Professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada’s Marcel Danesi, in his book “Politics, Lies and Conspiracy Theories,” examines the rhetoric of infamous dictators like Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, and Hitler, as well as prominent hate groups.
Based on his findings, they all share a common tactic—the use of dehumanizing metaphors to inculcate and spread hatred.
Danesi’s findings demonstrate that these types of dehumanizing metaphors are effective because they “switch on” preexisting neural circuits in the brain that connect salient images and concepts. Metaphors, in effect, circumvent our brain’s more sophisticated reasoning mechanisms, priming us to pay attention to some things while ignoring others.
Danesi claims that it becomes increasingly difficult to deactivate such circuits the more often they are used. The same is true of conspiracy theories: believers’ neural pathways become more rigid, making it harder for them to reevaluate their initial assumptions.
Studies of this neural circuitry have also shown that people who have already started believing a lie are highly resistant to changing their minds despite being presented with evidence to the contrary.
Instead, they’ll look for evidence that backs up their beliefs, ignore or dismiss data that contradicts them, and even twist contrary data to make it fit their worldview. This is why it’s highly unlikely that anyone with firm beliefs will ever change their minds.
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