If you’ve ever been to a casino maybe you’ve noticed how maze-like the layout is. Also the lack of clocks and windows, the low ceilings, busy carpet, and of course all the lights, sounds, and action! I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is not at all by accident. Casinos owners pour quite a bit of research into subtle (and not so subtle) psychological tricks designed to extract the maximum amount of money from you the moment you set foot in one of their establishments. Though perhaps it might come as a surprise to you just how detailed this research is. For example check out the table of contents to this 627 tome on Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. No detail is too small to escape the notice of the casinos!
This same research and attention to detail is applied to anything that can be marketed: food, clothing, vehicles, electronics, you name it. All around the world companies with things to sell are devoting incredible resources in discovering all the little tricks that can be employed to give them an edge in selling their product to you. Perhaps you’re skeptical on the effectiveness of marketing but the $200 billion spent every year on advertising leads me to believe that there’s probably something to it. Whether you want to believe it or not our motivations are influenced in big ways and small, directly and indirectly, by marketing and the psychological theories on which it is constructed.
And if you accept the amount of time, energy, and money spent as evidence that these psychological manipulations are effective then surely you can imagine that others have as well. For example just consider the political landscape in the United States right now. Doesn’t it seem like it we’re becoming more and more polarized? I mean come on. Sure Republicans and Democrats have always disagreed but lately it feels like the major political parties are portrayed the same way we’d present sports teams, or even as the good guys versus the villains, instead of human beings associated to some degree with a particular set of ideologies. And why do you suppose that is? Might it have something to do with the monetization of the news and political coverage? Is Rush Limbaugh going to build a more energetic audience by bringing together both sides for a reasonable and nuanced discussion about the role of government in our lives or by painting the other guys as people who literally want to destroy all that you hold dear? Of course the latter is more compelling. It’s entertainment! People want to be entertained. An thinking is work, right? The media understands this and they want to cultivate audiences that can’t wait to tune in to the next episode to see what their heroes (or the dastardly villains) are up to now!
Does that not seem just the tiniest bit plausible? Or do we accept that this continued polarization is occurring organically? Now I’m not necessarily saying that all of the networks execs are in this cabal sitting around smoking their cigars, cackling maniacally whilst rubbing their greedy little hands together as they plot unrest amongst their audiences all in the name of corporate profits. I mean maybe, but more likely the decline of the moderate is the cumulative effect of a thousands little decisions that have been made to get people more fired up and tune in to the next show. Probably seemed kind of harmless really.
Perhaps you think I should look into hat making. Specifically the tin foil variety. Trust me I’ve wondered the same. But even if we’re somehow not being influenced by the big media conglomerates there are doubtless other actors out there that are attempting to influence our thinking. We know for sure of people who deliberately set up fake news sites although it’s debatable whether they were trying to influence the election or just make a few bucks from the gullible. But certainly and more alarmingly, seventeen different United States intelligence agencies have stated with “high confidence” that Russia tried to influence American opinion during the 2016 election. And there is solid evidence throughout the election campaign, and beyond, of Russian agents posing as Americans posting their support for Trump on social media services.
Also consider “Foundations of Geopolitics” written in 1997 by Aleksandr Dugin. This book allegedly had a big influence on Russia’s foreign policy strategy. It goes into detail on strategy with regard to almost every nation and has this to say one the approach to take with the United States:
Russia should use its special forces within the borders of the United States to fuel instability and separatism, for instance, provoke “Afro-American racists”. Russia should “introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics.”
Does this sound at all familiar? Maybe a teeny bit?
I expect, if you’re one of the millions of people that voted for Trump, it’s not easy to confront the possibility that you may have been influenced by Putin and friends. But closing your eyes to the possibility that the Russians may have played a role will not help matters. Though if it makes you feel better there are almost certainly other countries and organizations that have successfully influenced many to take opinions opposite your own. And, if the excerpt mentioned above can be trusted, maybe even those same Russians. Their strategy is to sow discord and it seems to be working!
What’s important to understand is that there are all of these invisible forces out there trying to guide us towards decisions or beliefs to further their own aims and not necessarily those that are best for ourselves, our community, nation, planet, etc.
I believe the modern battlefield is located between our ears and that many lose their battles without ever realizing there’s been one. Once we realize that our thoughts are under attack we can begin to defend ourselves by questioning our motivations and influences. By making sure we’ve fearlessly examined an issue from all angles including especially opinions from those we dislike or might normally disagree with. And that we continue to keep an open mind to new facts and input. I believe that if we put one tenth of the amount of effort into challenging our beliefs as we do seeking out validation for them that the world would be a better place. We need to take a step back and realize that Republicans and Democrats are not enemies, rather those who cultivate that belief are the true enemies.