Critical Thinking in the Age of Deception
We're living in an age of fake science, fake people, and of course, fake news.
I call it the Age of Deception.
The scariest part about deception is, when it's done well, we don't know we're being deceived. Furthermore, it's not clear when the Age really began, but it was probably during the early 1900's, a time when the skies were black with War and Industry.
It Began With Edward Bernays.
Bernays, the 'Father of Public Relations', started his career during World War One with the U.S. Committee on Public Information. He was tasked with building support for the war effort by spreading American propaganda, a tactic he called 'psychological warfare'. If those ominous insinuations aren't enough for you, Bernays himself is quoted as saying, "what could be done for a nation at war could be done for organizations and people in a nation at peace."
He went on to perfect his theories of psychological manipulation, and in 1928, compiled them into a book entitled Propaganda. When the Second World War came to a close, wartime propaganda began to ebb, so Bernays turned the theories he'd developed towards a different kind of propaganda: advertising campaigns.
One of his most famous projects was the Lucky Strike campaign of 1934.
At the time, the standard green cigarette package was considered unfashionable by American women, who were reluctant to purchase them for this reason. Rather than change the box's color to something more appealing, Bernays instead orchestrated a series of events that popularized Lucky Strike green in the eyes of the American public. These events, like the Green Ball, the Green Fall Fashions luncheon, and the Green Exhibition, ultimately caught the attention of famous female figures and newspaper headlines alike.
Lucky Strike green shot to the forefront of feminine fashion, and cigarette packages began to fly off the shelves, purchased by none other than American women.
Our Modern Age of Deception
Today, in the 21st century, the consumer mind has been all but whittled down to a science. Yet, the theories of human manipulation originally developed by Bernays still persist. They're now just a bit more subversive.
Online markets: online marketplaces can track user purchases using computer algorithms. They'll then provide product suggestions and advertisements specifically tailored to the individual.
Emotional marketing tactics: marketers tap the uncontrollable mechanisms of our brains. Consider the adrenalized Red Bull adverts, like the one with a Felix Baumgartner jumping from the stratosphere, or the commercials on animal cruelty with sad serenades from Sarah Mclaughlin. Both are assuredly trying to trigger our emotions.
It doesn't matter whether or not the intentions of an advertiser are righteous, either.
When our subconscious is targeted, we're placed at a huge disadvantage, and some people can find themselves buying things without really knowing why.
Life in the Age of Deception
The story of Edward Bernays and the rise of advertising is only a slice of the pie. The Age of Deception involves manipulation in many aspects of our lives.
- 3 out of 4 modern democratic elections are fraudulent
- 90% of the people you associate with will lie to your face
- Over half of all news articles contain falsified information
Deception is everywhere, and oftentimes, we're oblivious.
To prove this point, every single statistic provided above is completely made up.
I pulled them out of thin air. I have no clue if they're accurate, which I seriously doubt.
When we take what see or read or hear at face value, believing the information we're provided without thinking deeper, we give up an enormous amount of our power.
This is where critical thinking hits a critical juncture.
Awareness becomes our greatest asset. Ask the 'what' and 'why'. When we take the time to find out if the things we're told are true, we take power out of the hands of others, and reclaim our free-will as our own.
Even when reading my articles or listening to my podcasts, you should think twice. I do extensive background research, and I'll always include my references, but I'm not perfect. I'm a victim of the deception just like everyone else.
Living in the Age of Deception involves more thinking on our part, but as long as we know what to look for, I think we'll survive.
Your Guide to Surviving the Age of Deception
Think overcoming the swaths of deception is impossible? You're probably right. Fraudsters are everywhere, as are lies, and this isn't Pokemon.... we can't catch 'em all.
We can catch some of the lies, though, and here's how:
- Know that good marketing means big money, and good marketer will manipulate their words to manipulate the consumer. A product labelled 'all-natural' sounds all well and good, but the FDA doesn't regulate the term. It's open to interpretation. At one point, Dannon tacked 'Scientifically Proven' onto their Yogurt, and were forced to pay $21 million in settlements when it turned out to be a 'true lie'. Don't be fooled by colorful labels and flashy phrases.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. News networks, advertisers, and anyone else will blast you with facts and figures which they, themselves, fabricated - like I did earlier. In fact, there's an entire profession of people, known as Fact Checkers, who are dedicated to rooting out the bigger offenders.
- Politics? Politicians? Take a look at these Honesty Charts for some recent U.S. presidential candidates, and prepare to be horrified.
There's a reason Henry Adams once said "Practical politics consists in ignoring facts."