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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [https://www.monbiot.com/2018/10/19/rebelling-against-extinction// Rebelling Against Extinction]</center> ===
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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [https://www.monbiot.com/2019/01/06/the-mind-hackers/// The Mind Hackers]</center> ===
<center><span style="color:grey">When governments abandon us, we must step up</span></center>
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<center><span style="color:grey">Researchers at public universities are developing new ways of shutting down our capacity for independent thought</span></center>
  
19th October 2018
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6th January 2019
 
   
 
   
It is hard to believe today, but the prevailing ethos among the educated elite was once public service. As the historian Tony Judt documented in Ill Fares the Land, the foremost ambition among graduates in the 1950s and 1960s was, through government or the liberal professions, to serve their country. Their approach might have been patrician and often blinkered, but their intentions were mostly public and civic, not private and pecuniary.
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To what extent do we decide? We tell ourselves we choose our own life course, but is this ever true? If you or I had lived 500 years ago, our worldview, and the decisions we made as a result, would have been utterly different. Our minds are shaped by our social environment, in particular the belief systems projected by those in power: monarchs, aristocrats and theologians then; corporations, billionaires and the media today.
  
Today, the notion of public service seems as quaint as a local post office. We expect those who govern us to grab what they can, permitting predatory banks and corporations to fleece the public realm, then collecting their reward in the form of lucrative directorships. As the Edelman Corporation’s Trust Barometer survey reveals, trust worldwide has collapsed in all major institutions, and government is less trusted than any other.
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Humans, the supremely social mammals, are ethical and intellectual sponges. We unconsciously absorb, for good or ill, the influences that surround us. Indeed, the very notion that we might form our own minds is a received idea that would have been quite alien to most people five centuries ago. This is not to suggest we have no capacity for independent thought. But to exercise it, we must – consciously and with great effort – swim against the social current that sweeps us along, mostly without our knowledge.
  
As for the economic elite, as the consequences of their own greed and self-interest emerge, they seek, like the Roman oligarchs fleeing the collapse of the Western Empire, only to secure their survival against the indignant mob. An essay by the visionary author Douglas Rushkoff this summer, documenting his discussion with some of the world’s richest people, reveals that their most pressing concern is to find a safe refuge from climate breakdown, economic and societal collapse. Should they move to New Zealand or Alaska? How will they pay their security guards once money is worthless? Could they upload their minds onto supercomputers? Survival Condo, the company turning former missile silos in Kansas into fortified bunkers, has so far sold every completed unit.
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Surely, though, even if we are broadly shaped by the social environment, we control the small decisions we make? Sometimes. Perhaps. But here too we are subject to constant influence, some of which we see, much of which we don’t. A major industry seeks to decide on our behalf. Its techniques become more sophisticated every year, drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology. It is called advertising.
  
Trust, the Edelman Corporation observes, “is now the deciding factor in whether a society can function.” Unfortunately, our mistrust is fully justified. Those who have destroyed belief in governments exploit its collapse, railing against a liberal elite (by which they mean people still engaged in public service) while working for the real and illiberal elite. As the political economist Will Davies points out, “sovereignty” is used as a code for rejecting the very notion of governing as “a complex, modern, fact-based set of activities that requires technical expertise and permanent officials.
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Every month, new books on the subject are published with titles like “The Persuasion Code: how neuromarketing can help you persuade anyone, anywhere, anytime”. While many are doubtless overhyped, they describe a discipline that is rapidly closing in on our minds, making independent thought ever harder. More sophisticated advertising meshes with digital technologies designed to eliminate agency.
  
Nowhere is the gulf between public and private interests more obvious than in governments’ response to the climate crisis. On Monday, the UK’s energy secretary, Claire Perry, announced that she has asked her advisers to produce a roadmap to a zero carbon economy. On the same day, fracking commenced at Preston New Road in Lancashire, enabled by the permission Perry sneaked through parliament on the last day before the summer recess.
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Earlier this year, the child psychologist Richard Freed explained how new psychological research has been used to develop social media, computer games and phones with genuinely addictive qualities. He quoted a technologist who boasts, with apparent justification, “We have the ability to twiddle some knobs in a machine learning dashboard we build, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are going to quietly change their behaviour in ways that, unbeknownst to them, feel second-nature but are really by design.
  
She has justified fracking on the grounds that it helps the country affect a “transition to a lower-carbon economy”. But fracked gas has net emissions similar to or worse than those released by burning coal. As we are already emerging from the coal era in the UK without its help, this is in reality a transition away from renewables and back into fossil fuels. The government has promoted the transition by effectively banning onshore wind farms, while overriding local decisions to impose fracking by central dictat. Now, to prevent people from taking back control, it intends to grant blanket planning permission for frackers to operate.
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The purpose of this brain hacking is to create more effective platforms for advertising. But the effort is wasted if we retain our ability to resist it. This is why Facebook, according to a leaked report it sent to an advertiser, developed tools to determine when teenagers using its network feel insecure, worthless or stressed. These appear to be the optimum moments for hitting them with a micro-targeted promotion. (Facebook denies that it offered “tools to target people based on their emotional state”.)
  
None of it makes sense, until you remember the intimate relationship between the fossil fuel industry, the City (where Perry made her fortune) and the Conservative party, oiled by the political donations flowing from both sectors into the party’s coffers. These people are not serving the nation. They are serving each other.
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We can expect commercial enterprises to attempt whatever ruses they can pull off. It is up to society, represented by government, to stop them, through the kind of regulation that has so far been lacking. But what puzzles and disgusts me even more than this failure is the willingness of universities to host research that helps advertisers hack our minds. The Enlightenment ideal, which all universities claim to endorse, is that everyone should think for themselves. So why do they run departments in which researchers explore new means of blocking this capacity?
  
In Germany, the government that claimed to be undergoing a great green energy transition instead pours public money into the coal industry, and deploys an army of police to evict protesters from an ancient forest to clear it for a lignite mine. On behalf of both polluting power companies and the car industry, it has sabotaged the EU’s attempt to improve its carbon emissions target. Before she was re-elected, I argued that Angela Merkel was the world’s leading eco-vandal. She might also be the world’s most effective spin doctor: she can mislead, cheat and destroy, and people still call her Mutti. Since then, she has done all she can to retain her position as the leading planetary delinquent. That she has now slipped to third place shows only that the collapse of the public service ethos has become a global phenomenon.
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I ask because, while considering the frenzy of consumerism that rises beyond its usual planet-trashing levels at this time of year, I stumbled across a paper that astonished me. It was written by academics at public universities in the Netherlands and the US. Their purpose seemed to me starkly at odds with the public interest. They sought to identify “the different ways in which consumers resist advertising, and the tactics that can be used to counter or avoid such resistance.
  
Other governments shamelessly flaunt their service to private interests, as they evade censure by owning their corruption. A report on fuel efficiency published by the US government in July concedes, unusually, that global temperatures are likely to rise by 4°C this century. It then uses this forecast to argue that there is no point in producing cleaner cars, because the disaster will happen anyway. Elsewhere, all talk of climate breakdown within government is censored. Any agency seeking to avert it is captured and redirected.
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Among the “neutralising” techniques it highlighted were “disguising the persuasive intent or the sender of the message”; distracting our attention by using confusing phrases that make it harder to focus on the advertiser’s intentions; and “using cognitive depletion as a tactic for reducing consumers’ ability to contest messages”. This means hitting us with enough advertisements to exhaust our mental resources, breaking down our capacity to think.
  
In Australia, the new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has turned coal burning into a sacred doctrine. I would not be surprised if the only lump of coal he has ever handled is the one he flourished in the Australian parliament. But he dirties his hands every day on behalf of the industry. These men with black hearts and clean fingernails wear their loyalties with pride.
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Intrigued, I started looking for other academic papers on the same theme, and found an entire literature. There were articles on every imaginable aspect of resistance, and helpful tips on overcoming it. For example, I came across a paper that counsels advertisers on how to rebuild public trust when the celebrity they work with gets themself into trouble. Rather than dumping this lucrative asset, the researchers advised that the best means to enhance “the authentic persuasive appeal of a celebrity endorser” whose standing has slipped is to get them to display “a Duchenne smile”, otherwise known as “a genuine smile”. It precisely anatomised such smiles, showed how to spot them, and discussed the “construction” of sincerity and “genuineness”: a magnificent exercise in inauthentic authenticity.
  
If Jair Bolsonaro takes office in Brazil, their gleeful annihilation on behalf of private interests will seem mild by comparison. He claims that climate breakdown is a fable invented by a “globalist conspiracy”, and seeks to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, abolish the environment ministry, put the congressional beef caucus (representing the murderous and destructive ranching industry) in charge of agriculture, open the Amazon Basin for clearance and dismantle almost all environmental and indigenous protections.
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Another paper considered how to persuade sceptical people to accept a company’s corporate social responsibility claims, especially when these claims conflict with the company’s overall objectives. (An obvious example is Exxon Mobil’s current attempts to convince people that it is environmentally responsible, because it is researching algal fuels that could one day reduce CO2 – even as it continues to pump 10 million barrels of fossil oil a day). I hoped the paper would recommend that the best means of persuading people is for a company to change its practices. Instead, the authors’ research showed how images and statements could be cleverly combined to “minimize stakeholder scepticism”.
  
With the exception of Costa Rica’s, no government has the policies required to prevent more than 2°C of global warming, let alone 1.5°. Most, like the UK, Germany, the US and Australia, push us towards the brink on behalf of their friends. So what do we do, when our own representatives have abandoned public service for private service?
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A further paper discussed advertisements that work by stimulating FOMO – fear of missing out. It noted that such ads work through “controlled motivation”, which is “anathema to wellbeing”. FOMO ads, the paper explained, tend to cause significant discomfort to those who notice them. It then went on to show how an improved understanding of people’s responses “provides the opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of FOMO as a purchase trigger.” One tactic it proposed is to keep stimulating the fear of missing out, during and after the decision to buy. This, it suggested, will make people more susceptible to further ads on the same lines.
  
On October 31, I will speak at the launch of Extinction Rebellion in Parliament Square. This is a movement devoted to disruptive, non-violent disobedience in protest against ecological collapse. The three heroes jailed for trying to stop fracking, whose outrageous sentences have just been overturned, are likely to be the first of hundreds. The intention is to turn this national rising into an international one in March.
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Yes, I know: I work in an industry that receives most of its income from advertising, so I am complicit in this too. But so are we all. Advertising, and its destructive impacts on the living planet, our peace of mind and our free will, sits at the heart of our growth-based economy. This gives us all the more reason to challenge it. Among the places in which the challenge should begin are universities, and the academic societies that are supposed to set and uphold ethical standards. If they cannot swim against the currents of constructed desire and constructed thought, who can?
 
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This preparedness for sacrifice, a long history of political and religious revolt suggests, is essential to motivate and mobilise people to join an existential struggle. It is among such people that you find the public and civic sense now lacking in government. That we have to take such drastic action to defend the common realm shows how badly we have been abandoned.
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[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]

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George Monbiot: The Mind Hackers

Researchers at public universities are developing new ways of shutting down our capacity for independent thought

6th January 2019

To what extent do we decide? We tell ourselves we choose our own life course, but is this ever true? If you or I had lived 500 years ago, our worldview, and the decisions we made as a result, would have been utterly different. Our minds are shaped by our social environment, in particular the belief systems projected by those in power: monarchs, aristocrats and theologians then; corporations, billionaires and the media today.

Humans, the supremely social mammals, are ethical and intellectual sponges. We unconsciously absorb, for good or ill, the influences that surround us. Indeed, the very notion that we might form our own minds is a received idea that would have been quite alien to most people five centuries ago. This is not to suggest we have no capacity for independent thought. But to exercise it, we must – consciously and with great effort – swim against the social current that sweeps us along, mostly without our knowledge.

Surely, though, even if we are broadly shaped by the social environment, we control the small decisions we make? Sometimes. Perhaps. But here too we are subject to constant influence, some of which we see, much of which we don’t. A major industry seeks to decide on our behalf. Its techniques become more sophisticated every year, drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology. It is called advertising.

Every month, new books on the subject are published with titles like “The Persuasion Code: how neuromarketing can help you persuade anyone, anywhere, anytime”. While many are doubtless overhyped, they describe a discipline that is rapidly closing in on our minds, making independent thought ever harder. More sophisticated advertising meshes with digital technologies designed to eliminate agency.

Earlier this year, the child psychologist Richard Freed explained how new psychological research has been used to develop social media, computer games and phones with genuinely addictive qualities. He quoted a technologist who boasts, with apparent justification, “We have the ability to twiddle some knobs in a machine learning dashboard we build, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are going to quietly change their behaviour in ways that, unbeknownst to them, feel second-nature but are really by design.”

The purpose of this brain hacking is to create more effective platforms for advertising. But the effort is wasted if we retain our ability to resist it. This is why Facebook, according to a leaked report it sent to an advertiser, developed tools to determine when teenagers using its network feel insecure, worthless or stressed. These appear to be the optimum moments for hitting them with a micro-targeted promotion. (Facebook denies that it offered “tools to target people based on their emotional state”.)

We can expect commercial enterprises to attempt whatever ruses they can pull off. It is up to society, represented by government, to stop them, through the kind of regulation that has so far been lacking. But what puzzles and disgusts me even more than this failure is the willingness of universities to host research that helps advertisers hack our minds. The Enlightenment ideal, which all universities claim to endorse, is that everyone should think for themselves. So why do they run departments in which researchers explore new means of blocking this capacity?

I ask because, while considering the frenzy of consumerism that rises beyond its usual planet-trashing levels at this time of year, I stumbled across a paper that astonished me. It was written by academics at public universities in the Netherlands and the US. Their purpose seemed to me starkly at odds with the public interest. They sought to identify “the different ways in which consumers resist advertising, and the tactics that can be used to counter or avoid such resistance.”

Among the “neutralising” techniques it highlighted were “disguising the persuasive intent or the sender of the message”; distracting our attention by using confusing phrases that make it harder to focus on the advertiser’s intentions; and “using cognitive depletion as a tactic for reducing consumers’ ability to contest messages”. This means hitting us with enough advertisements to exhaust our mental resources, breaking down our capacity to think.

Intrigued, I started looking for other academic papers on the same theme, and found an entire literature. There were articles on every imaginable aspect of resistance, and helpful tips on overcoming it. For example, I came across a paper that counsels advertisers on how to rebuild public trust when the celebrity they work with gets themself into trouble. Rather than dumping this lucrative asset, the researchers advised that the best means to enhance “the authentic persuasive appeal of a celebrity endorser” whose standing has slipped is to get them to display “a Duchenne smile”, otherwise known as “a genuine smile”. It precisely anatomised such smiles, showed how to spot them, and discussed the “construction” of sincerity and “genuineness”: a magnificent exercise in inauthentic authenticity.

Another paper considered how to persuade sceptical people to accept a company’s corporate social responsibility claims, especially when these claims conflict with the company’s overall objectives. (An obvious example is Exxon Mobil’s current attempts to convince people that it is environmentally responsible, because it is researching algal fuels that could one day reduce CO2 – even as it continues to pump 10 million barrels of fossil oil a day). I hoped the paper would recommend that the best means of persuading people is for a company to change its practices. Instead, the authors’ research showed how images and statements could be cleverly combined to “minimize stakeholder scepticism”.

A further paper discussed advertisements that work by stimulating FOMO – fear of missing out. It noted that such ads work through “controlled motivation”, which is “anathema to wellbeing”. FOMO ads, the paper explained, tend to cause significant discomfort to those who notice them. It then went on to show how an improved understanding of people’s responses “provides the opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of FOMO as a purchase trigger.” One tactic it proposed is to keep stimulating the fear of missing out, during and after the decision to buy. This, it suggested, will make people more susceptible to further ads on the same lines.

Yes, I know: I work in an industry that receives most of its income from advertising, so I am complicit in this too. But so are we all. Advertising, and its destructive impacts on the living planet, our peace of mind and our free will, sits at the heart of our growth-based economy. This gives us all the more reason to challenge it. Among the places in which the challenge should begin are universities, and the academic societies that are supposed to set and uphold ethical standards. If they cannot swim against the currents of constructed desire and constructed thought, who can?

©www.monbiot.com

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