Too Dumb To Vote, Part IV – Magic & Mayhem

Previous weeks went a long way in unveiling the general turdiness of your thinking. Alas! Eheu!

Whatever could upset you more, then, than to learn that there is yet another aspect of your excremental thought yet to be explored? If I were you, I would leave this blog post haste.

Gandalf would make a sick politician

This last category is something of a fix, since it contains elements of both previous categories (verbal and non-verbal). I call it ‘magic’ not only because magicians (or similar) use these techniques, but because they are the least obvious. The content of the last two blogs was, probably, hovering at the back of your mind. You knew some arguments weren’t watertight. You knew ugly people tended not to be elected. If only it ended there…

Mind Reading is surprisingly one of the more understandable elements in this bracket. Mind Reading is useful to speakers in that it allows them to appear very knowledgeable, and therefore qualified, to lead you. Moreover, it allows them to suggest that they understand your concerns, hopes and fears, and that their policies are uniquely designed to help. This builds rapport, a unique and unquantifiable votewinner, because when the speaker has aligned themselves with you (through mirroring emotion, posture and tone), you’re compelled to do as they do. And think as they think.

T P Barnum offered ‘something for everyone’ using some cheeky tricks

Most mind reading, when addressing crowds, is achieved using Barnum Statements, sentences or clauses which exploit the Forer Effect. These statements tend to sound very specific, unique to the listener/listeners’ identified group. However, when picked apart, they are almost universal to healthy-thinking humans. This is in part because everyone thinks in broadly similar ways (self-consciousness, putting on a ‘social face’, worrying about money and the future, sexual prospects etc) and in part through barefaced linguistic bet-hedging tactics and fuzzy time-framing, for example “you are usually a calm and thoughtful individual, but in occasional situations of extreme stress, you can become anxious”.

Complementing the listeners and positively massaging the ‘readings’ helps their reception tremendously. Who’da thunk it?

As a side-note, many authors unconsciously use such techniques when creating characters. Characters don’t need to be likeable as such, but do need to be identifiable. If you describe them in terms that sound specific, but in fact loosely apply to the reader, then hey presto!

Another magician’s trick is Misdirection. Just as the stage conjuror uses sleight of hand, sexy assistants etc. to divert the audience’s attention from his mechanical fiddling, so the unscrupulous politician casually obscures their argumental flaws and historical weak-points from view. This applies to all scales – you probably notice positive, money-intensive announcements are timed to limit the fallout from more covert spending cuts. Right now, we have Cameron chatting an awful lot about his “parenting lessons” (which I happen to think are an excellent idea) and avoiding much discussion of police cuts. However, misdirection applies to the case in point, speechmaking, too. As suggested in part II, a few rhetorical fireworks, some confidence and some exhortations can cover up flimsy argument structure.  Poohy old you can only focus on one thing at a time, after all.

But then, I forget how clever you are. You wouldn’t fall for simple misdirection. No, it’s Neuro-Linguistic Programming  that will f!£k you up.  “NLP”, founded by Bandler and Grinder, has numerous elements an offshoots, but the most pertinent to my argument is anchoring, the sneaky technique of linking some of your personal emotions and memories to a certain action or spoken word, thereby forcing you to associate the two. In Pickup Artistry, the nicest of menfolk influence (?manipulate?) women into associating the man’s attention or praise with their own happiness. Politicians can do all kinds of damage – associating political opponents with some of your darkest fears, and anchoring themselves to your satisfaction, your ‘safe-place’ emotional state.  They might ‘programme’ you to feel a deep longing for this state, one that can only be satisfied by chatting about them, watching them on TV or …you know…ticking the box.

Xavier can’t read Magneto’s mind, but he can open yours like a book

Actually, misdirection, mindreading and NLP combine to explain a specific technique that I call void filling. Through ‘knowing what you think’ (or appearing to), the speaker hits upon your deepest worry – let’s say the economy. Then through NLP they augment your negative feelings, anchoring vague worries to a memory of trauma, such that you start to get into a genuine emotional panic about the economy. In this panicked state, awash with adrenaline, wild, you as a shitty human are desperate for a solution, and will seize any one given to you, and be grateful to the giver. Thus, when the speaker presents his/her own economic solution, you’re conditioned to love it (especially if the authoritative speaker presents his nightmare scenario, and his solution, as a false dichotomy). Unfortunately your emotional fragility is so great that you fail to examine the realistic strengths of the policy, thus misdirection. Neat, huh?

You may now be thinking “OK, perhaps these techniques are real, but no politicians seriously have the training or bad faith to try them, right?”

Yeah, sure. Listen to a few speeches and see what you can see.

On with the show! Like NLP, suggestion is closely related to hypnosis. Now, given the limited training and good faith of our speakers, outright audience hypnotism is pretty unlikely. We might kick up a fuss if we all fell asleep during an episode of Question Time, and found upon waking that we were all deeply infatuated by Ed Balls. Psychological suggestion is almost as clever as Inception, but considerably more real. It tends to shore up weaker arguments with long-term convincing effects, deploying a variant of anchoring. Suggestive statements utilise verifiable, true clauses like “as you sit here…”, “you are listening to me and…”, “reading this, you feel…” with their own dodgy opinions, which can be as unsubtle as “…you’re starting to come around to my point of view” to more sneaky version like “you suspect George Osborne’s austerity might not be such a good idea”. Merely because one half of the sentence was true, you, the faecal audience-member, is predisposed to swallow the other half!

Suggestion points to a wider problem in your psyche – Cognitive Biases. There are so many of these that it’s almost futile to start – Wiki lists 85 under ‘decision making, belief or behaviour’ and 24 under ‘social’. We’ve already met the Halo Effect, one example of the latter, whilst in discussing this topic without a degree or similar formal qualification, I am a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a beautiful bias whereby those just starting to learn a skill (in my case, popular psychology) fail to realise their ineptitude. I encourage you to skim the list – not only will you see biases relevant to elements of previous blog posts, but you might discover with a jolt that you are pathetic, and that humanity is pathetic. To cherrypick a few examples for my argument, we might look at the Semmelweis Effect, through which we tend to reject evidence that contradicts our core beliefs rather than adapt those beliefs, or the Backfire Bias, which shows that opposing groups of partisan positions will, when presented with theoretically neutral evidence, both take that evidence as strongly supporting their own position. You might enjoy this excellent blog post on self serving bias too.

Really makes you doubt your thinking skills. Certainly does me. And I’m writing!

What’s up, doc?

Memory Biases are Cognitive’s ugly cousin. The one kept in the attic and only let out at Christmas, whose occasional thumping tends to ruin your dinner parties. Dear Wiki lists over 50 of them. A quick scan suggests that you selectively remember things pertinent to you, which benefit you, and which correspond to your pre-held opinions. Sadly, it’s not all that straightforward, as your ‘memories’ are painfully biased by what you want them to be, and how they are influenced. This hilarious study found 1/3 test-subjects, after visiting Disneyland, remembered meeting Bugs Bunny, a Warner Bros. character. Whoops!

The flimsy nature of your memory would be bad enough on its own – imagine you reaching the polling booth, and only remembering selective facts! How could you possibly vote accurately?!
Well, suffice to say that large parties make a serious effort to play on your memory biases, because they’re kind like that. There might be plants (shills, claques, as Mitt Romney is accused of doing at a Civil Rights convention) placed in the audience to applaud and react with extra enthusiasm, affecting your immediate and remembered experience. This need not be ‘bad faith’ – they could be civilian party members rather than actors. They’re still f%$king up your programme.

Add them to the gravity of the occasion, the build-up, size and aura of the venue, importance presented by the introduction speaker – crowd psychology is at work. To help your ‘memory’ they’ll throw in favourable media coverage, a well-edited internet video focusing on happy, receptive audience member, cutting out the “uhms” and “ahs” in the presentation and set to patriotic/stirring/epic music (some of which might be lifted from film soundtracks, tapping into your emotional anchoring!)

Then there’s the freakiest memory bias of all – your retelling. To cover up for your weak memory, and to make your appreciation of the speakers’ points sound more reasonable and evidence-based, you are probably going to deploy hyperbole when discussing the speech with others, even those who also saw the speech. And guess what, most will agree. You’ll confirm and accentuate your own faults, and quite possibly search the media/internet/friends’ opinions for further ‘evidence’.

Pow! Bam! You’ve elected George Bush. Well done.



3 thoughts on “Too Dumb To Vote, Part IV – Magic & Mayhem

  1. Pingback: You’re Shit And You’re Doing Nothing About It [Part I - Introduction] | Haywire Thought

  2. Pingback: Too Dumb To Vote, Part IX – Religion, Morality & Politics | Haywire Thought

  3. Pingback: The Bumbling Bees – Bill, Biden and Barack at the Democratic Convention | Haywire Thought

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