A couple of weeks ago the SKWAWKBOX featured an excellent guest post by John Le Brocq, and I’m delighted to present another. This one is a very erudite and relevant look at the way the media, and the government politicians it features, twist the narrative to present a wholly false and misleading picture of events and opinions.
Please read, and share, as it’s well worth both.
Opinions aren’t Polled, They’re Molded
On Newsnight, 27th June 2013, the results of a single poll question was shown that revealed, according to the direction the debate was taken, that young people are increasingly concerned about the level of welfare and benefits. And, most likely, they are. Just, not in the way the subsequent debate went on to suggest.
One of the invited panel, a marketing representative from the Tax Payers’ Alliance, claimed the graph showed that young people wanted to see welfare and benefits cut. The graph actually shows nothing of the sort. The question neither asks nor reveals anything of the sort. But none of that appeared to matter. What mattered was only the agenda of one of the panel (with some help from Jeremy Paxman) and what he wanted the question to suggest.
Or, rather, what he wanted the viewer to think the question suggested.
The question was “If welfare benefits weren’t so generous, people would learn to stand on their own two feet?”. Aside from being an entirely leading question (see later for a breakdown) that can’t be properly interpreted without context and follow up. It was entirely mistranslated by the Tax Payers’ Alliance marketing man to suggest the people polled support welfare cuts because it will mean lower taxes’. And he got away with it.
My first reaction to this segment of the programme was extreme annoyance. Another one of those, ‘wtf is going on!?’, moments.
So, what exactly is going on when an infograph is used as the starting point for an unrelated discussion? And, more importantly, why is this going on?
Two techniques are at play, ‘framing’, and what’s known as either opinion-molding, engineering consent or social engineering.
To really understand ‘framing’, and specifically the purpose and principles of ‘framing’ in debate, you’ll need an understanding of cognitive linguistics (Neuro Linguistic Programming). A subject taught in media and marketing.
Framing is used, in part, to shortcut, or circumvent logic by embedding trigger words that conjure up pre-defined constructs. It works. Advertising uses a visual version of the technique by associating products to a lifestyle (a construct) rather than discussing what the product actually is or does.
Framing is also being used when a respondent ignores the question, or the subject under discussion, in order to divert the agenda to better promote their own. In the case of this Newsnight episode, the framing device was hi-jacking (or misappropriating) the results of an opinion poll in an attempt to imply support for an entirely different issue. Any debate about the actual question, which really does need debating, was completely lost.
A more subtle use of framing and linguistic trickery lies in the construction of the question used in the poll. On the face of it, a perfectly reasonable question… dig deeper and it’s far less so. The question is not only full of linguistic tricks, it’s also riddled with enough internal questions to render it nothing more than hypothetical. As such, it offers no real view of any real world event or proposal.
Whatever, ignoring the hypothetical nature of the question, there are other linguistic tricks used in the question (polled to the 17 to 34 year old age group), these include:
- the statement that welfare is generous will immediately influence the response, especially if in the respondent’s work experience, salaries are far from generous and shrinking fast
- there is an implied suggestion that welfare is for stupid people who can’t, or won’t learn to stand on their own two feet,
- there is an implied accusation that the respondent isn’t standing on their own two feet, especially if they’re in receipt of such generous benefits,
- the question becomes a direct challenge when addressed to a group of people on the cusp of (or struggling for) the chance to prove their worth and adulthood by ‘standing on their own two feet’, and
- since when was enabling people to ‘stand on their own two feet’ a responsibility of a welfare system designed to help people who are (temporarily or permanently) unsupported by employment or an income (neither of which, incidentally and strictly speaking, means that someone is standing on their own two feet – it just means they’re differently dependent)
This question, and more than likely the entire poll, was less about gauging opinion and more about molding it. This, and the leading (or misleading) elements of the phrasing of the question was what the segment should have been discussing. But that would go entirely against Bernays ideas and methodology. Opinion-molding has nothing to do with encouraging people to form an opinion. It’s sole purpose, and the sole objective of this government, is defining public opinion to their tastes… then acting on it.
To begin to understand opinion molding (engineering consent), you’ll need to know something of the work and writings of Edward Bernays. Known as the Father of Public Relations, Bernays justified the process and developed the methodology for a scientific technique of ‘opinion-molding’, a technique he called ‘engineering consent’. Not some mad fiction, engineering consent has long been the basis of both advertising and the primary, proven strategy of all modern politics.
Bernays work in overthrowing a democratically elected government and establish a corrupt regime to benefit The United Fruit Company and the US government is what led to the term ‘Banana Republic’. We might think of a banana republic as country run by a bunch of amateur usurpers. But then, that’s exactly how a multi national corporation can get away with being the unaccountable puppet master.
As a short introduction to Bernays, here’s a brief passage from his 1928 book, Propaganda, please Google him further (Adam Curtis made an excellent documentary series, ‘The century of the Self’, which exposes Bernay’s methods, influence and reach).
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …
We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …
In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.
To see social engineering in modern day practice we could consider the mantra ‘Make Work Pay’. A phrase that is never applied to policies or issues relating to work or employment but is, instead (and insidiously) attached to policies affecting unemployment and the unemployed. Forget wage freezes, low pay, zero hours contracts, inflation, the housing bubble and profiteering as the mechanisms for undermining the value of work. Forget about discussing financial corruption as the cause of the ‘crisis’. Forget about tax avoidance. Just focus on unemployment and disability are presented as entirely to blame for low wages, inflation and the financial crisis.
Responsibility for ‘Making Work Pay’ has been engineered out of the hands of employers, corporations and government and placed squarely in the hands of the unemployed. Yes, the phrase was used by the marketing representative of Tax Payers Alliance. Quite where he fits into the bigger picture isn’t clear. It might be that he’s focussed on doing his job. It might be that he believes that marketing this government’s policy towards welfare helps do his job or, it might be that he’s just a stooge ‘framing’ the Tax Payers’ Alliance campaign to do the will (and some of the dirty work) of this country’s invisible government.
Invisible in this sense should be understood as the real purpose of policy, which is very different to the publicly stated purpose.
The why is much simpler to answer. What’s going on is social engineering. Go back and read the quote from Propaganda. The masses can’t be expected to know what or even how to think. They must be told. They must do as they’re told. Especially if all you want to do is screw them blind.
Trickery is used because there’s no way the majority of the population would stand for what this government is doing if it were ever to present its policies and plans in a straightforward or honest fashion. This government has significantly ramped up the trickery, the opinion-molding and the PR (distinct from ‘spin’). The past few years have seen a concerted and highly skilled campaign of engineering consent.
Especially when there is a generation coming through who care and are beginning to understand very many important issues, including caring deeply about living in a fair and just society. Especially in an age when people, those who choose to, can inform themselves and make up their own minds.
This emerging generation is our future and I, for one, will not sit quiet and allow these good souls, nor their noble ambitions to be hijacked, corrupted or perverted by a pack of greedy over privileged despots.
Maybe, after further consideration of Bernays, opinion-molding and the dark art of ‘framing’ you will agree just how downright obscene it is for the incumbent savages of media, parliament or The City to corrupt this generation’s honourable sense of responsibility, to turn their care to hate and have them, like The City and corporate minions, do their dirty work for them.
A brief update following on from the telegraph article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/georgeosborne/10150555/Voters-back-George-Osbornes-welfare-crackdown-finds-poll.html
This shit works.
Edit: added by JLB 8/7/13
The last few paragraphs referring to a caring generation – these were intended to suggest that this government is particularly aggressive in its social engineering as a counter to a more organic, more caring kind of social development that had been evolving (rather than being engineered) in ‘Thatcher’s Grandchildren’ (in part, in the children of the 80s and 90s festival, protest and ‘green’ generation).
What it (social engineering) means for me.
It was during the 80s I lived as what was variously described as a ‘medieval brigand’ or ‘new age traveller’ (although I saw myself as more of a ‘warrior of conscience’). It was this period that I was most directly on the receiving end of social engineering as a government weapon.
I’ve kept some of the news stories from that time, they were an inspiration (of sorts) to try working myself into a media position to tell some of my own (the thought that I might subvert the establishment’s subversion).
Except, the further into that world I got, including the arts, the more I began to understand the reach, power and history of social engineering and, especially, of storyteling.
The manipulations we’re seeing today have had a long evolution, the crux of which comes down to control of story. Not just control of news as story, not even misuse or abuse of ‘news’, but story in its most basic form: as the manner in which we’re taught to view, understand and respond to the essential world around us. Story as mythology.
Those that would aspire to power have always controlled our stories (and always had the resources to do so – storytelling has always been an expensive occupation). Not just his-story or ‘news-story’ but entertainment (including and especially advertising), which are the stories that prepare our future. In a very real way, all the stories we tell today will make the world we live tomorrow.
And I don’t mean that in a conspiracy theory kind of way, I mean it in a simple common sense, teaching, celebrating and perpetuating culture, heritage and (significantly) hierarchy kind of way.
Alongside Bernays, another good resource is Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. As much as fighting the lies and disinformation going on in the factual world, we (to my mind) also need to factor the importance of the world of the imagination.
The fight isn’t just for ‘truthful’ reporting, it’s also for ‘truthful’ imagining.
A part of my difficulty breaking in to the media (setting aside any judgement of ‘talent’) is quite simply that part of my goal is to redefine mythology. A bold quest.
To my mind, we’re still living with myths that manifested several thousand years ago and defined our response to the world as it was back then. The world’s changed, but our underlying (and I mean under lying) mythology hasn’t.
Over time, this traditional, ancient mythology, once the the core of all our hopes, dreams and aspirations has become our prison. Not least because this mythology is a key tool used in social engineering.
*The difference between an organically evolving society and an engineered is that one asks questions, the other gives answers.