Tag Archives: Politics

What’s The Real Reason Behind Conflict?

Two Guys Walk Into A Bar…

I was hanging out with a friend of mine in a sports bar one afternoon. It was Sunday, and there were a couple good games on, so we figured we’d kick back there for a while. Both of us were too lazy to make the proper preparations (meaning clean up enough) to watch the games at either of our houses. And also, and more importantly, the sports bar had several different TV’s, and so we could watch several games at once, even though we were only interested in two of them.

The only problem was that there was a gap between games for about an hour. Not really long enough to go to a different bar, but long enough to be concerned about drinking ourselves silly out of boredom so early in the day. One game finished around 1 PM, and the other didn’t start until around 2 or so. So there were, in between games wondering how to kill the time. I don’t know about you, but I can’t sit there with a drink in front of me for very long without drinking it. Even if it’s only soda or water, if somebody keeps filling it, I’ll keep drinking it. So I had to be particularly careful not to get too sloshed before the second game started. We had taken the train there, so neither of us were concerned about driving, but it kind of ruins your afternoon when you come home trashed at 4 in the afternoon. Any productivity you may have enjoyed in the evening is gone.

We noticed a group of people sitting a few tables over that for some reason didn’t seem particularly interested in the game. They didn’t cheer or exclaim during any of the spectacular plays that had happened earlier, and they didn’t seem to have any concern one way or the other when either team scored. So we focused our concentration on them to keep ourselves entertained.

They were all men, as were most of the patrons that day. They weren’t wearing suits or anything, so they weren’t businessmen in town for a sales meeting or something. But they seemed to be quite animated about something. Finally, one of them noticed us paying a little too close attention to them. He got up and made his way over to our table. I was a little concerned, when I realized if somehow they took our attention the wrong way, we may be in trouble, as there were only two of us, and four of them.

I remember once I took this course in political science. I think the professor wished he were teaching history, as we didn’t spend too much time talking about politics, but more time talking about the history behind the politics. The professor had this rather interesting view of human nature. The textbook would go on and on about different political viewpoints, and certain government bodies among countries, which honestly I find incredibly boring. I suppose the professor did as well as he would always get really animated when he started talking about things like human nature, and how different factors along with human history lead inevitably to various political systems.

Although he was a professor at a public university, and was required to keep his political and religious leanings out of the course material, I suspect he was a strong believer in capitalism, and a devout atheist. He always talked in terms of competition, survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle. His theory was that all politics, and all political maneuvering is purely the law of the jungle in action. Any efforts to present any public policy is really a means to an ends, which in his opinion, was always more power to the politician in question. His theory was that all political systems were merely a collection of strategies to amass more power to those already in power.

He believed that pure capitalism, on a level playing field, was the best way to make sure that certain groups of people didn’t secure power and then make it impossible for others to do so through the creation of draconian laws. He based this on the theory of escalation within a closed society. Whenever one group amasses enough power, they can put in to play systems, which will keep others from amassing power. This is the most stable when there are two separate groups wielding power, and the power will naturally oscillate back and forth. In the creation of a society, or in the early days, each group will slowly grab more power by escalating its dominance in the face of its adversaries. And the adversaries will respond by escalating their dominance.

It’s a bit complicated, but there is a mathematical model that describes it in terms of driving elements of a function in a closed system. There is a kind of symbiotic relationship between elements, that is one gets power from the others weakness, but if the other disappeared completely then so would the original groups power.

According to this professor, this explains why many countries in today’s modern world seem to be at odds, but really depend on each other for their respective survival. If the stronger would completely obliterate the weaker country, then they would lose a lot of their reason for existence. I’m not sure I understand the mechanisms behind all this, but when this particular professor described, it sounded really logical.

When the big guy from the group of four reached our table, he asked us if we would like to join them. Although it seemed a little weird, a group of four guys who weren’t outwardly interested in sports asking two guys who were at a sports bar to join them, we said what the heck.

It turned out they were seminary students who were at this big conference at the convention center downtown. It was a weeklong conference, and seeing at it was Sunday, they had the day off.

I’ll leave the strange, but interesting discussion that followed for another post.

And now for something completely different:


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Virus Of The Mind

Real or Staged?

A few days ago I was at this new bakery downtown. They had hired one of those guys dressed like a clown to stand in front and spin one of those signs around, to try and get traffic to come inside. It had caused quite a commotion, and there were plenty of people there for the grand opening. They had been advertising heavily beforehand, so they were going for a big splash on the first day rather than a slow spread through word of mouth.

I suppose that the slow spread through word of mouth marketing approach is more of a organic method, meaning they don’t really expect to have people running around town talking about their shop, it just kind of happens that way. Depending on word of mouth is a tricky marketing ploy, and I’m sure not too many small businesses rely on it exclusively.

There’s always those “engineered” word of mouth marketing plans, usually for movies, but sometimes for other things, although for movies they are primarily done on the Internet, and are referred to as “viral” marketing. A couple that stand out in my mind are “The Blair Witch Project,” and “Cloverfield.”

“Blair Witch,” although they did have several trailers in the theaters, had quite a big online presence. And “Cloverfield” took it a step further, going so far as to have fictitious myspace and facebook pages for the characters in the movie.

Another example of a “viral” marketing plan is that several million times viewed video “Where the Hell is Matt?” Now before I go bursting your bubble, let me say that the following is only my opinion, I have absolutely no inside information on the subject. Perhaps this has already been debunked in other sources, as the video is a few years old, but let allow me to share my opinion on the subject, despite how obvious it may seem.

The video is presented as a naturally occurring journey by this guy “Matt,” and whoever went along with him to hold the camera. It starts out with him giving directions to some “random” stranger to hold the camera in a specific spot, and then various clips are edited together, and whoever is holding the camera in the various spots is not clearly defined.

In many of the spots, it’s quite obvious it took some hiking to get there, and even in one place he’s underwater. So at the very least he had to enlist the support of a cameraman for more than just a few minutes.

There has been a few theories floated out there that the video is fake, and there are various special effects employed to make it appear he is in place where he really isn’t. While I don’t doubt that this “Matt” character actually went to all these places, I do doubt that it was as spontaneous as we are led to believe. I believe to be just as engineered and corporate financed as any viral movie marketing effort.

I believe this for a couple of reasons. The first is that international travel is not cheap, especially if you are winging it as you go along. It’s one thing to show up in a country and kind of make your way around, deciding each day where to go, but it’s quite different to travel from country to country in the same manner.

For one thing, not too many countries allow for a “landing visa.” This is where all you do is show up, and they stamp your passport with a 30-day visitors visa. Many countries require that you get a visa prior to visiting the country, and this requires a visit to that particular countries consulate, and in many cases an extensive itinerary, and proof of sufficient funds, as well as an air ticket leaving the country. You can’t just hitchhike down to the airport and buy a one-way ticket to some African country, for example. Before selling you a ticket, they’ll ask for to see your passport and visa.

So any trip to as many countries that were visited in that short video would require a huge amount of planning, and a lot of upfront cash to pay for all the airline tickets up front.

The story presented in the video, or about the video was some guy got laid off, had some cash, and decided to travel.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, but having been to a few countries, it’s been my experience that it requires a little bit more effort and planning than just hopping on a plane to some random destination. At the very least I believe that video was some kind of viral marketing effort backed by a big company with big money. For what reason, I have no idea. There is a blurb at the end of the video indicating some kind of sponsorship, but I’m not sure what that actually indicates.

My point in all of this is that word of mouth advertising is a powerful way to spread he word of any business, as it is much more believable and reliable than paid advertising. When we see a paid advertisement, we know they have a stake in whatever they are advertising. But when somebody that we know, or somebody that we suspect has nothing to gain by convincing us to buy some product or service, we are much more likely to believe them.

Because most successful word of mouth advertising plans are completely spontaneous and organic, it can be hard to consciously duplicate them. If you look at some popular Internet “memes” (Corey’s glasses, Chocolate Rain, Star Wars kid, etc.) which have spread over the past years, they don’t have much in common. People have tried to reverse engineer them, and then build new ones, but only with varying and seemingly random degrees of success. Even recent successful memes owe their success in large part to big media corporations picking them up and propagating them.

Even political campaigns, which try very hard to have a “grass roots” feel to them, are completely planned and engineered.

One thing is certain, thought, there are certain “memes” which spread much quicker and more readily than others, and some of the ones that have done so have literally changed the course of human history. Communism is one example. The idea was developed by some nobody in some small library, and then later propagated by a couple of opportunist politicians, and it literally changed the face of Europe within a few decades.

I suppose if it were possible to consistently engineer successful meme after successful meme, that would mean that human nature was completely predictable, and we would be at the mercy of marketers and social engineers who wanted nothing more to make us into obedient servants, like in “The Matrix.”

Luckily, human nature is not so predictable, and those that would control us aren’t always successful in their efforts. So long as videos of laughing babies and sneezing pandas spread around the world and are viewed by millions and millions of people, the human race is safe from exploiting itself into obedient slavery.


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How To Reframe Objections Before They Come Up

Here in Japan, Tokyo suffered an embarrassing defeat recently in not getting the 2016 Olympics, which by now you undoubtedly know went to Rio. While I understand how having the Olympics can be a huge financial and political windfall to any city, I never really understood the fervor with which cities and politicians campaigned for the win.

As a kid growing up in LA, I remember the Olympics in the 80’s, but without any of the massive campaigning that went on recently. One thing that struck me was how Ishihara, the Mayor (or sometimes called the governor) of Tokyo responded. He used the classic political “reframe.” When used correctly, this can be a powerful tool of persuasion that can gain compliance and behaviors in you favor. When used with less that adroitness, it can come across as ineffectual.

Ishihara said the reason the Olympic Committee didn’t choose Tokyo was because the Japanese delegates (or representatives, or whatever they are called) are “not good at behind the scenes activities,” to paraphrase, meaning that in order to get the Olympics in your city, one has to be skilled in backroom, under the table dealings.

In saying that, Ishihara was saying that Rio, who got the Olympics, was in some way deceitful and manipulative, while the poor Japanese, who are incapable of such dealings, missed out. In other words, he was claiming that because the Japanese delegates were too honest and upfront. That is why they didn’t get chosen for the Olympics.

Now, here in Japan, the response from the foreigner community was one of “sour grapes.” I haven’t spoken to enough locals lately to get their read on his response.

But the point of this article today is to not to point out this particular reframe, but to illustrate how powerful it can be when used correctly. In my opinion, Ishihara’s attempted reframe was less than effective.

Ideally, reframes are most effective before a decision is made by your target, not as an excuse after. Politicians that use them effectively before an election, to somehow present their weaknesses as strengths, usually have a habit of getting elected.

My personal favorite reframe was by Ronald Reagan in the debate with Mondale. Going into the debate, Reagan was fairly old, and Mondale was much younger. The underlying, unspoken concern was that Reagan was too old to be an effective president. Reagan, being the great communicator, knew this and used it to his advantage.

What he did was illustrate two things. One is that by effectively reframing your weaknesses into strengths, you take the air out of your opponent’s objections. If you are a salesperson, and you have a list of your products likely drawbacks, and can figure out a way to make them into strengths, you can usually sell a lot of products.

The second thing that Reagan did was not only reframe, but also pre-frame. He voiced the objection he knew his opponent had, and not only reframe it, but he did it before his opponent even brought it up. When you can reach into our opponents mind, and reframe his objection before he even voices it, you can be pretty much unstoppable.

You can watch it here:

Another great example comes from the movies. There is a scene in 8 mile, with Eminem, when he has to do a “rap battle” with somebody that is better known, bigger, stronger, better respected, and even who stole his girlfriend. Eminem’s character, “Rabbit,” has to go first in the rap battle, and effectively takes all the “dirt” his opponent is likely to bring up during his “turn” in the rap battle, and effectively deflates them, one by one, leaving his opponent with nothing to say, speechless. Granted, this is a movie that is written, shot and re shot with many takes, but it illustrates the powers you can achieve when you not only know what objections your opponent has, but dismantle them before they object them.

Check it out here (right around :48 the reframing starts, language is NSFW)

Of course, all this was first illustrated by conversational hypnotist Milton Erickson. When you can take your targets objections, and reframe them into positive aspects, before you target even voices them, you will gain powerful authority in their world, and they will be much more likely to take your suggestions.

Sotomayor – For or Against – Why it Doesn’t Matter, Really

Many people have been talking back and forth recently about Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court. Some say that Sotomayor is clearly a racially motivated choice. For them the main reason she was selected was because she is female and Hispanic. While I don’t know exactly if President Obama chose her himself, or she was the best choice presented to him by his advisors, the choice is out there nonetheless. Of course, the two main criticisms against her from the right are the case she ruled for the city against the white fire fighters in a reverse discrimination case, and statements she made suggesting her race and gender somehow made her better equipped to make legal decisions. Her supporters argue that in the case of the reverse discrimination, she was actually upholding the law, and any beef people have with the decision is with the law she was upholding, and not with her. And for her statement regarding the relationship between gender/race and decision making ability, I think most will safely agree that at the very least, that statement was taken out of context.

We live in a sound bite, thirty-second society. Most people don’t have the time or the patience to sort through several layers of meaning and context to get to the intent behind the delivered message. Recently Will Smith said something about Hitler, and it didn’t take very long for a reporter to take one or two sentences out of a spoken paragraph which was surrounded by content and context and put a spin on it. All to sell newspapers. Luckily, when most people saw context of the statement, it was clear that the reporter was attempting to put a spin on it, and Mr. Smith’s reputation wasn’t adversely effected.

With so much spin and out of context quotations, and ten-second attention seeking news headlines, it’s no wonder that it can be extremely difficult for someone in Obama’s position to choose an appropriate candidate for such a powerful appointment of authority. It’s not like Sotomayor can be kicked off the bench if people don’t like her opinions.

This kind of thinking makes sense on a large scale, choosing your position wisely when there is no chance of going back if it doesn’t work out. That is why a selection for the Supreme Court is such a long, public, lengthy process. We can’t afford any mistakes. I think it is obvious that the original architects of the United States put quite a lot of effort into designing a system that was fairly difficult to corrupt (despite many instances of the contrary).

Whether your think Sotomayor will be a great Justice of a terrible one, you’ve got to have some appreciation for the process through which she will be scrutinized to the nth degree. It is an example that despite however many corrupt and unscrupulous politicians find themselves in power, it is difficult to out navigate a system that has been in place for so long. One can only hope it stays that way for a while.

For my part, given the facts of the structure and operational guidelines of the supreme court, and the enormous amount of seriousness that justices must feel when they make decisions, and that Sotomayor, if she is eventually selected (which I’m pretty sure she will be) is replacing someone with similar political leanings and beliefs, I don’t think there is anything to worry about.

When you take a step back and look at the big picture, despite all of the problems of the United States, we’ve got a pretty good system and set of rules in place to make sure we stay free and profitable for many years to come.