All of us have wondered, frequently in awe of the deception, how a magician — David Copperfield or Penn & Teller, whomever — did it; whatever “it” was that fascinated us. Similarly, I have suffered various levels of rapt awe over how the neocons stole the Republican Party of Eisenhower, Rockefeller, Senator Percy of Illinois, and then effected the overwhelming duping of the American citizenry.
For the past several years I’ve been researching the means, and I’ve arrived at a few proposals I’d like to share. While some of the postulations may seem arcane, an understanding of psychological fundamentals is necessary to an understanding of the larger picture.
Ingrained in every organism, from the fewest-celled organisms to humans is the need to survive. Survival demands responding to potentially threatening stimuli. The fight or flight conundrum we’re all familiar with concomitantly requires complex situations be simplified to a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe,’ ‘black’ or ‘white,’ ‘good’ or ‘evil’ circumstance. We absolutely detest ambiguity, for ambiguity is deemed hazardous. We can’t have it both ways. The mere attempt brings on paralysis; the story of the mule, stationed between two bales of hay, perished of starvation.
To amplify the truth of the preceding: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese contains wheat flour, Durum wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium phosphate, yellow 5, and yellow 6. If the product was marketed that way, I doubt any box would leave the shelf. But if a mother can be sold on the image of kids ceasing the internecine quarreling, getting along, quite happily contented if she serves what promises to taste good . . . millions of ‘em can be sold!
Do not confuse me with facts and data I could never unscramble and synthesize. Do not show me grays. Show me the wonderful and starkly simple world I want to live in, the one I can understand. Ideologies and religion perform that function marvelously. They tend to eliminate the grays in exact relation to the extent their tenets are believed.
I can show you a picture of an object that is a rectangle, that is also a circle, an eclipse, and a triangle. And depending on what I show you first, your brain will decide, even before any query concerning its likely name has been tendered. How clearly disparate entities can be one and the same owes to the principle of parallax; your visual frame of reference. Think of a pole observed from only the round end and you will see a circle. From straight on and you will see a rectangle. Nor, no matter how you try, can you amend the order in which your brain performs the task.
Another example is the sketched drawing of the head of an old lady. If I ask you whether you see an old lady, you will always answer affirmatively. But in the psychological test you’re likely familiar with, the sketch, if looked at differently, is also that of a lovely young woman. Thus, if I asked you whether you could spot the young woman, your brain would search and locate that. This is because our brains are hardwired from toddlerhood to connect words with frames of reference. We think with words. Whether we can recite the dictionary definitions is irrelevant, our brains form retrievable images that, for the most part, are lifelong and dominating. In fact, in the absence of vocalizations, images connect with words, and vice-versa. It’s all subconscious. You cannot control it.
The principles of psychology were quickly grasped by business folk interested naturally in moving product, converting folks into paying customers; what motivates people to make a decision that is, in the final analysis, always subjective and emotion based. Whether it’s toothpaste or a car, we can never know all there is to know about a product or service. Nor can we know at the moment we make the decision how well this particular product will truly solve a problem. There is a jumping off point. As we are naturally disinclined to make the leap, it is to the marketer to help us along, smooth the way, link the product or service to our safest, most innate, subliminal appetites and drives.
To accomplish the task the marketer must have a fairly sophisticated understanding of human psychology. Returning to the above examples — the circle or the rectangle, the old lady or the young woman -- reality is what we perceive it to be, not necessarily what it actually is. Meticulously selecting the most efficacious word or phrase to sell something requires the marketer to understand the first primal connections; the ones that are buried so deep they are not pondered by the receiver, but which have powerful motivating potential.
And that is exactly what the neocons have done. They have done it so well that those opposed to a program or policy they’re selling cannot wage the battle on a level playing field.
“Death tax” and “War on Terror” are perfect examples, to draw from a myriad of candidates.
No one likes taxes and it’s in every organism’s DNA to resist death. So just by arguing the Federal Estate Tax issue, just be verbalizing it is a “Federal Estate Tax,” not a “Death Tax,” the negative images of “death” and “tax” are reinforced as precisely that: negative. And the more they are argued, the more the negativity of the images are reinforced.
Think of something that is truly terrifying. We recoil against the image. If it is “terrifying,” it is not the emotion that we recoil against, it is the noun that composed the source of the verbal noun — the gerund “ing.” You cannot wage war on an instinctive emotional response. To suggest you can is ridiculous on the first premise. Everyone instinctively understands that. But instinctively everyone wants the grays eliminated. It doesn’t matter that there’s no connection to anything that is extant in some parallax reality. Whatever it is, just make it go away. I’m with you all the way on that. In fact, don’t even tell me I have to do anything toward that end, that I have to decide anything, decide among various sacrifices that may be required. Don’t even show me disturbing visual images of the cost, just reinforce my anxieties with images of the source of my discontentment. Just tell me you’re handling it in order that I can go on with my life, the one I want to live.
Show me a beer that will make me irresistible to an icon of my sexual target. Or do the same with an oven cleaner, or how your political agenda eliminates the toxins of anxiety, and I’ll buy it.
As visual images, especially those conveyed on television, activate the same neural networks as experiencing the event directly, they arouse emotions that bypass conscious judgment. Studying how the brain works, how the various emotions are triggered, has enabled business and the neocons to move their products off the shelves. Sadly, the Democrats and others opposed to the former group, do not seem to have as yet even enrolled in the course.
— Ed Tubbs