Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
For those old enough to remember the1950s-60s The Twilight Zone television series, one episode likely stands out. It featured a friendly, as they seemed, group of aliens who visited the earth with an invitation for all to come aboard the mother ship and jet off to a utopian world where, as their promotional book touted, they intended “to serve man”.
Problem was–SPOILER ALERT –many of the unsuspecting had already boarded by the time a linguistics expert finally figured out the book was…da da daaaaaaaam…a cookbook.
It wasn’t, after all, a Utopia Pie that the Friendly Guys in the Sky intended to serve up, it was, well, earthlings…
Here’s a quick recap of the famous scene: https://youtu.be/NIufLRpJYnI
Fast forward to last week, real-time, when, many believe, Americans were served up a utopian dish of another kind altogether, an Orwellian alphabet soup where the letters spell “s p i n” concocted by the Chef in Chief and labeled (for real) “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People.”
Based on “behavioral science insights,” the subtitle begins, in order to “better serve the American people,” it continues, then proceeds with: “A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights — research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them — can be used to design government policies…” . (Remember the term “design.”)
One can’t help but wonder if the title belies the intent, a la the old TZ episode.
One can’t help but wonder what we are REALLY being “served up,” as it were…at least, those of us who have been paying attention.
SO…why are many of us taking all of this with a very LARGE grain of salt?
Consider the purpose of the new effort.
WHAT ONE HOPED
Is it, as it might seem, to really “serve Americans” by improving programs, policies, and politics with a real ear to our concerns?
To save the economy, create jobs, and settle the mess overseas?
To restore the Constitution, protect the people, and honor the best of what makes the United States of America a good place to live and to which throngs of immigrants over the years have in many cases sacrificed greatly to enter for a better life for themselves and their children?
At first glance or hearing it seems like it might be! It sounds so good!
WHAT ONE GETS
Problem is, when one gets down to page 2, item ii, the real intent surfaces:
(ii) improve how information is presented to consumers, borrowers, program beneficiaries, and other individuals, whether as directly conveyed by the agency, or in setting standards for the presentation of information, by considering how the content, format, timing, and medium by which information is conveyed affects comprehension and action by individuals, as appropriate… (bolding and skepticism mine).
As a character in another bit of video fiction put it, it’s essentially about how to construct “a crummy commercial”  to sell the latest (remember, “design”?) in how to, what’s the phrase? “fundamentally transform America”?.
Or, as the document itself states, how to “identify policies, programs, and operations where applying behavioral science insights may yield substantial improvement in public welfare, program outcomes, and program cost effectiveness…” (bolding mine).
But note: no need to define exactly what “improve” means or what the “programs” are, just use behavioral science techniques to enhance the outcomes.
In short, we need to get ready for a lot more servings of spin. But this time, with the full (codified) force and pocketbook of the Executive Branch and it’s cohorts.
That is to say, our pocketbooks…
It also very well may be a much more serious and well-funded phase of what some call “psychological operations”  wherein if you “capture their minds…their hearts and souls will follow.”
WHAT’S A CITIZEN TO DO?
Unless and until we can stop and reverse the spin machine and, more importantly, its effects by all means available to us as voting, active American citizens (if it is not too late), we can at least unplug, unhook, and untangle from the herd (for psyops work much better if everyone thinks alike) as much as possible and employ critical thinking as much as possible.
My father, a hard-working man of few words but keen insights, offered these two directives: “Do not get your news from only one source,” and “When all the attention is focused on something over here, you’d better take a very close look at what is going on over there.”
I am often reminded of those directives these days.
 “Ralphie,” A Christmas Story