Day 620: Economy of Perception

But, actually, the point of placebo education is interesting. How many problems of life can be solved actually by tinkering with perception, rather than that tedious, hardworking and messy business of actually trying to change reality? Here's a great example from history. I've heard this attributed to several other kings, but doing a bit of historical research, it seems to be Fredrick the Great. Fredrick the Great of Prussia was very, very keen for the Germans to adopt the potato and to eat it, because he realized that if you had two sources of carbohydrate, wheat and potatoes, you get less price volatility in bread. And you get a far lower risk of famine, because you actually had two crops to fall back on, not one. 
The only problem is: potatoes, if you think about it, look pretty disgusting. And also, 18th century Prussians ate very, very few vegetables -- rather like contemporary Scottish people. (Laughter) So, actually, he tried making it compulsory. The Prussian peasantry said, "We can't even get the dogs to eat these damn things. They are absolutely disgusting and they're good for nothing." There are even records of people being executed for refusing to grow potatoes.  
So he tried plan B. He tried the marketing solution, which is he declared the potato as a royal vegetable, and none but the royal family could consume it. And he planted it in a royal potato patch, with guards who had instructions to guard over it, night and day, but with secret instructions not to guard it very well. (Laughter) Now, 18th century peasants know that there is one pretty safe rule in life, which is if something is worth guarding, it's worth stealing. Before long, there was a massive underground potato-growing operation in Germany. What he'd effectively done is he'd re-branded the potato. It was an absolute masterpiece. 
I told this story and a gentleman from Turkey came up to me and said, "Very, very good marketer, Fredrick the Great. But not a patch on Ataturk." Ataturk, rather like Nicolas Sarkozy, was very keen to discourage the wearing of a veil, in Turkey, to modernize it. Now, boring people would have just simply banned the veil. But that would have ended up with a lot of awful kickback and a hell of a lot of resistance. Ataturk was a lateral thinker. He made it compulsory for prostitutes to wear the veil.
I can't verify that fully, but it does not matter. There is your environmental problem solved, by the way, guys: All convicted child molesters have to drive a Porsche Cayenne. (Laughter) What Ataturk realized actually is two very fundamental things. Which is that, actually, first one, all value is actually relative. All value is perceived value. - Rory Sutherland  

I'm not going to go in to the economics side of this discussion too much, but if you read/watch the rest of the Talk you will see that Rory has a bit to say on that aspect of the topic. For now I will say that I disagree with the opinion that 'perceived value' should be given greater value as an attempt to improve the state of the world in terms of pollution and other economy-related environmental oopsies.

The very nature of this tendency described in the Talk extract above shows how (generally) unaware we are of the workings of our minds. There could be a number of different words used to describe this, but I will stick to awareness for now. What I mean by this is that most people have not developed the skill of objectively considering any thing so as to determine whether it is actually what we want/need versus whether it is something we have been 'impulsed' to think we need/want. For example: Considering whether you like something that has a popular brand name versus something that does not have a brand name - your perception of the brand name and of the not brand name is more likely to influence your choice than the actual essence of whether you actually like one more or less than the other.

In reality, the influencing of perceptions and opinions has influenced the ability of people to make objective choices. We now base everything we do on the energetic impulses we get from images and sounds from the stimuli around us, all designed to influence us to want this or buy that. It has reached a point where most people would have a hard time determining what it is they want or like because they simply like it, or if it's something they've been influenced to like. This ties in in a big way with economics (I know I said I wasn't going to go here - but here we are) - how much of the market is determined by the influencing of consumers to purchase products they don't actually want or need; or to purchase inferior products simply because a positive energetic association has been formed through impulsing?

So many people build their self image on what they like and own in this world - what happens to that self image when you realise that most of it is probably just the result of emotional manipulation perpetrated by adverts, media and whatever other influences in society - which do not even stop at "the big bad rich guys advertising silly products" - but comes from friends, family, acquaintances and other people in your life - all it takes is for someone to share their (manipulated) opinion with you and for you to be open to receiving the information (you trust, respect or believe the person for whatever reason).

In the end, the question you can ask yourself is "Am I really in control of my own decisions?" and "Am I the one who determines who I am and what I like?"

It's a scary question. the fact that we should consider asking it at all is one that worries me, as it should worry you.

Here is a link to a Hangout that discusses this topic - there are plenty links in the description to other relevant sources as well.