Tactical Media POEM #4 :: Towards a Technical Semiotics of Persuasion

Foucault shows so well,
while arbitrary to each other,
each historical framework
had an internal rationality-
reasons to believe,
reasons to act.

Each revision to our categorizations of things,
in any domain of human investigation,
does not simply refine what came before,
vectoring towards something better- 
a new day- 
an end,
but rather mutates its predecessor.

Claude Levi-Strauss in Totemism (1967),
describes a twofold approach to cultural study. 

He compares two cultures 
as two systems of difference, 
rather than two different systems.

Each culture, taken alone, 
has a unique set of relations between meanings,
impossible to directly compare
without metaphor.

Levi-Strauss compared cultures
as relations between objects of meaning,
rather than comparing the objects themselves.

The objects of persuasion change greatly 
from place to place,
from person to person.

What then is a technical language
to describe how objects of persuasion
create changes in behavior?

In "Century of the Self" (2002) writer/director Adam Curtis
cites Paul Mazer, a Wall Street banker 
working for Lehman Brothers in the 1930s.

"We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture.  
People must be trained to desire,
to want new things,
even before the old have been entirely consumed...
Man's desires must overshadow his needs."

The approach involved:
+ organized media distribution with regimented persuasion-based communication
+ a mythology of common purchasing power, e.g. Middle Class
+ privatization of lifestyle
+ increased expendable income
+ a focus on unique identities and unique choices

The specific Objects of Desire-
a faster car, a bigger home-
were irrelevant to their ability to
manufacture desire and engineer consent.

Moreover, the relationship between the person
and the constructed social reality
the object represented,
remained consistent.

All humans
wanted
a better life.