Recently I’ve been thinking about what new and exciting things I want to explore in my own personal development.
I’ve posted a bit on Derren Brown and his show mind control. I’ve long felt that people are far too easily manipulated, and I’ve recently become fascinated by the process of how we humans influence each other.
I’d really like to dive more into the cognitive and practical aspects of rhetoric, debate and propoganda. Being an introvert, I’ve never been terribly comfortable with debate. This is partially because I tend to focus less on the content of what people are saying and more on trying to read their intentions, emotions and subtexts. Sometimes these are aligned and I feel like I can engage, but a lot of the time, it seems like people want to debate out of status struggles, orthodoxies, or simple meaningless banter, in which case, I have better things to do. I tend to be a large systems thinker, and I want to deconstruct why someone is having this debate, what they are trying to achieve, and so on. Sometimes I loose the point they’re trying to make while trying to figure out why they’re making it.
Another reason I’ve felt uncomfortable with debates is that while I have an intuitive feel for rhetoric and logical argument, I’ve never seriously studied it. It’s really important to be able to identify and deal with common tricks of logic and language that people use to muddle issues. Straw men arguments, false dichotomies, ad hominem attacks, and a whole bunch of other logical fallacies are really good to understand, and currently dominate public debate. By understanding them in the context of conversation, you’ll also become more critical of anything you hear from others. People really use this stuff all the time, whether they know it or not.
A word to the wise though. People tend to really dislike when you take apart their arguments based on logical fallacies. It can make you look like a pedantic dickhead. You have to get really good at asking the right questions to do this inoffensively. That is I suppose, if you care about doing it inoffensively.
Propaganda is an interesting topic, which could be seen as a one sided debate. A lot of the same tricks are used, and these days, it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish news from propaganda. Especially when lazy or complicit news organizations air made up press conferences, or fake news stories produced by the government for the sole purpose of opinion making through deception.
I’m also interested in non-verbal communication like body language and face reading, as well as environmental cueing and suggestion.
Why am I interested in all this? For some reason, I’ve recently latched on to how our brains fail us, and fail us in ways that we’re not conscious of. There’s a whole lot of processing that our brains do on a subconscious level, that drive action, but don’t show up as part of a conscious decision making process. A lot of us have a very inaccurate belief system about what our “self” really is. Part of that is the belief that while we may not have control of our external environment, we do have control over (and responsibility for) our thoughts, feelings, and decisions. It’s becoming increasingly more clear that this isn’t the case. Or at least not as much as we had thought. There are tons of examples of this, and I won’t go into it at the moment, but look up some of Derren Brown’s videos on youtube, or do a search for behavioral changes due to concussions, or read this article. It’s amazing how much of who we are is not a product of our conscious selves.
I’m partially interested because in the current political arena, this is all done, and done spectacularly ham-handedly. By both parties. But people just eat it up, and repeat it back to one another. It’s amazing that this low level amateur hour manipulation is so effective. I find that fascinating, and I’d like to understand it better.