Lawyers, Salesmen & Politicians

(Still alive. Longest gap between posts since my first year of doing this. Sheesh. Then I start rambling and can’t stop, which means it takes days to post this.)

I learned first hand (1) of a standard trick or ploy used by lawyers during discovery, the phase of a case wherein each side requests materials from the other related to the case. For example, if the case is over claimed illegal billing practices of a certain company, the side making the claim would request a look at the billing records of that company. The law (in the US at least) is intended to make the trial about the facts known to both sides, not some sort of Perry Mason last minute surprise evidence or witness drama, which might be good TV, but is bad law.

Anyway, in theory, if you have nothing to hide, you just hand over what the other side wants to see according to the rules of discovery. But if you do have something to hide, or just like to make life miserable for your opponents, you might hand over a mountain of documents and data that might possibly be related to the discovery request, such that the other side is now looking for a needle in a haystack. (2) We’d like to think that lawyers would be able to sort through all the piles of documents and find the needle, but the reality is that they are working under time and budget constraints like everyone else. By overwhelming the ability of the other side to process information, you score points and win cases – that’s the idea, anyway. It’s a form of disinformation.

I’ve spent much of my working life around salespeople, and have even done a bit of it myself. Good salespeople are a breed apart. Everybody knows about their A-type personalities and drive. They are the type of people who think only about the close – a closed deal = winning, everything else = losing. They hate losing. (3)

The smarter the salesman, the more analysis he performs. Talk among good salesmen is like talk among war veterans, battle stories about figuring out the one guy who needed to be convinced, shooting down the key objection, getting the key decision-maker on your side. But day to day, the smart salesmen I’ve worked with think about the strategic relationships. The salesperson knows that it will take solid personal relationships built over time to get people to bet their careers on buying his products. As a rule, salesmen don’t lie anymore than people in any other profession, perhaps less, because if they were discovered as a liar, they’d destroy all the trust they just spent months or years building up, and wouldn’t win – they wouldn’t close the deal.

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Not this guy. Total piker. 

Great salespeople really know their customers, in the sense of understanding their motivations and fears. In order to establish that long term repeat buyer relationship that makes them, the salespeople, heroes, they must make the decision-maker feel like a winner, too. They learn to use their customer’s hopes – and fears. The degree to which this is heartfelt concern or crass manipulation is often fuzzy.

Bottom line: Great salespeople truly do understand their customers, and truly do look out for their customers’ best interests – up to a point. This is *most* great salespeople, as I’ll get to in a moment.

The one last thing, for which I only have anecdotal and hearsay evidence: Law and sales careers tend strongly to attract sociopaths (4). Sociopathology exists across a range, from utterly crippling to hyper-competent. What I mean is that some sociopaths have so little grip on how others experience reality and the sociopath in particular that their ability to function in the world is seriously compromised. Others, however, us their intelligence to figure out how a normal person behaves and what people expect, and can then pass as completely normal, only uninhibited by any empathy, remorse or need for truthfulness. Only in extreme situations would it become evident that such a high-functioning sociopath is in fact emotionally and morally crippled. Generally, such high functioning sociopaths are highly successful, after the manner of Plato’s hypothetical man who is believed to be virtuous but lacks all virtue.

Politics, at least on a national level, is people almost exclusively by salesmen, lawyers and useful idiots. The most sincere and patriotic volunteer will, I think, soon find himself forced into one of those roles by political reality: your candidate/program can only do all the good things you dream about if he or it gets past the voters. The other side is presumed to be dishonest, manipulative and otherwise uninhibited by any moral constraints. Therefore, even if you have not read Alinsky, you will be pushed (sometimes by those who have) into behaving as if you had.

In short, even people with healthy emotional lives will find themselves acting like sociopaths, or, clinking to their sense of humanity over their sense of reality, become useful idiots to real sociopaths.

Back to lawyers and salesmen: Lawyers understand the value of obfuscation as described in the discovery example above. If you need to get something past your opponent, the combination of way too much stuff to dig through plus a time deadline is very useful. This is one reason that Obamacare runs over 10,000 pages and 11,000,000 words. Supporters were in favor of the *concept*, and so didn’t care what the laws said. Those who wanted to know how it was supposed to work in practice were effectively thwarted.(5)  A reason we have warehouses full of laws and regulations is that we’re not supposed to understand them. It often takes years for the targets of laws to figure out what they are, sometimes when a government regulator is standing at the front door explaining it.

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The state of our laws, more or less. 

The great salesmen are planning strategically and tactically to close the deal and set up a long-term relationship (6). They are identifying who they need to get past, who they need to make into heroes, and how they are going to lock in the ‘customer’ for the long haul. FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt – is what a salesman wants to instill in his customer about his competitors. Thus, we are told that every Republican candidate is the embodiment of evil, is stupid beyond reason, and is an absolute tool of business with the goal of enslaving working people everywhere. (7) Democrats want to destroy America (8) are a bunch of closet commies who hate the military and police, apple pie and the flag.  (9) And so on – the point is to instill such FUD about the other party as to render even considering them unthinkable.

Works, too.

I view politics through the lens of salespeople and lawyers, with a healthy suspicion that we are often seeing true sociopathy at work. I know, first, that the message has been thoroughly vetted, the behaviors completely scripted (neither a lawyer nor a salesman would ever bring someone before a judge or prospect unless he was certain what that someone will say) and the commitment to victory among the worker bees established as absolute. Only the immediate goal is shared – to get this guy elected, or get this bill passed. The longer-term strategic goals, in the best Progressive tradition, will be argued over later (10) Neither party works too hard to make sure everybody is on board with long term goals, because if they were honest, chances are they are not and cannot be. On the Republican side, the long term goals of some faction is a smaller, less powerful, less corrupt government. Others, a much smaller but much more powerful group, want policies favorable to big businesses, which are often unfavorable to small businesses, yet another not entirely overlapping group. Some are desperate pro-lifers, evidently willing to accept almost any positions on almost any other issues if only they are told (with no measurable effect to date) that the party stands with them. All kinds of Venn overlaps and outliers.

Democrats have (delusional) union support – Unions seem to think, despite NAFTA and the unionization of federal employees (which enables the government to court itself, in effect, and ignore all those messy non-government unions), that the party cares about them – total FUD. The bone Obamacare threw them in exempting their healthcare programs is about all they’ve gotten in years besides kicks in the face.  Then there are the children through the great, great, great grandchildren of immigrants, for whom Tammany Hall or the Chicago Machine got some ancestor a job fresh off the boat – they can’t imagine voting for the other party, as they have now heard for years about how great it was that the Machine funnelled a tiny bit of its graft their way in the form of a job as a cop or trash collector for great-great grandpa. Smaller but more virulent groups of real Communists and Alinskyites  want to use the siren song of free goodies to bring the system down so that they can seize control in the flaming wreckage. They will go along with anything that promises to increase government control. And then there are the classic bleeding hearts, who can’t do math and are convinced by the syllogism: we must do something; this is something; therefore, we must do this. These folks vote Democrat as mindlessly as they buy Priuses – the actual outcomes in good stuff/saved planet matter not at all, so long as they can feel good about the effort. And, again, so on and so forth, with lots of overlap.

Neither party will ever have an end in view around which all of their partisans can gather. That’s how you get Rorschach slogans  like ‘Hope and Change’ or ‘Make America Great Again’ – we are invited to fill in the details with whatever we want, and not talk too much about how our ends and the ends of others in our party are mutually exclusive.(11)

(Stopping in the middle, more or less, so that I publish *somethng* in my life time…)

  1. My wife was a legal assistant when we were first married, and got to spend days at a time crawling through files in a warehouse doing discovery for some cases.
  2. My understanding is that the requesting side tries to be specific in its requests in order to avoid this tactic, but in practice that can be hard. I’m not a lawyer, there’s all sorts of rules here that are outside my expertise, so pardon my broad generalizations.
  3. No, the guy trying to sell you a used car is almost certainly not a great salesman. If he were, he’d have a better gig. So don’t think of that guy – think of the sort of person who works for months or years to get a huge company with layers of bureaucracy to sign a contract to buy millions of whatever it is his company sells.

  4. Grabbing the first thing that came up on Google: “A sociopath is someone who exhibits an antisocial personality disorder, along with antisocial behaviours, little understanding of social norms, and lack of conscience. A high functioning sociopath is someone with identical traits, however tends to be more intelligent, and better at integrating with society. Their disorders are harder to notice and diagnose. They can pretend they care about other people and they can commonly evince less antisocial behaviours at will.”  According to the literature, sociopaths make up about 1% to 4% of the population. That means about 3 to 12 million sociopaths in the US alone.

  5. More fundamental and important: supporters differed, it seems, on what ‘works’ meant for Obamacare: Some (the hopelessly gullible, I’d say) though that Obamacare would make more and better healthcare available to everyone at lower relative costs. That was certainly the advertised goal, the one that makes us more prosaic types throw our hands up in despair. For other, more Machiavellian politicians, ‘works’ meant bringing 1/6th of the economy and hundreds of thousands of jobs under government control – they were indifferent, at least in the short run, if care got better or worse, more or less available, or more or less expensive – Obamacare worked just fine, for them, if all that money and all those people were now fully political chips to be used, like the military, for political ends. Just as every new weapons program of any size has components developed in every state so that congressdroids can wave how much bacon they have brought back to their voters, now healthcare spending could be subject to the same process. But most important are the true Alinskyites, for whom ‘work’ means straining the system past the breaking point to bring about the chaos needed for seizing all power. The first group are the ones getting a wiff of the coffee at the moment; the second have what they want, almost, for the time being. The last group is eagerly watching the kindling get lit under the world.
  6. LBJ’s alleged quote, selling the Civil Rights package to a Democratic governor:“I’ll have those n*****s voting Democrat for two-hundred years,” while perhaps apocryphal, is not uncharacteristic of LBJ and illustrate a truly great salesman in action, executing a tactic to achieve the strategic end.
  7. In my lifetime, these sorts of things have been said of everyone from Reagan to Mitt Romney. Thus, when a Trump comes along, many people are enured to any criticism of him. If a milktoast like Romney is supposed to be Hitler, how is anyone supposed to take such critics seriously when they attack Trump with effectively the same language?  This is not to say that these criticism don’t have some basis (the ‘he’s an idiot’ one is pretty evenly distributed among all partisans, however)  – of course they do. At most, it seems corruption has a different flavor for each party.
  8. Which is not fair – it’s mostly only the leadership…
  9. Ditto.
  10. As in:Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.


    G.K. Chesterton – Heretics (1905).

  11. My favorite example from a couple elections back: I had one friend who ridiculed the idea that Obama was a socialist, and another who was voting for him because he was a socialist. They were looking at the same guy and same campaign, just seeing what they wanted to see.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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