#3. Keeping You In Line With Shame
I won several formal debates in college using my patented technique of simply repeating my opponent's argument in a high-pitched, mocking tone while wiggling my fingers in the air. There really is no defense.They call this the appeal to rididcule fallacy. To which I would simply rebut, "Oooooh, appeal to ridicule fallacy! Well I've got a 'phallus' you can 'see' right here, college boy."
Professionals have more sophisticated methods, but it boils down to the same technique. "They" know that if they can paint an idea as ridiculous, the listener usually won't bother examining it any closer to find out if the ridicule is justified.
After all, why even consider something that's ridiculous? That's only something a ridiculous person would do! And you're not ridiculous ... are you?
You are if you use something other than Alltel Wireless!
Look at these assholes! Is this you?
"So now they're telling us that--get this, folks--global warming is caused by cows farting! Priceless!"
"And then he said we could save gas by inflating our tires! I couldn't make this stuff up, folks!"
Why It Works:
It's no secret you can short-circuit somebody's brain with shame. How many of us were shamed into doing something stupid in high school? Hell, I still have that huge Dokken tattoo on my back.
But why does it work? Well, there are these primitive, lower parts of your brain called amygdalae that controls those base, emotional reactions. That's where things like contempt and shame come from, and stimulating it can completely shut down the analytical part of your brain. The gang calls you a coward and the next thing you know, you're wedging a roman candle between your buttcheeks. You'll show them!
You can thank evolution for that. Way back when humans started forming groups and tribes, social status was everything. It's what guaranteed you food, protection and ladies (that is, a chance to pass on your genes). Mockery developed as a "conformity enforcer" to keep people in line.
Making a person, idea or behavior the target of mockery gave it a lower social position, and made it clear that anybody who associated with it would share that lower position, leaving them out of the hunting/eating/fucking that made life in the tribe worthwhile. Thousands of years later, a good dose of mockery can shut down critical thinking and make us fall right in line, no questions asked.
We again come back to our 2008 presidential campaign, and again we find both sides guilty.
The speakers at the Republican National Convention had a great time mocking Barack Obama as a "community organizer," drawing laughter from the crowd and skipping smoothly over the part where they explained what a community organizer is and why it's ridiculous.
And of course the other side does it with McCain's age...
...as if there is something inherently silly about having lived a really long time.
#2. Black and White Choices
Listen to an argument between your friends. Any argument. Listen to one guy say John McCain is a Fascist, while his opponent says Barack Obama is a Communist. Watch as even fans of the same football team bitterly divide themselves over whether the new quarterback is going to be "awesome" or "garbage."
Never anything in between. Everyone is a friend or enemy, every band either rules or sucks, black and white, nothing in the middle. They (capital T) love this, because They can convince you that you must choose either their way, or the most utterly retarded option on the opposite extreme.
"Will we fight? Or run away as cowards?!?"
"You're not in favor of the death penalty? So you want murderers to just roam free then!"
"Are you going to the strip club with us, or are you a fag?"
Why It Works:
Because we evolved from creatures who were always in danger of being eaten, our brains were built on a very simple foundation: the "fight or flight" mechanism. This let us make lightning-fast decisions by boiling every situation into two options. Anyone who preferred to stop and mull over the subtleties of the scenario wound up in the digestive system of a saber-tooth tiger.
Fast forward thousands of years and you find a humanity with much fancier brains but that still prefers all-or-nothing choices when we're put under stress.
So if somebody wants to bypass your critical thinking circuitry, all they need to do is make you scared or anxious, often with a time limit or urgent threat ("We need to act now, or lose our way of life!").
Instead of pondering the situation with the analytical neocortex, you're using the primitive limbic system, scanning the landscape for the "Right" and "Wrong" move. You'll have no patience for wishy-washy talk about "a spectrum of options."
After the trauma of 9/11, the whole country dragged subtlety into the alley and shot it in the head.
But you can't blame us. After all, our entire fucking mythology and popular culture are based on the idea. There's a dark side of the force and a light side. Choose your path! Now! Ain't a fucking gray side, Luke!
Now, as bad as this one is, and you could make the case that 80% of the stupid choices humans make is because of this, there's one even more powerful. It's a spin-off of this one, and it's by far the best way to get thinking humans to respond like trained dogs.
No, other than that.
I'm talking about...
#1. "Us vs. Them"
Holy shit. Here we go.
Sure, we know about the obvious examples, they're written across the history books in blood and bullet holes. Racism, genocide, horrifying caricatures on propaganda posters.
But They have figured out that the same technique that works so well for getting people whipped into a murderous apocalyptic frenzy, can be used sell you cars, or hamburgers, or computers.
"The heart of America ain't in Hollywood! It's right here in [insert name of small town]!"
"You can listen to what I have to say, or bury you head in the sand with the rest of the sheeple!"
"You have a Nintendo Wii? Are you a toddler or just a retard?"
Why It Works:
Basically, we're hard-wired by evolution to form tribes. The more stress we feel, the more we feel love and attachment to those who look and sound the same as us, and the more we feel hatred to those who don't. It's just an old survival mechanism, since the ancient guys who didn't show that kind of blind loyalty were killed off by the fierce tribes formed by the ones who did.
So today we get that petty dehumanization of everybody outside of our group ("hippies," "rednecks," "fundies," "geeks," "douchebags," "libs", "cons," "fags," "breeders," "infidels," "towel-heads," "honkies," "darkies," "players", "haters").
WEST SIDE SUCKA
They can play on those old, primal urges for even the most retarded of results, such as fierce brand loyalty (the PS3 vs. 360 vs. Wii flame wars will make you claw your eyes out).
But to really make this one work, They can't just define your group, but have to define your group as the elite group, a shining beacon in a world full of weak-minded walking turds. The items on this list work best in combination, and you'll see in that the element of mockery and insulation from opposing viewpoints we talked about earlier (why listen to the viewpoints of those lesser sheeple?). Often this is combined with siege terminology ("The whole country has gone to hell, but we've got to stand up for common sense, folks! It's us against the world!")
Watch five seconds of an election stump speech. Every side does it.
In Sarah Palin's convention speech she talked about how people from small towns are totally the best ("We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity, and dignity"). Earlier in the primaries the Clinton campaign did the same thing, talking about small towns as being the backbone of America where real, honest people are found. Always there is the unspoken reminder that these honest rural folk are under siege from those scary, phony freaks in the city.
When speaking to those city folk, on the other hand, Barack Obama made the infamous reference to those same small town types clinging to guns and religion, talking about them like they were savages to be studied through binoculars from a tower, with some peasant disease that needs cured by the enlightened.
Not only is "Us vs Them" the first and most important one on the list, it's the culmination and end goal of all the others. Drawing you into the right tribe is what They want most, because they can accomplish nothing without tribesmen.
If we don't find a way to resist it, this is what could leave the entire planet a charred radioactive ruin. And you know what else we lose if that happens?
If you liked this, the author of this article has written a horror novel called John Dies at the End, available now in softcover. For more fascinating ways that your brain doesn't quite work, read Dave's answer to the question What is the Monkeysphere? or his look at the 7 Reasons The 21st Century Is Making You Miserable. Or just go to his profile and read everything he's written.