In the first three parts, we set up this part. This is probably the conclusion. I will tell you when I get to the bottom.
You know you will never get the girl in the ad who’s holding the beer, but you buy the beer because of the girl ANYWAY. Now consider our politicians as bottles of beer…
iv. Pavlov in action
And, as Frank Luntz applies the eyedrops (his last Hit Single, “The Death Tax” may well guarantee us an hereditary oligarchy for generations to come. (A future conversation: “Meet the Duke of New York and his friend, the Count of New Jersey, Donald Trump IV”) let’s consider what’s already under way for 2012 by looking back at 2010.
a. The Salesman Triumphant
I wrote in “The Crushing Defeat of November 2010“ (4 September 2010):
Even though only a fool predicts the outcome of an American election nine months out (and, even a week out, many have been often wrong), the steady, mind-numbing throb of electoral doom and gloom has been invoked so universally that one wonders whether it’s not intended as self-fulfilling prophecy: just depress the Democrats and fire up the Republicans. Remember, a 40-vote shift in every congressional district in the USA would have produced the unimpeachable result of Al Gore’s winning in 2000. Ohio decided the 2004 election after being carefully gamed for months by Karl Rove’s Shock Troops, including, as [former Republican National Committee Chair] Ken Melman revealed in his “coming out” interview with The Advocate last week, putting an anti-gay marriage measure on the ballot, just to get out the angry hetero X-tian vote.
Is this another intentional psy-ops campaign using the purchased media and the ‘new media’ to cow whatever’s left of the traditional media into pushing the narrative: The Democrats are going to lose in November. Only question is By How Much?
I have seldom seen such universal certitude. In an American political talk soup that disagrees about virtually everything — including whether climate change is real or Adam and Eve rode to church on a dinosaur.
The GOP has thrown pragmatism out the window, and facts become useless impediments to the Glorious Free Market Republic of Unchained Ayn Rand Supermen ready to remake society for their own personal gain, which, that Magical Invisible Hand tells us, is GOOD for the 50% of Americans who have to split up 2.5% of the table scraps of the Über-Wealthy One Percent (33.8%) and slightly-less-so Top Ten Percent (37.7%). (Total top 10%? 71.5% of American wealth.)*
[* Here's an update of the chart I reproduced in "Stunning Defeat":
Source: Economic Policy Institute, The State of Working America 2011,
"Wealth Holdings Remain Unequal in Good and Bad Times."
That's just by the by.]
The point here is that Luntzian-Pavlovian conditioning was used for months in 2010, specifically aimed at certain Reptile Brain issues (e.g. to motivate the base and demotivate the opposition.) The political carpet-bombing worked very well, too — most crucially (which I have not seen addressed anywhere that I am aware of) in the EARLY winter/spring period of the 2010 campaign, when the increasingly-parasitic class of “political consultants”* decided on the Democratic side to NOT fight, nor challenge the “Tea Party” narrative, but, instead to RUN AS MODERATE REPUBLICANS.
[* I don't agree with Peggy Noonan on much, but on this issue we are in consensus. I can't find her essay on consultants, but this quote from a recent WSJ column, taken out of context -- because I disagree with the remainder of her thesis -- applies equally well to her previous opinion of political "professionals" who run the game these days:
So salesmen are put in charge, and product engineers and designers feel demoted: Their efforts are no longer at the white-hot center of the company's daily life. They "turn off." IBM and Xerox, Jobs said, faltered in precisely this way. The salesmen who led the companies were smart and eloquent, but "they didn't know anything about the product." In the end this can doom a great company, because what consumers want is good products.
The theory applies also to our politics. America is in political decline in part because we’ve elevated salesmen—people good on the hustings and good in the room, facile creatures with good people skills—above people who love the product, which is sound and coherent government—”good government,” as they used to say. To make that product you need a certain depth of experience.
Read a certain way, it is actually the refutation of her thesis, if you think about it. ]
Clearly, views of governance played no part in the 2010 Democratic primaries and general election strategies. Nobody was willing to stand up and defend what the amazing 111th Congress had accomplished. BECAUSE their “political consultants” had consulted their magic polls and defined the winning rat-brain strategy as being non-confrontational without actually citing any positions or accomplishments.
Here in Oregon, Ron Wyden and Peter DeFazio were both up for re-election, and BOTH ran campaigns that stressed their homely “Republican” virtues, to the extent that had you NOT known their party affiliation, you’d have sworn that they were of that Endangered Species, the “moderate” Republican.
DeFazio 2010 ad — not exactly a “Democrat”
from the former leader and current member of
the House Democratic Progressive Caucus
This scene was repeated throughout the land, sacrificing what we call in debate “clash” for the naked need for re-election.
Now, I have great respect for Wyden and DeFazio, and have had actual political interactions with both and their offices, but what I know of them was in no wise reflected in their reelection campaigns. These were not the droids I was looking for. MoveOn. MoveOn.
2010 Salem, Oregon (capitol) tea party protesters
My point is this: The focus-group’ed narrative, blasted by a complicit media “convinced” the consultants to shape the campaign into what did, in fact, turn out to be a crushing defeat. Self-fulfilling prophecy through the mind-numbing (literally) repetition of created “facts.” We’ve seen this before, but not on this continent, nor in this century.
And it didn’t merely affect “voters,” and “mee-too” media. It conned the political consultant class into never bothering to contest the fundamental assumptions of the imposed narrative. (Think about how media conglomeration has aided this process, and the symbiotic parasitism of collecting huge amounts of cash donations to spend on ads in newspapers, radio and television, who have become dependent on the huge influx of “campaign” cash from our elections.)
So, having proved that a narrative can be formed and drilled into Pavlov’s voters by p0litical carpet -bombing over long periods, let’s see where we are today.
As reported in various venues yesterday, Karl Rove’s Crossroads group has spent some of its utterly opaque, unlimited campaign cash on attacking Democratic senate candidate Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, to the tune of $3 million. And, having failed, by trying to link her to the Occupy Wall Street Movement (a miscalculation that the electorate would HATE OWS, when the opposite has been taking place), the new ads released attempt to link her to the Wall Street Bankers and bailouts.
Political rat psychology yet remains an inexact science.
b. Bypassing the Conscious Mind
This is an argument by analogy (and an example of how actual evidence can be used to support unsustained conclusions). What is being proposed in the following video is that advertising objectifies women, therefore women are subject to violence, therefore advertising causes violence against women [2:21]. BUT, the evidence points clearly to HOW a certain unreal imagery is used to biologically cross-wire the brain to making inappropriate choices. Regular readers will remember this image from August:
from “ I Knew a Guy Who Named His Dog ‘Cujo’“ 16 August 2011
And you’ll see that image repeated in the five minute video clip below [at 2:11]. You don’t have to agree with the conclusion to accept the evidence. The manipulation through imagery is continual, irrefutable and inarguably debilitating socially. The nature of that debilitation is, however, debatable.
I should warn you, you’re about to learn what I learned long ago in Men’s Magazines: those “perfect” models don’t look a thing like that in real life. If you want to go on believing, then, don’t watch. [at least STOP before you get to 1:15] You need to remember that you are being manipulated at an instinctual, pre-conscious condition, locked in the theta-wave light trance of video.
Take a look at this clip ignoring the use for which it’s supposedly being put, and substitute “politics” for “women” in what’s being said:
This line seems more chilling out of context than in [2:25]:
Turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step towards justifying violence against that person. We see this with racism, we see it with homophobia, we see it with terrorism; it’s always the same process: the person is dehumanized and violence then becomes inevitable…
Now, let us leave the question in abeyance as to whether women are the same, rhetorically as terrorists or the objects of homophobia. But note that her linkage of the advertising/Hollywood unreality culture of “physical perfection” and eating disorders as a public health problem is entirely reasonable and alarming. This cross-wiring has physical consequences unto death. It is no small thing.
The point of this imagery is in showing how our instinctual response to female sexuality in full bloom (which she never seems to quite understand) is continually cross-purposed to whatever purpose the propagandist desires. With advertising, it is a purchase. With politics, it is a vote.
In NEITHER case do you ever GET what you were promised at the reptile brain level. You can drink all the Budweiser you want but that woman will NEVER come with it.
That feeling of emptiness
If you think of the evidence in terms of politicians and not objectified sexual images of sexually mature human women to sell beer, but instead think of objectified politicians* you realize that what you are being sold is EVERY BIT as unreal as the sexy Budweiser bottle/woman, but, like the product, you BUY IT ANYWAY.
We KNOW that we won’t either become or “get” that woman, but we buy the beer ANYWAY. The conscious mind is no longer the actor. It is demoted to, at best, the observer.
[* Anybody notice the amazing profusion of "good hair" at this year's Republican debates? Not just good hair, but REALLY good hair. Never in the annals of presidential politics have candidates' hair been so uniformly, lovingly, attentively bonsai'ed, including when they wore wigs.]
Their pollsters are advertising demographers, focus-grouping what SELLS best. As Peggy Noonan said, above:
The salesmen who led the companies were smart and eloquent, but “they didn’t know anything about the product.” In the end this can doom a great company, because what consumers want is good products. [...] America is in political decline in part because we’ve elevated salesmen—people good on the hustings and good in the room, facile creatures with good people skills—above people who love the product …
That’s how they sold Richard M. Nixon in 1968 (with Roger Ailes in tow, to handle “television”) and that’s how they’re repackaging and reselling Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney THIS year.
But we are manipulated by MORE than mere imagery. We are also manipulated by language. We are manipulated every time a “focus group” is convened to see what idiots think the national policy should be explained as. The more idiotic, the better.
That’s how we came up with “Death Tax” as a substitute for “Inheritance Tax,” which came out OF the progressive era, first proposed by Theodore Roosevelt, and aimed at preventing an hereditary oligarchy*, which would historically lead to an aristocracy and an “emperor” — or, as Augustus styled himself when he became Roman emperor in fact (but never, intentionally, in title) “First Citizen.” The Estate Tax was repurposed from its actual social purpose to an imaginary grievance against an ill that never existed. There has never been a tax on death. Dying is, as it has always been, free.
[* All Americans secretly believe that they will someday hit the lottery jackpot and many assiduously protect their future imaginary wealth, politically, as if they actually had it. Again, that's by the by. But consider the political benefits of that thinking in all the state lotteries and Indian casinos and state casinos around the land.]
We even have a term for it:
Neuro-linguistic Programming, or NLP. Again, one need not agree with the conclusions of NLP (which is now a trademarked group and has been accused of being a “pseudo-science”) which began scientifically. The bases form the basis of modern advertising propaganda. [Wikipedia]:
One of the earliest influences on NLP were General Semantics (Alfred Korzybski) as a new perspective for looking at the world which included a kind of mental hygiene . This was a departure from the Aristotelian concepts of modern science and objective reality, and it influenced notions of programming the mind. Korzybski General semantics influenced several schools of thought, leading to a viable human potential industry and associations with emerging New Age thinking. By the late 1960s, self-help organizations such as EST, Dianetics, and Scientology had become financially successful. The Esalen human potential seminars in California began to attract a wide range of thinkers and lay-people, such as the gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, as well as Gregory Bateson, Virginia Satir, and Milton H. Erickson.
A second important part of the context was that the founders developed a philosophy of “doing” rather than “theorizing”... In general, during much of NLP’s history, developers have preferred to generate ideas, test their value in practice, and leave rigorous scientific verification to other parties or until later.
Such approaches undoubtedly influenced the development of the early studies by Grinder and Bandler which studied the effectiveness of their subjects from an anthropological (observational) basis, and sought to understand what their behavior signified, rather than a psychoanalytic approach of how they fitted into a theory.
The resulting linguistic model analysed how therapeutic recognition and use of language patterns could on its own be used to influence change.
Location of the Amygdala in the Human Brain
(seen from below)
It’s not hard to understand how the notion of focus groups intertwines neatly with this sort of thinking. What is being tested in the focus group is generally what WORKS to influence the human guinea pigs involved, rather than asking them their opinions. This leads to an odd, ironic aspect of this entire approach: average schmucks get an overwhelming input into policy decisions and political campaigns, without ever actually being asked what they think in any serious sense. If they are asked what they think, it’s only to differentiate their responses later, in metric testing that reduces human aspiration, fear, belief and thought into dead numbers from which our future portents are read, now that turtle shells for divination are so hard to come by.
Now, if you’ve been following along, what you learn from this poll is how effective the salesmen of the 1% have been in pushing this notion of “Big Brother” more than how “dangerous” the “big three” are. Indeed, the question itself is lacking of all nuance, and intellectually less rigorous than “what is your pet peeve?” was back in the high school newspaper. Reducing the United States of America to three artificial categories pretty much discounts all of human thought in the sanitization process that takes “opinion” and turns it into neat little graphs.
But this is how we are ruled.
From the message research, shorn, as I have noted, from all notions of Freedom, Dignity or morality — and which you see in the NLP approach above — to the packaging with all the frippery of the Madison Avenue ad campaign (first showed up in American Presidential Politics in 1960, perfected in Nixon’s 1968 campaign), to, finally an entire “news” channel entirely devoted to NLP techniques to create results LIKE that Gallup Poll (run by Nixon’s old media man, Roger Ailes), to the actual triumph of the manufactured narrative, as in ”The Crushing Defeat of November 2010.”
Tinker to Evers to Chance: Rove to Luntz to Ailes.
And as the advertising culture of body perfection has created and fostered a morass of anorexics, so, too, the political culture has created the intellectual equivalent of anorexia: all issues are boiled down to simplistic idiocies that mean little, substantively. Like that “fear” poll.
It turns out that this is NOT the conclusion. In the final installment, I’ll show you what the meta-narrative is shaping itself to be, as the brain programming phrases are hammered in, a year out from the presidential election. Because what now matters, whether selling beer or candidates, is forcing the sale by tricking the brain.
A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.