The anxiety over influence

We fear that others will be adversely influenced by something that we want to censor: video games, porn, racist invective.

But we want to influence others’ behaviour through advertising, campaigning, rhetoric.

Yet we ourselves cannot be influenced; we see through spin, can judge for ourselves what we should watch & never get duped by demagogues, commercials, or con-artists.

Meanwhile we surely overestimate the influence of news media, the kind our debonair year 11 English teachers warned us about by showing us Frontline.

And surely our English teacher’s influence was strong enough to counteract the media’s.

Sadly, however, education produces almost no effect whatever, especially after the age of about five. Maybe teachers should use the media to teach us…

Come to think of it, does advertising even work? People spend a lot of money on marketing, but it’s not exactly an exact science.

Do politicians actually know how to win votes? How does public opinion change? One theory goes that the public have their minds changed by society’s big dogs, the elites, which implies that elites actually can learn new tricks…

We live in world where various determinisms seem to run our lives: genes, history,  geography, diet, parasites, language, upbringing, religion, cognitive biases.

And yet no one seems able to convincingly influence anyone else, least of all us.

Why are video games and porn allegedly having a negative effect on us and yet scientists are struggling to prove the positive effects of reading literature?

I came up with a crazy idea to inculcate teenage boys with better ideas about women by having free, streamable, no-ads, high production value, diverse, gender positive, hardcore pornography funded by the government. But would this even work? If throwing a bunch of content at teenagers worked we’d have high schools that educated; we don’t.

So no one has any fucking idea how learning and knowledge acquisition really work and how our behaviour is determined or indeed how it changes.

Maybe neuroscience is poised to make inroads into the study of persuasion, with some answers that could benefit advertisers. If so, that would be grand because if advertisers know how to get us to buy something, it means someone has learnt something about learning.