Yet another bizarre, desperate anti-Obama is making the rounds by email, seeking to make people afraid of Barack Obama. As with the other conspiracy theory emails, there’s supposed to be a deep dark secret about Barack Obama. The secret this time: Barack Obama is using secret hand signals, music, and other tricks to hypnotize the American people into voting for him!
Its sounds scary, but I encourage you to read the email, a 60 page-long screed written by one anonymous writer and by Wil Horton, a prominent figure within neurolinguistic programming circles. Read the document, and think rationally about what the it claims, and you’ll see that it’s poorly-reasoned and free of evidence that actually implicates the Barack Obama. The document seems to be written by people who started out with the presumption that Barack Obama is a master hypnotist who has mesmerized the American people, and then concocted reasons to support that presumption.
It would be impossible for me to critique the entire conspiracy theory without writing a book-length analysis, so for the time being, I’ll just offer a few highlights of the shoddy thinking that runs throughout its long, rambling pages.
First of all, the claims of the conspiracy theory depends on the reader accepting the validity of neurolinguistic programming. Actually, that fundamental point of the conspiracy theory is in serious dispute. The movement of neurolinguistic programming has large numbers of fervent believers, but there is little scientific evidence to support its effectiveness. In fact, most of the scientific research into the claims of neurolinguistic programming show that its methods are ineffective.
Still, Wil Horton and his anonymous co-writer treat the claims of the neurolinguistic programming movement as if they were undisputed facts. The introduction to the Obama Hyponosis conspiracy theory document reads,
Barack Obama’s speeches contain the hypnosis techniques of Dr. Milton Erickson, M.D. who developed a form of ‘controversial’ hypnosis that could be hidden in seemingly normal speech and used on patients without their knowledge for therapy purposes. Obama’s speeches intentionally contain:
– Trance inductions
– Hypnotic anchoring
– Pacing and leading
– Pacing, Distraction and Utiliziation
– Critical Factor Bypass
– Stacking Language Patterns
– Preprogrammed Response Adaptation
– Linking Statements / Causality Bridges
– Secondary Hidden Meanings /Imbedded Suggestions
– Emotion Transfer
– Non-Dominant Hemisphere Programming
Obama’s techniques are the height of deception and psychological manipulation, remaining hidden because one must understand the science behind the language patterns in order to spot them.
Now, do you know what these things are? Do you know what non-dominant hemisphere programming is? No, not at all – but Wil Horton and Mr. Anonymous will gladly explain it all to you, expecting you to just take their word for it that what they say is true.
Let’s take a look at what the Horton and his anonymous friend are talking about when they claim that Barack Obama has hypnotized American voters to make them do his bidding. “Trance states of mind and enhanced suggestibility happen to everyone every day; driving in your car, in the elevator, watching T.V., or listening to music. This mild hypnotic state is all that is needed for Ericksonian techniques to implant hypnotic commands you are unaware of.”
Wait a minute. If mindsets that commonly occur while listening to music, watching TV, or driving a car count as hypnotic trances, then that means that people are being hypnotized all the time. Such a broad definition of hypnosis is so expansive as to make no sense.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept the claim of Wil Horton and Anonymous that music, TV, and driving cars are methods of inducing hypnosis. Well, according to this definition of hypnosis, John McCain could be accused of secretly engaging in hypnotic suggestion by including a musical background track in his campaign advertisements, delivering his message on television, and advertising on the radio, which many people listen to while driving in the car. Why hasn’t Wil Horton written a big paper accusing John McCain of hypnotizing voters, then?
Here’s where the bias of desperate anti-Obama sentiment comes in. According to the conspiracy theory, Barack Obama’s success itself is proof that he must be hypnotizing voters. Horton and Anonymous write,
Popular perceptions of Obama are provable as inconsistent with his accomplishments, history, background and even what is heard from him consciously – however they match perfectly with the messages he is caught sending intending to be received only subconsciously. The irrational rise to power and uncanny passionate support for a logically unaccomplished and questionable man based on his speaking alone like the ‘Obama phenomenon’ is widely accepted – only the rational explanation is missing.
The only “rational explanation” for Obama’s success, Horton and Anonymous claim, is hypnosis. Of course, their argument is dependent upon the reader’s agreement that Barack Obama has the support of a majority of voters only because his speaking ability. It depends upon the idea that Barack Obama is questionable, and that his political ascent is irrational. Those premises are not at all a matter of general consensus.
Besides, if Barack Obama supposed lack of accomplishments is proof of his use of hypnosis in order to gain success, what are we to make of the sudden pick of Sarah Palin, without vetting, to be John McCain’s running mate? By the contorted logic of Horton and Anonymous, we must presume that Sarah Palin somehow hypnotized John McCain during their short pre-convention meeting together this summer.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s accept the conspiracy theory’s claim that Barack Obama’s success is due to his use of neurolinguistic programming hypnosis techniques. Even if that were so, why would we conclude, as Horton and Anonymous do, that Barack Obama is making purposeful and nefariously manipulative use of hypnotic techniques? The conspiracy theory document claims, “This document contains over a hundred examples of Obama’s specific language patterns and hypnosis techniques that follow textbook Ericksonian principles and characteristics too much to be coincidence.”
Think through this claim, and you’ll see that it depends upon an unstated premise: That there could be no other explanation between any similarities in Barack Obama’s speeches and some elements of neurolinguistic programming other than the intentional use of neurolinguistic programming practices. Horton and Anonymous are essentially making a statistical claim: That there is a statistically significant number of similarities that proves that Barack Obama must be using their hypnotic mind control techniques. Have Horton and Anonymous actually engaged in any such statistical analysis, though? Nope. They’re just making a statistical assertion, and expecting you to believe it without question.
Given that Horton and Anonymous have no actual evidence of the Obama campaign planning to hypnotize people, a much more reasonable conclusion would be that any similarity between Obama’s speeches and the practices of neurolinguistic programming are a matter of concidence. Wil Horton does claim that neurolinguistic programming contains a large number of techniques that are effective in persuading people. So, if that were the case, then wouldn’t the most effective speakers tend to, even without planning to, happen to use a lot of the these useful approaches to language?
Think of it as the equivalent of evolution through natural selection on the campaign trail. Barack Obama has been working on his speaking for years and years, discovering through trial and error what kinds of approaches work. It’s not a surprise, therefore, that Obama has happened upon some useful techniques in being persuasive. As with biological evolution, intentional scheming is not required to arrive at an effective solution.
Besides, let’s take a look at what Horton and Anonymous describe as among the “over a hundred” examples of supposed neurolinguistic programming techniques:
– Obama’s use of common phrases like “turn the page”, “now is the time”, “as I stand here before you tonight”, and “this moment”
– Obama compares himself to John F. Kennedy, a popular Democratic President (as has every Democratic presidential candidate since the assassination of Kennedy)
– Whenever Obama presses his thumb and forefinger together, it is supposed to somehow transmit hypnotic messages that the audience must obey
– Obama has used words that are supposed to be “programming words” like “decided” and “chose”
Oooh. Shocking stuff, isn’t it? Yet, it’s with this flimsy kind of material that Wil Horton and his anonymous partner in conspiracy expect people to believe that Barack Obama is a master hypnotist, placing America under an evil spell.
Let’s look at the facts. A quick check of John McCain’s web site finds that McCain himself uses the same supposedly hypnotic words and phrases that Horton and Anonymous blast Obama for. For instance, on September 19, 2008, John McCain told America, “Now is the time to take action to address this crisis and take action to put our economy back on a path of growth.” Was John McCain hypnotizing the American public with this sentence? Of course not. He was using a common political phrase.
The McCain web site uses the words “decided” and “chose” hundreds of times. Is McCain mesmerizing the voters? I don’t think that the evidence is strong.
What Wil Horton and his anonymous co-conspirator are doing is playing upon fearful ignorance about human psychology. They know that many Americans are afraid that hypnosis gives some people the ability to control other people at will. They know many Americans think of hypnosis as a magical, mystical power. Many Americans believe that hypnosis is inherently evil – and even satanic. This neurolinguistic programming attack against Barack Obama is designed to enhance the fear, especially among right wing Christians, that Barack Obama is a wicked spellbinder, and perhaps even the antichrist himself.
It’s a load of bull, of course. Even genuine hypnosis doesn’t provide its practitioners with the ability to force other people to do things against their will. However, there’s no good reason to think that Barack Obama is even trying to hypnotize people. Instead, he’s working calmly to persuade Americans to vote for him. Compared with George W. Bush and John McCain, Barack Obama puts Americans at ease, and that’s as close to hypnosis as Obama comes.
Wil Horton seems to think that he’s exposing Barack Obama, but all that’s really happening with this latest conspiracy theory is that Wil Horton is exposing himself as an unscrupulous hack.