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Government & Politics

how to influence the ones at power

How to influence those in power?

By | All, Citizen Behaviour, Government & Politics

How do you influence those in power? Have you seen the talk that Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr did at the official TED2019 conference last week? Her performance became a viral sensation because she did what nobody dared to do before. In a conference, sponsored by Google and Facebook and with their high-priests Mark Zuckerberg, Sherryl Sandberg, Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Twitter-CEO-turned-mindfulness-hipster Jack Dorsey in the room, she named and shamed them in front of their peers and the whole world. For how their platforms are undermining democracy, and for how they keep refusing to look that dirty truth in the eyes.

Carole Cadwalladr speaking at TED2019

Carole Cadwalladr speaking at TED2019 – click for video

Influence 1: Public shaming works

Of all the efforts to get these leaders to take action for the havoc their platforms are causing to society, this might be the most powerful one. It reminded me of my favourite quote by the American philosopher Richard Rorty:

“We resent the idea that we shall have to wait for the strong to turn their piggy little eyes to the suffering of the weak, slowly open their dried-up little hearts. We desperately hope there is something stronger and more powerful that will hurt the strong if they do not do these things.”

Rorty argued that the only way to change the behaviour of the ruling elites is to persuade them that it’s in their interest to do the right thing. The robber barons agreed to more human labour laws, only when it became clear that the alternative was a revolution.

Influence 2: We’re suckers for social status

We, humans, are total suckers for social recognition. We’re continually signalling our desired social status to others through our cars, the house we live in, our job titles, our relentless attempts to build and maintain our personal brand on social media, etcetera.

Being wealthy and successful is the highest form of social status you can achieve in Western Society.  The problem is not “success” as such, but the cultural narratives that surround success. One of those dominant narratives is that both success or failure is your achievement. (It’s not, it’s your social background that determines the number of opportunities you will get).

Another one is that the State is bureaucratic and corrupt and you should outsmart the State by paying as little taxes as possible. Being successful is all about out-smarting the State. However, everything that contributes to opportunities and success (the availability of talent, infrastructure, business partners) is being paid for by taxes.

Influence 3: Villify and glorify

Lot’s of people thought it was an absolute disgrace how fast the super-rich in France pledged more than 1 billion (!) Euro for the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral. If it’s that easy for them to give away, then why not give all that money to societal and environmental problems, that are in part being caused by their greed? Their behaviour is obscene, and we should remind them of their obscenity.

If you want them to do the right thing, turn them into heroes for doing the right thing. Let’s not do this by applauding them for their philanthropy schemes, but for contributing to the general well-being by paying their taxes. The real heroes of society are all the entrepreneurs who create jobs, contribute to building thriving communities, try to come up with new business ideas to tackle the environmental challenges, etc.

I hope Zuckerberg, Sandberg, Brin and Page opened their piggy little eyes last week at TED19. I hope they are gradually starting to realise that society doesn’t think of them as heroes anymore,  but as the crooks who crippled democracy, just because it made their billionaire shareholders even richer.

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How Brett Kavanaugh and his Republican Senators only made it worse

How The Senate Hearing of Brett Kavanaugh turned into a framing nightmare for Republicans

By | All, Government & Politics

Framing Blunder 1: Attack a likable opponent

In theory, a Senate hearing is supposed to be nothing more than a carefully crafted show to shape public perception. The stakes for the hearing last night were enormous. Republicans have a small window of opportunity to install an extreme conservative Supreme Court Judge who can block every progressive legislation for the next 40 years. There’s only little problem: The guy is being accused by several women to be an alcohol abusing sexual predator.

How Brett Kavanaugh and his Republican Senators only made it worse

So what do you do? How do you solve this problem? The classic Republican approach is following one of Roger Stone’s Rules: Attack, Attack, Attack, Never Defend. They knew they had to discredit the female accuser. But they had two big problems:

  1. Mrs Ford is a Professor in Psychology. A woman who can’t be out-bluffed. She’s tough as a nail.
  2. The similar case of Anita Hill, who accused a Supreme Court Judge in 1991, had taught them that a group of old male Senators, attacking the credibility of a victim of sexual abuse, resulted in both a PR and an electoral nightmare

Framing blunder 2: Misjudge the setting

They had figured it all out: They would avoid making this mistake again by letting a female prosecutor doing the questioning of Mrs Ford. And they would do the questioning of Brett Kavanaugh. The spectacle that followed was a disaster. A hand grenade exploding in their face. As fans of political framing it reminded us of watching a Bruce Willis movie with your friends, eating popcorn and yelling at the scream. This is what happend:

  1. First of all the prosecutor turned out to be an ice cold woman. The contrast with the decent and likable Mrs Ford couldn’t be sharper.
  2. As a result the Senators in the back looked like a bunch of cowards for not daring to do the dirty work themselves.
  3. The contrast with Brett Kavanaugh was enormous. He acted agitated, bothered, offended, throwing all kinds of accusations at everyone, interrupting senators, etc. Let’s say that he did a great job in confirming the image of a high school bully called Brett. Not the kind of temper you want for a Supreme Court judge.
  4. Mrs Ford did a brilliant job in speaking in System 1 terms. She captured the imagination, which is way much powerful than talking to the rational mind. When she was asked about the strongest memory of the abuse she painted an incredibly powerful image: ““Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter, and their having fun at my expense. I was underneath one of them while the two laughed. Two friends having a really good time with one another.”

Framing blunder 3: Don’t Think of an Elephant

The most disastrous part had yet to come. Republican Senators tried to help Kavanaugh by posing all kinds of questions about his drinking behaviour. That would allow him to deny the accusations. But one of the first rules of political framing, named after the essential book by George Lakoff: Don’t Think of an Elephant. If you repeat the frame, even if you try to deny it, you make the frame stronger. The classic example of this is when President Nixon said: I am not a crook. That’s the moment when his days were over. He got stuck with the word “Crook”.

Now picture this: A group of old Republican Senators, who kept asking questions to Kavanaugh about sex and alcohol. The more they asked the worse he sounded. They asked him if he ever passed out. If he ever woke up not knowing where he was? How much of a drinking problem does he really have? It was a gift that kept on giving. The only conclusion you could think of when watching this spectacle: This guy is guilty.

More Behavioural Design Thinking on Framing:

The consumer behind the rise of Trump (English)
Power Talk: How framing reality determines our perception (English)
Campagnes zijn smerige Framing oorlogen (Dutch)
Hoe progressieven moeten leren Framen (Dutch)

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How to win wars by influencing people’s behaviour

By | All, Government & Politics

When terrorism is staged for YouTube, and all sides are media-savvy, the military is turning to the behavioural sciences for help. In 1955 Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the project that developed the first atomic bomb, addressed the American Psychological Association. He warned that both physics and psychology could endanger humanity but that psychology “opens up the most terrifying prospects of controlling what people do and how they think.” Despite Oppenheimer’s warning, the idea that you could change human behaviour to win a war, rather than winning a war to change human behaviour, languished as an also-ran in the cold war arms race. But as information technology has begun to globalize and behavioural science has entered the mainstream, there is an increasing move to put psychology at the center of military operations.

Read the whole article

Author: Vaughan Bell
Published in: The Guardian
Publishing date: 16 March 2014

Cover image by DVIDSHUB under Creative Commons License.

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