Why People Switch Off in a Global Pandemic or National Emergency

March 27, 2020
ID 31478396 © Iqoncept | Dreamstime.com   There is a fundamental problem of the advertising and public relations industry. It is a problem that leads to persons switching off at the very moment that the message might be vital. The players play on cheap slogans, not intelligence. Intelligence is the capacity to deal with complex […]

ID 31478396 © Iqoncept | Dreamstime.com

 

There is a fundamental problem of the advertising and public relations industry. It is a problem that leads to persons switching off at the very moment that the message might be vital. The players play on cheap slogans, not intelligence. Intelligence is the capacity to deal with complex sets of ideas and be able to relate/connect them together, so as to be able to communicate in a knowing way with other human beings (i.e. not cognitive machines).

 

There is a structural problem which has to be addressed, and it is informed from the disciplines of psychology, history, sociology, and political studies. ‘Public Relations’ (PR) is not a scholarly discipline but a function of the corporate entity to control opinion. That is not a news flash. We have known this, even before Herbert Marcuse’s ‘One-Dimensional Man’ (1964) and other more radical critiques which may be unpalatable to those who do not share such ideological formulations. But look at ‘Mad Men’, an American period drama television series created by Matthew Weiner and produced by Lionsgate Television.  The show could be seen as hubris for the industry, but its ugliness is apparent to anyone who has any sense of kindness and compassion. It shows that the public relations industry is cognitively a monster which is not about communication for the sake of ‘public relations’ for the benefit of each member of the public. The benefit is always in being able to control the message for the corporate entity, whether as a public or private institution.  We know this in the popular culture, and yet the power of PR is to make such concern unimportant in critically reading the PR messages.

 

The problem becomes critical when, in matters of a genuine global pandemic or national emergency, people are again faced with PR techniques of sloganizing without treating the population as needing to understand the facts, the interpretations of the modelling, and other forms of evidence and *factorial production in a decision-tree. This is too much for one section of the population, but the simplification of the message to a level of control only, treats the other large section of the educated population with contempt. That sense of being treated with contempt is what leads to hypo-skepticism. We do not like the idea of being controlled. It makes us feel foolish. The problem relates to the fact that, in times of genuine global pandemic or national emergency, governments as corporate entities do need to be able to message as a function to control opinion, at minimal level. Ironically, to stop devious politicians pushing the agenda of the dangerous and uncompassionate ‘herd immunity’ strategy, other politicians have to control public opinion in favour of keeping infections ‘below the curve’. Yet I would argue that, as much as tightly controlled messaging might be necessary, it is vital to inform the public fully and not keep the messaging inside the PR frame. The public has to be educated. Each member of the public can decide for themselves what is to their own benefit, but the means of education creates the social ethic where individuals will accept that their own benefit is also the benefit for others.

 

 

* a mathematical term which is here used as an element of critical thinking. ‘Facts’ are not material things that fall from the sky, they are cognitively constructed, and such construction does not make ‘facts’ less real. The stable construction of facts is the reality.

 

 

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Neville Buch (Pronounced Book) Ph.D. is a certified member of the Professional Historians Association (Queensland). Since 2010 he has operated a sole trade business in history consultancy. He was a Q ANZAC 100 Fellow 2014-2015 at the State Library of Queensland. Dr Buch was the PHA (Qld) e-Bulletin, the monthly state association’s electronic publication, and was a member of its Management Committee. He is the Managing Director of the Brisbane Southside History Network.

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