On manipulating others

by Jonii2 min read16th Jun 2013110 comments


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I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine on the topic of reading others, socially. What they want, what they think, where are they going, etc. During this discussion, I verbalized my intuition on the topic of manipulating others how you think they should act, and what I said had me puzzled for the next few days. So, after much thinking I came to a conclusion, but I want to see what LW thinks of my pondering.

Basically, the idea is that, social clumsiness many very intelligent people face is actually very much self-imposed, a handicap placed upon themselves because we feel iffy about consciously manipulating others as pawns in our grander schemes.

Basically, the reasoning of mine was this: Treating other people as pawns in your plan, rather than actual people, is wrong. You should not strip others of their power to decide for themselves. But say, you are more intelligent than others, and could with planning lead others to do things you want them to. This power over others presents you with an unfair advantage, and this unfair advantage presents you with an iffy ethical dilemma. If you can force other people to do what you will, regardless of their initial disposition, aren't you treating them as pawns rather than autonomous human beings? If you strip them of power to have their initial disposition affect their decisions, aren't you doing wrong? Of course, it's usually very difficult to get people to do what you want. Two equals discussing, both may try this, but both may fail, and even if another succeeds, it's still considered "fair game" by all parties. But more easily this manipulating happens, the more of your brain you need to shut down to make the discussion "fair". At some point, expressing any opinion and leading other people at all seems risky and iffy.

So how do people cope? My theory is this: They stop interacting. Voicing their own opinion, asking other people for things, or even having any goal other than following directions laid out by others becomes off-limits. If they do any of that, it opens an ugly, ethical box of worms of the shape "Should I make them do this?"

So basically, my hypothesis is, the reason intelligent people are so often socially clumsy is because it's a facade, a self-imposed handicap they keep up because evolution has programmed us to have repulsion towards unfairly manipulating others. Because they can make others do anything, they choose to do nothing. This manifests as being easily led, a kind of "doormat", lacking their own will or ego, even.

It's simplistic, there are complications I can readily see that make the whole picture more complicated, but this stripped down dynamic of being more intelligent forcing you to feign helplessness is what I'm interested in, so that's what I presented. Is there any reason to think a mechanic like this actually exists? Is it widespread? Has there been actual study on this mechanic already?

There are aplenty of interesting-looking areas of study if this dynamic is actually a real thing. Say, PUA could look a bit different when aimed at doormat-style people. Aesthetically it would provide more interesting explanation for why smart people are not too social, and it also leads to advice that differs a lot from advice given from stand-point of "You need to learn this". It makes several "is it okay to manipulate others" -type of questions relevant for practical ethics study. Of course, it most likely is not a real thing.


Edit: Also, I was a bit hesitant if I should post this under discussion or wait for that Open Thread to pop up. It's quite lengthy, so I felt discussion post could be appropriate, but dunno, I could and maybe should take this down and wait for Open Thread.

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