Implanting beliefs is easier than changing them
April 3, 2010, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Memes, Propaganda, Psychology, Social Hacking

Old, but nevertheless interesting news (right-click to enlarge):

So on one hand, it’s very hard to shift people’s beliefs on a particular topic, once they have them.

Yet, it is fairly easy to give them new beliefs, even if those beliefs conflict with what they have previously been told:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a flier to combat myths about the flu vaccine. It recited various commonly held views and labeled them either “true” or “false.” Among those identified as false were statements such as “The side effects are worse than the flu” and “Only older people need flu vaccine.”

When University of Michigan social psychologist Norbert Schwarz had volunteers read the CDC flier, however, he found that within 30 minutes, older people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual.

Younger people did better at first, but three days later they made as many errors as older people did after 30 minutes. Most troubling was that people of all ages now felt that the source of their false beliefs was the respected CDC.

The psychological insights yielded by the research, which has been confirmed in a number of peer-reviewed laboratory experiments, have broad implications for public policy. The conventional response to myths and urban legends is to counter bad information with accurate information. But the new psychological studies show that denials and clarifications, for all their intuitive appeal, can paradoxically contribute to the resiliency of popular myths.

(hat-tip to Yves at Naked Capitalism for the above image and link)

How does this play out politically and in the media?  The Stiftung Leo Strauss explains, with a little emphasis from me:

To make it less abstract, Movement action in 2009 — whether throwing tea bags in Fred Smith’s corporate foyer because they forgot to get a public dumping permit — or politically executing a deviationist is both inherently good and necessary. Anger is always the easiest emotional tool to manipulate. Its simple irrationality is the asset. Regardless if puzzling or risible to others. We are amazed that our American political ‘experts’ smirk and then get stupified when the Movement (via the Republican marionette) eschews ‘logical’ purposeful activity typical of a political pluralistic entity. They appear daily with polls showing this or that. Utterly missing the point that the action – rational or not – is first for the internal primary audience. How the Movement defines for itself coherence, clarity, hierarchy and communal belonging is the alpha and omega. The essential narcissism of that drama almost by necessity will be inherently irrational for those Outside. History shows this trajectory time and again across the globe.

Third, Democrats, liberals, independents, the wholly notional, non-existent American ‘Left’ [sic] no longer think in world historical patterns. History began yesterday. Books are hawked, not read. Or merely churned out, not considered. The overall American political community collectively assumes with vacant laziness that everyone plays the same game for the same stakes. Clinton today after everything still frames things so. Amazing.

Given the above one can see why and how a Movement so recently banished to the institutional political ‘grave’ still dominates Obama, liberals, the ‘Left [sic], MSNBC, etc. (As a simple content analysis statistical project, examine airtime ratios spent by non-Movement media rebutting Movement memes, defending themselves from spurious Movement press releases from a County Supervisor in Upper Lower Mississippi, etc., etc.)

Notice how much less time they devote to ‘objective factual stories’ or re MSNBC, advancing their own purposeful agenda? Pwned.

169% pwned indeed.

How to hack the US government
December 13, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Legislative Choke-Point, Social Hacking

Now that I have all the NSA-bots attention, I’d like to say I’m talking about social hacking (or engineering, if you prefer) and not breaking through Pentagon firewalls or other illegal things.  I’m saving posts like that for later.

Like all hacking, this relies on exploiting a complex and not often very well understood rule-set, in order to make the larger processes do something they really shouldn’t.  In this case, it is accomplished by having control over the House and Senate Rules Committees.

Matt Taibbi explains further:

The House Rules Committee is perhaps the free world’s outstanding bureaucratic abomination ─ a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish. The official function of the committee is to decide which bills and amendments will be voted on by Congress and also to schedule the parameters of debate. If Rules votes against your amendment, your amendment dies. If you control the Rules Committee, you control Congress.

The committee has nine majority members and four minority members. But in fact, only one of those thirteen people matters. Unlike on most committees, whose chairmen are usually  chosen on the basis of seniority, the Rules chairman is the appointee of the Speaker of the House.


Shortly after Sanders finishes  his remarks, the Rules Committee members scurry to begin what will be a very long night of work. To most everyone outside those nine majority members, what transpires in the committee the night before a floor vote  is a mystery on the order of the identity of Jack the Ripper or the  nature of human afterlife. Even the Democrats who sit on the committee have only a vague awareness of what goes on. “They can completely rewrite bills,” says McGovern. “Then they take it to the floor an hour later. Nobody knows what’s in those bills.”

One singular example of this came  four years ago, when the Judiciary Committee delivered the first Patriot Act to the Rules Committee for its consideration. Dreier trashed that version of the act, which had been put together by the bipartisan committee, and replaced it with a completely different bill that had been written by John Ashcroft’s Justice Department.

The bill went to the floor a few hours later, where it passed into law. The Rules Committee is supposed to wait out a three-day period before sending the bill to the House, ostensibly in order to give the members a chance to read the bill. The three-day period is only supposed to be waived in case of emergency. However, the Rules Committee of DeLay and Dreier waives the three-day period as a matter of routine. This forces members of Congress to essentially cast blind yes-or-no votes to bills whose contents are likely to be an absolute mystery to them.

There is therefore an element of Christmas morning in each decision of the committee. On the day of a floor vote, you look under the tree (i.e., the Rules Committee Web site) and check to see if your amendment survived. And so, on the morning of July 21st, Sanders’ staff goes online and clicks on a link H.R. 3199 ─ USA PATRIOT AND TERRORISM PREVENTION REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2005. Twenty of sixty-three amendments have survived, most of them inconsequential. The Sanders amendment isn’t one of them.
– Matt Taibbi, Smells Like Dead Elephants, pages 26-33

The only problem is, of course, getting the Speaker of the House to approve you to be chairman.  However, when you consider how much competition there is for more lucrative positions (such as the House Committee on Appropriations) where an elected official can really steal, the Rules committee, by contrast has much less to offer, at least to the sort of politician who goes into politics to line their own pocket.  For an ideologue, on the other hand…with a little work, you can forcibly stamp your own vision of what should and shouldn’t be on the United States for years to come, with almost no oversight at all.