Your Way

Chapter 2
Influ-trol

In the modern, post-free-will world, you have a choice—wimp or control freak. There is no recognized difference between influence and control. The two are assumed to be the same. To influence you is to substitute my will for yours. To handle men is to control them. Point out to a foreman that he must reason with his workers, and he will instantly ask, "But how do I get them to listen?" The meaning of "get them to" is kept vague on purpose, but it does not really mean "influence them." It means "make them."

Suggest to anybody who is in charge of others that control is chimerical and only influence is dependable, and your utter naiveté will be duly noted. As if there's a difference! Sophistication consists in knowing that men are not open to reason, so handling them means controlling them. Only wimps think that influence means something less than substituting my will for your will.

But what if it can't be done?

One way of analyzing a nebulous idea like this is to take it literally. Imagine implanting your will in another mind. Do that mind's values then change to be like yours? Or does that mind become a robotic extension of your own? Presumably there is something special to you about a mind into which you implant your will. After the implant, is that mind still special, or is it now a clone of yours?

Perhaps the idea does not really mean taking something away from the other mind, but adding your will to it. Now there are two influences in that mind, and yours is the stronger. You have created a circus clown, pulled in two directions at once, controlled by an alien will.

Television shows us all the examples we could want of lawmen substituting their will for the "perp's" will. "Unless you tell me where your partner is, you're going down for murder one!" Here, the DA forces compliance with his demands by threatening to "up the charges." There, the FBI maneuvers a witness into ratting on his friends. We see these macho guys forcing their will on others, and make that our model of influencing people.

We miss one little thing. Behind the posturing and the bullying lies the plea bargain. What is actually going on is bargaining. In every case, the lawman settles for something less than he claims to want. He offers to forego torture in return for information. He offers protection in return for cooperation. There are no examples of substituting one will for another, but only examples of wills jockeying for advantage. Dominance and submission would not be dramatic. Clashing wills are what provide the drama.

We call things like that "control" simply because we are obsessed with control. We decide that threats control people. We claim that every deal has a winner and a loser, and the winner is in control. We exaggerate the normal give and take of society, and call everything an element of control.

A deal is, by definition, struck to mutual advantage. Making a threat does not control the deal; it destroys the deal. Threats scare people. They might work on a hoodlum who lives by threats; but in cooperating society they are a method of disruption, not control. What the bullying lawman counts on is the felon's desire to appease. Trying to bully the lawful doesn't get a cop informed, it gets him sued.

In our obsession with control, we claim that when television interests you, it controls your thoughts; when advertisers exhort you, they control your thoughts; when government nags you, it controls your thoughts. Americans try to believe it, but have difficulty suppressing a snicker as they are told not to think that way, not to laugh at those things, not to joke about this subject, not to question these rules. Modern man, subject to thought control from all sides, learns a new skill—keeping a straight face.

That, it turns out, is exactly what Russia's frenzied efforts at thought control achieved in seventy years. Russians learned to keep a straight face. In America, pollsters are complaining about the difficulty of getting people to give straight answers to questions. Come on, folks! How can we control your thoughts if you won't tell us what they are?

"Right thinking" is a traditional American expression, as in, "Right thinking people do not lie, cheat, and steal." Has anyone noticed that the meaning of this expression has changed? Right thinking people used to be those who use the correct methods to reach conclusions. Now, they are people who begin with the right ideas and end with the correct conclusions. Right thinking used to mean reason. Now it means conformity. So complete is our obsession with thought control, we don't even notice the change.

Just as Stalin hired Pavlov in a vain effort to prove that men could be "conditioned," so we now pay "motivators" to find "hot buttons." Hitler supposedly used the "big lie" technique to control the thinking of an entire country. The best example of the big lie is the argument that if a lie is big enough, people tend to believe it. Not that I believe it, or you believe it; they believe it. Terrorists are called so because they try to control the minds of entire populations by means of scaring the hell out of them. Perhaps the reason they have not succeeded is that, as we are told, fear controls the mind by paralyzing it—except in, "I was so scared my mind was going a mile a minute."

Does fear control people? Let's call for testimony.

First witness: an armed robber. So, when you point your gun at the storekeeper, you feel in control, right? You command the situation.

"Are you kidding? My buddy Joe got killed that way. People go crazy when you point a gun at them. They are not reasonable. They pull a gun out of the cash drawer and start shooting. Or they stand there like an idiot, like paralyzed. One time the clerk just collapsed, just fainted dead away. You never know what they'll do."

Next witness: a policeman. You keep control with your pistol, right?

"No, sir! The pistol is to stop people. The handcuffs are to control people at least to some extent. But when they're scared, people are just not predictable at all. The thing you have to do to control the situation is to reduce the level of fear, reduce the level of emotions."

Final witness: a politician. Your last campaign was called an attempt to scare people away from your opponent. Was it?

"Well, I would not call that the reason I lost. Our mistake was that we were too slow in countering those last minute accusations. We were, you might say, outgunned on the terror front. That is the risk of negative campaigns. You can cause a backlash."

Verdict: to call the effect of fear control would require that the effect be predictable. It is not. Neither are threats and tricks and all the other so-called methods of control. They all do something. They do one thing one time, another thing another time. We point to some instance where a control method did something, and say to one another, "See? It works!"

The unpredictability of results comes from an obvious fact: human beings are conscious. If I employ a method to control you, then either you are aware of it, or not. If you are aware of it, then you decide for yourself what your response will be. If you are not aware of it, then it has no effect on the part of you that is in control: your awareness.

There is thus a problem with mind control: it does not exist. Our fashionable obsession with controlling one another is obsession with a figure of speech—a metaphor. If you turn on a light, you are controlling the flow of electricity. If you lock people in a room, you are controlling their exit. If you order them to think good thoughts while locked in the room, you may call it control, but it is really hope. It is control only in a metaphorical sense.

If you live in a town where people have decided not to steal from one another, then you leave your door unlocked, and you say, "We control crime in this city." If you live in a place where people gather who believe, with their elected officials, that stealing is justified, then you bar your windows and say, "Crime is out of control!" Methods to control crime are methods of self-defense—locks and weapons. We add various social programs and refer to them metaphorically as crime control. In business, we pay people to take orders, and refer to that metaphorically as controlling them. In government, we issue threats in a feeble attempt at influence, and metaphorically call that control. In marketing, we look for ways to manipulate customers, and say metaphorically that we have control of the market.

The trouble with controlling people is that people control themselves. Humans are self-aware. In order to control my actions, you have to control the controller of my actions, my mind—and you must contrive that I am not aware of being controlled, or else I will take control. But if I am not aware of being controlled, then what you are doing is by definition not control but manipulation. You can't have it both ways. If I did something without any thought of being controlled, then I chose to do it. Of course I may regret it now, and claim that I was controlled. That may work as excuse, but it fails as analysis.

What people call control is manipulation—trickery. The results are not predictable, but we wistfully think in terms of control. Instead of saying how I cheat and get cheated, I speak in fighting words. I kill the competition, win a round, get clobbered. I'm in control, out of control. I'm not just living my life, I'm picking my way through a minefield.

The evidence of this metaphorical preoccupation is copious on television. "I really like the commercials," says a fresh-faced American guy-in-the-street. "I enjoy watching them." Then his expression changes. It becomes dutiful and a little resentful. "Of course, I suppose they're doing things to me I don't know about." He gives a helpless shrug.

Metaphorical tracts pour in from Academia. Philosopher A. C. MacIntyre makes it a marriage: "...success in explaining and predicting can never be divorced from success in manipulating and controlling." (Mind, Jan.'57.)

"It is the well-known technique of the advertisement industry," says Herbert Marcuse in his influential book One Dimensional Man. "...In exhibiting its contradictions as the token of its truth, this universe of discourse closes itself against any other discourse which is not on its own terms. ...The fact that a specific noun is almost always coupled with the same ‘explicatory' adjectives and attributes makes the sentence into a hypnotic formula which, endlessly repeated, fixes the meaning in the recipient's mind. ...Speech and writing are grouped around 'impact lines' and 'audience rousers' which convey the image. ...Predication becomes prescription; the whole communication has a hypnotic character. ...Terms designating quite different spheres or qualities are forced together into a solid, overpowering whole. The effect is again a magical and hypnotic one..." (Beacon Pb edition, p.90-93.)

"It is a widespread fallacy," says the great economist Ludwig Von Mises, "that skillful advertising can talk the consumers into buying everything that the advertiser wants them to buy. The consumer is, according to this legend, simply defenseless against 'high-pressure' advertising." (Human Action p.321)

That's what the man in the street thinks, that he is defenseless against manipulation and insinuation and clever sophistication. Being self-aware, he watches for signs of alien control. When he finds himself enjoying a clever ad, he is suspicious. He wonders if he bought that bar of soap on his own volition or some other. It seems he is, after all, being controlled—by Herbert Marcuse.

Actually, he has been influenced by the modern school of deep thinkers who don't know the difference between metaphor and metaphysics. The difference between influence and control is that influence is applicable to human minds, and control is not. A mind may choose to be influenced, but it cannot choose to be controlled. To relinquish control, a mind would have to shut down, destroying its ability to understand orders and accept control. Animals are controlled from outside, but humans are controlled from inside. Human consciousness is self-regulating. In order to get your way, you must understand free will.

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