I find it interesting that the below video promotes manipulation of people as ethical. At no point is one advised to reason with vulnerability and openness; to provide people with more than one side of an argument; or to rely on evidence and critical thinking to get people to think, do, or say what you want.
Instead, it’s all about targeting people’s heuristic shortcuts, sneaking beneath their conscious awareness, and seizing the steering wheel of their behavior.
I’m not trying to be utopian. I understand that we’re evolved social animals and that the rational parts of our brains are latecomers to the game. But combining persuasion with behavioral science to target the unconscious strikes me as ultimately pessimistic–even contemptuous–of the broad human capacity for rationality. It takes for granted that autonomy, democracy, and even friendship are notions suffused with idealistic innocence and readily subverted and directed by behavioral science.
And perhaps they are. But who wants the spell and hope of these ideals and goals broken and replaced with a theatre of behavioral manipulation? In such a theatre, there are those in the know and those who are suckers (even as everyone is smiling at one another).
I get it. It’s capitalism; the advertising and propaganda age; the world we’ve lived in for the better part of a century. Where have I been?
It still seems wrong to me. And it’s getting worse. “Come, let us reason together” has been replaced with naked manipulative power, with “Whatever works.”
Is this really what the Enlightenment project–the application of reason–has come to?
Beneath the sunny chirpiness of this video is a darkness. See if you agree.
A more sobering take on behavioral science can be found in this BBC produced documentary, The Century of the Self: