05/20 Open Thread: They're Manipulating our Minds
Today I'd like to talk about an "article" titled and sub-titled as follows:
Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind
"The behavioral techniques that are being employed by governments and private corporations do not appeal to our reason."
The New York Review of Books - Tamsin Shaw
This is a review of Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project from the New York Review of Books, do which I don't subscribe and hence the link via pocket.
It is relatively content heavy, sufficiently heavy that I read through it twice and went back over some bits of it more than that. It is a slow read, but very worthwhile, IMHO, and not at all susceptible to a agood quality fair use abstraction. Propaganda and narrative control as means of manipulating thoughts and opinions are as old as the hills, and even older than many. Socrates was railing against sophistry over 400 years before the dawn of the present era. Now, after Bernays and all that psychology based manipulation, sociology is also being brought into play as a tool of deceiving and misdirecting everything and everyone. Make no mistake about it, all this trickery and gaming is never for our own good, not yours, mine or anyone else's. Deception is never good, regardless of what the deceiver believes the motive to be.
The review is about a book linked to the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, two psychologists who allegedly founded a new behavioral science. They contended that when we fall into mental errors we do so in a predictable manner which is subject to systematic analysis. Using data from numerous surveys, they laid the foundatin for "social psychology" and "behavioral economics" which they laid out in a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow . The first of these is described as instinctive, intuitive, and emotion based, as well as subject to predictable categories of errors, known or identified as "biases and heuristics" which are used to identify, understand, and, in the end, manipulate our erroneous thinking. Along the way, we learn that this erroneous thinking is erroneous because it violates "expected utility theory—a fundamental assumption of economic theory that holds that decision-makers reason instrumentally about how to maximize their gains." If anything in my thinking is somehow at odds with the non-empirical and even anti-empirical pseudo-science of econ, I'm all for it and PS - I'm not overly into maximizing my gains either. The fact that people are now learning how to intervene in my thought processes so as to make me more like a fictive doofus living out his life according to the precepts of econ is positively scary. The use of the word "utility" by economists sets my teeth on edge, for they have not a clue how to define or measure such a thing.
Should that seem harsh, consider that we are not all businessmen, nor even "decision makers", not even when making decisions. We are not all "trying to maximize our gain" (and especially not our economic gain, and certainly not 24 hours per day. There is something wrong with a worldview that thinks we should be. The reviewer gives some examples of some biases or heuristics that could well be sub-optimal in some occasions, but all they are is classic risk aversion. In the context of being bad because they deviate from how "decision makers" try to maximize their gain, they are simply examples of contextual blindness. Most of the populace cannot gamble a few hundred thousand, or a few hundred, or even a few bucks, depending on the gamble. Real people, playing with their own money, their own food budget, their own future, and their own survival need to be a bit more risk averse than average professional "decision makers".
The review, after some introductory material, is divided into 3 parts, and I've now reached the end of part one. Part two opens as follows:
But in spite of revealing these deep flaws in our thinking, Lewis supplies a consistently redemptive narrative, insisting that this new psychological knowledge permits us to compensate for human irrationality in ways that can improve human well-being. The field of behavioral economics, a subject pioneered by Richard Thaler and rooted in the work of Kahneman and Tversky, has taken up the task of figuring out how to turn us into better versions of ourselves. If the availability heuristic encourages people to ensure against very unlikely occurrences, “nudges” such as providing vivid reminders of more likely bad outcomes can be used to make their judgments of probability more realistic.
This is the scary part, for here enters Plato and his fucking "benevolent" dictator, the Philosopher King, in the guise of "Libertarian Paternalism", whereby those who know our weaknesses and failings manipulate and redirect our decision making all for our own good, mind you. Here we leave the realm of theory. This shit is already in play, and manipulations are being done, all for our own good, by those wiser and more rational minds. Examples are given. We also learn that
Frank Babetski, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence analyst who also holds the Analytical Tradecraft chair at the Sherman Kent School of Intelligence Analysis at the CIAUniversity, has called Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow a “must read” for intelligence officers.
In 2007, and again in 2008, Kahneman gave a masterclass in “Thinking About Thinking” to, among others, Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sergey Brin (Google), Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft), Sean Parker (Facebook), Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla), Evan Williams (Twitter), and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia).
Among other things this crew was taught about "priming", including the use of subliminal messaging as a means to influence unconscious choices and decisions. Get the picture?
We are here seemingly stepping beyond "propaganda" techniques into the realm of actual brainwashing techniques. But, of course, for our own good and only by persons who have only our best interests in mind. Amazon, for example, has informed its shareholders that it spews something like 70,000 "nudges" to alter peoples thought processes per week. Facebook experimented with emotional priming by manipulating users' news feeds without asking or telling anybody, and when caught defended its behavior by saying it was covered by the users' agreement to its terms of service. Trump's team allegedly used these kinds of techniques in its election campaign, and, of curse, there are the claims made by Cambridge Analytica. We are told that the Pentagon and other agencies are working on a ‘counter radicalization’ program of some sort, whatever that may mean. It seems that this shit is becoming all pervasive, if it already hasn't, and that is a scary thing.
This part of the article/review, if nothing else, really needs to be read, and read carefully, though I would recommend reading it all, or at least up to part three. Part three deals with criticisms of the underlying theory and science, as well as with the odious concept that our better, wiser and more rational, are pout their steering our thinking and manipulating our minds. The link, again, is: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/invisible-manipulators-of-your-mind
I'll close with something Caitlin said the other day
The problems our species now faces are the result of elite sociopathic manipulators using media to exploit human cognitive glitches which enable them to control the fate of the whole. Any analysis of our plight which doesn't account for this is a flawed, power-serving analysis.
It is an open thread, have at it
be well and have a good one
Title Image is :Brain Image"
It's an open thread, so have at it. The floor is yours