Friday, 27 September 2013

The Even Bigger Illusion

I published two blogs yesterday, and had finished a third, when I decided to delete all of them. It was too negative. What was playing on my mind were people who create obstacles in their own lives, sabotage themselves, by their choices. It is something that frustrates me, but when I read it all back it was just the wrong way to approach the topic. Nobody who read it would be helped by it, because they're already so deeply in denial.

Then, in a discussion elsewhere, that other, related topic cropped up again, on whether people really know their own minds.

It was a heated discussion, and several participants got quite upset by the suggestion that they might have been persuaded against their own real instincts and preferences by outside forces. But the fact remains, some people have been persuaded into "enjoying" things they might not have chosen.

This is a really difficult area. We are not talking about seduction here (sexual or otherwise). Nor are we talking about overt pressure. We are talking about the most subtle form of manipulation possible.

It fascinates me on many levels, partly of course because I sell unnecessary things for a living. I never do any kind of active "selling", I sell things perfectly well simply by making them visible. I completely and utterly oppose the concept of the hard sell, and it is a matter of curiosity and humour that I am both a seller and not a seller, in the two senses of the word. But it's because I understand manipulation.

I will tell you right here and now, openly and honestly, and with the "victim" reading, that when I want my husband to do something for me that he might not offer to do or be particularly keen on doing, I work it so that he thinks it was his own idea. He knows I do this but he has taken the bait countless times, and he will continue to do so. Why? Because he loves me, and I'm not trying to get him to do anything harmful.

People joke about women's wiles, and this is one of them.

It exists, I am good at it, let's not pretend it doesn't happen in a million other ways. It works for the advertising industry, it works for politicians, it works for causes and revolutions, it works.

Some people are more malleable than others. Some think they are not, but they so clearly are, that it's funny. None of us are immune from being manipulated by others, and some of us will be total suckers in one area, and stubborn as a rock in others. The more aware you are of it, the less chance you'll fall for it, but some of it is so subtle that no amount of awareness will help you.

How do we know that people really do get persusaded to do something against their better judgement?

Because sometimes, some of them "wake up" and realize. They look back and question it. They reget it.

This is not simply a "change of mind", it's a very unpleasant experience, a feeling of having been tricked, trapped, and....harmed.

Let's briefly use religion as an example. Many children grow up with a set of beliefs imposed upon them by family or community. In some cases of course, it is a very heavy-handed and deliberate brainwashing. But in most cases it is simply taught by example, because the people around them believe it, and may indeed be enriched by it.

At some point however, they have a flash of insight that what they grew up believing was a myth, and that they have no use for it. Their attitude will vary depending on how it affected them, there may have been no harm done. But they may be quite angry about it.

Ex-believers have a wide variety of stories to tell, and only some of them will feel they were damaged by the experience, but no matter how they feel about it, they are quite certain that the "before" was an illusion and the "now" is what they really believe.

And some of them are wrong! Some will return to the their old beliefs later in life. Some will go through several sets of other beliefs. What are their TRUE beliefs?

There are plenty of philosophers who insist that none of us really ever fully know our own minds, that we are regularly, and easily deluded. And there are plenty who object to that. This will never be a cut & dried area of discussion, as a result, and we can go on forever, and plenty will.

All we can do right here and now is try to be aware, to question everything, even our own decisions. It helps sometimes to be reminded of this (I am at your service) and it also helps to be accused, contradicted, and questioned by others. So if somebody is hard on you about your choices, the thing to do is examine them, rather than flip out.

I consider myself a pretty aware person - I don't claim that I'm never caught by outside influences, but I have a natural tendency to be skeptical, suspicious even, and it has served me very well. How about you?

And to end the week, for a bit of fun, take the quiz :)

Your result for The "How Credulous Are You?" Test...

The Skeptic

You earned 0 Credulity points, out of a possible 50.

You have a highly critical, rational mode of thinking. Carl Sagan would be proud!
Take The "How Credulous Are You?" Test at HelloQuizzy

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