Imagine, if you can, if you’re able, and if you dare, a society which kinda mimics the life of a baby in multilingual family.
The baby who learns two languages may struggle at first to speak: they have to separate out two systems of thought before one – their own – can form, coalesce and then manage to get a useful handle on the other two.
In my case, back in the 90s and beyond, and as a parent of bilingual environment, I generally spoke English, and my wife spoke castellano. Our eldest son, a clever lad and beloving of languages anyway, took only a month longer than a peer of his age to start speaking.
This is an achievement, both individual and environmental.
So back to the society which kinda mimics these dynamics. And a bit of an overview of a theory which is much more – to my mind – a tool and a method than a theory. I continue the explanation further after the quotes …
Nudge theory is described here in the following terms:
Nudge theory (or nudge) is a concept in behavioural science, political theory and economics which proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance to influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals. The theory claims to be at least as effective, if not more effective, than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement. The concept has influenced British and American politicians.
We drill down into the overview with this (the bold is mine today):
At the heart of nudge theory is the concept of nudge. The first formulation of this term and associated principles was developed in cybernetics by James Wilk before 1995 and described by Brunel University academic D. J. Stewart as “the art of the nudge” (sometimes referred to as micronudges). It also drew on methodological influences from clinical psychotherapy tracing back to Gregory Bateson, including contributions from Milton Erickson, Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch, and Bill O’Hanlon. In this variant, the nudge is a microtargetted design geared towards a specific group of people, irrespective of the scale of intended intervention.
Later we read that, for example:
Leading Silicon Valley companies are forerunners in applying nudge theory in corporate setting. These companies are using nudges in various forms to increase productivity and happiness of employees. Recently, further companies are gaining interest in using what is called “nudge management” to improve the productivity of their white-collar workers.
Now we come back to my eldest child, managing – with our intelligent help and distinguishing behaviours – to sort out at a few months old the different between English and castellano sounds. Very soon, he begins to achieve a fierce and unequivocal certainty about which sounds belong to the one, which to the other. This gives him a confidence in his abilities to communicate, as well as to take decisions and to trust the environments around him, that has never left him. Even today, perhaps especially today, he is able to analyse and assess a space in front of him with astonishing perspicacity and validity.
It is a wonderful thing to see our environments as extensions of our inner, most intimate, selves.
But what if such support becomes overbearing? What if it is no longer support? What if it becomes a tool to control and organise? What if mad men and women invade our every perception in a structured and intentional manner?
Let’s imagine, then, the society I described in my first sentences. It is full of networks of people, technology, messages and ideologies (PTMI): each attempting, since 1995, to leap onto the bandwagon of societal control without ownership.
How would this make liberty, freedom of choice, free will and spontaneity feel – at grassroots level I mean? Would we not begin to sense, however initially wrapped up in the consumerist fun & games and playfulnesses ourselves, that something – in the main – was getting very out of control here?
Let’s imagine, then, that the languages, the linguistic systems, which these networks of PTMI create and use, are – also! – actually micro-targeted processes at discrete and very specific individuals. Harold Evans has already discussed how Max Weber’s theories on charismatic authority show us the importance of the “personalities and events” approach to understanding history’s dynamics: it is never just a movement of irreproachable masses, inevitably achieving the progressive goals of a rising humanity – individuals or terrible events levered by individuals can bugger everything up on the road, as well.
So assuming individuals can change the direction of history, it makes sense not only to use tools and methods (ie not the theory) of nudge on the grand flow of the voting masses and chattering classes, in order to lever the changes we wish to see, but also identify at a very early age concrete persons – even before the subject him- or herself is able to realise their own worth themselves – and proceed to nudge, manipulate and define such individuals to the degree that success for one competing PTMI or another is guaranteed.**
The conflicting and even deliberately competing nature of these networks, however, is where we come back to my eldest son, and his distinguishing so rapidly with the support of the environment (ie his parents) the two linguistic PTMIs being employed. For it’s easy to suggest that some PTMIs in modern society are deliberately designed to confuse individuals into a miserable and residual insanity. Not only do they not support with love and compassion; they literally aim to destroy with hatred and – perhaps – a creeping fascism.
The subjects which such PTMIs focus their ire on, perceptive beings, gloriously observant souls one might argue, can be redefined as a result by a collaborating – though possibly unknowing and ingenuous – medical profession which will proceed quite happily to diagnose these people – thus impacted so confusingly by clearly toxic PTMIs – as simply mad enough to be locked away from the community (their bodies incarcerated) or drugged into submission in the community (their minds incarcerated).
The article we’ve looked at today suggests nudge has been going on since 1995. I would strongly disagree. It is a natural human instinct to take ownership where courage, bravery, integrity and respect exist; equally, it is just as human – where these qualities are absent – for people (paraphrasing an old Spanish saying) to throw the stone and hide the hand.
We only have to look at TV series such as “Mad Men” – describing the workspaces, behaviours, attitudes and processes around mass advertising in the big-brand US of the 1950s and 60s – to understand how long the massaging implications of pre-nudge dynamics have been influencing actively what we think.
First and Second World War cases of propaganda on all sides were similarly clear examples.
That the PTMIs which operate these days are so much more sophisticated and multiple can only increase the disquiet of today’s “societal babies”, struggling to make sense of the networks in question, as one or other ideology is propounded, sounded out, and reconverted for long-term organisational, political, industrial, philosophical and perhaps – these days, most importantly – technological needs.
And not only from the TV or mobile screen – also in the very streets we walk.
From my point of view, such deliberately confusing PTMIs are utterly unacceptable, and will lead both to an increase in a wider societal and personal mental distress, as well as the quite incorrect and unjust inclusion of intelligent and utterly perspicacious people in the rising tide of mental flotsam that affects our Western civilisations in particular.
More information and data needs to be gathered and processed, of course, before such methods of analysis as I am forming can be academically substantiated, but my own personal experience, and maybe in retrospect yours too, as you begin to unpick your life in the light of the above thoughts, might slowly begin to validate the idea.
* My thoughts have been heavily influenced by my initial and very cursory study of Michel Foucault over the past six months or so, as well as other thinkers from a number of fields who distinguish between mental ill-health and mental distress. These texts have been brought my way through the “Crime, Power and Victimisation” module I have just completed at Liverpool John Moores University, on the MA in Criminal Justice which I am currently completing. Gratitude to all, living and deceased, for your thought, intelligence and humanity.
** Further reading: this article from Nick Chater, of the Warwick Business School, writing in the Observer newspaper in 2015, concludes its comparing of nudge to psychological manipulation and deceit in the following way:
[Which] nudges still work, even when they are out in the open? Do we still eat less ice-cream with a bowl labelled “smaller bowls for smaller servings”? The research remains to be done. On the one hand, we might think: “How thoughtful, this is a great way to save myself from over-indulgence.” A good nudge. But we might react with irritation and have an extra helping to “fight back”.
So the upshot is: let’s say no to manipulation – that is, to influence by stealth or deception. This should apply to how governments treat us, and to how we treat each other. […]