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Battlefield 2021: Part 1 – The Coming Great War

Imagine waking up on a battlefield …

You have no map …

You have no compass …

You have no weapons …

Hell.  You don’t even have any clothes.

That’s pretty much all of us in 2021 …

We’re about to enter the greatest battle in the history of mankind …

And none of us are ready.

What is the nature of the battle?

I’ll reveal that later in this series.

First, I need to equip you with some tools

Some offensive and defensive weapons, to be precise.

A sword and a shield, if you will.

These aren’t physical weapons.  They are weapons of persuasion.

In the last blog post series, Unlearning 2020, we talked the sorry state of journalism today – and how it’s almost impossible to know what is true in today’s information landscape.

Now it’s time to learn how to fight in such an uncertain environment.

And like any good combat training, it’s wise to start with defense.

Over the next two posts, we’ll build your shield.

The Shield – Lesson 1:
Conformity to Emotions, Mirror Neurons, and Emotional Manipulation

When done well, films can – over a short span – make you feel a full range of intense emotions.  You can take a roller coaster ride from teeth gritting frustration … to gut wrenching grief … to triumphant joy … all in the span of 90 minutes.

And you’ll feel it almost as if you lived it yourself.

Why is that?

You’re not actually there.

You’re not experiencing what the characters are experiencing on the screen.

But … in a sense … you are.

The psychological phenomenon known as Conformity to Emotions observes that humans tend to mirror the emotions of others.

This is especially so when we observe the same emotion expressed by a group of people.   This can possibly be attributed to the combined effect with another psychological phenomenon known as Conformity to Group Norms.  That is … we tend to “follow the herd”.

There’s a reason we humans are often referred to as “sheeple” …

Anyway, the notion that we mirror the emotions of others is even further supported now with a discovery in neurology: “mirror neurons.”

A mirror neuron is one that fires when you are either performing or observing an act.  For example, whether you hit a baseball with a bat yourself, or watch someone else do it, mirror neurons will fire in both cases.

This shouldn’t be any surprise to anyone who has watched …

  • a video of a horrific act
  • pornography
  • a GoPro video of a roller coaster ride

Your body will react almost as if you are the one experiencing these things yourself.  It will start to pump out some of the same hormones and neurotransmitters of terror, sexual arousal, or excitement.

Again, in this modern media-driven era, this phenomenon should not be too surprising to anyone, should it?

But, up to now, how much thought have you put into this, really?

When you watch stuff, are you thinking “hey, they are manipulating my emotions?”

Or are you just passively experiencing it?

Let’s be honest with ourselves:  most of us are just experiencing it.  (And there are people banking on that lack of awareness.  More about that in a minute.)

Fascinating.  But …

Who Cares?

Yes intellectually, this phenomenon is fascinating.  But so what, right?

The nesting habits of fire ants are quite fascinating as well, but … what’s knowing about that going to do for your life besides make you potentially boring at parties?

See, it’s in the subtle application of these phenomena where things get very interesting.

Interlude:  The Russell Conjugate

Bertrand Russell observed that we almost always fail to separate the emotional content of any given expression from the factual content.

For example, the expressions “you are fearless” and “you are foolhardy” are two “Russell Conjugates” for the same idea.   They are almost factually identical.  But the  emotional content of each expression is quite different.

Almost any factual idea can be expressed with a number of various Russell Conjugates.

And the way we react to each of them tends to be radically different.

The importance of Russell Conjugation in persuasion would be hard to understate.  “Political communications consultant” (positive Russell Conjugate for “spin doctor”) Frank Luntz found that the way people will respond to factual material depends entirely on the Russell Conjugate used to express the idea.  For example, even though a “death tax” and an “estate tax” are exactly the same thing – factually – almost everyone polled is against a “death tax” but for an “estate tax.”

But this phenomenon is invisible to us, most of the time.  When you hear “death tax” you don’t automatically think, “Hey, is that a Russell Conjugate for an idea that can be expressed in a less emotional way?  What does that really mean?”

Well … maybe now you might just start to.

Progress …

Russell Conjugation of the same factual information is but one of many ways our emotions are manipulated by media.

Here are a few others …

Next time you watch or read any “news” keep your eyes out for Russell Conjugations and also for …

1.  The emotional tone of the newscaster

  •  is it delivered with a “just the facts” tone or is there anger, shock, or joy?
  • are the facial expressions of the newscaster revealing how they feel about the issue?

2.  The use of emotional language

  • are they using any adjectives?  (For example … is the politician reported by name or with an adjective attached?  “Senator Sassafrass” or “the controversial Senator Sassafrass”  …  is the event reported in a matter of fact fashion or is it presented in a more colorful way? – “in a stunning turn of events” “in a clumsy, possibly illegal, attempt to …”)
  • are they making any insinuations? (Look at that last phrase again:  “… in a clumsy, possibly illegal, attempt to …” Is it illegal?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But they can avoid breaking libel laws by making the insinuation alone.)

3.  The expectation that you are to react / think a certain way

  • do they use language like “the world is shocked and saddened by these events”?  (Is it?  Maybe some are joyful.  Maybe some have no emotional reaction whatsoever.)
  • do they use language like “all patriotic Americans will agree” or “all educated and right thinking people will agree”?  (Really?  Have they conducted a survey?  How did they identify the participants?  Aren’t we all sovereign individuals who are free to interpret things as we see fit?)

4.  Media clips showing people reacting a certain way

  • do they include video clips of people displaying emotional reactions?

5.  Are they expressing ridicule of alternative interpretations?

  • Saul Alinsky said, “ridicule is man’s most potent weapon”.  If a particular news program wants to persuade you to be against a particular idea or viewpoint, an interviewer or guest will often ridicule someone who expresses it.  Your mirror neurons kick in and … poof!  You feel the ridicule as well.   This will make you less likely to express the idea in public.  And man’s fear of ridicule is far more intense than most realize.  Some cultural anthropologists hypothesize this is tied to our fear of being kicked out of our tribes.  And because – before modernity – being kicked out of the tribe meant facing down the sabertooth tigers by ourselves, this fear is primal.

All of the above are strong tells for …

Emotional Manipulation

You may want to go back and read through that list again.

Next time you watch or read any news, keep your eyes out for any of the techniques.  I bet it won’t take you long to see every single one of them in use.

But … if the news is the “news” … why are they doing this?

Interlude:  The Astonishing Power of Trash Talk

Michael Jordan is rumored to be a gentleman in person.  However, on the basketball court he is widely known for being one of the most cunning trash talkers of all time.

Why?  Why would a man who was at the time almost unquestionably the greatest player of all time need to talk trash at all?

Because the trash talk is part of the game.  See, if you can crawl up into the head of your opponent and get them to react emotionally, you take away their ability to think clearly.  “Emotion clouds judgement” is a folk truism with which almost everyone is familiar.  But it is surprisingly well-supported in scientific literature, as well.  For example, we know that even on a neurological level when your emotions are high the blood flow to your neocortex (where higher reasoning is believed to occur) decreases.

So, not only is the emotional manipulation of media tricking your brain into believing things you wouldn’t otherwise believe, the very act of rousing your emotions is blunting the edge of the very tool you need to cut through their bullshittery.

OK, back to the question …

As I explained in the last series – journalism is largely dead.  What we have are propaganda outlets of various flavors all competing for our compliance and/or allegiance.

To what end?

One can only speculate.

I’m more interested in what we can know (with as much certainty as is possible) and what we can actually do about it.

All I’ll say for now is that The Coming Great War is going to require you to become adept at both offensive and defensive persuasion.

More about that later.

Tomorrow we’ll build out your persuasive shield a bit more.

Meanwhile …

What you just learned, while essential in navigating the information landscape, is incomplete without …

Well, since we’re using military metaphors, let’s call it a “med kit.”

Emotional manipulation takes an emotional toll.  Even if you can spot it, it still wears you down.

Not only does it, as you just learned, cloud your judgement … it slowly chips away at your will to fight.

So, we have to learn how to toughen up our minds.

How do we do that?

There are many ways, but this tool is perhaps the fastest and most potent.

It’s in the form of a very short story.  You can read it in 15 minutes.

Legend has it that, once you read this story, it forever changes the course of your destiny.

Sounds like a lot of hype, I know, but …

I have to admit I attribute a large degree of my personal success to having read this story as a young man.

FREE Download:  The 15 Minute Read That Will Change Your Destiny 


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