Elias Isquith has written in Salon.com that the Ferguson MO announcement was deliberately provocative because riots distract people from questioning the racism and the unfairness of the system.
The conspiracy this time was not to protect Officer Darren Wilson from standing trial for the killing of Michael Brown, though that was certainly related. This time, the conspiracy was to organize the announcement of Wilson’s exoneration in as provocative a way as possible. The ultimate goal was to manipulate the public and the press into forgetting the real story of Ferguson — of police brutality and racial injustice — and bickering about the morality of rioting instead…
All they wanted was to improve the Ferguson power structure’s battered images — not by doing good, but by making the protesters look even worse.
My first reaction to reading that was to wonder if that might be just a bit too paranoid. I mean really, it seems like a pretty convoluted argument, verging on the “tin foil hat” sort of reasoning that is easy to mock. After all, most people are just middlingly competent at organizing the office holiday party, much less at orchestrating other groups to respond like angry swarms of bees.
But then I think about it some more. As a psychologist, my expertise is in helping people manage their emotional reactions. Teachers, preachers, nurses and moms share the same basic skill — managing people’s emotions and behaviors — to help them calm down or get inspired or follow a diet or study their math, to get them to react and behave in certain ways. And this is done with the aim of being a source of good to the other.
On the other hand, politicians, marketers, and their consultants’ expertise is also provoking the emotions and behavior of others. It’s what they do — what they spend many years learning to do. They are professionals in a different psychology of influence. And their goals are not necessarily helping you. Their goals are generally about getting or holding onto power. Or making money for themselves by, in one way or another, getting it out of your pocket.
There are armies of experts in manipulating your emotions in the service of selling unnecessary products (“Black Friday, anyone? Love that name – suggests something both economic and partaking of a great darkness of soul)… in getting votes, consolidating power, getting you to argue over selected things and so distracting you from other thoughts. It’s been said that the main function of all the hysterical Ebola coverage before the last election was to crank up the fear level of voters. Why? Because it’s known that that when people are scared, they tend to vote Republican. (Seems that Ebola magically disappeared from the news the day after the election, didn’t it?)
Isquith is basically saying that in the case of Ferguson, the magic formula may have been “riots = distracting people from all the recent coverage of how corrupt the Ferguson power structure is.”
If they don’t want us discussing a corrupt political and legal system, what better way to control our hyper little minds than to grab headlines with the self-confirming drama of “those violent Negroes rioting again…just the same thing Michael Brown was doing…” So make the grand jury announcement at night, show footage of the police, deliberately provoke the crowd.
Or more simply (in the language of our reptilian brains): “Dangerous bad black people in T-shirts in the dark with flames. Safe good white police and politicians in suits and neatly pressed uniforms.”
Maybe not so paranoid? I don’t know now. But whether the Ferguson powers-that-shouldn’t-be are that clever or not, it’s certainly a powerful reminder of an important psychological fact:
If they can get you to react out of anger and fear, they can control you.
It’s well worth reminding yourself every day that controlling you is big business. Whether it’s called “PsyOps” or “marketing” or “Fox News,” whether it takes the form of the “psychological violence” of “news” shows such as “Crossfire,” or kissing babies at the state fair, every time someone in a suit talks in front of a camera, they are trying to influence your heart and mind. (Never trust anyone in a suit.) And just maybe, they are trying to get you to join a swarm of people intent on burning down a town. Or bombing a country.
Or just breaking down the doors at Walmart and depleting your bank account tomorrow, on “Black Friday.”
But if you can feel the anger or lust or desire, and still maintain control of your thinking and behavior, take a breath to get grounded, develop the skills of mindfulness, wisdom and strategic thinking, you may be able to resist the urge to join the swarm.
And that way, you may help change the world into something less horrible, violent, greedy, and cruel.