Your Way

Chapter 6
Wotan's Dilemma

"He has shed the illusions of power, but his dilemma remains, and that concerns restoring the gold to the Rhine maidens through the agency of one who is acting of his own free will...." (John Culshaw: Reflections on Wagner's Ring)

The operatic god Wotan is in a familiar pickle. He must get somebody to do spontaneously, by unforced choice, the thing Wotan has agreed not do for himself.

It is familiar because it is the same dilemma the boss feels when he says, "My reasons for the cuts are perfectly good, but I can't order people to consider them. I'm sure I could convince everybody I'm right, if I could just get them to listen of their own free will."

People who acknowledge free will, but cannot bring themselves to give up the idea of control, find themselves got by "get". They claim that a mind could be required to think about something without determining any conclusion. Alas, the only way of telling whether or not a mind has thought about something is by judging the conclusion. Getting people to think about things cannot in practice be distinguished from getting agreement from them. Compulsion has to be applied to the entire process, or none of it.

Most people who try compulsion lose faith in it, because they notice that it works best on the people they care about least. It is like an IQ test that works only on morons. First you have to find the morons, and then you don't need the test. Once you have found the people who will think what you tell them to think, then you don't care what those people think.

Everyone can remember regular instances of being required to do things they didn't want to do. It does not seem that strange to require a man to consider some argument he does not want to consider—until you try it. Then you notice that you have no idea whether or not it worked. An individual mind is not only unique, it is private.

I order you to change your mind. You declare with a straight face that you have done so. But what is that tiny twitch in your eye? Are you just pretending? Are you secretly laughing at me? How can I get you to admit the truth?

Wotan's Dilemma exists in the real world because getting a man to exercise his own free will can, by definition, be accomplished only through the agency of one who is acting of his own free will—that man. Bosses and managers and generals are in the business—they think—of ignoring this dilemma and barging ahead to impose their will on others. "Surely," they say, "you are not seriously arguing that anarchy is built into human consciousness. If external regulation of humans is impossible, then we are doomed."

Regulation is built into human consciousness—self-regulation. External control of external actions is possible, but internal control is self-control. Everybody is boss inside. If I dangle an atom bomb over your head and say, "Do not think of escape," then you may think of explosions rather than escapes. Or, you may think only of escape. Only you will know which. If I cannot control what you think, then controlling what you do is useful for crime prevention only. In our obsession with force, we dream compulsively of controlling that final controller, the mind. We dream in vain.

To see all the evidence of this you want, turn on the TV. Watch real police handle real problems while trying to ignore that camera at their shoulders. You find yourself on the front lines of anarchy. You see burly heroes armed with guns, clubs, mace, tasers, and handcuffs rushing into dangerous situations with the job of controlling things. Then you see them using their real skills—negotiation, conciliation, commonsense logic. They are there on the cutting edge of regulation. They know from experience what works and what does not work. The weapon they use most is negotiation.

Wotan hates negotiation. He is a god, but lonely. He endows mere mortals with free will so that he may have consorts. Then he finds that he must negotiate to get his way. He finds that he can deal with robots by issuing orders, or he can deal with humans by negotiation; but he can't have it both ways at once. In order to influence humans, he must deal with self-regulating sovereigns. He must negotiate.

Wotan's Dilemma has a political form. It is the dilemma of Political Correctness.

There are things you are supposed to think, and things you are forbidden to think. Well, no, this is a free country, so that cannot be right. There are thoughts you must not have, or else you are unworthy of inclusion in polite society; and there are attitudes you must have in order to be included in polite society. If you fail to arrange your thoughts in the correct manner, then what do you do? You learn to keep a straight face.

Keeping a straight face is a skill as old as history. It is the universal response to despotism. It is the only possible response. When a despot orders me into conformance with his thought, I may try to obey. But each mind is unique. It is impossible for me to know whether or not I have gotten my mind into satisfactory conformity with the despot. Fortunately, the despot is in the same fix, so I just learn to keep a straight face and declare myself in conformity.

The PC Police put themselves into the dilemma by requiring not that we refrain from taking certain actions, but that we refrain from thinking certain thoughts. They demand that we think their way of our own free will. They demand it in the name of Rights, or in the name of Religion, or in the name of the People. As far as they know, they succeed, because everybody keeps a straight face.

The usefulness of Political Correctness is that it provides a handy way to demonstrate to yourself the efficacy of mind control. You know first hand whether or not it has worked on you. You can judge for yourself the seriousness of Wotan's Dilemma.

Is there a way out of Wotan's Dilemma? Not for the god; Wagner has him perish in a cataclysm. And not for those who want to play god. The effort to finesse free will leads to an infinite regress. No, no! I'm not forcing you to ponder thinking about a contemplation of the possibility of considering mulling over an examination of the feasibility of cogitation on....

Unfortunately for Wotan, Wagner was not a good epistemologist. He could have solved the dilemma by turning from runes and rue to rules and reality. Since reality is inexorably itself, there are rules for handling it. Not just any old method will do. If depriving the Rhine Maidens of their gold disturbs the order of the world, then not just Wotan but anyone using the right method to handle reality will want to return that gold. Wotan has only to teach the right method of handling reality, and any number of agents will be eager to return the gold of their own free will. There is no need to instill conclusions. If a conclusion conforms to reality, the right method will get everybody there.

The answer to "How do I get people to see it my way?" is this: you don't, but reality does. What you can do is show people the method for handling reality. Demonstrate reason. Display logic. If you used it to reach your conclusion, then so can others. To get people to think about things, you show them how.

We have at present an Environmental Movement that claims to have on its side the following: reason, logic, justice, science, evidence, experience, fairness. Having said that, it paints itself into Wotan's corner. It announces in minute detail exactly the conclusions which all right thinking people are to draw, and what actions they are to take upon drawing these conclusions. When frustrated, it sets an example of reason and justice by sabotaging business and disrupting commerce. Correction: we had an Environmental Movement.

Either reality is on your side, or it is not. If it is not, trickery will not get it there. If it is, then your fellow humans do not need to be "got" to see it; they need to be shown how to see it. To get your way, show how your way works.

Having solved Wotan's Dilemma, you might ask, "What's left? Getting my way is a process of influence by example, showing how observation and logic work to everybody's advantage. That covers it all. What's left to be called persuasion?"

The answer may surprise you.

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