Friday, December 14, 2007

Quote of the Day: Wash That Mitt Right out of Your Hair

(((neuroscience; marketing; politics; mind-reading; electorate of one; appealing to emotion at its most basic, anti-democratic level; the truth about modern political campaigns: they're marketing campaigns, duh)))

"I'm looking at a package of shampoo the same way I'm looking at my next leader."

Turns out some former MIT students have developed some cool stuff that lets them essentially read your mind while you're playing a video game, watching tv ads, or, say, listening to politicians. So the same tricks they use to make a bottle of shampoo appeal to you at a pre-rational, sub-conscious level, they will be using to "help" you "decide" who to vote for.

"Political marketing is a fairly pure analog to commercial marketing," says David Remer, chairman of Lucid Systems. "I'm looking at a package of shampoo the same way I'm looking at my next leader."

Well, I guess that's one way of conceptualizing democratic political processes. Habermas is rolling in his grave, of course, but he's old-fashioned, anyway, and believes a public sphere is something more than the neocapitalist market applied to voting for candidates.

This isn't any better:

Mr. Westen, a clinical psychologist who specializes in personality disorders, is author of a 2007 book "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation." In his studies, which have involved placing partisan voters in brain scanners, he found that when voters look at pictures of candidates or listen to their statements, the regions of the brain associated with emotion are more engaged than the regions governing thought. Instead of detailing a ten-point health-care plan, he says, politicians would be better off talking about health care in moral terms.

Right, because morality should have nothing to do with thought, and neither should voting or the processes of public engagement that lead up to it. It's about truthiness, not truth. Your gut—which is actually located in your brain—already knows the answers; you're just waiting for a politician to say what you already believe.


Simon said...

This is why I've always maintained that for relatively primitive populations such as the US, the attack on Rightism needs to be an appeal to emotion, using the values that America was always supposed to embody: fairness, tolerance, justice, strength, solidarity and so on. Kennedy didn't succeed because he was right, he succeeded because he engaged emotions. The Dems need to field a charismatic candidate who will put the fight to the Repugs in the language of feelings and ideals. Of the pathetic shower of front runners they're offering this time round, Obama is the least worst situated to be that guy.

Jeffrey said...

Yes, I think this is basically true, although I would also say that it's important to acknowledge that by and large, at the end of the day, we don't much change our minds about anything for purely rational reasons, and here I'm with Rorty. We need to provide something morally compelling, and by morally, I mean, it has to appeal to our better less-rational parts, it has to be a reasonably complete and compelling alternative framework. So, not just emotion or exploitation of sub-conscious fears and desires, but also not cold, hard syllogism.