As I watch the elections, and go about my life, I am finding more and more manipulative behavior, and, sadly, I am seeing more and more supposedly very intelligent people falling for it.
So I asked myself, how do we combat this?
But let’s back up.
What do I mean by manipulative behavior?
Well, I mentioned the elections… and, on both sides, the most frequently used manipulations include tearing down a straw man- saying the candidate did, or believes, or supports, or is supported by something they do not. Now there is always a grain of truth in the straw man argument that allows people to say ‘they do so believe that way’ but it is not a whole truth, or a full representation of what the person believes. Then the media trashes the person running by making fun of what they supposedly stand for, taking sound bites or nuggets of information out of context that seemingly proves their point.
The other common logical fallacy that is prevalent today is taking things to an illogical extreme. This candidate said this therefore they must believe, or they have implied this horrible thing. If emotions were less high, every sensible person should be saying- but that is not what they meant. But, since we are whipped into an emotional frenzy we are now outraged that someone would ever say, support etc something so awful. Elections are usually pretty evenly split between the two parties- do you really believe that half of the country would back someone as awful as they are portrayed? Chances are slim and it is likely that the news sources you choose are playing on your emotions- But, do not listen to the other side’s news either, for they are doing the same thing, only since you do not like their candidate you will likely see the fault in their reporting more than you notice it in your own.
On another notes, I am also seeing this behavior on a local level. A few years ago I was part of a committee that was supposedly an important committee. We met, and seemed to make decisions; except we never actually made a decision and no one seemed to notice. We never voted. (Though I am sure the meeting notes reflected a vote… this is why approving the minutes and other parliamentary procedures are important- but we didn’t need to be formal.) Here’s what actually happened. We would meet. The group moderator, after someone made a point contrary to what he had decided would say, ‘let’s hear from the other side.’ He would end the discussion after someone from the side he agreed with spoke and then he would say something to the effect that it looks like the consensus is for whatever the last person was for (his side). Then he would move on. Since the last person who spoke affirmed what he wanted it did seem like that was the majority opinion and we were all happy to have been heard. He was very nice and understanding to those who thought differently and made everyone feel affirmed- but they were not going to overturn his agenda….
Another meeting I went to did vote, but before the vote they presented three detailed explanations for one side of the issue, and then presented responses as to why the opposition was wrong. (This was supposedly a balanced discussion.) They used a lot of emotional language that made it sound like we would be bad people to vote any other way than the position that was being presented in the positive (another common ploy). The vote was almost unanimous when the year before it was a highly contentious issue that failed. Either everyone went home and rethought the issue or their ploy worked.
The other thing I see is cooking the numbers and making them look different than they actually are. For example, in another meeting, we had one person show up from a certain population. Instead of saying only one person showed, they ran stats and said that a certain percentage of the population showed, which made it sound better than one. Not a lie, but it assumes that we are not going to do the math and realize that the percentage means one person showed up. Again, not a lie, but also not as truthful as one would like. This is where all that high school math comes in handy.
So what should we do?
We need to be teaching common logical fallacies, common manipulation techniques and statistics in a way people understand and remember. There are many books to do this from, and some historical examples of books that led to bad behavior that we should examine as to why people bought into these beliefs and how we can avoid doing so in the future. Logic is power. Mob mentality causes people to do things they would not otherwise do because their emotions rule. Right now we are being taken advantage of, and, even if you agree with the aim of the manipulation, it is still wrong. Let’s try to do better.
How can we do better. First and foremost we can stop reposting emotional, name-calling, illogical articles. If we post only content based on well-reasoned arguments and facts we will drive the media to want to create content that is less emotionally driven and more factual. Where you find such content I am not entirely sure. What I do know is that much of what hear people say is fair today is often what is leaning to their way of thinking… so be careful.
How freaky would it be to see two candidates actually debate the plusses and minuses of real plans, and concede points, agree occasionally and come up with something almost everyone could agree on (because it makes sense and takes into account most people’s needs and concerns)?! That level of maturity would be nice…
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