Reclaiming Personal Power

Personal power


“Look, part of the whole technique of disempowering people is to make sure that the real agents of change fall out of history, and are never recognized in the culture for what they are. So it's necessary to distort history and make it look as if Great Men did everything — that's part of how you teach people they can't do anything, they're helpless, they just have to wait for some Great Man to come along and do it for them.”

Noam Chomsky said no qualifications are necessary to observe what's going on. In fact, anyone has the intellectual capacity to read history and observe culture critically. This is not about taking sides, but understanding what is going on. You can learn a lot by observing.

Personal power depends on the ability to hold and test ideas, not jumping to conclusions.


The Paradox of our Age

“I cannot wade through all this information!” “I'm too busy!” “I didn't have fun” statements demonstrate the paradox of our age. Frustration with the current system of communication is still a sign there's a pulse. But increasingly, indifference is the normal operating mode.

In my research and practice with crisis communication, I've found that the catalyst for change is never obvious nor famous. Timing matters. Yet, you see it only afterwards. Community and team cohesion matter. Disagreement can make you smarter. These are all related concepts.

I came across a list of strategies spuriously attributed to Noam Chomsky. The attribution in itself is an interesting phenomenon of manipulation. A voice that attempts to “appeal to authority” by substituting their name with that of a prominent person. That this should happen so frequently is a testimony to the Great Men system.

In turn, the “System” of authority has learned to know the human being very well—both physically and psychologically. Greater control over individual power comes from this knowledge. Neil Postman and many others wrote at length about the power of media and technology over human thought.

Things are never at the extremes. But the extremes are useful to keep things separated. The reality is that most people are in the middle.

The paradox is that you don't achieve unity,

you survive it. 

Is there an innate human nature independent of our external experiences and influences? In a 1971 debate, Chomsky and Michael Foucault disagree about the fundamental qualities of human nature. Here's the video of the full debate with English subtitles. Once again, I note how interesting where it's available and how.

Venkatesh Rao has a note about divergentism. That is the tendency by individuals “to hear each other less as they age, and that information ubiquity paradoxically accelerates this process, so that technologically advancing societies grow more divergentist over historical time scales.”

But are we actually divergent?


Ten strategies of manipulation through the mass media

Hold that question while you review the list below. The provenance might be uncertain, yet like The Paradox of our Age, it resonates.

Each of the strategies takes advantage of human nature.


1.  The strategy of distraction

The primordial element of social control is the strategy of distraction through the technique of the deluge or flooding of continuous distractions and insignificant information. This diverts the attention of the public from the important problems and changes decided by the political and economic elites.


2.  Create problems and then offer solutions

This method is also called “problem-reaction-solution.” Perhaps you've experienced this at work as well. A problem is created—a 'situation' expected to cause a certain reaction. The aim of the instigator is to pass measures to counter the problem. Acceptance without scrutiny is itself a problem. 


3.  The strategy of gradualness

To have an unacceptable measure accepted, just apply it gradually. Drip, drip, drip for consecutive years. In politics, this goes by the name Overton window. A mass communication scheme that could be manipulative, capable of implementing a skillful and very subtle form of occult persuasion.

You start from an idea that is unacceptable to public opinion. Then through precise processes and phases you make it palatable, acceptable, and even legalized.

Phase 0: current state, the problem is unacceptable
Phase 1: from the unthinkable to the radical
Phase 2: from radical to acceptable
Phase 3: from acceptable to sensible
Phase 4: from the sensible to the popular
Phase 5: from the popular to the political
Phase 6: legalization


4.  The strategy of deferring

Another way to get an unpopular decision accepted is to present it as 'painful and necessary,' gaining public acceptance, in the moment, for future application.

It's easier to accept a future sacrifice than an immediate one.


5. Address the public as children

Most of the advertising directed at the general public uses speech, arguments, characters and a particularly childish intonation, as if the viewer were a child of a few years or a mentally deficient.


6. Using the emotional aspect much more than reflection

Exploiting emotion is a classic technique to cause a short circuit on a rational analysis and, ultimately, the critical sense of the individual.


7. Keep the public in ignorance and mediocrity

Render the public unable to understand the technologies and methods used for control.

“The quality of education given to the lower social classes must be as poor and mediocre as possible, so that the distance of ignorance that they plan between the lower classes and the upper classes is and remains impossible to fill by the lower classes.”


8. Encourage the public to be complacent with mediocrity

Granted that the average person does not exist, how are we doing with this one? Perhaps all those quick fixes aren't as helpful, after all.


9. Strengthen self-guilt

To make the individual believe that he alone is the culprit of his misfortune, due to his insufficient intelligence, his abilities or his efforts. Thus, instead of rebelling against the economic system, the individual devalues ​​and blames himself, which in turn creates a depressive state, one of the effects of which is the inhibition of his action.

But this misses the essence of the fairness principle. People rarely fully understand the consequences of how their beliefs impact reality. Cause and effect in our world are non necessarily operating in the assumed order.


10. Know individuals better than they know themselves

Over the past 50 years, rapid advances in science have generated a growing gap between the knowledge of the public and that owned and used by the ruling elites. Yet, there are also plenty of independent sources that are credible and reliable.


How to reclaim personal power

Some things to become more well-rounded in your thinking, in no particular order.

  • Reading more diverse books and fewer sensational headlines. As Stephen King said in a recent tweet about the banning of books: run out to get them at the  public library or store. “Do not argue with them [the people banning the books]; do not protest; do not organize or attend rallies to have the books put back on their shelves. Don't waste your time or your energy.”
  • Asking more and better questions. And knowing that “to know” is a light concept in the process of learning continuously.
  • Being skeptic of too many “I” statements. Yes, even “I'm an empath,” “I have no ego,” “I'm honest,” “I'm trying to do the right thing” are suspicious. Why tell when you can simply show?
  • Digging on level down on the statements to find evidence (remember that scientific evidence can be disproved, and that is a feature, not a bug.)
  • Staying focused on the original issue through the discussion vs. switching to a separate one.
  • Learning how to construct an argument well. This includes how to use conversation as a tool to negotiate meaning.
  • Vetting an uncovering more than one side to a story.
  • Using your mistakes to learn something valuable about you.
  • Thinking together with others, rather that from the opposing side.
  • Working with someone who will call you out, in a good way.

This might seem hard. However, doing hard things has more intrinsic value. With practice, it will make you a better person. The better questions are among us, not with any one person or individual. And this makes reaching out the hardest thing of all.


[Image by Peter H from Pixabay]

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