by Stephen Oloh
Writing in Mein Kampf about how to manipulate people and win power, Adolf Hitler said that since the average person had a very limited memory and a “slowness of understanding,” it was necessary to use only short, catchy slogans like Change! Forward! Transformation! Diversity! Equality! and repeat them often. Of course, this tactic isn’t restricted to any one leader, but is as old as demagoguery itself.
The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, found one in the slogan ‘Change’, which was to drive home the party’s campaign for the change of what was considered as the difficult situations Nigerians believed they were living under in the years before the historic May 29, 2015, handover from the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the APC. Those who subscribed for this change a year ago are today being harassed for the change that they said would come with this government.
Slogans are very effective, which is why they are the heart of advertising. Producers could sometimes provide technical explanations for why their products are superior, and often they could not, but it doesn’t matter because they are not trying to appeal to the intellect. They want to engage you emotionally.
The reality of emotion’s power is why we have the Bible’s counsel, “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Shape a person’s emotions when he is still wet clay and continue the process until he hardens, and he will likely be hardened on either virtue or vice, as the case may be. And, barring some vessel-shattering trauma or conversion, it will be the shape of the man.
Of course, young adults and older ones can be manipulated emotionally, too, especially when the approach appeals to their already hardened moral framework. And one of the most important aspects of self-examination is asking, “How have my emotions been shaped?” Am I embracing my beliefs because they are right or simply because they feel right? Am I, at least on certain issues, a person who cannot be reasoned out of a position because I have not reasoned myself into it, to paraphrase Ben Franklin?
One clue to show you have been manipulated emotionally is simple: Valid arguments are never just one word. Oh, commands can be one word. Emotional triggers can be one word. Demagoguery can be one word. But there is a reason why great philosophers wrote vast works: an explanation of a truth is invariably longer than the expression of the truth. It’s one reason why a catechism is far longer than the Ten Commandments.
I have also never seen a valid argument encapsulated in just one slogan or even saying. It’s surely true that “Boys will be boys,” but the psychological explanation of how exactly they act, or why, requires more than four words.
And just imagine that we applied what we accept from our corrupt politicians to other areas in which we need expertise.
Let’s say you went to a doctor and, upon asking for his prescription, he screamed “Health!” Or imagine you booked a lesson with a tennis instructor and his only advice for improvement was “develop skill!” I doubt you’d think the experience was worth the fee.
Now onto the issues. Your position on, let’s say, anti-corruption, security or maybe gender may or may not be valid, but if one word or slogan is all you have to back it up, you don’t have a valid argument for it. And if that is truly all you have, chances are that you were won over in an invalid manner — through sloganeering. Again, this is true even if the position you arrived at may happen to be valid.
“Change!” isn’t an argument; it’s a word. it’s a slogan. Note, this is not to say that battle cries are not sometimes useful and necessary. But the subject here is not rallying the troops but intellectual and moral growth. APC succeeded in selling 15.4 million Nigerians their change slogan. It did a masterful job in convincing some that it represents the change we have all been yearning for. However, Nigerians have realised what it means to vote for Change.
Now, when analyzing whether we have arguments or just slogans, there is a trap we can easily fall into: thinking that arguing with others is synonymous with having an argument. Sure, if someone contradicts us on an issue we’re passionate about, we’ll certainly have our retorts. But the question is, if we were simply asked, without being challenged egotistically, to explain the reasoning behind our position politically, would our response amount to little more than a slogan? Do we instinctively fall back on slogans or reasoned arguments?
Having said all this, the medicine this article administers is insufficient for many of the patients it aims to reach. For it is not a slogan but is appealing to slogan-oriented Nigerians; it is the using of an intellectual appeal to address an emotional issue. It was understandable why one Debby Boone sang “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right,” for something that appeals to the intellect but cannot touch the heart (either because of its deficiencies or because the heart is hardened to it) can never “feel” as good as what grabs the emotions because the intellect doesn’t “feel” at all. This bane of humanity is what C.S. Lewis spoke of in The Abolition of Man when writing, “Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”
So a better first step, would be to help people develop an erotic attachment to virtue, “erotic” meaning “passionate” in this sense. But this is very difficult to do with some Nigeria adults in any case, and it’s not the purpose of reasoned commentary.
Regardless, those who have ears to hear and eyes to see should take heed.
And whether individually or as a people, the more powerless we are against the animal organism, the more animalistic we become. Don’t fall for simple slogan. Thank you.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Stephen Oloh is a writer, teacher, habitual reader, compulsive book buyer and a calculated risk taker with years of experience working in both the educational and the new media industry. He lives in Port Harcourt and can be contacted on [email protected]