Common ways we are manipulated.
Framing – How people react to an issue depends on how it is framed – the conceptual structure used to present it (have you stopped beating your wife?). For example, the term “tax relief” frames taxes as an affliction, not a method to fund our troops, help our poor, etc. With high TV ad costs, the use of framing and metaphors is critical to getting a message across on a complex issue in 30 seconds. Framing is used in all areas. If a doctor says 90% of patients having an operation are alive after 5 years, you are more like to have it than if the doctor said 10% are dead in 5 years.
Complexity – Too many choices is not freedom of choice – as every man who has faced the shampoo selection in a drugstore knows.
Many take advantage of complexity to manipulate us. If there are too many choices for us to analyze in a reasonable time to pick the best, we go for what has been advertised the most. This applies to selecting stock funds in our 401K, selecting Medicare drug plans, etc. The rich can hire advisers to help – the poor end up paying the most for the lowest quality.
Adopt and Drop – Politician like to pass a bill they don’t like by adding amendments that will water-down its intent to the point of failure. For example, the teachers unions can say they tried performance pay and it didn’t work, when what they tried was a watered-down version that gave a small bonus based on the performance of a whole school or district, so the individual teacher doing an outstanding job got the same as her incompetent neighbor.
Religion – Clergy will often foist their own interpretation of the Bible, Koran, etc. to support their political views. People are reluctant to disagree with the word of God, even when it is twisted by the hand of man. In fact, the holy books themselves are the words of men, with their interpretations of what God has said.
Emotional links – Our emotions often drive our decisions, with the emotional Homer Simpson in us taking over from our reflective internal Spock. The conservatives’ favorite is fear (crime, terrorists), and the liberals’ favorite is empathy (for poor).
Lies, Damn lies and statistics - There are endless ways statistics are misused, but if we use our heads, we can spot the most common ones: raw numbers are used, or compared to percentages; an unusual period (odd years) is used, coincidence is passed off as cause and effect.
Deceptive language techniques
Doublespeak (or a wolf in sheep’s clothing) - Labeling something as the opposite of what it is.
Repeat speak, Linkage - continuously repeating a lie until it is believed; guilt by association.
Pseudo science - There has been a proliferation of books and think tanks putting out biased material which is unscientific and follows no academic standards.
How to fight back
Learn to be skeptical and curious
- be aware. You are constantly being manipulated.
- use critical reading and listening techniques. Try spotting manipulation techniques. Even if you agree with the message, you can be aware that you are being manipulated to a position more extreme than you would otherwise take.
- know your source. Is the source funded by liberals, conservatives, a business group or a special interest?
- be aware of use of pseudo science to confuse an issue - did a special interest fund the study? If you don’t have time to figure this out, make a habit of reading a liberal source to balance the conservative one you usually read, or vice-versa.
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