You may not realize it, but the culture can program people to behave like a trout. The ongoing programming of our culture is so ingrained that most people don’t notice it. How about you?
The advertising industry teaches us to chase the outlandish, the trending items, the flashy things. We act just like a school of trout. We have short attention spans, just like our fishy friends. The anglers who design social programming understand how to manipulate and cultivate psychological triggers to maximize their “return on investment.”
They learn to make the right lures, and they know how to get us to buy what they are selling. It doesn’t matter if we don’t need it. They will create the need and make sure we will buy it. What’s behind this programming?
Unmasking Behavior Modification
The development of media as a selling tool began in the modern age with the first films in the 1920s. The German propaganda department pioneered the advertising machine, using focus groups and response ratings at showings. “Triumph of the Will” is a propaganda film created in post-war Germany (1935), is the most famous.
“The most controversial issues of the twenty-first century will pertain to the ends and means of modifying human behavior and who shall determine them. The first educational question will not be ‘what knowledge is of the most worth?’ but ‘what kinds of human beings do we wish to produce?’ The possibilities virtually defy our imagination.” — John Goodlad
Social manipulation has found it’s the home of the advertising industry, but the roots go back much further. Today, various organizations use these tactics to sell everything from cars and soap to religious and political ideologies. You’ll see all the same tactics used in propaganda films, from celebrity endorsements and brand recognition to fear, greed, and sex appeal.
They play on our social fears, appeal to our deepest desires. This kind of psychological manipulation is what psychologists call behavior modification. The techniques themselves are not evil, but how they are applied can be harmful. It’s based on classical or respondent conditioning along with operant conditioning. These link either positive and negative results to products. They program people to act the way they want them to and disregard whether the person needs the product.
For example, early soap commercials linked the smell of the soap with sexual desire so that by using their product, you would become more desirable. Automobiles were sold to male buyers by exploiting the sexual connection between the car and the driver. And, these exact tactics have been used for over 50 years, but people still fall prey to the instinctual connection.
The same techniques can also change thinking and behavior in positive ways. Clinicians use modification based therapy techniques to help people overcome everything from addictions and insomnia to obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
“I was a terrible student. Still, I managed to get into college, but my daydreaming threatened to sabotage me. Behavior modification was used to break the cycle. I started by setting an arbitrary time limit on studying: for every 15 minutes of study, I’d allow myself an hour of daydreaming. I set the alarm.” — Sandra Cisneros
Program People to Behave Like a Trout
Advertisers like Facebook and Google can track our aliment with products and issues. So, they know what ads we look at and which ads we click on, even how long we view them.
They sell this information to the highest bidders, who use it to sell everything from deodorant to ideologies. With this technology, they have learned to trigger our fears and desires. We act like trout, following flashy lures resembling something we think is edible.
But, just like the trout, we often find out too late that they have deceived us, but it’s too late; the hook is in our mouth, and this is their goal. Are things beginning to sound fishy?
The behavior we talked about above is the stated goal of “behavioral modification (1).” And the processes or techniques that can achieve this goal center on two areas: our fears and desires. The idea is to elicit an emotional response, fear, anger, sexual desire, social acceptance, etc. They use everything from shame to peer or social pressure. Their favorites are triggering our basic fears.
“What about self-awareness, the mysterious ability of the brain to reflect upon itself? Self-awareness can be tampered with by brainwashing, psychoactive drugs, electrical stimulation, political or religious propaganda, even advertising. A lifetime in front of a TV set may be the equivalent of a self transplant.” — Chet Raymo
Another part of the programming is the cultivation of a short attention span. The reason for this is simple: you get people to make quick emotional decisions to buy. To optimize the effect, you start early in life. It’s best to start the programming when they are children. Then you can exploit their habitual behavior for as long as they live. It’s the long-range goal of behavior modification to make us lifelong customers of whatever they sell.
If you didn’t know this programming was going on, it’s not your fault. A great deal of effort goes into making you behave like a trout. Psychological conditioning is expensive, but worth the investment. Advertisers look at what they have to sell and then create an emotional link to drive people to buy their product or idea.
We are accustomed to chasing after flashy things. Advertisers of early television used this strategy effectively. Commercials were short one-minute sales pitches. Then advertisers got more sophisticated, more concise, and more subliminal. The researchers did their homework. The window of effective commercials is now less than ten seconds. That’s right, in less than ten seconds, they can trigger a buying decision.
The news media picked up on this as a way of boosting ratings. The format of news has become fact-spinning to derive emotional response. So, what people think is news is a series of short sales presentations. Someone is paying them to sell specific ideological points of view.
Who is to Blame?
Who came up with the idea to program people to behave like a trout? It goes back to the time when the cultural narrative was controlled by religion.
“Counter-knowledge covers the propagation of false legends and conspiracy theories often used for political purposes or fundamentalist religious propaganda.” — Antony Beevor
The programming of the cultural narrative isn’t new. Western organized religion borrowed these tactics to form the Abrahamic religions. These are the Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (2). Their systems are the rebranding of Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Assyrian mystery religions. These earlier prototypes are the true pioneers of the propaganda, which drive thinking and behavior.
These mystery religions developed the methods of brainwashing which can control people and make them act like a trout, and packaged them in mythology and superstition.
“The Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the raising of Lazarus, even the Old Testament miracles, all are freely used for religious propaganda, and they are very effective with an audience of unsophisticated and children.” — Richard Dawkins
They spend a lot of effort projecting the idea that their doctrines, superstitions, and ceremonies make something look and sound spiritual.
I realize most people won’t finish this article because it’s too long. Sorry about that. If reading this offends you, you need to ask yourself why I am offended. Is it because this assessment is correct?
However, if you’ve made it this far, we hope you grasp the need to question the cultural narrative. There is a paradigm clash going on between two different ideologies. Most people don’t recognize it because it’s been going on for so long. Learning to recognize and handle this conflict is necessary in our modern world.
“The kind of propaganda that some of the religious groups, aided and abetted by the opposition, put forth in that campaign utterly disgusted me. If I needed anything to show me what prejudice can do to the intelligence of human beings, that campaign was the best lesson I could have had.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
They also program us to judge, but not like the Greek God Themis. She wears a blindfold to symbolize being unbiased and impartial. But we all have a long way to go to achieve this Greek God’s status. However, that should not deter us from removing as much negative bias and prejudice as possible.
The techniques of behavior modification are not evil. They are tools to program people. Clinicians use the same techniques and tools to help change unacceptable behaviors and make people happier and more productive.
Religion and our commercial culture use these tools for profit and control. Yes, to make you behave like a trout and buy whatever they are selling. Your challenge is to learn how to spot these tactics and then minimize or eliminate them from your life.
(1) Psychology Today, Dec 13, 2019, Understanding What Makes Behavior Modification Work, Daniel Marston Ph.D.: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/comparatively-speaking/201810/understanding-what-makes-behavior-modification-work
(2) Abrahamic Religions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahamic_religions