In a network of people, what are some of the ways that people have influence, that subtle form of power that allows them to provide information without having direct control ? Let us assume that influence is not necessarily good, but can be both good and evil. We might figure that there would be two different ways that people could provide influence to others. One of them would be as part of an aggregate quantity, by which we might calculate numbers and determine influence by the sheer force of the decisions of those around us. The other would be a determination of quality, by which some people would have higher influence than others for a variety of purposes. We might, for example, view the counsel of a trusted friend as being far more important than the sheer numbers of those who we did not trust so highly, in matters of great importance.
In order for us to be able to influence others, or for others to influence us, we must have some kind of connection with them. There may be times where we are open to the influence of others but they are not open to us, and such a lack of reciprocity hinders communication and leaves people without adequate feedback as to their own conversation and conduct. Naturally, the more reciprocal connections we have, the more influence we have on others and the more feedback we receive from others. This feedback can encourage us, discourage us, or give us mixed results that require further examination and analysis. Likewise, our influence on others can have effects that lead to repercussions and complications, some of which may be for only a little while and some of which may be very lasting, even permanent. How to use our influence wisely is a difficult matter that depends on both morality as well as context.
If one is desiring to target a given system and to leave it disconnected, one has to know what sort of network one is attacking. Are people fairly well connected to each other or are there major divisions where the connection between them is tenuous? The better connected people are to others, and not merely a small and tight clique, the harder it is to leave all of them disconnected. However, the more divided people are, and the more people only communicate with others of like mind the more our network of influence becomes an echo chamber, impossible to influence from outside evidence and other perspectives. If one wishes to shut down growth, one simply has to divide people into groups, or, even better, atomized individuals, with different perspectives and focus and different aspects of knowledge and information and sever the links between them that would allow one person’s insights or one group’s insights to influence the rest.
How, then, can we avoid being disconnected from necessary feedback, encouragement, information, communication, and insight, all of which are vital reasons why we need to be connected with other people? For one, we have to make sure that we allow (with, of course, due criticism) information even from what we might consider to be hostile sources, since a message may be worthwhile and important even if the messenger is generally unreliable. This would suggest that we require some ability to discern and differentiate between the messenger and the message and to have some kind of external test for messages and information that is not based merely on our personal prejudice either for or against the source of that information. The greater a grip and the greater connections we have with the greater world, with appropriate boundaries and wariness, the better we are able to protect ourselves from the problems of isolation, by which we are cut off from others and able to be picked off at the leisure of our enemy. If we do not want to be cut up, we must find some way of standing together and some way of preserving communication and respect despite the conflicts and drama which fill our lives.
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