SPIRITUAL SOAP: Extra Weird - Will We Ever Leave Each Other Alone?
Our favorite tool is really a weapon.
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
A life well-lived is a life well-examined. A life well-examined has a little weird and güd within it. This newsletter is an examination of our weird and güd world.
There’s no room left for the Güd this week, only the Weird—and times are very, very weird.
Every day we bemoan the burden of other people’s individuality. Every day we denounce the ways other people differ from us.
Are we all constantly trying to change each other? When we share our ideas and critiques, when we argue and condemn, a desire for others to rescind their views for ours lurks at the core.
Wanting other people to be like us isn’t unusual or even particularly harmful; we live in the same world and want that world shaped in the way we feel is best. It’s what constitutes “best” and how we get there that births our biggest problems.
We go through life feeling right about most things, most of the time—we have to in order to retain some sanity and momentum. Yet, it’s our sense of being right that emboldens us to decide what’s “best” and what’s justified in obtaining that “best.”
Humility softens our inevitable fall from the illusion of knowing.
We’re wrong about at least one thing at all times; either we’re procrastinating, we’re criticizing ourselves, we’re pouring a cup of coffee we don’t need, we’re holding an inaccurate understanding of something or someone, or we’re making plans based on flawed assumptions we’ve yet to realize.
We treat being wrong like an irredeemable sin while ignoring how wrong we are about most things most of the time—yet another thing we’re wrong about.
It’s our certainty that leads us to prioritize getting what we want above all else.
Our tolerance for other people’s right to be wrong erodes under our corrosive certainty.
When what you want takes precedence over all things, an easier option becomes available: manipulation. For the low, low cost of your honor and the integrity of our society, you can bypass that pesky obstacle of other people’s autonomy.
The worst ideas are always argued for with the best reasons, but there are bad ways to obtain good things, and one inevitably poisons the other.
Psychological manipulation is like an atom—though we rarely think about it, it’s all around us. A billboard, a headline, a commercial, your mom’s not-so-friendly reminder that you haven’t called for a week; a degree of manipulation exists in almost everything and everyone.
When we try to obtain our goals through methods that bypass a person’s autonomy, influencing them to shape their decisions, we’re using manipulation.
While some manipulation can be as mundane as an advertisement, there’s always the chance it will backfire.
Few people react well to the realization that their choices are being made for them.
Adult humans should be free to make their decisions, unburdened by even the most well-meaning manipulation. To respect the right to individual sovereignty requires respecting that even when a person chooses a path you dislike, that path is theirs.
In our codependent culture, we’ve become blind to the value of a right to be wrong.
We can’t know the ending of any story, nor the outcome of all choices once strung together in the larger picture. It may seem obvious that addiction is the “wrong” choice and it may be, but is it still the wrong choice if that addiction leads to a recovery that helps hundreds of others heal their addiction?
Worse yet, just like an addiction, forcing the “right” choice often ends with a relapse into the dangerously wrong.
People who agree with you under pressure aren’t interchangeable with people who freely choose to agree with you.
When psychological manipulation is woven into the design of an ideology, when it becomes the go-to tool kit for social or political movements, when it becomes business-as-usual in our most powerful institutions, we’re set to rediscover the right to be wrong from the harshest teacher: experience.
Any animal can trick its prey or constrict until no option but submission is left. Humans are human because we strive to use the tools of debate, cooperation, and truth to seek more than just survival.
I write to tell you what I think and believe. I write to share the process I’ve used to reach what I think and believe. I don’t need to guilt you or stoke fear to fill the holes in my argument.
If you agree with me, it’s the outcome of your efforts to consider the ideas I lay before you. If you don’t, it’s equally the outcome of your efforts and you’re entitled to the outcome your efforts yield for you—both the good and the bad.
The more I respect your right to consider and choose your own outcome, the better it makes me. My writing doesn’t speak to your weaknesses, but to your highest potential, which requires my highest potential.
Whoever exploits a weakness makes themselves weak.
For as much as I criticize utopianism, I harbor a wish for my own version. The flaw with utopianism is the approach we take to pursuing it; a utopia that people must be dragged into or exiled out of shares tools with a dictatorship.
My utopia is not a trap, or a trick, a demand, or command—it’s a choice. To pursue utopia means to choose it willingly and consciously. To manipulate you into my utopia is to betray the very essence of utopia.
You should have the freedom to make your own choices and create your own life as an independent individual, even if it means you’ve chosen your own demise. You have the right to thrive just as readily as you have the right to ruin yourself.
It’s the freedom to fail that births the beauty of your success.
Manipulation is the tool of control and domination; a free society that values an individual’s right to live by their own design should treat these tools as weapons.
I’ve gathered a shortlist of the most common manipulation tactics I see daily, whether from the media, politicians, activists, or ordinary individuals.
Some Greatest Hits of manipulation are:
Guilt Tripping: What a bad, selfish person you are. Think about this guilt-inducing subject so that your self-doubt and desire to be good reduce your willingness to question and resist.
Vilifying the Victim: Only an abuser would push back against my aggressive behavior to defend themselves.
Playing the Victim: How sad and fragile I am. You’ll excuse so much of what would otherwise offend you in the name of compassion and sympathy.
Shaming: When done just right, my mockery and insults will disarm the confidence that would normally make you stand up for yourself.
Rationalization: Everything I do that seems blatantly harmful is actually good for you! Marvel at how my twisted logic can transform even hate into heroism.
Playing the Servant: This behavior that clearly provides me with personal gain? It’s entirely in the name of selfless aims—it would be blatantly unacceptable otherwise, of course!
There is a way to succeed that doesn’t rely on manipulation, but it requires more effort and never comes with a quick pay-off.
When a culture rewards those who choose the easy route to power, that culture will prove exactly why there’s ultimately no escaping the right to be wrong.
Mass manipulation is the most ancient kind, and though we delude ourselves otherwise, it’s our ancient errors that are the hardest to avoid.
Some favorites of mass manipulators are:
Inventing Enemies: This situation is urgent, dire, and definitely contains no room for careful and critical thought. There are [insert chosen enemy] threatening everything you value. Isn’t it lucky that I’m the only leader taking the danger I’ve invented seriously?
Categorizing In-Groups and Out-Groups: When the lines between us and them are clear, you’ll feel more loyalty to our group and more hostility toward their group. These strict and simple divisions make it much easier to justify the unusually harsh and unethical actions you’d normally feel threatened by me proposing.
Psychologist Henri Tajfel found that the very act of categorizing people as members of an in-group and out-group created conflict and discrimination.
Who could have predicted that creating divisions would lead to division? Stupid history, science is here!
Author and psychology professor Alexander Haslam also wrote about the roots of prejudice and general other-hatred: power struggles.
What better way to gain power amongst your peers by positioning yourself as the answer to overcoming their enemies?
All you have to do is focus people’s attention on and aggrandize those enemies—much easier than striving for a life of achievement that earns respect rather than poaching power through fear.
The only groups I like are the kind centered around music genres and pizza toppings.
For a species with a constant record of killing each other over group differences, toying with those differences should be treated like disarming a bomb—highly likely to end in mass destruction and best done when the only other option is mass destruction.
Manipulation bypasses the better parts of us to exploit our flaws, both ancient and individual.
Manipulation is a crude weapon that always finds a target. None of us are invulnerable to manipulation if it hits us at the right time, in the right place.
Some common vulnerabilities to manipulation are:
Lack of assertiveness
Desire for approval
Undeveloped sense of self/identity
The best defense against being manipulated is not to manipulate others.
Relying on manipulation makes a person weak in all the same ways that make them vulnerable to the very manipulation they rely on.
We spend an extraordinary about of time wishing and working to make other people conform to our desires. Whether it’s as simple as convincing our partner to go on a trip we know they’ll reject or as conniving as pressuring strangers into accepting our politics, manipulation is the go-to method for side-stepping other people’s autonomy.
What we misunderstand about manipulation is that different tools have different effects. If you build utopia with force and fear, what you build is poisoned by the tools you built it with.
It’s harder to succeed without opting for the ease of underhandedness, but the reward is more than just success. The reward for rejecting manipulation is becoming a person who doesn’t require manipulation to succeed.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me; share my work or donate to help keep me going.
Enjoy the weird & güd aspects of our world? Join the weirdest semi-secret society online to uncover all the ancient güdness in the modern myths we call movies.