Tag Archives: politics

If They Get You Angry, They Control You

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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.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Writing to Transform the Conservative Imagination

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Last night I watched the old 1969 musical Paint Your Wagon, which featured one of the very few positive portrayals of a polyamorous relationship in any popular film.  Since as a psychologist I happen to know something about the research on poly relationships, namely that they can be healthier in many ways than traditional monogamous relationships or so-called “nuclear” families, I find it interesting that so few film or literary portrayals of these relationships exist.  Then of course, there’s also the point that so predictably, by the end of the film this tender, indeed quite wonderful picture of a poly marriage between two men and one woman has to be completely dismantled, with the surviving couple embracing traditional one woman, one man marriage.

The ending doesn’t ring true, of course.  The tenderness and vitality of the threesome and the vitality and health of the community of miners who support and embrace their marriage, feels like the thing the writers really believed in.  As the mining town collapses into the ground upon the arrival of the preacher and the “good people” who show up to colonize and wreck the place, we have a fleeting image of one of the collapsing buildings, bearing the sign “Garden of Eden.”  The film is deeply subversive in the good sense of that term — it lays out an alternative vision of a truly beautiful form of existence found seldom in our culture, and the implied question, behind the false commercial ending, is “why not?”

But as any writer with experience knows, they would have never made the film if it ended with a happy three-person marriage intact.   Continue reading

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