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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hanging America's brain-laundry out to dry

Washing brains, sort of.

Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times hung a couple pairs of thongs out on his blog line for all to see, hoping, I trust, to expose what really was behind the  scanty panties.   One set was displayed by Rep. Kristi Noem; the other by Sen. John Thune. 

What you think is promised
They were verbal thongs in the sense that they attract attention and divert it away from reality.  In this case thongs are used like a bull-fighter's cape, to attract attention away from the fighter so the bull can't gore him and to set it up for the kill.  Thongs seem to promise something that does not, in fact, exist.  

is not what is there.
The deceptions also operate as boogey-men, straw figures created to scare children.  One tells children that there are boogey-men lurking about, scheming to snatch their little asses in the night.  But you promise to protect the children, and when no boogey-man performs an ass-snatch, the children feel protected and trusting.   

Kristi Noem's thong is a piece of legislation that promises to protect farmers from being snatched by the Environmental Protection Agency for raising too much dust on their farms.  The EPA keeps tabs on whether dust in the country can harm people, but says it has no regulation for snatching farmers in the night who raise dust and does not plan on creating one.  But Noem promises to keep dusty rascals safe from the EPA.  

Thune's thong is almost identical, except he he fashions his thong around bovine flatulence.  His legislation is to prevent the EPA from coming in the night and snatching farmers for the farts their cattle emit into the air.  The EPA says it has no such regulation and has never planned to make one.  But John says he is protecting farmers from fart-based-snatching and is keeping those flatulence-coddling rascals safe from the EPA.

One might think that Noem and Thune are playing their constituents for fools.  Or one might think that Noem and Thune actually believe, or choose to believe, that the EPA is prowling around sniffing the air for dust and farts so that it  may persecute poor farmers. Or one may look at the proposed laws outlawing the EPA from doing something it never considered doing as part of a brain-washing enterprise to control and manipulate that part of the electorate which is vulnerable to such tactics.

Actually, brain-washing is a much misused term.  It was first applied to the tactics of North Korea to employ fear and coercion on prisoners of war to induce them to renounce their previous beliefs and adopt the North Korean communistic dogma.  Since that time, brain-washing has been used pejoratively to include any form of persuasion, including advertising, political messaging, and religious conversion.  There is an element of accuracy in these applications where the persuasive objective is to purge the brain of independent knowledge and replace it with a set of dogma determined by the so-called brain-washer.

When I was in the Army in the mid-fifties, some vacant barracks on our isolated post were used to compile a study on brain-washing ordered by President Eisenhower.  We were occasionally asked to help with some clerical work like collating, but we got to know the personnel conducting the study and something about what they were finding.  What they found is that G.I. prisoners of war who defected to the North Koreans often had personal histories of being oppressed and discriminated against.  The conclusion was that the Korean brain-washing was not what made them believe that the communistic regime might give them more freedom and equality than they found in the U.S.  They had experienced oppression and discrimination.  The study was a motive for accelerating the desegregation of the armed forces.  Most of the turncoats found that what the North Koreans promised was not what they received, and they repatriated.  They saw past the propaganda thongs that once enticed them. 

However, persuasive techniques are matters for the study of rhetoric and mass communications and are thoroughly studied  and analyzed in those fields.  You begin with the fact that human beings are herd and pack animals.  They like to be part of a society and will conform to the conventions of a society in order to feel a part of it.  To become part of a given society, members are required to pledge and display an allegiance.  So, they are willing to relinquish individuality to be full-fledged members of a society.

Part of the herd and pack instinct is to band together to protect against dangers.  The reptilian cortex of the brain perceives anything or anyone that is not part of the chosen society as a danger.  The reptilian impulse is to destroy anything it perceives as a threat.  In communications, the reptilian cortex can be manipulated to regard other people and differing ideas as threats to be destroyed. People in advertising and propaganda communications appeal to the reptilian part of the brain.  In politics it is a common tactic to tell people of the dangers that the opposing political party poses for them and to contend that their candidates in their roles as leaders will fend off those dangers and protect them.  That is why the legislation proposed by John Thune and Krisit Noem is purely a political ploy that has little relevance to real circumstances.   The legislation is conceived as thongs to divert attention away from the facts and to instill fear into the vulnerable constituency.

Noem and Thune play to the anti-intellectual streak in American society.  The founders, including those self-educated like Benjamin Franklin saw education as the force that could create and sustain democracy.   Education and knowledge, they insisted, developed the cognitive portions of the brain so that the repilian cortex was not in control.  Even the writers at Aljazeera understand the ant-intellectual strain in American life the founders interest in countering it: 

America has always had a critical thinking deficit, in that it has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. This is particularly perverse, maddening and contradictory, since America's Founders were the most intellectual group that ever founded any nation we know of, and the desire to foster free and critical thinking, both in government and in the society at large, was one of their notable goals, as a direct consequence of the Enlightenment heritage on which America's Founders depended. 

To students of rhetoric and communications, America's decline of literacy--the understanding of rhetorical principles and communicative devices--has much to do with the political morass into which it is mired.  While those who claim they want to improve education focus on math and science, they ignore the verbal skills and knowledge that form the cognitive process, the development of that part of the brain which surmounts those primitive reptilian impulses.  One can find examples of the reptilian impulse as it has developed into a malignant pathology on the Internet. They display all the intellectual merit of rattle snakes striking at warm-air balloons.  Or dupes slavering at a display of thongs.

The dust-and-fart legislation proposed by Thune and Noem appeals strongly to that segment of society that defines social cohesion by the threats it imagines pose dangers to it.  It is aware of the deep social and political tensions that it creates and must have scapegoats to blame for them.  The study of rhetoric and communication is informed by the fields of sociology, social psychology, cognitive development, and clinical psychology which have identified the tendency to invest beliefs in manufactured circumstance as opposed to what exists in actuality as Shared Paranoid Disorder, or Folie a Deux (French for a "madness shared by two").   

The big question facing America today is how many people are not cognitively developed enough to see past John Thune's and Kristi Noem's thongs?  When they are in the voting booth, will vote like rattle snakes striking at balloons or dupes breathing heavily out of a lust for thongs and a fear of boogey-men?  Are their brains shaped by operant-conditioning, brain-washing if you will, or can they muster some of the cognitive skills that Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson envisioned?  

You will know if we end up living in a nation of laws composed of shared paranoia about dust and bovine farts. 

1 comment:

Douglas said...

The backside of the GOP propaganda machine had reasonably intelligent people in Winner, SD convinced that a Democratic Administration would mean that horses and cows would literally have to wear diapers.

I bothers me almost as much that Thune and Noem carry on this nonsense, but also that the media treats this political bullshit as if it were fresh bread and honey.

Now and then I think the conventional media has an obligation to state something like, "Based on our knowledge of the facts and history, etc of this issue, we believe the statements of Political Haxk X are factually incorrect nonsense.

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