Monday, October 11, 2010

Create Your Own Normative Cues!

Defining who you are and what you do, based on societal norms - or worse, the Television - is never a recipe for happiness and success.

Normative Cues - I talk a lot about that here, don't I?  It is because I think these are the KEY to understanding your own behavior and controlling your finances.

Most people get their cues from others - their neighbors, their friends, their co-workers.  And worse yet, they get them from the TeeVee - which teaches them only how to consume, consume, consume - all paid for by people with economic interests diametrically and violently opposed to your own.

So most Americans are broke, or "living paycheck to paycheck" and cannot understand why.  After all, they did what their (broke) neighbors did.  They did what the TeeVee said to do!  Why did it all turn out so horribly wrong?

And of course, the answer is simple.  Doing what your brain-dead neighbors do is a sure recipe for disaster.  Most people are horrible at managing their financial affairs - following them is sure suicide.

And following the TeeVee is even worse!  The TeeVee says that 300% interest "payday loans" are a good thing and will make you happy!  The TeeVee says that cheesy crust delivery pizza is a good bargain, tasty food, and healthy!

The TeeVee lies.  A lot.  Actually, all of the time.

If you follow your neighbors and the TeeVee, you will end up in debt and overweight. (Yea, you).

"But wait!" you say, "There is such a thing as self-determination - willpower - personality!  How I act and feel are a function of who I am - my innermost soul - my personality - my id!"

Nice try.  But wrong on all counts.  And oddly enough, the powers-that-be want you to think that, too.  As they can quickly ascribe any weakness in your constitution to some sort of personal failing on your part - further diminishing your self-esteem and getting you back on the consumerist bandwagon.  You are fat, slovenly, and in debt, because you are weak.  But hey, have another slice of pizza - the latest episode of 'Lost' is on!

As we learned from our study of neural networks - the study of our brains - we know that if you feed enough bad feedback to a neural network long enough, you will reprogram it.

So while you can claim to be some sort of moral superman, if you subject yourself to bad normative cues long enough, your brain will succumb to the pressure.  And if you watch TeeVee long enough, you'll start to think that a new gas-guzzling SUV, paid for with a five seven-year loan, is a sound financial proposition.

Hey, when Armageddon comes, you don't want to be struck with some wimpy minivan, right? (Ask yourself why, on a quiet night, why so many Hollywood movies are about the end of the world and the destruction of the USA?  It is an odd fantasy, dystopian futures played out so many times on the screen.  I wonder what for?  Because when the world ends, you don't have to pay back your loans?).

One way to avoid this re-programming is to stop "training" from it.  Neural Networks require training to be programmed, and the TeeVee acts as a giant neural network training machine - programming brains a million at a time with subtle normative social cues as to what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.  (UPDATE:  This goes double for the smart phone, triple for Facebook).

On a broad scale this is self-evident.  Fraternity houses were largely dormant on many campuses in the late 1970's - being viewed as unhip and uncool in the post 1960's hippie era.   Then "Animal House" - the movie - comes out, and suddenly, everyone wants to pledge a frat and end up dead from alcohol poisoning.

Or take Fox's new hit series "Glee" which I have watched on DVD (no ads, all episodes in a row, and again the first season was OK, the rest less so).  After the show became popular, well, guess what?  Everyone wants to join the Glee Club in their local High School.  Like it was an original idea of their own.

And that's just it.  Ask any kid if "Glee" influenced their decision to join Glee club and they will violently deny it.  When I was in Law School, we had a lot of kids who went because they saw "L.A. Law" but would never admit it (although they usually mentioned it!).  They thought being a lawyer would be fun and not a lot of work.  After all, that's how they showed it on TeeVee, right?

Fads, Trends, Social Phenomenon - if you can co-opt that, you can make a million bucks.  And that is what advertisers desperately try to do - to get you to act in a manner that is divergent from your own self-interest and in a manner that more aligns with the interests of their clients.

And they can be very subtle and persuasive.  Product placements, for example, are a great way of getting a message to you "under the radar" without you realizing what the message is.  And many of these messages about normative behavior are totally unrelated to products advertised, as well.

UNPLUGGING from 4.6 hours a night of neural network "training" is a good start.  Creating your OWN normative cues is a next step.

If, brave reader, you have read a lot of this blog (and there is a lot and the entries are long - by design) then you may have noted that a lot of my entries are repetitive and repeat the same themes and are also repetitive.  This also, is by design.

You see, one point of this blog is for me alone - to create my own normative cues and to reinforce them.  To "train my own brain" so to speak, to a new set of normative cues not based on blind consumerism, perpetual debt, and misery.

It is hard to do, as it goes against the norms of our society - and society ain't gonna give up without a fight.

For most people, the idea of living paycheck-to-paycheck is considered "normal" - as is the idea of perpetual debt and buying everything "on time."  To suggest otherwise is literally heresy in our consumerist society.

And while many an investment "Guru" has gone on to fame and fortune selling books, seminars, and starring in TeeVee shows, the sort of advice and discussion we have been talking about here will never, ever, appear on TeeVee or in a "best seller" book.  The simple reason is, such advice does not "sell" - no one wants to hear that their problems are largely self-inflicted and that success comes not from a secret formula, but from sacrifice and self-discipline.  It is a crappy message, in terms of marketing.

And as for TeeVee - well, advertisers won't pay for airtime where a "Guru" tells listeners that everything the advertisers say is basically a lie - and a very dangerous lie at that.

So, normal, rational thinking is not commonly presented in the media - as our normative cues.  Being out of debt, living within your means, and spending less than you make - are never mentioned on the commercial blog-sites or on the financial channel.  And they never will be, either.

So, you have to make your own normative cues.  Stop listening to the shouting guy on the financial channel - or the self-appointed messiah selling gold coins. Or the financial responsibly lady selling high-end luxury boats. Stop listening to TeeVee entirely!

So where will get your normative cues?  The answer is simple - and within each of us.  Look deep inside yourself and think - think! And think some more.  We are hard-wired to believe that you can't get something-for-nothing.  We are hard-wired to believe that wealth requires hard work and sacrifice.  The ideas of easy money and spending your way to success are not "natural" ideas, but ideas that require constant "training" by television and other media cues, in order to drown out the baseline programming in your brain.

But your gut instinct says otherwise.  And if you listen to that, you will reject the consumerist message.  No wonder they want to drown that all out in a sea of Twitters, facebook postings, cell phone calls, text messages, YouTube videos, and most importantly - channel surfing on the TeeVee.  If the marketers can drown out the silence - the contemplative times - in your life, they can sell you anything, as they have effectively shouted down that "little voice" in your head that says you can't make something-from-nothing and wealth requires hard work.

Once you turn off the TeeVee and these BAD societal normative cues, your brain will re-align itself to reality over time - just as a compass will re-align itself to True North, once you take that magnet away that was making it point East.  You will tend to believe less and less in the idea that you can get something-for-nothing, or that the government owes you a living, or that "everyone else" is making out, so why not me?  And you will realize - to your horror - how much of your income and your life you squandered following the siren song of commerce.

This is a good thing.  New normative cues!  Reinforce them!  Repeat them to yourself!  If you can reprogram your brain to reject easy answers, you are well on the way to wealth and success.

And all it takes, to start, is to turn off the television.