21st-century propaganda: A guide to interpreting and confronting the dark arts of persuasion

By Gideon Lichfield – The belief, or rather hope, that humankind is ultimately rational has gripped Western politics at least since Descartes, and inspired such 19th-century optimists as Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe,” Jefferson famously wrote.

But in recent years we’ve learned much about the human mind that contradicts the view of people as rationally self-interested decision-makers. Psychologists have established that we form beliefs first and only then look for evidence to back them up.

Research has turned up apparent physiological and psychological differences between liberals and conservatives, and found evidence that these differences have ancient evolutionary origins. It has identified the “backfire effect,” a.k.a. confirmation bias, in which people hew to even more strongly to an existing belief when shown evidence that clearly contradicts it.

Other research has looked at the habits of highly effective propagandists such as China, Russia, and alt-right icon Milo Yiannopoulos.

The main takeaways: truth, rationality, consistency, and likability aren’t necessary for getting people to absorb your viewpoint. Things that do work: incessant repetition, distractions from the main issue, sidestepping counterarguments rather than refuting them, using “peripheral cues” to establish credibility or authority, and antagonizing people who dislike you in order to get the attention of people who might like you. more> https://goo.gl/ddOwca

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