14 December 2013

If Your Mind is a Computer, Who Programs It?

A friend posted this odd juxtaposition of Gun Show ad and article about a school shooting today.

I think the more relevant juxtaposition is the one between news coverage of the 1st anniversary of the Newtown School shooting and this recent school shooting in Colorado. People are susceptible to suggestion and I find it easy to believe that at some level the frequent mention of "school shooting" gets lodged into the consciousness of someone already leaning in that direction and pushes them over the tipping point into horrific action.

In the US, advertisers spend about $150 billion a year in various media. (~$65B on TV, ~$38B on Internet, and about $50B on all other forms combined (radio, newspaper, guys with sandwich boards, etc.)). Why? Because consciousness is susceptible to suggestion. McDonald's knows that everyone has already heard of cheese burgers but they also know that at different times of the day our actions can be tipped from one possibility to another. It's absurd to think that the average person hearing so much about Newtown would grab a gun and act on the "school shooting" suggestion but of course it is not the average person who does such a thing. Businesses would not spend billions a year if suggestions did not work.

Charles Tart, in his book Waking Up, makes an interesting point. A hypnotist with access to our consciousness for just minutes can plant suggestions we act on. How much more advantage does our media have? How susceptible must we be to the thousands of daily examples and suggestions that come from the culture around us? A hypnotist gets minutes. Culture has decades.

There was a time in the 70s when cults seized the popular imagination. One thing I found fascinating about the phenomenon was the idea of de-programming. Families paid experts to extract their loved one from the close confines of a cult and then wash away the brain washing (which means they return them to their original state of a dirty mind?), loosen the hold of the cult. I couldn't help but wonder if this approach would work not only for former members of sects but for the Catholic Church (or any church), soldiers, patriots, people who insist on paying a premium for Apple or BMW products or anyone who thought they should buy Lord of the Ring merchandise. To a certain degree, our minds are computers; they can be programmed. And you have to wonder how much of the programming that defines us is intentional and what percentage is accidental, the product of chance encounters with billboards, charismatic teachers, persuasive parents, and continual bombardment from the media.

Perhaps schools are already doing more to teach students to understand the effects of programming in the form of instruction, advertising, and example. More likely, schools just use programming tricks as means to more effectively teach. At some level, teaching is just a form of programming, no?

I don't know if it would do anymore to protect schools from the tragedy of shootings, but it would likely make school more interesting if education did more to reveal the mystery behind cultural programming and our minds' susceptibility to suggestion.

But that's just a suggestion.


Lifehiker said...

Ron, I don't know than anything has changed, recently, with respect to our "being programmed". Maybe the number of programmers has expanded dramatically, but programming has always been a fact of life. To me, the most important thing is that people be exposed to programming that conflicts, so that personal contemplation and personal choices must be made in order to resolve the conflicts. Example: 1,000 calorie burger commercial seen on same day as person watches "The Biggest Loser". That said, peer pressure may be a bigger deal, since if all the buddies eat the 1,000 calorie burger several will likely become candidates for the TV show because they just went along with the flow.

Ron Davison said...

That notion of forcing personal contemplation through conflict is sort of perfect. And really, without choice what choice do people have but to think the one thing.
That's a solution I keep in my hip pocket. Thanks.