[This essay provides an essential background for understanding KOBK (Kill-or-be-Killed) game-theory on both the interpersonal and societal levels. Like all psychological phenomena, KOBK is fractal, potentially operating at all levels of society: from the individual to the social collective. ABN]
For the most part, you can’t.
Look at it this way—how does someone like Dick Cheney, say, know he knows what he is doing, or was doing as vice-president? [This essay was written in 2012, hence the reference to Cheney. No other references are dated.]
He had a semiosis about what he was doing and where he stood within the American political/military hierarchy, but how did he know that that semiosis wasn’t a front for another semiosis (game plan) hidden behind it? How would someone like Cheney find out that there was no other game plan hidden behind the game plans he knew about?
I don’t think he did know or could have known. Did Cheney realize that? Does he realize it now? I can’t answer.
One way someone like that could get information that shows he at least knows a lot, if not the whole thing, is to exercise power. If someone can exercise power and not be stopped, they can be kind of certain that the semiosis they are working within is “true.” Their game plan worked, so there is a greater chance they are in control than if it had not worked. But how can they be certain? I don’t think they can be.
Take another example: A crime boss in the 1980s might have done his thing for years believing all the while that he had the system figured out. Because he kept getting away with his crimes (because he was able to continuously exercise power without being stopped), he may have come to believe that his game plan worked, that he was at the top of his power structure, that his semiosis was “true.”
But we know that many of those bosses in the 1980s were wrong. For years their phones and meeting places were bugged, leading to successful prosecutions under RICO laws. The bosses thought that they had found a way to distance themselves from the nitty gritty of their crimes, but they were wrong. Their game plan (their semiosis) was wrong.
So, law enforcement and the courts had a better game plan, a “truer” semiosis. But how did they know the real quality of their semiosis? Sure, they busted the Mafia, but did they bust all of it and who did they not even look at? How do they know that there aren’t more gangs or secret societies that may even now be controlling them?
I don’t think they do know or even can know. Before you start thinking I am paranoid, consider that behind-the-scenes control of American politics, or any politics, is common; Tammany Hall, Mafia control of NYC politics decades ago, Hoover’s denial that the Mafia even existed, the current state of our two-party “political” system, Libor, etc.
A similar sort of analysis can be applied to news. The problems politicians have with really knowing the deep game plan or ever speaking about it filters through our less-than-perfect news media to be consumed by citizens as bits of information structured into stories that are easy to follow. The American people do not govern themselves but rather at most serve as a weak brake on groups at the top who do almost anything they want.
How do those groups know which one is on top? I am not sure they do. Is NSA domestic surveillance actually an attempt to find out?
If you know everything about everybody and you know how everybody is connected to everybody else, can you know for certain who is at the top?
If so, that will be a first in human history. I do recognize it is possible, though there would be problems with who controls the data, who analyzes it.
A basic point I want to make in this post is that power is very much about meaning, about semiotics. If you can exercise power and not be stopped, you know something about your semiosis. That sure as heck is not the Buddhist way to go about it, but that is the way a great deal of power and semiotics actually works in this world. Power defines meaning.
When this function of power and meaning gets down to the levels of ordinary people, it greatly affects what we say to each other and how we think about each other. Basically, far as I can tell, it causes most people to live in fear because we all know that if we say anything unusual, other people will start wondering about us. If we say the wrong thing, someone will be offended and talk behind our back, or worse.
So it becomes dangerous to say a great many things, or at least very difficult. Almost every subject of real interest is shrouded in semiotics that permit just a couple of standard views. Don’t like Obama, vote for Romney, what’s your problem?
I point all of this out because it is crucial for understanding who we are to understand how ideas, semiotics, and cultures are formed. We live in hierarchies. In hierarchies, the top people determine a great deal of the semiotics of that society. They further their semiotics and prove it to themselves by exercising power. Those people themselves cannot really ever be certain that they know their true position in the hierarchy. How much less can ordinary people expect to know the truth of the semiotics that trickles down to them?
Not everything is stuck in a culture you can’t control and can’t be sure of, but most/much of it is.
In this context, FIML practice allows partners to examine and discuss all aspects of the semiotics they hold in common or as individuals. Since FIML provides partners with a very good level of interpersonal certitude and the means to reinvigorate this certitude at any time, FIML allows partners to say what they want to each other without being misunderstood. It provides a freedom of speech and expression that allows the mind to bloom in ways that normal adherence to normal cultural semiotics cannot.
Just as politicians and powerful people can never be sure they know what others are thinking or where they stand, so ordinary people can’t either. All of them are trapped in the semiotics of their culture, which is usually a hierarchy. It is only through FIML or FIML-like techniques that individuals can free their communication systems from the need to create meaning through self-assertion or submission.
first posted as How do we know where our semiotics come from? on JULY 25, 2012