Wednesday, July 29, 2020

How To Manipulate People Into Wearing Masks

That slick human manipulator, Mr. Nudge himself, Cass Sunstein, is out with a new paper, The Meaning of Masks.

It is to be published in  Journal of Behavioral Economics for Policy.

Here is the abstract:
Many incentives are monetary, and when private or public institutions seek to change behavior, it is natural to change monetary incentives. But many other incentives are a product of social meanings, about which people may not much deliberate, but which can operate as subsidies or as taxes. In some times and places, for example the social meaning of smoking has been positive, increasing the incentive to smoke; in other times and places, it has been negative, and thus served to reduce smoking. With respect to safety and health, social meanings change radically over time, and they can be dramatically different in one place from what they are in another. Often people live in accordance with meanings that they deplore, or at least wish were otherwise. But it is exceptionally difficult for individuals to alter meanings on their own. Alteration of meanings can come from law, which may, through a mandate, transform the meaning of action into a bland, “I comply with law,” or into a less bland, “I am a good citizen.” Alteration of social meanings can also come from large-scale private action, engineered or promoted by “meaning entrepreneurs,” who can turn the meaning of action from, “I am an oddball,” to, “I do my civic duty,” or, “I protect others from harm.” Sometimes subgroups rebel against new or altered meanings, produced by law or meaning entrepreneurs, but often those meanings stick and produce significant change.
From the paper:
Because of the power of social meanings, statements and actions often signal certain virtues or vices, or offer a statement of social identity, a sense of the tribe to which one belongs. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, getting very close to other customers in a grocery store had, in many places, a clear social meaning: “I don’t care about your health.” For Jews, wearing a yarmulke is of course a statement of affiliation, and its valence will be different among different groups. A few decades ago, the meaning of calling women “Miss” or “Mrs.” shifted abruptly, and those who used those terms, or instead “Ms.,” offered a certain social signals (often but not always intended). In American universities, calling students “Mr.” or “Ms.” recently came to have a new social meaning, because many people thought that doing that had na├»ve or offensive connotations with respect to gender identity. When people speak or act in certain ways, it might be because the social meaning is like a tax or a subsidy, not in general, but with the particular groups or community that most matters to them. In these respects, social meanings can operate as substitutes for economic incentives or instead as complements; they can also push in competing directions. Rather than taxing or fining people for (say) smoking cigarettes, private and public institutions might try to stigmatize smoking, and enlist a new or altered social meaning. For example, they might try to make smoking signal “indifference to the health of others.” Alternatively, a cigarette tax might accompany a social meaning tax. Or a penalty of fine (on, say, the use of illegal drugs) might have to compete with a social meaning subsidy, in places where the use of illegal drugs signals independence and defiance of authority (in a way that relevant people admire). We should distinguish here between extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. I am emphasizing that social meanings create an extrinsic motivation: People do not want to incur the opprobrium, or even the raised eyebrows, of others.

Do not for a minute think these are academic musings of an Ivory Tower scholar.

This is the real world manipulator, for the benefit of government, thinking out loud as to how to use "social meanings" as a method to manipulate people, in particular right now with regard to the use of masks.



  1. Temperamentally Sunstein reminds me of O’Brien, the main antagonist of 1984.
    He projects a cool rational exterior that, I imagine, masks a sadistic lust for power.

  2. DesertBunny is no doubt correct. But perhaps we can learn from this sadistic sociopath. Many people have already suggested to me that wearing a mask means you care about others. However, the maskers need to be labeled as sneaky untrustworthy people who hide behind the mask like a bandit, caring about no one but themselves.


  3. Because there is so much information telling us masking is effective against C-19 (some ridiculous and some not so ridiculous) rather than arguing the facts about masking I am going past masks to the fact that C-19 does not warrant masks or any other “new (ab)normal.”

    The death rates for all but the unhealthy are miniscule, even with the pumped up lies they are spouting. Anyone that thinks everyone should be masked is just ignorant of the facts. Not only about masks but about the dangers of C-19.

    1. Exactly. When someone asks me why I don't wear a mask, I tell them that it's the equivalent of hopping on one foot during winter to bring on rain: there is no real problem, and, even if there were, the proposed solution wouldn't get you what you wanted.

  4. It has been an obvious social manipulation from day one. It's another submission ritual plus a few other things.

    What I have been trying is to corner the mask believers with that they should wear masks that are effective for viruses. That is P100 and N100 respirators. They aren't too expensive, around $30. They are industrial, but tested against viruses. At least some brands, but meeting that standard will likely mean being Generally these are the sort respirators one would wear to paint a car.

    Of course none of the virtue signalers are going to spend $30 or wear such things. It's too much for them both in money and inconvenience. Point out they aren't doing as much as they can. That their life should be worth $30 if this is a deadly virus unlike anything seen before and so on. If they believe this stuff they should be wearing the P/N100s.

    At this point a push over the edge to where it is too difficult for them to properly virtue signal is a weak point. To where simply not giving into fear is the easier path.