Persuasion: An Introduction

By Marina Bart (formerly aab)  a writer and former public relations consultant, who thinks and writes about many things, including political economy, culture and communication

We humans are innately, inescapably contradictory creatures. We evolved by cooperating, but we are descendants of hierarchical apes. Our ability to reason, drawing conclusions from the material world and its processes, has been crucial to our success as a species. But so has our creativity, our ability to beget both tangible and intangible value from the ether, from our inchoate emotions and sensate experiences that drive us together and apart.

These tensions play out in everything we make and everything we do, every day, everywhere, going back to our earliest beginnings. Because competition and hierarchy are part of our nature, there are always those who assert that their defining personal qualities are superior, thus the world should be organized with them and people like them at the top. In one era, poets condescend to mathematicians. In another, mathematicians dismiss poets. Warriors mistake their  coercive force for moral virtue, and in doing so, overreach the effective limits of their power, and destroy what they have built.

We are complicated beasties. For one thing, we often like to think we are not beasties – that we can use our minds to escape the limitations of our animal natures.

But there is no escape. We are creatures of both reason and feeling, both cooperative and competitive. Anyone who claims superiority on the basis of elevating any one aspect of human nature over another is either lying to themselves, to you, or both.  Often, they are not merely incorrect, they are dangerous. Ignoring or devaluing fundamental elements of what it means to be human leads not just to failures of ideas, products, relationships and societies, but to cruelty and exploitation.

Which brings me to persuasion.

Persuasion, the concept, is simple: it is the act of getting a person or persons to do or believe something you want them to do or believe. Persuasion can be as primitive as displaying your body to potential sexual partners to entice them or prove you would help them create and nurture healthy offspring. Or it could be a massive mathematical proof that lays out across thousands of lines of symbolic reasoning how to understand the center of the earth without ever going near it.

The mathematician might assert that her act of persuasion is superior because it is intangible and symbolic. But the only foolproof way to know her proof is correct (and not merely persuasive) is to subject its conclusion to the same physical reality the people having sex for pleasure and reproduction live in. The sex-having people who might scorn the mathematician for giving up more sex-having for symbolic reasoning would be very, very sorry if their ceiling fell in on them while having sex because they ignored the mathematical proof’s ability to lead them to more earthquake-resistant design.

So, because humans are both logical and emotional, and cooperative as well as competitive, effective persuasion operates across all those domains. Which strategy will be successful depends on a variety of factors, including how direct and intimate the interaction is. (That’s a fancy way to say “whether it is person to person, between strangers, or using broad public channels like television or the Internet.”)  For the purposes of this introduction, I’m focusing on the core psychological drivers.

The more (or wider variety of ) people you want to persuade, the more you will tend to rely on emotional and sensate persuasion, because it so fundamental to our nature and survival that it transcends boundaries of gender, class and culture. Yet there are limits to the effectiveness of emotive persuasion. Like nuclear weapons, emotive persuasion can wreak havoc far beyond its intended target, its fallout drifting and swirling in ways its creators and launchers did not intend, cannot control, and do not want.

Because emotive persuasion taps into our irrational, animal natures, it can – at least temporarily – persuade people to believe and do things that are wrong for them. When emotive persuasion fails the test of reality long enough or hard enough, it stops working. (It can, however, do a lot of damage before that happens.) If you are using emotive persuasion to achieve a goal explicitly counter to the interests of the individuals or communities you are using it against, force is required to overwhelm and overcome protective defenses, both personal and communal, that have evolved over time precisely because emotive persuasion is so powerful and therefore so dangerous.

That is why, for example, propaganda campaigns to drive citizens to go to war don’t just Otherize and Beastify the enemy to frighten and disgust people. They are also relentless, pushing their simple, emotive messages from every corner, using every channel possible, breaking down both internal and communal resistance until private terror and public shame corrals the society into offering up that which is most precious to them, their loved ones, their children, their present comfort and their evolutionary future, to a cause that usually gains them nothing.

When you want to go to war against a country that has not harmed you, in the service of an ally that financed an act of terrorism within your borders, for example, you have to use propaganda.

Emotive persuasion is not all evil propaganda, however. One of the modern giants in the field of persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini, initially researched it in part because he was an easy mark, and he wanted to protect himself. His famous six key principles of influence, developed by studying car salesman, are also used routinely by grass roots organizers. When someone knocks on your door, engages you in conversation about who you are and what you want, asks you to get a pen to write down your polling place and the election day, and offers to drive you to the polls, they are using four of the six principles. (Using a numbered list, as he does in his title, is also a persuasion strategy.)

Rational persuasion (logical argument, mathematical proofs, etc.) could be considered the exact opposite of emotive persuasion. The whole point of it is to escape the limitations of our animal selves via the systematic application of material facts within a framework that enables its assertions to be tested, corrected and reiterated. Its persuasive power derives, at least in principle, from its objectivity. It persuades by being demonstrably true.

But for that demonstration to effective, its target(s) must be able to comprehend the process and accept that this method has already been verified. There must be a shared fact set between the persuader and the persuasion target, and the symbols used to make the argument (words, numbers, etc.) must be defined and understood the same way by both parties, or the target will reject it. Rational persuasion has severe constraints as a persuasion tool. It tends to be more effective used in limited settings among peers with similar cultures. (The inversion of that is also important: you can damage or destroy potential rational communication by robbing words of their meaning. Explaining to a working class voter in Alabama that you’re a leftist or a progressive and you want to help them becomes a lot harder if they hear the world “progressive” and picture Hillary Clinton, a woman who, for the record, has never espoused any policies that could rationally be considered progressive.)

However, like emotive persuasion, rational persuasion can be deceptive, its deceptive power made more potent precisely because its targets have been lulled into believing that rational persuasion cannot deceive. Just as reality and lived experience can erode the effectiveness of emotive persuasion, our emotive natures inevitably color our creation and evaluation of rational argument. The system, with its sturdy, proven framework, shared fact set and mutually accepted symbol definitions, is still imperfect, because humans are imperfect. Important information may be left out, or misrepresented. False assertions can be placed within the framework and accepted because they are surrounded by all that already proven, already mutually agreed to facts, symbols and processes.

The belief in the superiority of reason, with its emotionally flattering assumption that if you can follow the argument, you are more meritorious and thus deserving of a good life, embeds emotional persuasion within its rational cousin. It can make seemingly rational arguments both more persuasive and more toxic, like the sugar pumped into “low-fat” products people gulped down for decades to the detriment of their health.

So: persuasion runs the gamut from hard facts to hot feelings. Both rational and emotive persuasion can be effective. Both rational and emotive persuasion can be manipulative. Persuasion is a tool, like a blade you can use to build a house, hunt a deer, cut out a tumor or murder a rival. The tool is morally neutral. Whether persuasion is immoral is a function of its wielder and its goal. You can use persuasion to get people to change their behavior to save the planet. You can also use persuasion to get people to destroy the planet. Consensus-building requires persuasion. So does genocide.

Humans are constantly trying to persuade one another, so rather than treat the subject with suspicion, you will be both a better persuader and less likely to manipulated by persuasion if you understand its fundamentals.

The literature on persuasion goes back millennia. There’s Aristotle. There’s Bernays.  There are scientists seeking to quantify it, and businessmen seeking to profit from it. My goal is to give you a framework you can apply in daily life to better use persuasion yourself, and better understand when it is being used against you. So I will end this post with a quadrant chart, because (in case the word “framework” didn’t ping in your head), I am using primarily (although not exclusively) rational persuasion strategy in this series, and visual charts are a rational persuasion tool.

Propaganda sits in the III quadrant, because it is both highly emotive and highly coercive. Logical argument sits in the I quadrant, because it is both highly rational and presumes a shared background and understanding, as well as the freedom to reject or counter the argument. Academic orthodoxy, such as neoliberal economic practice, falls in quadrant II, while sexual display (highly emotive and voluntary) is quadrant IV.

Next post, I’ll focus more on how to recognize and resist manipulation, regardless of which strategy is being used and which quadrant it fits.  In the meantime, I invite you to test drive my matrix. What persuasion strategies can you spot in your daily life? Where would they fit on the chart?

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  1. Moneta

    For some reason it takes me back a few years when my daughter had to present herself in grade 7 using PowerPoint.

    The points she had listed about herself did not lend themselves to the program she was entering so I proposed she switched them to other ones.

    She was aghast: “You are asking me to lie!”

    Me: “Are you those things?”

    Her: “Hhmmm, well yes I guess. But you are asking me to manipulate my audience!”

    Me: “Welcome to the world of humans. You are more complicated than a few listed characteristics and rarely can you list more than a few so I recommend you choose those elements that help you get what you need.”

  2. PH


    For political discussions, I think it is important to keep in mind the power of notions of glory when trying to persuade. In my view, all people yearn for a sense of dignity. At the most basic level, it is a sene of self-worth based upon competence. As elborated, it is a sense of self-worth based upon righteousness or power.

    The world is chaotic, and frustrations bring humiliation. Accordingly, many people try to escape personal responsibility by associating themselves in their mind with something more powerful: God, nationalism, etc.

    These ideas are so powerful because they address very fundamental needs for a sense of self-worth.

    Ironically, in times of crisis, when the need for calm and practical thinking and action is most acute, frustration and humiliation run high, and the appeal of irrational notions of glory is most strong.

    Making the situation more tricky is that it rarely works to attack notions of glory directly. People rely on those fantasies too much to abandon them. Attacks just make the people angry.

    I think it is important to present political choices in specific, mundane terms. But in doing so, anyone must navigate a jungle of notions of glory.

    Not easy. And that is one reason I favor a strategy of many local organizing efforts to mount primary challenges. One size does not fit all. It is important to have local candidates in tune with local culture and language so they can speak the right words for local ears.

    1. tegnost

      “For political discussions, I think it is important to keep in mind the power of notions of glory when trying to persuade.”
      The image that popped into my head on reading this was of hillary claiming “we came, we saw, he died…giggle giggle”, and it has a weird connection to the person who badgered yves, the dystopia artlcle, and this one on persuasion.
      The badgerer was a “right thinking person” filled with a certainty of their superiority, and much like the DNC and certain commenters, can’t understand her own complicity (leather shoes in all liklihood, among many other things I’m sure) who’s persuasion technique is a bludgeon. Following this is the dystopia article, where a “right thinking person” otherizes those who have a different view, i.e. that as bad as the don is hillary is worse for a large number of voters, but that somehow is a bridge too far for the coastal elite dems and so turn them into deplorable zombies intent on destroying all that is good that they have done, which actually was just serving themselves a massive portion while starving many others and wondering why those stupid zombies won’t just get in line. Now we have a persuasion article where you make the argument in veiled terms that the problem was all pr, as if there were a person who could have articulated the dem platform by being better ” in tune with local culture and language so they can speak the right words for local ears.” although when pressed dem loyalists don’t have any policies that they can contextualize in the culture and language that will positively impact the deplorable masses, unless they use the bernie talking points, which they don’t believe in and would be basically lying in order to convince people to swing their way, One size doesn’t fit all? Tell that to our sillycon valley overlords with their glorious self driving trucks and fabulous tech that is intended to make us all a useless homogeneous mass (how exactly does this impact peoples self worth?) of controlled consumption that elevates said elite to their deserving godliness amen.
      Saw this link to jimmy dore through jesses cafe that may better elaborate this point
      The people who resorted to d trump don’t have a miniscule fraction of the sense of glory that the hillary crowd possesses. For political discussions I say lose words like glory and opportunity, and use words that have a practical impact on peoples lives like jobs, debt, and healthcare

      1. PH

        Interesting angle on sincerity and political persuasion.

        I do not advocate tapping into notions of glory to promote any cause, even though it is a powerful technique. But I think you have to be aware of what appeals will be powerful, and what techniques your opponents may use. But it is probable that I am too prissy on that point for the real world. Cannot remember a campaign I worked on that did not thrive on the thrill of being part of something larger.

        But I tend toward stick-in-the-mud, and want to stick to the practical concerns of here and now.

        I guess my reaction to the article was resistance to the four quadrant theme for types of arguments. In my view, it is not just some are emotional and some use logic. The emotional attachment to many ideas is tied to the sense of self, and very important to people.

        You have to tiptoe around those minefields to get to practical policy arguments.

        Or you can ride the wave of rhetoric to go right past. Ugh.

        William Jennings Bryant in his “Cross of Gold” speech drew upon a religious image with powerful emotional connotations in the farm communities. His argument was about technical monetary policy. Some might say he drew upon powerful emotional rhetoric to build support for a just cause, but I think it is a slippery slope to give politicians you agree with a pass on using that kind of rhetoric.

        1. tegnost

          Thanks for directing me to the speech, interesting how history rhymes. I wasn’t aware of the similarities in the power dynamics/distribution between then and now and wonder what those who want us to return to gold standard think it would fix. It seems in my unschooled opinion like the bimetalists were stabbing at a fractional system but the problem, due to the unfixed commodity value of silver, was that according to the wiki page one could purchase more silver with one silver dollar than there was in the coin, and even a banana currency would wind up with this problem eventually. I think a truly persuasive speaker is going to be able to move around the four quadrants at will in order to communicate with the various factions. Looking forward to the next installment. Rhetoric is a tough word since it has somewhat conflicting connotations, in some ways implying dishonesty and manipulation, while in others skill in communication and so is indeed a slippery slope as the listener has to figure out which one they’re hearing, appeals to unconscious bias or pragmatic reasoning for the common good.

        1. PH

          I am not sure what you mean.

          If you think I am suggesting that the Texas Congressman is making an appeal to a notion of glory simply because he is referencing some vague concept, then I have not gotten across what I mean.

          Usually, notions of glory are tied to a sense of a righteous group. We are followers of Christ; we are Americans. But the appeals are not universally powerful or unmixed with other more specific messages.

          Indeed, historical context is important to understanding how the appeal of certain notions of glory grow at certain times.

          To give an example, in the late 1970s, the economic stagflation and the shock of the Iranian Revolution and the invasion of Afghanistan, combined with the spectacle of Carter fecklessness, fueled rightwing nationalism.

          You can see that as simply a desire for different policies, rationally calculated, but that did not strike me as the big picture at the time. There was an emotional fervor, an anger, and a desperation that made the audience yearn for, and believe in, a redemption through nationalism. And with passionate righteous belief usually comes a hint of violence. Because super righteousness must be vindicated, by any means necessary.

          1. tegnost

            you’re correct, and the super righteousness of neoliberal dems has an emotional fervor, an anger and a desperation that yearns for redemption through globalism. This is how before the election they didn’t want trump because he might start a war with russia, to the current state where they want a war with russia because of trump, which to believe? Lambert is referring to the jimmy dore clip where scott peters uses glorious rhetoric of the deceptive variety by claiming “opportunity” is the goal of his party. Sounds good, means nothing, supports the egos of the super righteous winners that they got theirs through merit as all had the opportunity to legacy into yale and if you didn’t go it’s not their fault it’s yours. You reference the late ’70’s as nationalism, isn’t that about the time that the recent phase of globalisation began? We tried to make ussr broke with the star wars missile defense system, but that really was ’80’s…

            1. PH

              Not sure globalism has much group identity appeal, but certainly both parties appeal to nationalism. The strident militarism of Hillary crowd tries to tap that vein.

              The passions of nationalism usually support the right more strongly though. The Vietnam era provoked strong us v. Them passions, and the right identified themselves as defenders of the traditional while the left was labeled anti-American.

              Similarly, the left is generally less religious than the right.

              In my view, the country is a swirling mosaic of changing group identifications and ideas. But some attachments are stronger than others, and notions of glory tend to generate very strong attachments.

              Take the issue of abortion as an example. For people who identify with beliefs about godliness, and who view abortion as a mortal sin, there is a great passion driving their position, and a sense of us v them that reaches to the person’s sense of core identity.

              That voting block is difficult to move with a rational appeal to trade policy.

              Somewhat differently, there are racial and ethnic loyalties. This is not based on core values in the same way, but there is a sense of shared identity and shared interest. Dems usually rely upon these emotions more than notions of glory, unless the Dems are pitching militarism.

  3. Steve H.

    The root of Cialdini’s latest book is to use the Upper Right quadrant, which is energy and time intensive, to decide what it is you are to do, and then use Lower Right quadrant techniques to self-persuade yourself to do that.

    1. a different chris

      >then use Lower Right quadrant

      Of course, the nearest chart we have (sitting above) has “Sexual Display” in the Lower Right quadrant…. not sure that’s going to get (most of us) anything but disgusted faces followed by some minor jail time…

  4. craazyman

    Is it possible to persuade a hot female mathematician-type to be a sex-having person — let’s say the following weekend after a wine-filled dinner in a bed and breakfast in the country — through simply symbolic reasoning or would you have to display a part of your body? Either one by itself might backfire (and let’s assume as a constant that you’re buff and muscular with no bad breath).

    It would be bad to spend the whole dinner talking about tensors or Hilbert spaces and then going to sleep. But if you said, for example while flexing your bicep “Here, feel this. There’s a lot more where that came from.” You wonder whether she’d consider that to be persuasive, awkward or even rude.

    This is only a hypothetical. Persuasion is hard to quantify mathematically, but I’d say this example right here would be in quadrants (going clockwise) 2, 1 and 4. But not 3! The bicep is what it is.

    1. Moneta

      I’m not sure I’m hot but I am a female mathematician. I have to admit that I tend to use data to try and convince as using feelings makes me feel like a conniver… Go figure.

      When others try to use my feelings to get something, I cringe and run away.

      Alcohol does a good job though. Lol!

      1. craazyman

        Well since you have a daughter you probably were, or are, a sex having person. Were you persuaded by symbolic logic, by displays of physicality, or by alcohol? Or some linear combination? Or some non-linear differential equation that incorporated all as variables and that just nailed you into a whirling spiral of lust with complex eigenvalues at the right time? You don’t seem like the type who’d fall for propaganda, but I don’t want to presume too much.

          1. craazyman

            That doesn’t fall into any of the 4 persuasion quadrants. (That’s sort of a deep thought).

            Maybe instead of a Cartesian plane we need some sort of n-dimensional topological construct to really get to the bottom of this.

            1. Moneta

              Now I’m starting to think I was bamboozled a very long time ago… some childhood propaganda.

              So the quadrants should be 3D to include the time factor.

            2. Marina Bart

              Actually, “Time to make the donuts!” as a way of thinking about having a child probably falls in IV, but somewhat near the center of the matrix. The sense that one is supposed to breed, that it is the responsibility of the female to push for it, and that she has a limited time window in which to get it done, is driven by emotive factors, and while it is voluntary as an individual choice, it is also being fueled by coercive elements of social belief and structure, using some rational persuasion elements. That’s why you’d place it close to the center point.

              It is true, for example, that women can’t put off childbearing forever, so if that’s something you really want to do, there does come a time when you need to commit to making that donut. So there’s a rational factor mixed in there. But the anxiety and social shame that underpins that framing (and is intended to pressure women to commit to a relationship earlier rather than later and give birth to seal the commitment) is emotive.

              I can’t fully express how cool it is to have people talking about this and seeing the matrix work as an analytic tool.

              1. craazyman

                Maybe it’s a force of nature not a force of humankind.

                That is a deep thought, that nature would speak through somebody using their own language. Think about that. Why do animals breed. Because of social pressures and progaganda? What thoughts do they have and are those thoughts expressed in a form of language in their minds?

                What about math? Is that a living idea.outside the mind that finds its way into the perceptions somehow?

                You need a class in Contemporary Analysis at the University of Magonia. Observe, channel, think and analyze, but don’t simply traffic in cliches!

                1. jonboinAR

                  “Why do animals breed.?”

                  DNA. Make’s ’em horny. For humans, they say “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” Sometimes a little verse makes for better analysis than math.

          2. ewmayer

            Wait, since you are a mathematician, shouldn’t that have been “Time to make the 1-tori”?

  5. McKillop

    Having read about Yves Smith’s encounter with the impassioned woman (to my mind, mentally deranged by her emotional response to perceived animal cruelty), I can’t help but draw a relationship with this article and it’s discussion of persuasion.
    Logic was mugged by emotion. The wearing of a “dead dog’s” fur -good thing it wasn’t recognized as a wild creature’s fur -, signaled a transgression against nature, in the woman’s mind, a sin. Stepping around and away from the first encounter showed that persuasion had failed and that increasingly coercive action was necessary to convince in so little time and for such an important purpose.
    I imagine that the appeal to some divine power in pointing out the “curse” of lameness and suffering was a more coercive behaviour mistakenly considered persuasive.
    There is no reasoning with some people, especially those emotionally convinced of their beliefs and behaviours. They will use violence – a threat, an assault or battery, a rope or cross, a knife, a gun or bomb to “show you”.

    1. JohnnyGL

      I figure one of the few things that might ‘persuade’ Yves’ harasser would be a nice trip to an indonesian palm-oil plantation where she can watch miles of rainforest burn and see the animals (and people) fleeing from the destruction. Choking from smoke inhalation might help to make the case.

      More seriously, though, I really don’t pretend to understand people like that. I figure it’s more about a show of power than anything of substance, really.

  6. simjam

    Sorry, “humans” are no smarter than other forms of animal life. Read the just published “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are,” by Frans De Waall. LRB recently reviewed.

    1. susan the other

      I agree with this view, just instinctively. For instance, I’m certain animals are much subtler and more polite than we are. My dogs never gave up on me for being a dolt. And there is this too: actually we are polite, we all have a higher sense of the truth than we let on because we keep it in abeyance mostly – we censor our inner mind reader and store the moment away as a character judgment of the person who was persuading us. I think we underestimate our own skepticism and our forgiving nature. We wait to take action on our assessments until it is necessary, if ever.

    2. Lambert Strether

      Rather like an argument made in Frank Herbert’s Destination Void. Scientists building an artificial consciousness without asking themselves “Are we conscious?”

  7. Altandmain

    Probably one of the biggest negotiations that people will have to make these days is job salaries. Employers frequently lowball.

    It’s naked class warfare. Then when they don’t get their way, they insist there is a shortage. No there isn’t. Only shortage is of employers willing to pay a fair wage.

    I bet a lot of people quit their jobs because they aren’t paid fairly.

    1. jonboinAR

      There’s always a shortage of workers willing to work for the wages employers want to pay. That’s all that “worker shortage” has ever meant.

  8. maxhazard

    Stuart Diamond’s Getting More was quite eye opening for me, and it’s helped me to persuade people. It gives you many tools that span the quadrant above. Being incremental and “It’s about them” is Rational/Voluntary. Emotional Payments are Emotional Voluntary. Using Standards to take advantage of human desire for consistency is Coercive/Rational.

    I’m not sure where “Trading items of unequal value” fits in, but that’s one of the most powerful tools you can use.

    1. nonsense factory

      Replace “persuade people” with “manipulate people” and then ask yourself if that kind of behavior is a character trait you like to see in yourself people around you. Many people believe that this particular character trait is indicative of narcissistc personality disorder. A decent 12-min discussion of this is here:

    2. Marina Bart

      I’m not familiar with Diamond. I’m going to read up. Just looking at the landing page, it’s interesting how the approach itself is being sold there using very particular emotive persuasion tactics. I’m not saying that means it’s bunk. But it sure looks like it’s trying to persuade people to use this approach who are disinclined, but can be persuaded by getting them to think they’re more virtuous beings doing it this way.

      “Trading items of unequal value” is framed there as being just another element of understanding who you’re negotiating with, but the potential for manipulation and exploitation is huge. The purchase of Manhattan was a trade of items of unequal value, for example. The sunny presentation of this approach on the landing page seems to imply that because you’re supposed to also be transparent, “trading things of unequal value” means finding an trade where both parties legitimately feel they’re getting what they want, not that one party takes advantage of asymmetrical information to make a trade that objectively advantages them. Yet if you really wanted to communicate that the trade should result in both parties getting something that is equally valuable to them — like I have a hen and you have a well so I have extra eggs and you have extra water and we trade our excesses to one another — there should be a better way to express that concept. Eggs and water are both, objectively, things of equal value; they’re just subjectively not of equal value to each party in the negotiation.

      So until I understand the details, I can’t tell where I’d put “trade things of unequal value” in the matrix. In the “egg for water” exchange, that would be rational and voluntary, so quadrant I. But usually, the whole point of the concept “trading things of unequal value” is one party using coercion and emotive persuasion to take asymmetrical advantage of the other party. If I say, “Here are these pretty beads, we want this island,” while standing in front of an army of men with guns, talking to someone to whom the concept of private property is completely alien, that is both coercive and emotive, relying both on force, and the pretty, tangible, transportable objects as an enticement and distraction. So that would be quadrant III.

      I’d love Yves’ thoughts on this, because she’s a negotiator.

  9. p7b

    The interesting thing is that educated people who have the discipline to put reason and logical rigor first, are actually in some circumstances *more* susceptible to manipulation – because they are in denial about the power of their own emotions and/or prejudices, and most of all, their instinctive sensitivity to social cues, which is well developed by professional training but never subject to formal analysis, in fact, we are trained to suppress such analysis.

    We’re all human, it comes down to that.

  10. nonsense factory

    One interesting and disturbing feature of these emotive and rational “persuasion” techniques (aka brainwashing techniques) is that entire populations can be conditioned to be responsive to them.(Frank Herbert tackles such themes in his science fiction books, incidentally).

    A poorly educucated subset of the population might be heavily subjected to emotional persuasion techniques, while the upper-class highly-educated sector is served with the rational persuasion techniques. This could be seen in the kind of PR delivered via celebrity gossip outlets, vs. the kind delivered by the New York Times and the Economist.

    Interestingly, using the opposite techniques on these groups could fail; while well-educated people are highly susceptible to arguments that appear rational and logical and well-researched (because they “look” academic), the opposite is true for those who suspect academics and the wealthy upper class; they are more likely to buy into highly emotional arguments (“God, country, people, values!”) that ignore any logical or evidence-based approach.

    In the end, it all comes down to dishonest sleazy efforts to manipulate people by corporations, governments and individuals – aka confidence artists. This has long been a dominant feature of American society, as anyone can find by reading the 1857 book by Herman Melville, “The Confidence Man: His Masquerade”

    1. Marina Bart

      You’re halfway to a good point, but you’re being sloppy in your phrasing, so I’m not sure whether you are misunderstanding or poorly articulating a valid point.

      “Poorly educated” people can be rationally persuaded just fine. It is rational to look around your community, see that fewer people there have homes, jobs, and decent lives than they did eight years ago, and vote for the person who comes to them and says, “I see how you are suffering and intend to change that,” if the only other feasible choice is someone who won’t even face you, while communicating through more distant channels that they don’t even see the suffering their party and governing practices caused you and they have no intention of changing it.

      What drives the liberal elites mad about what happened in the last election is that Trump won using rational persuasion, and Clinton lost using emotive persuasion. Since liberals condescend to those of less status and wealth (and ergo less education), it’s impossible for them to imagine such an phenomenon. The poors can’t be rational. Ergo the only way Trump could win is by being even MORE emotive. But that’s not what happened.

      You need to remove the scare quotes around persuasion. Persuasion is not all manipulation. If more commenters indicate they don’t understand that from the piece, I’ll put more thought into how to better explain that, and persuade you that it’s true.

      Here’s a tiny example. I’d like to write a whole post examining the power of labels. The elites think they’re terribly clever doing stuff like calling legislation to void the Bill of Rights the “Patriot Act.” But that probably had almost no impact long term on whether or not people believe that law is a good idea. It was more a reflection of coercive, emotive persuasion than a driver of it. On the other hand, calling the phenomenon destroying the habitability of the planet “global warming” was a TERRIBLE idea. The worst part was using the word “warming.” “Warming” sounds pleasant, and gentle. Who doesn’t like to be warm? It communicated precisely the opposite connotation of what would accurately reflect the concept. And “global” is too big for most people to grasp psychologically. It’s like how it’s easier to steal a trillion dollars than ten, because people can’t fully comprehend just how big a trillion is. But everybody can picture a ten dollar bill and what you can buy with it.

      Using the term “climate crisis” is a huge improvement. (“Climate” = something that’s part of where I live; “crisis” = urgent and dangerous; two hard “c”s as alliteration to pummel the reader/listener reinforces the urgency and potential violence of the problem.) If using a more persuasive term for this terrible problem plays a role in moving masses of people to force their rulers into transforming the system away from fossil fuels and towards sustainability, isn’t that a good thing?

      1. nonsense factory

        Well, my point is more that if the general populace is incapable of responding to things like the threat of fossil-fueled global warming because of “bad messaging” then there’s really a much bigger problem, related to a lack of critical thinking and reasoning skills, and an inability to independently analyze situations and weigh the costs, risks, and benefits of any action.

        I was also getting at the issue of “well-educated” people being just as vulnerable to propaganda tactics, if their education is overly authoritarian in nature (what one might call indoctrination vs. education). I do see more “rational propaganda” tactics directed at this group on issues like trade policy, government regulatory policy, etc, than “emotional propaganda” tactics. But this is a secondary issue, really.

        The central concern I have is that there appears to be a deliberate campaign to dumb down American citizens and make them more vulnerable and susceptible to mass propaganda tactics, and that such indoctrination of children and young adults is being facilitated by our educational and mass media system. Clearly independent thinking coupled to strong analytical and reasoning abilities are not characteristics that our government and corporations want to encourage in the general population.

        1. Marina Bart

          I agree with much of this, but you’re still making a crucial category error. Propaganda =/= persuasion. You’re continuing the fallacy that it is, so it’s hard for us to discuss any of the other issues in a useful way.

          Persuasion is not necessarily a function of the state, not necessarily manipulative, and not necessary harmful.

          Messaging is communication. Communication fails all the time. It is the job of the communicator to communicate effectively. If you want millions of people to sacrifice for a goal that is neither tangible nor immediate, you’re going to need to be thoughtful in your communication. With something like the climate crisis, you have powerful forces that don’t want to address it, so for those who DO want to address, using effective persuasion techniques are even more important.

          The point of my piece, and the matrix I created, is to give people a new tool to better understand the various flavors of persuasion. It is intended to be part of one’s critical thinking toolkit. But if you refuse to accept that not all persuasion is propaganda, and that humans are persuading each other all day long — not merely nefarious state actors through public channels, but people going about their daily lives in the office, the supermarket, the local bar, and the park — this tool won’t help you. And you’re displaying a resistance to critical thinking yourself here, by refusing to respond to the actual material in the post. I agree with you that we’re being inundated in propaganda. That’s part of why I wrote the piece.

          You are wrong that the only way highly educated people are vulnerable to propaganda is if they had an authoritarian style education. That’s just wrong. The whole point of effective propaganda is that it is tapping into deeply hard-wired, non-rational parts of our nature. It doesn’t matter what type of education you received, if your fight or flight response is being triggered all day every day. Yes, critical thinking skills can be protective. Again, that’s why I wrote the piece. But lots of people who went to groovy progressive schools have probably been swept up in the Russia hysteria, while lots of people educated in authoritarian, hierarchical religious schools have not. The schooling style is not a driver.

          1. Moneta

            Circa 2004, I have to make a presentation to managers to convince them there is a real estate bubble.

            I’m scratching my head wondering how I can do this with PowerPoint.

            My husband: you talk too much. Keep it short. Managers only have time for 3 bullet points.

            Me: there is no way I can explain this bubble with 3 bullets, never mind convince.

            My husband: can’t you find them another way to make more money with this bubble?

            I believe most persuasion involves preaching to the choir. The gains are at the margin.

            I might like to debate and argue but I rarely feel good about shoving my ideas down other people’s throats because the world is so complex, I often end up realizing that I am missing a big piece of the puzzle.

            A few years ago, a stranger asked me how my son with a disability was doing. I answered that he sure knows what he wants but it’s not necessarily what’s good for him. The stranger replied: “That’s what you think.”

            There is a whole school of thought that focuses on the art of persuasion but it makes me feel uncomfortable.

            I believe that when we truly care about others, we don’t persuade, we debate and inform. Since most of us are really bad at empathy, how can we really know what is best for others? So when we persuade, it is essentially selfish.

            1. TheCatSaid


              I believe that when we truly care about others, we don’t persuade, we debate and inform. Since most of us are really bad at empathy, how can we really know what is best for others? So when we persuade, it is essentially selfish.

              Beautifully said.

              While I understand the main post intends “persuasion” to be “effective communication” and not “propaganda” or “manipulation, the reality is more nuanced.

              How do we determine whether our communication was “effective” or not–by whether we provided enough information for another person to make their own informed choice–regardless of whether we agree with the outcome, or by whether another person decided to do something that reflects our personal point of view?

              Persuasion and effective communication are often, I suspect, evaluated based on whether they result in our personal preferred outcome, rather than on moving towards respecting and actively serving informed, free-will decision making. The line can be so fine! And difficult or impossible to ascertain from our personal perspective.

              All I can do, personally, is to try to communicate my views in a way that has integrity as I understand it, and let go of being tied to specific results. Non-attachment to the outcome seems important to me, to avoid manipulation.

          2. nonsense factory

            You say that, “The whole point of effective propaganda is that it is tapping into deeply hard-wired, non-rational parts of our nature.”

            That’s just it. The essence of what I’m talking about is that the “hard-wired, non-rational parts of our nature” are not really “hard-wired” or “natural” but rather are a function of social indoctrination by mass media and educational systems from early childhood onwards.

            In many ways, this system of control appears to be failing, as seen in widespread distrust of corporate mass media; but without real education in critical analysis, the general public still can be misled by dishonest actors.

            When I hear the “persuasion” argument, what I hear is the elitist notion that the general public must be led around like a bull with a ring through its nose because “smart people” know what’s best for them (the technocratic elite model embraced by Clinton’s team, for example). That kind of argument smacks of “Big Brother knows best”, and should always be rejected.

            It’s far better to trust a well-informed public to make good decisions, without trying to control what they think by delivering selective and slanted information via the media and educational systems. This means that the job of the media and the schools is to inform and educate, not to manipulate and indoctrinate.

      2. rod

        marina bart I am glad you were invited to post to this site since I read that “Do Democratic Operatives Dream…” tome a bit ago. ironically, I told a friend that the links and graphics provided really made a convincing case for a persuasive case.
        I like how you are untangling ‘media presentation’.

        in doing so: ” you’re going to need to be thoughtful in your communication.”. which implies choosing your words carefully, hoping the listener is as careful and discerning(another topic?). I am very interested in the choosing and use of that language by the influential(media or expert).
        so I think you should scratch at that Power of Labels itch as an extension of this series.
        or the workings of conflation of language in media?

  11. Jim

    “We are creatures of both reason and feeling.”
    “Anyone who claims superiority on the basis of elevating any one aspect of human nature over the other is either lying to themselves or you or both.”

    There are important philosophers, whom, without raising any claim to superiority, argue quite persuasively that the passions predominate over human reason and that the ends of human life are grounded in the passions.

    One such individual is David Hume who states that “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions. Another such individual is Thomas Hobbes who famously theorized reason as being a “scout” for the passions.”

    An important factor in why Hobbes is so persuasive on this issue is that his psychological profile of the individual remains constant in both the state of nature and his fully developed civil society– where a more evolved calculating mechanism, reason, enables the passions to proceed more smoothly and efficiently to the ends to which they are driven than would be the case if only unmitigated passions were in control as they appear to be in his state of nature.

    How do you view the relationship between reason and the passions? Is one more fundamental then the other in your thinking?

    1. Marina Bart

      I would probably agree that considered broadly, “passions” are more fundamental to human function than reason. But I also think we need to be careful about what we mean when we use that word. Some of what Hume and Hobbes meant might be categorized now as background cognitive processing.

      I basically resist the idea of setting up an oppositional paradigm. I don’t think reason vs. passion is accurate or valid, just like I don’t think that mind vs. body is accurate or valid. The more we know about human biology, the more those things are demonstrably integrated. We have neurotransmitters in our gut, and some of our emotional reactions may be triggered by bacterium in our digestive system. Our hormonal production definitely impacts our emotional response as well as our cognition.

      Whatever it means to be human, trying to define what we are by drawing bright lines between different elements of our functionality and then ranking one over the other keeps being proven to be both fallacious and unuseful. It’s internalizing the power imbalance framework of a master/servant relationship, too, which I also do not believe is an innate, inescapable element of human nature between humans, so certainly not within the individual.

      Reason is precious to me. While it may be a weaker force in how human beings operate as a species, that doesn’t make it less valuable or important.

      For a more nuanced response, I’d need to think more. I haven’t read much Hume OR Hobbes in decades, for one thing.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > We have neurotransmitters in our gut, and some of our emotional reactions may be triggered by bacterium in our digestive system. Our hormonal production definitely impacts our emotional response as well as our cognition.

        Off topic, but It would be irresponsible not to speculate that class warfare is fought intergenerationally not only through accumulation but through epigenetics; lead poisoning being the tip of the iceberg, as it were.

        On topic, there’s a neat book I should reread called Looking for Spinoza that bears on these issues:

        A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. He studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated. He found that they seemed normal, except that they were not able to feel emotions. But they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat. Many decisions have pros and cons on both sides—shall I have the chicken or the turkey? With no rational way to decide, these test subjects were unable to arrive at a decision.

        So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion.

        At some point, you have to move the body (as in the bodies of actual persons in space and time). It’s not enough simply to manipulate symbols, no matter how much the 10% would like to believe it is. So it’s worth enquiring into how the body is actually moved (all senses).

        1. Marina Bart

          I can’t help but wonder about the phenomenon that just as our society has gotten seriously unjust and unequal, the act of injecting a dangerous toxin (Botox) into the muscles of the face has been promoted for its beautifying and anti-aging qualities. Freezing those facial muscles and letting them atrophy significantly impairs one’s ability to do micro-expressions, and there’s robust evidence that forming micro-expressions in response to another person plays an important role in creating empathy.

          You literally mirror their faces at an often non-observable level, so that your face and your facial muscles briefly and imperceptibly becomes their face and their muscles, so that you then experience some of what they are feeling (our facial expressions can cause, not merely reflect, emotional responses), and that is how your brain learns to empathize with this other being.

          So our medical system has been promoting a process to people with excess capital or other advantages that will reduce their capacity to empathize with people who are not like them.


          1. Steve H.

            This line of thought is not only insightful but possibly verifiable. In the same way Lambert looks at shipping because it deals with stuff, the body and Botox have material effects on affect. Lambert and Marina address the effects on the two sides of class conflict.

            I spent the wee hours this morning in our local emergency room with my godson who got his leg bone shattered into five pieces. The EMT’s who got him there put the stabilizing boot on wrong, so his foot was flopping around on the fifteen miles into the hospital. In the ER someone put the pulse-oximeter on wrong so they were treating him as though the painkillers were depressing his CNS while he was in agony.

            This hospital was engulfed about a year ago within a larger organization. Since then, one friend was sent home untreated for a dislocated shoulder because they saw an anxiety diagnosis. She drank a bunch of vodka and got it popped back in at her own house. Another was turned away while suffering heart attacks because she had MRSA, which she probably got from that same hospital. I saw a suicide risk kicked because no insurance. The new hospital is being built where it requires a car to get to, and the old once, blocks from downtown, will be shuttered.

            A doctor friend quit GP because of adrenal overload. Last night a nurse came in and told Chris to keep his screams down because it disturbed the other patients. Point being, those who are competent and compassionate are going GTFO. Meanwhile admin and buildings expand and chew up even more resources, and it is the patients who are suffering.

            That’s the medical institutions rapidly decaying. Education has similar issues. Two of three of my friends who taught primary school GTFO. My son has retaken an core programming class and both teachers clearly never taught it before and are doing poorly. The Feb 13 Water Cooler noted that 89% of adjuncts work at more than one institution. But there are cranes all over campus and the university president makes seven figures a year.

            Joe and his classmates not only got poor training, but significant distress from trying to complete cocked-up assignments and use concepts which the inexperienced teachers didn’t know the students hadn’t been taught. We can look at the material distributions and see the intangible results. Marina and Lambert have hit even more definitive contingencies than I report. Janet and I are just trying to avoid getting splatted the way my godson did.

            1. Steve H.

              To explicitly address Jim’s question: decisions are contingent on emotions; emotions are contingent on circumstances; decisions which are individually rational can increase systemic instability; systemic instability increases overall unreasonability.

              Rational arguments elicit emotive responses.

      2. TheCatSaid

        Those are great points. Some of those ways of knowing we put in the spectrum of intuition. As I go through life I am developing my intuition in various ways, especially in areas in which I’ve put in considerable time/experience/commitment.

        It’s as if parts of my sensory system expand, depending on how I’m focusing and putting things into use.

  12. Res Ipsa Loquitor

    Interesting article. It makes me want to go back and re-read Demosthenes’ On the Crown speech. Possibly the greatest piece of persuasion in human history, with a healthy dose of each quadrant included. A speech so great his defeated opponent had to go into exile (although this was not totally uncommon in ancient Athens). We should be so lucky with Hillary after this past election.

    1. Marina Bart

      Now I want to read that speech. Do you have a translation recommendation for someone with only an amateur background in Classics?

      1. Res Ipsa Loquitur

        Harvey Yunis is the only translation I’ve read, so I can’t comment on others, but his was vivid and enjoyable.

        I only have an amateur background in classics as well, as evidenced by the typo in my hastily typed username last night.

        Anyway, looking forward to more in this series!

      2. Res Ipsa Loquitur

        Just wanted to add… the On the Crown speech is the climax of a series of opposing speeches by Demosthenes and Aeschines that took place over a number of years. While it is easily the best of the bunch, they are all well worth a read to get a better sense of the rivalry between the two. Aeschines was quite an orator as well, just not quite as good as his rival, in the end.

  13. Foppe

    Marina: thanks for the write-up. I had a few thoughts while reading that I don’t currently have the time to seriously ponder further (dutch nat’l elections tomorrow, lots of conversations going on that I’m trying to inject some sanity into, plus work, plus some last-minute canvassing), so I hope it’s okay if I dump them here and leave it to you to decide whether or not you want to respond to them. :)

    1. not every type of argument / every attempt to make someone see that they’re holding views they’d be better off changing is amenable to attempts at persuasion coming from any quadrant. Paradigmatic or world-view fit plays a big role in determining what works to engender endogenous, stable change (analogous to symmetry / mathematical elegance).

    2. (connected to above) persuasion is easiest when the issues are academic; hardest when they come at (perceived) great personal cost, and they embody / require a change of world-view. In the latter case, rational persuasion, even if the other party concurs, generally doesn’t lead to behavioral change, and actually acting on those new insights, either because someone doesn’t (dare) raise those worries / thoughts, or because people are tired / feel a need to protect themselves and are worried they won’t be able to ignore the implications if they continue the conversation / etc.

    3. the distinction between manipulation and persuasion seems to me to hang on wanting to convince someone to do something else / hold different beliefs because of what you know of your own or the other’s values (while being willing to talk about and verify this, and changing your ideas) and wanting to convince someone to do something because it is in your interest and/or instrumentally in theirs, but (for whatever reason) without an explicit attempt to make furthering understanding of the why of it an integral part of the process.
    A (Misguided) example of the latter would be people who make ‘being feminist’ a requirement of being in a relationship with them without really talking about this, etc. (While such incentives may serve a purpose as prefiguration / because of their own needs wrt the behavior of someone they call their partner, it generally doesn’t lead to understanding — or if it does, it’s accidental.) Of course, those types of (open) conversations are hard to have, because we don’t really learn how to do so, and are constantly concerned with ego — i.e. other, unspoken need(s) — defense.

    1. Marina Bart

      Foppe, I appreciate this thoughtful, detailed comment and want to reply. But I didn’t think to check here when I had time earlier today, and now I’m kind of slammed. So I’m going to try to reply to comments that are a little less time intensive right now. If I don’t get back to this by tomorrow, please flag me in Links or Water Cooler Thursday to remind me. Tomorrow is likely to be nuts.

    2. TheCatSaid

      Great observations re: paradigm/world view. Related to that–but related to this post overall as well–Alan Savory gave a great keynote speech in which he talked about his own learning about communication. He said he’s learned people are so emotionally tied to their beliefs that it is generally speaking ineffective–and often counter-productive–to provide facts, evidence and reasoning. He says he has to wait till they ask him a question–because only at that point have they created the mental infrastructure to be able to hear a response!

      He said he might occasionally make comments (about their factually mistaken belief about certain agricultural “truths”, for example), like saying “That sounds very complicated. I wonder how they figured that out?” Which might, or might not, lead them to ask a question (even if only internally to question their own assumptions and beliefs).

      I, too, have found I don’t do anyone a favor by sharing factual information with someone where there is not yet a “listening”.

    3. Marina Bart

      Hey, Foppe. I didn’t forget. I’m not sure how much of a conversation you want to have about this, but let’s start here.

      persuasion is easiest when the issues are academic; hardest when they come at (perceived) great personal cost, and they embody / require a change of world-view. In the latter case, rational persuasion, even if the other party concurs, generally doesn’t lead to behavioral change, and actually acting on those new insights, either because someone doesn’t (dare) raise those worries / thoughts, or because people are tired / feel a need to protect themselves and are worried they won’t be able to ignore the implications if they continue the conversation / etc.

      That’s not what I was trying to say. It is a mistake to perceive rational persuasion (academic persuasion being a subset of that) as innately more valid or effective. As a technique, you can use rational persuasion to mislead, just as you can with every other type of persuasion. Generally speaking, the easiest way to persuade someone is emotively — regardless of whether that person is smart or stupid, or whatever terminology you want to use for “rationally adept” vs “rationally inept.”

      It is absolutely true that persuading someone to believe or do something that will result in any cost to them makes the act of persuasion more difficult. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” is an elegant example of this truth, that we see demonstrated every day in the American elite.

      the distinction between manipulation and persuasion seems to me to hang on wanting to convince someone to do something else / hold different beliefs because of what you know of your own or the other’s values (while being willing to talk about and verify this, and changing your ideas) and wanting to convince someone to do something because it is in your interest and/or instrumentally in theirs, but (for whatever reason) without an explicit attempt to make furthering understanding of the why of it an integral part of the process.

      Manipulation hinges on your using tactics intended to covertly undermine your target’s ability to reach a different conclusion than the one you prefer. You can convince someone to do something in their own interest (let’s set aside the problem of who determines what is in another’s interest) manipulatively or non-manipulatively. The key is not anyone’s goals or values, either yours or the targets’, or how much you understand them or work to make them understand you. It’s true that if you don’t understand your targets’ goals and values, you are generally less likely to persuade them. That’s a common reason why persuaders resort to the basest kind emotive persuasion, whether one on one or en masse. You’re playing the odds. Most humans can be motivated under at least some circumstances by fear or desire; by hunger or a craving for social contact. These things are hard-wired into us, so while it is still an imperfect tactic (two different people in two very different life circumstances or cultures may respond to different things – say, a hand holding a gun – very differently), you can play the “fool most of the people most of the time” game and win fairly often.

      Manipulation is telling stranger in a bar your spouse ran off with someone else to get the stranger to sleep with you – whether or not it’s true. That should be irrelevant to whether or not they find you attractive and would enjoy having sex with you. You’re trying to get around their making a decision that’s best for them by ensnaring them in a sympathetic response. (This will generally work better on female targets because of social conditioning.)

      Manipulation is deliberately using false information mixed with factual information in such a way as to lead your targets to believe that the Russian government hacked into voting machines to change the Presidential election results, when that’s not technologically possible, AND there’s no evidence the Russian government did any kind of hacking beyond what all governments do against one another, AND there’s plenty of evidence that Americans voted the way they did for reasons that had nothing to do Russia.

      It’s the intent and act of causing confusion, so that the target will struggle to make an autonomous decision, that makes it manipulative. In the stranger in a bar example, it’s because the target has to fight against the sympathy response, which is emotive. In the Russian hacking example, it’s the mixing of falsehoods with facts, so that it’s harder to spot the falsehoods, and therefore the target is more likely to accept them, combined with the emotive elements that play off of almost a century of propaganda.

      Is any of that useful?

  14. UserFriendly

    lately I’ve been doing my darnedest to try and manipulate/convince journalists / anyone with a voice on the national stage / anyone from an older generation; on twitter or fb or other comment sections; that they have destroyed this country by turning my generation into debt slaves. I’d say I mainly stick to quadrant’s 1 and 3. Explaining how I did everything I was supposed to do and promptly had my life destroyed for it. I play to their feelings of national pride by saying I hate this country with every fiber of my being. I also play to quadrant 1 by having the numbers and data to back it up. I point to Reagan, Clinton, and Obama as being by far the worst 3 presidents we’ve ever had in my opinion and way to ensure they can’t retreat into partisanship.

    small sample:

    1. Moneta

      Is your goal to convince them, annoy them or get a fair deal?

      The stats… they’ll just say that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

      Your saying that you hate your country makes you a traitor in their eyes. And saying you did everything right will get them to focus on a detail you got wrong or that you are just too impatient… just keep on working hard for another 20 years and goodies will surely fall in your lap.

      You are trying to change an ideology which was built over decades. It’s going to take decades to change or a shock.

      The only thing you can do is keep on showing the facts without complaining or looking like a victim.

      1. Res Ipsa Loquitur

        Respectfully disagree. It’s all about the medium, and the intended audience. Twitter is much more blunt force than nuance, and there is a good bit of rhetorical force in pure bitterness and venom. He is a victim, and people should know that this is how victims feel.

        As for the audience, he’s not trying to convince uber-patriotic Trump voters who want to make America great again. He’s going after the comfortable, satisfied, America-is-already-great crowd and the anodyne centrist intellectuals and media that insist on ignoring every elephant in every room. Pissing in their cheerios – defacing their idols, ruining their morning – is precisely the point.

        It’s not so different from how Lambert’s withering criticisms about the shortfalls of the ACA have turned me into an ardent and vocal advocate for single-payer in the relatively short time I’ve been reading this blog.

        Keep up the good work @UserFriendly.

      2. Marina Bart

        Actually, the point of persuasion strategy is that there ARE other things you can do to reach them besides argue rationally. But I agree, what he is currently doing, particularly in this medium, is unlikely to achieve his goal.

    2. Marina Bart

      I was thinking of the quadrant numbering of following what’s taught in elementary school. But it occurs to me now that I should have put the numbers in the actual quadrants. I’ll fix that for next time.

      I don’t think you mean quadrant III in my scheme. Quadrant III is coercive/emotive. It’s where propaganda sits. You don’t have the power to coerce anybody on Twitter by yourself. You’d have to be doing troll brigading or making credible threats of personal violence for tweets to be coercive. I haven’t looked at all of your examples (sorry, I wish I’d seen this hours ago when I had time), but they sound like they’re all quad I: rational and voluntary. I guess you could treat your negatively emotional messaging as being emotive persuasion, which would get you to quad IV (emotive/voluntary, since you have no power to coerce the people you’re communicating with). But honestly, I think all that would really do in terms of placement is put the data point/bubble representing the type of strategy you’re using in quad I but near the border of emotive, and way over to the right side, since there’s no coercive element.

      You need to make a distinction between feeling emotion yourself, and working to trigger an emotional response in your target intended to achieve your goal. This matrix focuses on what is driving the success of your strategy in persuading your target, not how you feel about doing it. It also doesn’t encompass everything about how one chooses the best strategy for their circumstances and channel options. I’m still figuring how how to create a simple, useful tool to cover that in conjunction with the matrix. (I could and will explain it, but I want a visual tool, as well.)

      What you’re trying to do is a good example of that issue. It is true that some people, in some circumstances, will be persuaded by another person’s suffering or anger. But attacking strangers in an aggressive manner on Twitter is pretty much guaranteed to be a failed strategy. Both the medium itself and the culture that has grown up within it are acting against you. That’s not going to work unless you can assert dominance over them via the channel, which is really difficult to do, without having the necessary status and power external to the medium itself. Someone like @ActualFlatticus may occasionally succeed at that, but I’m not sure even he does it. The vast majority of accounts he beats up on he taunts until they block him. That’s not persuasion of the person being taunted. The people he is persuading with this tactic are not the people he is communicating with. It’s a performance of expertise and emotional dominance aimed at bystanders.

      You aren’t playing on their feelings of national pride by saying you hate this country. You’re positioning yourself as outside their group, and therefore easy to ignore. If you want to use emotive reasoning on them via Twitter, you’d need to play on pathos, I suspect, and I am not sure that would be effective enough to be worth the emotional price you would pay doing it, partly because you’d need to do it over and over and over again. I don’t think it’s an optimal alignment of driver and channel. But it’s an interesting problem that presents an opportunity to get into next stage thinking about persuasion practices. So I’d love to discuss it with you further, and will definitely keep your scenario in mind for the next piece. Feel free to reply here, but Wednesday is probably going to be rough for me; I may not be able to get back to you until Thursday.

  15. H. Alexander Ivey

    Persuasion, the concept, is simple: it is the act of getting a person or persons to do or believe something you want them to do or believe.

    An underlying assumption seems to be that ‘force’ is not allowed to be an influence in the action of persuasion. If this is true, doesn’t that limit what persuasion is?

    And, if we allow the use of force, then the problem of unequal trades can be resolved. Unequal trades occur due to force being a persuasive element.

    1. Marina Bart

      If you look at the x axis of the matrix, to the left is “coercive”. That is how force comes into play. So to answer your question in your next comment, I’m not sure if you’re missing my meaning or not.

      Torture is a form of persuasion. A terrible, extremely (optimally?) coercive form of persuasion, but you can inflict physical pain to get someone to do what you want, up to a point. It is far more limited a tool than its advocates want to acknowledge, but it can work to achieve some goals, in some circumstances.

      The problem of unequal trades I mentioned was a response to the way the “Getting More” model is presented. That has no real context in this matrix. For the purposes of the matrix, offering someone something they want could be rational OR emotive. It could even arguably fall in quad II: coercive/rational. If I’m thirsty and you offer me water, my accepting the water is rational. If I live in an impoverished village with no ready access to clean water and am risking serious physical harm due to my thirst, and you offer me a bottle of water if and only if I will listen to your sermon about Christianity and attend your church, even though I am not a Christian and have no interest in it, you’re being coercive AND it’s rational to accept the water.

      The inequality of the trade is irrelevant to how you are persuading me. And I don’t think force is a necessary element to unequal trades, although it’s common.

      1. H. Alexander Ivey

        Got it. Thanks for the explanation. To recap for myself: persuasion involves two (not only one) elements: 1. the degree of emotive/rational mental involvement and 2. the degree of physical involvement (forced to by others / forced to by oneself). So we can and should evaluate an act of persuasion by both elements, not one only.

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