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"There's no words that can make robots out of people"

How do you explain cults? How do you explain the effects of advertising? How do you explain the uniform levels of discipline achieved by basic training? How do you explain phone scammers? How do you explain the success of the public relations industry? How do you explain Bernie Madoff? How do you explain cigarette smokers? How do you explain the effects of what we refer to as echo chambers? Everyone of these consists of people being programmed or brainwashed in one way or another.

You hear the word brainwashing and immediately think of someone thats hypnotized, or a zombie, the typical hollywood trope. But its a far more common thing.

If you're interested in reading about this, there is a book by a psychologist named Robert Cialdini, called Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion.


One interesting persuasion trick is to start with extreme opening bids in negotiation, and then back off to what you really want. This is how the actors of Watergate were able to convince others to go along with the plan to break in to the Watergate. The original plan was far more involved, with a $1,000,000 budget, and included kidnappings. G Gordon Liddy used this as an extreme opening bid, and eventually convinced everyone that what eventually took place was a reasonable compromise. After, its not like they kidnapped anyone, and they only needed $250,000.

Most of your litany of questions can be answered by saying that nobody became a cultist by only reading words on a screen of what the cult believes.

Take Scientology for instance. I have access to the whole of their printed words online, yet I am not a Scientologist. You wouldn't be either. You can sub out "Scientology" for any other cult or any other odious group (including race nationalists, terrorists, etc.) and the statement remains true.

The reason being that nothing is being engaged here other than reading, writing, and thinking. No money is changing hands, no leader is demanding my obedience at literal or metaphorical gunpoint. In the case of a web forum the absolute worst thing that could happen to me is that I'll get rude comments or be unable to participate further.

The only difference between discourse and propaganda is the aim of the people doing the talking. This is a subjective value judgment on what you think of the speech, and when it comes to analyzing it, this amounts to noise. Are you trying to propagandize at me? :)

The flaw in your argument is that the obedience must be demanded at gunpoint. In actuality, the obedience can be gained through a combination of continuously putting people under stress, and framing yourself as the only viable solution to the stress. Its how you train dogs, and how you train Marines.

Narcissists and con artists don't need to threaten violence to achieve their means. The threat of violence is simply one of the most effective methods of placing someone under emotional stress. It is once these people are under emotional stress that their defenses are down, and they are vulnerable to brainwashing.

@Karunamon: I'm not sure why, but I have no reply link under your latest post, so I'm posting as close to it as I can.

I don't think its controversial at all to say that both Facebook and Reddit are brainwashing people. Not to say that the companies themselves are doing the brainwashing, just that they are effective platforms for anyone to do it on. Do you really not know anyone who literally lives on one of the two sites? They are both highly addictive echo chamber services that people willingly return to, hoping that the next page load will contain their unicorn story that confirms everything they want to be true. Its the dopamine cycle of what makes social media interesting in the first place. These are two of the four most visited sites in America. I can't control for peoples previous experiences, or say that Reddit or Facebook are the exclusive causal factors, but I think that just the fact that they are excellent at getting users to self select for interesting content, at the expense of content that may challenge their opinions, is enough to count these services as brainwashing platforms. People are figuratively screaming to the void "I want to be entertained!!!" Trump answered the call. The repeated dopamine cycle of discovering outrageous content, and then eventually petering out to boredom, is the stress. Once you are sufficiently stressed out, you are far more susceptible to believing that the media is lying, and the FBI is biased, the intelligence community and government at large is filled with evil actors with their own agenda. I mean, how interesting would that all be, right?

Another point to consider is that I don't necessarily think any one organization has caused all of this to happen. Internet addiction has obviously existed nearly as long as the internet. My theory is that Facebook and Reddit effectively teed up millions of people for someone else to come along, and capture their minds.

As I've said throughout this thread, I'm not suggesting a minority report situation, or that circumstantial evidence should depose a president, or that censorship is the answer to any of this. What I'm more lamenting is that the charlatans are winning, and their methods are nearly impervious to defense in a modern democracy. As best I can tell, all I can do is try to convince people of what I think is at play, and hope that it resonates.

Re commenting: That happens after two or three replies - you have to click on the timestamp to get the permalink to the comment to be able to reply to it.

Re everything else: This is a reply that doesn't do justice to the effort you put into it, but I think with your definition of "brainwashing", we've made that term functionally useless, and I think bringing partisan politics into it apropos of nothing has made any further honest conversation on this matter impossible.

Fair, but how do you continuously put people under stress using only words on a screen? The comment you originally replied to asserted that "There's no words that can make robots out of people", and so far you've provided counterexamples that use many more things; none of which are restricted to internet comments.

Keeping the original topic in mind, we're talking about online comments. Not cults, not marines, not anything other than words on screens.

> Fair, but how do you continuously put people under stress using only words on a screen?

Once someone has become afraid of something, it doesn't just vanish after the event that caused it is over.

> How do you explain cults?

People have strong drive to belong to an in-group. There are multiple experiments that assigning random markers to random people and making them participate in certain activities lead to "group cohesion" effects and people start assigning deep meaning to those markers, despite them being completely random. Cult is just when people take it to the extreme - likely because they didn't find satisfaction for their in-grouping drive elsewhere.

> How do you explain the effects of advertising?

Which specifically effects? It's mostly brand recognition, aka availability heuristics - if you have brand A, B and C and you heard before that A is good, you're more likely to choose A than unknown B and C - and just plain informing people things like brand A exist. And a touch of in-grouping ("if you drink Coca-Cola, you are in a group of cool people"). And a tad of signaling ("if we have money to but expensive ad spot on TV, we must be a successful company that can afford to create good product, would not disappear tomorrow and values its reputation so we would not cheat you").

> How do you explain the uniform levels of discipline achieved by basic training

They are not that uniform, but again in-grouping plus other guys will be literally shooting at you (though research shows a lot of this shooting is much less targeted than previously thought).

> How do you explain phone scammers? How do you explain the success of the public relations industry?

That's plain persuasion, with various ethical fences either present or absent.

> Everyone of these consists of people being programmed or brainwashed in one way or another.

Again, if by "programmed" you mean "persuaded in something, in which they most likely inclined to believe from the beginning due to selection and grouping effects" then sure. People can be persuaded to buy a shampoo especially if they wanted to buy one already, and people can be deceived especially if they're already out to look for something the deceiver seemingly offers, and people can be blind to arguments especially if those arguments challenge their prejudices.

The only thing different here is tobacco smoking - that's physical addiction, it is a different mechanism.

> If you're interested in reading about this, there is a book by a psychologist named Robert Cialdini, called Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion.

Yeah I know about Cialdini. It has a lot of nice tricks, but it's not magic. It's much less magic then it's made out to be. And yes, reframing and anchoring is one of the tricks. If you watch Trump carefully, you can see all these tricks employed, he does it all the time. He didn't invent it of course - expensive stores have been putting items with outrageous prices on prominent display for ages, to make regular item prices seem lower in comparison. It does confuse some heuristics for people. But anybody is capable of approaching the prices - or Trump - rationally and see the actual price. There's no "programming" to prevent it - if one makes minimal effort, one can always do it.

Most of your explanations amount to spreading the trees out far enough and saying, "see, there's no forest here". You agree that all of the underlying mechanisms perform their component tasks, but disagree that there are cumulative, persistent effects of prolonged exposure to combinations of them.

My point is that there are large swaths of conservatives that have been radicalized by the last 25 years of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. And now they are being told that mainstream media is lying about everything.

It's so complete in many people, that they don't hear themselves when they lay out their political motivations. The number of people whose primary goal in achieving any particular political end is to anger their political opponents is staggering. Its like a catch all if someone can't be convinced of the traditional conservative stance on an issue, they can fallback to "well, at least liberals will lose their minds".

This radicalization is primarily the cumulative effect of conservative media, and its villification of the left.

Cults can't exist without a confident authority figure dominating the flow of information to the adherents. These things don't just happen out of vacuums, without a leader in on the scam. Just because reading Dianetics is not 100% effective in converting to scientology, that does not mean that the book isn't an effective tool of persuasion, that combined with the other effects like ingroup psychology, can get people to join a cult that will bankrupt them without a second thought.

With regards to advertising, I mean the use of sex, patriotism, or other emotionally charged concepts to trigger positive associations with the subject being marketed. I don't claim that all people are impervious to all instances, I mean that enough people are susceptible to it, and it has persisted over a long enough period of time, that it has produced a significant amount of people with seriously warped views of how government works, how the 20th century played out, and what the powers that be are planning to execute imminently. I think there are literally people out there being primed to support whatever totalitarian aspirations Trump may have, and that they are being convinced of the righteousness of his cause. Do you really think that hundreds of thousands of people are being facetious when they refer to Donald Trump as "God Emperor"?

With regards to basic training, the effectiveness can be attributed directly to the process I describe. Convince people that they are in danger for long enough, reinforce this with threats and screaming. After the people are sufficiently scared, give them a path to escape the danger. Apply the imaginary danger proportionally to the level people stray from your prescribed path. You posit that since the danger is controlled and not as real as the grunts are lead to believe, the effect is somehow negated. It works in the military because you are isolated from any contrarian information by the military themselves. There's no source of information to tell the trainees that its a controlled, safe environment. It works in political echo chambers because the people have isolated themselves willingly. There's no _trusted_ source of information to temper the vitriol from the echo chamber.

Your model of people and how they take in and react to information ascribes a lot more agency and rational decision making than what I posit. Your argument is that since everyone technically has the tools available to them to become educated enough to not fall prey to devious persuasion, devious persuasion is automatically defanged, because all people avail themselves of all education.

Tobacco smoking, specifically nicotine addiction, is not a different mechanism at all. In fact it is a highly illuminating example that shows how insidious constant bombardment with persuasion can be. Nicotene has only the slightest physical withdrawal symptoms. The cravings smokers exhibit are a product of the brainwashing. People don't wake up in the middle of the night from cigarette cravings. They've convinced themselves that smoking a cigarette removes stress, instead of ensuring its perpetuation. When they crave the cigarette, they fantasize about how much they will enjoy it, but when they actually smoke it, addicts are surprised 20 times a day to find out they don't enjoy it at all. But this surprise doesn't free them from their mental prison. They are of the opinion that cigarettes modulate some completely unrelated stress in their life. Think of talking to a smoker, and just telling them how dumb they are, by repeating obvious facts that we all agree upon. How does that work out for you? They immediately put up defense mechanisms and dig in. But in their private moments, they know that everything you said was true. I posit that many Trump supporters are in the same predicament. They are faced with the prospect that their entire world view is wrong, that they aren't the woke genius's they've assured themselves to be, they are just Bernie Madoff investors, tools of Vladimir Putin, the choice to double down on supporting Donald Trump is no choice at all.

Trump supporters are addicted to him like Nicotene, and they will irrationally defend the Nicotene even as they cough and wheeze, because after all, whats more emasculating and cuckold-like than admitting you've been catfished by a charlatan to the very people that have been screaming this fact at you for over a year?

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