11 Dimensional Chess 101
For a good two years, now, Time Magazine has been putting out meta puff pieces on Obama on a reliable, weekly basis. The one I'm going to discuss from last weeks edition by Michael Grunwald is not much different. But, this part caught my attention:
Moffo then passed along guidelines and a sample script from the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, a secret advisory group of 29 of the nation's leading behaviorists. The key guideline was a simple message: "A Record Turnout Is Expected." That's because studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini and other group members had found that the most powerful motivator for hotel guests to reuse towels, national-park visitors to stay on marked trails and citizens to vote is the suggestion that everyone is doing it. "People want to do what they think others will do," says Cialdini, author of the best seller Influence. "The Obama campaign really got that." (See pictures of Obama taken by everyday Americans.)
The existence of this behavioral dream team — which also included best-selling authors Dan Ariely of MIT (Predictably Irrational) and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago (Nudge) as well as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton — has never been publicly disclosed, even though its members gave Obama white papers on messaging, fundraising and rumor control as well as voter mobilization. All their proposals — among them the famous online fundraising lotteries that gave small donors a chance to win face time with Obama — came with footnotes to peer-reviewed academic research. "It was amazing to have these bullet points telling us what to do and the science behind it," Moffo tells TIME. "These guys really know what makes people tick."
President Obama is still relying on behavioral science. But now his Administration is using it to try to transform the country. Because when you know what makes people tick, it's a lot easier to help them change.
The piece goes on, in detail, to sell President Obama as the most awesomest and capable change agent evah, but that's not what interested me. What interested me, in particular, was the last bolded line.
"To help them change" in the context of this article, to me, is at its very best mass manipulation by this leader for undetermined but hopefully decent motives, and at its worst something an administration shouldn't even delve into because of the obvious dangers of giving one person or group the power to do the mass manipulation.
Either way, I find this idea unsettling because of all the things that it implies. First, it implies that a national consituency isn't up to the task of, and can't/shouldn't be trusted with, handling the truth. It implies an unintelligent and undiscerning populace, one that must be tricked, from the highest level of government, into doing what the leader sees is best for it. It's a very dim and cynical view of government.
Most importantly, it ascribes near total and sole ownership of our nation's problems onto the populace. It implies, without any proof, that this administration is measurably more benevolent than the nation it oversees. Making no mention of Congress and its role and compact with the American people, an only implying that the that the "president knows what's best," it implies an innately righteous unitary authority, and utlimately and more personally, that Barack Obama is that authority.
We all know Obama won the election because he looked like change, sounded like change and never stopped campaigning for change. But he didn't call for just change in Washington — or even just change in America. From his declarations that "change comes from the bottom up" to his admonitions about "an era of profound irresponsibility," Obama called for change in Americans. And not just in bankers or insurers — in all of us. His Zen koan, "We are the change we've been waiting for," may sound like New Age gibberish, but it's at the core of his agenda.
Intuitively, for me, this kind of writing goes something beyond hero worship towards a road we don't wish to travel down. It feels like pure and utter mind-fucking, insulting, debasing, and disempowering.
The problem, as anyone with a sweet tooth, an alcoholic relative or a maxed-out Visa card knows, is that old habits die hard. Temptation is strong. We are weak. We've got plenty of gurus, talk-show hosts and celebrity spokespeople badgering us to save energy, lose weight and live within our means, but we're still addicted to oil, junk food and debt. It's fair to ask whether we're even capable of changing.
You know, it's one thing to indentify social ills and sicknesses. In fact, I think it is absolutely necessary so that we know what ill to treat and then decide on how to properly treat it. However, I think it's entirely another thing, and irresponsible and a dangerous thing, even, to identify a single individual and particularly a politician and president as the cure. It is even more irresponsible to believe or accept that we have to be tricked into healing with all sorts of chicanery, sophistry and all-around general mind-fuckery.
If even we entertain the idea that President Obama knows best, and that we have to trust that his motives are pure and free of guile, something he is far from having proven to us, the means still wouldn't justify the potential positive ends.
This all comes back full circle: Do Americans need to be tricked into good social health by its president, and is this even the president's job, to begin with? Or, can we be spoken to and reasoned with, collectively, as equal adults and trusted with the truth, thus empowering and subsequently enabling each and every one of us to become partners in positive change?
So, I implore Michael Grunwald and all the rest that if they really want to help, I advice that they can keep their 11-dimensional chess boards and other instruments of mass mind-fuckery to themselves.
I want off this not-so-merry-go-round. Allow us as equal individual American citizens our dignity by showing us that you respect our intelligence. You can do that by portraying us as equal partners in change. If you to continue to portray us as mindless, animal-like drones incapable of intelligent reasoning and thus needing to be tricked and train like a common dog, please, just get out of the way. I hope that's not too much to ask.