Psychology of illusions – Political Psychology?

In a rare moment of verbosity, Teller of the Penn & Teller Magic duo explains the psychology of illusions (feel free to skip my musings and go right to the video at the bottom of the page).

One of the things that had my noodle baking was to what extent are these patterns used – consciously or otherwise – by political actors?

The three points Teller makes are the necessity of:

1. Repetition

2. Expectation (and therefore complicity) of the audience

3. Motivation so overwhelming that disguises the actual process taking place.

For an illusion to be successful you need each of these elements in some degree or another. The most immediate example that comes to mind of course is the securitization of public discourse.

Governments tap into the primal fear of murder by unknown agents. So naturally they must, as responsible, good governors, provide security for their citizens. This is a motivation so deeply resonant, so overwhelming that we allow the state to start implementing measures that ultimately allow it to violate our political liberty and autonomy, making us less secure while pursing the myth of “security”.

Or you can offer another rendition of the same scenario.

Tapping again into the same fear as above, a government justifies the invasion of a foreign country. This creates an aggrieved population, a faction of which then turns to terrorism as a means of resistance. This then justifies further security measures at home and provides the justification for further military engagements seeking to combat terror where it originates in order to “protect” the population at home. Public discourse is invaded by this stronger logic of securing ourselves, while perpetuating the very acts we fear on an alien population.

Anyhow enough of the contemplation – time to watch the video:

Teller explains the psychology of illusions – Boing Boing.


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