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Who possesses these skills and how do they operate ?


The Art of Non-Decision-Making (Part #4)


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It is probably true that most people possess these skills in some measure. Parents make extensive use of them in persuading children to act, or not act, in particular ways. Employers, or superiors, may use them to persuade, or dissuade, employees regarding issues on which they differ. Teachers may do the same with students. Sales personnel make use of these skills in dealing with customers or in handling product complaints - as do confidence tricksters. Generals pride themselves on being able to use them to suitably motivate soldiers or demoralize the enemy - "psychological operations" are now a recognized military specialty. Physicians also use such skills in providing, or withholding, information to patients or their relatives. Couples use them in navigating their relationships.

Use of these skills may be portrayed as innocent or fair practice. In the case of couples : 'all is fair in love and war'. The much cited Harvard study on Getting to Yes is an example of what is now considered fair practice. Whether their use in the sale of Manhattan by Indians for a few 'beads and trinkets' can be considered fair practice is another matter. This however proved to be a model for interaction of colonialists with most indigenous peoples. Would it be ironic if aliens were to employ similar skills in their dealings with humanity - even if it were 'in our own interest' ?

The concern here is not so much with such instances but rather with the manner in which these skills are deployed to inhibit effective response to conditions of society and the planet. Who plays these games ? Where do they acquire their skills ?

For a conspiracy theorist, the response is no doubt straightforward. For those with strong political orientations, this would also be true. For someone with fundamentalist religious beliefs, the answer would also be obvious. It is not clear that these answers would be helpful. Moreover, the skills are currently explicitly recognized as being the art of the 'spin-doctor'.

Who employs spin-doctors ? Most obviously it is the highest government office in a country -- as part of ensuring fruitful relations with the media and an appropriate public image - possibly assisted by state-controlled media. In this sense it is merely an extension of public relations and as such would be common to major corporations and to military operations. Ironically the first head of UN Public Information after its creation was the person formally responsible for British war propaganda. Upbeat reporting has become a requirement of international initiatives.

The question is then who frames issues and initiatives for the international community. The question goes beyond particular issues, which may indeed be successful promoted by certain lobbies. Of more interest here, is how the set of issues is managed as a whole. Who ensures that certain issues and approaches are given priority and that others are neglected ? Clearly a number of bodies aspire to this role and many lobbying organizations seek to intervene in ways they consider most strategically appropriate.

Consider some examples in no particular order :

  1. Club of Rome : This much-publicized body has long aspired to an agenda-setting role. It prides itself on the influence it has on major international institutions through its members, who may well have a prominent role in such groupings.

  2. Interaction Council : This body groups many former heads of state and seeks to clarify and influence issue framing through the reports it produces.

  3. Semi-formal international elite groups : These tend to take the form of periodic gatherings of politicians, opinion makers, and academics. They may occasionally coopt outsiders. They include such bodies as : the Bilderberg Group, the Pinay Circle (Le Cercle ), and others.

  4. Catholic Church : The Vatican has a well-developed ability to influence governments directly, though its diplomatic status and the official church-state relationship in many countries (including Germany and many Latin countries). Through membership of key decision-making figures in some of its recognized semi-autonomous institutions (such as Opus Dei, or L'Oeuvre), it may seek to influence and inhibit decision-making. Its role in ensuring non-decision making on population issues is well-recognized.

  5. Secret societies : There are numerous national and international secret societies, of which the various branches of freemasonry provide the most cited examples. They may be associated with particular religions (as in the case of Opus Dei, or Muslim brotherhoods), with political or ideological beliefs (as in the case of some extremist groups), or with esoteric beliefs. Some groups may be not so much secret as secretive in their attempts to infiltrate and influence decision-making environments. Through their contacts they may also aspire to influence and inhibit decision-making .

  6. Organized crime : The current economic importance and opportunities of organized crime, notably with respect to the drug trade, have resulted in many documented attempts to infiltrate decision-making environments in order to inhibit decisions which would modify the status quo. Some of these initiatives have been undertaken with the complicity of intelligence agencies.

  7. Fundamentalist religious groups : The major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc) all have their active fundamentalist wings with strong agendas. These may involve exerting considerable influence on decision-making, as is currently evident in both the USA and the former Soviet Union.

  8. Intelligence agencies : The range of initiatives and ambitions of national secret services has been widely documented. Their efforts to influence individuals, or to politically destabilize countries through covert operations and "dirty-tricks", are well-recognized. The partial displacement of their activities from national security into economic espionage and presumably "economic destabilization" introduces a new dimension.

  9. World Economic Forum : The annual Davos Forum of this group brings together CEOs of multinational corporations and leading politicians with selected others, including academics and representatives of intergovernmental bodies. In terms of influence and agenda-setting in the economic world, this event is close to rivaling the United Nations. It is a focus for the ambitions of multinationals to exert a greater strategic role in managing world society.

  10. State of the World Forum : This annual event, currently in San Francisco, endeavours to bring together elites from around the world to review the conditions of the planet and clarify future agendas.

All these groups lay claim to assemble together, or to be able to influence, 'the leading opinion makers' and 'the leading thinkers' in the light of a special understanding that they may believe they uniquely possess. With the possible exception of the last, they are all essentially conservative and interested in maintaining the status quo - their current way of doing business and managing arrays of issues. Few are assailed by doubts concerning the validity of their perspective. Some, such as the religious and corporation-oriented groups, are especially interested in expanding their role and style of action and curtailing the actions of those out of sympathy with them.


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