The Thinker and The Prover: Part 4

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We’re now going to look at what we’re up against — hint, it’s a lot and sometimes freezes our efforts to change — first, from outside influences and then from our own minds. I’ll also make some suggestions along the way for how you can reignite your Thinker and change your perceptions.

There’s no magic to it, only our willingness to take on the difficult task of evaluating and challenging our own beliefs. So many misunderstandings and tragedies result from our (and by “our” I mean all humans) inability to properly do an honest self-assessment of our own strengths and weaknesses and assets and deficiencies. To put it bluntly, we suck at self-assessment. ALL of us, including me.

Understanding this is the first step to being able to do something about it. But YOU have got to really want to do it External motivation is temporary and the only path to really changing is internal.

Let’s start by understanding this is a universal glitch or bug in our human operating system — we’re all out here walking around and doing stuff with quantum computers in our head that we still have barely scratched the surface on understanding how or why they work. Unfortunately, there’s no User Manual, so we must stumble our way, often through the dark, to find solutions to problems many don’t even understand we face.

The first step on this road is understanding that we are continually bombarded with a constant stream of ideas (Be they genuinely trying to help or nefariously attempting to gain your submission) that want to live rent-free in your head. They are trying to hijack your semantic perceptions and fuse them with your emotions to alter your reality tunnel.

You can think of them as weapons of mass distraction or destruction or helpful methods to better calibrate your mental models, depending upon what your Prover is currently, um, proving.

Our individual brains weren’t designed for this shit. Our aggregate culture and technology advanced much more rapidly than our physical brains. Once we figured out writing, we were able to, as Wilson calls it, “time-bind” our ideas and send them forever forward in history.

Psychological researcher Joseph Henrich argues that:

So YAY for cultural evolution in aggregate (particularly thankful for the Internet and the iPhone) but WHOA for us as individuals trying to make sense of it all.

Edward Louis Bernays, often cited as the father of Spin and an expert at public relations and propaganda knew a thing or two about the Thinker and the Prover. He was able to promote female smoking by branding cigarettes as feminist “Torches of Freedom” and help the United Fruit Company overthrow the Guatemalan government because, well, who knows why, other than they were silly enough to believe that they had been elected to serve the people of Guatemala and not the United Fruit Company. (How rude!).

He did this without ever carrying a gun, but by simply understanding how to hack people’s perceptions and beliefs.

Bernays was kind enough to write several How-to books on the subject including, “Crystallizing Public Opinion” and “Propaganda” in the 1920s outlining techniques that work to this very day. It will not surprise you to learn that he viewed human beings (whom he, egalitarian that he was, referred to as the “masses”) as “irrational and subject to herd instinct” that was ridiculously easy to manipulate and control.

Now, add TV and social media and voila, a bitter battle to inculcate beliefs and gain your attention and allegiance is being constantly waged by an exponentially increasing group of Tribes and ideologies. This affects ALL of us, whether you choose to do something about it or not.

Want to discover the pervasiveness of all this? Stop watching ANY TV news (no matter which Tribe they serve) for one week. My guess is that you will feel your “brain fog” lifting and will be calmer and better focused than you have been in years.

TV seems to be optimized to spreading propaganda better than many other mediums, perhaps because, unlike, say Twitter, it is consumed almost entirely passively. Sure, you can shout at your TV when it attempts to slip in something that your Prover KNOWS is wrong, but it’s not interactive. At least here on Twitter, you can respond to this thread, telling me, depending on what your Prover is currently “Proving” that I’m either incredibly insightful or a blithering idiot, to which I may, or may not, respond. (probably with a GIF, but that’s all about mimetics which will have to be a different thread)

But social media can be weaponized, sometimes even more effectively than TV, BECAUSE it is an interactive medium. Let’s say you question something someone tweeted and they — being sneaky, evil manipulators who have studied all this and for whom Bernays’ stuff is child’s play — are able to, through skillful use of weapons grade persuasion get you to be even MORE committed to something you thought you were simply and innocently curious about and do so in a manner that you are totally unaware of it happening, well, you might find yourself drinking from a Kool-Aid punch bowl you never knew was laced with poison.

BTW, I’m kinda, sorta, maybe using a persuasion technique designed to NARROW down the number of people who actually read all these threads by MAKING them multi-part and irregularly posted with no discernable schedule because I think they will only help those people who doggedly read on, despite all this. Yep, if you’ve made it this far, I’m pretty sure you’ll find Part 5 interesting, maybe, who really knows? Until next time then…

A Twitter thread by Jim O’Shaughnessy