07 May 2015

OUTRAGE! (is to the left as fear is to the right)

I've heard it repeated a few times from different sources recently how people who tend to lean politically "right" frequently have a slightly larger amygdala, which controls the basic fear response.  As a result - so the theory goes - they are more easily frightened, and this leads to a desire to take the safe option in all questions; generally we think the option with the least unknowns is "safest", and so those more prone to fear are more likely to stick with things that are tried and true - in other words, to be "conservative".

Proponents of this theory - the scientists who noticed the trend in the first place, certainly, but much more so activists and armchair politicians - will point out the fear-mongering used by conservative political leaders and media.  Crime!  Terrorists!  Illegal immigrants!  Communists!

And since I've heard it, sure enough, I do notice just such a trend in media and speeches geared toward conservatives.

But then, since I was looking at news reports with the kind of eye you use to catch marketing psychology in advertisements, I started paying attention to what media geared toward liberals always tends to have in common.

Its outrage.

Not that conservatives don't love being outraged too.  No one has a monopoly on it.
I think there may actually be some part of the human brain that gets some sort of positive neurotransmitter release associated with the feeling of being outraged.

Probably something to do with in-group loyalty.  If multiple people can identify a common enemy, it binds those people together.

And that's one thing about outrage: it is always directed at another human.

Nobody ever gets outraged at volcanoes or earthquakes.  People don't even feel outrage toward bears or sharks, even though they are sentient beings who act deliberately for personal gain.

Since it never applies to "forces of nature", it is clearly a social emotion, akin to lust, or jealousy, or self-esteem, a feeling which can only exist in relation to other people.

Outrage is the inverse of shame.  While shame is an awareness that one's self broke a social rule and will likely be judged for it, outrage is that judgement.
It is stronger, though, than mere disapproval - its an intense enough version to trigger violence.
It is not merely semantics that the root of the word is "rage".

Since it tends to be amplified and reinforced the more people who feel and express it in unison, it forms the basis of mob violence.

No suspected witch was ever burned to death, no Black man ever lynched, no nobility decapitated, where the townspeople did not feel sufficient outrage.  Each individual feels like its this emotion inside of them, caused directly by whatever actions the target of outrage has done, but its is really more a matter of social control, which acts through individuals.  It is really a feeling not of the individual, but of the group.  Of course a group doesn't have "thoughts" or "emotions" of its own, but collectively, the hive-mind has group-think, and it can generate emotions in its members that they might not have on their own.

This is a real thing.  In psychology its called "Deindividuation"

The existence of this mechanism, this way to get groups of people to dehumanize specific other people, to think of them as "other", as no longer part of their own group, is a very useful tool for forcing conformity.  In the absence of law - rules, police, courts - all there is to provide for control over individual behavior is the threat of rejection by the group.  Without a formal government justice system, all there is is mob justice.  In order for mob justice to be carried out, each individual in the mob has to have strong enough individual feelings to drop their own daily business and go participate in the mob.
And so, in order to prevent individuals from doing selfish things that hurt the group (like stealing, or murder), humans come pre-programmed with this capacity for the emotion of outrage.

Of course, in order for it to be effective, it has to feel to the individual like its a real thing, like it is personal.  If people were able to easily separate hive-mind emotion from emotions that lead to individual self-interest behavior (like fear, or love), then it would cease to be effective.

And so, even though in the modern world the feeling of outrage has ceased to be particularly useful, it is still there.

The modern world is much more complex than the savanna of Africa our emotions were designed in.  Our social groups are in units of millions, instead of dozens.  We have news media that can inform each individual of outrage inducing incidents from all over the world, so that no matter how rare they actually are, we can always be kept in a constant state of outrage.

From a marketing point of view, this is very useful to anyone whose business is selling media.
Since people are not only primed to feel personal outrage over things that have nothing to do with them, but they also get some form of positive feedback for feeling it, delivering a steady supply of "news" which will trigger the feeling ensures a loyal consumer.

If you avoid paying attention to the content, and focus on the delivery instead, its obvious just how much - and how deliberately - they play this side of human nature.

TV and print news routinely tell you specifically how to feel!

They prime you to have a particular emotional response by telling you in advance what you should feel about what it is you are about to learn.

"Shocking footage"

"controversial new development"

"you won't believe..."

Watch for it.

I propose that anytime a story starts out that way, its a sign to tune out - whatever comes next is designed to appeal to your primative us VS them brain centers, and bypass all logic and reason.

1 comment:

  1. Just started reading your blog after being referred from a MMM article. There's some good stuff here, and I think you're really onto something with this post. Thanks!

    1 piece of constructive criticism: "Its outrage." should be "it's", short for " it is"


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