Social Skills – Language – Dangers

Friday, January 22nd, 2010 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

Last week we discussed the way a language’s meaning encodes the experience of masses of generations of people into a format suitable for moulding the mind of a person living in a culture, and allowing those who share that language to edit each other’s brains.

This is, of course, incredibly powerful, but it also has dangers.


Most of the advice you receive is useful, most of the stories you hear have useful lessons even if they’re fictional, most of the programming your brain will get will be well intentioned. However, some of it won’t be.


As soon as there is a way to program your brain, there will be people who wish to program it for their own ends. To manipulate you. To take advantage of you. People prepared to give you false or otherwise misleading information. To provoke in you unnecessary fear in order to scare you into doing something.


In the modern world you are exposed to an absolutely incredible amount of advertising. Messages designed to sell work best if they first evoke the emotion of wanting or needing. If they make you feel a lack of the thing they want to you buy.

These messages, these programs for your brain, aren’t helpful to anyone other than the advertiser. They can lower your confidence, and so your social status, if you start to feel incomplete, as though you need the Advertiser’s {X} to be whole.

Self Flagellation

Negative messages which repeat over and over don’t all come from advertisers. Indeed, the ones you hear most and probably believe the most, are the ones coming from your own internal monologue. The voice in your head repeating the phrases people used when they tell you you’re a failure, you’re dumb, you’re slow, you’re unsophisticated.

As we mentioned last week, linguistic programming can be more effective than reality. Rather than just experiencing a single failure, you can find yourself pondering many times a day not just that you failed, but that you are that failure. This is common, and incredibly self destructive.

Pseudo Science

Language can program your brain with the collected experience of your culture, it can teach you valuable lessons about things you have not yet encountered, it can teach you things about the world you could never learn alone. But not everything it can teach you is true, not every story describes a real experience not every emotional unfolding represents an accurate response.

When your mind is limited to the experiences it actually has, to things it actually sees and hears and feels, it can of course fall for illusions. But when your mind is also constructed from the instruction of others, when it can be built from second hand experience, it can be lied to. Either deliberately or by well intended mistake.

Rules, laws, theories and intuitions about the world which are simply mistaken can be given the emotional force of events actually witnessed.

It can feel right to assume these things are true, even when those feelings are just regurgitated copies for things someone else had you simulate by expressing.

Pseudo-science, folk-law and urban myths are born of our abilities to communicate. Obviously believing things which are not true can be detrimental to your understanding of the world, can lead to unprofitable behaviours, to mistaken conclusions, to wasted effort.


Language can be used to bind a whole lot of ideas together into a whole. To package up many concepts and give them one name, make them feel like one thing. When those packages are part-true, part-false, it can be hard to separate out which is which.

The religions do this well. Don’t believe God hates homosexuals? Then clearly you reject all of religion and are therefore a morally suspect outcast.

While statements like this are evidently nonsense, there are some who believe them, in one form or another. Believe that giving up their religion will mean they burn in hell. Believe that their belief in God is keeping them moral.

Religions can’t exist without language, without a mechanism to spread these complex abstract conglomerates of ideas from one brain to the next. A monkey could perhaps teach another monkey to do a ritual before a hunt, but it could never express the purpose of that ritual or the understanding of a parent-figure watching and judging.

That some aspects of religions are true, and that some of them feel good helps both the religion and likely those who hold it. However, trying to insist that there is no mistake in any doctrine of a religion, and insisting it must be swallowed wholesale, is certainly not beneficial to your well-being, to your path to true transcendence.

What can you do about it?

How does your brain determine which messages to repeat to itself? Which to believe and which to discount?

The messages from the churches, pseudo-scientists, advertisers, salesmen, manipulators and even from your own brain, which are repeated, are not necessarily those which are best for you. They are instead those that are best at getting themselves repeated.

This may sound trivial, but is in fact vital to understand. The content of your inner monologue, your sense of truthiness, the messages which others repeat to you, are not determined by correlation to the truth, but by correlation to the stuff already in your head. By how well it matches a pattern.

This is a complicated function of how emotionally arousing it is, how well it matches with current belief, how much those around you seem to believe it. This complex function will determine who you are, what you believe, your place in society, the worries and concerns you have, the pride and confidence you feel.

Which would all be impossible to change except for one aspect of that list which we haven’t mentioned yet. This complicated function is also determined by your conscious evaluation. You can change which messages you repeat to ourself, how much you discount those others repeat to you.

We’ll talk more about the study of the way messages get passed around and repeated in human society in the final lap when we discuss memes, but for now there is one essential message to take on board.

You have the power to make a conscious decision to change that function. To determine not to repeat or listen to the negative or untrue messages you hear. To determine to encourage the messages most positive to your life and discourage those which have adverse effects.

By just saying the right things to yourself, and saying them in emotionally impressive ways, with words which evoke strong visual imagery, you can take control and gradually be more and more responsible for programming your own brain.

The meditation this month will help you to learn that.