Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Not So Hidden Persuaders

     You’ve heard about the Facebook “trending” scandal. You remember the attempt to silence Ezra Levant. You’ve heard about the “lawfare” campaign Michael Mann has mounted against Mark Steyn. And of course, you know about the “safe spaces” rage on American university campuses. The arrows point, generally, in the same direction: a set of blunt-force attempts to suppress news and opinions that displease the Left.

     They’re all bad, noxious, intolerable. Yet they’re not the most dangerous of recent strokes against freedom of expression. There are some that, by virtue of their greater subtlety and ability to couple with our desires and preconceptions, are far worse. Likely they’re attempting to operate on you even as you read this.

     Consider the recent spate of stories about long security lines at America’s airports. I don’t fly any more, so this is of no personal consequence to me...but this revelation most certainly is:

     As travelers suffer through long airport security lines, the Transportation Security Administration is spending millions on advertising, public relations, new uniforms, and office furniture.

     The agency has blamed budget constraints for the nightmarish lines, which have caused 4,000 Americans to miss their flights and 100 travelers to sleep on cots overnight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

     However, an analysis of recent government contracts reveals that over the past month the TSA has spent more than $2 million on various services unrelated to increasing manpower or improving security.

     The agency awarded a public relations contract worth $53,234 for news clippings and media monitoring from a company that worked with President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign....

     The TSA is also spending heavily on advertising. This month the agency rehired a communications firm that in the past was in charge of the TSA’s “brand strategy.”

     The $1.7 million contract is for “continued marketing services and additional advertising support.” Sage Communications, LLC will provide Google text ads, online ads on travel related websites, video ads, Facebook and Twitter ads, as well as develop a “media plan and social media strategic communications plan.”

     Sage Communications will also monitor and report on the results of its social media and advertising campaigns.

     Once you’ve gotten past the insoluble mystery of why the TSA needs to advertise at all, perhaps you’ll ponder the clash between TSA’s ad spending and its “budget constraints.” The TSA claims to have no money for its core function, yet it has plenty to spend on promoting itself! Intriguing, eh what?

     That’s one.

     The Hillary Clinton email scandal has grown prodigious “legs,” such that no amount of airy dismissals by the candidate can neutralize it. So what’s to be done? Why, this, obviously:

     In the last few days, two articles have appeared defending Hillary Clinton's use of a private server for her classified communications. One, from the famously objective PolitiFact, continued their amazingly uninformed series of "fact checks" with a check of Colorado Senate candidate Jack Graham's statement that "it's clear that [Clinton] violated security laws." The other article was written by Paul Waldman at the Washington Post Plum Line blog.

     Please read the whole thing. Author Charlie Martin knows his stuff – and I can say that with assurance because, having worked in defense engineering for 25 years and having held high security clearances the entire time, I know the security laws and regulations quite well. He demonstrates that the articles at PolitiFact, the Washington Post, and The American Prospect, are erroneous in a fashion that is both consistent and deliberate: conscious attempts by their authors to paper over Mrs. Clinton’s several felonies and thus soothe those who doubt her trustworthiness.

     That’s two.

     Finally for this morning, there’s this adroit bit of indirect slander:

     All over the country, employers say they see a disturbing downside of tighter labor markets as they try to rebuild from the worst recession since the Depression: They are struggling to find workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test.

     That hurdle partly stems from the growing ubiquity of drug testing, at corporations with big human resources departments, in industries like trucking where testing is mandated by federal law for safety reasons, and increasingly at smaller companies.

     But data suggest employers’ difficulties also reflect an increase in the use of drugs, especially marijuana — employers’ main gripe — and also heroin and other opioid drugs much in the news.

     What are we to make of this? Here’s one reaction, from a usually more skeptical observer:

     I'm willing to bet that the Venn Diagram showing "People in poverty" and "People who use drugs" is almost a perfect circle, with just a few slivers on either side.

     Really? Should a sufficiently large number of readers form that conclusion, what elements of our political and media classes are most likely to benefit? Would that strike you as a conclusion the New York Times might want you to reach?

     That’s three.

     When all the errors are in the bank’s favor, you can be forgiven for thinking there’s more at work than sloppy arithmetic. – Me.
     “A mechanical process can reverse a bit at random, but motivation acts like a field — the elements won’t change unless the field does.” — James Tiptree, “Faithful To Thee, Terra, In Our Fashion”

     Persuasion is a much studied field these days. There’s so much money to be made – and not just in selling the public on a new cell phone or a body spray guaranteed to get you “all the way home.”

     The Left has suffered a number of failures in its blunter attempts to bludgeon the American people into buying its nostrums. The reactions against such phenomena as Occupy and Black Lives Matter have been so dramatically negative that the message cannot be missed. While this wasn’t exactly predictable, it was certainly “in the cards,” given the longtime American resistance to such techniques. Accordingly, the strategists and tacticians of the Left have reverted to their earlier tools: gradualism and soothing syrup.

     Gradualism gave us a state of affairs in which it’s possible for a city government to seize a whole community under eminent domain and turn it over to a private developer; for unelected bureaucrats to harass a voter-fidelity activist with the full power of the federal government; for other unelected bureaucrats to fine a couple $16 million for putting a pond on their own property; and for an activist district attorney to indict a Congressman for completely legal fundraising practices and a state governor for a legitimate exercise of his ex officio authority. Gradualism has removed all the Constitutional fetters from political authority. This has been the Left’s design for decades. Now it only needs to put into office men who will use that unbounded power to totalitarianize the country once and for all.

     If there’s a little problem with massive popular resistance, the Left will use its allies in the media to soothe those who dislike what they’ve seen and heard. The media have been good friends to the Left over the decades. Education and journalism have been its bastions since before World War II.

     The process is one of minimization and, when possible, the exploitation of the audience’s existing mindset. Don’t rant and rave denials; merely soften and redirect. Couple the message to what the listener would prefer to believe. Trust us, the TSA says: we’re doing the best we can with the meager resources those skinflints in Congress have allowed us. Hillary Clinton didn’t send or receive information that was marked classified. And all those jobless folks? Well, if they weren’t all on drugs...

     Get the idea?

     Making use of what people already believe, or what they’d prefer to believe if given a reason, is a far more powerful persuasive technique than bullhorning your contrary stance directly into their faces. The master persuaders have known this for a long time.

     Some years ago, there was a faddish set of notions about “subliminal seduction:” the use of persuasive elements below the threshold of conscious perception in broadcast advertising. It turned out that, while those techniques had been tried, they’d proved ineffective. Appealing to the conscious mind provides a more reliable return on investment.

     Review the instances cited above. Think about the other news items and opinion columns you’ve read recently. Ponder your own convictions and preferences, and how you automatically seek out those whose views tend to accord with them. It feels good to encounter a like minded, intelligent man who’ll tell you that yes, you’re the reasonable one, it’s the others who are off base.

     Works, doesn’t it?


Unknown said...

My people have believed a lie, and loved to have it so... Jeremiah.

Not Jeremiah's exact words, but there is about five chapters telling it in different ways. Every time I read it, I have to go quickly to the other part which says God's grace is sufficient for all...

I think the administration of our blessed country, being so enmeshed in deceit and embedded in lies, will someday respond appropriately... in other words I am optimistic..., whadda we got next?

Linda Fox said...

I think that the high numbers of drug users that apply is simply an artifact of the fact that, to keep benefits, they have to apply for jobs. They know they will fail, but they still have to go through the motions.