The anchor effect: how to drag a debate your way (also, I hate Liam Fox)

Liam Fox, the worse of the two Dr Foxes, has said something so horrifyingly, cartoonishly evil that it’s hard to know where to start. He thinks the economy should be shocked back to life by doing away with capital gains tax–something that makes the very rich all cross–and make up for the shortfall by slashing benefits–those things that help poor people not die.

The brazen, naked announcement of where his priorities lie–firmly on the side of the most repulsive form of capitalism–is disgusting. It’s flabbergasting that someone can think this way, and feels that it’s appropriate to say something that amounts to “fuck you, ordinary people, we only care about money”.

The thing is, it’s actually a fairly smart thing to say. It’s disgusting, but it’s pretty clever in achieving the things that scum like Fox want.

This is due to a psychological effect called anchoring. A good way of explaining how anchoring works is to look at sales. Now, it’s become a running joke that sofa-floggers DFS have a sale which will last until the heat death of the universe, but what they’re doing is actually some pretty clever marketing using anchoring. The “WAS” price they provide sticks in your head. A smaller price therefore becomes more reasonable, even though that sofa was probably never worth £599 and you’re almost certainly still being ripped off when you pay £399 for it.

In short, you’ll fixate on the first thing you’re told. Your brain will stick to that number even when thinking of another number. It will be “anchored” to it.

Even though Fox probably fervently believes what he is saying about capital gains and slashing benefits, he’ll know that this is a particularly nasty pipe dream. The thing is, he’s thrown down his anchor, and dragged discourse in his direction. Suddenly, smaller benefit cuts and a smaller cut to capital gains tax seems far more reasonable, because we’re fixated on the BIG AWFUL HORRID THING he just proposed.

Anchoring is a powerful tool, and it’s used well by a lot of terrible specimens. Take, for example, the fact it’s now practically impossible to talk about fascists like the EDL without going “well, there are concerns about immigration”. The fascists have successfully dragged people a bit further right. Likewise, look at the state of the Labour Party, who are about as left-wing as a row of jars of bankers’ farts filling a recently-closed library. At least in part, they’ve been dragged right by the dominant right-wing discourse that they’re anchored to.

Generally speaking, while the radicals on the side I’ll broadly call “not evil” are pretty good at not falling victim to the anchors of the right, the liberals are very bad at this. This is why the TUC are marching not for anything interesting, but for more jobs and other such waffle. This is why there’s such a rush to condemn any form of property damage. This is why there’s no imagination any more.

And this is why there’s very little positive change and we’re all drowning in a mountain of neoliberal turds.

We need to use the anchor effect to our advantage, and drag everything back our way. When pleas for “unity” come from the liberals, what they need to do is back the radicals rather than the other way round. Demand FULL COMMUNISM, and maybe then it’ll sound more reasonable to revive the welfare state. Demand KILL ALL MEN, and maybe then it’ll sound more reasonable to give women equal representation in politics.

The anchor effect is a powerful tool. It’s time we used it as well as the bastards of the world do.

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11 responses to “The anchor effect: how to drag a debate your way (also, I hate Liam Fox)

  • Hilary

    this is definitely up there in my favourite-ever-stavvers-posts shortlist – thank you! lost count of the number of times i have tried to express this, but never so articulately, partly because i never knew that it had a name – anchoring.
    reminds me of my teenage ambition to be a shock jock for the left. provide some anchoring in the other direction. my teenage self wasn’t so crazy after all.

  • Spudman101

    Come on now, be reasonable… You can have socialism, kill 20% of men and get an extra 10% off in the DFS sale, final offer.

  • Mary Tracy (@MaryTracy)

    “This is why the TUC are marching not for anything interesting, but for more jobs and other such waffle” LOL!

    “And this is why there’s very little positive change and we’re all drowning in a mountain of neoliberal turds.” DOUBLE LOL!!!

    Excellent! DEMAND FULL FEMINIST REVOLUTION! FULL FEMINIST COMMUNISM NOW!!! :D

  • Steven Maclean

    Malcolm X did that for MLK to a degree.

  • tiggerim

    Anchoring and wankering…page three girls, a ‘cheeky bit of fun’ which reenforces the objectification of women.

  • sciamachy

    Yup, it’s always the way. So, with the snoopers’ charter laws they’re bringing in, initially we had ACTA, SOPA/PIPA in the US & CISPA in Canada effectively bringing in a kind of automated online Stasi. These get roundly defeated & then they sneak in what they were really after in by the back door while we’re celebrating our defence of freedom. Then we get arrested & are all “Huh? WTF?!” as we realise it’s all gone. Fuck them all.

  • Alyson (@textuallimits)

    In parliamentary politics, the range of what is considered reasonable or acceptable is often called the Overton Window (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window). Shifting this window has been a big part of the neoliberalism.

  • M

    Blimey. It has a name! Also related I suppose, the thing where someone voices their crazy opinion and other easily led people think that it must be alright then if someone is saying it because if it wasn’t then they wouldn’t have said it or they would have been shot down by reasonable people etc, and so it becomes their opinion too.

  • Graham Martin

    “Demand KILL ALL MEN, and maybe then it’ll sound more reasonable to give women equal representation in politics.”

    *meep*

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