Coercion and The Persuaders

Recently read Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff, and saw The Persuaders, a documentary on similar themes, again featuring Rushkoff. Rushkoff at his best when he delves into the source material. However, his analyses of pop culture and the meanings he reads into things seem weaker.

Coercion’s primary topic is the professional means of influence employed in the modern world. Becoming aware of the tools used to manipulate us is a sometimes disturbing subject. Capitalism requires an “arms race” of selling; whatever works gives a competitive edge. The amount of time and effort which has gone into breaking down human responses is impressive.

The goal of selling is to reduce the target to a dissociated, vulnerable state, bypassing their reason, in which they can be presented with purchasing as the solution to their problem.

The results of studying this art are instantiated in every aspect of the commercial experience – from the design of stores and malls, to the salesperson’s dress and scripted patter, and the ever-present advertising.

What interests me most is the idea that effort is spent to influence our behaviour unconsciously. It amounts to a concentrated scientific study of coercion and control, which is then applied entirely to the ends of manipulating us to the ends of those with the wealth to direct the studies.

In the more recent The Persuaders, for instance, the notion of “reptilian hot buttons” comes to the fore. Working out what unconscious desires and understandings are motivating our actions in a certain area and targetting those directly. Ever wonder why SUV’s keep getting bigger? The “code” is dominance. That’s why we buy them, so they get bigger and meaner looking.

The energy spent focus grouping our unconscious associations, and our responses to language, is astounding. The continual testing and refinement of successful selling techniques means as we adapt to them they find new ways around our defences.

The same is true of PR, media spin, and this spills over into politics. The role of media in modern politics, where we are sold candidates on the basis of slogans and advertising, operates on the same theories of manipulation – the candidate is the product, your vote is the money.

And as the world becomes more wired and the sheer body of information about us available to data gatherers and sellers is used to personalise the attack in the ongoing war for our attention.

I would certainly recommend something like this, or perhaps Global Spin by Sharon Beder, for anyone interested in understanding the extent to which the information around us, and our environment, has been designed to influence us, and the lengths to which those who wish to control us will go. Particularly the stuff about influencing public opinion is amazing and disturbing. (Like putting ads on the radio about an issue, with a toll free number to call for more information, which puts you through to a guy reading from a script designed to program you with the views of the corporate sponsor about the issue in question only framed as being the concerns of a regular joe, who then offers to connect you directly with the MP or whoever for your area, right then, so lots of regular folks ring all at once saying the same stuff in a seemingly spontaneous outpouring of public opinion. Creative, but evil, in my opinion.)

No Responses to “Coercion and The Persuaders”

  1.   Pearce
    May 3rd, 2006 | 3:53 pm

    Do you know about the Maxim Institute?

  2.   Jen
    May 3rd, 2006 | 5:15 pm

    Tobacco comapnies are very experienced at controlling the public as well as governments – they work on the basis of conquer and divide. An area you may find interesting…

    I find it interesting that smokers protest about their rights of individual freedom which means they should be able to smoke whenever, wherever, but few people realise how powerful the tobacco companies and how much pressure they exert.

  3.   Janet
    May 3rd, 2006 | 8:59 pm

    I hate the Maxim Institute. I read their magazine once. After I read it I really wanted to write them a letter because I was so p!ssed off. However I didn’t, because the sort of people who would write that stuff wouldn’t listen to my opinion anyway. Question: how mainstream are they?

  4.   Janet
    May 3rd, 2006 | 9:03 pm

    BTW on a completely random note – Yay! you have the Moose content button on your website! How come all the links are down the bottom though? It makes them hard to find 🙁

  5.   Administrator
    May 4th, 2006 | 2:06 pm

    Pearce: The Maxim Institute are a creepy close to home example of Wrong.

    Janet: The moose content button is my moment of glory in php programming. Which, to those who have a clue in such matters, says so very little it hurts.

    Links are arranged alphabetically by the title of the group they’re in. I guess I know what’s where. What ones do you want better access to?

    Policy think tanks aren’t about being mainstream, it’s about being effective. How many people were aware of the Project For A New American Century a decade ago (or now)? But look at how many of their policies have been enacted by the Bush Imperium.

    Jen: yeah, also who funds what arguments/messages being put forward. How many original ideas do any of us have in a week, and how many were put there by someone with an agenda we are not conscious of?

  6.   Janet
    May 4th, 2006 | 3:17 pm

    So out of genuine curiosity, linking back to the original post topic, does anyone have a view on how the Maxim Institute ‘sells’ and who is it pushing product on?

    From my recollection, the issue of their magazine I read was a ‘focus on the workplace’ issue, which seemed to say nothing but ‘If women would just go back to their proper place, then all social problems would cease to exist.’

  7.   Administrator
    May 7th, 2006 | 12:27 am

    To be honest, I’m not familiar enough with their stuff to comment. But the techniques of propaganda, public relations and advertising overlap substantially: disorienting you then guiding you to the predetermined conclusion they want in your head that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny if you were paying attention.

  8. June 6th, 2006 | 12:22 pm

    […] However, what they do know about it comes as a result of a massive PR blitz wherein the estate tax was re-spun as a “death tax”, a term which people responded overwhelmingly negatively towards. (My reference for this is Frank Luntz, the Republican spin doctor, interviewed in the Persuaders, where he had the gall to justify his actions by claiming he was just making things clearer for people.) […]