Influence and control

[From Bill Powers (920512.0930)]

Rick Marken (920511) --

Control systems that think that there is just one "right"
reference value for a perceptual variable are the control systems that
really need to learn PCT!!!

Dag Forssell (920511.2245) --

Greg Williams (920508) recently commented on the tendency of PCT >debaters

to bury their heads in the sand, when it comes to "social >control."

Influence is a form of social control, for sure. Why be afraid of it?
Influence is for real, and it is important.

Influence is not control unless you (a) insist that your influence have a
particular effect on the other person, and if it does not, (b) apply
whatever means is necessary to make sure it does have that effect.

Influences should be thought of as disturbances. That is, you can perform
an act that by itself would alter the other's perceptual world if it were
the only influence. But you realize that you can't determine the OUTCOME of
that act in the other person. We tend to use the same word, influence, for
the act we perform and for its effect, just as we do with the word
"disturbance." Setting an example is an influence in that it presents a
situation to another's perceptions. But it doesn't necessarily HAVE an
influence, in the sense of altering the other's way of behaving. Even if it
does alter the other's behavior, that change may be simply a way of
counteracting the influence, and will disappear as soon as the influencing
act ceases. Of course what we hope for is a more or less permanent change
in the other's way of doing things -- but that result comes from the other
person's way of dealing with and understanding the influence. We can't make
it happen from outside that person. So it's important in using the term
influence to distinguish between the act we perform that's intended to have
an effect, and the effect that actually results, or doesn't result.

Parents influence their children by (for example) advice, commands,
example, demonstration, and story-telling. Children generally being eager
for new experiences and not being very sure of themselves in situations
beyond their capacities, they normally latch on to these influences and
adopt from them whatever fits their growing organizations.

If, however, they don't adopt some of them, or reject some of them, the
parents may then resort to punishments and withholdings as a way of trying
to make their influences have the desired (by the parent) effect. Then we
get all the ills that result from concerted attempts to control other
control systems. The children learn, in protecting themselves from direct
external control, how to satisfy the parents' reference levels and thus
remove the pressure. They learn to lie, dissemble, conceal, misrepresent,
pretend, and otherwise give the impression of compliance while internally
isolating themselves from their parents. They become, in short, alienated
from the adult world.

Of course a lot of the children simply buy into the system and save
themselves all that trouble.

Social influence is not social control. But it's hard to learn how to
influence (act on) other people while accepting completely that they will
not be influenced (be changed) if that is their choice. When we exert
influences on other people, hoping for some change in their behavior that's
to our own liking, it often happens that there's no visible result. What do
we do then? If we just try harder, we're falling into controlling another
person, or trying to. If we give up, we haven't achieved what we want. It's
hard to find the middle ground, where we give it a good try but on
detecting serious resistance give a higher priority to respecting the
other's will as much as our own.

I'm not saying that one should never try to control other people. If a kid
runs out in the middle of the street, we whisk the kid to safety by
whatever physical means is required. If we're being mugged, we do whatever
is required to protect ourselves or those we care about. Not everyone goes
around respecting other people's wills. We can't just pretend that everyone
in the world subscribes to the same system concepts. Well, we can, but it's
not always wise.

What really counts is our understanding of human nature. If we understand
that all people are basically as autonomous as we are, then we wouldn't
want to encourage a system in which autonomy is ignored or overridden by
force as a matter of policy (the present most popular system). With that
understanding, we try to deal with others in a way that encourages them to
understand things the same way, and to realize that if they want to
continue being autonomous, they have to support a system in which autonomy
is generally accepted as a fact. Once you see that basic concept, you
understand the problem we're trying to solve in our social interactions.
There's always a conflict between what we want other people to do and what
they want to do. If we begin by respecting the will of others as much as
our own, there are certain kinds of resolutions of the conflict we will
avoid using as long as possible. We will spend more time trying to find
clever ways to satisfy all of us, and less time plotting how to get our own
way regardless. It seems to me that that would be a pretty nice world to
live in. I'd like to persuade others that it's worth a try. But of course I
can't control them into doing so.

Best to all,

Bill P.