What We Can Learn about Politics from Pickup Artists

Nobody likes pickup artists. 

In a way, they're cheating. They carefully manipulate us into doing stuff we otherwise wouldn't do by using a rigorous, impersonal, mechanized system that reaches into the backs of our brains and pokes at very ancient, animal emotions. Using tactics like negging, they get us to do what they want by actually making us feel negative emotions, rather than positive ones.

These methods are created with great care for human psychology, and the "artists" that use them rigorously test, experiment, and iterate in order to maximize their results. They even adjust the method for different broad groups of people that they're trying to pick up.

But in the end, it's a numbers game. Any time they get a "no," they move on quickly and make another calculated pitch. They don't care about you, just what they can get out of you for one night. After that one night, you don't matter anymore. 

Maybe you feel a little icky in retrospect. You might remain in denial for quite a while about their intent. Nobody likes admitting they were used or manipulated.

But the pickup artist has a fatal flaw: once the artist's targets are aware of the methods and phrases being used, they stop being effective. Once we're educated on the tactics, we can see them being used, and we're able to instantly and trivially defend ourselves. 

In short, the method of the pickup artist loses its power as soon as we understand it.

"Okay okay, great: what does this have to do with politics?"

It's an analogy!

Those hoping to get elected have also developed sophisticated tactics that emotionally manipulate us. These are wedge issues, and they make us fearful, angry, and fiercely loyal to our tribe. 

Politicians vying for the presidency play a numbers game, altering their message to different interest groups to increase their "hit rate"--that is, turnout.

And in the end, they only need us for a single night: that first Tuesday in November.

Their tactics are so powerful that, like with a pickup artist, we don't know they're being used on us. We simply have an emotional reaction, decide on a candidate based on that, and then justify the decision to ourselves later, just like a purchase (or a one-night stand).

But there's good news!

Just as in the case of the pickup artist, once we understand the wedge tactics being used against us, we develop immunity to their effects. 

Such an immunity gives us the opportunity to make more reasoned, thoughtful decisions about politics. And choose which politicians we... ahem... take to bed, a little more carefully.


Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.