Radical Distortion: How Emotions Warp What We Hear by John W. Reich (book review).

I wasn’t really sure about John W. Reich’s book, ‘Radical Distortion: How Emotions Warp What We Hear’, as it took a couple chapters to settle down into what he was getting at. After that, it started to make sense. Reich’s focus is on how people are persuaded not only by someone talking but the emotional content that drives it. Notice the word ‘persuade’. He shows how the politicians and cult leaders have it as part of their tools in getting people behind them but then, a lot of people do it in getting people to go along with their arguments.


I’m a bit on the fence on this, mostly because I prefer to make up my own mind and suspect that a lot of people would rather say yes to an angrily speaking or emotionally charged person than to upset them. Then again, I tend to make quickly assessed counter-arguments. For other though, once the first piece of self-regard is removed, you would probably have such weakened people in your camp and malleable to whatever you say. Apply that logic on anyone whom you believe in and it’s possible to do a number on them, as witnessed by many a cult religion, although Reich misses out on one of the bigger ones in the States.

If you like something vital that appeals to you, then you are less inclined to stand against anything that under other circumstances you wouldn’t agree to. Politicians and religious leaders use this to persuade your beliefs against the opposition party as Reich points out is done in the USA. As a comparison, one major difference between freedom of speech in the UK is that we stop it short where it incites people to riot or cause harm. Probably why cult religions have never really caught on over here.

Reich moved away from his main argument a bit with a discussion on colour but his final chapters make a lot more sense about how humans are competitive and grouping together into a ‘them’ and ‘us’, regardless of the circumstances, will put them into fighting. Shades of ‘Lord Of The Flies’ but Reich points out that it happens on many levels. I even spotted a few things that have happened to me over the years. I liked his solution of getting both sides to co-operate over something reduces hostility but that’s been used for years even if it’s rarely said aloud. If anything, a lot of what he says is a display of the human ‘herd instinct’ and a need to follow a leader, regardless of their moral intentions.

I found a lot of this book bitty in how Reich addresses the problems. I do think the strongest thing you will discover is how this works if you’ve ever been ganged up on for not conforming, even amongst your peer group or even bullied by those who aren’t. Like all herd animals, humans will gang up on the minority. It would have been interesting to have seen the perspective from how such bullies reconcile their actions but maybe that can come out in another book. ‘Radical Distortion’ could have gone a lot further than it did but all subjects have to start somewhere.

GF Willmetts

(pub: Prometheus Books. 248 page indexed large paperback. Price: $19.00 (US), £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-61614-658-0)
check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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