Tuesday, January 2, 2018

You're Wrong About Everything! What's More - You're Wrong!

Some folks think you can actually change someone's mind through angry confrontation.  Take a lesson from Vladimir Putin and the "Internet Research Agency" and use more subtle means!

I get e-mails from people who want to tell me that I am wrong about everything.   OK, that's fine, but why read my blog?  It is not like they read this and they say, "This guy's full of shit, I'm going back to the [Goldbugs/Alt-Right/Gun_Nutz/Bitcoin] forum where there's rational thinking going on!"

But for some reason, instead of just leaving, they are convinced they are going to "convert" me into a believer in get-rich-quick schemes, timeshare sales, leasing cars, or MLM - or whatever it is they think is the cat's ass this week.

The problem is, besides the fact they are wrong, is that getting in your face is the least likely way to change someone's mind.  Moreover, changing someone's mind is a pretty idiotic thing to do, unless you are an unscrupulous person who wants to steal from people or get them to follow a "cause."  You are better off to worry about your own business, than to try to convince other people of anything.

I am not the pied piper here, or Tommy from "The Who" - I am not selling anything here.  No seminars, no books, no "investment kits" no anything.   I am just a schmuck like you, trying to figure out what the heck happened over the last 50 years or so.

And what happened was that as a youngster (a time period that lasts, in America, until age 30) I had little or no impulse control.  Since I was young enough to wet my pants and suck my thumb (again, in America, until age....) I said "I want!" and I wanted a shiny new bike, or a train set, or later on, beer or drugs or sex - and didn't really care about the costs or consequences.

The marketing industry loved me.   In fact, they love young males, age 14-35 or so, because, well, they say, "I want!" and don't care about the consequences, whether it is a hangover or a credit card bill or lung cancer.  So they told me, "Bobby, you can have it all, right now!  Sign here!" and I spend a good portion of my life extricating myself from some pretty odious financial deals - and squandering most of the money I made.

And it is not a big conspiracy, with some secret society (make creepy pyramid symbol with hands) plotting against me.   It is just the nature of society and commerce - people will sell you stuff until you run out of money - it is beholden on you to say, "no, thanks!" instead of "where do I sign?"

But I digress.  But not by much.

Getting back to argument, the best way to get people to think a certain way is not through brute force or confrontation or shouting.   In fact, when you do this, they tend to retreat into their positions, like a fortress, and then barricade themselves in and reinforce the door.   You are not persuading them, you are entrenching them further.   And this is why fights are rarely useful - or wars or shouting matches or even protests.   They tend to polarize more than bring people together.

The marketers know better.  They want to sell you, not get you to retrench into your position that, "I don't need to buy that, I'd rather save my money!"   So they don't get in your face and tell you that you are a blithering idiot for not buying a shiny new SUV.   No, they get your neighbor to say that for them (the classic useful idiot).  What they do is,  put the idea out there that all the smart, trendy, and hip people drive around in vehicles the size of a third-world slum shack (and if American made, about the same quality).

For example, I recently saw an article on the MSN news app (which evaporated a few days later) claiming that "Millennials" are flocking to buy $40,000 to $70,000 full-sized SUVs.  The article had a helpful photo of a Ford Expedition, which is a total load of a car.  As I noted in an earlier posting, we rented one once, and had to put a "rocket box" on the roof, as it could not carry four people, two children, and their gear.   The minivan I wanted to rent (but was not available) would have held all our stuff.   And minivans cost less and get far better mileage.

Oddly enough (or not so oddly enough), the Ford Motor company website - as well as a number of dealer sites - have very similar articles - extolling how "Millennials" are "all grown up" now and moving to the suburbs, buying houses, having kids and buying enormous SUVs.  And you have to wonder how the article appeared on the MSN site in the first place.  They are not telling you to buy a monster SUV - they are merely suggesting it and saying that your peer group is all doing it, so it must be OK.   And we all do that - look around to seek validation from our peers.  If they are all smoking dope, then it must be OK, right?

Of course, spending $70,000 on a truck that gets 15 miles per gallon (on a good day) and whose interior is smaller than the average minivan is an odd decision to make, in my book.   Unless you are towing a horse trailer or a boat or RV, I don't get it.   But that is a personal decision for people to make.   However, when gas goes to $5 a gallon (and it will, eventually) they cannot bitch about it.  There should be a law that people who make poor life choices don't get to blame "the system" for their woes later on.   They have to just shut up and live with it.  If I were in charge, that would be the rule.  Sadly, I am not in charge.

But that's how persuasion works.  Vance Packard, decades ago, called them the hidden persuaders, and back then, it was freaking amateur hour compared to today.   Today we are far more subtle in our persuasion.   Product placement, for example, can sell products under the radar.   One of the big problems with the Star Wars franchise is that there is no way to get a shot of Darth Vader enjoying a Coca-Cola in the death star, as it occurred "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."   Blade Runner doesn't have these issues, as it is set in our relatively near future.

The Russians, of course, have figured this out.   They don't have the budget for a big military as we do (ours is larger than the Russians, Chinese, and the next six largest militaries combined - oh, and by the way, #6 on that list is Pakistan, whose military is basically funded by our foreign aid).  So they figure out how to get the most bang from the buck.   While we fall into the classic traps Sun Tzu wrote about - when a larger force foolishly assumes they will predominate - the Russians, taking a page from The Art of War, try to get their foes to capitulate before they even fire a shot.

It isn't hard to do this.  A lot of people scratch their heads and wonder what do the Russians want?  It is like the Taliban or ISIS.   A friend of mine in the military grew a long beard and went to Afghanistan in one of these psy-ops kind of deals.   I asked him, "Why do these folks want?  Why do they keep blowing up things?"  And his reply was interesting.  "Chaos works to their advantage.  There is no clear 'goal' to these individual actions, other than to create general fear and destabilization of local governments."

It was an interesting comment.  I was used to the "strategic thinking" approach, where you fought battles on battlefields, with objectives (Pork Chop Hill) and battle lines.  You either won or lost.  You didn't just blow up a car in a market and not appear to accomplish anything at all.   Winning, in the traditional sense, is not their goal, which flummoxes Western thinking.  They are not being directly confrontational, in the sense they have a standing army, battle lines and territory held, but rather are more subtle - taking pot-shots here and there and keeping us there for years and indeed, decades.

The Russians, having learned the same lesson we are learning in Afghanistan, years earlier during their occupation, have wised up.   They don't want to "win" a nuclear war or direct confrontation with the West, but instead, want to sow chaos and create division among their enemies.   We are now hearing that a lot of Brexit talk was amplified on social media by... guess who?   And the whole thing with Hillary, Bernie, and Trump was also amplified and nurtured by our Russian friends.  Divide and conquor - the oldest game in the book.

It is not that supporting any of those three candidates makes you a patsy for Putin, but rather that they used divisions among us to distort political positions and increase partisanship among the population.  I have no doubt that this "transgender restroom" thing is along those lines as well.  I have yet to meet a transgender, transsexual, transvestite, or drag queen (or whatever) who thinks that which restroom to use is a burning issue.   Most are mystified about this whole brouhaha as you and I are.  And perhaps these folks going online and talking about getting sex changes for their five-year-old are, in reality, Russian Trolls from the Internet Research Agency, Fancy Bear, or whatever they call themselves.

That's how you persuade people - subtly.  Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media are great ways to spread ideas like viruses.  These kids who run off to join ISIS aren't converted overnight.  They search "Islam" on Google, and the next thing you know, YouTube is recommending a video from a radical cleric.   And the reason why is, the non-radical clerics don't make as many videos, if any.   People with nothing to say other than "have a nice day!" don't generally put up manifestos on the Internet.

By the way, an update on my Knitting experiment.   I un-liked all the knitting videos, un-subscribed from all the knitting channels, and stopped searching on knitting-related things, months ago.   I had to do this, as my whole "feed" (and I'm not even on Facebook!) on Google and google-related sites, was almost 100% knitting-related.   It is over six months since I did that experiment and knitting videos are still popping up on YouTube.  It illustrates how incestuous the Internet has become.

Subtlety in marketing is brilliant, as if you do it right, the victim - errr, consumer - thinks he came up with the idea on his own.   And as I noted above, people like to retreat into the fortress of their ideas, bolt the door, and then binge on ice cream, popcorn, and Netflix.   They don't want to hear contrary ideas, and the more you try to force them to think otherwise, the worse off you will be.

This, in a nutshell is why interventions and de-programming don't work.   Any 12-step program participant could tell you that - people have to reach bottom on their own and see their own way out.  You can't just convert them with the power of your ideas, no matter how right they are - or how right you think they are.    A Scientologist isn't going to quit Scientology until they believe they were taken in.   You can talk to them until you are blue in the face, and it won't do any good - in fact, it will cause them to entrench their feelings all the more.

And that illustrates why insular religious groups are very strict on apostasy and heresy.   Oh, they know there are unbelievers out there - the infidels who must be smote, eventually.  But what worries them far more is one of their own, even making a casual comment questioning even the tiniest part of their faith.   Because that kind of subtle comment is more damaging than blustering non-believers on the outside, trying to shout down the temple priest.

This, in a nutshell, is why our politics are so polarized.   Trump is all bluster and twitter - and doesn't convince his opponents of much.   Sadly, Obama wasn't much better - nor were the Bushes or Clintons.   None of our politicians seem to be very good at subtlety - but rather go to extremes in opposing "the other guy."    I think a far better approach - in my mind - is to acknowledge that your opponent has some good points, but point out where they could be made better.   This whole "I'm right and you're wrong" isn't going to convince anyone of anything.

Sadly, the Democrats will never learn this.  A recent idiotic article from the Washington Post (who else) talks about Kirsten Gillibrand running for President in 2020.   The entire article is couched in terms of how "anti-Trump" she is.   That is all very well and fine, but I have no idea exactly what she stands for other than being "Ms. Opposite" who will idiotically do the opposite of whatever President Trump says or does.   This is third-grade thinking here.   Sadly also, she is a devotee of Comrade Sanders, and that spells doom for the Democrats - people will vote for Trump before they vote for Sanders, particularly if, by 2020, the sky hasn't fallen... completely.   Others will merely stay home, or refuse to contribute to campaigns.

Again, a better approach to "everything Donald Trump says is wrong" would be to persuade rather than confront.   For example, take this illegal immigration thing.   Right off the bat, we see a battle of words going on here - attempts to subtly influence the debate.  To Republicans, they are called "illegals" but to Democrats, they are "undocumented persons" - as if they lost their wallet or something.  The Democratic party needs to acknowledge that a country has a right to control its borders and that mass migration of poor people into our country will cause, and has caused, a lot of disruptions.

We need migrant laborers.  Let's set up a program, as we did in 1942, to regulate the flow of migrant laborers into the country.   By controlling temporary migration, we can figure out how many people are needed for labor, and also have documentation for those people, to weed out any bad actors.   The laborers would be able to live without fear of deportation or being exploited - often by their fellow countrymen.  It might be better than the system we have today, where people are exploited and often robbed, raped, or killed, crossing the border, are exploited because of their illegal status, and then deported after being held in for-profit detention camps.

To me, that would make more sense than things like "sanctuary cities" or "sanctuary states" which doesn't accomplish much, other than to give a wink and a nod to those thinking about entering the country illegally.   But hey, let's not make sense here, or be rational.   Let's instead come up with a half-assed solution that keeps an ethnic minority down, and looking over their shoulder for ICE for the rest of their lives.   That's the humanitarian approach, right?

Sadly, none of this seems likely to change.   People today aren't interested in other ideas, only entrenchment.   The far-left just wants to be the anti-Trump, sort of like Bizarro Superman versus Superman.   And I just don't get it.   This Left/Right dichotomy isn't solving anything or persuading anyone of the "correctness" of their cause - because most folks in America aren't Left or Right, but middle-of-the-road, and despise both extremes.

Maybe more subtlety and less extremism.