Be Spotless

Be Spotless: the indispensable condition of perfection. Few live without some weak point, either physical or moral, which they pamper because they could easily cure it. The keenness of others often regrets to see a slight defect attaching itself to a whole assembly of elevated qualities, and yet a single cloud can hide the whole of the sun. There are likewise patches on our reputation which ill-will soon finds out and is continually noticing. The highest skill is to transform them into ornament. So Caesar hid his natural defects with the laurel. – Baltasar Gracian (The Art of Worldly Wisdom)

The common, cliched advice is to be open about your weaknesses, but this serves no purpose. If you reveal your weaknesses to others, they will be exploited. You not only unlock the possibility of others exploiting you with the information they have, but they will respect you less. Revealing your flaws signals a weakness of character. They will see that you cannot control your emotions, and this will diminish from your credibility. Napoleon was one of the most accomplished generals in history, and yet,  his chief diplomat Talleyrand successfully managed to make a fool of him a number of times. One in particular was when Talleyrand helped spread rumors that he was conspiring against Napoleon in secret.

He knew that Napoleon would reveal his biggest weakness: his short temper. He knew that Napoleon would not be able to contain his anger after he had heard news of a conspiracy against him. And he knew this because the great general had revealed this weakness to him in the past in multiple occasions. He gave away a valuable tell.

The cunning Talleyrands of the world do the same; they pay attention to what your weaknesses are, and then they patiently wait for the appropriate moment to expose them. Everyone is a victim of their own psychology. When you understand someone’s psychology, you can find the right triggers. The only defense is to conceal this information. This requires self-control and self-awareness. The cunning know how to extract useful information when you least expect it, when your guard is down, tired, or unfocused.

After Napoleon’s burst of outrage against Talleyrand, when he resorted to personal insults about the latter’s wife – hinting that she was having an affair, the politicians in the room took note of this character flaw. At the same time, Napoleon’s fit of anger was contrasted with Talleyrand’s coolness and nonchalance. This put Napoleon’s credibility at question, how could a leader of a nation, a person in such an important position, have such little control over their temperament? This was question, when it was pondered over in the minds of observers, dutifully accomplished the goal that Talleyrand had from the start.

 

The Law of Scarcity

A man said to a Dervish: “Why do I not see you more often?” The Dervish replied, “Because the words ‘Why have you not been to see me?’ are sweeter to my ear than the words ‘Why have you come again?”’

– Mulla jami, quoted in ldries Shah’s Caravan of Dreams

The Assyrians commanded upper Asia for hundreds of years. The people of Medea (north western Iran) rebelled against them and broke free. The Medes had to form a government and wanted to avoid dictatorships. They feared making one man too powerful. But without a leader, Medea was in chaos. There was constant fighting between the villages. But one man, Deioces, who lived in one of these villages was building a reputation as a fair arbiter of disputes. As the Medeans relied on him more, he became more powerful.

Deioces was overwhelmed with how much work he had to do. He stopped to tend to personal affairs. But his absence brought about chaos once again, and the Medeans quickly learned about the value of the arbitrator. They asked him for help and he agreed, but under strict conditions. He was not to be approached directly, but through messengers, and he had a palace built for him in the capital city. Everyone worked according to his schedule.

The Medes gave him everything he asked for, and he ruled for 53 years. His reign brought peace and prosperity. His grandson Cyrus inherited this power and developed Medea into the Persian empire. This is a story that Greene cites in The 48 Laws of Power; the lesson from this is that Deioces became powerful only after his absence was felt. Before he went to tend to his personal matters, the Medeans took him for granted. The law of scarcity in economics also makes this point. When something is withdrawn from the market, it increases in value. In seventeenth-century Holland, the elites wanted to make the tulip the most valuable flower, and they wanted it to be a status symbol. They pulled the tulips from the market and this sparked tulipomania – the flower multiplied in value.

Use absence to create respect and esteem. If presence diminishes fame, absence augments it. A man who when absent is regarded as a lion becomes when present something common and ridiculous. Talents lose their luster if we become too familiar with them, for the outer shell of the mind is more readily seen than its rich inner kernel. Even the outstanding genius makes use of retirement so that men may honor him and so that the yearning aroused by his absence may cause him to be esteemed.

– Baltasar Gracián

Abundance breeds complacency. Marketers never tell their potential customers that the reduced prices will remain low, or that they will never run out of stock – it’s always ‘only 1 left!’ and ‘limited time offer’. It is human nature to take things for granted. When things are going right, when supplies are plentiful, and when time is abundant, you will not feel compelled to change your behavior.

People become addicted to gambling because of the existence of intermittent rewards. A reward can motivate behavior, but a normal reward is not as powerful as an intermittent reward.

The gap between getting the reward and waiting for another one is the element of scarcity that gets people hooked. The same is true for social media. An example is notifications. Users get notified of ‘likes’ and ‘replies’ after variable time intervals. When 10 people like your post, you won’t get notified of about this as it happens, but you will get delayed notifications of the likes over the course of the day.

In his book Influence, Cialdini tells us the story of a Native American jewelry store catering to travellers to Arizona. The owner of the store noticed that her turquoise jewelry was not moving, so she moved them to a different location. But the change of location didn’t help. One day, she was leaving on a business trip and left a note that instructed her employee to halve the price of the jewelry display. Her employee misread the “1/2”, she thought it said “2” – so she doubled the price instead. When the owner returned, all the turquoise jewelry had been sold.

The perception of customers changed. When they saw that the jewelry was expensive, they figured that it must be valuable.

Going back to the example of scarcity. When an object is rare, it becomes expensive – as the laws of supply and demand dictate. And when something is expensive, it is valuable in the eyes of the people.

The implication isn’t that anyone can be absent and make their absence felt. It is only after that person has created value in a tangible way, that he is missed when he is not present. But after your value has been established, even if taken for granted, your absence will interrupt a pattern of automatic behavior that depended on you.

The Medeans automatically went to Deioses for help, but when he wasn’t there to settle their disputes, this pattern of behavior was interrupted. The trigger in this scenario is the dispute, without which, people would have forgotten about Deioses.

In the jewelry store, the trigger was the increase in price. Usually, things that are more expensive are higher in quality. This correlation has developed into a mental heuristic or rule of thumb. People will assume that anything that is expensive must also be high in quality. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true, but such a simplification of reality can save a lot of time and energy.

The lesson is that we are victims of our previous patterns of behavior. We look for practical shortcuts, even if imperfect. We will trust the rule that expensive is good, and we will give Deoices whatever he wants if he resolves our disputes. It is easier to rely on Deoices than to find a more sustainable long-term solution. This isn’t always bad. There are cases when using shortcuts is wiser than over-deliberating. But becoming aware of how scarcity appeals to the lazy part of our psyche is important to avoid being deceived.

 

Reciprocity (Influence)

Everything turns gray when I don’t have at least one mark on the horizon. Life then seems empty and depressing. I cannot understand honest men. They lead desperate lives, full of boredom. – Count Victor Lustig

The manipulator will prey on countless victims, and does not restrict themselves to only one type of victim. As with an addiction of any kind, after a certain threshold has been crossed, there will be a yearning for a higher threshold. Lustig not only tricked honest men and easy targets, he went for the biggest shark of all, Al Capone, and managed to squeeze money out of him. Frank Abagnale started with small deceptions, and then gradually his ploys increased in complexity and risk.

In one story, described in the 48 Laws of Power, Lustig tells Capone that he can double his money, $50,000, in a couple of months. Capone agrees, sensing there was something different about this man, he was curious to see where this was going. A couple of months later, Lustig appears before Capone with $50,000. Lustig did nothing in those two months. He returned the original sum to the gangster.

Capone expected to either double his money or get nothing at all – in the latter case, he was prepared to kill him. But he was shocked to see the tall man return his money to him. Capone paid him $5,000 out of mere charity. Lustig used selective honesty to disarm Capone, who was surrounded by thieves and liars. Capone couldn’t believe that for once, someone didn’t try to scam him. Lustig was subsequently rewarded for his troubles of doing nothing.

It is easy to kill a bird on the wing that flies straight: not so one that twists. Nor always act on second thoughts: they can discern the plan the second time. The enemy is on the watch, great skill is required to circumvent him. The gamester never plays the card the opponent expects, still less that which he wants. – Baltasar Gracian

The deceiver never does what you expect him to do, that is his strength.

People become cynical about the world because they witness the same disappointing patterns of behavior being repeated. The deceiver uses this information to his advantage, by approaching people of power with something new. You can call it ‘refreshing honesty’, but really, it’s merely change people are after. Repetition is boring. People who behave in ways that are predictable never win favor with anyone. Those that stand out do.

In marketing, the surest way to success is by standing out, hence the premise of Godin’s Purple Cow. You will never deceive anyone if you act and behave like the herd. It is when you take some initiative, when you dare to be different, that others will take note of you.

When you do something that is different, you distract the victim.

The essence of deception is distraction. Distracting the people you want to deceive gives you the time and space to do something they won’t notice. An act of kindness, generosity, or honesty is often the most powerful form of distraction because it disarms other people’s suspicions. It turns them into children, eagerly lapping up any kind of affectionate gesture.

One of the laws in Influence: The Science of Persuasion, is reciprocity. It doesn’t pay to be greedy. The clever salesman knows how to concede before asking for something in return. You don’t have to use this tactic to understand the power that it holds over you. You have definitely been approached by many people who simply give you something for free, without expecting anything in return.

This is how Facebook deceives people. It offers them something new, and valuable for ‘free’. The users become addicted to the platform, and more than pay for the free utility with their time and energy. Lustig paid Capone first, he gave him an honest gesture, he returned to him the full sum of money. In return, Capone gave him $5,000 which is what Lustig wanted all along.

The Need to Deceive

It is not possible to understand good without knowing evil.  It is the presumption of contrasts: without the antithesis of a thing, that thing could not exist. Light cannot exist without darkness. Positive can’t exist without negative. Strong can’t exist without weak. Masculine can’t exist without feminine.

This is because things have to be measured relative to something else, if you are to classify them. Something is only dark if there is something lighter that you can contrast it to. It is not possible to recognize honesty without recognizing deception.

But there is something fundamentally nebulous and nefarious about deception. People avoid talking about it and understanding it.

“That which you most need will be found where you least want to look” – C.G Jung

But ff you ignore the existence of deception and presume that all people are basically good, then you are an easy target for deception. If you aren’t familiar with the ways in which they can deceive you, then there are more ways to deceive you. If you are incapable of recognizing malicious intent, they will be highly capable of recognizing you as a perfect victim.

If you start with the opposite premise, that people are not basically good, the world looks very different. But the paradox is that by seeing the world in this way, you are doing more good than bad. It is the presumption of innocence that destroys people and society.

Psychologist Carl Jung thought of archetypes as sub-personalities that have their own motivations, if you suppress them or refuse to acknowledge their existence, they will find a way to manifest themselves in your life against your conscious will – and could result in neurosis and psychosis. If you project weakness, cowardice, and evil onto the world and deny these sub-personalities in yourself, then you become more likely to become a victim of your unconscious.

the joker archetype lives within you. A part of you enjoys deception. After-all, deception is a lot more fun than honesty. A case in point is games. Every single game that is worth playing contains elements of deception. Whether it is sports or chess or poker or board games – without deception, the game becomes fundamentally boring.

This is what interests me most about deception. People’s lives are routinely ruined by it, and yet the absence of it creates a boring existence. Deception is the root of most of the world’s evils, and yet one has no choice but to embrace it.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the Imagination under Control

Keep the Imagination under Control; sometimes correcting, sometimes assisting it. For it is all-important for our happiness, and even sets the reason right. It can tyrannise, and is not content with looking on, but influences and even often dominates life, causing it to be happy or burdensome according to the folly to which it leads. For it makes us either contented or discontented with ourselves. Before some it continually holds up the penalties of action, and becomes the mortifying lash of these fools. To others it promises happiness and adventure with blissful delusion. It can do all this unless the most prudent self-control keeps it in subjection.

– The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Baltasar Gracian

Most people thriving within a functional economic system design a vision of an ideal reality they want for themselves. They sacrifice things of value to actualize this vision, and base their self-worth on how successful they are in doing so. Of course, it is useful to engage in this forward thinking process –  without clear goals, and the ability to scrutinize your behavior, you would never make any progress. But there is a danger to succumbing to the arbitrariness of your perception.

Your imagination of what an ideal future should look like is based on a distorted understanding of reality. Your perception of time, your abilities, the actions of others, are all inaccurate. And when you wholly identify with the vision you are seeking, you lose the capacity to deal with reality as it is, becoming a victim of your sea of self-generated illusions. Before trying to rule new kingdoms, you must learn to rule your own. Keep yourself grounded, by controlling how you react to your illusions of reality.

The Art of Deception

Vary the Mode of Action; not always the same way, so as to distract attention, especially if there be a rival. Not always from first impulse; they will soon recognise the uniformity, and by anticipating, frustrate your designs. It is easy to kill a bird on the wing that flies straight: not so one that twists. Nor always act on second thoughts: they can discern the plan the second time. The enemy is on the watch, great skill is required to circumvent him. The gamester never plays the card the opponent expects, still less that which he wants. – Baltasar Gracian

To be effective at deceiving, you must have a different trick every time. The boy who cried wolf wasn’t believed the last time he cried ‘wolf’ because the rest of the villagers were used to this exact lie. Had he tried a different tactic each time, he would have avoided disaster.

The deceiver must always be inventive. In poker, there are many ways to deceive your opponent. Bluffing is the obvious example. Players who bluff often in the same kinds of situations will be easily defended against by the astute opponent. So the bluffer must have other tricks up his sleeve. Sometimes, he should try to disguise a real hand with a bluff-like raise, to make it seem like he’s following the same pattern of behavior. Other times, he can slow play his hands, and in that way, his opponents can never predict if he has a real hand or not.

But notice that the more tricks you have the more unpredictable you are. In any game, if you can keep your opponent guessing about your next move, you will have the advantage.

In chess, there is the story of Bobby Fischer’s famous series against the Russian Boris Spassky in 1972. Fischer lost the first game, but when it was time to play the second game on a different day, he arrived very late to the event – and forfeited the game. Spassky was happy to be two games up, but he was confused about Fischer’s behavior. He wondered why his opponent would concede such an important match in this way.

Spassky was a player that won by making moves that rattled his opponents. Fischer used his own tricks against him, for the rest of the game, Spassky couldn’t get a read on Fischer – the American had the psychological edge. After losing the series, Spassky accused Fischer of cheating, but none of his claims were verified. Spassky retired from chess even though he was still young.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter – Walter White

Having more tricks not only allows you to have more options to fool your opponent, but it also makes it easier to read your opponent, and recognize when he’s deceiving you. Fischer recognized Spassky’s strategy and implemented it himself.

When the Greeks fought against the Persians in 479-480 B.C in The Battle of Thermopylae, they managed to make a stand against all odds. The Greeks had a much smaller army. Their hoplites were infantry who were physically tough and brave, and they were defending their country from invasion, so they fought to the death. They managed to heroically prevent the Persian victory.

The underdogs won the battle, but not the war. The Persians had a different trick up their sleeve, a very powerful one – gold. While the Persians didn’t have their local hoplites, they bribed Greek mercenaries to fight for them, and it worked. The Persians eventually won the war. They succeeded in creating infighting within Greece. Whenever one Greek city state was doing well, they funded its rivals that would then go to war against the successful city state. And as the dynamics of power shifted, so did the Persian political strategy. The Greeks naturally had conflict with one another, and the Persians used diplomacy as a weapon to exploit this.

This strategy has been used many times in the past, and continues to be used in modern times.Powerful nations that unexpectedly face stiff opposition from an inferior enemy resort to other methods to attain victory. When they realize that fighting honestly is too costly to their society, they create rifts between the groups they are fighting, and this way avoid bloodshed, but achieve their political goals.

The Persians defeated other enemies by inviting them to a feast, offering peace. And when their enemies obliged, the Persians got them drunk and slaughtered them. Nations that rise to power have more tricks than their opposition, they are less predictable. It is why they rose to power in the first place, and it is how they are able to maintain it.

In the first world war, the Germans were shelling the French for days. Then suddenly, they stopped. The French knew all about this. Every time the Germans had stopped before, they had stopped the shelling and mobilized their troops to invade the French territory. The French soldiers, who were in terrible condition, rose out of their dugouts and were exposed in the open field, waiting to counter the German invasion. But the Germans never came. It was a trick. The German planes took note of the French positions, where machine guns were hidden, and other soldiers took cover. The shelling continued for the rest of the day and was more effective than before.

Man’s Life is Warfare Against the Malice of Men

I found this very interesting aphorism by Baltasar Gracian in The Book of Wisdom. 

Act sometimes on second thoughts, sometimes on first impulse.

Man’s life is warfare against the malice of men. Sagacity fights with strategic changes of intention: it never does what it threatens, it aims only at escaping notice. It aims in the air with dexterity and strikes home in an unexpected direction, always seeking to conceal its game.  It lets a purpose appear in order to attract its opponent’s attention, but then turns round and conquers by the unexpected. But a penetrating intelligence anticipates this by watchfulness and lurks in ambush. It always understands the opposite of what its opponent wishes it to understand and recognizes every feint of guile. It lets the first impulse pass by and waits for the second, or even the third.

Gracian is describing a war between the wise hero (Apollo) and the intelligent villain (the python). Sagacity is the intelligence that represents the wise, the good, justice, and truth. Notice how Apollo, like the serpent, is agile. He changes his tactics when required. He is flexible and cunning – the way he chooses to deceive is through truth. But the clever python anticipates and observes these patterns of behavior, not falling for Apollo’s tricks – the python is a master at deception.

Sagacity now rises to higher flights on seeing its artifice foreseen and tries to deceive by truth itself, changes its game in order to change its deceit, and cheats by not cheating, and founds deception on the greatest candour. But the opposing intelligence is on guard with increased watchfulness, and discovers the darkness concealed by the light and deciphers every move, the more subtle because more simple. In this way the guile of the python combats the far darting rays of Apollo.

This can be seen as a battle between good and bad. It may be seen as a representation of the internal battle that takes place within every individual. Everyone has competing sub-personalities, each trying to assert its dominance over the other. The deceptive, serpent side of you wants to guard its victories, it doesn’t allow the reformer in you to reign freely.

“Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be; and if it were not so, existence would come to an end.” – Man and his Symbols, Carl Jung 

This battle can also be the one taking place between your conscious self and your ‘shadow’ – as described by Jung.

“In the realm of consciousness we are our own masters; we seem to be the “factors” themselves. But if we step through the door of the shadow we discover with terror that we are the objects of unseen factors.” – The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung

Or it can be viewed as resistance: the ruthless, formless, cunning enemy of creativity.

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet… To yield to resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be… As powerful as is our soul’s call to realization, so potent are the forces of resistance arrayed against it. – The War of Art, Steven Pressfield 

In the end, Gracian tells us how the python survives – by anticipating the moves of Apollo, it is always one step ahead. In the eternal battle between good and evil – the good is always the underdog.