Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Guest Post by Prof T Dagginson - Selling unpopular stuff

Guest Post by Dr Trevor Dagginson, Professor of Problem Solving at the University of Taihape

Could you sell ice to the Eskimo? How about tobacco in these modern times when the support of scientists & doctors is less easily acquired? These are tough assignments but at least you can pick off the customers one-by-one. What if you were asked to switch public opinion from skepticism to acceptance of your stuff? Obviously this is much more difficult, but as luck would have it, my psycho-socio-economic research here at UoT has thrown up some recent examples from which, if I play my cards right, certain advice might be gleaned.

Firstly, and forgive me for stating the obvious, flat-out lying can work pretty well. Say for example you want to start a war in the Middle East. Let's also assume that creeping pacifism has sadly advanced to the point where this is just not an intrinsically popular idea. So you need to get past all that, talk directly to the people and explain why your war must proceed. In this case you'd struggle to beat bare-faced lies as a great strategy.

Perhaps there's a dossier that could be sexed-up a bit, to better align it with the strategy? Tell you what: if you could persuade people that bastard has weapons of mass destruction, you'd be straight to first base. From there, just spout whatever lies are needed at the time and there'll be a fair chance you'll be good to go.

Wedgies are also good and in this context it's customary to pick on minority groups, as far down the socio-economic ladder as possible. Ethnic minorities and refugees are going to be your ideal targets, but mainly you just want fairly small and isolated groups. Having selected your target, you need to explain how they're bludging off 'us'. Resentment is the key to an effective wedgy. So you'll probably want to focus on the costs and ignore the benefits.

Oh and by the way, best you keep a weather eye out for the dreaded reverse-wedgy, where the bone gets pointed at the wrong end of the socio-economic spectrum. There's been a bit of this lately, to the point where it could become a problem. All this talk about inequality and the 1% is a classic reverse-wedgy move. Obviously young people are to blame, but social media has given these ignorant little twerps a flippn megaphone.

The problem with social media is that it promotes open discussion. How can we sell unpopular stuff if ordinary people can contest our preaching? Let's be honest: all these comments and questions are flippn annoying, not to mention disrespectful. Can't we just make them shut the flip up?

Well perhaps we can. My research here at UoT has uncovered two useful strategies.

First, just refuse to engage. The brilliant chief scientist of NZ's EPA has commendably stuck to her guns in flat-out refusing to engage with ordinary people or so-called 'scientists' that disagree with her. Sure, the country's only serious business paper scrapped her column, but hey, at least no-one got to question her.

Go Jacqueline: transmit > receive. The grumbling riffraff includes scientists but does that mean you have to talk with them? Hell no. You're the boss & there's a sign on your office door to prove it.

Second and I'll admit it's a fair bit more difficult, try to make discussion impossible without refusing to engage: it's like a super-charged version of passive aggression. This guy is an expert but you wouldn't know it unless you tried to directly challenge him in social media conversation or talked to my mate Bruce Bayliss.

The key is to be aggressively thin-skinned: take offence early & often. If you master this persona and follow just 1 basic rule, you'll never have to engage seriously with your critics. Here's the rule :

Never admit to a characterisation of your position by someone you perceive as an opponent. 

Conversation/argument/debate relies on the other party understanding your message and responding to it. None of us wants that, but sometimes these annoying little gobshites get to make what *sound like* reasonable points, out loud & in public. They're so crass.

But if you relentlessly deny they understand your position, the conversation stops as dead as an old fergie with a leg-out-of-bed. Here are a few practical hints to help you deflect these apparently rational arguments:
  • 2nd order arguments are best
    • focus on how we talk to each other, not the substance of any disagreement 
  • use labels
    • deny the other person understands your position,
    • say they're 'characterising' or 'projecting' which are terrible sins
  • stay relentlessly aggressive 
    • attack them for playing word games & twisting the words you used; and
    • find ways to accuse them of infringing your rules for debate.
Eventually you'll burn off all but the most dogged of the impudent plebs who don't see it your way. The only possible downside is that you get tired of all the winning, in which case you might want to consider relocating to the USA where truth doesn't really matter any more. 

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