I view the video below as evidence of a powerful and often self-destructive instinct in most people to follow anyone who speaks with great confidence. People don’t much care about what’s being said. They do care about the apparent confidence of the speaker. Most people don’t care if the speaker speaks truth or lies, but they do care if he speaks with confidence.
If you speak without confidence–even if you’re telling a profound truth–most people won’t believe you. Most people won’t follow you.
But if you speak with great confidence, people don’t care if you’re a pathological liar–they will follow you, they’ll obey you, they’ll give you lots of money. Most salesmen, leaders, politicians, bankers and “men of power” understand this principle. If you would win, if you would rule, you must speak with unbridled confidence. Obama is a classic example of this phenomenon.
Adolph Hitler also understood this principle and called it the “big lie”. If you told a lie big enough, no one would doubt it. Perhaps Hitler could’ve labeled the phenomenon the “confident lie”. I.e., if you tell a lie with sufficient confidence, very few will doubt it.
I suspect that we respond to confidence because it’s easy to see. Truth, is far more complex, debatable and even confusing. Trying to evaluate the truth of an idea requires hard work, diligence and persistence. Trying to evaluate a speaker’s confidence, on the other hand, is comparatively easy. If he doesn’t speak with confidence, screw him. If he speaks with humility, screw him. He won’t attract a following or achieve much power. Therefore, he–and the truth or falsity of whatever ideas he espouses–can therefore be ignored.
The subject of the following video claims to be the Anti-Christ. He makes his claims with great confidence and has attracted a following. His followers contributed $1.4 million to him last year. Confidence works. Confidence sells.
But I’m reminded of the Messiah who reportedly spoke without great confidence but instead spoke with humility.*
I think I might understand the Messiah’s humility. When you speak with humility, the only subject is the truth or falsity of the ideas you present. When you speak with humility, you are not the issue. The humble man is not the subject of interest. The subject of interest is the idea he’s trying to express. Speaking with humility, you become almost irrelevant. The audience is not deceived into believing your ideas by your confidence, showmanship, or charisma.
Speaking with humility may not attract much of an audience (at least not at first), but it makes your ideas be the only subject for the people to consider. Those ideas are not obscured or even hidden behind a cloak of the speaker’s confidence.
• In A.D. 1964, Marshal McLuhan wrote a book entitled Understanding Media; The Extensions of Man. In that book, McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” He argued that the objective content of the message (ultimately its truth, falsity or relevance) was less important than the “medium” (radio, tv, print) in which that message was communicated. If advertisers could create a good “medium,” their message would be accepted and embraced by the consumers–regardless of the objective content of the message.
I’m reminded of the “Marlboro Man” as an application of McLuhan’s “medium is the message”. Back in the 1960s and 70s, Marlboro cigarettes used the image of a rugged, masculine cowboy with movie-star good looks to sell millions of packages of cigarettes.
I remember the ads. Full page. Color photo. A cowboy smoking while he rode a horse, saddled a horse, hauled a bale of hay, savored a sunset or did something else that was quintessentially “cowboyish”. Virtually no text other than the word “Marlboro”. The essential content of objective “message” of the Marlboro ads was “tobacco kills”. But the “medium” used to convey or even conceal that “message” was the image of that rugged cowboy whose rugged, masculine confidence seemed enormous and irrefutable.
Result? Millions of Americans bought Marlboro cigarettes based on the “medium” (confident cowboy) rather than the essential message (“tobacco kills”).
It occurs to me that McLuhan’s catchphrase (“The medium is the message”) may help illustrate the phenomenon of most people “buying” a particular “message” based on the “medium” (the speaker’s confidence) rather than on the truth or falsity of the underlying facts. The “medium” often conceals the objective “message” and thereby becomes the “message”.
• Which brings me back to the Messiah. It’s my understanding that he not only spoke with humility but also wasn’t a particularly handsome man. If you saw the Messiah walking down the street, he didn’t “glow”. He didn’t look like Clark Gable or George Clooney. The Messiah’s appearance was unremarkable and might just as easily have been that of a street sweeper as of a savior.
For me, that unremarkable appearance is consistent with my notions about humility. Because of the Messiah’s ordinary looks and humble presentations, most people would not be seduced by the “medium” (the Messiah) but instead could only hear and evaluate the truth or falsity of whatever actual “message” he conveyed. In the case of the Messiah, the “medium” was not the “message”. The objective “message” (the Gospel) was the “message”.
Result? With an unremarkable, humble Messiah, the “message” of the Gospel might not have made as much immediate “market penetration” as would’ve been possible if Gable, Clooney or the Marlboro man had been fronting for the Gospel. But, it may well be that the actual “message” (the Gospel) caught on and became powerful in large measure because it was not initially presented by some “golden boy” speaking with “great confidence” and charisma. If “the medium is the message,” then if the Messiah had been a super-confident “medium” we might never have really considered and grasped the underlying “message”.
From this perspective, the New Testament is not about the Messiah so much as the Word.
In a sense, it might even be argued that the “medium” (the Messiah) might have to “disappear” before his underlying “message” could be fully understood.
Speculating along these lines, I’m reminded that Jews rejected the Messiah because they wanted a “king”. They wanted a “golden boy” filled with confidence and charisma to lead them and fight their battles. They didn’t want to “hear” whatever the Messiah had to say. They wanted to follow wherever the Messiah would lead them. It might be argued that Jews didn’t want the actual “message”–they wanted the “medium”.
In any case, here’s a short video of a man who speaks with sufficient confidence to convince people that he’s the Anti-Chist and attract enough followers to take in over $1 million a year in contributions. He hasn’t attracted a lot of followers. I’d bet the number is a few tens of thousands. Still, he’s attracted enough to collect $1.4 million a year. I doubt that he could’ve done that without great confidence.
There might be a lesson here. If the real Anti-Christ appears, he will almost certainly speak with great confidence and no humility.