I’d like to tell you all a story.
Once upon a time I was working for a charity – a major charity – going door-to-door to raise money while pretending it wasn’t sales.
This story happened on my last day working there. I didn’t know that at the time; I wouldn’t find out until the following morning when my boss called me up to fire me, but I knew it was coming. For weeks I’d been fed up with the job, milking it for the last few dollars I could pull out, hating every minute of it but needing the money. The Sudden Career Readjustment would come as a relief.
So on that day, my last day, I was moving slowly. I knocked on one particular door and there was no response. I had little desire to walk to the next one, however, and there was an interesting spider who’d built its web below the doorbell. I tapped its belly with the tip of my pen, and it reacted with aggression – trying to envenom and ensnare the tip of my ballpoint. I must have been playing with it for a good minute or so when the door suddenly opened.
A distraught woman stood before me. After a brief period of Relating I launched into my pitch.“So you’re probably wondering why there’s a bald weirdo at your door? Actually I’m just coming around with Major Charity1 on an emergency campaign. You’ve heard of us, right? Brilliant! So obviously you’ve thought of getting involved, right? That’s awesome! You see, the reason I’m coming around is for these guys – some of our emergency cases...”2
I handed her the pictures of the Developing World Children (yeah, it was one of those charities). She took them, a wistful look on her face.
“Oh God, don’t show me these. I’m such a Rescuer.”
“Rescuer? Do you have a Rescue Dog?” [Where I’m from, abused animals brought into a new home are called ‘Rescue Dogs’.]
“You mean your personality? You care about people, don’t you?”
She nodded slowly. Her face began to crumble.
“I’m sorry – I can’t look at these children,” she handed back the photographs, “Not right now. I’ve been crying all day and I just can’t deal with those emotions...”
I took back the children, a look of honest sympathy on my face. The Demon Wheel began spinning. I could see that she was on the verge of crying again. My gut told me that her father had recently died, but the actual cause didn’t matter. I could discover that information. The upcoming dialogue played itself out in my mind...
"Oh jeez, what happened? Oh my god, seriously..?” Head tilted as an Alpha confidant enough for Beta behaviour, looking down and shaking, “I’m lucky enough to have never been through that. Were the two of you close?” As she talks I nod, prompting her until she breaks out in tears. I put down my binder and step into her house, embracing her as she cries on my shoulder.
“I’m sorry... sorry to do this to you.”
“No, don’t be. Listen... Mary, is it? What you’re going through is normal. It’s nothing to be ashamed of…” Cue personal anecdote, then pause for a beat. “Listen, about the Major Charity thing; this is something you’ve always wanted to do, isn’t it? Yeah, I can tell. You’re a caring person, after all. I tell you what: we’ll get you set up with this little boy – he’s from Ecuador, and we’re trying to get him eating a healthy diet. We’re going to make you his super hero today. And then you’ll know – Mary, you’ll know that even at your darkest moment, you still have the strength in you to save a life.
“And you know what else?” I reach out to touch her arm, “Tonight you’re going to sleep like a baby knowing that you did this. So you go and get your Credit Card and I’ll start filling out the form.”
* * *
I could have done it. I could have got that child sponsored. I could have kept my job, and Mary could have stopped crying that evening. She’d have thanked me for coming by, and after I left she would have cuddled on the couch with her new Sponsor Child, tears drying as she found hope in the world.
But I didn’t do it. Instead I apologized for interrupting her grief, and left.
Because I am not a Meat Fucker.
* * *
All my life, I’ve had this bad habit. No matter how hard I try and kick it, there it is: Honesty. I can’t tell you how many times it’s dug me into a hole. As far as concepts go, it’s about as foolish and utopian as Truth and Justice, and I know that, but I just can’t seem to let it go. That’s a large part of the reason I left Mary alone to her tears – backed off, rather than digging into her psyche to recalibrate a few clusters of neuron.
The other half is my status as a card-carrying (union-dues-paid-in-full) Anarchist. The way I look at things, the only time you can justify using the Jedi Mind Trick on somebody is when your ethics would stand clean with murdering them as well.
Sending Storm Troopers on a Wild Droid Chase is one thing; scamming Waddo out of a distributor cap for your CGI Space Plane is another.
When you take advantage of the Dark Arts, you’re not simply tricking people into giving you what you want; you’re making them want to give it to you. You’re hacking into their brain and inserting a Murder Pill; afterwards they will literally thank you for doing so (the only sponsor I ever met who wasn’t glad that I’d come by was the lady whose 6 year old daughter I primed into wanting it). In ninety percent of the situations where the Dark Arts are useful or possible, you can’t do it out of spite; when you realign someone’s desires to match your own they want to do what you want them to do.
And yet there’s no clear distinction between using these skills and regular social interaction. Manipulation works best when you’re sincere about it. Ethically speaking it’s a grey, wavy line.
The thing is, we all like to be Sold, Led, Dominated; if I walk into Subway, and I ask the kid at the counter to give me his Best Submarine Sandwich, I want him to tell me what I want, and make me love it after it’s paid for. The last thing he should do is say that “They’re all good!” and make me regret the [(5 breads)x(16 meats)x(212 Toppings)-1] subs that I didn’t get.3 Retail is the Dark Arts Done Right (usually). The Sales Lady figures out what I want, uses her expertise to find the best fit, and then kills the cognitive dissonance that could ruin my enjoyment of the product; “You really pull off that colour. Seriously, that jacket looks great on you – you see how these lines naturally compliment your shoulders? Of course you can!”
Sexual dynamics are similar; if somebody’s drinking in public at 2 in the morning it’s because they’re on the market. Let’s say a ‘faithful wife’ goes to the club one weekend while her husband is out of town, and she has a few drinks with a bunch of college boys she just met. One of them happens to be a PUA. When it comes to things like date rape drugs, or taking advantage of a person who’s sloppy-drunk there is a clear line in the sand. But in this hypothetical the woman’s relatively sober. It’s just that the young rake is so damned charming!
Meanwhile her husband’s having a few pints at the hotel bar with Sheila from accounting, and she just keeps making eyes at him…
Neither Sheila nor the PUA is responsible for the ensuing infidelity. If the husband and wife didn’t want it in the first place, they would have never availed themselves to the temptation. If, on the other hand, you meet somebody at a Neighbourhood Watch meeting, and spend the next three months seducing them… that’s when you’ve got to start questioning your ethics. Anybody is going to be vulnerable at some time or another.
While the Dark Arts are a Power, it’s how you use them that matters, like any other tool. I’m running mind-games on people, but I usually won’t; I’m also good at fighting, but I don’t assault people for no reason. I find both concepts repulsive.
That’s the end of my moralizing on the matter. The upcoming series is going to be purely descriptive in nature, exploring different strategies for manipulating others. I’ll provide tactical examples showing how these strategies can be put into play, but for the most part each battlefield is unique; these are broader methods that apply across the board. What you do with these techniques is up to you.
As for defence… I don’t think I’ll have much to say about that. When done properly, the victim doesn’t realize it until it’s already over, and by then it doesn’t matter. You’re aware that the AI manipulated you into opening the box, but you’re going to open it anyways because that’s your new utility function. It’s like a game of Roshambo, or when you’re thinking about joining Facebook: the only way to win is not to play.
1. Major Charity’s methods of acquiring funding don’t have any bearing on whether or not it’s an effective charity. Whether or not the money going overseas actually makes a difference is a question I cannot answer.
2. The repetition here is intentional. I was trying to prime key concepts.
3. My theory as to what is going on with these sub places and their myriad of options: the target is not a new customers, those people are going to be intimidated by all the choices, and the restaurants know that. Rather, it is to provide ‘fresh’ options so that their current customers don’t get bored and go elsewhere.