22 July, 2012

Layers of Deception

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
The Wizard of Oz, 1939, MGM

Maintaining a secret requires deception.

I hope that proposition is self-obvious.

The question of why secrets are thought to be required is a little harder to get to. The truth about this, if there is any, is part of the secret!

One aspect of the problem involves leading someone to believe that if they do certain things (that most beings are fond of doing) that they will be kicked out of the game. There are not many punishments in the universe worse than being banned from a game. The same entity that convinced us of this terrible consequence for “sinning” then sets things up to encourage us to do just that. Now we must keep these actions secret, or risk being banished, or so we think. Sin, then, is a social control mechanism that can be enforced in deceptive ways that in turn lead to the desire to be deceptive.

Underlying this control mechanism lie misunderstandings that ultimately seem to be based on self-deception. Thus, the possibility arises that a being can keep something secret from itself. This is a real trick! However, therapies based on self-inspection would not work at all if self-deception were not a key factor in the development of a sense of loss of self-control.

But let's not go there yet. Let us return to the theme of attention, as introduced by the first quote.


“The magician and the politician have much in common: they both have to draw our attention away from what they are really doing.”
Ben Okri (Nigerian poet and novelist.)

Ability to direct attention is key to controlling an interaction with another individual.

If the flow is one of help, the effort will be in the direction of making a being aware of deceptions that exist around him or in his own universe. This should lead to the resolution of false problems and the confrontation of real problems.

If the flow is one of harm (or manipulation) then the effort will be in the direction of making a being less aware of external deceptions by inventing false problems and focusing his attention on them.

Ben Okri assumes that the art of politics, like the art of magic, is fundamentally based on deception.

But that is not necessarily the case. There could be a considerable range in skill among politicians and among magicians. At the top of the scale might exist real power and real magic. At the bottom of the scale would be false power and false magic. The lower a politician, or magician, is on this scale, the more he must resort to deception. Thus Mr. Okri's generality becomes a more useful gradient of ability versus deception.

To reiterate: Real ability requires little or no deception. Deception becomes a real problem in the absence of real ability. Thus, the need to be deceptive can be reduced by increasing real ability. Of course, deception is also an ability, and can be practiced and “perfected” by those who see no hope in ever gaining any real ability to actually do their assigned task.

Artful deception involves the ability to direct attention away from the truth (or what really is) towards a falsehood (or what really isn't). This is not an article on how to be deceptive, so I will not elaborate on this point.

The point is:

1) The ability to misdirect attention is not the problem.
2) The inability to do what one is supposed to be doing is the problem.

Failures in ability, and the deceptions that result from them can exist at any level of human activity. This often leads to the experience of “solving a problem” just to find oneself immersed in a bigger problem. In a universe where inability has become the rule rather than the exception, the layers of deception can pile up very thickly indeed.

The answer to problems of deception, then, is ability.