Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Art of Politics : 10 Methods to Obfuscate and Manipulate People

In an earlier post, I have mentioned a few techniques to win a debate against a worthy adversary. But in some cases, the objective is not to win the debate, but to just prevent the debate from happening. This is the case when one is very scared of losing.

This is when the art of obfuscation comes into play. I call this the art of politics because modern politics is based entirely on this art. Though I present several strategies below, I expect my readers to be ethical and respectful of other human beings. But it helps to know them as a means of defense.

As I argued in my previous post, the world today owes more to the actions of "artificial life" than to those of human beings. These artificial life forms are self replicating social programs with a mind and life of their own. To be short, I call these social programs "religions", but they don't have to deal with God. A "religion" relies on the blind faith of people in a certain theory, and there exists a "priesthood" which swindle the people based on this faith. The most dangerous religions in our times are economic and political theories, especially the Fractional Reserve Banking system.

The "priests" of these religions believe that they are successfully swindling and enslaving other human beings. But in reality, these priests are just limbs of a self-replicating beast that enslaves them, and the whole of humanity. Part of the techniques of obfuscation that I mention below might have thought out by the "priests", but part of them might also be thought out by the "Matrix" : the brain of the religion.

  1. Sustaining the illusion of normalcy : The success of any religion depends on how effectively it can sustain the illusion of normalcy in the minds of people. For most of the time, a human brain is functionally equivalent to a copying machine. It springs into an "intelligent" state of questioning only when something drastic happens that shatters the impression of normalcy. Therefore, a religion has to work to provide the illusion of normalcy even amidst an extraordinary crisis. For example, in the current severe economic recession, people are constantly fooled on the media that life is going on normally. That a second and stronger Wall Street is rising from the ashes. And that all the loopholes in the financial sector are being fixed.
  2. Keeping an issue complicated by jargon : If the illusion of normalcy fails, and a person is intrigued to question, he can be immediately assaulted by stating that the subject at hand is too complicated for his mind to process. This is achieved by presenting the case in legal and economic jargon with which he might not be aware. Complicated graphs and mathematical equations will be produced to scare the person away. Imposing persons with strings of diplomas at the end of their names will appear on the television to explain the situation, or better, to express their helplessness that the situation is beyond even their smart brains. In fact, any complicated scientific theory (including quantum mechanics and string theory) can be explained to the layman without the use of jargon. It all depends on the willingness of the speaker to communicate.
  3. Keeping the opposition divided : Despite the above efforts, some opposition will coalesce socially against a religion. Then the success of a religion depends critically on how efficiently it can keep the opposition divided. The religion tries its best to emphasize the differences amongst the opponents, and provoke one party against the other. For example, one of the biggest heists of modern politics is to divide Libertarians from the Social Democrats. The former are told that the latter are opponents of freedom, while the latter are told that the former are opponents of equality. In fact, even if both of these accusations are partially true, they are usually not concerned to the topic at hand, which could be about monopolization of resources, to which both the parties are equally opposed.
  4. Infiltrating the opposition by stone-throwers : The survival of a religion depends on the majority acceptance of people in the society. Whenever an opposition germinates against a religion, it will have to work to gain acceptance amongst neutral and undecided people in the society. If such people are worried that the opposition is filled with extremists, the religion has a better chance of survival. Hence, a religion actually infiltrates the opposition with spies who project this image of extremism. A very simple demonstration of this is when the opposition holds a peaceful rally - a few spies can throw stones, sullying the name of the entire opposition. More often, this stone-throwing phenomenon happens metaphorically in the media. Several writers will be paid to write radical essays or make provocative statements in the name of the opposition. For example, (a) a spy might shout anti-semitic slogans in an anti-war rally to protest against Israeli aggression (b) a spy might argue for totalitarian state ownership of means of production, during a critique of the current banking fiasco.
  5. Exploiting false associations : In several cases, it will be possible to associate the opponent of a religion to evil actors, through similarity in name (for example, nuclear power to nuclear weapons), through evils of the past (for example, any mention of socialism to gulags in the Soviet Union), through a freak joint appearance (for example, anti-war activists with radical-Islamic activists), or through use by other evil actors (for example, Osama bin Laden sullying the name of Noam Chomsky). Human brain has an associative memory, and it has difficulties in differentiating correlation from causation, cause from effect, and the irrelevant from the relevant. If the false associations are repeated frequent enough, they will sink well in the minds of the population. It helps if the associations are phoenetically rhyming or have a sing-song about them.
  6. Shaping the identity of people with empty attributes : The biggest threat of a religion are people, and the biggest weapon of a religion are again people. The success of a religion lies in infiltrating the identity of people. When people think that their own identities are at threat, they become extremely defensive, and go to the extent of even laying their lives down for the sake of the religion. A religion shapes the identity of people in terms of empty attributes that it claims to have a monopoly on : honor, self-respect, love of freedom, democracy, respect for elders etc. In reality, none of these attributes are actually related to the religion concerned, but people will find it extremely difficult to disentangle the associations. Whenever a religion is questioned on specific issues : such as the murder of human beings, swindling of money, or blatant violation of freedoms, the religion responds by whipping the people into a frenzy saying that their own identities are being questioned (defined on empty attributes such as honor or respect, of course).
  7. Not overdoing the exploitation : The success of any slave-owner depends on how well the slave is fed. Nobody can be exploited till exhaustion. A human being will first rebel before he succumbs to death by exhaustion. And if people are famished, the rebellion will be exceedingly difficult to control. So a religion alternates between exploiting people and providing them with a small respite. This is especially true with democratic governments, which provide tax-breaks, or poverty-alleviation schemes just before elections. Human brain is extremely sensitive to alternating stimuli of pain and pleasure. Any pleasure felt in the aftermath of pain is exceedingly strong, and people will be very well-disposed towards a religion when they receive their shot of pleasure.
  8. Socially ostracizing the skeptics : The religion creates an aura of taboo on certain topics, forcing people not to discuss them. Anyone who starts a discussion on such topics has to fear that he/she will be socially ostracized. For example, the issue of race is a strong taboo in several societies. The religion inflicts strongly negative and unpleasant sensations in people whenever such topics are mentioned. In this way, a debate is terminated even before it could germinate. The history of human beings is replete with brilliant scientists and artists who produced masterpieces even during the worst periods of oppression and enslavement. Most likely, these great minds would have questioned the religion, if only they had less to fear that they would deeply offend their colleagues.
  9. Developing a symbiotic identity from diverse ideologies : This is the most subtle form a religion can take. In nature, animals and plants have symbiotic relationships. Predators are necessary to ensure that a prey species doesn't overpopulate, and thence suffer extinction. There exists a complex give and take relationship between different forms of life : an entire environment, known as a "biome", is created out of such relationships. For example : the sea-anemone and the hermit crab often occur together. The anemone protects the crab from enemies with its poisonous sting, and the crab carries the anemone around. We don't need such exotic examples, every plant and animal requires millions of other species for survival. Plants need bees for pollination, we human beings need thousands of bacteria for digesting our food. This type of symbiotic relationship is also the norm for artificial life, or religions. For example : the extreme right-wing sections of two religions need each other to reinforce each other. A right wing party needs to alternate the government with a center-left party in order to provide some respite for the people (point 7). In such cases of symbiotic existence of a religion, the agents of exploitation and enslavement are present in all the parties that participate. When there is no clear enemy that they can identify, people will be totally at a loss on who to blame and silently accept their fate.
  10. Anticipating the opposition, coalescing it, and then crushing it : A really smart religion actually has a functional wing to catch all the exceptions and skeptics. It might pay a spy to create an anti-religion organization and let all the opposition gravitate towards it. In that way, the religion knows clearly who its opponents are and what they are up to. When the numbers become too many, the religion implements the plan of destruction of opponent. This can be done by physically harming the opponents, or by spreading fear amongst the population that a major conspiracy is being hatched, or by sowing cynicism into the minds of opponents through spies. This strategy works well as long as the opponent group is not too large to be beyond control.
In fact, artificial life (religions) employ as many tactics and complex behavior as done by real life in order to survive. A naturalist or biologist will immediately understand the nature of this complexity. It is difficult for normal amateur human beings to stand against such forces. But ultimately, there will come a time when this illusion of religion will be shattered. Such is the law of life.


Photonman said...

In fact, any complicated scientific theory (including quantum mechanics and string theory) can be explained to the layman without the use of jargon.How do you know?

Ray Lightning said...

By the way, I have one very good reference for a gentle introduction to the theory of relativity and how it can be bridged with quantum mechanics via the quantum loop gravities. Here is Dr Abhay Ashtekar's essay.

If you want a grand vista of eminent scientists writing vulgarizations and light-reading for novices, you should look up to John Brockman's Edge Foundation. But what inspired me to make that brash statement is Dr Richard Feynman's elegant book with a cheeky title called QED (quantum electrodynamics), where he explicitly mentions that he is trying to explain QED without using mathematical equations (even though it could be very unsatisfying in conveying the whole integrity of the topic).

Vikram said...

Very nice post Ray.We had dinner with a guy who works with the World Bank a few weeks ago, and he described Indian politicians as genuises. Genuises at fooling and exploiting people.And your post lists many of the tactics they employ.

Vikram said...

Actually you can modify these ideas a little bit in the analysis of contemporary 'mainstream' politics and media-discourse in South Asia:

1) Sustaining the illusion of normalcy -> Sustaining the illusion of irreconcilable difference and externally driven insecurity

2) Keeping an issue complicated by jargon -> Create fatalistic and inherent reasons for lack of progress, see these excellent posts on the The South Asian Idea blog,

Ray Lightning said...

Cheers Vikram :) Looks interesting those links, I will follow up. I think Indian politicians don't necessarily have to employ the tactics that I mentioned in this blog. In India, politicians practice the art of "shamelessnes". They admit openly that they are scoundrels and crooks, and people still vote for them.

In the first world and industrialized countries, the politicians cannot do this, so they employ camouflage. The tactics that I mentioned are drawn from my observations of politics in USA and Europe.

By the way, I think India's poverty is not entirely of its own making. Crooked and corrupt our politicians might be, they are only a part of the reason for India's poverty. The rest is due to corruption at a global level. (The corruption on wall-street and the insider deals between bankers and politicians in Washington dwarfs the third world corruption by an exponential margin).

The world currency exchange market is screwed up, and massively distorted in favor of the American dollar. This unevenly lowers the value of Indian exports and inflates the prices of important imports (such as oil and natural gas). If you are still in contact with that world-bank guy, may be you should gently talk to him about structural adjustment policies and why world bank insists that third world countries implement them.. Will be good for a chuckle or two, between the both of you.

mOby said...

hey vakiba..nice one... if ur still into reading this book call the dune by frank herbert...