Truth activists have all the facts on our side, but how do we persuade people who stubbornly refuse to listen to those facts? I read a book recently which provides expert marketing and psychology advice for political activists1. This essay summarizes principles of persuasion for use by truth activists.
Those promoting a fascist agenda have long been using advanced marketing techniques and psychology to manipulate people. We must understand these techniques in order to shield ourselves from manipulation.
In addition, using these tools in our work to protect our liberties, spread truth and promote justice will make us more effective.
The first thing to understand about persuasion is that every person actually has 3 brains. Top-notch communicators appeal to all 3 brains.
The 3 brains are:
(1) The reptilian brain, which focuses solely on survival, fight-or-flight, and getting away from pain.
(2) The mammalian brain, which handles emotions: love, indignation, compassion, envy, hope, etc.
(3) The human brain (neocortex), where we handle logic, abstract thought, words, symbols and time.
Most people incorrectly assume that if enough facts and logic are presented, people will believe the truth. In fact, psychologists, marketing experts and trial lawyers have found that facts are less persuasive for most people than emotions in reaching decisions.
The reptilian and monkey portions of our brain reach decisions based upon survival and emotion before the neocortex can make rational decisions. So facts alone won’t convince most people. Instead, stories, images and emotions are what sway most people.
For example, one political psychologist writes:
If you appeal primarily to people's reason without first getting them to feel the significance of the issue you're talking about, they're not going to be interested. From an evolutionary standpoint, our emotions play two major roles. One, our emotions appear to capture our attention, so if you don't make emotionally compelling arguments, if you don't use stories or examples to grab listeners, they won't hear important things you have to say. The other role of emotion, which is probably most crucial, is that emotions motivate us -- positive feelings pull us towards things that are generally good for us, and negative emotions move us away from things that are generally bad for us.
Associating an issue or person with an emotion is called “anchoring”.
Some words convey strong positive or negative emotions, and act as powerful anchor words. For example, Newt Gingrich pushed the following positive words for use by politicians (I have deleted the anchor words which are not appropriate to truth activism, such as "crusade"):
share... change... opportunity... legacy... challenge... control... truth... moral... courage... reform... prosperity... movement... children... family... debate... compete... active(ly)... we/us/our... candid(ly)... humane... pristine... provide...
liberty... commitment... principle(d)... unique... duty... precious... premise... care(ing)... tough... listen... learn... help... lead... vision... success... empower(ment)... citizen... activist... mobilize... conflict... light... dream... freedom...
peace... rights... pioneer... proud/pride... building... preserve... pro-(issue): flag, children, environment... reform... confident... incentive... hard work... initiative... common sense... passionate
Just using these words to describe one's position helps to persuade people towards that position. For example, for those who work to expose the fact that the 9/11 Commission did not provide a complete accounting of what happened on September 11, both "truth" and "activist" are positive anchor words, but "truther" doesn't appear on the list, and is not a good anchor. "9/11 truth activist" is a lot more powerful a phrase than "9/11 truther".
Gingrich urged the following negative words be describe one’s opponent:
decay... failure (fail)... collapse(ing)... deeper... crisis... urgent(cy)... destructive... destroy... sick... pathetic... lie... they/them...betray... consequences... limit(s)... shallow... traitors... sensationalists...
endanger... coercion... hypocrisy... radical... threaten... devour... waste... corruption... incompetent... permissive attitudes... destructive... impose... self-serving... greed... ideological... insecure... anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs... pessimistic... excuses... intolerant...
stagnation... corrupt... selfish... insensitive... status quo... shame... disgrace... punish... bizarre... cynicism... cheat... steal... abuse of power... machine... bosses... obsolete... criminal rights... red tape... patronage
So labeling those who apologize for those who carried out the 9/11 attacks "radical traitors who are anti-truth and anti-flag" would be very powerful.
What should we do when we come face-to-face with a negative but powerful frame promoted by the other side? The best solution is usually to reframe it. Find a better, more powerful frame which encapsulates the truth.
People are driven primarily by one of two emotions:
(1) Moving away from pain. People whose primary drive is to move away from pain usually believe that the world is primarily a scary and dangerous place, and that people are basically bad
(2) Moving towards pleasure. People whose primary drive is to move toward pleasure usually believe that the world is fundamentally a fair and good place, and that people are basically good.
If someone falls into the first category, discussing how truth will help them avoid pain will be effective. For people in the second category, stressing the pleasure that truth will bring will be useful.
Of course, if you are communicating with more than one person at a time, you should mix both messages.
One piece of good news: Motivating people through a moving away from pain/fear strategy works very effectively in the short run, which is why those running the U.S. have been able to manipulate the American people so well. This is because the reptilian brain reacts first and overrides the higher thinking functions. But, over time, it stops working, and the moving away from pain strategy eventually becomes ineffective. In the long run, hope and a positive vision works better than fear.
Seeing, Hearing, Touching
Most modern people process information primarily through their visual sense. Some process information through hearing. Other process information kinesthetically (through touch and feeling).
People not living in modern societies process information primarily kinesthetically, as that is how we are biologically wired. As stated above, we are wired to make decisions largely based on feeling and emotion.
So what does this mean on a practical level?
Unless you communicate using a person's primary mode of learning (called "submodality"), you won't be speaking in his language, and so probably won't be able to persuade him.
Moreover, studies show that communications which rapidly switch back and forth between visual, auditory and kinesthetic cues best help the listener focus on the message.
Therefore, the world's top communicators will frequently and rapidly switch between "seeing", "hearing" and kinesthetic words.
Some examples of visual words and phrases are:
"I see what you mean."
"Look at what's happening."
"Can you picture that?"
"What's the big picture?"
Some examples of hearing words and phrases are:
"I hear you."
"If you listen carefully, you'll notice . . ."
"Can you hear their cries for justice?"
"That's the sound of democracy."
Some examples of kinesthetic words and phrases are:
"What would that feel like?"
"Pulled the rug out from under us."
"Tearing a hole in the Constitution"
"Getting tripped up on . . ."
"They're stabbing us in the back . . ."
An example switching submodalities could be as simple as: “I want to talk with you about the stories that we tell ourselves, the way we view the world and the way we feel as Americans.”
The unconscious mind hears any statement using the word “you” as being directly at that particular listener.
Using a "you" statement when you are in a confrontational situation with someone will usually polarize the listener and destroy any possibility of influencing him.
A trick for getting around this is to use an “indirect you”; that is, speak in the third person. Here are some examples:
“[third person] was saying ...”
“He said ‘you wouldn’t believe’ . . .”
“She said ‘you can’t imagine how difficult . . .”
“He said ‘you would have to be, you know, disconnected from life to ignore . . .”
“She said ‘you’d have to be almost criminally disconnected from humanity to . . .”
“He said ‘you wouldn’t believe’ . . .”
“And I said to him, ‘you know, I agree.”
“Many people tell me that what they would like to say to [listener or listener’s group] is ‘you guys are . . . .’”
If you shift the rhythm of your speaking or writing, or the pace of your video or movie, the listener or viewer will have pay attention to follow you. This draws him in, and forces him to pay attention (and thus be receptive to your message). If you listen to a world-class speaker, they will pause more than you might assume, and speak quieter in parts.
Pacing your presentation is important.
It can be powerful to tell a story in the future, as if its happening now. Then work your way back to the present, to connect the future and the present.
Masterful speeches can work back and forth and back forth among different time frames, interweaving present, future and even past events to make one's point and give the listener a feeling of continuity in one's vision.
Similar to switching between timeframes, one can switch between levels of complexity: from the individual, to the group, to the societal, to all of humankind.
Tell how something will benefit the individual and also society. Don't just get stuck on one level or another.
The unconscious mind usually doesn't hear negatives. It hears “not” as “is” (how do you react to "I am not a crook"?). And it doesn’t hear “un” or “dis”, or even "I will stop" or "I will end" sometimes.
As summarized in an article in the Washington Post:
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.
This phenomenon may help explain why large numbers of Americans incorrectly think that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in planning the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi. While these beliefs likely arose because Bush administration officials have repeatedly tried to connect Iraq with Sept. 11, the experiments suggest that intelligence reports and other efforts to debunk this account may in fact help keep it alive.
The Post concludes that the studies show that "rather than deny a false claim, it is better to make a completely new assertion that makes no reference to the original myth".
So try to avoid negatives and stick to positive statements.
Putting It All Together
Thom Hartmann summarized successful and persuasive communication as follows:
“Tell a story to capture their attention. Build into the story visual and auditory metaphors and elements, each designed to evoke emotional responses. Embed into the most emotional parts of the stories the information you want remembered. And pace the story so that listeners and viewers move to your beat . . . .”
Throw in some indirect you statements, future pacing and level-switching, frame the issue in your own, positive way, and use strong anchor words, and you're on your way to becoming a highly effective truth activist.
1 The book is Cracking the Code by Thom Hartmann. While I disagree with Hartmann's assessment of conservatives and liberals, I respect his knowledge of communications and marketing. Indeed, Hartmann studied with one of the leading experts in this field, and taught advertising agencies some of their modern tricks of persuasion.
This summary cannot provide a full taste of how to apply these methods. I highly recommend that everyone read Cracking the Code to learn more about these persuasion techniques.
If you have any ethical reservations about using these techniques, please note that I am only advocating using them to promote the truth. I am completely opposed to using psychology or marketing techniques to spread disinformation.