Catchphrases, Cliches and Slogans: Guiding our Thoughts and Opinions Using Reflexive Theory

Is America being split along ideological and political lines, or are people allowing themselves to be divided by clever propagandists who know our habits, attitudes, and beliefs? The political elite is without a doubt, employing the divide-and-conquer strategy, as social issues which have traditionally defined American values are presented as problematic, and a hindrance to progress. Almost all the ideals we hold dear as conservatives have been discredited through constant accusations of racism and exploitation. Those on the political left have a programmed hatred for all things patriotic. They respond to any buzz words which challenge their worldview with a vitriolic passion that contains no substance. They can’t explain why they believe the things they do; they only know they are supposed to hate conservatives because we are racist, homophobic, sexist, and greedy imperialists. While there is a certain humor in this, the unfortunate reality is that many on the right unknowingly fall into the same reactionary patterns when their perceptions of reality are challenged. The most common example is the perception that Donald J. Trump was draining the swamp, and to this day, remains our only hope against the steady encroachment of socialism. Any challenge to this narrative produces the same automatic, programmed responses. Clever catchphrases like never Trumper took hold of the group consciousness and became the equivalent of calling someone a liberal or a socialist. Most Americans remain blissfully unaware of the power of words, and how simple cliches and slogans like MAGA, Hope and Change, never Trumper; and even more common terms like conservative and liberal, are control mechanisms that keep the public mind trapped in a place useful to the tyrant (Meerloo, p. 22) and can produce very strong emotional responses that keep people attached to certain beliefs (Sargent, p. 8).

According to Edward Bernays (p.28), propagandists have understood the power of catchphrases and popular cliches since the end of WWII. They saw how effective propaganda was used in developing a mental picture of the enemy and garnering support for the war, they naturally asked if such techniques could be used in peacetime, for other political objectives. They have learned over the years that group consciousness operates differently than that of individual psychology. It is believed that group psychology is governed by the need to follow a trusted leader and that actions and opinions are dictated by impulse, habits, and emotions (Bernays, p. 50), as opposed to individual thought processes. This has been known since before today’s media influence when most people received their news through the radio. Bernays states that in the absence of a leader, it is the use of mental cliches and slogans which govern the group mind because they are used to represent an idea or a belief of the group. The group’s attitudes, beliefs, and opinions are studied, and the issues are framed in a way that aligns with these beliefs. Men’s thoughts, according to Bernays (p. 49), are governed more by the need to feel aligned with group thinking because man, even as an individual, considers himself to be a part of the larger whole. Therefore, he is more influenced by the emotions attached to something the group believes, and his actions are dictated by the “mélange of impressions stamped on his mind by outside influences which unconsciously control his thought” (Bernays, p. 49).

According to Bernays, (p. 50) the word Bolshevik was successfully used to prevent people from developing a certain line of thought or partaking in certain actions. This is because of the negative connotations of the word. The same principle applies to the words racism, conservative, liberal, never Trumper, or any other term that can be attached to a group emotion. This is a well-understood principle among conservatives. They know, for example, the word racism is used to silence opposition, or that the accusations of racism are programmed responses of the left. Many fail to realize, however, that the principle applies to them as well as all people are susceptible to the power of propaganda. Slogans like MAGA, and terms like never Trumper, were used to trap the emotions of a conservative electorate who had grown tired of eight years of failed liberalism. The propagandists so successfully attached these terms to the group identity of conservatives, that many on the right refused to question Trump, just as many on the left refused to question Obama.

“He who dictates and formulates the words and phrases we use, he who is master of the press and radio, is master of the mind.” (Meerloo, 1961, p. 28)

The understanding of cliches and slogans, and the power that speech holds over human behavior, dates all the way back to Pavlov’s experiments, and Stalin’s reign over The Soviet Union. According to Meerloo, (p. 28) predictable patterns of thinking can be created through the distribution of ready-made opinions which guide public perceptions. Ready-made opinions are those that have been studied and fed back to the population. Pavlov, according to Meerloo (p. 28) found that reactions to speech can be just as effective as a conditioning tool as any other stimulus. He referred to this as a stimulus of the second order. Even Stalin published an article called Concerning Marxism in Linguistics, which was published in the 1952 edition of the International Journal of American Linguistics. He wrote that language, as opposed to culture, is more effective in defining thought processes and patterns in society. He viewed human language as an adaptive tool that evolved with men as they learned to adapt to changing environments, and that over time, certain sounds and tones produced certain responses that can still be elicited today. This is known as reflexive theory. This brings into question not only the words being attached to certain emotions and beliefs but also the way in which they are said. Is it possible that words like racism are said in a certain tone which is known to produce a certain response?  Keep in mind, this author is asking, not claiming.

Katya Chown, in her article entitled Reflex Theory in a Linguistic Context: Sergej M. Dobrogaev on the Social Nature of Speech Production, states that Sergej Dobrogaev picked up where Pavlov left off in the study of human reactions to speech. He realized that human speech itself presents an indication of how the human brain responds to stimulation and that it was a manifestation of preconditioned responses. Automatic responses to sounds, tones, and the words we use are created through what Dobrogaev refers to as, acoustic characteristics. Language, as a product of the social environment, creates a neurological pathway in the brain in the cranial zones where the processing of information takes place (Chown, 2008). What is being suggested here is what was referred to in the previous paragraph. There is an understanding of how certain tones produce preconditioned behaviors. Behaviors that Pavlov would describe as being ingrained in the human subconscious not only in the individual since birth but in humanity since the dawn of man.

“The more frequently a particular acoustic combination is reproduced within a society, the quicker the most essential, socially significant, information on this acoustic sign is processed by a language learner, enabling him or her to recognize the constant elements of the sign in the individual manner of pronunciation of a speaker. Thus, the process of recognition of language elements represented in human speech can be defined as a conditioned reflex, or, as Dobrogaev puts it, a socio-physiological reflex. The existence of a phoneme is therefore largely pre-conditioned by the ability and physiological “readiness” of the members of a society to recognize it as one of the typical elements of their language.” (Chown, 2008, p. 314)

The above quote seems to be focusing on the learning of language itself, but if language produces conditioned responses of any kind, couldn’t the same effect be achieved with the popular catchphrases and cliches we see being so commonly used today? There is little doubt that words like conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, racist, socialist, or any other, elicit strong emotional responses. When conservatives challenge a liberal idea, the response is a blind automatic, programmed outburst that gives credit to the idea that they were brainwashed. They can’t explain why they believe what they do. The explanation lies with what Bernays said about group psychology and men’s beliefs being a “mélange of impressions stamped on his mind by outside influences which unconsciously control his thought.” They respond this way because they have been trained to. Unfortunately, many on the right behave in the same manner. Watch people’s reaction when you mention that Reagan signed the General Agreement between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. on Contacts, Exchanges and cooperation in Scientific, Technical, Educational, Cultural and Other Fields with Gorbachev in 1985, or, when suggesting Trump isn’t the pro-gun president people believed he was. The general perception is that the left is out to destroy America, and only by voting a certain way can we save ourselves. The trick is getting Americans to realize that the propaganda is used to prevent them from seeing that they are both aiding this agenda. America was never about putting all our faith in a man to save the country but putting faith in God so that we may self-govern and live free.

America is on a one-way trip to disaster. Propagandists have decades of study behind them which shows how to get the general population to go along with almost any agenda. If they encounter resistance they simply change strategies to, as the book Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research states, “overcome the psychological barriers which prevent the change of attitudes and opinions” ( p. 158) of the targeted audience. Only by understanding the beliefs of the propagandists can we, as a society, begin to see through the efforts to divide us and define for us, what it is we believe. We are dealing with a very sophisticated and advanced application of the understanding of human behavior, and how we respond to media messaging and propaganda designed to guide and control our thinking. This is what the evidence shows. Keep this in mind when the next presidential election cycle comes around and they start throwing more slogans around. Those slogans are devised through the careful study of the attitudes, opinions, and beliefs of the targeted population.

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