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For those of you following along at home, I’m going through Jehovah’s Witnesses apostate internet postings because if anyone is an expert on how thought reform and cult indoctrination works, it’s an ex-JW.  You don’t even need to have been baptized as one (I wasn’t), just growing up with that stuff and getting away from it makes you permanently sensitized to new bullshit techniques.  And given that we are coming up on an election year, it’s really important that we guard ourselves and learn to recognize when we’re being manipulated so we can avoid making another 2 to 4 year mistake.

Today I’m going to talk about something everyone does because it’s necessary component of human nature.  We categorize.  But because those of us who came of age or worked most of our lives in the internet age tend to broadcast our categories to the public, we make ourselves vulnerable to unscrupulous people who use blogs such as this one and places like DailyKos to data mine and focus group concepts that are later used to persuade us to do one thing or another.

To understand how categorization and trigger words work, check out this video by Cult Free Radio on Social Categorization Theory Part1:

and Part 2:

So, how has categorization been used by politicians in the recent past?  I have one personal example that I’ve shared before but it fits into this topic pretty well so I’m going to tell it again.

When I went to YearlyKos 2 in Chicago in 2007, all but one of the Democratic Party candidates for president attended a Candidates Forum, followed by individual breakout sessions.  Hillary’s breakout session was before the forum because the YearlyKos organizers had screwed with her schedule, “inadvertently”, I’m sure.  I had signed up for Hillary’s session because, even though I went to Chicago as an Edwards supporter, I felt that I should try to evaluate her fairly and she was the only female candidate and her session was open where Barack Obama’s was full and I had already decided to take a look at Obama in 2012 because he wasn’t seasoned enough to run for president.

Ok, so Hillary was pretty good in her breakout session.  She was prepared, overprepared, thorough, and had a command of policy that was impressive.  I am forced to sit through a lot of scientific presentations every year and you get the hang of knowing when someone has done their homework and understands what they are talking about and when they are baffling with bullshit.  I can say that based on my experience, Hillary knew her shit.  She was able to mentally walk around a concept and tell you everything about it.  Not only that but you could ask her any question and she had a policy for it organized in her head like an outline with topic, subtopic, points, codicils, subparagraphs, exceptions, and funding mechanisms.  She was that good, which is one of the reasons I am so pissed off that we got stuck with someone who was at best a beginner compared to her.  But I digress.

ANYWAY, after her breakout session, the Candidates Forum was held in the ballroom.  And that’s when the category shit hit the fan.  It became very clear to me, because I spent a lot of time on DailyKos, that some candidates had figured out how to push a Kossack’s buttons.  Much to my dismay, the worst offender was John Edwards.  I sat there stunned as he played that crowd like PT Barnum.  He knew every category and word that would trigger an emotional response from his audience and he used those words shamelessly.  But it wasn’t just that he used those words that made me realize what a phony he was.  It was the rest of this rhetoric was completely devoid of anything else.  At least Hillary tried to explain herself before she was booed.  Edwards didn’t have to do that.  All he needed to do was say the magic words and the Kossacks leapt to their feet cheering and screaming.  It was disgusting.  I decided right there I could never vote for the man.  What he was reminded me more of one of those charismatic sociopaths than a politician.  Ok, some of you are thinking that they’re mostly the same thing, right?  No, I think that a real politician has substance behind the words and Edwards, um, didn’t.

I’m sure that those of you who read the left blogosphere know what he concentrated on.  He used the words “corporate” and “lobbyist” a lot.  But there were others that I can’t remember right at the moment.  He could have used “nuclear”, “genetically modified {fill in the blank}”, “green”, “organic”, “standardized testing”, you know the drill.  You’ve been there.  You probably respond to that too.  We all do to some extent or another.  The problem is they are mental shortcuts and can be used to associate a person to that concept.  Edwards knew (and I’ll tell you how he knew in a sec based on another phenomenon) that if he said the magic words, the crowd would automatically identify him as one of them.  And they did.

Now, how did he know what words to use?  So here’s the other thing I observed.  The Forum happened in August 2007.  By that fall, Edwards was on the ropes.  I think rumors of his messy private life must have become common knowledge among the Democratic operatives.  So, his funding was drying up.  On DailyKos, his followers had been the first to commit the thing I call “The Rec List Hostage Crisis”.  That’s where a pro-Edwards diarist would immediately get a gazillion recommends and shoot to the top of the rec list.  I think Edwards had some regular folks who did an evening summary kinda thing that always made the rec list but more importantly, there were a shitload of conversion diaries.  They were all written the same way.  “Why I’ve decided to vote for Edwards” and then the body of the text was extolling his virtues {{cough, cough}} and a bunch of trigger words.  He doesn’t take corporate money, he’s pure when it comes to lobbyists, blah, blah, blah.  The more I read them, the more I realized that his campaign staff was checking out DailyKos for some time now and had probably used survey information to figure out what makes Kossacks tick and then applied that to the diaries.

But then, Edwards started to fade away.  His campaign was tanking and even Kos said it was a lost cause.  When he finally threw in the towel, the Rec List Hostage Crisis was taken over by Obama people. Same tactics, same fricking buzzwords and trigger words.  The change was so obvious to those of us who were paying attention that there were only a couple of possibilities: A different set of operatives were using the same Edwards’ campaign’s focus group/data mining tools and applying them to the Obama campaign,  or they were the same people.  Actually, I’m betting that it was both.  The Edwards team (and by this I mean a “paid internet campaign staff”) moved over to Obama without missing a beat.  Up went the conversion diaries and all of the love bombing, and the categories and buzzwords and trigger words were beaten to a pulp.  Oddly enough, Hillary’s people didn’t do this.  Maybe we were just not as politically ruthless or we were not interested in platitiudes and categories or Hillary’s campaign wasn’t as active on DailyKos and wasn’t into button pushing or Kos himself had already been bought and paid for by the anti-Hillary elements of the DNC, whoever those people were, and he wasn’t going to let Hillary supporters gain too much of a foothold at DailyKos. Since many Hillary people started to lose TU status at about that time and our diaries didn’t make the rec list in spite of them reaching the recommendation threshold that put diaries on that list, I suspect Kos and his frontpagers made a conscious decision to put the thumb on the scales for Obama and decremented Hillary diaries.  Hope that baby grand piano was worth all of the suffering the country has gone through by defeating Clinton, Markos.

But let’s not be bitter.  DailyKos will not be playing the role it did in 2008.  It shot its wad on the historic election of Barack Obama and you can’t do that one twice.  Besides, the damage has already been done.  The rest of the blogosphere has been analyzed carefully and you can bet your sweet ass that whoever the campaign operatives are this election season have already categorized all of us and have in turn figured out what categories and words we respond to.  They know that Creative Class ninnies respond to Whole Foods and West Elm and financial products and the value of their 401ks and tenure and stuff like that.  They like the idea of social and economic justice but try not to get too cold at a rally.  They like green as long as it can be bought in a store that features renewable bamboo sheets and towels and flooring.  They know lefties hate the words corporation but fail to distinguish between financial service corporations and other corporations, executives and rank and file.

There is some light in all of this.  I’ve noticed that during Virtually Speaking’s A-Z with Jay Ackroyd and Stuart Zechman, there is a genuine attempt to avoid using buzzwords.  (Anything Virtually Speaking with Dahlia Lithwick is worth listening to as well.  She’s very articulate and tends to avoid buzzwords) Jay and Stuart make a conscious effort to break down words, concept by concept, so that we all know exactly what we’re talking about and the mental shortcuts we use to categorize ourselves are minimized.  Stuart still has some problems with centrists and the DLC which I tend to tune out because he’s still thinking that those organizations are important and I don’t think he’s breaking that down carefully enough or has looked longitudinally to see how the original goals of those entities have changed over time.  Besides, the Democrats don’t need the DLC anymore.  They can tap their funding sources more directly these days without having to pretend they have an ideology.  But I have hope for Stuart.  I feel like a light has clicked on for him and he has a clearer picture of the political landscape than he did even a year ago.  He realizes now that the party is in the grip of a high control group of bad actors.  Whether those actors are just political opportunists or sent in from the finance industry’s central casting, they have turned the party into something unrecognizable to the voter who votes based on core Democratic principles.  And those people have to be opposed and not rewarded or we will not get our party back and that could be a serious blow to our democracy as we know it.

Am I right, Stuart?  Yep. You finally reached the point where we were almost 4 years ago.  Welcome to the club.

Bottom line: there are operatives watching every site.  Wave “Hi!” to them.  They are both Republicans and Democrats.  They are trying to sort through the categories and words that they can use to short circuit your thinking  process.  They know that you will make very quick judgements about what you hear because you have categorized a word and either chosen to add it to your identity or assign that word to another identity.  And they know that you do this unconsciously at a super fast speed and don’t even know you’re doing it.

So, make sure that you use your words carefully.  Avoid jargon as much as possible.  When someone uses the words “green” or “energy” or “pro-choice” or “nuclear” or “triangulate” or “corporation” or “capitalism” or “socialism” or “communism” or “muslim” or “fascist” that you stop and ask yourself, what does this word actually mean in this context?  Is someone trying to bamboozle and hoodwink me?  Can the person who is using this word explain what it means to me in a way that makes sense?

The right is good at using categories.  One recent, particularly egregious example of the use of categories and words was from our good buddy, Glenn Beck, who warned his audience to avoid churches who use the words “social justice”.  It’s hard to understand how anyone could oppose social justice.  It would be like trying to make STDs sound cool.  How do you do that??  If we break down what social justice actually means, it’s equal access to the court system, unbiased treatment in employment, starting life on a level playing field (see Finnish baby boxes), access to a good education regardless of your race, gender, national origin, etc and stuff like that.  And who in their right mind, even in the Fox News audience, has a problem with any of that?  Well, Glenn and his backers do and they wanted to put “social justice” in a category where Glenn Beck viewers will fear to tread.  So, if an Occupier holds up a sign that says “Social Justice for all”, the Glenn Beck viewer now knows to avoid OWS and stop any good thoughts about them.  Maybe Occupiers should try to be more specific on their signs but there’s only so much cardboard you can carry around.

While I’m not going to insist that you should restrict your access to any source of information, consider that radio and television have the advantage of sound, which is very fast.  It is much harder to shortcut the brain using the written word.  Yes, you can back up radio and TV now and replay what you’ve heard but one of the reasons we use radio and audible and TV is so that we can multitask.  So the words go in without careful scrutiny.  When you read, you have to slow down and figure out the word in context.  That’s why I don’t watch or listen to TV and radio news programs anymore.  During the 2008 election year, I had become so sensitized to listening for the trigger words that I found the messaging was driving me crazy.  I felt like I had propaganda autism.  You can’t get away from it in a sound format.  So, I just shut it off.  Maybe you’re stronger people than I am and if you are, load up on as much broadcast information as possible.  You should never cut yourself off from information sources.  Just question EVERYTHING.

The other thing I avoid is too much of the social networking tools.  I have a facebook account but I rarely use it.  I get facebook invitations from people I don’t know and I don’t accept them.  If I don’t know who these people are, why should I invite them into my house?  There is no question that political campaigns are going to use social networking tools like twitter and facebook to promote propaganda and shape election narratives in 2012.  That’s how the vast, unwashed masses are going to get the information that will affect their election decisions in the future.  They will get messages from their friends  who were targetted with a well designed, data mined youtube ad campaign that went viral on Facebook.  You know it’s going to happen.  Again, be very careful and question everything.

So, you think, no where is safe, how am I going to get the information I need to make a decision?  Well, I can’t emphasize this enough but there is no better way to evaluate a candidate than to see that person in person.  (The same thing applies to movements.  Don’t take anyone’s word for it.  Go and check it out yourself) If you have a chance to see a candidate in person, and not in the atmosphere of a debate where they need to more carefully construct their sentences, then go.  Your impression of that candidate will be clearer when there is less of a filter between you and that candidate.  You will be able to tell whether they are comfortable with the material, how often they are pinging you with trigger words to get an emotional response, whether they can field questions on any subject to your satisfaction and whether they project confidence on a physical and mental level.  I can tell you that Obama did not project comfort or confidence at the candidates forum, in my humble opinion.  He looked out of place in a physical sense, as if he was wondering, “what the hell am I doing here up on stage??”   I really felt he needed more seasoning.  But you would only know that if you saw him in person.  Why were the other Kossacks not sensitive to this?  I think they were overwhelmed with carefully constructed messaging from Edwards and they were whipped into a mob frenzy and were drunk with their own power.  A year before, they were just dirty, hippy bloggers.  A year later, presidential candidates were kissing their asses.  That kind of thing tends to go to your head.  And candidates know that and the more ruthless ones will play you like a two bit fiddle.

Ok, I’m going to get some coffee now.  Categorize away.