“As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles.” Bertrand Russell
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why are people so gullible? Why do they believe something just because they see it on the “news” or in print?” One could take this further and ask why many people trust politicians and media pundits at face value rather than employ analysis and skepticism? Sadly, while many people in power and/or influence are inclined to twist the truth (or lie) to gain an objective a large percentage of the public are just as inclined to put trust in them when they do it. So why do so many continue to trust?
In regards to politicians and media I have noted in prior articles that two of the most popular occupations for attracting people with psychopathic traits are media and politics. Such people are practically born with the ability to manipulate. They often are blessed with high charisma, engaging personalities and no sense of guilt. They can look at you directly and lie, or employ half-truths and innuendo, in a most engaging manner. I illustrate this in my science fiction thriller “The Destiny of Our Past” (link: https://www.amazon.com/Destiny-Our-Past-Michael-Cross-ebook/dp/B01MY4WASN ) in which the ruling elite use media, sporting events and education to manipulate the masses with the end-desire to destroy them. Of course not all politicians and media personalities are high in these traits, but too many are.
So again, why do so many people place trust in media and politicians? If you ask the hypothetical “man on the street” they will generally say they don’t. Yet that same man will go home and turn on the TV set for hours each day. It seems contradictory…unless you understand human psychology. You see, we are not only conditioned by society and media itself to believe what we see and hear, we may be biologically programmed to do so. Humans are tribal by nature; our ancestors survived, not by running off to the jungle or prairie and living on their own, but rather belonging to complex social groups. This gave both security from outside threats but also access to sexual partners to pass on their genes. Of course such structures are hierarchical by nature and only a few people wound up at the apex of the pyramid of command. It furthered one’s ability to survive and reproduce to conform to what you were told by the leaders since challenging him/them might mean social exclusion (less chancing of mating), exile (even less chance of mating) or death (no chance of mating). Thus, compliance became a positive trait for survival and more compliant people passed on their genes (and inclinations) to future generations.
So what of today you ask? Well, combine this genetic inclination to follow the crowd with modern technology and you those at the apex of the pyramid convey their messages 24/7 on your screen (TV, computer, phone, etc.). They are with you more than Big Brother was in “1984.” Yet unlike a totalitarian state a free society relies on persuasion to get people to do things – and we generally obey who we trust.
In regards to TV news it conveys authority no matter what people may wish to believe. People want to trust the pretty young woman or distinguished gentleman who gives the news. They must be trustworthy or they would not have such a position of power, right? And the institution that gave them this power must be even more powerful – just look at the size of such a multinational corporate entity…who are you and I to challenge it, right?
And then there are the politicians that get chosen to convey their views – again, people at the apex of the pyramid gaining even more legitimacy by being held up as experts by the media elite. Who dares challenge them? Everything from their titles to their attire say “I am authority, believe!”
And of course there is no reason for the experts in their studios, or guests from government or other powerful institutions, to actually lie. They can lead people on with innuendo or speculation and thanks to “gestalt theory” the listener will fill in the blanks, and come to the desired conclusion the politician wants. A perfect example is when certain politicians led people to believe Iraq was responsible for 9-11 or that they had weapons of mass destruction. They never actually said “Iraq took down the towers” but by speaking about 9-11 and then mentioning Saddam, they had to know people would see the two as related.
And yet this presents an irony. People at the cognitive level know they are being manipulated but at the sub-conscious level they want to trust those in power. This can create what is known as cognitive dissonance in which one can believe two contradictory things at once. This can therefore lead to people feeling anxious and even hostile if the authority figures of society are challenged. For example, you have a parent who says the media lies, but watches the news on TV and changes the conversation when you ask why she or he spends so much time doing it when they say they do not believe what is being broadcast.
Then again have you ever tried to share information with someone and they dismiss you outright because they have not read it in a large newspaper or seen it on the news? Even if you bring up the psychology employed to alter society they do not want to believe they can be influenced by subtle manipulation. So many will immediately dismiss your information even if you have documentation straight from those who admit to employing subtle programs to alter values and behavior. Such is the nature of conformity to, and basic belief in, the foundations of the society a person lives in. This of course is true in all societies today.
So what can we do? Maybe ask people why the TV news picks the stories they do, or the limited viewpoints they present. Maybe ask them who benefits from what is being said and what might be the agenda behind it then. What we should strive for is analytical skills, no, not cynicism but rather analysis where one probes a bit deeper than what is being presented on face value.
It is interesting that if you say people should “question authority” they will rarely recognize the term originates from Benjamin Franklin, the guy on the hundred dollar bill. He wanted people to challenge the assumptions of his time, and thus helped create the United States of America. Fast forward to this day and no, it is not easy, as Nietzsche noted, to go against the tribe but in an era of mass communications which utilize advanced psychology to create consensus and conformity it is essential to encourage far more independent thinking.