Appendix A: Methods of Engagement

Editor’s Note: Methods of Engagement is certainly familiar to both scholars and laypersons the world over, as the first and ovumnal chapter of the enormously popular and influential philosophical treatise In Defense of Bullshit. Credited only to L., and expanded into one of the best-received and most ubiquitous works of its (or, indeed, any) era by Dina Gallagher, Methods followed in the footsteps of such influential works as The Platonic Dialogues and Elements of Style by presenting a core of information written by a venerated teacher, which only later was expanded by a favored student.

While scholars universally agree that the L. who is credited with authoring this chapter is the same person whose philosophy is expounded upon in Gallagher’s companion work, Conversations With Lauren, those same scholars vehemently disagree as to whether "Lauren" was in fact a real person, a fictional invention of Gallagher, or something in between.

Noted Gallagher scholar Miyako Hiashi, in her book Hunting for Lauren, has suggested that Gallagher did not grow up in upstate New York, as she has often claimed, but in Buffalo Creek, Wisconsin, where she was a classmate with gay and civil rights activist Lauren Bancroft.

Was Lauren Bancroft the author of Methods of Engagement? It seems incredible that someone who devoted her life to fighting for social change could evolve from a personality so wholly given to cynicism, even moral despair. But it seems equally unlikely that "Lauren" was merely a pseudonymous foil for the young Gallagher, whose later works, while competent, lacked the spark of tension that ignited her two most popular books. Certainly her third work, Listening To My Own Voice, while employing the same fugue-like structure as the Lauren Books, seemed uninspired and ultimately a disappointment.

"Laurenists," as they’ve come to be called, become more feverent, even fanatical, as the origins of the Lauren Books recede further into the shrouds of history. Each has a dearly-held set of theories ultimately pointing to Gallagher or Bancroft as the "real" author. But Hiashi preferred to believe in a third possibility – that the magic was in the chemistry between the two women, and thus irreproducible by either alone.

Perhaps we’ll never know the truth behind the origins of these works, or what happened that final summer. But ultimately perhaps it doesn’t matter. As Lauren... or Dina... wrote in the closing of Conversations With Lauren, "A book, even one that touches the divine, is nothing in isolation – the magic is in the alchemy it quickens in the reader’s soul. The proper response to reading a wonderful book is to weave a bit of that alchemic bliss into the world."

Preface by the Author

This book uses colloquial English, which is the real language people actually use, rather than academic English, which, like Latin and Frankenstein’s Monster, is an old dead thing kept in an unholy state of semi-life under laboratory conditions by a bunch of rarefied academics who are a far cry from Mom, apple pie and the generally wholesome themselves. In other words, this paper is written the way people actually talk.

This means it’s not likely to win any awards, because the award committees are all run by crotchety, ossified white guys. Indeed, one prefers dogma expounded upon utilizing the appropriate rhetoric of discourse, blah, blah, blah, blah. Ergo and therefore, no award. QED.

How to Use This Book

Like most things of any value whatsoever, this book has at least three uses: a ostensible use, an intended use, and an actual use. The ostensible use is to give you a working foundation for a system of philosophy that will answer all the important questions, like Is there a God?, What is right and wrong? and How can I screw everybody else out of all their money without feeling a twinge of guilt? The intended use is to make me about five dollars richer, at your expense. And the actual use might be as a doorstop, for sopping up unsightly spills, or lobbing at anyone who tries to read you poetry they wrote while in high school. You’re on your own for that last category, so be creative!!

Who This Book Is For

Why do people make such a big stink about saving baby seals and dolphins when every year mankind commits genocide against whole species of insects? Simple: bugs aren’t cute. Human beings only care about those who remind us of ourselves. This is how dogs have been systematically devolved from the feral to the sycophantic – the more accurately they can approximate unhappy human children, the more food we give them. The human race is so desperate to believe ourselves in a position of superiority we’ve actually hijacked the evolution of an entire species and reprogrammed their prime directive from "kill the weak" to "affect weakness."

No wonder wolves and foxes tell so many dog jokes.

The less a person or animal triggers our "nurture our own child" instinct, the less we give two shits about them. Which brings us to my intended audience for this book: people like me. That means you’re intelligent, sarcastic, willing to grapple with the currents below the deceptively placid surface of the human psyche and not afraid of a little cynicism.

If you find this essay inscrutable, difficult, or wildly insulting, just pass it along to one of your brighter friends. Maybe someday she’ll return the favor by hiring you to flip burgers.

What’s It All About, Anyway?

Power is the pivotal element in human existence. All systems of thought are created to rationalize, obfuscate or contribute to the author’s quest for power. Anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something, an idiot, brainwashed or (usually the safest bet) some combination thereof.

What is power? The ability to get what you want. So who wants power? By definition, everyone. This is so obviously a self-referential loop that I wouldn’t bother to point it out if there weren’t so many morons who spout things like, "I’m not interested in money." Yeah? Write me a check for your life savings.

Another transparent flirtation with sainthood which never fails to elicit a wink and a box of chocolates from the Vatican is the utterance, "I’m not really that interested in money, it’s the things you can buy with money that I like." Hey, Deepthought, exactly which aspect of money do you think attracts everyone else? The green ink? The flagrant violation of America’s "separation of church and state" edict? The nearly-perfect mechanism by which the filthy petri strips transmit malevolent bacteria nationwide almost overnight, travelling as they do in the damp, sweaty back pockets of strangers who bathe perhaps even less frequently than you, strangers who very possibly roll in the stuff scant moments before greasily exchanging it for their inebriates and pornography at the very same boutique where you purchase your individually-bottled spring water? Huh? Is that what you’re oh-so-sanctimoniously hinting at, Little Miss Perfect?

But I digress.

The Crux of Human Relations

The central paradox of all human relations is that it is in one’s self-interest to pretend not to be motivated by self-interest. This tension creates a ubiquitous phenomenon sociologists sometimes call bullshit.

Let’s explore this fascinating aspect of human relations in detail, shall we?

Popular Terms and What They Really Mean

Advertising: The art of bilking people out of their money by creating an association between two contradictory ideas. E.g.: "I’m not trying to be noticed, but I won’t be ignored."

The most significant scientific advance in the history of advertising has been the television, which has systematically reduced the attention-span and ability to grasp complex ideas of audiences to the point where we can bury a contradiction in a single sentence, rather than a lengthy and cumbersome essay.

Appropriate: A marginally trickier attempt to hide the agent (see Hand Gambits: Hiding The Agent) than the word "should." E.g., "It is inappropriate for you to do things I don’t want you to do."

"Appropriate" has a more secular implied authority than "should." Thus, it’s all the rage with people bright enough to have realized that their immediate circle of friends are no more intimate with the will of God than they are, but not quite bright enough to realize that these same people are equally clueless and apathetic concerning the mythical beast known as common human decency.

Art: Covert attempt to persuade the rest of the world to think and behave more like the artist, disguised mostly as vicarious wish-fulfillment power fantasies. Artists naturally tend to be "ethically" opposed to competing thought-mongers, who spread their territorial meme-feces through politics, military threat or that pitifully guileless old saw, unsolicited advice. If you’re hoping to muster any credible level of self-righteousness, remember that it’s vitally important to cultivate the conceit that the power-grabbing methods you excel at are irreproachable, but competing methods (which you show no talent for) are shockingly iniquitous. Extra credit for believing on some level that it’s your "moral obligation" to smear your "insights" over people who actively avoid you.

Ambitious bohemian-types long for "immortality," or the ability to extend their intellectual fiefdom past their own death. Unfortunately the capacity for art to communicate information to the perceiver is purely contextual, and therefore degrades over time. Once a culture has shifted too dramatically for its citizens to understand a piece of art, the work will become completely pointless, and thus a "classic" (see Shakespeare).

Charity: Those resources which the rich, having failed to find any other possible use for, convert to the currency of obsequiousness.

Charity is seldom free.

Children: A doomed attempt by the otherwise uncreative to transcend mortality through what they perceive (until too late) as replicating themselves.

Conspiracy: What are the chances that your failures are not due to incompetence on your part, but a vast network of powerful men who can topple empires and afford really pretty trophy wives named "Trixie," yet spend all their free time plotting the downfall of a sorry little nobody like you? Not bloody likely. But the human brain has proven extremely reluctant to accept the reality of its own shortcomings. Or to paraphrase Arthur Conan Doyle: "When that which is likely but makes me look bad is eliminated, then that which makes me look like a misunderstood genius against whom a vast secret society is conspiring, however unlikely, must be true."

Cynic: (1) Technical: Refers to "the beliefs of the sect of the Cynics, a sect of philosophers founded by the Greek philosopher Antisthenes (c.444-370), who showed a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions." (2) colloquial: A pejorative indicating those who combine perceptiveness with candor.

Dinophonism: Literally, "terrible word" (antonym of euphemism). Okay, I made this word up. But the English language really, really needs a word for the concept of converting a neutral or complimentary word or term into a pejorative. Thus, "person who would prefer that women have the same opportunities as men" becomes "femanazi." "Person who believes in sharing" becomes "commie pinko." Etc.

Ethics: A code of "honor" by which the wealthy trick the poor into believing it’s "wrong" to lie, cheat and steal, although that’s how the wealthy became wealthy in the first place.

Euphemism: Literally, "happy word." Used to best advantage as a substitute for anything which is obviously true but politically ill-advised to say aloud. At the highest level of politics, euphemism replaces conventional speech entirely.

Fairness: An artificial concept which does not exist in nature. Or anywhere else.

Government: See stealing, lying.

Guilt: A pavlovian association between defying authority and feeling unwell, systematically instilled by the government penal system and "trickled down" to not being allowed to leave the dinner table until you eat your vegetables.

Honesty: The frequency with which you acknowledge that your actions serve your self-interest, and not "the greater good," "morality," or a deity or deities of your choice.

Honor: The irrepressible idea that one’s opponents are morally obligated to limit themselves to weapons at which the speaker excels. Thus, boxers feel is it "dishonorable" to fight use anything but fists. People who excel at constructing logical arguments feel it is "dishonorable" for their opponents to appeal to emotion or histrionics.

Hubris: A conviction that you are not innately inferior to the those in power. Punishable in most cultures by death.

Idol: A person to whom we give our attention and money, in return for their serving as our better-looking, more successful, and/or wealthier proxy. To enjoy really widespread appeal, a potential idol must have opinions bland and simple-minded enough that no one can really "disagree" with them. E.g.: "I think everyone should try to look on the bright side."

On a cautionary note, idols run the risk of incurring the enmity of their worshippers if they do or say anything which conflicts with their role as an aggrandized, external self-image of their fans. Persons disagreeing with this theory are directed to watch the videotape of Bob Dylan’s fans screaming, booing and attempting to claw their own eyes out the first time Dylan appeared onstage wearing an electric guitar.

Impecunious: The state of having a large vocabulary, but a small bank account.

Implication: The art of forwarding misleading information while avoiding accountability for having outright lied.

Incumbent: A word reserved for those cagey enough to wish to avoid responsibility for their actions, but dim enough to find themselves unable to manufacture even a marginally plausible excuse. Example: "It was incumbent upon me to eat all your chocolate-chip cookies while you were at work."

Instinct: Prejudice minus accountability. Example: "Brooke was offered marriage by two suitors, one rich and the other poor. The poor man was by all accounts well-mannered and considerate, the rich man a scoundrel. Dutifully adhering to her mother’s adage that one can never really know a man until married to him, she was forced to select based on instinct." (I.e., marry the rich one.)

Je ne sais quoi: Literally, French for "I don’t know what," which is particularly appropriate, since most Americans who use this phrase barely have a handle on English, let alone French.

People with poor verbal skills find it very comforting to believe that there are things which can’t be outlined with words (and in their case, at least, they’re right). It’s nice to think a skill you lack is ultimately irrelevant, and so your deficiency is nothing to worry about. "Je ne sais quois," like all allusions to the intangible, is invariably evidence that the speaker finds verbalization of a particular subject politically dicey, beyond her abilities, or both.

Justice: When the speaker gets what she wants. See also Injustice: When the speaker doesn’t get what she wants, Gross miscarriage of justice: When the speaker doesn’t get what she wants, despite having hired unbelievably expensive lawyers, and Travesty of justice: When the speaker doesn’t get what she wants, despite having hired unbelievably expensive lawyers and deposited a colon-chokingly large sum of cash into the judge’s unnumbered Swiss bank account.

Lawyereeze: Long, foo-foo versions of everyday schoolyard accusations which boast three excellent advantages over their less respectable cousins: (a) They impart an air of erudition and breeding, (b) They are far less likely to trigger psychological defense-mechanisms, as they were (save in families of lawyers) largely absent during one’s formative years, and (c) they are vague enough that in a pinch one can back out of them. Thus, your opponent isn’t a "Lying sack of shit." Rather, Party of the First Part is:

disingenuous (lying)
misrepresenting the facts (lying)
prevaricating (lying)
dissembling (lying)
propigating disinformation (lying)
speaking from ignorance (lying)
misspeaking (lying)
drawing a misleading inference (lying)

Logic: 1. (technical) A system of deductive or inductive reasoning, by which an argument linking a premise, inference, and conclusion may be demonstrated to posses cogency. 2. (colloquial) Any system of thought the conclusions of which benefit the speaker, regardless of its relationship (or lack thereof) to Boolean mathematics, or indeed, any basis in reality whatsoever.

Love: A lot of people will make silly claims like "love is the most important thing in the world," or "love conquers all," which suggests that they consider love more valuable than power. But nothing lasts forever, and when a relationship ends the abandoned party will invariably bemoan their feelings of helplessness (powerlessness).

I think we have a clear winner here.

Magazine: A publication designed to persuade people to buy advertisers’ products by inducing feelings of inadequacy. Very young and learning-disabled readers often mistake the intent of magazines as providing useful or entertaining information.

Magic: Technically, that which is demonstrably true, but inexplicable within the parameters of current scientific understanding. In practice, "demonstrably true" may be watered down somewhat, to "rumored to be true," or even "desired to be true." Thus, arguments in favor of magic are often bolstered by such legally-admissible support as "My third cousin knows this guy...", or "I just have this feeling that..."

Metaphysics: The desperate, unlikely hope that what we perceive as "reality" is a merely false veneer over the "real" reality, in which the speaker isn’t as unimportant, impotent, and stupid as evidence would seem to dictate. Naturally, the number of people who believe in some form of metaphysics is very high.

Mojo: Anything created in a vain attempt at immortality through the perpetuation of one’s essence: children, music, novels, films, scientific formula, athletic achievements, architecture, etc. The dream of achieving immortality through one of these time-honored methods is the root of all human endeavors (note: and also completely futile).

Morality: Any system of rationalizations which explain why the speaker "should" be in power, why the speaker "should" have more money, why people who have a lot more money than the speaker have "excessive wealth", which "should" be re-distributed to the speaker, and why it’s "wrong" to do anything inconvenient or dangerous to the speaker. Marginally sophisticated moralities will include the speaker’s family, allies, and those who share certain characteristics with the speaker in the same "benefit pool."

Onus: This means "the bad thing," whether blame, responsibility for wrongdoing, or burden of proof. Ironically, the person in power gets to decide on whom to place the onus, and the traditional place is squarely upon the person who doesn’t have any power. This creates a popular system of human behavior called "blaming the victim."

Paradigm: Traditionally used mostly to indicate a table of noun declensions, "paradigm" has recently become quite a time-saver in identifying people who are especially dim, but hope to trick the general public into believing otherwise, through the blisteringly clever mechanism of merely substituting the word "paradigm" when they mean "model." (See also methodology, heuristic, sensibility.)

Paradox: Two things which are seemingly contradictory. "Seemingly" because their coexistence is a shining testament to their ability to coexist. So the perceived "paradox" is inevitably evidence of stupidity on the speaker’s part. Especially stupid people will evince a special attraction to the paradoxical, frequently by writing amazingly bad poetry. Unfortunately, pest extermination companies have not yet found an effective way to "spray for poets."

Passing-the-buck: An excellent method for avoiding responsibility without looking like a jerk for avoiding responsibility – plausibly shifting the burden onto someone else.

Passive voice: Yet another tactic favored by those who wish to forward their opinions while avoiding accountability for having done so. Thus, questions "present" themselves and actions "suggest" themselves, all apparently without the benefit of a human agent.

Philosophy: A life-long search for answers to "the big questions," such as:

Am I ever going to get "caught"? ("Is there life after death?")

Am I failing to account for a major player in my list of authority figures whom I suck up to? ("Is there a god?")

What’s the best rationalization for wallowing in utter selfishness without feeling guilty? ("Which religion is right for me?")

Should I focus more on material gain or pleasures of the flesh? ("What is the meaning of life?")

Golly, this pot is excellent. ("If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?")

Propaganda: Creating an association between something the victim likes and something you wish her to like, or the reverse. Often involves a woman in a bikini.

Politician: A person who can successfully imply to the majority of constituents that they will be among the minority to whom the politician will unfairly devote a majority of resources. Obviously it’s also important for politicians to downplay strong math skills.

Pop psychology terminology: Like the legaleeze of lawerly terminology (above), these handy euphemisms drape a tactically invaluable air of nobility and concern over the popular practice of calling your opponent a "doo-doo head."

inappropriate (bad)
uncentered (bad)
unevolved (bad)
anal (better organized than the speaker)
earth mother (fat)
eating disorder (ailment which afflicts persons thinner than the speaker)

Power: The ability to misappropriate credit when things go well, and apportion blame when things go poorly.

Religion: The sum of several well-documented "blind spots" in the human brain:

1. Humans are wired to perceive ourselves in all things (babies who recognize their parents quicker get more attention). Seeing :-) as human face and attributing natural events to an anthropomorphic deity are both manifestations of the same instinct.

2. An inability to accept one’s insignificance relative to the universe.

3. A tendency to repress or deny unwelcome information, and to accept weak arguments which support desired propositions.

4. Nonconsensual indoctrination, if sufficiently forceful (and especially during childhood) will override our ability to evaluate attitudes and beliefs before internalizing them. Webster’s Dictionary calls this "brainwashing," but religious institutions show a marked leaning toward euphemisms such as "youth outreach."

The propensity of an inverse relationship between strong religious beliefs and low IQs and the fact that most of the "great religious thinkers" of antiquity were indoctrinated while children and never presented with agnosticism as an alternative, I’m sure, is merely a coincidence. No doubt this "smoke screen of facts" was created by the deity and/or deities of your choice to test the flock for any dangerous penchant for logical reasoning. Remember: logic is a dangerous seduction perpetrated by the anti-diety of your choice (except in rare cases where it benefits religous authorities).

Right and Wrong: Which acts are moral, and which immoral? This argument gets a lot of press. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these discussions rest upon the assumption that there is such a thing as "absolute" right and wrong, if only we can ferret it out.

For instance, almost all cultures have had a law that murder is wrong. Some people will point to this as the basis for a universal system of morality. Of course, many of these cultures don’t think killing "counts" as murder if it’s done to slaves, women, children, the poor, people from countries which have desirable resources (war), or performed by the state (capital punishment).

The right side of the brain is nonverbal, so the two hemispheres partially communicate by the left side of the brain constantly making educated guesses as to what the right side of the brain is up to. A set of easily-repeatable experiments prove that humans act instinctively and rationalize after the fact, despite our hardwired illusion to the contrary.

Unfortunately, with the advent of civilization our hard-wired tendancy to rationalize has kinda snowballed.

Shakespeare: A poet who may have rewritten some already-popular stories as plays. Or someone else may have written them. Or he may have been a group of people, or completely imaginary. In any case, "Shakespeare" has the distinction of serving as the Western World’s watermark for great literature, despite the fact that 90% of the ingenuity in his work is in reference to the celebrities, mores, and language of his time, and is therefore completely lost on contemporary audiences. Imagine a room full of Mbuti Pygmies watching an episode of "Saturday Night Live." That’s about the comprehension level of the average contemporary American watching a play by Shakespeare, except the Mbuti Pygmies seldom mingle in the lobby afterwards, vaguely alluding to the sublime commentary on the human condition.

Should: A word which simultaneously means "I want you to...," and "I wish to obscure my role as the party who wants you to..." When someone suggests that you "should" do something, they’re hoping that you fail to recognize the source of their inexpertly camoflaged opinion: themselves.

Slavery: The act of forcing people to do things they don’t wish to do through some unpleasant species of coercion. Gradations have emerged in regards to the degree of freedom the slave enjoys, as well as the specifics of the unpleasant method of coercion (violence and starvation are historically very popular).

Slavery has existed in just about every culture from the dawn of civilization. But every once in a great while people who don’t directly own slaves will try to hobble their competition by declaring slavery immoral and illegal. This is a tremendous inconvenience for slaveowners, who are forced to hire public relations firms to coin new politically-friendly terms for slaves such as "entry-level employee," "citizen of a third-world country," "soldier," or "person undergoing rehabilitation in a correctional facility privately owned by Lockheed."

The trick with slavery, like every other method of achieving Darwinian hegemony, is to profit by the system while simultaneously distancing yourself from the horror of your own actions through a complex system of rationalizations.

A denial method currently in vogue is to verbally decry apartheid and other unpopular systems of oppression while enjoying clothing, food, electronic toys and cars which were manufactured in distant countries by people who make less than two dollars a day.

Social Darwinism: The theory that every human action can be logically explained as an attempt to achieve genetic dominance through survival, reproduction, and crushing your opponents skulls with your bare hands. I have friends who call my belief in social Darwinism "cynical and misinformed." Of course, they all live in trailer homes and I drive a Jaguar.

A popular current variation on social Darwinism is "everyone’s actions can be explained Darwinistically except mine." The speaker’s behaviors are presumably motivated by some ill-defined but noble outside force. These people can be readily identified by utterances such as, "He’s obviously just in a band to meet girls," or "The boss doesn’t really care about the employees, he’s just out to make a buck!!" Well, duh. Maybe if you spent less energy convincing yourself of your own moral superiority, you’d have more time to figure out what the boss knows that you don’t.

The Order of the Day: A particularly flimsy paraphrase of "I want." E.g. "Giving me your chocolate chip cookies is the order of the day."

Utopia: A fictional world in which the speaker has power, money, fame and prestige, and his enemies drown in rivers of shit.

Vibes: New Age version of calling something good or bad while avoiding rebuttal or accountability. I.e., "Bob is bad" becomes "I get bad vibes off Bob." Who can argue?

Understanding What You Really Want

Things you want fall broadly into two categories: First, there are things you can only get by earning them through hard work sustained over a long period of time, such as self-respect, reverence for something other than your own comfort, meaningful relationships, the capacity for joy and the ability to create anything of beauty or worth. That set of wants is beyond the scope of this book. Anyway if you were the type of person who was willing to work for things you probably wouldn’t be reading a self-help book, psychology’s equivalent to the Get Rich Quick Scheme.

The second type of things you want are Things Which May Be Stolen From Others, which includes things such as money, power, social position, the ability to squash those who slight you and the envy of your so-called peers.

That’s where this book comes in.

There’s no such thing as "making money."* For you to have more money, someone else needs to have less. The same goes for power, prestige, and dominance in your personal relationships. Obviously, this means you have to steal all these things from other people.

Fortunately, this is nothing new. Usurping "the goodies" from others is the most universal human characteristic, harkening back to the days when we had names like "Thog" and "Ug" (I realize that certain "grunge" musicians still have names like "Thog" and "Ug," but no jury would take seriously a defamation of character suit by the bass player for The Scum Monkeys, so I can play fast and loose with these names with impunity).

Goodie theft is the central motivation for just about all primate activity, from Mongoni stealing a banana up to and including people wearing those ridiculously wide lapels in the 70s. The day you start seeing all human endeavor as an attempt to steal the goodies is the day the scales fall from your eyes and you understand the game well enough to play.

Some self-styled wise guys will tell you that you need to figure out what your goals are before you can achieve anything, which is ridiculous. You have the same goal as everyone else: To grab as much as you can.

An important thing to remember is that, despite its own belief to the contrary, the verbal part of your brain is completely out of the decision-making loop. Your reptilian subcortext is running the show, and as far as it’s concerned your cerebral hemisphere – the part of your brain responsible for civilization, literature, and culture – is just another weapon for getting laid, killing opponents and finding something to eat. The cerebral hemisphere is allowed to believe she’s calling the shots in the same way trophy wives are humored into thinking their most valued assets are their scintillating personalities, and they show real promise as poets.

Getting What You Really Want

Okay, so you want Thing A, and somebody else out there wants to stop you from getting Thing A. It doesn’t matter if Thing A is a promotion, or a new car, or the last cookie in the box. Let’s not mince words: That person is your adversary.

When facing an Adversary, keep in mind that your real enemy is her reptile brain; Whichever of her Darwinistic impulses is at odds with your Darwinistic impulses. Canny Adversaries will instinctively attempt to misdirect your attention away from their Darwinistic impulses onto their rationalization metaphors, forcing you to compete on their terms and keeping their real motivations invisible.

Self-Interest vs. Altruism

Babies cry when they want something. But as soon as we learn to speak, we’re told to "act like an adult," which loosely translates as, "Manufacture convincing lies that suggest you are motivated by altruism rather than self-interest."

This sets us on a life-long path of constructing specious arguments with the intent of misrepresenting our motives as selfless to better achieve our selfish ends.

Or, to the layperson, lying.

Language as a Weapon

When you tell your dog you love her, or it’s dinner time, or you’d like to go for a walk, her ears perk right up, don’t they? Dogs understand all the important stuff. It’s only when you start blathering about blue-chip stocks and 401k plans that she "tunes out" and starts daydreaming about the golden retriever down the street. That’s because dogs are much smarter than people – they realize that everything worth knowing can be communicated by tone of voice, physical contact and the odd word like "food."

So what’s language for, if not communication? Language is a weapon used to fight for resources.

In any conversation, from buying a pair of sneakers to proposing marriage to a hostile takeover of IBM, the things to keep track of are:

1. What do I want?

2. Can this person supply it?

3. Is the prize worth the cost?

Remember that if you’re not sure of the answer to any one of these questions, and you’re not angling to find out, you’re wasting time.


Conversation as War

Like football, the game of debate has a "ball," which is the topic of conversation. Whenever you manage to get a word in edgewise, you should "intercept" the topic of conversation and turn it 180º towards your own goal-line, put your opponent on the defensive, and still feign compassion for the good of all humanity. Skilled debaters can do this in a single sentence. Example:

Reporter: Is it true you voted in favor of Jonathan’s Swift’s "Modest Proposal" Bill, which calls for poor babies to be cannibalized?

Politician: Any bill is only as effective as the people behind it, who as we all know from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death are unduly influenced by the media. Any ideas on how the press might self-correct this problem so that congress won’t be obligated to take punitive action?

Reporter: It’s a common misperception of politicians that they should be able to spend the taxpayer’s money without the accountability inherent in press watchdogging. What is it that you’re so nervous people will find out you’re doing?

Politician: You’re not the first "newsman" so desperate for sensationalism to bolster your paper’s circulation by attempting to manufacture a scandal. Didn’t I hear a rumor that you’re a communist?


No matter how friendly the relationship, every conversation has something at stake, and is therefore to a degree adversarial. There are a millions distractions during a football game, but you still manage to keep your eye on The Ball – In conversation, winners are those who devote the same rigorous attention to Who Has The Upper Hand.

Social Economies

Children whisper confusion to each other: after a long argument, Mommy and Daddy agreed that Daddy is the boss. Why does it seem as though Mommy really won the argument?

The answer is that overt power is merely one form of interpersonal currency; the cash of the social economy. And while the green stuff is nice when you’d like to buy a cookie, it won’t garner you a favor from your policitally-connected cousin (which could lead to many, many cookies). Each social interaction is a marketplace, in which various currencies are claimed, fought over, exchanged, stolen, borrowed and gambled.

While it would be impossible to list every conceivable interpersonal currency here (since every human interaction is effectively a micro-economy), it is an invaluable skill to cultivate the instant and accurate recognition of an attempted transaction. Consider these examples:

Example 1: The Adversary announces in a hurt tone of voice: "I thought you were going to leave a cookie out for me."

Transaction type: Martyr Point landgrab. Martyrdom as a manipulative tool is most popular with children of large families (where the "victim" is the real winner, since the other child is punished) and guilt-based religions (where claiming victimhood is a proclamation of moral superiority, not an admission of weakness).

Example 2: The Adversary tells you "Eat the cookies if you want, but you’ll be spoiling your dinner."

Transaction type: Seizing the moral high ground. The give-away is the mixed message that you should go ahead and eat the cookies, even though it’s wrong: a sure sign of an attempt to stockpile Propriety Points. Genuine indifference would be "go ahead and eat the cookies," genuine concern "eating the cookies would spoil your dinner."

Example 3: The Adversary smiles sheepishly while proffering her cookie jar, saying "This is my last cookie, but since you haven’t eaten in a week why don’t you take it?"

Transaction type: Converting material possessions into Favor Points. If The Adversary genuinely wished to offer her last cookie without recompense, she would merely have asked "want a cookie?" Setting the "last cookie" groundwork is a forewarning that this "favor point" will be "cashed in" later, possibly with the incantation "remember that time I gave you my last cookie...?"

Logic, Reason, and Other Mythical Beasts

A talented liar will conjure the word logic to draw your attention towards the more convincing parts of her argument, just as a magician waves her left hand around wildly while her right hand is picking your pocket.

And once in a great while you’ll actually witness a desperate tactician fall back on reason, albeit only as a last resort. Because even a child quickly learns that an infinitely more effective method to persuade is by appealling to emotion, herd instinct, greed and stupidity, and a candy-store variety of nonrational persuaders has evolved to keep up with this insatiable market demand.

These techniques for gaining the upper hand, or "Hand Gambits," are slimy, irrational, expedient, and show a blatant disregard for the welfare of others everyone pays so much lip-service to.

Naturally, they’re the most popular methods of interaction in human history.

Hand Gambits

Hand Gambits are a set of tools designed to advance one’s argument, usually without the tiresome and unglamorous constraint of logic. Back in ancient Greece, Aristotle identified several Hand Gambits (then called fallacies), such as the argumentum ad hominem (attacking the speaker rather than the argument) and the equally crowd-pleasing argumentum ad numerum (appealing to widely-held rather than cogent beliefs). Unfortunately, Aristotle had no way of knowing that the virulent little beasts he had spotted and tagged in the wild would interbreed, evolving into the current strain of "super-fallacies" that swept through every means of human interaction like a virus in a particularly bad Stephen King novel.

Okay, so specious (fallacious) arguments are used to gain unfair advantage. "Aha!," say the naive idiots I’m inevitably paired up with in debate class, "Therefore cogent (logically sound) arguments must exist to defend against unfairness and forward mutual advantage!" You wish. Good logic is mostly the verbal equivalent of cat litter – given enough, you can bury anything. (Oh, but the smell lingers...)

Because everyone has their own personal way of believing why their grabs for power are noble, rational and just, despite the fact that their belief systems are constantly abrading against other belief systems, empirical evidence and reality itself, it would be impossible to catalog every Hand Gambit. Here then is a sampling of Hand Gambits currently enjoying a vogue:


Achilles’ Heelicizing: While harping on your Adversary’s primary weakness is generally a reasonable method of attack, this special case involves of topic jumping involves hijacking every conversation that isn’t going your way and plotting a kamikaze trajectory towards the one ghastly error your opponent made in her otherwise saintly life. Example:

The Adversary: Why did you eat all my cookies?

You: I’d have time to buy my own cookies if I didn’t spend every waking moment consumed with remorse and shame over the debacle caused by your loud farting at the precise instant our dearest friends were asked if any man could give just cause why you and I should not be joined in holy matrimony (sob, sob).

Antigifts: Burden rivals and remind uppity lackeys of their position with Antigifts – presents which cannot be refused but which are onerous or bear a hidden obligation: noisy toys for their children, hideous art they must grudgingly bespoil their homes with on fear you’ll visit, perhaps a surprise vacation in the midst of competition for a romantic or business opportunity. Remember to pretend benevolence.

Belligerence: Talking over others, whether by interuption or volume, is useful only in forums for which you haven’t the faintest shred of intellectual respect – i.e., practically everywhere. Especially useful in media such as talk radio, which stretches the pretense of reason and egalitarianism veneer-thin over desperation for ad revenues.

Big-Picturing: In those rare instances when your underhanded tactics fail to produce the desired results (i.e., The Adversary points out that Einstein’s widely-acknolwedged genius for physics doesn’t necessarily qualify him an expert witness on the moral veracity of eating your roommate’s cookies while they are away at work), scurry up to the next higher level of abstraction. Because what you were really arguing about wasn’t a few petty cookies, but the much more hallowed realm of food in general. Should the argument continue to lean against you, you really meant to talk about the deterministic nature of the universe. Every escalation in abstraction level will play upon the fear of unimportance of all but the most emotionally healthy opponent, who almost invariably will surrender their lead rather than appear mired in petty minutia.

Blunderbussing: Spew out needlessly intertwined mixtures of equivocations, self-referential arguments, unsupported conclusions and outright bullshit, then end with an obvious fact and ask, "Isn’t that true?" Your opponent can only address one fallacy at a time, so by introducing them en masse you increase the odds that many will go unchallenged.

Bottom-Lining: Widely known in the business world as "getting buy-in," bottom-lining consists of letting your adversaries drone on and on with their moronic suggestions, then at the precise moment of maximum vitriolic fatigue announce that, taking into consideration all the excellent points everyone present has made here today, the bottom line is we should do things the way you intended to in the first place. Advanced bottom-lining persuades every single person in the room that your triumphant notion was their idea.

The Cloaked Invective: Name calling is a special case of argumentum ad hominem (attacking the speaker rather than the argument). Like you care. The point is, belittling your opponent belarges you relative to, but only if you get away with it. Unfortunately, openly maligning your adversary is a bit too inviting of retribution, and anyway direct assertions encourage accountability and rebuttal. (Haven’t we taught you anything?) Oh, you could go with the classic nonspecific belittlement: "How’s your little cookie-depletion paranoid dementia praecox lately? Any ‘episodes’?" (Note cleverly dismissive use of the word "little.") But that’s kid stuff – for advanced maligners, try stuffing your opprobrium into a metaphor like dubious white spooge in a Twinkie:

The Adversary: Any idea what happened to my cookies while I was out playing tennis?

You: I hope you’re not accusing me. People who steal cookies are like those stomach-turningly pathetic Billy Jean King-wannabees: paranoid, distrustful, suspicious and wearing a tennis skirt that makes her thighs look even fatter than they really are. Exactly the kind of people who could do with a few less cookies in the first place.

Complaint Tagging: There are two broad categories of complaints about your behavior: (1) Legitimate attempts to improve a difficult situation and (2) capitalization on your errors (real or imagined) as an excuse to dump on you. You may easily distinguish legitimate greivances from camouflaged attacks with the magic phrase "What can I do differently to improve the situation?" An immediate answer (and something realistically within your abilities) suggests that the complaint may be legitimate. Anything else (particularly the "give me a few moments to construct a plausible lie" delay) reveals your Adversary’s hand, and you may spit in her face, blithely disregard or put out a contract on her life, al dente.

The Dershowitz Maneuver: Avoid outright lying, which is challengable. Instead, over-emphasize inconsequential aspects of a situation which support your position, while downplaying the overwhelming bulk of evidence which weighs against you. (You might consider having your conscience surgically removed if you hope to rely on this often without injuring yourself.)

Fractal Recursion: As there are no absolutes, any assertion can be infinitely qualified. Tilt the "who’s more right?" balance in your favor merely by masquerading your objection not as an irrelevant qualifier but an earth-shattering contradiction. E.g.:

The Adversary: The sky is blue

You: Actually, that’s incorrect. The sky is really aquamarine.

Some other asshole: You’re both wrong. The sky is aquamarine except when cloudy.

Hyannis Port Manuever, The: Brazenly use people for your own ends while cheerily pretending you’re doing it for their own good. For example, John Kennedy once made a famous speech in which he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." And who was in charge of the country while he said that? He was. So in a way, he was saying, "Stop looking out for your self-interest and start looking out for mine."

And people clapped. That’s what leadership is all about.

Hiding The Agent: The declaration "cookies are the yummiest thing ever" expresses an opinion while obscuring the identity of the party holding the opinion (whom philologists call the "agent"), falsely implying an omnipotent authority.

Alfred Korzybski’s 1933 book Science and Sanity suggested the abolition of the "is of identity" from English, and David Bourland expanded this hypothosis in 1949, proposing a version of English without the "being verb," which he called E-Prime (or English-Prime).

E-Prime dramatically improves clarity of English communication, making it almost impossible to hide the agent ("cookies are yummy" changes to the more accurate "I like cookies"), reducing hidden assumptions ("Bob is a cookie-stealer" must become the more accurate "Bob may have stolen one of my cookies"), changing passive voice to active ("The cookie was eaten" becomes "Bob ate the cookie") and removing illusions of immutability ("Cookies are irresistable" becomes "I cannot resist this cookie"). E-Prime even defuses territorial (most) arguments, by decloaking supposed absolutist definitions of reality as opinions ("Your cookies are terrible!" is countered with "What don’t you like about them?").

Pink-slipping a single verb may seem minor, but take my word for it: a great many linguists performed summersaults of joy over this apparently simple, elegant solution to so many gordian knots of communication. Unfortunately the whole point of most verbal communication is to masquerade our opinions as facts, obscure our own accountability, and traffic on hidden assumptions, so E-Prime turned out to be about as popular as a copy of Bambi at a National Rifle Association stag party.

Point being if you want to pawn your prejudices off as facts, stay the hell away from E-Prime.

Inscintillation: If you want to control the behavior of others (and who doesn’t? Except for the emotionally healthy, and they’re not really covered in this book), take care not to squander your game-moves by appealing to the common good, gratitude, keeping a promise or similar altruistic rubbish, which is an absolute guarantee of failure (see "communism"). No matter how huge and undeniable the obligation, unless your mark stands to increase her personal advantage she’ll find some excuse to sidestep it (most will concoct a flimsy rationalization explaining away their naked avarice as oblique nobility). Instead, carefully align their lust for money, fame and power with your needs, seeing that the surest way for them to gain the former is for you to receive the latter. This process is known among sales managers and related invertebrate as creating an incentive system.

While the benefit of manipulating your enemy into working for you rather than against you is obvious, take care not to rest on your laurels after mastery of this single-serving technique. Rather, employ these single-use fulcrums, wheels and levers as the raw components of a political machine of baroque complexity and sublime beauty – Just as the modern farmer rarely touches the harvest, instead concentrating her efforts on the acquisition and maintenance of farming apparatus, the master politician seldom soils her hands by direct contact with politics. Instead, she constantly polices and improves upon her political machinery, which performs most or all of the actual work. An added benefit is the illusion of remove from the horror of your own acts; When your administration is caught in a wrong-doing, you may simply claim a faulty component and replace it.

JudgeGowning: Imbue your opinions with unearned authority by creating a precident for your incontrovertibly superior judgement well in advance. This is most easily done through the mechanism of pointedly complimenting your peer group in all things trivial. Few will contest praise, and only after a long history of entrenching your position as the voice of wisdom will it dawn on your victims that judges with tenure don’t necessarily rule in favor of those who appointed them.

The Lemming Argument (Argumentum ad numerum): The implication or assertion that an argument is lent validity because it is widely believed. Example: "Everyone knows celery has fewer calories than you burn by eating it. (Therefore it must be true.)"

The Let’s-drop-the-subject-and-by-the-way-my-closing-argument-is Trick: Classically combined with an air of white-gloved remove from the "dirty business of petty bickering." E.g., "Well, I didn’t realize you’d be so selfish about me eating a cookie or two, but let’s not argue about it."

Lying: Oh, avoid it when possible. But in a pinch, spray bullshit over your opponent like a civet cat marking territory. Remember that you’ll want to lie about having lied at some point, so make sure there are no witnesses and your opponent isn’t wired for sound. Good subjects for lying include people who are your employees or otherwise financially dependent upon you, those who want to believe you, and those who’d rather be given unambiguous, easy answers than struggle at finding their own way through the complexities of the real world (in other words, everyone). And don’t forget that the most import factors controlling your ability to lie persuasively are how many degrees you hold (argumentum ad hominem), how pushy you are (argumentum ad baculum), and your physical attractiveness (see plastic surgery, elsewhere in this chapter).

The Mask of Humility: The expression of opinion not as personal conceit, but the humble voice of some unreproachable Source Of Authority. Thus the Rabbi, Confucisian Master, Priest, Parent, etc., is merely advancing the Holy Word, not his own self-serving spin on the Holy Word. (Remember – power without accountability is the primary goal of most systems of thought.)

A quick perusal of SOA (Sources Of Authority) throughout history will reveal a direct relationship between longetivity, virulence, and sufficient flexibility to encompass any number of contradictory positions on any possible subject.

The Michael Krasny Ploy: Ask a question, and then before your opponent can answer, add as many qualifiers as you can think of, to the point where you can later claim any one of dozens of positions as your actual stance on the issue in question. E.g., "Shouldn’t cookies be the property of everyone? In a sense? According to some, anyway? Although all stereotypes contain a crumb of truth? Not that I’m saying socialism should apply to cookies? Although I’ve certainly seen some cases where that would be the rational course of action? Just to play devil’s advocate?"

Moffeting: Named after famed practitioner Andrea Moffet, moffeting consists of behaving reasonably except when you don’t get what you want, in which case you become loud, belligerent, and prone to throw expensive, delicate items. Frequent use of this behavior will "train" the reasonable but timid into doing things your way, and happily the emancipation proclamation doesn’t extend to interpersonal relationships.

Nonrational Persuader: Any of the grab-bag of glaringly specious and/or groundless phrases which the general public nevertheless seem to find convincing. E.g., "naturally." ("Yes, there was a padlock on the cookie jar, but it was so flimsy it was obviously intended as a decoration rather than a deterrent. Naturally I ate all the cookies.") Other perennial favorites include "It goes without saying...," and "We hold the following to be self-evident...."

Nonspecific Accusation of Speciousness: One of the broader classes of hand gambits, these allow the user to imply speciousness on their opponent’s part, without needlessly burdening herself with specific counter-arguments or, indeed, any support whatsoever. High-level instances tend to include an insultingly pathetic concessionary bone, as in this example:

You: Evidence suggests that you premeditatedly waited until I drove my aged grandmother to the hospital to break into my apartment, blow up my wall safe and eat all my yummy cookies.

The Adversary: Well, you’re right about one thing. They were yummy. Oops. I mean cookies in general are yummy.

Less skillful adherents of this technique tend to favor shorter, even vaguer retorts such as "You think so," or "Oh, yeah?" The primordial slime forebear of this relatively evolved hand gambit is still with us in the form of the simple derisive snort. Complete idiots will often very courteously distinguish themselves from Those Worth Paying Attention To by pointedly spending their lives cultivating a vast arsenal of derisive snorts rather than learning how to string together even a single cogent argument.

Outframing: Is the cookie issue fundamentally concerned with whether stealing is acceptable, or whether friends should be willing to share? Obviously, whoever frames the question has already practically won the debate. Typically the party with more money and power is in a position to impose shape on the point of contention, but in cases where frame privilege is as yet unestablished, a time-honored gambit is to offer your opponent a seductively specious opening argument which (if they fall for rebutting it at face value) locks them into your debate architecture. Remember that owing to the fabulous fundamental loophole of the universe ("nothing is absolute"), any issue can be recontextualized in nearly infinite permutations until Hitler looked like a great guy, green eyeshadow is tasteful, and stealing cookies was an act of selfless nobility.

Personal Mythology, Construction of: Throughout recorded history, a common characteristic of those in power has always been their deeply-held belief that "Truth is more important than fact." In other words "It’s okay to lie to the little people, because I’m so great, they’re so insignificant and it works so well."

The caveat of course is that "Little People" tend to overreact when they discover those irksome inconsistances between the "facts" and your "truth." Ergo, it’s safest to stick with lies (I mean non-factual truths) which don’t wander far from the truth. I mean, the facts.

Get in the habit by manufacturing flattering euphemisms for your character flaws, a time-honored tradition of the overclass you can do right in the privacy of your own home. Examples:

cheap (thrifty)
undisciplined (devil-may-care)
undependable (a free spirit)
inconsistent (flexible)
stupid (street smart)
clinically insane (eccentric)
a liar (unconstrained by the petty and small-minded limitations of modernism)

And remember – it’s not enough just to "lie" about your negative behaviors. For maximum impact, actually convince yourself that your personality disorders are healthy and positive. This will infuriate anyone with an IQ higher than 20 and lend you that extra ring of sincerity when you say things like, "Sure I said one thing yesterday and another thing today, but that’s because I’m flexible."

Preemptive TropeMapping: Sabotage your opponent from habitually relying on their well-known arsenal of slimy tactics by framing those tropes as pathetic, ideally in the exact moment after they’ve clicked the safety off but before they pull the trigger:

Adversary: Listen, about those silly ‘ol cookies...

You: Oh, I’m glad you brought that up. After you stole them I was afraid you were going to be one of those jerks who attempt to dismiss their unconcionable behaviors as irrelevant due to scale. Anyway, what were you going to say?

Adversary: Uh...

Point of Contention Myopia: Divert attention from the actual point of contention by pretending that you’re under the mistaken (but well-meaning) impression that you’re arguing some other completely unrelated point. "Oh, were you asking why I stole all your cookies? You’re not gonna believe this, but – you’re gonna laugh!! – I’ve been trying to convince you that cookies taste yummy!! Is that a knee-slapper, or what? Whelp, unfortunately we’ll have to finish this conversation another time, or I’ll be late for my ethics class."

Shell-Gaming (also known as the ‘ol "Nonstationary Point of Contention"): This describes a situation in which the adversary forwards Assertion A, then after Assertion A is inarguably refuted explains that she really meant to forward Assertion B. Classically, Assertion B is presented as a modest refinement of Assertion A, but is obviously a completely new tactic, or even a reversal. Example:

You: Why did you eat all my cookies?

Adversary: I didn’t touch your cookies.

You: I took the liberty of setting up a hidden camera in the kitchen. Tonight on the Discovery Channel they’ll be running my four-hour documentary on you stealing my cookies, with over an hour of raw cookie-stealing footage, in Technicolor and THX surround-sound, narrated by the guy from "Star Trek." It’s already been nominated for the Pulitzer for investigative filmmaking.

Adversary: What I meant was, I didn’t think you’d mind if I had a few cookies.

SlimeFactoring: In Algebra, one may simplify equations by factoring: removing like properties from both elements. E.g., if y5 = 30, you may divide both elements by 5 and discover that y = 6. In real life you can take advantage of this mathematical sleight-of-hand by treating "truth" as a variable, and introducing it into both sides of an equation. For added sliminess, forward your equation in the presence of a witness with vested interest that y = TRUE, such as their mother:

The Adversary: Did you eat all the cookies?

You: I would no sooner eat all the cookies than you would lie to your mother about remaining a virgin until your wedding day.

The Adversary’s Mother, who is in the room at the time: You see, Dear? I knew your nice friend wouldn’t steal your cookies.

Sluice Gating: Millers, farmers and similar salt-of-the-earth historical blue-collar types long ago discovered that one might not only redirect a river, but "sluice" it into two more managable streams. If The Adversary’s line of questioning doesn’t happen to suit you, why not profit by the lessons of history?

The Adversary: Did you eat all my cookies?

You: Are you asking if I ate a cookie despite my diet, thus effectively calling me a pig, OR are you asking if I noticed that you left your cookies out, presumably for public consumption, in plain view behind the socks in your underwear drawer, thereby calling into question my myopia in a profound and shocking display of sightism?

Symptomification: Okay, The Adversary took your cookies. It was wrong. We all admit it. Do you address the cookie-theft as an incident, or merely a symptom of the much larger problem? (I.e., the Adversary is fundamentally a doo-doo head, as you’ve long contended and now have the evidence to support.) Addressing the incident itself suggests that your goal really is to prevent future incidents. "Symptomification" suggests that your real agenda (consciously or otherwise) is to find ammunition to belittle your opponent, and the incident is merely a convenient excuse. Few can articulate why this is an illegitimate attack, but almost everyone can "smell" it, and will punish you to the limits of their abilities. The only appropriate time to openly attack an Adversary is when you plan to destroy them utterly. Otherwise you merely fuel retribution.

Third-basing: Forwarding a viewpoint while avoiding accountability for having endorsed it directly. Example:

The Adversary: I hear Bob thinks your face looks like ten miles of bad road.

You: Do you agree with him?

The Adversary: I didn’t say that. Bob said that.

You: Then why bring it up at all?

The Adversary: As a concerned friend.

Sneaky Trousering: Never make a direct statement when you can imply, suggest, or clearly (but deniably) draw a parallel. That way you can forward your every position while still leaving open a backdoor through which to slither as the crosshairs of accountability draw tight. This is perhaps the most popular entry-level accountability avoidance system for those who wish to avoid responsibility but have a difficult time tackling some of the more advanced techniques. Best of all, it requires no special talents or training!! Sneaky Trousering can be practiced by the ill-educated and dim from all walks of life, merely by cultivating the habit of refusing to actually forward a concrete assertion on any topic whatsoever!! (A word of warning: your cannier friends and associates may catch on to your modus operandi once it becomes impossibly to pry from you a solid position regarding even such mind-shatteringly important questions as "would you like fries with that?")

Term Strafing: Caught with your hand in the cookie jar? Hey, what does "cookie jar" mean, anyway? In this post-modern world of subjective reality, how do I even know that what you mean by the word "hand" isn’t what I mean by the word "foot"? And don’t fall for the "Why don’t you define the terms, and we’ll adhere to your definition?" maneuver!! Your opponent will need to define the word "define" before you can agree to any such ground rules, launching an infinite loop that’ll keep you safely out of the inconvenient and unduly enthusiastic light of accountability till the heat-death of the universe!! (Whatever the heck that is!!)

Trade On Looks: If you can possibly help it, be physically attractive. But before you rush out to the plastic surgeon, remember that our conception of beauty is dictated by power. White blond people with blue eyes and delicate noses are considered beautiful because the Normans conquered the world, and their descendants are still holding the purse strings. If North Africa had conquered the world, you’d be seeing white people having their noses flattened, their skin darkened and getting afros.

So if your features are a bit too puggish for the runway, merely arrange an audience of potential dance partners, chose someone at random, and crush them like a bug. Your marks will unconciously gain a new appreciation for your heretofore unnoticed, attractively feral qualities.

Triangulation: "Twice is coincidence, three times is confirmation." Advertisers have long known that consumers (oops!! I meant human beings) are unlikely to admit their real motivations, and even when they attempt to be honest they’re usually too protective of their flattering self-images to admit their own icky, selfish motivations even to themselves. Ergo, the best augur of future behavior is to create a behavioral model.

Obviously the ideal scenario would be to lock your subject in a lab, expose her to a series of fabulously emotionally harrowing scenarios and nod sagely as you fill out a personality quiz from a reputable women’s magazine. But as our society (sadly) frowns on this sort of thing, you’re probably best advised to distinguish the positive space of your adversary’s root motivations by defining the negative space surrounding it. E.g., if she drinks to be social, regularly toasts in honor of our brave boys on the front lines, and has a nip every evening for strictly medicinal purposes, it’s a safe bet she’s lusher than the Amazon during a monsoon.

Caveat: while triangulating motivation can be a useful component in creating predictive models, mapping your adversaries motivation as an end in itself is a destructive form of holier-than-thou fantasy junk food. Get over it. You want the good stuff, your opponent wants the good stuff, and there isn’t enough good stuff to go around. Every moment you’re selling yourself your own impending beatification she’s sharpening her claws.

"Trying": Make a big show of expending great amounts of energy in directions which you have no illusion will lead to a solution, so that after the fact you can claim you "tried."

Topic Jumping: The current conversational thread doesn’t suit you? Merely take up a new thread!! Segueing is for sissies!! Remember: addressing the concerns of others is for people wasting time worrying about "what’s best for everyone concerned." You already know what’s best: to screw everyone concerned!!

Unmasking: Forwarding desires and assertions implicitly suggests that the speaker wishes to avoid accountability. This is usually motivated by (a) feminine hinting (women are generally socialized to not have needs. But human beings have needs, so it amounts to socialization to assert needs indirectly), or (b) sneaky trousering (see above). Either way, it puts you at a disadvantage. "Unmask" the issue by stating it explicitly:

"I get the impression that you’d like a cookie. Is that true?"

This forces The Adversary to either agree with the explicit assertion (and thus be revealed) or drop the issue. Typically girly-types (including friends of Dorothy; you know who you are) will milk the remaining sliver of ambiguity to forward their agenda while still implying that they have no agenda:

"I suppose I would accept a cookie, if you’re offering."

Harmless enough (though if used for evil, this technique ensures that your opponent meets her needs without expending any favor points, creating a massive favor point imbalance if you state your needs explicitly). When using this technique to counter actual malevolence, you may wish to taint the unmasking with a value judgement:

"You’re not asking for my last cookie, are you?"

This way you’ve presented them with the choice to openly reveal their desire (which you’ve already contextualized as bad), or give up entirely. Unfortunately cannier adversaries intuitively know the optimum counter-move to tainted unmasking, which is to maintain their explicit desire but recontextualize it as good:

"You make it sound greedy. I bought the box and you’ve had all but one."

Unsolicited Advice: If you’re an expert on a topic and a person solicits your mentorship or enrolls in your class, and they ask you a question, your answer is called "advice" Any other suggestion you make to another person for any reason is "unsolicited advice," the most common form of attempted social dominance.

Often this "advice" is lobbed at you by the boss, the same basic strategy as the "bad joke" (laughing at an obviously unfunny joke is an admission of subordinance). Examples include the parent who gives you "advice" as a desperate attempt to cling to the ever-eroding semblance of the authority which in fact vaporized the moment you realized how the car keys work. Also women from ‘50s films who ask men for "advice" on subjects the men have no possible way of knowing more about than the women: This broadcasts their (faux) inferiority, thus demonstrating that they are suitable breeding partners for men with inadequacy issues (i.e., all men).

Keep an eye out for friends who offer "advice" on subjects you both understand equally – this is the modern paraphrase of: "I am big monkey, you little monkey."

Well-Meaning Ostrich Technique: Make a habit of "burying your head in the sand" when it comes to the innumerable unscrupulous behaviors you indulge in to gain personal advantage, relegating their orchestration to your personal "evil henchman," the subconscious mind. This allows your conscious mind the flexible aegis of self-righteousness with that extra sheen of faux credibility. Remember to keep an eye out for other Well-Meaning Ostriches, who reveal themselves with phrases such as: "I’m a good person. At least, I try to be."

Witholding Greivances: Openly discussing issues will only lead to resolving them. Instead, why not allow them to fester, dragging them up from the whine cellar whenever you need to play the "you’re not perfect, either" card? (Technically, the tu quoque fallacy – but who wants to get all technical when you’re spending quality time with a loved one? Particularly one with no formal training in logic whom you wish to rip to shreds?) Where does your adversary get off accusing you of stealing cookies, when they’ve been breathing out of both nostrils since the day you met – in open defiance of your preference for one-nostril breathers? That’s bugged you for years, and now they have the audacity to complain about a few lousy cookies? What? Why didn’t you mention the nostril thing years ago? Out of kindness!! Clearly the burden of communicating your needs and issues is the responsibility of others. (Who are so insensitive they don’t even bother reading your mind!!)

Combo Moves

In the fierce martial combat which took place in ancient China (at least as we understand it through video games), the most devastating attack combines several techniques: the so-called combination or "combo" move. For instance, let’s say the Adversary is attempting an implied obligation, perhaps by reeling off a litany of reasons why she can’t go to the grocery store and buy a bag of cookies. (Implication: "...So you should volunteer to do it for me.") Oh, you could slide by with a simple Point-Of-Contention Myopia: "Gee, that’s awful. While I’m at the grocery store later today I’ll squirrel away a bag of your favorite kind in the dumpster out back. That way if you do manage to reach the store and your favorite brand is sold out, you can always grab the bag in the dumpster." But how much more deadly to combine several Hand Gambits into a single volley, as in this example:

Gee, that sounds awful. Whelp, I have to leave now to go hang out with [some other friend], whom I adore because she’s never manipulative like some people. Please let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help. [scurry away]

This marvel of interpersonal engineering conveys the following bits of information:

You are being punished for behaving in a way I don’t like. Don’t do it again. (Moffeting) I apparently don’t understand your implication. (Point-Of-Contention Myopia) You must now either make your request explicit or forgo that line of attack. (Unmasking) You can’t even accuse me of callousness, as I’m carefully feigning deep concern about your pathetic little problems. ("Trying")



Contrary to what you may have been told, adulthood is neither the onset of puberty, nor getting a watch at your Bah Mitzvah, nor even obtaining your driver’s license. Rather, adulthood is mastering the art of deceit – understanding that the world depicted in television and books and magazines is not the real world, but the fabrication calculated as most likely to extract your money. Adulthood is understanding that it’s "polite" to pretend to enjoy the company of your dribbling, crotchety grandmother who smells funny and is very probably a malevolent space alien. That you diet for health reasons. That you drink red wine to aid digestion, the check’s in the mail, he won’t cum in your mouth, and no, your best friend absolutely doesn’t look fat in that dress.

Of course there is poetry in the universe, to which I attribute the nice little recursive loop that a true adult is not allowed to admit that adulthood is a euphemism for deceit. Wheels within wheels... wheels within wheels inside gearboxes activated by levers on fulcrums housed in lame metaphors with candy sprinkles and a cherry on top. That’s adulthood, l’il buckeroo.

As if I needed further evidence, consider the term "child-like." When we call someone child-like, don’t we really mean they’re honest? That they say the first thing that pops into their mind without calculating personal advantage? That they’re sadly bereft of guile?


Anyway, consider the coming-of-age ritual of most cultures: aren’t they all really the invitation to "buy in" to the tribe’s Big Lie? Here for example is a typical conversation from a rite of passage in the exotic and little-known Komply T’Lee Fabr’Kat’d tribe of South Africa:

In the fullness of time it came to pass that a Young Warrior showed signs that he was ready to become a full member of the tribe. Or to put it bluntly, he sprouted pubic hair and began "waxing his spear" quite a bit. And so the Village Elder sent him on a Vision Quest, out into the Barren Wastes without food, or water, or even his loincloth. After seven days and nights the Young Warrior was visited by the Village Elder...

Village Elder: My son, you have been out in the desert for seven moons. Have you seen the Great Snake Spirit Who Swims Through the Sky?

Young Warrior: What? What the hell are you talking about? I haven’t eaten for days! If you won’t give me any food, at least give me my spear so I can feed myself, you utter asshole.

Without a word the Village Elder departed, leaving the Young Warrior in the desert for ten more days and nights. On the tenth day, the Elder returned.

Village Elder: My son, have you seen the Great Snake Spirit Who Swims Through the Sky?

Warrior: Oh, yeah. Yup. Yeah, I did. It was, like, totally excellent, man. Give Julia the rats.

Village Elder: (Placing hand on Young Warrior’s shoulder) Today, you are a man.

Rites of passage have the added benefit of triaging youngsters into their societal roles: Most "gentle" fairly painlessly into pseudofaith, burying the knowledge of their icky complicity in the communal lie deep in their subconscious. They become the general populace. Others pay lip service to the party line while secretly harboring the forbidden knowledge of how full of shit they are: the middle managers of the world. The rarest class are those who utterly refuse to accept, the outcasts. Interestingly, the longer and more vehemently a subject refuses to accept, the more dangerous they are when they finally "snap" into compliance, as those damaged most by the machine understand it best. The world’s greatest political leaders are often "recovered" idealistic revolutionaries.

* At least, not for people like you. Economists will in fact argue that the "pie" of wealth isn’t finite; The more people produce goods and services of value, the larger the "pie" is from which one might "take a slice." This theory is obviously limited to people who are productive in some way, which as a reader of self-help books is a category you statistically don’t fall into.

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After Kelly ©1995 by Kristen Brennan