Reset Button

I have been wondering lately about communication and how it affects who we are and what we do. I think it is fairly obvious at this point that people who religiously watch Fox News are quite a bit different then those that listen to NPR in their cars (did you get the pun?). Beyond that though I get the feeling that what we see and what we hear affects us much more then we acknowlage.

Yes, I am about to talk about the Nazi's but I hope that doesn't mean that this topic should be layed to pasture. I heard a snipit of an interview somewhere where they were talking to professors in the universities of Germany during the rise of the Nazis and Hitler. What was interesting was how they said that yes, in a way they saw what was comming but two things happened: they were kept busy with paper work and the such and two, it was so much easier to surrender their doubts and trust that the government knew best.

Can you blame them? Honestly, who among us would have the will to stand up against someone promising prosperity and dignity to an impoverished and embarassed nation. I doubt I would. Its easy to sit here and "Rail against the nation" when I am warm and well fed and everyone I know has jobs and security.

I don't want to get to far into it but the simularities between then and now are remarkable. We are continually asked to trust that the government knows best. When we are addressed we are hammered with talk of victory and pride in the war in Iraq, both appealing to our national self image. This of course came after Bush tried to convince us that we needed to stay in to prevent Iraq from becomming a terrorist state. His dip in approval ratings showed him the error in his ways.

This administration has always been characterized by very emotional appeals to the public be it terrorism or... well don't worrie about all that other stuff because the terrorist are right at our doorstep. I don't think I will ever forget that ad showing a pack of wolves running through the woods supposedly hunting something at which point the speaker not-so-subtely hints that the terrorist are hunting us and if you elect John Kerry you will feel like whatever it is those wolves are hunting...

There is an interesting phenomena called Blind Sight where a utterly blind person can in a way see very basic things. He has no knowlege of this though. A typical experiment will position a blind person (with working eyeballs, typically blind due to brain damage of some kind) in front of an array of lights. The lights are randomly lit up and the blind person is asked to point to lit up lights. The blind person of course says "I can't see" and the experimenters go "We know that, thats why we are paying you to do this... just humor us and guess". Amazingly the blind person is amazingly accurate in placing the location of the lights despite having no concious knowlegde of them.

I read of something similar where the article talked about why it is so much harder to resist chocolate or any kind of treat when it is sitting out in plain sight then when it is in say a closet down the hall. The article put forth the argument that the the further away the "treat" is the greater the likely hood that there will be some sort of danger in the way (think back to before we had houses with deadbolts on the door). Remember, thinking cost an enormous amount of energy. If there is a treat or anything eddible right in front of you are you going to waste energy thinking about the merits of eating it or not? Of course not, if however there is the possiblity of danger then it becomes worth while to increase the participation of the brain and conscious thought. With consciousness comes the ability to say no.

What is interesting about this is it suggests that the tug of war between concious thought and our feelings like fear, pride, lust, anger, ext... is a costly battle. The further removed we are from the stimulus the easier it is to involve the higher order brain functions because with room to manuver, thinking ahead becomes much more advantagious.

What does this say about our current media? Well, I recently watched Bowling for Columbine and the message I took away from it was that our media is full of death, destruction, and basically fear. Combine this with our tendency to over estimate the effects of bad stuff and you have a potent downword spiral. We are curious about the world so we watch the news. The news is full of bad things happening to good people and we see it and hear it right in our living room. We rely less on rational thought which might be able to tell us that this isn't worth fearing and we lock our doors and live in gated communities. We worry about whats outside our gated communities so we watch the news...

Hence, Bush is able to dominate the national debate by appealing to lowest common denominators while Karry is barely able to talk about other rather important things like the enviroment, health insurance for the poor and children, education, and the like.

If this is affecting who we vote for president what else is this affecting? Arn't things like a propensity to go to war, locking doors, and watching the news properties of a society? Can we gain a metric for measuring the "state of mind" of a society by monitoring it's media and communications for gut reaction language and imagry?

It wouldn't be easy but I think it would be very interesting to use some sort of news aggregater like google.news and somehow as a start analyse the headlines of general news article headlines with special weight for ones from television news networks and a lessor weight for print and web articles. One would look for power words that create a very emotional reaction in people like murder, war, puppies, love, and so on.

Do this on a local and national basis and then look for correlations, who knows what we would find. Could be a high ratio of bad words to a low actual occurance of bad things leads to republicans (just kidding guys :-) ) Note how well too this would fit into my previous idea of finding the "Least Energy Configuration" of a society. If thought takes energy the then lack of it would be the least energetic configuration.

I think it is more worriesome though to think about how this is used in out capitalistic society. Companies usually don't want us to think about our purchases. It is far better for them for us to buy and spend our money before we even consider the other options. Make goods and food easier and easier to aquirer and we will consume more and more and that definately seems to be the case. Target your advertising towards those basic instincts and you multiply the effect.

I think this is why I have the growing feeling that pure capitalism is not a sustainable economic system. The problem is one can make money by reducing people to the lowest common denominator. But lowest common denominators can't do all that much.

Wow, definately having flashbacks to Brave New World.

So, I guess I ultimately have a question I can't answer. Is there a weak link? Is there a way to reverse the trend?

And a bigger question on my mind, is this what revolutions are for, to reset a society by making it favorable to think again?