Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The view from "over there"

I came across this little bit in the NY Times. It expresses so accurately what I have frequently observed: citizens of non-US countries often believe they see conspiracy-theory levels of manipulation. Well, actually, a lot of people everywhere seem to have that tendency, but it is particularly helpful to remember when looking at areas of the world where there is friction for the US.
I quote:
. . . The North Koreans may know a lot about the outside world, but they don’t know everything, even about the United States, their main adversary. In one meeting, an official asked, “Why do the president and secretary of state keep saying that the United States will not allow North Korea to have nuclear weapons when in fact you are not doing much to stop us?” He deduced that there must be a hidden agenda. “It’s because you want us to have nuclear weapons as an excuse to tighten your grip on South Korea and Japan, your two allies.” We responded that there was no hidden agenda and that the United States really did not want the North to have those weapons. I’m not sure we convinced him.
from  How ‘Crazy’ Are the North Koreans? by Joel Wit, who's been involved in gov't work like this for 25 years.

I would think the conclusion the North Korean negotiator reached sounds crazy. But to him it was rational.

My point is, though, that I see conclusions I think are irrational on a regular basis. I hear it more often as conspiracy/manipulation theories when the person is from a country where personal liberties are not regarded as highly as they are in most of the 1st world nations today.

We do certainly have plenty of such imagination right here in the US, no question. I won't get started about people seeing the FBI as the real power behind the Boston bombers. Or the belief that 9/11 was an "inside job".

It gets back to persuasion, and emotional reactions. Scott Adams explains that well:
If you have been following the Master Persuader series in this blog, you know that the influence stack goes like this:
Identity beats analogy
Analogy beats reason
Reason beats nothing
 . . .

Which has a lot to do with why folks here get worried about Syrian immigrants.  Many other places in the world look at us and see something we do not. And they get to see us that way on a regular basis. A friend of mine, a Russian immigrant, makes calls to old friends who are still in Russia. And to hear what they have been thinking and hearing, since the whole Ukraine business started, is nothing short of amazing (or appalling, depending on how you want to phrase it). Just like Trump, playing emotional identity themes here, powers over there are playing those emotional identity cards.

And I still find it jaw-dropping unbelievable, how people manage to look at the same world I see, and come to such different conclusions. Which is not really where I meant to take this thought. But it is where it ended up. Most things people do are not based on rational thought. Governments like North Korea and Cuba do not collapse of their own weight, even though we often have to wonder how they can survive, if what we read in the news is true. But there must be enough people who believe in those governments, for whatever reasons, to keep them operating.

The only conclusion I have is that one must keep this in mind when looking overseas. I'm certainly not sure that there is anything that can be done about it.

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