For part 2 in my People Power series a lot of focus right now on truth telling and “fake” news, which is discussed as if it’s a phenomenon that started with the current U.S. administration. The truth and what we believe and why we believe it are crucial at this point but it’s a slippery slope.
The media and people in power have been hoodwinking us for years (maybe always?) and we all now hold a lot of beliefs that are based on falsehoods and/or manipulations. In the wake of the 2016 election I’ve read a lot of studies about belief and how hard it is to change one or more. Bottom line is beliefs are very hard to change in all people. Once a belief has been accepted, most all of us will ignore evidence that tells us a different truth.
By and large these studies aimed at the right wing folks who elected the not-really-a-president, but what I’m seeing is that both sides are subject to the same “set in stone” thinking. And the liberal/left often seems so smug about knowing what’s true and what’s not that they are blind to the ways in which they have been duped and are just as gullible to believing what’s been fed.
My first three examples of ways the media shifts perception all come from events of which I was aware or in which I participated in the 1980’s:
In the 80’s there was a huge civil war in Nicaragua in which the socialist Sandinistas were fighting the party of the late right-wing despotic dictator Somoza. The Somozan guerillas called themselves Contras and had death squads torturing and killing people.
Reagan supported the right wing and the giant propaganda effort he waged on their behalf led to the Iran-Contra affair. One small but key move he made to shift perception was to start calling the Contras “Freedom Fighters” in order to portray them as the good guys.
After a while I noticed that NYT articles about the situation were using his propaganda phrasing, calling the Contras “Freedom Fighters”. It’s a subtle but effective way of re-shaping perception by a small change of phrase. The anti-abortion movement pulled off a similar shift by changing their movement to “Pro Life”.
[At a guess, it was not the reporters on those articles who used the phrase, but probably an editorial change commanded by somewhere up the chain]
2 Nuclear Power Cases
Nuclear Power Plant cases are giant sprawling things, with thousands of pages of complex expert testimony, briefs that are usually 100 or more pages each and opinions that are just as long. They’re complicated and cover tough-to-grasp topics like nuclear power plant engineering and econometric forecasting.
I worked on those cases and I barely grasped the minutiae even after several years, relying on the greater expertise of older attorneys who’d been at it so long they knew every nuance. So I can imagine how tough it must be for a reporter covering the outcome of such a case –presumably among other assignments on other topics — to comprehend the material.
Pretty much every time one of our cases came down, I’d read the newspaper report on the opinion/outcome and scratch my head, wondering if the decision on some other nuclear plant case somewhere else had come out that day and the reporter confused the opinions. Really. I’d read the opinion and then the news and fail to see how one led to the other.
I don’t think anybody manipulated on purpose in those cases, but in complex technical matters it’s too much for a mainstream media reporter to be able to get it all and write a concise, understandable article that accurately reflects the material. I’ve talked to other people in other complex arenas who’ve said the same thing. Media coverage often doesn’t reflect the kind of understanding that people within the “biz” have. On complex topics, if you really want to know, you probably need to look at trade-specific journals or major studies.
But the news articles are often the only info the public ever sees, so any mistakes in the coverage wind up being part of the belief system. One example in nuclear stuff I see all the time is the assumption that nuclear is the cheapest form of power.
Putting aside the incalculable issue of how much the environmental devastation will cost down the road, (1) the cost overruns of building them have been astronomical; and (2) the ONLY reason they ever seemed relatively cheap in the U.S. was the gigantic federal underwriting they received. If you add the grants into the overall cost they’re very expensive.
But because the powers that be who favor nuclear have always referred to it as the cheapest form and the federal money supporting them is never mentioned there’s a general belief that nuclear power is cheap. In this case the public is misled by a combo of misinformation and omission.
3 Perception of Crime
Yup, I’m back to this one again. And before you roll your eyes and think I need to stop with this one, I really want you to take this in and understand how manipulation changed perception and what that means for us.
As a sociology grad student in the late 70’s I landed on a huge research project called “Reaction to Crime”. The premise was that the perception of rising crime threats arose from some changes in reporting and the idea was to figure out how to assuage those fears. Part of the project was a gigantic “crime statistics survey” in which a small group of us poured through decades of studies and articles on crime stats.
In a nutshell, what we found was that the chance of being the victim of a crime, from robbery, burglary, assault, battery, kidnapping, etc. to murder HAD NOT CHANGED IN DECADES. Two major changes fueled the change in perception: (1) crime used to be reported differently and not in gross numbers as it has been for some decades now and (2) the rise of television meant that many crimes that once would have been reported only locally became national news.
The change in reporting from noting probability to just counting the total number of crimes and sounding the alarm that it kept going up suits law enforcement and politicians very well because it helps them convince the public they need big budgets and fuels election campaigns.
The thing is, the population keeps growing, so the totals will always grow. The only relevant info in terms of being afraid of crime is the probability. Has not changed significantly over all for more than 100 years. And I keep checking in on the studies and reports as they update and it’s always the same. Unless you’re a Hispanic or Black male between 15 and 25, the chances of being a crime victim have gone down by and large since Colonial times. (And I’ve not looked into it but I suspect some crimes related to opioid sales and distribution have gone up in recent years. And hate crimes only have relatively recent stats as they were not considered separately).
But every time I talk to people about this I see them politely nod and then observe them a day or two later discussing the terrible crime problem. So this is the piece I want you (and I use “you” very generally here, hoping I might reach a wider than usual audience) to really get.
I am telling you the factual evidence compiled by decades of experts in this field shows a perception of crime as rampant and getting worse that IS NOT TRUE. And most of you have bought so deeply into the manipulation that you do not really believe me when I tell you this.
How does this make you different from climate deniers? Or flat earth believers? Somebody presented those folks with an alternate view of truth and they’ve bought it so thoroughly you can’t persuade them it’s actually false.
This is how manipulation works. It presents you with a version of events or a way of phrasing or skewed “statistics” that suits people in power and gets you to believe what they want you to. And then you can’t be dissuaded.
In the 1940’s, when people left everything unlocked and wandered around feeling safe, the only difference in likelihood of being a victim was perception. Not the numbers. Perception. So when you worry about crime and contemplate security systems, etc. remember nothing has changed since the days of unlocked doors except your perception.
A few articles:
- one of the publications that came out of the project I worked on
- Pew Research
- ABC news special video
- even using “crime rate” (the gross numbers as opposed to probabilities) the rates are down
In a broader sense, this all goes to a point I’ve been making for a while about the price of lapping up negative news and largely ignoring (instead of demanding!) positive news. The corporate elite–who quietly (and I’d argue without a conspiracy but acting out of self interest) hold the strings of power and use them to manipulate–put a lot of effort into keeping the populace afraid and pointing fingers at one another and at “circumstances” like rising crime.
Lately I’ve been noticing in my digital Washington Post subscription, although they continue to dislike the President while also celebrating him daily via multiple posts, they’ve been tearing down the Democratic candidates and Democrats in general on a daily basis lately. At first I was surprised but then recalled I’ve read several times that the big mainstream media folks have recouped their financial standing by covering this administration incessantly. Which will presumably change if he isn’t elected in 2020. Bear this mind.
The point of creating fear is to keep us from noticing (1) together we actually have the power since the 2% need us to buy their crap and (2) they’re really the ones raping, pillaging, plundering, and destroying the earth and its people. But if we’re all hopping around about crime and racism and immigrants and refugees and dividing into camps pointing fingers at one another they just get to keep taking more power and leaving us with less of everything.
Which brings me to another item I keep coming back to, this lovely 10 minute Ted Talk by Julia Bacha on the importance of being aware of the positive and the price of focusing on the negative.
It’s time for us to wake up and look at the world with new eyes. To step back from the “truth” as we keep perceiving it through the lens of mainstream media. It’s time to seek and celebrate the multitudes of positive things in the world. And by noticing and celebrating we bring attention. Since energy flows where attention goes, that means energy moves to the good stuff. That’s how we start moving the power. Change the flow.
For those of us in this blogging crowd who have come to know each other here, we have been in the forefront of those who are digging deep into our own psyches and releasing the old false beliefs and delusions in our personal lives. Now it’s time for us to dig into the false beliefs and delusions of our society and world and step back to hold a deeper truth. I don’t usually ask this, but please forward this through social media for me. We need to get this out there.