Sunday, March 24, 2013
Propaganda, Un-Evolution, Driving, and GWB.
Last time, we went on...and on...and on.... about deception, self deception --and evolution. So you must be aware by now of an unpleasant truth that your brain is really not very well evolved. Man is the pinnacle of evolution? I think I like Creationism better.
Still, while the truth hurts to know that I am not really that more advanced than a turtle, these ideas do help understand a lot of important, real-world phenomena. Propaganda, of course. And people's response to it. And driving. If you understand driving, you understand everything! And will also quickly sell your car and buy a bicycle.
Since I do PR for car companies, there are some unpleasant truths here, too.
Yes, we are unevolved. Our brains are sub-optimal for the kind of societies that we keep on building and which keep on failing. You know, Greece, Rome, the Aztecs, America.... We like comforting lies. The Unpleasant truths will catch up with us in the end. But in the meantime....
As I keep on repeating, it all comes down to physiology. The brain consists of a lot of modules that operate mostly independently and unconsciously to process what we perceive of random and unfathomable reality – that ‘indifferent” universe. Those modules must somehow reconcile individual action and social behavior -- "I-think" and "Us-think", if you like.
The brain must also reconcile direct perception and immediate emotional response, "Oh, that bear has big teeth --I'm afraid"-- with abstraction, which often involve past experiences, generalizations, and extrapolations about the future.
"Most bears are dangerous animals but they generally prefer berries to eating people and loud noises and confidence may frighten him off. Where's my PR, so I can google this problem".
That's the trouble with having language and logic -- the ability to manipulate reality internally.
While you are creating a mental powerpoint presentation on bears and various scenarios for appropriate response from which you can deduce an "action plan", the bear may be eating your toes, or other tasty extensions.
So, it is natural that the brain has modules to turn off conscious thought and protect you from yourself. You see a bear with big teeth and you start running before you have time to think about it and climb a tree where the bear cannot follow.
Yup, we need mental modules that work using the vast, unconscious, high-speed resources of the brain..
Of course, the universe doesn't care about you, since "you" doesn't really exist anyway. But it does care about your genes, which do exist. Nothing personal! As Don Draper says, there isn't any "system" out there, no cosmic nanny to help you when times are tough. So, our mental modules have to be on all the time, working more or less automatically to protect us, or, rather, to protect our genetic material -- while offering the illusion that things have a certain order that "we" can control. Trouble is -- it's just an illusion. Life isn't that safe.
"We" are like the bird. More or less oblivious to reality.
If the bird is lucky, it will sense something and -- without thinking -- fly away.
For humans, a good example is driving, an important cultural phenomenon on which we spend vast amounts of time and money, no doubt as a result of the fact that no high school boy can get laid without a car.
When you drive, you do a lot of things automatically. You don’t “consciously” think about Almost everything in driving is an unconscious subroutine, the pedals,the gear shift, the turn signals, steering wheel, eye movements forward, backwards, left and right. Remember driving school? Remember how hard it was to “learn” all that so it became automatic, yes, “unconscious”?
Driving is a pretty simple thing. Anyone can drive.
But still a lot of people die in traffic . An old lady steps out against he light in a crosswalk. A drunk driver cuts in.... Shit happens.
To survive driving, we need rules--that is, agreements with other people that they will stop at red lights, drive at reasonable speeds, stay in the right lane and so on -- and do other things that makes them predictable. We all have to have the same automatic processes--but the situations in which those processes are applied have to be standardized. That's pretty much the basic paradigm for social order. We need automaticity. Yet, we also need standardization.
In addition, we need fail-safes because standardization always breaks down. The rules are don't cover all eventualities -- are sometimes just plain dumb--or get too complicated. Of course, someties the "fail-safes" are standardized too -- with predictable results.
That is where the conscious mind comes in --often as a defensive check on heuristics. Defensive driving, for example, assumes that socially presumed "order" may be just an illusion, that people may fail to follow rules. What if the other driver is texting and doesn't see the light? What if he/she is drunk?
In ordinary life, we have to perform many, many such complicated cognitive tasks, using different cognitive subroutines and functions, involving different cerebral modules. Most of what we do involves heuristic thinking – and much of this is learned unconsciously. Yet it is dangerous to be too complacent.
Consciousness and self-awareness--as modules--allow you to second guess your automatic responses and modify them. And, as I said, break rules.
This can be a problem for propagandists.
Propaganda, of course, aims at mental modules at the individual level -- but with great emphasis on groups - -hence the obsession with demographics and the like -- and trying to group people by their internet browsing habits. (Porn, kinky porn, kinkier pron.....). In either case, propagandist targets mental modules that function mostly unconsciously. Of course, its own targeting is also established unconsciously -- more groupthink!
An advertising "pitch" never reasons. It is never reasonable in a rigorous, logical sense. It is always a rationalization.
Unfortunately, consciousness and self-awareness get in the way of propagandists' best efforts. It's that failsafe thing.
Once upon a time, people liked George Bush because he was "one of us" -- and honest. Now, they think, "he's one of them" and a liar. How very "one of us" of us.
The point is that the brain is set up to pay attention to reality -- in the end --especially when it has big teeth and cannot be ignored. Otherwise, it's a bit of a clusterfuck because "reality" and "truth" are not quite the same.
Luckily.... That's what pays the bills for us in the propaganda business.