Is Social Engineering Manipulative?
Over the years, Chase has been widely criticized for his work in Season 21, “How to Social Engineer XXXX” type. Season 21 is in the CSJ Pantheon of most polarizing content Chase has ever delivered. Most of the criticism emerged from indictments that Chase was being manipulative and possessed ulterior motives in his presentation. “How can you teach this to people and sleep at night!?” was the essence of many of the critical comments left by the viewers.
Many of the viewers were only able to interpret Chase’s content in this way: “The knowledge of how to manipulate others means you intend to manipulate others.” They equated Chase’s knowledge of social engineering with a desire to use that knowledge as a tool to increase his own gains. And particularly, to use this knowledge at the expense of others. But, the question remains, if Chase only intended manipulation, why would he bother teaching others to manipulate?
This verse comes to mind: “For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him?” In many of the social engineering videos, Chase states that one of the main points of learning social engineering is to protect yourself. Do people actually watch the lectures before making judgments?
Is the confidence and conviction of those who immediately feel justified in accusing someone’s intentions really warranted? If we feel so certain we can see into the heart of another man, how can we know it is not the darker temptations of our own heart, projected outward? These questions I leave with you, as I leave them with myself.
This criticism against season 21 gives us the opportunity to flesh out a very important question. Most of us are probably here, learning Chase’s material, because we want to grow. We want to grow in our skills in creating a flourishing relationship with ourselves and others. We want to understand why we are the way we are and learn how to steer the ship of our psyche to better shores.
But with the knowledge of typology — especially in the context of social engineering — comes deep concerns over the ethics of how to use that knowledge. If you know someone’s type, should you act with respect to that knowledge? Or do you pretend that you don’t know their type, act as if you were ignorant, and hope your interaction is received as intended? Isn’t adjusting to different people manipulative?
The content in Season 21 is, in my opinion, best viewed in line with the work of one the most prolific modern authors, Robert Greene. Greene has been lambasted for his work, specifically his magnum opus, The 48 Laws of Power, as being an evil work that has enabled malevolence and the leveraging of personal power over the malleable wills of others.
“How can you give someone the tools for power without providing a moral criterion for using those laws?” is the spirit of the most sophisticated form of criticism levied against him. Most other critics were simply “morally outraged” over the perceived injustice of the work.
The criticisms toward Season 21 are similar to those levied against Greene, and both criticisms boil down to this question: “How can you, in good conscience, give others the tool to leverage their will over others?”
We have some serious investigation to do. And it starts with what we decide is ethical/unethical use of our type-knowledge, and what our actions reflect about how we use that knowledge.
What is Social engineering?
Dictionary.com defines “social engineering” as:
- “the manipulation of social beliefs and behaviors by public or private entities through legislation, policy, and investment”
- “a technique that uses psychological manipulation, fraud, or dishonesty to force people to disclose private personal or corporate information, or to take a particular action.”
Parts of both definitions are relevant. From the first, the manipulation of behaviors is broad but fitting for what we mean by “social engineering.” From the second, a technique that uses psychological manipulation to take a particular action is relevant in some cases, but not all.
These definitions barely scratch the surface. Let’s define it for ourselves within the context of psychology, types, and the content of season 21. What does “social engineering” mean? Taking conscious action toward a person of a particular type — with the knowledge of their type — to achieve a desired result.
At its core, “social engineering” is nothing more than informed social interactions. In this context, being “informed” means being informed about that person’s type and interacting socially based on their type.
What About Manipulation?
Is “Taking conscious actions toward a person of a particular type — with the knowledge of their type — to achieve a desired result” manipulative? Well, what does manipulation mean?
Back to dictionary.com, “Manipulation” means:
- “The act of manipulating.” — a partially helpful definition.
- “The state or fact of being manipulated.” — a more helpful definition.
- “Skillful or artful management.” — there we go, a most helpful definition.
“Skillful or artful management.” If interacting with someone based on their type leads to “skillful or artful management,” is that interaction manipulative? By definition, yes.
Is Manipulation Bad?
This question is the heart of our investigation. Those of us with type knowledge and an awareness of the different psychological make-ups — strengths, weak spots, etc. — will be faced with this question on a consistent basis. Once you know the science of typology, you can hardly help but treat people differently.
So, is acting toward someone based on the knowledge of their type manipulative? Yes. And is that manipulation bad? There are two answers to that question. The first is that making a blanket good/bad judgment is akin to playing God. And that we cannot always accurately weigh people’s intentions vs the outcomes produced by those intentions. Without enough information, the question is unanswerable and arguably futile.
This short answer should act as an invitation for you to fully explore all aspects of whether or not manipulation is bad.
Let us try to explore the question about “manipulation” with the intention of understanding why this question even arises to begin with.
The first problem is in the word itself. How many people use the word “manipulation” in reference to “skillful or artful management”? Probably almost none. Now, how many people instead use “manipulation” to confer a concern about deceptive, possibly malicious, and likely egotistical motives hidden beneath someone’s behavior? The word “manipulation” is flavored and tainted in our conditioned minds as something inherently “evil, dark, greedy, deceptive, self-indulgent, narcissistic,” and many other “bad” things.
There have been and will always be a number of those people who are malicious in their interactions with others. They seek to leverage power over others without concern over that person’s well-being. Others are more subtle, providing small cues that can keep people under their thumb, or stuck in a toxic relationship or circumstance.
These people exist, and they may themselves be victims of unmet needs and are falling into their Deadly Sin to cope. Again, the importance of context — despite its peskiness in always muddying the waters — remains an essential tool to make a well-reasoned judgment.
But the reality is that to equate “evil” with “manipulation” is incorrect. “Manipulation” — skillful or artful management — is a neutral term. And leads us to a word that I will propose be the word that we use when talking about Season 21, or Robert Greene’s work, or any work that provides the knowledge of how to deal with others and achieve personal gain: amoral.
The Essence of Amorality
From dictionary.com, “amoral” means: “not involving questions of right or wrong; without moral quality; neither moral nor immoral.”
Is learning the tools and skills of algebraic equations moral? Is learning how to cook a steak to medium-rare moral or immoral? Is learning how to draw a face more true-to-life moral or immoral? Is learning how to operate a tractor moral or immoral?
The answer to the question, “Is Social engineering Manipulative” boils down to an astonishingly simple answer: “It depends on what you do with it.”
Admittedly, equivocating “social engineering” with culinary skills loses some weight when we factor in that social engineering has to do with other humans. But it should not distract from the core tenant of the answer. The same action in one context may be moral while the same action in another context would be immoral. It depends on what you do, when, why, and how.
The below example illustrates an exploration:
- Is murder bad? Yes.
- Is murder bad if you’re saving someone from an attacker? This is a gray area, and perhaps 50/50 coin flip for many.
- Is murder bad if you’re saving a hospital full of babies? Most would say no and that murder would be justified in that situation.
Though the examples are theoretical, notice how the act in all three doesn’t change but that your reaction through the different contexts does. Many would go so far to say it would be unconscionable not to do the murder and you’d be a bad person if you did nothing in the third scenario.
The amoral reality of the knowledge of social engineering makes us uncomfortable because we are put into the driver’s seat of deciding what standards decide how we use our type-knowledge.
The deeper reality of amorality, however, is that we cannot know for sure what the true “good” is. There are certain things that can help us with that — many religions provide a certain criterion for “good” and “evil” — but it does not take away the reality that, regardless of what we think we know, and regardless of how justified we may feel, the true knowledge of the ultimate “good” will always be outside of the realm of our judgment.
“All Social Interaction is …”
Let’s take our heads out of the weeds of moral philosophy for a moment, and deal with a dose of reality. Chase is fond of quoting the maxim, “All social interaction is manipulation.” Is this maxim accurate?
Do you interact with certain people in certain ways to get certain things, avoid certain reactions, or direct those interactions in particular ways? Then you are being manipulative. And you are also like the rest of us, who do the exact same thing on a daily basis.
What would social interaction absent manipulation look like? It would look like you or me interacting with someone by pretending like they were not there at all. Social interaction absent manipulation leads to being so immersed in our own world, or so dismissive of other people, that we become utterly numb to the presence of those people. In other words, social interaction is impossible without social engineering taking place, and vice versa.
There is no question that social engineering brings up an ocean of complicated topics regarding sincerity, intention, and the right to act considering what we know. We cannot go into all those questions today but getting to the point of realizing that we all actively manipulate the people around us is an essential building block for deciding what is ethical.
Is Social Engineering Manipulative?
An emphatic and resounding “YES!” seems in order. Now that we can all acknowledge that manipulation of this kind is completely neutral, of course social engineering is manipulative! But, to decide whether that manipulation is “good” or “evil” is, in the argument made in this article, almost entirely context-dependent. But that context involves two essential pieces that we can talk about: Intention and Action.
There is a reason the ancient maxim, “Know thyself” is emblazoned on the front page of the CSJ website. The main reason is to encourage us to seek the knowledge of who we are, why we are that way, and how to act in accordance with that knowledge. But there is another reason “Know thyself” is so important, and that reason explicitly relates to our question about what the ethics of social engineering are.
In the context of social engineering, “Know thyself” means, considering your knowledge of type, to understand why you are interacting with people in a certain way. To “Know thyself” means to be aware of your intention or objective in that moment.
So, in a social engineering situation — say one of your partners on a work project is an ISFJ — and you choose to collaborate in a certain way based on that knowledge. What is your intention in taking that action? What do you need to do to make the interactions run smoothly? How will use your knowledge of their psychology?
If you are interested in someone romantically and you choose to interact with them with the knowledge of their type, what is your intention?
Can any of us classify these intentions as good or evil? It would be difficult to impossible.
No, we are not God, but we must consider that sitting on the sidelines, unwilling to take any moral stance over anything, appealing to “Well I’m not God so I can’t say if something is good or bad,” may be just as dangerous as playing God.
It is in the opinion of the author that, like most things, a wise moral judgment is possible when we first understand our limitations as humans. But then do our best to decide what the right or best thing is. Even though manipulation is neutral and amoral, that does not mean we should be.
Our moral decision must always come in light of the humility we must find in our limited knowledge. It is one of the reasons why we have Fi and Fe functions to begin with.
Perhaps the scripture, “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” can provide some much-needed guidance here. We must not become paralyzed by the knowledge of our smallness, just as much as we must not become overly inflated by the temptation to regard ourselves as gods.
A recent article we published, “The Templar Mirror: Is it Genuine?” deeply explored the topic of how action relates to integrity.
The verse, “You will know them by their fruits,” was one of the principles we established as being required to discern whether a Templar is genuine. This same principle can be used in the context of social engineering. What are the concrete actions that result in your interactions with yourself and others based on your knowledge of type?
Do your actions lead to destruction and malevolence? Do your actions lead to closeness and understanding? Do your actions lead to honesty and transparency, or deception and guile?
A human being can rarely discern the exact intention of a person. Ne users, especially those with a lot of life experience, typically get the closest to understanding the nature of others’ intentions. But the best way we have to know somebody — just as we seek to “Know ourselves” — is to carefully observe their actions.
At the end of the day, if social engineering is amoral, all that we have left to decide what our ethical foundation for social interactions will be is intention and action.
What do you intend? What do you do? These questions by no means cover the entire complexity of the ethics of social interaction, or the justification of social manipulation. But knowledge is knowledge, and most would agree that to have awareness of something — of someone’s type and how to best interact with them — is a more desirable place to be than being locked in the dark, blind and ignorant to the reality of how other’s experience life.
There is an argument to be made, and I will make it, that just as the doorway of type-knowledge can lead to great evils, it can also lead to the most profound fringes of the good. Social engineering gives us the opportunity to be more substantial, humane humans.
A Tool For Love
If social engineering is a neutral tool — and we certainly know it can be used for evil — we must also be open to the reality of its goodness. This is what our own Robert Potts had to say about social engineering:
“I again argue that social engineering someone positively is showing you care enough about them to have good interactions with less or no misunderstandings. And that you can indeed heal and help people by speaking their language and expressing your support in a way that actually makes a difference for that person, rather than being wasted at the altar of unneeded platitudes.”
Is it not one of the deepest human struggles to express how we feel or what we think to another human being? What if we have some tools at our disposal to make our communication clearer and more resonant? Social engineering can be an expression of affection. When we go out of our way to communicate in a way that’s not necessarily natural to us, but is natural to the recipient, isn’t that evidence that we care?
If we understand someone, and we love them, we will naturally seek to apply that understanding in a way that makes our love be expressed more potently.
“How can you, in good conscience, give others the tools to leverage their will over others?”
Lastly, let’s return to answer this question. This question is my attempt to distill the heart of the criticism levied toward Chase for his content in Season 21.
The answer is quite simple: Providing the neutral tools of how to interact better with others is made possible by having faith in humanity. This faith reveals a value, and this value is as follows: It is better for humans to know than not to know.
The answer to “How can you, in good conscience, give others the tools to leverage their will over others?” is this: It is better to understand than to be ignorant. This is a vital part of the heart of Chase’s mission: to reduce ignorance — he has said so since day one.
If we are given the tools of knowledge, it becomes our responsibility to decide how to use those tools. Most people do not want responsibility, and that is why they criticize the key-makers and knowledge-givers among us for providing humanity with the tools for transformation.
Is Robert Potts and ISTJ or an ISFJ?
Last sentence is the key. Authority and knowledge of truth is for equipping. Mature people can discern good from being trained and equipped to know the difference. So that would make Chase’s business a ministry…and him a minister if he wants to take in the responsibility…grin.
This is by far one of my favourite articles. It really makes a great case for social engineering.
Thanks for the post.
Awesome! Oh yeah, Cognitive Origins and the Octagram make Social Engineering a lot more layered, but also simple at the same time. More to come (: