The art of obfuscation

December 27th, 2010

It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not these days. Fact and fiction are as unreliable as the shifting sands. What’s yesterday’s fact is today’s fiction.

Take medical facts, one day, trans fats are good for you, the next, they’re called Franken-fats. Or politics, yesterday’s yes-we-can visionary is today’s establishment sellout.

Even in the rarefied world of classical guitar playing, yesterday’s god (perhaps a certain gentilhombre of the guitar) is today’s has-been.

Clearly, you can’t rely on anything. It’s a world run by obfuscators.

To help you navigate this brave new world, I’ve decided to put together my own guidelines for would-be obfuscators, a kind of manual that will help you understand their bogus modus operandi.

First, there’s no such thing as truth. To obfuscators, truth is whatever you want it to be. If you’re selling a hot new product, whatever you say IS the truth. (This is useful if you’re a guitar teacher.)

Next, muddy the water. Create confusion in the minds of your followers (or students). Avoid transparency at all cost. Because transparency will give your game away.

How do you do this?

First, say it in the most complex ways possible. Use fancy words, preferably, those that sound authoritative or academic.

Second, say it with as many words as possible. If you can do it in ten pages instead of two, do it in ten. If you can do it in fifty pages, even better. The more words you can lay down, the more convincing you will appear.

And back it up with data, loads of them. Don’t worry about validity, people don’t have time to check details, as long as it sounds authoritative, it’s good enough.

If you can, use scientific terms to back up your theories. If you’re a preacher, quote from the Bible. If you’re a guitar teacher, make sure you use hardcore terms like extensors and flexors.

If possible, put some impressive sounding credentials after your name. Nothing impresses more than a PhD after your name.

To reinforce your credentials, drop names of famous people like Segovia or the latest classical guitar heartthrob. Yes, you can tell stories about how Segovia called you up on your birthday. If you’re too timid to make this claim, you can always say you’re one of his students. This is a failsafe tactic because the man is unable to disown you.

Create myths and legends about yourself. Make up stories, anecdotes, don’t worry about historical accuracy again. No one bothers to check them anyway. And even if someone does bother to check them out, who will believe them?

Create elaborate rituals. Nothing impresses like little personal touches that speak of your genius, especially in public events like masterclasses or concerts. But be sure you rehearse these rituals to make them more convincing.

Keep on hammering on your key issues. Reinforce them in the minds of your followers. Someone once said, I forgot who it was, “People will believe anything if you repeat them enough times.”

And while you’re doing this, don’t forget to demoralize your followers. Yes, if you want their respect, you have to kill every bit of self-esteem in them. Reduce them to mindless robots who will follow your every command, because if you allow them to think, they will start questioning you at some point.

The best way to do this is to completely ignore their strengths and focus on their shortcomings. And shortcomings they will have aplenty, because that’s why they came to you in the first place, that’s why they’re looking for guidance.

In guitar terms, tell them everything they know about guitar playing is wrong, and they have to start from scratch. The hand’s got to be fixed, the seating position’s got to be fixed, the fingers’ got to be fixed. Not enough follow-through? That’s got to be fixed too.

Tolerate no dissension. Once you allow a voice of dissent, you’ve started them on that slippery path to reason and independence from you.

And never fail to remind them you’ve got the keys to the kingdom. You’re the only one who can save them from the fires of hell or the anguish of eternal guitar mediocrity.

Yes, this means creating a dependency complex. But hey, if they don’t become dependent on you, how do you expect them to swear unwavering loyalty to you?

Just some random thoughts on the subject. I might have missed a couple more points along the way.

2 Responses to “The art of obfuscation”

  1. JR Says:

    A friend of mine told me about a drum teacher we went to when he was young and gullible who would play a “roll” with one hand and then declare, “I defy anyone to do that!” Monthly payments were showered upon the guru.
    But it isn’t for sale. I haven’t met anyone that could play well who bought it with anything other than hard work that they did themselves. Most of the best players I know couldn’t even walk by their instrument without stopping to play it. Even if a teacher tells someone what to do, they still have to make it their own and that takes time. And there is no way to tell how long that might be. Sometimes it’s really quick and sometimes it’s not. When it’s quick we call it talent.

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    Can’t agree with you more. Ultimately, it’s all up to us. We have to teach ourselves, no one can do it for us. Yes, there’s talent, there’s also luck sometimes, as in when you happen to stumble unto a trick or technique. But mostly, it’s hard work, as you say.

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