Saturday, 20 June 2015

How Authoritarians Use Emotion To Manipulate Us

Me as a puppet
I get fed up with being told what to do, what to think, and what to say by self-appointed experts who think that they have a monopoly on morality. No, they don't. I've been consistently pushing back and today I'm going to explain their nasty little tricks.

Authoritarians love to dominate areas where the individual, society, and the state come into conflict with a view to bringing them under their influence. Today I'm going to illustrate the way they appeal to our emotions to win our hearts and minds.

Appeal to moral/spiritual authority

Few people of faith are willing to step forward and flat out admit that organised religion is a powerful tool for controlling people, particularly if it is centred around a living individual or group of thought leaders. Given my own inclinations, I've got no problem with that but it's a Protestant thing and it's why we're so divided; we don't approve of centralised authority, as a rule. That said, it's easy enough to get people to rally around an idea if it appeals to a shared value. It's all in the way it is framed.

The pro-life/anti-choice faction

The balkanising of public opinion by demanding that people choose for or against a position has been developed into a fine art by these people. Look again at my debate with Graeme. He doesn't want to come straight out and argue the pro-life position so he resorts to sophistry.
I'm not having a go at Graeme, I'm just pointing out how the pro-life/anti-choice people's reasoning works; they deny the foetus-first bias that kills thousands of women worldwide every year and condemns millions more to miserable suffering by presenting the mother and foetus as having equal rights in the eyes of the law. However, the way cases requiring abortion are treated in practice, even for the life or heath of the mother, is as murder V victim, and the weak must be protected from the strong, or something, so the mother is downgraded to a mere incubator and the foetus takes centre stage.

Weird, nasty things happen when a mother and her foetus are given the same rights under law; inevitably, the foetus is presented as the vulnerable party in need of special protection. This is underpinned by appeals to sentiment, morality, and religious authority. Their argument generally hinges on presenting abortion-seekers as irresponsible tarts who will only go back out and repeat the error of their ways, enabled by an uncaring industry that encourages such behaviour. Needless to say, these arguments have little, if any bearing on what actually happens in reality. This doesn't matter to the Womb Police Types, they believe they're on a mission from God and nothing is going to stop them from doing His will. They're clever, though, they tend to scale back the religious arguments in favour of displaying shocking images of aborted foetuses in public places, aiming straight for shock-value sentiment, and presenting it as "Murder: now what are you going to do about it?" The call to action is the point at which people balkanise.

The IPR in-crowd

You know that tape you've recorded onto a CD, then onto your iPod so you can listen as you go? You filthy, thieving pirate! Format-shifting is now illegal, and in case you missed my earlier blog post on the subject you don't own what you paid for, you're merely licencing it. So if you want to get your Roxy Music's Greatest Hits compilation into a format that suits you, flippin' well buy it from an approved retailer.

Me slipping on the slippery slope of censorship
Don't complain about blocking websites that infringe or facilitate infringement. Or the slippery slope of censorship that's sure to follow. So you believe that copyright should be about promoting cultural dynamism, not preserving or promoting vested business interests? What about the human rights of copyright owners?

The IPR lobby has successfully used moral authority to assert its cause, using emotive language and imagery. Their cleverest tactic to date has been to bundle trademarks, copyright, and patents and refer to them as "Intellectual property." They've got us using their words and framing the argument in their terms. It works because they promote a glamorous, romantic image of creators and authors who create the technology and culture we love and insist that they are being robbed by selfish members of the public who want things for free, and competitors who take advantage of the work done by others to make a fat profit due to not having to do much work themselves.

Like the pro-life/anti-choice people, they pretend to be all about sticking up for the vulnerable, helpless victim when they're really all about controlling content and making us pay for every time we experience it. Their call to action, "You wouldn't steal a car, why steal a film?" makes you decide whether to be a law-abiding citizen or a grubby little freeloading thief. There is no middle ground; you have to be one or the other. Choose.

Climate change and environmental issues

America is a deeply religious country where, in many states, religion informs the law.  Needless to say, I've been enjoying the fallout of the recent papal encyclical on climate change. It really does amuse me to see America's religious right telling the Pope to get stuffed and mind his own business over climate change. Their tentative alliance hangs on the ongoing pro-life/anti-choice legislation being enacted and enforced where they hold sway but Catholics are being increasingly alienated by their counterparts' idolatry of money, guns, and the death penalty, which contradicts their own pro-life agenda. Now that the Pope is being insulted it is unlikely that the dudes will abide. So... what happens when the Pope calls his dogs to heel?

The Pope can bring his religious authority to bear; it looks bad to be seen to be openly defying him. Meanwhile, GOP presidential hopefuls are caught between a rock and a hard place because the climate change deniers with the money are more likely to bankroll candidates who push their agenda.

The argument is framed in terms of job/wealth creation or conspiracies to defraud or to attempt a takeover. Do you love this good earth? You liberal socialist tree-hugger! Don't you want us to have jobs and grow the economy? The fun part of this effort at balkanisation is that it now involves a religious authority that sides with the alleged bad guys. I can't wait to see how this plays out.

How to push back

The counterparts of the factions listed above use similar tactics as their antagonists but from a back foot position. We really need to be more canny in the way we approach dissent.

Challenge the paradigm

The way in which we think about choice, copyright, or the environment informs the way we talk about it. When our antagonists frame their arguments in terms that cast us as the bad guys we need to break the frame and calls their lies out for what they are.
  • Women have the right to bodily autonomy, end of. We are not things!
  • Copyright is neither property nor a human right, and copyrighted items are not consumed. Copyright is a temporary monopoly privilege and other business models for compensating creators exist.
  • Clean tech exists, let's be doing more to develop and promote it to create jobs and protect the environment.

Repeat ad infinitum

The only way the arguments we're having now got any traction at all is because people kept repeating them till they became accepted as valid. We need to do the same because it works. And we need to be as dedicated to repeating it as the other side is.

Provide provable information

Advocates for each position like to arm themselves with facts to present. Do not be slack with regard to this: arm yourself with as much information as you possibly can and prepare to do battle for your views. Research your findings and make sure your sources are reliable. They will be picked apart.

Use your opponents' arguments against them

Each of the factions I've mentioned uses emotional arguments over the rights of the vulnerable, property protection, job creation, and the fear of being controllled by sinister forces. Turn those arguments around:

  • the unborn are not fully human from the moment the sperm enters the birth canal, they should not be considered equal to the mother until they are born because weird and nasty things happen when they are
  • Other business models exist to compensate creators and authors; copyright rent is not the only way to pay them. Besides, they only get a fraction of what's left over after the collections agencies, etc., have taken their cut
  • the cost of cleaning up the mess of environmental pollution far exceeds the revenues brought in by destructive industries and We the People end up paying for it. What benefits?

I like debating and honing my arguments has made me a formidable opponent. However, I'm in a minority. People need to be willing to stand up for what they believe in and too few of us are willing to do so. The thing is, if you don't, the authoritarians will win. Is that what you want?

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