About This Primer

I’d Like to Thank my Mother and All the Little People

I wrote the first edition of the Primer in 1992 for an graduate off-campus course in persuasion and influence.  I wanted a text that presented a range of theories and concepts in an academically honest way, yet also had a “pop press” style.  Such style is the kiss of death for respectable professors – you can’t publish something that feels so glib, loose, and ironic and maintain any kind of credibility with your peers.

Not serious, you know.  Truly, my good man.  Tut, tut.

Fortunately, my good colleague, Professor Pat Kearney taught me how to teach high taste content in a low taste format.  That permission married my background in theater, literature, and performance with my genuine and deeply felt nerdiness.  Why can’t you make the academic appear artistic?  Everyone with any wit catches the distinction and knows when to laugh aloud and when to take notes.

Please consider perhaps the greatest observation about creative human nature ever produced:

“All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic.”

That from the first modern bad boy, Oscar Wilde, in his essay, “The Critic As Artist.”  Professor Harold Bloom turned this quote into a diamond:  All bad poetry is sincere.

Anyone with any sense leaps from poetry into instruction like a cat off a log onto a mouse.  Instruction is more like art than science although science recommends itself here, too.  No one has yet nor probably ever will mass produce great teachers like punching out Chryslers in the factory.

Thus, instruction is a creative enterprise.  Good instruction is insincere instruction, meaning that good instruction is constructed with forethought aimed at making other people do things they resist to their own detriment.  If you instruct from sincerity, you’re telling us everything about yourself and nothing about persuasion or quantum physics or the declension of Latin verbs or My Dear Aunt Sally or whatever the content.  That’s why instructors who wear their hearts on their sleeves receive polarized student evaluations.  The majority see the bad poetry in the professor’s teaching, while a few dote on a kindred spirit.  The former don’t learn because the teaching is sincerely bad while the latter also do not learn, but because they are in love and love teaches about love, not about persuasion.

The Primer is insincere, artificial, created, manipulative, artful and all aimed at getting you to get something you wanted – knowledge of persuasion.  If this thing is well done then you both learn and enjoy, the academic and the artful.

After I’d taught with the Primer for a few years off-campus, I put the chapters on the Web in 1996 for my on-campus persuasion courses.  I typically included more standard textbooks in these courses, usually the ones by Daniel O’Keefe, Robert Cialdini, Petty and Cacioppo, or Eagly and Chaiken depending upon the level.  In 1996 the Web was new, especially in academic circles.  To a certain extent, most professors viewed Web work as something closer to alchemy or phrenology, something to be shunned, criticized, and despised.  Most probably still feel that way and always will because, well, because they are sincere teachers.  I am not.  By nature and nuture I am not.  Teaching is not about me; it is about you.  Teaching is about learning, not teaching.

I made a major revision to the Primer again in 2006 when I taught an online persuasion course.  I learned that while new technology is great for communicating ideas, new technology doesn’t come close to interpersonal teaching.  If you think you are getting any kind of education from web-based instruction, please think again.  You might even gain insights into that proposition from reading the Primer.

And, now, here we are in 2011 with version 3.0 of the Primer.  Most of the changes are merely expansion of old material with better or more interesting research applications.  Version 3.0 also contains more links from posts in the Persuasion Blog which amplify the concept with contemporary illustrations.  Some folks like it better with Lady Gaga than Madonna or even Marilyn Monroe.  I’m happy to accommodate with the Blonde that works.

So, what about my mother and the little people?  I appreciate the tap dancing with my mom.  As for the others, George J.W. Goodman, Hunter S. Thompson, Professor Strunk and E. B. White, Rich Petty, Harold Bloom, Fred Kerlinger, Wil North, Malloy Gould, Dick Walls, Fred Butcher, and Al Munson, I appreciate you for teaching me new steps.  Of course, none of these people wrote this Primer and I claim full responsibility for the work while offering my respects to my teachers who did the best for me that they could.