Psycholinguistics, social engineering, and vulnerable people


"Orange orange orange orange orange orange"

The chunk of the human brain that deals with linguistic processing – turning words into concepts and vice versa – has a strange feature. If it says, writes, or hears the same word enough, that word starts to lose all meaning; the link between word and concept breaks down, and we see a series of squiggles or noises. As time passes, the effect fades quickly.

"Asylum seekers."

If you're like me, you had a gut reaction to those words, and it was a gut reaction that you didn't like.

"Benefits claimants."

These phrases are thrown around with such gusto by the right-wing media and government, and in such unanimously derisive context, that a similar thing has started to happen. Whereas before, they were two separate words used together to describe a group of people, now they're an awful psycholinguistic gestalt that evokes a feeling of disdain from our lizard brains. I'd go so far to venture that many people have this reaction – lefties and right-wingers alike – but since we're sentient, we can challenge such an illogical brainfart.

The fact is, though, that psycholinguistic techniques work. The brain loves patterns and routine – the unexpected can be a treat, but only on a conscious level. The lizard brain likes predictable, conformist situations because they're safe. If you're exposed to a pattern for long enough, you'll start to fall into it without making conscious effort to avoid it – and occasionally, even despite conscious effort to avoid it.

When you hear words like these, the words that are being used to make you hate your fellow man and blame the vulnerable to take the heat off those who bear both the responsibility and reap the ill-gotten rewards, listen to them. Repeat them to yourself in your head. Split the words up, drink them in, and only then put them back together. Don't let the blaring megaphone of negative context make you hate the people who need to be protected.