Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Increasing Probability by Not Increasing It

There is more to the mainstream media than propaganda. Its main function is described by one of those psychological terms that say everything by saying nothing. Our oligarchs are well aware than an anxious public is much easier to control than one that is unafraid. Anxiety isolates; courage is the foundation of solidarity, and we saw how much trouble solidarity caused in Poland.

It is the media’s duty to stimulate a state of availability heuristic in the public. This is the ability of the mind to subjectively increase the probability of an event happening in direct proportion to the ease with which it can be thought of. In other words, if the media shills something, like swine flu, then the public believes the probability of their catching it increases as the media coverage increases even though the probability remains unchanged.

The availability heuristic offers all sorts of possibility to the state. Its sophisticated application enables to state to direct the public’s anxiety in any direction it chooses.

For example, the probability of being killed by lightening is 1:280,000. Let’s say the state wanted to create an irrational fear of lightning. All of a sudden the media is flooded with stories of lightning strikes. “The Lightning Threat” becomes the lead story on the evening news. Survivors of victims tell their tearful stories. A computerized map illustrates the number of lightning strikes by state. Long shots of clusters of police cars, fire trucks and ambulances, their red lights flashing, clustered around the body of another lightening victim, fill the screen.

Congressmen introduce legislation mandating that anyone leaving their house during a thunderstorm must wear a lightening rod strapped to their head

And the public buys into it because, in their minds, the probability of being killed by lightning has increased even though it remained the same.


We saw a stunning example of this in the years following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The idea of emancipated blacks is anathema to our democracy, so it was decided that if we couldn’t segregate them, we could incarcerate them.

All of a sudden, crime made the front page and the media was resplendent with images of “perp walks” that featured only black suspects. As these images flooded the airways and newspapers, the public came to believe that the probability of being a victim of a black criminal had increased even though it remained unchanged.

The ploy succeeded beautifully as blacks began to fill out jails, and politicians fell all over themselves trying to prove how “tough” they were on crime.

Goebbels was such a primitive. It wasn’t his fault, though. He didn’t have the advanced tools of modern psychology at his disposal.

--Belacqua Jones

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