[Editor’s Note: Today, we have a guest post and the next article in our Beyond Influence series from my friend, Rey Poullard. Rey is the creator of the Story War Society, a resource designed to teach you to learn both defense and offense in the realm of narrative warfare. Enjoy!]
If you haven’t noticed by now, the world is undergoing a profound, transformative change. And whether you realize this or not, you are in the middle of an ongoing, ever-present battle of narratives–a Story War. One of the best ways to protect yourself from interpersonal influence is to go on the offensive by learning to drive the discourse and wield your own story like a weapon–in other words, by learning to implement weaponized storytelling..
STORY IS A POWERFUL WEAPON
What does this phrase, “weaponized storytelling” mean? What does that entail? Why is this important? And how might life be better if we utilized this?
First off, understand three things: 1) that all society is made of narrative, of story. 2) Humans have used narrative as the primary vehicle for the transmission of knowledge since time immemorial; and 3) Humans are storytelling animals and for as long as there has been human language, humans have been using it to manipulate and influence one another.
What weaponizing story has shown is that if you can control a people’s Narrative, you can control their culture.
Whoever controls the story–controls the humans.
STORIES ARE DANGEROUS.
Stories are a double-edged sword. They are quite possibly the most dangerous thing humans have ever created. Case in point: if you want to kill someone, you can use a knife, a gun or a bomb. However, if you want someone killed on your behalf, you use a story.
When you combine the rudimentary elements of story such as conflict, character, imagery, foreshadowing, and, assumptions you get FICTIONAL ALLEGORY–and fictional allegory coupled with persuasive metaphor can be used as either the Holy Grail to inspire, motivate, and galvanize your true believers, or as a Poison Chalice that demoralizes, discourages and debilitates your adversaries..
WHAT EXACTLY IS A “STORY”?
The origin of the word “story” dates back to the early 13th century and is defined as “an account of some happening”. In the general sense, we perceive a story as a plot, as in “a linear sequence of events in time”. But video game designers, for example, might say that’s a flat assumption. They would probably define stories more so as systems.
In systems design terms, you could say a story is an INSTANCE of a system playing itself out. In that sense a story is always EVIDENCE of a larger system, a world, a particular set of forces that generate cause and effect. Legends, myths, tales, epics, lore–whatever its format, narratives convey noteworthy experiences in time and space.
STORIES ARE POLARIZING.
We see that going on in politics right now. Think back how ‘MAGA’ started off during the 2016 presidential election cycle as a campaign slogan and morphed into a what appears to be worldwide populist movement. Inspirational, no?
On the flip side, there’s a meme being proliferated now called the NPC or non-playable character, painting people as drone-like beings incapable of independent thought. Demoralizing beyond the shadow of a doubt.
All societies in human history —all of them—are propelled by one and/or two things: weaponry and technology. In fact, the dispersal of key technologies has played by far the largest role in determining the costs of projecting power during modern times.
NOW LISTEN TO THIS:
The projection of power during the 2016 election cycle was UNPRECEDENTED. In a dazzling display of narrative warfare, individuals–many with diametrically opposing ideas–deployed meme after meme intent on driving the discourse in particularly hostile political climate.
This was proof positive that a key technology combination like a smartphone with an internet connection provides unfettered and borderless exposure to, and influence over a wide audience bandwidth the likes of which Marshall McLuhan, Edward Bernays, and Antonio Gramsci could only dream of.
WHY WEAPONIZE STORY?
In order for someone or something to affect your interpersonal influence you must first pay attention to it. Attention is a currency; the more of it you pay to an entity, the further you perpetuate its experience and existence. Therefore, by wielding weaponized stories you shield yourself through: 1) learning to recognize the relentless bombardment of memes and narratives that exert influence over human behavior; and 2) by becoming cognizant of what you concentrate on and where you direct your energy in all its forms including time, creativity and money. As the old adage goes, “where attention goes, energy flows.” Minimize the attention and you minimize the influence.
The Digital Oligarchs are well aware of this. To wit: Reed Hastings the CEO of Netflix says their biggest competitor is sleep. Think about that…he admits, albeit tacitly, that he’s designed a platform specifically aimed at getting the audience to compete against their own biological necessity for rest in order to foster addiction and consume more of his content. Such a dastardly implication behind that, no?
Attention is necessary for all human beings. It is also desirable, with no limit to how much a person can actually want. As long as it seems possible to garner additional attention through the Internet and related technologies, more and more people will go after it, increasing the level of competition for it and thus the overall scarcity. Hence the rise of the clout chasers.
The goal now is to become proactive in this battlefield of ideas. Wield your stories in a manner that allows you to trip emotional triggers and rifle through the Rolodex of your audiences’ minds. With regard to Narrative Insurgency, Garnering Attention is the first in a three-step process we utilize involving Frame Control.
PROJECTING YOUR POWER THROUGH STORY
As we have seen now, attention is a valuable and scarce resource since we as humans have a finite amount of time we can pour into those things that garner our attention.
Winning wars (not just battles) is about two things:
Resources (which are the source of power) and Logistics (how that power is projected).
Now, this is important, so pay close attention:
The Projection of Power within the context of the Story War Method lies in the ability to drive the discourse in order to define yourself and your relationship to those around you in such a way that YOUR narratives now become theirs.
This, the development and deployment of weaponized story, is the essence of Narrative Insurgency.
Control the Story, and you Control The Culture.
Control the Culture, and you Control the HUMANS.
THE NAME OF THE GAME IS CONTROL THE FRAME
Let’s begin with a baseline definition of frames so that we’re all on the same page.
So, what are frames and what do they do? Frames are the methods your brain uses to maintain control over the massive influx of information being washed over your senses.
Humans had to develop this way of framing information as a survival mechanism to get us from the beginning of the day, to the end of the day ALIVE. Our brain accomplishes this in TWO WAYS:
NUMBER ONE. it uses frames to process the most important information we care about in a particular given situation.
AND NUMBER TWO. Ignore everything else.
This is why GARNERING ATTENTION (and the ability to DISPERSE IT) is crucial to spheres of influence. Every interaction be it business or personal involves a battle for frame control. Because once a frame is set, (and the stronger frame is usually the first one that gets deployed) it overrides the weaker ones, absorbs them, and then it’s game over.
Tunnel vision sets in and it becomes almost impossible for new information to disrupt and distract from the end goal objective of the strongest frame. Psychologists call this “belief perseverance”. I’m sure you’ve heard of the old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”, right? THAT is frame control.
The end goal in frame control is to break your opponent’s frame; establish your own frame and then proliferate it through Narrative Transport. If acute observation is a super power, then consider narrative transport as the ungodly advantage in the battle for frame control.
But that, dear reader, is a story for a different day.