Time , War and the Mechanics of Control and Influence

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. ” – John F Kennedy speech asking the public to endorse the Apollo program.

This post I have been thinking about for a while. How do people in society control each other. Knowing this information is critical when starting a business or implementing a vision that others don’t quite yet understand (and sometimes ourselves included).

There have been systems that mankind has utilized to achieve our goals. Sophisticated systems like communism, companies and governments all over the world we see today. The family of course is the best and the most rewarding one and luckily not something that needs to be explained. Family works so well because the benefits are more direct than other grouping forms.

Then we also create friendships, tribes and other even more multi-leveled hierarchies such as royalty to maintain social achievements, rights and benefits.

The more sophisticated system obviously have more rules and seem to follow a hierarchy of rules or laws as we also call them. These rules can be quite exclusionary however and result in some people have access to resources and others not. A good example is race based economic power empowerment which for example first was implemented under apartheid in South Africa which has now evolved into a much more sophisticated system with lets say a few new weaknesses.

Noting that any system that does not look closely at the immediate geographic area for representation in its inclusion of of its labour and beneficiaries is still faulty. Just to mention some thoughts on this though, if for example the Syrian West looked after or better allocated resources to the Eastern side of the country, perhaps there would not have been the civil war we have all since witnessed. Similarly the Vikings may never have started as a conquering culture if they did not feel excluded from the farm owning communities from where they originated.

Also what fascinates me about the Viking collaborative system (I am part Norwegian) is how it helped the European nations, a few centuries later, become the colonial shipping super powers that would later transport its ideas, economic and social systems and technology throughout the world.

Before I cover the mechanics, I would like to cover the various forms of sacrifice. Sacrifice is normally complemented with some form of belief.

For physical sacrifice, there is a famous story about Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile. A great movie about this is: Chariots of Fire. He and his fellow students through hard work, preparation and self belief broke through the psychological barrier of the time: to run the mile under 4 minutes! Not an easy “feet”!

Then we have South Africa famous stalwart, Nelson Mandela, whom spent 27 years in jail for something he too believed in. Perhaps his preparation was a bit longer for his “Long Walk to Freedom”. This sacrifice of the important element of time gained the respect of those around him. Nelson describes this aptly in his quote:
“Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”

So sacrifice as seen above can be in the form of physical and time. But there is two others: cognitive and pain risk.

For cognitive sacrifice, a good illustration of this is movie called: Johnny Mnemonic starring Keanu Reeves..

In the movie, Johnny is a “mnemonic courier” with a data storage device implanted in his brain, allowing him to discreetly carry information too sensitive to transfer across the Net, the virtual-reality equivalent of the Internet. While lucrative, the implant costs Johnny his childhood memories, and in the movie he seeks to have the implant removed to regain his memories back.

The point is that being constantly bombarded with incorrect or excessive or irrelevant information can also mentally constrain you. Then on the other hand continual problem solving can be really difficult on a person as happened with me in Ethiopia quite recently! Richard Feynman was great at seeing this limitation and constantly questioned scientists into why, why, why something worked they way it did. Suffice to say that in the movie 320GB far exceeded Johnny’s storage capacity which is an obvious limit for any absent minded scientist! I am joking of course but this is a serious issue right now with the extent of misinformation of the web at the moment.

Food for thought.

Risk is a slightly more complicated topic and highly subjective. People are all weighing the risks to themselves and can vary drastically depending on context, perception and desires vs perceived risks. I will cover some of this under deception and fear below.

Anyway here are some of the mechanics people can use to control others. Just keeping in mind, if any act of control benefits the few or incorrectly measured merit or unnecessarily hurts people, it is probably wrong:

Deception – can have rather negative consequences, but sometimes positive, even funny, as is done with magic.
So how do you control another person. Well the simple answer is by not sharing all the information and then using that advantage to your benefit. In economics this can be split into two areas:
– Moral risk
– Information asymmetry
Moral risk is when someone takes their information advantage and gets you somehow to take the greater portion of the risk. Information asymmetry is slightly different in that through the misrepresentation, the risk of loss is 100% up to the extent the trade with the person is aware of your ignorance and is able to take advantage of this trade surplus to the benefit of themselves or any persons they may be colluding with (in lighter terms also known as a hustle). A good example is your common second hand car dealer..

Dow – a Chinese term. Based on social performance or ability to influence crowds of people or telling someone what they like to hear without consideration of the real truth – can be positive and negative. For example Hugo Chávez was hugely influential for Venezuela and very popular. In the beginning he was able to do good things for the country but unfortunately his lack of abilities in the economic sphere eventually created huge problems for the country which it is still suffering with.

Bureaucracy – also known as having excessive rules. These can benefit some and can be very detrimental to others. Rules can help scale a business or an organisation and so can have very positive results. Other times they can frustrate customers and suffocate innovation. Being in another’s shoes can help solve this.

Possession – a common saying: 80% of law is based on possession. Unfortunately many people play this game today and will use possession of an asset to their advantage and frustration of others. Economic rents is a common benefit extracted when possession is negative. Positive however when the possession results in optimal value extraction e.g. having a great farmer take possession of fertile soil. Playing to win is often confused with giving license to greed. An interesting text on ownership and possession from John Locke, more commonly known as the father of liberalism and who’s ideas contributed both to the Constitution of the United States and its Declaration of Independence:
“He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. No body can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask then, when did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up?”

Fear of pain or even death – a negative form often showed in movies about mafia and how decisions of role players are controlled by fear. Nelson Mandela had a great quote for this: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Self Righteousness or Confidence games – this is a very clever trick where a person uses their physical, mental or other advantages to achieve a goal. This is a negative form of control if it benefits a single person excessively and but can be positive if it benefits many people. If one feels shame or if one makes an error of judgement, this game is difficult to win. But Nelson Mandela himself said that he never met someone that was not his equal.

On Principle or Logic – very positive, as implemented by great minds like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Sticking to a principle helps solves problems. People respect this. Other times this can frustrate change.

Righteousness – very positive, aspiring and very confusing form one achieves control through using the spirit and faith through the flow of time. To achieve this one needs to be humble, courageous and empowering of others. Saints may be an example of people who have achieved but it is really accessible to anyone. Prayer and meditation can help a person achieve this mindset and so can fear, love and understanding of something greater than ourselves.

Energy – a cocktail or mix of some the above but allowing for or working towards likable, reasonable and achievable goals. People like to be around people that have high energy. Exceeding expectations almost always results in positive energy although other times the Elephant in the Room may be ignored.

The vision or mission for the common good – this can empower people around you but may have many obstacles and egos impede. Make sure your vision is worth fighting for. First clarify it, make sure there is a need for it, can you help solve it and very importantly are you able to do it better! The greatest example I can think of here is Martin Luther King speech, “I have a dream”. Although I also quite like this quote I saw at Fourways High School with Kenneth yesterday: “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others”.

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November 2, 2017