How to Make People Believe Absolutely Anything (In 5 Simple Steps)

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Anyone — yes, even you — can induce people, or at least a large number of people, to believe absolutely anything, no matter how absurd. And there is plenty of living proof out there. Consider Alex Jones, who has a huge following, many of whom believe that 9-11 was an inside job, that Sandy Hook was staged, that children are being abducted and shipped off to a slave colony on Mars, that pigs and gorillas have been given human brains and are running around talking, that a pedophilia ring is being run out of a pizza parlor, and that millions of people voted illegally in the last election. But perhaps the ultimate illustration of how preposterous persuasion works is a man who gets much of his “information” from Jones: his big fan and close ally, the man currently sitting in the Oval Office.

He is undoubtedly the most dishonest, corrupt and inept individual ever to occupy the White House. Yet he has a loyal cult following who still believe that he is honest, forthright and a successful businessman and brilliant leader who is somehow Making America Great Again — and even believe, perhaps most astoundingly of all, that he is a Good Christian. How did we get here?

Many people felt, and still feel, blindsided by the last election. But while the man himself seems to have come out of nowhere, it was inevitable that someone like him would be elected sooner or later. Because the way has been prepared for literally decades by a fringe media consisting of feverish AM talk show hosts, Fox “News” talking heads, and countless newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites. What they have done, anyone can do. And while it may require time and effort, it all boils down to 5 simple steps.

1. Tell them what they already want to hear

Savvy manipulators know that it’s easier to persuade people to wade in up to their necks if you can just convince them to get their feet wet first. Most of us are constantly seeking confirmation of what we already believe (the confirmation bias). When somebody reinforces our beliefs, we tend to regard them as more reliable and trustworthy in general. That’s why manipulators so often make a display of religiosity; committed religious individuals are especially prone to blind trust in anyone they perceive to be ardent followers of the One True Faith — otherwise priests wouldn’t be able to work their boyish charms so successfully. Begin with “Make America Great Again” (whatever the hell that means), and in no time you can work your way up to “millions voted illegally” and “I had a record-breaking victory”.

2. Stoke emotional responses, especially fear and rage

Ronald Reagan was gifted with that proverbial knack for faking sincerity; consequently, he is widely regarded, even today, as a man of impeccable honesty and character, even though he constantly lied through his teeth. (Indeed, with the exception of George W. Bush, it’s likely that no president lied more — until now, when the current White House Occupant dwarfs them both combined). But his sober demeanor was quite unusual among demagogues; they usually realize that while any statement carries more weight if delivered with emotion, the most potent emotions are fear and anger.

Typically, you just don’t hear demagogues speak in a calm, rational tone of voice; it’s more common to hear them sounding like fundamentalist preachers warning of hellfire and damnation than (like Reagan) kindly uncles delivering a homey morality tale. They will raise their voices, they will pound on their desks, they will relate little stories (factual or not) that supposedly validate their point, they will make their voices quiver, they will sometimes even bring themselves to tears.

The most effective message of all is “you are being threatened” or better yet “you are under attack”; particularly since these are messages that many people are already eager to hear. Thus the eternal popularity of silly narratives like transgender bathroom predators, the War on Christmas, and “they’re coming to take your guns”.

There is a part of our brain (the amygdala) that is constantly on the lookout for danger. In caveman days, it was conditioned to be suspicious of anything unknown; after all, that rustling in the bushes very well could be a lion scouting out lunch.  But even though the human race as a whole has long outgrown this mindset, there are still many people (we generally call them “conservatives”) who view the unfamiliar as something to be feared; and view people who promote, represent or advocate for acceptance of anything unfamiliar as enemies to be hated. Political opponents and ideological complements are no longer viewed as mere opponents and complements; they are mortal foes against whom you should prepare for “another civil war”.

3. Find someone to hate

It stands to reason that if you are going to control people effectively with fear and rage, then there must be a “them” to direct the fear and rage toward. You must find a suitable scapegoat to blame for all your (real or imagined) problems. It’s helpful to pinpoint specific individuals (e.g., Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) but entire demographic sectors work even better. In the past, a number of groups have served this purpose well: Muslims, gays, African-Americans, communists, and most notoriously, Jews.

The current White House Occupant targeted brown-skinned foreigners, falsely claiming that Mexicans have driven up crime and that Muslims celebrated in the streets on 9-11. His cult followers certainly jumped on board with those sentiments, but they reserved their most venomous hostility for a much larger and longer established enemy that the right-wing media have hammered away at for years: “liberals”.

“Liberals” are always an ideal target because they are a motley and loosely defined assortment that constitutes at least half the population of the United States, including many people all around you — friends, neighbors, relatives and coworkers. Yet they are supposedly people who hate America, want to kill you and enslave you (not necessarily in that order), and want to sacrifice unbaptized babies on an altar devoted to the worship of Hollywood celebrities.

4. Project your own sins onto others

The quickest and most effective way to divert attention away from your true motives, flaws and misdeeds is to accuse someone else of the same thing — as loudly, and as quickly as possible, before people start realizing it’s really you who are the guilty party. Thus during the campaign the future White House Occupant made a point of branding his opponent as a liar and a crook, even while he himself was breaking all records for dishonesty and corruption. He was following the lead of his harbingers and cheerleaders in the right-wing media who have been howling for decades about how (all other) media is extremely biased and untrustworthy.

People with legitimate adult criticism usually focus on the specific complaint rather than making a broad generalization. When a person repeatedly applies derogatory labels or vague accusations to someone else, it’s usually a sign that you should examine the behavior of the person doing the applying.

5.  Lather, rinse, repeat

The more frequently people hear something, the more likely they are to believe it. So don’t just state your claims and make your case once. Proclaim them over and over and over, day after day after day. Crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary, crooked Hillary. Fake news, fake news, fake news. Liberal media, liberal media, liberal media. Worship me, worship me, worship me.

And there you have it. It may not be a quick and easy process, but this simple 5-step plan is guaranteed to produce results if you pursue it diligently and patiently. I look forward to seeing you in the White House.

 

 

 

The (Poorly) Armed Assault On “Gun Control”: How the Gun Culture Manipulates Statistics (Part 7)

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At long last, we come to the end of this lengthy series on NRA propaganda (though I can’t guarantee there won’t be another series in the future — the gun culture keeps firing plenty of propaganda to go around). In previous installments, we examined what we have termed the Chicago gambit, which consists of cherry picking statistics to make it appear that strict gun laws correlate with higher crime;  the DC gambit, which tries to make the case that looser gun laws cause a drop in crime; the particular case of the latter in Kennesaw, GA; the attempt to corroborate that tenet with national trends in crime and gun sales; and  the comparison gambit, which juxtaposes cherry-picked cities and countries.

As you might have realized, all of these “gambits” are really just variations on a theme. They all involve drawing false equivalence between various sets of gun statistics. But another tactic is to make a false equivalence between guns themselves and various other instruments of harm. Thus we come to:

4. The kitchen sink gambit

The almighty gun has been proclaimed by its devotees as being less harmful than anything and everything else — though maybe not literally the kitchen sink. At least not so far.

Here’s one example that made the rounds on social media not long ago:

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Let’s not even bother dissecting the accuracy of the numbers, although there’s plenty to dissect: that isn’t the primary focus of our discussion here.  The more critical offense, at least for the moment, is comparing apples and giraffes.  Only one of these purported causes of death — the final one on the list, which the gunsters are trying desperately to defend — entails a deliberate harmful action against another person. Yes, that includes the first action listed.

We must assume, based on the (apparently inflated) figure given that “death” from abortion in this case means a terminated fetus. It probably does not refer to the death of a pregnant woman or teenage girl, which has not been a matter of great concern to “pro-life” fanatics — who are often in favor of capital punishment, aggressive warfare and, as in the case here, the unrestricted proliferation of handheld killing machines. In short, this graphic evidently assumes that life begins at conception, or during intercourse, or maybe with the first twinkle in someone’s eye. In any case, it’s based on an arrogant presumption that a personal belief is an inviolable fact that should be mandated into law for everyone.

But even if we grant that belief to be true — even if, in other words, we assume that terminating a fetus is equivalent to killing a breathing viable person — it still would not be true that “abortion is murder”, because there is no intent to kill. The purpose of abortion is not to kill but to end a problem pregnancy, and sometimes even to save a life. Doctors who perform them are not doing so to harm, but to help. No matter what angle you approach it from, abortion does not belong in the same room as “murder by gun”.

And note that the gun deaths include only murder, and not the 20,000 or so gun suicides per year.  (Gunsters tend to omit or downplay suicides when discussing gun deaths, on the apparent assumption that suicide victims are less dead.) Nor, since the list is only about death, does it mention the approximately 70,000 annual nonfatal gun injuries or the 400,000 crimes committed yearly with a gun.

All of the causes of death listed are, to some degree, preventable. But only one is both malicious and utterly inexcusable.

It’s also a common tactic to compare gun homicides to homicides by other means. Sometimes you’ll even hear people claim that gun murders are outnumbered by knife murders or hammer murders, or teaspoon murders or whatever — which isn’t even close to accurate. For 2014 (the most recent year for which such data are available), the numbers are as follows: gun murders, 8124; knife murders 1567; blunt instrument murders, 435.

More important, such comparisons are meaningless because the other objects are designed for practical purposes that do not involve killing, while guns are designed specifically to kill.  When a hammer is used to kill, it’s being misused. When a gun is used to kill, it’s being used “properly”.

Sometimes they will get more specific and say that knives kill more people than rifles do. Which is actually true. But what’s the point? A rifle is not the main type of firearm used in gun violence; but assault rifles/ assault weapons (see previous post for the gun culture’s silly quibbling over labels) have a potential to be deadly on a massive scale. How many more Sandy Hooks are you willing to put up with?

Shortly after that massacre, in which 27 people were slaughtered, a deranged man with a knife attacked school children in China, wounding 22 students. Aha! said the gunsters, why not go after knives instead of the sacred thunderstick. If you really can’t tell the difference between 27 dead and 22 injured, perhaps you should leave the lethal weapons for the big boys to play with.

Inevitably, we get around to the big enchilada: the automobile. Cars kill more people than guns, they say. And furthermore, there are more guns in America than cars. So there.

This is true as far it goes. So what? It’s another pointless comparison. The automobile is not designed to kill. The gun is. Auto manufacturers improve their products by making them safer and safer. Firearms manufacturers improve their products by making them deadlier and deadlier. The gunsters don’t even seem to realize that in making this comparison they are seriously undermining their own case: “gun control” activists would be tickled as an NRA board member in Jesse James’s hideout if firearms were regulated anywhere nearly as strictly as automobiles.

Furthermore, the numbers mentioned don’t tell the whole story. While there may be more guns than automobiles, they are in fewer hands. (Car owners may own 2 or 3 vehicles, but they rarely have a whole trunk full of them.)  About 9 out of 10 households have access to an automobile, while only about a third have access to firearms. Additionally, automobiles are in constant usage, as you can verify by looking out the window of your own, if not the window of your home. Automobiles often are used for hours at a time; outside of hunting, the same is rarely true of guns.

Using a gun, in the strictest sense, means pulling the trigger. But in all fairness, we also should include aiming it or holding it in such a manner that it readily could be fired. Beyond that, it gets a bit murky. Should gun use also include simply wearing one strapped to your hip in public? That doesn’t make sense any more than having a car parked on a public street constitutes driving. It certainly doesn’t count as gun use simply to have one hanging on your wall. (The so-called “statistics” about defensive gun use often include incidents in which the gun owner simply tells someone he has a gun!)

Despite all this, traffic fatalities have fallen sharply, while gun deaths have risen slightly. Here’s a graph provided by the Violence Policy Center:

gun vs car deaths

The VPC also notes that gun deaths have actually surpassed traffic deaths in 21 states plus the District Of Columbia.

As you might expect, the gun culture cries foul over the VPC’s figures.  Writing for Investors Business Daily, “gun rights” activist John Lott (who is about as responsible with data as Ted Nugent is with rhetoric and Dick Cheney is with a hunting rifle), declares:

Over and over again, the VPC has been caught misreporting numbers. [Like anyone else we know?] It is surprising that anyone, let alone the Associated Press, still takes it seriously…The VPC somehow managed to incorrectly add up the firearm deaths for 20 of the 21 states where firearm deaths supposedly exceeded motor vehicle deaths! The mistakes always made firearm deaths appear much larger than they actually were.

Lott is outraged that the VPC includes in its tally those firearm deaths that are “justifiable” (As we’ve mentioned before, the “justifiable” in such shootings is often questionable). And he states that eliminating them reduces the number of states from 21 to 14. Oh, only 14? Well hey, let’s fire off a few rounds in celebration . Other than that, Lott doesn’t go into any detail about how exactly the VPC figures are wrong, or where one might obtain more accurate figures (except from him, of course).

The one state he singles out is Tennessee, in which he claims there were “only” 978 gun deaths in 2014 as opposed to the VPC’s reported 1020. The VPC figure, however, jibes with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adjusted total of 1016 for that state, which still exceeds the number of vehicular fatalities (994 according to CDC).

Curiously he also presents a graph of “corrected” data that actually makes the gun culture’s tenets look even more dubious — even though he is slyly including only accidental gun deaths:

Traffic vs. Firarm

And once again, he tries to downplay suicide by firearm. Acknowledging that gun suicides have been on the upswing, he hastens to add that suicides in general have been on the upswing, so maybe we should let guns off the hook.  But as we mentioned previously , there is evidence that making a quick and easy method of death more difficult to obtain causes the would-be suicides to reconsider. Which is to say, making gun laws stricter could save a lot of lives. Just don’t expect to hear anything that rational and informed coming from the gun culture anytime soon.

Whether distorting facts, making them up, citing them selectively or ripping them out of context, the NRA and its accomplices seldom shoot straight with figures. Whenever you hear them quote one, it’s a very good bet that it’s either inaccurate,  incomplete or misleading.

 

 

NRA Achieves New Low

Many years ago, I wrote a satirical (or so I thought) skit in which the NRA owned its own TV network. Such a network has been a reality for many years now; it’s becoming increasingly difficult for satire to keep pace with reality. (I more recently had an idea for a script about the gun lobby marketing to children; turns out the NRA’s already working on that one.)

The NRA’s most recent nadir of tastelessness is an ad that denounces those who disapprove of the current insanity in Washington (that’s the majority of Americans, folks) as violent, anti-American troublemakers, and implying that we should be suppressed with armed force. (It also calls us liars, which is really rich considering they’re supporting a politician who’s already shattered all records of dishonesty.) Its pious hand-wringing over some people likening the White House Occupant to Hitler is a double-barreled irony.

Not only did the NRA and its accomplices (with zero justification) declare President Obama to be the reincarnation of Der Fuhrer on a daily basis for 8 years, but they are speaking about “liberals” in a manner very similar to the way the Nazis spoke about Jews.

This is the kind of rhetoric that prompted George Bush, Sr. to renounce his lifetime membership in the group. But that was back in a distant age when some of the NRA’s Washington constituents actually possessed a modicum of character