Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On goading; and The Clinton Test, for good and for ill

Three-word summary: beware of goading.

Some time back on this blog I brought up Joshua Marshall's Clinton Test, as a guide to one's judgment -
"When I come across something fishy from the [opposition], I try to use what I call the Clinton Test to keep myself honest and steer me right.... the Clinton Test is quite simply, how would I react to situation X if [the one doing it] was [of my tribe (or vice versa)]..."
As a personal guide to keep your inner tribalist in line, it's excellent; but as with any tool, a warped mind can turn it around and use it as a weapon - by sending out a decoy who's behaving outrageously, to goad people into a) making responses that feel justified by that outrageousness, and then into b) [explicitly, verbally] justifying those responses; then converting the justification to black & white, as it were, by filtering out the outrageousness & slapping a "Clinton Test" frame on it - then turning this end product against people who've been acting within the bounds of civil society.

That's awkwardly worded, and I don't want to give an example that'd make it clearer, but the take-home lesson is, try to recognize goading and be very, very careful how you react, because your reactions may have negative consequences - perhaps for you, perhaps for third parties.

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