in the advertisements, encouraging a consumerist society. The exclusion of the text from rational consciousness also enables the Illuminati to publish messages to each other in newspapers, etc., without fear that other people will be aware of them.

Those who have been guided towards enlightenment by the Illuminati or by other secret societies such as the Legion of Dynamic Discord often overcome their conditioning and become able to see the fnords again, and "seeing the fnords" is treated as a significant milestone on the path to enlightenment. This doesn't necessarily prevent them from triggering a negative emotional response, but does enable the enlightened reader to correctly attribute this reaction to the fnords themselves rather than the adjacent information, limiting the power the word has over them. For this reason, the Legion of Dynamic Discord bowlderizes the fnords from most of the documents in their possession for the comfort of their enlightened members.

Because most people cannot see the fnords, those who overcome their conditioning on their own are frequently dismissed as insane or on drugs.

Known individuals who can see the fnords:

  • Hagbard Celine
  • Joe Malik
  • Saul Goodman
  • Barney Muldoon
  • Professor Joshua N. Marsh
  • John Dillinger

Trivia

  • It is implied in the books that "fnord" is not the actual word used for this task, but merely a substitute, since most readers would be unable to see the actual word.
  • Since the effects of fnords are the result of mass conditioning and not anything inherent to the word itself, it can be assumed that anyone who never attended school and was not exposed to any educational materials growing up (or who finished their schooling before Operation Mindfuck began) would likely be immune, seeing it only as a nonsense word that keeps turning up in odd places.
  • Though greatly expanded upon and popularized by The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the concept of fnords originates in the Principia Discordia, central text of the semi-parodic Discordian religion, whose mythology the novel draws heavily upon.
  • If you can't see the fnord, it can't eat you.
  • The fnords can be considered a form of Subliminal Messages. In particular, they greatly resemble the subliminal messages appearing in John Carpenter's 1988 film They Live!, which are also hidden in plain sight throughout all mass media by conditioning the populace not to see them (albeit via a high tech mind control relay rather than classical conditioning) and used to sow fear, confusion, and consumerism.
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