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Friday, 8 October 2004

image for Race to Elect Computerized Politicians Accelerates
Conservatives Model the New Sensing Cap

BERKELEY, CA. A project that began in right-wing think tanks, namely the training and deployment of Hollywood actors as canditates for political office, has upped the ante. Unintrusive devices that constrain and suggest the neural domains accessed in political ideology and speech were revealed today as having been used by both local and national level Republican and Democratic election campaigns.

The Sensing Cap, revealed to the public only today, has been in experimental and practical use for 4 years now. It was used by Al Gore and George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election, by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and by both major candidates competing in the 2004 election. It's use is widespread among reporters at the Fox News Channel and on Air America, though of course it is programmed quite differently by its right-wing users than by left-wing users.

The Sensing Cap was invented by Democrats at the University of Canifornia at San Diego Department of Engineering who worked without pay to help elect Al Gore in the 2000 election. It was accidentally leaked to the Republicans who were able to make faster use of it on their candidate, George W. Bush. The leading theory as to why it worked better on Bush is that the suggestions and constraints had very little of substance to compete with cognitively, and that the electorate had already been primed by thirty years of the same heavily funded think tank-trained dribble. Ironically, Gore was damagingly labelled a 'robot' by his heavily computer-assisted opponent.

Events leading up to today's news began in the 1970's when capital began to become concentrated more and more in the hands of an uprecedentedly small set of corporations. The wealthiest of the wealthy funded the creation of organizaitions known as "think tanks", groups like The Heritage Foundation and The American Enterprise Institute. As many as 50 of these well-funded private institutions, who coordinated as one big right-wing beehive, were effective at training and marketing operatives who would infiltrate major news outlets and take political office. Importantly, the operatives were trained to consistently use the same words to refer to the same general class of concepts, concepts that portrayed traditional and largely chauvinistic ways of living as the right way. In so doing, the top businesses aimed to support an agenda of controlling wealth and maintaining power. Hallmarks of their success at "buying a movement" (as it is referred to by political organization "People for the American Way") included the Reagan Administration (a major victory in which wealth was redistributed to the top 1 percent of Americans, creating a significant national debt, and an environmental policy of "seen one redwood, seen 'em all"), and the takeover of Congress, best illustrated by the carefully crafted "Contract with America". More recently, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California using the same techniques (though he also wore a Sensing Cap).

Democrats, though slow to the punch have caught on and caught up. While Hillary Clinton reported famously in the late nineties the existence of a "vast right-wing conspiracy", others on the left were hard at work developing a thorough and scientific understanding of what the right-wing had stumbled onto, and a plan for how it could be used to create an unstoppable left-wing force for the good of humanity and nature. While the right wing has its Grover Norquist, the left has cognitive scientist George Lakoff. Lakoff, who has been at the center of a powerful paradigm of idea analysis since the 1970s, has recently focused the laser beam of these highly developed analytical tools onto the task of hacking the metaphor system governing conservative rhetoric. In general, all reasoning that is not a direct experience (and not just right-wing reasoning or political reasoning) occurs by means of conceptual metaphor. Metaphor is our way of reasoning about something intangible using something that is. Lakoff found and reported in his book Moral Politics that both liberal and conservative moral systems are based on reasoning about government as if it were a family. Conservatives respect a paranoid government that beats its wife and kids and views weak people as inferior, while liberals admire a political system in which people are nurtured and given the space to develop as well-balanced, creative contributors to society. Using this insight, cognitive scientists have been able to accurately predict all political moves made by the right in the last 5 years following its discovery, and to accurately interpret events that occurred prior.

In the context of these developments comes the advent of the "Sensing Cap". The device referred to informally as such is also known more technically as a head mounted NeuroActive Ideo-Feedback (NAIF) monitor. It issues temperature-based and low volume vibratory cues to provide its user with feedback on how closely he or she is expressing the intricate image-based schema of the voters' values system. It is software controlled, so that different ways of prefiguring this moral scaffolding can be introduced. The technology had seemed decades away to many cognitive scientists until findings from two related fields, cognitive linguistics and sensorimotor neuroscience, came together. It was found that all abstract reasoning is image-based or "embodied" and that neural tissue is geometrically arranged in radial patterns such that qualitative categories are spatial regions-- thus lending easy access and meaningful reference to an optical head scanner.

Howard Dean's organization Democracy for America, has taken to using the caps only for training purposes and for a prescribed period of time, after which learning is maintained through continual use of the naked concepts. This is based on research he cites that shows these effects. "A more healthy means of building our Progressive future and fueling political momentum, free of ugly dependencies," says Dean, "it's a marvelous way to train the leaders that are most essential to our cause." Despite this research, many conservative groups seem to be most interested in finding ways of biologically embedding the caps in people's skulls-and passing the legislation to do so! Such implanting is both unnecessary and painful, though is typical of decisions based on the metaphor of the Strict Father family. Karl Rove has strongly advised that President Bush not remove his sensing cap until further notice.

While the news of Sensing Cap technology comes as a surprising to many, the reactions on the left and right differ sharply. Right-wingers are intent on using the technology to discipline their "moral strength" so that they can avoid straying from the "straight and narrow", and to control "inferior" groups of people. Progressives are happy to use it as a learning tool, and to develop "new, creative ways" of advancing agendas that "bring about happiness and freedom". While conservatives use and program the device, they have not yet figured out a way to reverse engineer the hardware. And as for the future application of the technology in politics, Progressives have cause to be optimistic. As Lakoff puts it, "The big advantage is we have this: Whereas it took more than thirty years, billions of dollars, and forty-three institutes for conservatives to reframe public debate so the debate occurs on their turf, we have the advantage of having science on our side. Through cognitive science and linguistics we know how they did it. And we know how we can do the equivalent for progressives in a much shorter time with many fewer resources."

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