Monday, March 13, 2017

Emotion (Fear) Trumps Logic

We know that emotional appeals work. Pathos trumps logos and ethos. That's reality. The ancient rhetoricians knew this. Behavioral economists know this. It's clear to pretty much everyone, especially after the 2016 elections, that emotional appeals to fear and anxiety win arguments.

Psychologists and decision scientists have studied how much more persuasive the "negative case" is when trying to persuade people to take actions. Statistics get twisted and contorted because a "100% increase" in risk from 0.5% to 1% can persuade people to stop eating a "dangerous" food.

Humans are lousy at understanding risk or rank. Tell people that the United States ranks low on longevity, and they grumble. But is the difference between 79.3 years in the U.S. to 80.6 in Denmark worth a lot of concern? Probably not, since we have a diverse culture and habits that probably cannot be compared to the homogenous Denmark. The Western nations are actually pretty closely grouped on most statistical measures, but we panic if we're not in the top five. Should we? Probably not.

The Trump campaign revealed that the real problem isn't how to read and interpret data. The problem is more severe: people don't believe what contradicts their biases. This is true on the left and right and in the middle. People are also far more likely to believe negative stories about the "other side" than true, but negative stories about people and causes they support.

We're not wired to default to logic. We default to emotion. Logic takes effort.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Capital of FIlm

Film is capital intensive, in the economic sense.

Yet, the film industry was and is often associated with "the left" because of its artistic qualities. Cinema is art, I believe, but it isn't like other arts. You need more than a pencil and paper or a used musical instrument. It takes thousands of dollars to make the least expensive hour-long work.

Governments of all manner have used film directly or attempted to guide the "free market" in ways favorable to their ideologies. This always consumes capital. Governments from across the political spectrum are united by a conviction that media can and should promote the "right" values through cinema and television.

Authoritarian governments have understood the power of film. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Soviet Russia… each understood film as an emotionally powerful form of art and communication. There's a reason Moscow invested heavily in film. You cannot study film without the Moscow filmmakers: they helped turn film into an academic discipline.

Producing content for cinema and television requires human (lots of it), social, natural, manufactured, and financial. In every system of production, regardless of ideology, it takes people, information (knowledge and skills), machines, natural resources (space, light, energy), and some sort of funding allocation to make a movie.

The capital dedicated to a film, or any primarily "entertainment" medium, is allocated from other places in the economy. In most of the world, including throughout Europe, film is among the (partially) publicly financed and supported arts. Yet even in an ideal world, someone would ask why a film receives support over and instead of better nutrition, education, housing, healthcare, and so on. Prioritizing film with public monies, people, spaces, or other resources means something else doesn't receive that capital.

When we study film, we might ask why it is the capital-intensive pursuit of many non-capitalists.