Home
Suppose you were a skilled hypnotist, and so charismatic that you knew you could change the opinion of an average person simply by your choice of words. Would it be ethical to be that persuasive?

To make it interesting, let's say you believe in the rightness of your own views, and you are talking to someone who firmly believes the opposite. You both have the same information at your disposal, so it is simply a case of different opinions. If you knew you could sway that person with your words, without adding any new information to the mix, would it be ethical to do so?

I encountered this dilemma after learning hypnosis. You can extend the methods of hypnosis into normal conversation, the way a trial lawyer, politician, or top salesperson would. You can't turn anyone into a zombie slave, but obviously a skilled salesperson can close more deals than an unskilled one. Your choice of words has a huge impact on how other people form their so-called opinions. Where do you draw the line between a normal exchange of views and an outright manipulation of another person's brain?

Long time readers of this blog know that I view humans as moist robots who have no free will, and therefore morality is an irrational concept. But most of you disagree with that view, so for you this is a fair question.

Allow me to put it into concrete terms. Suppose I knew that I could use my powers of hypnotic persuasion, in the form of common words in this blog, to cause some portion of you to change your vote in the upcoming election. And suppose I believed I was helping the country by doing so. Would it be ethical to change people's opinions without adding any data to the process?
 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +9
  • Print
  • Share

Comments

Sort By:
Oct 23, 2008
I cannot see this as unethical because advertisers already do this. Politicians with slogans like "Change you can believe in" without substantiation do it as well.

Additionally, your comment about the lack of free will is evidenced by the part of the population that will vote for "Change you can believe in".
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
It's not ethical to convince someone of your opinion, if you think you might be really good at it?

If you're not a "trained hypnotist" but instead a really persuasive writer, then this is ok?

It amuses me that you take hypnotism so seriously. As if it's some special case of persuasion that is unfair. There are lots of "unfair" methods of persuasion. Government control of school curricula and media bias have much larger impacts than a cartoonist with a hypnosis fetish. Is it unethical for local, elected school boards to decide what is taught in the classroom? Is it unethical for a reporter to focus on what interests him?
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
I think some of the skeptics forget Scott has a receptive audience already, in that we're willingly reading his blog. Odds are we share some of his opinions already, or we'd stop reading out of cognitive dissonance.

If Scott wanted me to vote for someone, I bet an overt endorsement would have even odds with subtle subconscious influence.
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
The words and their arangement count as new information. Otherwise- read the dictionary, all done!
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
Am I missing something or is this discussion moot if I accept your premise that humans have no free will? If we have no free will, then there is no such thing as ethical conduct because we don't choose what conduct we participate in.
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
No it's not - legal, yes, ethical, no,

And if you remove hypnosis from the equation it's still unethical (although I would emphasize the "no new information" part),
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
Wasn't there something vaguely hypnotic about Scott's conclusion there? I'm guessing that he put in some hypnotic language in an ethically neutral way (a.k.a. not while actually trying to persuade us of anything). I don't actually know anything about hypnosis though, so I may be way off base.

Notice the line "let me put that in concrete terms." This establishes that we should pay attention, that something good is to come. Yet after getting our attention Scott is anything but concrete. His usual snappy syntax becomes clogged with dependent clauses and the overall sound is subtly more foggy. If he then put: "It is indisputable that Barr (or whoever) is the right choice for America," at the end, would I receptive yet fuddled enough to not question it as much as I usually would?
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
Am I missing something or is this discussion moot if I accept your premise that humans have no free will? If we have no free will, then there is no such thing as ethical conduct because we don't choose what conduct we participate in.
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
To look at it from a utilitarian perspective, the most ethical thing to do would be that which causes the most good for the most people. If you convince people to change their votes, they may experience some mental pains from their view point being shifted but will experience smug satisfaction when they cast their votes for the candidate they 'chose'. It is reasonable to say that it is neutral on the people being manipulated, not much pleasure or pain either way. So, if you get pleasure from manipulating people then do it, if you feel guilty than don't do it. Whatever makes you the most happy, in this situation, is the most ethical thing to do.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
Whether or not your proposal is ethical depends on what framework is used to evaluate the morality of a behaviour. Since everyone commenting here will be using a different framework, you will not get a useful answer to your question.

Your real problem is that you have an idea you want to try that you think will improve the world around you. The fact that you have such a motivation means that (despite your assertions) you already have your own framework for evaluating the morality of a behaviour. Now that you know this, all you need to do is apply your framework.

If my words have changed your mind, then already already know if your proposal is ethical.
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
I would like all of you to write a "fictional" 3 to 5 page essay on what a McCain/Palin presidency would be like from the perspective of a right-wing crackpot. Ignore any liberal biases that you may have and write it as if you think that McCain and Palin are the best candidates ever.

Once you are done, please pass this assignment to 3 of your friends and ask them to do the same.

The magic lotto numbers for today are 3 and 5...

;-)
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
Yes. The parties themselves attempt to do this via their advertising and media connections.

It is ethical, indeed a human need, to want to convert others to your own opinion, and if you're clever enough to have an extra (natural) tool available to you, then lucky you. You'll be more successful in doing what everyone's trying to do.
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
I've always been with you on the moist robot/no free will thing, but I'm not sure how it follows that morality is an irrational concept. There are still social norms that we use to construct our laws around. A person's decision process, even though for him the outcome being inevitable, can still include considerations about morality. The moist robot theory only speaks to the invariability of the decision process, not the mechanics of the process itself.
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
In my opinion, yes, it is perfectly fair to try to persuade without using new data. Haven't we all appreciated someone else's reasoning process connecting the dots for us occasionally? It's a good thing to add additional processing power to the existing data.
And I don't believe that even hypnosis rises to the level of coercion, as long as you are only using words (especially written words). Once you start using your mind-control transmitter though, you've crossed the line.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
Are you going to sway people for the candidate I want to win? Then, yes this is completely moral and in fact it is your duty to bring as many undecideds into the light as you can. If you're going to support the other guy, then no, this meddling is morally reprehensible, and you are hurting America.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
I am getting sleepy, very very sleepy....
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
Probably not. Even with free will being non-existent, you're messing with the switches in peoples brains that they don't even know they have. However, considering we're moist robots, I'd automatically do it anyway because I couldn't help myself.

In this election, its basically down to whether you want whats good for the country or you really are against the idea of abortion freedom, gay marriage, and a black president so much that you prefer going against the self-interest of the country based on avoiding those. Or you make over $250, 000 and would prefer getting massive tax cuts at the expense of the majority of your countrymen. As we all know by now, small businesses are exempt from the tax increase in Obama's plan.

If you believe McCain/Palin have a better plan on any other issue, mention it and we can have a lively debate. Considering that their campaign is run by lobbyists who will take this country to the cleaners, it will have to be a mighty fine plan. http://www.alternet.org/election08/96395/?page=entire
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
Ethical? That would be something you would have to decide for yourself. You already have influence over a number people simply because you are a celebrity (Yes, you are a celebrity). That influence could be construed as hypnotic power. I would argue that swaying opinion on a topic as significant as the upcoming election has greater meaning than say, influencing people to wear trucker hats and carry small canines in bags over their shoulders. But that's just me. I would venture a guess that you are already trying. If so, keep up the good work.
 
 
Oct 23, 2008
My guess is you've already tried to hypnotize some people using this blog and this post is the final layer... if the people who've already been hypnotized think that they can't be this post effectively covers your tracks...
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog