9.4. What Caused Our Current Crisis?
Techniques stolen from the social sciences have completely transformed how our institutions operate.
In the previous video, I argued that the system of incentives that’s supposed to keep our institutions in line has failed.
Our politicians have figured out how to win elections without actually delivering on their promises of good governance.
Our businesses have figured out how to get us to hand over our money without delivering any real value to our lives.
The media has figured out how to attract our attention without delivering good, substantive reporting.
But the question remains: how did this happen?
And why now?
After all, politicians and businesses have been trying to scam us since the beginning of time.
What is it that’s made them so successful at it, in recent decades?
It’s the explosion of knowledge about what makes people tick, coming out of our modern social sciences.
The modern fields of psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, and communication all got started around the beginning of the twentieth century — and with them came a huge influx of new knowledge about human behavior.
But for every pioneering scholar, illuminating the inner workings of human minds and behaviors…there’s been a cadre of politicians, consultants, advertisers, marketers, public relations officers, and communication specialists exploiting those findings to swindle votes, sell junk, and fill our heads with lies.
Our institutions aren’t trying to do anything different than they’ve always done.
But the quantity and quality of tools they have at their disposal to manipulate us have taken an enormous leap forward in effectiveness.
Now, they can target cognitive biases and fallacies built into our brains.
Now, they can spend billions of dollars, and collect enormous amounts of data, to figure out which techniques are most effective on us.
Now, many of these manipulative practices aren’t even seen as a bad thing.
They’re even considered among the “best practices” in the industry!
We like to imagine our competitions are fair.
That in politics, the best policies will win out.
In business, the best products will win out.
And in journalism, the most accurate and comprehensive coverage will win out.
But in reality, we know that far too often, victory goes instead to the slickest political operation, the splashiest advertising campaign, and the most sensationalist media coverage…regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
Far too often, the main determinant of success is the packaging rather than the content.
But don’t blame the masses for falling for their manipulative tricks.
This isn’t happening because we’re stupid.
It’s happening because we’re human.
This crisis isn’t the result of a dumbing down.
It’s happening because the people running our institutions have wised up.
It’s happening because these sophisticated, manipulative techniques they’ve stolen from the social sciences have completely transformed how our institutions operate.
We know they’re manipulating us.
We know they’re exploiting us.
We know they’re using those techniques to make out like bandits.
And we don’t like it!
It’s time for us to wise up.
It’s time for us figure out how to hold our institutions accountable again, and make them deliver on their end of the bargain.