We’ve all seen written material that gets our backs up, raises our hackles, makes us see red — or whatever we like to call it. We recognize the manipulation behind the words. Here is a short list of devices typically used in propaganda and in articles designed to swing opinion.
I get so mad at ‘junk mail’ and at sales emails, don’t you! — that’s if you bother to read them. Sometimes I do read them, just in order to ‘argue’ with the writer or advertiser; just in order to remind myself that there are people in the world who use words as weapons.
I also get the proverbial steam coming out my ears upon receipt of a phone call from an ultra-polite person who may or may not represent a company or charity we deal with, and who follows an obviously pre-planned sequence in order to talk me into buying their product or — worse still — to promise to make regular monthly donations. In the latter case the ‘conversation’ goes “Felicity, did you know that thousands of people suffer from… [blah blah]; Felicity, each month we have costs such as [blah blah] which is all part of maintaining this charity… Felicity, we’d like to invite you to do something small each month, just a little, Felicity, so that we know what we can expect… Felicity, you’ve been generous in the past so, Felicity, can we count on you taking on this commitment to a cause we know is close to your heart?” and so on.
Well — next time that happens I WILL (I tell myself) as politely as possible inform the caller that they’ve clearly been trained to use the recipient’s name in a coercive manner, and this is definitely not what I respond to, and perhaps they ought to inform their employer that this approach is a turn-off for those who recognize the manipulation.
I like my name, and I don’t want it to be used as a weapon against me.
So, what are the other weapons, subtle or otherwise?
Often we aren’t entirely sure just what it is about a claim that puzzles us and doesn’t move us in the way intended. We are never obliged to take on board an opinion or outlook if it doesn’t ‘sit right’ in our minds. We ought to think twice if we suspect the reasoning is either skewed, or based on false premises in the first place. What follows is a list of typical devices employed to influence our thinking and actions, but which are intellectually dishonest or maybe emotionally manipulative.
Please feel free to add to add to the list, agree or disagree, or provide examples you’ve met, in the COMMENTS below. If I get enough examples I’ll rewrite the blog to incorporate them, and it will be so much better!
Stacking the Cards: Many supporting facts are given, but they only support one side of the issue. Done this way, it appears conclusive, especially if it’s claimed that “any person” can see the degree of proof. If you dare to disagree, you get to wear a label.
Jumping on the bandwagon: Creating an illusion that there is a consensus of opinion when there may not be. The reader, desiring to be on the ‘right’ side then is encouraged to agree.
Fast-paced jargon made as colourful as possible: Using catch phrases and slogans, modern and slick terminology, all which will appeal to the young or unthinking or to a person too ready to trust the up-beat stranger.
Calling Names: Using discriminatory, derogatory words to describe those who don’t agree. Using words — maybe slang — that are always applied to losers and the downtrodden, to con-men and the intellectually impaired, etc. In order to research one method of natural health therapy I clicked onto a site that listed medical “quacks” (as seen by the site owners) and all they had to say about the “quack” who distributed that particular remedy was that he had done so free of payment for a number of years while developing the product.
Appealing to the qualifications of the writer or whoever endorses it: By linking the idea/product/belief to a normally-respected profession or celebrity, the respect given to one is encouraged to be transferred to the other. I call it “begging the question” if the testimonial is unsubstantiated (which you can determine yourself) or may have been purchased (which you may never know).
Third time lucky: One device to try to cement a claim, is to first state TWO things which are clearly untrue (and admitted to be so) with the third statement offered as a true alternative. Another version is to make two statements to which nobody is likely to disagree, and the third will be a statement to suit the writer/speaker but which could indeed be open to question. But its association with two true statements makes it sound like the third must be genuine truth. This is as sort of “ready-set-go” device.
Personal appeals: Using empathy (or apparent empathy) when the writer purports to be “just like you”, a person who shares the same beliefs, ideals, experiences, problems and concerns. This particular device is taught to those training to write advertising copy — I know because I started such a course and yes I intend to complete it; but no, I don’t intend to pretend to empathize if it would feel dishonest to do so, or if I could not believe in the product or service.
So I daresay the above is not my trail-blazing career after all. I’ve read enough sales emails and transcripts of “fast-paced” online videos to be familiar with the barrage of repeated information, testimonials, images/colours/fonts/exclamation marks by the score… I’m not prepared to subscribe to that approach.
Please, in the Comments below, tell us your experiences of intellectual dishonesty. Add to my list! I’m sure there’s more…