On Communication and Persuasion, Part Four

And if brainwashing, fear, and torture are not effective means of “coercive persuasion” – which in the long run are not entirely effective – and if “coercive persuasion” fails to get as many people as possible to adopt the beliefs, ideas, mores, and norms of one’s group with the aim of controlling people through people’s adoption of such beliefs, ideas, mores, and norms, then perhaps a more palatable means of persuasion and thus control which can be employed by a group is the combination of money, seduction, and sex. This combination or strategy can persuade and control people to a certain extent, but the limits of such a combination and strategy are also manifest.

Hence, individual behavior is largely tailored towards advancing and promoting the “unitary interest” of the group to which an individual belongs. Also, in many cases, big groups end up getting divided into smaller groups, as in the case of political parties and religious groups which end up getting divided into either factions or sects. Families and tribes can also be considered as groups with a “unitary interest” which they seek to advance or promote. Smaller groups can emerge even within already small groups such as families and tribes, as evinced by an Afghan proverb which states: “It’s me and my brother against my family; it’s my family against my tribe; it’s my tribe against my province; it’s my province against my nation.”

Individual behavior also depends largely on the circumstances and situation facing the individual, as well as the image which the individual and the group to which the individual belongs to wishes to project to the broader population. Because human behavior and thus human communication and interaction is determined in large part by circumstances, situation, and image, it follows that many people are acting, as the 20th century sociologist Erving Goffman contended.

Because of the overriding factor that is “group conformity,” everything that is said by an individual has to be taken with a grain of salt. Even the graphs and statistics which certain groups like to dump on the public in order to project rationality, objectivity, and scientism have to be taken with a grain of salt.

When groups wish to recruit certain individuals, the main factor or issue which the group takes into account is the “gamesmanship” of the individual and how game worthy the individual is, according to Goffman. “Gamesmanship” has a number of dimensions, such as charm, personality, looks, intellect, and courage. The “course of action” and the moves which the individual initiates vis-à-vis other groups can make an impact on the broader group to which the individual belongs. In turn, it is entirely possible that one single move can make all the difference in the entire course of the “strategic interaction” between two different or opposing groups who seek to advance and promote their respective unitary interests or even align them through diplomacy and dialogue.

Arguably, of all the major determinants of social reality (i.e., beliefs and ideas, race, money, sex, institutions, and power), the one which leads to group formation and then sustains the group over the long run is beliefs, as well as ideas. Although the other major determinants of social reality are important, one can argue that beliefs and ideas prevail over the others as it pertains to what it is that actually forms and sustains groups and personal relationships in the long run. Thus, the free exchange and free flow of beliefs and ideas cannot be given a price tag when it comes to the preservation of a society’s broader social fabric, as long as the free exchange and free flow of beliefs and ideas is conducted in a peaceful and civil manner.

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