The Power of Neg

[Ed. note – “Things Fall Apart (Part 3) – Politics” is the longest note I’ve written, and it could have been a lot longer because there’s just so much to say. In this and a few more Briefs I’ll share a few ideas that were left on the cutting room floor.

There’s an old chess saying about gambits, where your opponent offers a sacrifice of a piece in order to secure some lasting positional advantage in the game going forward. The word itself comes from the Italian gamba, meaning leg, but is apparently also a term used in wrestling meaning to “offer a leg” as a sacrifice in order to secure an advantage.

The easiest way to defeat a gambit is to refuse it.

Your opponent is not an idiot! He’s not offering up a pawn out of the goodness of his heart. He’s enticing you down a path of game play of HIS choosing. He has a strategic plan for winning if you go down this path. Do you?

The core game theory concept in TFA3 is the power of refusing to play the game.

Declining the game is typically THE most powerful metagame move available to you.

But refusing to take the bait is only Step One. Aggressively refusing to take the bait is Step Two.

It’s the power of neg.

Now unless you have high school kids, you might not know what “negging” is. Certainly I didn’t. Negging is negative attention. In the YA social scene, it’s small insults to pique your target’s attention and interest through aggressive negativity, like “You’d be pretty if you cut your hair.”

Negging isn’t just a high school thing. Once you start looking for it, you will see it everywhere humans try to exercise their will on other sentient creatures.

Here’s an example from the ET note “Clever Hans“.

This is Bali, a three-year old mustang mare we adopted in 2016 from the Bureau of Land Management, trained by daughter #3, Haven.

Mustangs have to be “broken” to accept a human’s touch and control, a word that conjures up images of bucking broncos and the forcible crushing of an animal’s spirit. But that’s not how it works.

The way it works is negging. The way it works is sitting in the paddock and turning your back on the mustang, ignoring her entirely. The horse gets curious and comes to check out this strange creature sitting on her turf, albeit keeping a healthy distance. The trainer continues to studiously ignore the horse. This goes on for quite a while, maybe a couple of days, but each time the mustang approaches she gets a little closer, until ultimately she makes the first physical contact and allows the human to start controlling her.

It’s really pretty amazing. This highly intelligent animal is so desperate to have a social interaction, so frustrated at being ignored, that it willingly surrenders its autonomy.

Sound familiar, Mr. @RandoBlueStateLawyer with 45 followers who spends the better part of every afternoon thinking about his next brilliant riposte to the latest Republican Hot Take on voter registration?

Sound familiar, Mr. @RandoRedStateRetiree who spends every evening working himself into a MAGA apoplexy that can only be sated by retweeting his 19,001st Hannity blurb?

Sound familiar, Neb Tnuh?

The point of TFA3 is that the power of negging is not reserved for statist organizations and corporate oligarchies to use against us. WE can use the power of negging against THEM.

Elections are not a single-play game. If WE stop voting for ridiculous candidates, even if “our” party loses that particular election, THEY will bend over time and offer us less ridiculous candidates. It may take multiple elections before they believe our resolve, fewer if we neg their ridiculousness through persistent write-in campaigns

Earlier this year, Republican Roy Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones in a high profile race for U.S. Senate in Alabama, a state that polls something like 70% Republican. The margin of victory for Doug Jones was 21,000 votes. There were 23,000 write-in votes for a Roy Moore alternative. Will Alabama Republicans nominate as absurd and ridiculous a candidate as Roy Moore next time? We’ll see, but I doubt it. They’ve been negged.

This is how change happens. Not from above but from below.

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  1. Unsurprisingly, all 23k write-in votes were for Nick Saban. Imagine if he wanted the job…

    Happy Thanksgiving Ben!

  2. Refusing the game is easiest, but it can be very satisfying to take what’s offered as a first step along a narrative of your choice and not the adversary’s. Have your cake and eat it too… When they give you enough rope to hang yourself with, hang them with it instead…
    But that’s coyote behavior (if not thought through far enough) and can get you squashed in the long run. Use with care.

  3. Ben, do you think this simple and very effective two actor negging model works the same way in multi actor set up? What if daughter #2 is competing with Hope for the mustang’s affection? If #2 does not know how to play it wouldn’t she spoil Hope’s gig? What if she knows how to play it but driven by intense sibling jealousy she wants to outsmart her and changes the game. Should Hope adjust her game? What if mustang is partnered with google and knows exactly what is on their minds and stokes the sibling rivalry? What if there are two mustangs?

  4. Avatar for ianfvr ianfvr says:

    Love this note - but isn’t politics so corrupt and dysfunctional, you can tell the wise individuals steer clear of it and influence it from the exterior? Keep it simple and work in the “private sector”? Also, are the good people’s records pristine enough get into politics? You go into politics aren’t you volunteering for brutal, combing scrutiny?

  5. Avatar for Bycote Bycote says:

    pushes glasses up the bridge of his nose

    As much as I hate being THAT GUY… The chess saying is “the best way to refute a Gambit is to ACCEPT it.”

    I’m also the guy whose party trick is kicking your ass at chess while wearing a blindfold (me, not you of course). I love being that guy! :wink:

    Anyway, my comment really takes nothing away from what Ben is saying here. This old saying isn’t gospel in chess and since Emmanuel Lasker every good chess player has recognized the value of what we call “psychology” in choosing your moves. Find two candidate moves that look nearly equally strong? Which one is going to shock your opponent more? Play that move.

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