on Manipulation

“We live in a world where unfortunately the distinction between true and false appears to become increasingly blurred by manipulation of facts, by exploitation of uncritical minds, and by the pollution of the language.” ~ Arne Tiselius (1902-1971), Swedish biochemist and winner of 1948 Nobel Peace Prize in Chemistry

This past week I was asked to provide testimony at two House bill subcommittee meetings up at the Iowa Capitol. In order to do so I had to take time off from work, but the issues were important to me so I felt that I needed to go. What I witnessed regarding the behavior of some of our legislators – on both sides of the aisle I might add – at those subcommittee meetings helped me understand even more as to why ordinary Americans despise politics. The House bills (two of five pending) being proposed were associated with the Common Core, and came into being as a result of parents starting to realize the real truth as opposed to what we were told. In states who are further along than Iowa, parents are now observing its negative effects on children, and therefore don’t want the same thing to happen to their own kids here. Yet, instead of giving respect to those there to speak, our legislators, and even the bureaucrats in attendance, used procedural moves, manipulation, and downright rudeness, to try to shut down the public’s voice. Note to elected officials: that is never a wise move.

The art of manipulation, sadly, is not just limited to politics. Human beings have been trying to perfect the art of getting people to do what they want since time began. Sometimes they use the bullying tactic of force, but that rarely works long term as it eventually tends to boomerang and have the opposite effect.  Yet, if one could get people to do what they wanted via intimidation, coercing, minimizing, or trying to make them think that their thoughts are in the minority, there is less chance of rebellion. Once such way of doing this is called the Delphi Technique.

Originally developed by the Rand Corporation for the U.S. Department of Defense, it was utilized as a Cold War psychological warfare weapon during the 1950s and 1960s. Now, it is used by many organizations as a method to manipulate public opinion by preserving the façade of community participation when in reality the outcome is predetermined. It is an unethical means of achieving consensus on a controversial topic, as it gives the impression that any dissenter is in the minority, when the opposite is usually the case. I have witnessed this technique even used by several of our elected officials and bureaucrats in some of the public forums that I have attended across the state over the years.

The first kind of Delphi manipulation is what is called the “divide & conquer” method, whereby trained facilitators deliberately escalate tension among members of the attending public, pitting one faction against the other in order to make the facilitator’s viewpoint appear reasonable, while making the opposing views appear ridiculous. The second kind of manipulation is what I call the “card question” method, where the facilitator requires the public to write their questions on a card at the beginning of a public forum and turn them in, rather that entertaining orderly free-form questions from the crowd. The facilitator is then able to steer the crowd discussion, as the card questions can either be read, misread, edited or completely ignored by the meeting facilitator, depending on how supportive they were of the facilitator’s desired outcome. This method effectively controls any public input at a public forum and avoids any potential follow up questions that the people may have on the topic at hand.

The best way to avoid manipulation is to become informed and be persistent in gaining knowledge. Intimidation, misdirection, and manipulation are techniques always used by those with the weaker argument.  A worthy idea is worthy of an honest debate, don’t you think? Truly good ideas should not have to be hidden with lies or half-truths. This is why we should welcome human inquisitiveness, as it exposes what is kept in the dark and allows us to make better judgments. A fully informed public is never something to be feared… unless of course you have something to hide.

 “Belief can be manipulated. Only knowledge is dangerous.” ~ Frank Herbert (1920-1986), author of Dune

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