Hugh Ranks Pep Talk – How to Analyze Political Language

Get Results: true education comes from questioning what your told
Get Results: true education comes from questioning what your told

Hugh Rank may be better known for his model of persuasion, but he did also come up with the Pep talk, a framework for analysing political language.

It’s particularly important to be aware of the tricks politicians might employ to take control of the population through a form of mind control, manipulating the masses to their will.

Rank believed arming people with this framework might help protect against such trickery.

When you’re next watching the news, or some political broadcast, look out for this framework at work. Question politicians and media motives, pay particular attention to the language being used. For example if you’ve listened to some of the Brexit debate lately, you may have heard terms such as

  • “we risk falling off a cliff edge”,
  • “into the abyss”,
  • “storm clouds are gathering”,
  • “we’ll be left in the wilderness”,

Now, consider the intent behind such emotive language. What are politicians (and the media) trying to get you to do, what is their intent?

Whether you believe it’s likely to be true or not, what such language is attempting to do is influence your views, mess with your emotions and stir a reaction from you. It’s trying to stoke up fear, largely based on nothing but opinion and assumptions rather than fact and evidence. This isn’t the Pep talk framework in full effect, but some elements are at play here.

However you have seen the Pep talk at work, in all it’s glory, during the war on terror, particularly after 911.

The “pep talk” calls for committed collective action. Emotional intensity and group bonding are the two prominent features of a “pep talk” which is made up of the following components..

(1)the Threat; (2) the Bonding; (3) the Cause; (4) the Response.

1. The Threat

Rank believes persuaders are often problem makers using the following tools:

  1. words – warning, name calling, horror stories
  2. images – atrocity pictures to intensify threat to the group by evil other

Persuaders use predictable fears – “We fear that someone stronger (DOMINANCE) will take away our life (DEATH), our possessions (DESTRUCTION), our territory (INVASION), our freedom (RESTRICTION); or that someone else has more (INJUSTICE); or that a human system will break down (CHAOS).

There are six category of fears;

  1. Death and destruction
  2. Invasion
  3. Restriction
  4. Dominance
  5. Injustice
  6. Chaos

The threat may be direct and tangible (such as traffic gridlocks, widespread power outages, computer network failures, mob riots, food shortages, contamination) or the threat may be indirect and intangible (such as inflation, bank failures, devaluation of currency). But, in both cases, the harmful effects are, nevertheless, real and felt.

In political campaigns, the incumbents usually stress how well the systems work; the opposition party charges that the system should work better, and that there should be change, reform.

2. The Bonding

Hugh Rank believes there are three basic themes in bonding actions, which are the same, no matter what threats or causes are involved, these are:

  1. Unity – “united we stand”
  2. Loyalty – “be true to your…”
  3. Pride – “we’re number one…”

Such bonding activities relate to past and present and involves organised group activities such as teams, parades, picketing, chanting, singing and/or wearing uniforms, these are used for gathering and keeping the group together ready for action.

Once the group is bonded a structure and organisation comes into being. Individuals often gain self-esteem from joining such groups, have roles to play and jobs to protect.

So bonded groups need a sense of movement and progress, often obtained by introducing new threats and new causes.

3. The Cause

Rank says a cause involves a sense of duty to defend someone from a threat and gain a benefit.

People working on a cause often increase their own self image and have a sense of moral superiority and self righteousness. They basically come from the view that “we are informed and good: they are ignorant and evil”

Causes often conflict, sometimes directly, more often indirectly. Opponents often disagree on what the main issue is. Dominance, or power, is sometimes the “hidden agenda.” Related causes often cluster, so group-bonding attempts often overlap.

Cause rhetoric can sometimes be controlled, like a thermostat, by organized groups, but sometimes gets out of control, like a wildfire, because individuals may internalise a strange mix of messages and respond in violent ways.

  • It’s our Duty … Obligation … Responsibility … Mission … Job … Work … Task
  • to Defend … Protect … Guard … Save … Help … Shield … Safeguard … Aid … Serve
  • the … Nation … Country … Homeland … People … Workers … Common ManPoorOppressed … Children… Unborn … Future… Animals …. Environment
  • … from a threat and gain a benefit:
  • If the Threat is: DOMINATION
    the benefit is:
    Victory … Triumph … Success … Conquest … Control … Sovereignty … Mastery … Superiority … Dominion … Supremacy
  • If the Threat is: DEATH & DESTRUCTION
    the benefit is:
    Peace … Security … Safety … Stability … Tranquility … Calm
  • If the Threat is: INVASION
    the benefit is:
    Territory … Country … Homeland … Fatherland … Birthright … Community … Inheritance … Neighborhood
  • If the Threat is: RESTRICTION
    the benefit is:
    Freedom … Liberty … Independence … Choice … Liberation … Emancipation … Autonomy … Self-determination
  • If the Threat is: INJUSTICE
    the benefit is:
    Justice … Equality …Right … Fairness … Balance … Retribution … Revenge … Vengeance
  • If the Threat is: CHAOS
    the benefit is:
    Order … Prosperity … Progress … Abundance … Plenty … Growth … Efficiency … Honesty … Ability … Integrity

Rank says that duty,  defense, and  altruism  are the key  concepts.  The  basic  concept  of  a  “cause”  can  be expressed  in the following  formula:

A  “cause”  involves  a  sense of  duty  to  defend  someone from  a threat and gain a benefit.

4. The Response

Effective cause group rhetoric usually identifies specific actions to be taken by the receptive audience. Often, an urgency plea is used, together with some common triggering words.

  • Start – lets go, move, start or passively – rest, stasis, indecision or inaction
  • Fight – struggle
  • Endure – keep on, hold on, standfast, stick to it
  • Change – redirect, transform, channel, convert.
If the Threat is: Key “Cause” words: Response sought:
DOMINANCE Victory, Success Fight (or) Stop
DEATH OR DESTRUCTION Security, Safety Win (or) Stop
INVASION Home, Country Keep out (or) Get out
RESTRICTION Freedom, Liberty Free (or) Ban
INJUSTICE Justice, Equality More (or) Less
CHAOS Efficiency, Honesty Keep (or) Change
DAMNATION Virtue, Goodness Save (or) Keep

This is the outline of Ranks Pep Talk, it’s difficult to find much about it on the internet, his book by the same name is available on Amazon, and although, I haven’t read it, other than on his website, many years ago, it’s an intriguing subject, and as relevant today as it’s ever been.

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