Sunday, October 29, 2017

How Your Emotions Are Used Against You

Successful people in the world by and large are not emotional people.   The plebes, on the other hand, think emotionally all the time.

In the Bible Catholic Church, they call it the "seven deadly sins" and these pretty much sum up ways in which you can be manipulated - and the ten commandments are along the same lines.   Again, these sins are often not against your neighbor or even God, but against yourself.  As I noted in another posting, when you "covet" your neighbor's possessions and spouse, you just make yourself miserable by comparing your life to someone else's.   No one is harmed - except you.

The movers and shakers of the world are movers and shakers because they don't lie in bed until 10AM or call in sick because "they're beat" that day.  They don't come home at night and flop down on the couch and watch 6 hours of bad television and send out for unhealthy delivery food they can't afford.   They don't go out and hock their lives to buy houses and cars and other junk just to impress people they don't know (they earn their millions first, and then pay cash for that sort of stuff, and show it off to no one).

Depression is probably the number 1 emotion that is used against you financially.   As I have harped upon time and time again, the television is the depression box - designed not only to cater to depressed people, but to keep them depressed.   Depressed people make excellent consumers as they will spend money hoping it alleviates their depression.   At the very least, you can sell them take-out foods and cable TeeVee.   And they are prime candidates for drug and alcohol abuse, which, like television, creates a feedback loop of depression.

Envy is another emotion that is blatantly played up by the television and marketers.  And often they are not subtle about it.  "Think how jealous your neighbors will be when you drive up in your new Hupmobile SUV!" the ad says, playing to our needs for status and the urge we all have to impress people we don't even know.  When we fall into this trap, they have us by the short hairs, as we will do anything to out-spend our neighbors, friends, and co-workers, in a never-ending battle for status.  And it never ends, either.  You buy a huge new SUV and your co-worker goes out and buys and even larger one.   So you have to now trade-in yours and buy something even bigger or "lose" at this silly game.

Vanity is closely related to envy, of course.   Everyone wants to think their lives are special, unique, and have meaning, when in fact we are just one of billions of people who are alive or who have lived, whose lives are not very unique and have no special meaning.   Many people cannot confront this concept without becoming more depressed, and in fact, their depression may stem from this simple fact of life.  So they squander what little money they have and borrow ten dollars more, to create the illusion they are unique and special.   Why do you think they call custom license plates "Vanity Tags" in the first place?  They are no different than a tattoo.   People want to be unique and will pay through the nose to appear to be unique.   The irony is, of course, they are being "unique" in a manner like most of their peers, which is to say, not unique at all.   The funny thing is, of course, is that you can be unique, be yourself, and have "meaning" in your life, all at no extra cost - by actually doing things rather than merely owning things.

Greed is another emotion that marketers like to use, particularly if they want you to "invest" in something, like gold, bitcoin, or an MLM scheme (all pretty much the same thing).    Something-for-nothing is the oldest flim-flam in the books, and yet people still fall for it today.  "Make an executive salary at home!  $5,000 the first week!" the cardboard sign tacked to a light pole promises.  No word on why they rely on cardboard signs and sharpies, if they are making such decent coin.   And people don't bother to ask, either.

Fear, of course, is another biggie.  "Vote for me!" the politician says, "or your mall will be bombed by Al-Qaeda!"   Or maybe the threat is your kid being confused as to which bathroom to use, or maybe cake-bakers being marched off to the gulag, forced at hard labor to make cakes for angry lesbians (are there any other kind?) 24/7.    No matter what the party or the policy, fear is used to get voters off their couches and into the voting booth.   It also sells cars and houses - "Buy now or be priced out of the market!" or "They didn't make many in this color, and I have someone else interested in buying it!"   Same old, same old - playing on our fears.

Anger, is of course, closely related to fear.   It is part of the flight-or-flight response, and yes, it is related to depression as well.   If you can get someone angry - so angry they see red - you can get them to do anything.   I recalled in an early posting that I had called a customer service line once, and was put on hold forever, and it seemed that the person on the phone was merely "playing" me - or playing with me like a cat plays with a dying mouse.   They wanted me to stay on the line forever, get frustrated, get angry, and then hang up and go away so I was no longer their problem.   Most call centers today have a rule that if the customer uses a swear word, the operator can hang up immediately.   So if you have a customer with a complex problem, you can try to help them, or just get them angry and then hang up.   Someone else's problem then, right?  Or maybe they just get you to give up and go away, because they likely don't want your business anyway.

Anger can actually sell things, too.  The clip above is from the movie "Fargo" which is not based on a true story.  But the scene in the dealership is, of course, based on reality.  When a salesmen says he has to "go speak to the boss" to get approval, they just go into the next room and tell jokes about you at your expense and then come back and ream you.   It is an old gag - keeping people in the showroom for hours at a time (sometimes as long as six hours - maybe more!) until you are tired, dehydrated, hungry and have low blood sugar.  You get angry, then embarrassed, and then it's "where's my goddam checkbook, let's get this over with!"

The deck is stacked against you.   Salesmen are excellent amateur psychologists.   Marketers are expert psychologists.   Both are students of human nature and know how to manipulate people - play upon their vanity, greed, fear, anger, depression, and envy.  They play us like players.  They play us like a cheap violin.  They work us over and if they do it really well, we aren't even aware we've been played, except perhaps when it is too late, and then we wonder why someone "took away all our money" and fall right back into the emotional trap (and vote for a candidate who promises to "take it away" from others and give it back to us).

The bad news is, of course, that we are entirely to blame for our own misfortune when it is brought on by poor decision making and emotional thinking on our part.   And this often goes for things that seem to be out of our control but in fact are predictable events.   You ride a "crotch rocket" motorcycle at 100 mph while "lane sharing" in busy traffic, you can expect to wake up in a hospital (if you are lucky) with a leg amputated.  If you are unlucky, you hopefully signed an organ donor card.   It doesn't matter than the "idiot" in the car changed lanes and hit you, you should have see this sort of thing coming.

And even hurricanes and natural disasters can be predictable events.   I don't expect anyone to feel "sorry" for me if my house blows away or is flooded in a storm.  I live on a spit of sand in the ocean - a spit of sand that is constantly eroding and moving.   If you want to live on a barrier island, you pay the price.  Why do you think they call them "barrier islands" in the first place?   You get insurance, if you can - but you can't expect to be made whole, or make a profit at it (some folks think they are entitled to a profit on insurance claims - believe it or not!).   Or you move to higher ground  We all have choices - sometimes even when we think we have no choices.

So that's the good news - we have choices.  We can choose not to think emotionally.  The people who get ahead in the world are by and large not emotional thinkers.   Granted, some emotional thinkers do get ahead, but by and large not as far as others who think more logically.  Some of the wealthiest people in the world got ahead by living modestly and working hard, not by buying "bling" on time and running up debts.   Warren Buffet, much to the dismay of his bodyguards, lives in the same modest house he had before he was a billionaire - and eats at modest restaurants.   Sam Walton rarely spent money on himself, and drove the same beat-up pickup truck for most of his life.

And one way to avoid these emotional traps is to turn off the marketing machine that is aimed at your head like a sonic beam at the U.S. embassy in Havana.  I am talking about the television, social media, and the smart phone - all designed to occupy you for hours on end with horribly bad normative cues and ideas that will make you unhappy, broke, and worst of all, in debt.   Spending less time "plugged in" to the world and more time actually doing things will not only improve your financial situation, but make you a happier person.

Of course, this is not to say that if you live frugally and make logical choices, you will automatically end up a billionaire.   However, I do believe that the more logical our financial choices are and the less we borrow and spend on "look at me!" purchases, the better off we end up, over time.

Which seems kind of obvious, if you think about it.