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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [https://www.monbiot.com/2019/01/06/the-mind-hackers/// The Mind Hackers]</center> ===
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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [https://www.monbiot.com/2019/01/06/the-mind-hackers/// Owned]</center> ===
<center><span style="color:grey">Researchers at public universities are developing new ways of shutting down our capacity for independent thought</span></center>
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<center><span style="color:grey">As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.</span></center>
  
6th January 2019
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8th July 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.
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All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.
  
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.
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So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.
  
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.
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They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.
  
Every month, new books on the subject are published with titles like “[https://www.wiley.com/en-us/The+Persuasion+Code%3A+How+Neuromarketing+Can+Help+You+Persuade+Anyone%2C+Anywhere%2C+Anytime-p-9781119440765 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.
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It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called [https://landforthemany.uk Land for the Many.] It proposed [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/04/tackle-inequality-land-ownership-laws a set of policies] that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.
  
Earlier this year, the child psychologist [https://medium.com/@richardnfreed/the-tech-industrys-psychological-war-on-kids-c452870464ce 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 [https://www.kqed.org/futureofyou/379828/tech-insiders-call-out-facebook-for-literally-manipulating-your-brain 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.
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Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7171049/Report-lays-Corbyns-proposal-grab-inheritances-tax-profits-family-house-sales.html A week ago], the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2019/06/23/labours-wealth-grab-would-iniquitous-country/ the Telegraph explained], that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.
  
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 [https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/01/facebook-advertising-data-insecure-teens 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”.)
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But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.
  
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?
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There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7105601/James-Brokenshire-blasts-Labours-planned-tax-raid.html “an extra £374 a year] on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.
  
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 [https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02650487.2014.995284 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.
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The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.
  
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.
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We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.
  
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 [http://www.journalofadvertisingresearch.com/content/early/2016/02/10/JAR-2016-003 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.
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It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.
  
[https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2324357 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 [https://www.statista.com/statistics/264124/production-output-of-the-upstream-division-at-exxon-mobil-since-2001/ 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”.
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The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.
 
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[https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13527266.2016.1234504?journalCode=rjmc20 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.
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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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[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]

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Featured article(s)

Boris Johnson

George Monbiot: Owned

As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.

8th July 2019

All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.

So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.

They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.

It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called Land for the Many. It proposed a set of policies that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.

Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. A week ago, the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, the Telegraph explained, that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.

But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.

There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add “an extra £374 a year on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.

The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.

We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.

It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.

The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.

©www.monbiot.com

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