Washington Metro Objectivism Discussion (WMOD)

               "Hierarchy and Effective Persuasion"

                        by Jan Helfeld

                 September 17, 1997 Meeting

The September WMOD meeting will feature Jan Helfeld's
presentation on "Hierarchy and Effective Persuasion".  Jan is the
producer and host of a public policy TV interview series
entitled "The Bottom Line."  On the show, he examines the reasoning
that politicians use to support their public policies.  His Socratic
questioning is designed to require them to "check their premises."
During the interviews, many of the politicians are surprised to find
that their premises contradict other conclusions that they hold.
In order to employ his interview technique, Jan must be aware
of the hierarchy (the order of dependence) of the ideas involved. He
must know what premises would support the politicianís views and
what premises would support proper public policy.

Helfeld will argue that the Socratic technique he uses with
politicians can be useful in most instances where one is trying to
persuade someone.  In his WMOD presentation he will discuss the
importance of understanding the hierarchy of any true ideas that
you are arguing for.  As an example, he will outline the hierarchy
of the Objectivist system of ideas from metaphysics to economics.
Join us on Wednesday for Jan's presentation and the discussion


                  Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D.
                    Department of Psychiatry
                   SUNY Health Science Center
                        Editor, psycOH!

Greatness is the last and deepest of our taboos. At a time when sexual
confessions and lurid tales of violence dominate tabloids and television
talk shows, the topic of greatness--especially one's own
aspirations--remains off limits. Only heavyweight boxers and rap
singers are permitted to boast of their greatness. For the remainder of
us who do not have to fight our way out of ghettos, pride is a sin and
surely "goeth before a fall".

Abraham Maslow, the pioneering humanistic psychologist, tells the
story of beginning his psychology courses by taking a poll of the
students. "How many of you aspire to greatness?", he would ask.
Invariably, nary a hand would raise. "If not you," Maslow challenged,
"then who?"

Not, of course, that people wish to be viewed unfavorably. One of my
favorite workshop exercises is to ask people to compare themselves
with the population at large on the following traits: honesty, caring,
and trustworthiness. The participants rate themselves on a five point scale,
where 1=much below average; 2=below average; 3=average; 4=above
average; and 5=much above average. Invariably, 90+% of attendees
rate themselves as a 4 or 5 on all three dimensions. Of course, they
laugh sheepishly when I point out to them that 90+% of the population
cannot exceed the statistical mean. But they get the idea: We have a
powerful need to feel good about ourselves. Good, not great.

Another way of stating this is that, just as nature was said to abhor a
vacuum, people seem to abhor being a statistical outlier. Standing out
just isn't comfortable. I am reminded of a therapy group that I was
asked to lead in an inpatient psychiatric unit. On the first day of my
rotation, the group was deadly silent, despite my best attempts to
encourage discussion within an atmosphere of trust and safety. Finally,
in the kind of creative act that can only be born of desperation, I
asked the participants to try an exercise. They had to line themselves
a wall in the room in the shape of a normal (bell-shaped) distribution.
I explained that people at the far left end of the continuum were making
a commitment to saying nothing at all in the group. People at the far
right were committing themselves to active participation. Those in the
middle were making a commitment to contribute to the group to a
moderate degree. Since there were nine people in the group, I asked
that one person (and one only) occupy the far left and right, that two
people stand next to those individuals and that three people stand in
the middle. They had to negotiate with one another to determine who would
stand where.

Interestingly, there was heated negotiation, but not over who would
occupy the sole position at left. Rather, the group fought over the
middle positions. No one wanted to stand out. Indeed, when the
members lived up to their commitments and engaged in discussion, the
person who occupied the far left position felt so out of place that he
asked to join the dialogue! The need to fit in and be part of the group
kept everyone silent...and then kept them talking.

A growing research literature chronicles the social, psychological, and
genetic characteristics of individuals who attain a measure of greatness
in their fields of endeavor. If greatness has a common denominator, it
appears to be the capacity for sustained, intentional effort. Great
individuals, as a whole, are remarkably productive, yielding a body of
work that is as impressive for quantity as quality. Indeed,
psychohistorian Dean Keith Simonton advances the argument that
quantity and quality are inextricably fused in creative genius. Like
Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Reggie Jackson, great minds swing for
the fences more often, strike out quite often, and manage to hit their
share of home runs. Their ability to step up to the plate and continue
swinging--while hardly the only factor distinguishing them from persons
of ordinary talent--requires confidence, patience, and the willingness
to stand out.

    Ayn Rand describes the hero as one distinguished by "unborrowed
vision". As Nietzsche would have it, "In times of peace, the warlike
man turns upon himself". The capacity for sustained effort in the

service of noble ideals is the cornerstone of greatness. To maintain
this focus requires a level of mental, emotional, and physical control that
we understand all too poorly. The research of Czikszentmihalyi suggests
that highly creative individuals enter an altered state of consciousness
in the process of their work that allows for full absorbtion. He calls
this state "flow" and details its presence across a variety of domains, from
athletics to the arts and sciences. Whereas this "flow"--and its
Maslovian "peak experiences"--may be fleeting occurrences for the
average person, the great individual appears to have found a way of
tapping into this state on a fairly regular basis, fueling remarkable
focus and productivity.

If, as Rand would have it, the hero is the fountainhead of human
society, flow may be the fountainhead of heroism. The research of
Anders and Simonton suggest that mastery of a skill domain requires
over 50,000 "chunks" of information and years of rehearsal and
repetition. The average person is hardly able to sustain a single New
Year's resolution; how can one hope to sustain a truly great drive for
mastery? Perhaps only by learning to tap into that fountainhead of
altered consciousness. Maslow saw clearly that mental health's concern
with psychopathology was unlikely to help it uncover the supernormal
side of human nature. A new frontier, with untold potential
applications, awaits the inquisitive pioneer.

             (reprinted by permission)

Some books recommended by Steenbarger on this subject:

     Simonton, D. K. (1994). Greatness: Who makes history and why. NY:
Guilford Press.

     Albert, R. S. (1992). Genius and eminence (2nd ed.). Oxford:
Pergamon Press.

     Gardner, H. (1993). Creating minds. NY: Basic Books.

     Czikszentmihalyi, M., & Czikszentmihalyi, I. S. (1994). Optimal
experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

         When and Where is the WMOD Meeting?

Join us on Wednesday September 17.  You can either join us for
dinner at 7 pm and/or for the discussion at 8:15 pm at the
Fortune Chinese Restaurant at Baileys  Xroads, VA on Route 7
between 7 Corners and Columbia Pike (5900  Leesburg Pike
703/998-8888). You can take METRO to the West Falls  Church
stop and then take METRO buses 29A or 29B East on Route 7
toward Baileys Xroads. The Fortune is on this route. After
the meeting we can give you a ride back to a METRO station.
WMOD has arranged for a $15 fixed price dinner (including
tax and tip).  Or you can order from the menu.  Please RSVP
to WMOD at (703) 820-7696 before noon Wednesday 9/17 so that
we can tell the restaurant how many tables to set up.

                      DC AREA CALENDAR

IOS and Cato Institute

 *10/4: ATLAS & THE WORLD,
40th Anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, at the Renaissance
Washington Hotel in Washington DC.
Contact http://www.cato.org, http://ios.org, or phone IOS
at (914) 471-6100 for more information.

* Web calendar that includes Objectivist events and groups

               WMOD Contact Information

NOTE: Due to ISP problems, the WMOD web site has
move to http://www.infiltec.com/wmod.htm and the
preferred WMOD email address is DSaum at infiltec.com.

The WMOD newsletter is $10/yr,  email newsletter is free.

Contact: Dave Saum
PO Box 8007
Falls Church, VA 22041
Email: DSaum at infiltec.com, 
Phone: 703/820-7696
FAX: 703/671-9350
Web: http://www.infiltec.com/wmod.htm

----------- "Sapere aude" (dare to know) -------------------

This page was created by .