Here in the UK, there have recently been a series of adverts on TV for the National Lottery. However, rather than showing you the amazing life that you could be living if you win several million pounds, they take a rather different approach.
Each advert features a celebrity who people love-to-hate playing a parody of themselves, and describing their plans for what they’ll do with the money if they win. These plans are normally some humorously outlandish scheme that plays on the things that people love to hate about them them the most, and the tag-line is something like, “anybody can win the Lottery. Please don’t let it be them!”
Now, you might think that the opportunity to change your life by winning millions of pounds would be all the motivation you need to play the lottery, but the advertisers know otherwise. They know that the desire to stop somebody that you dislike getting something is a much more powerful motivator than the desire to get something that you like. Many people are still more motivated by their hatred for somebody else than their love of themselves, and advertisers, the media, and politicians know it.
The motivation of hate
There was a recent study that showed that people are more likely to reach their weight-loss goal if failure requires them to give money to a cause that they are strongly opposed to. Even though being overweight might be threatening their own life, they still find their hatred for somebody else to be a bigger motivator to lose weight.
The motivation of hate is something that the tabloid media use all the time to manipulate their readers. A front page headline that stirs up feelings of hate is going to make more people buy the paper than a happy story. The same is true on social media, where outraged people share stories that make them angry. In fact, so strong is the feeling of outrage, that they often share stories without even fully reading them or fact checking them, so the internet becomes flooded with lies and misinformation. Why let the truth get in the way of good outrage?
Of course, politicians have always known how to manipulate people with hate. Over the centuries, many otherwise good people have been led to do some pretty horrific things because their leaders knew the power of hate.
Some politicians are hatemongers? Surely not?
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Clinton and Trump campaigns in the recent US Election was that Hillary Clinton focussed on the good things she’d bring to people’s lives, whereas Donald Trump focussed on how he’d wipe out all the things that people hate. Just like with those unread social media “outrage” stories, so strong was the headline message that Trump gave that the people listening didn’t even care about the details of how he was actually going to carry out what he promised, they just blindly got behind it.
It happens in local politics too though. Every time I get a newsletter posted through the door from one of the parties vying for control of the local council, the headline story always pulls on the hate strings: “Tory council waste £XXXXXX on Y!”
Can you feel the outrage growing?
Much as I hate to say it, we’re all being manipulated by the hatemongers in some way. As long as we’re exposed to tabloid newspapers, TV news, politicians, and social media, we’re always going to be receiving messages that have been carefully designed to grab us by the hate strings. Even some so-called entertainment programmes on TV manipulate us through hate:
“Too Fat To Work”
“On Benefits: Life on the Dole”
“The Nightmare Neighbour Next Door”
You get the picture.
Ironically, even the title of this very article is in some ways designed to play on your feeling of outrage. I’m sorry about that, but in this day and age, it’s one of the only ways to get a message heard amongst all the other noise.
So, what can we do about it?
To be fair, not all people are taken in by the hatemongers. Many of us have the intelligence to look at situations in a rational manner, and to form our own opinions based on what we truly believe. However, we all slip up from time to time, so I think these simple rules help:
- Be vigilant to the fact that you may be being manipulated.
- Avoid known sources of hate-mongering or manipulation (tabloid newspapers or “tabloid TV”).
- Have a bit of a cooling off period before reacting to or sharing something that seems to outrage you.
- Occasionally, through intelligent sources, expose yourself to an opposing viewpoint to your own so that you have a better understanding of both sides of the issue. It may just further convince you that your initial opinion was right, but at least it’s now an “informed” opinion.
- Don’t allow yourself to become part of a social media herd that drags you along without you ever really understanding where you’re going or why you’re going there.
- And finally, be a free thinker. If you don’t agree with what everybody else seems to be thinking, there’s nothing wrong with that. As long as your own opinion is intelligent, well thought out, and rational, it’s just as valid as anybody else’s. In fact, you might just be the only sane person in the room.