Over at the blog Bakadesuyo, Eric Barker interviews Dr. Robert Cialdini about the six ways to influence people. What’s this have to do with religion? Well, here Dr. Cialdini describes the difference between “true” and “false” influence; what he refers to as a detective of influence and a smuggler of influence:
My sense of the proper way to determine what is ethical is to make a distinction between a smuggler of influence and a detective of influence. The smuggler knows these six principles and then counterfeits them, brings them into situations where they don’t naturally reside.
The opposite is the sleuth’s approach, the detective’s approach to influence. The detective also knows what the principles are, and goes into every situation aware of them looking for the natural presence of one or another of these principles. If we truly do have authority in the topic, if we locate it as inherently present, we can simply bring it to the surface and make people aware of it. If we truly do have social proof, we can bring that to the surface. If we truly do recognize that people have made a commitment, or have prioritized a particular value that is consistent with what we can provide, we can show them that congruency and let the rule for commitment and consistency do the work for us.
That’s the difference, the difference between manufacturing, fabricating, counterfeiting the presence of one or another of these principles in a situation, versus identifying and then uncovering it for our audience members so that it simply becomes more visible to them as something that’s truly present in the situation.
I think it’s obvious which version religion implements. The version that seems like a microcosm of the dark arts.
Of course, there’s more to the article. Again, this feeds back to my recent bender on how groupthink is the main causative agent for rampant religiosity:
People will be likely to say yes to your request if you give them evidence that people just like them have been saying yes to it, too. For example, I saw a recent study that came from Beijing. If a manager put on the menu of the restaurant, “These are our most popular dishes,” each one immediately became 13 to 20 percent more popular. What I like about that is, not only did a very small change produce a big effect, it was entirely costless and entirely ethical. It was only the case that these popular items were identified as popular items. That was enough to cause people to want to go along with what they saw as the wisdom of the crowd.
Then there is the scarcity aspect of religion, especially the great monotheisms of the West:
People will try to seize those opportunities that you offer them that are rare or scarce, dwindling in availability. That’s an important reminder that we need to differentiate what we have to offer that is different from our rivals or competitors. That way we can tell people honestly, “You can only get this aspect, or this feature, or this combination of advantages by moving in the direction that I’m recommending.”
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all operate from a scarcity mentality. Salvation is scarce, sacred land is scarce, even god himself is scarce since there is only one god available to worship. According to Biblical scholar Hector Avalos, this scarcity mentality is one of the main causes for religious violence. The worst part of it is that this scarcity is all invented; it’s a smuggling of influence.