From Magic City Morning Star

Editor's Desk
That Was Strange
By Ken Anderson
Feb 17, 2004 - 12:08:00 AM

If these people weren't playing with our future, I'd call it entertainment.

Given the things that I have been saying about them in my columns, and knowing that AMCi was on the agenda for the town council meeting, I had expected them to come prepared. While I knew that we had the facts on our side, I still get intimidated sometimes, particularly when I am going to be speaking out in public in opposition to someone who is better educated than I.

I keep telling myself that I shouldn't feel that way, since I've certainly come across more than my share of educated people - doctors, lawyers, and psychologists - who were nevertheless unimpressive. Still, I don't consider public speaking or debate to be my strong point and, at heart, I suppose I am shy.

I shouldn't have worried.

When Michael Kelly, psychologist and chairman of AMCi, approached the council, supposedly to report on the progress that has been made in the "visioning process" that is currently underway here in the Katahdin area, his performance was bizarre.

Even before anyone said anything to him, he was waving his arms around and doing a thing with his hips that would be hard to describe, but it was as if he were having trouble being comfortable in his own skin.

And it went downhill from there.

When Councilor Davis asked him to explain the similarities between his program and U.N. Agenda 21, Kelly turned on him, apparently thinking that everyone in Millinocket is easily intimidated.

And then it got even more unusual.

Kelly claimed to have never heard of U.N. Agenda 21, although he has been facilitating the implementation of Local Agenda 21 for the past several years.

"I don't really care to know about it," said Kelly. "I've got important things to do."

That was sort of like saying, "I don't have time to look at that round thing you have in your hand, I'm busy inventing the wheel."

Then when Councilor Busque questioned him about the similarities between his wheel and the ones that were already in use all over the world, Kelly made the biggest tactical error of the evening. Kelly treated Busque as if he were an idiot, which was not the best move that he could have made. Anyone who knows Jimmy knows that he is anything but stupid.

Then it got really weird.

Have you ever known someone who seemed reasonable enough suddenly say or do something so strange that it caused you to take a couple of steps back and wonder if you should maybe call someone? That was what this was like.

Kelly asked for someone in the room to ask him what he thought about economic development. Confused, the council chambers were silent. He asked again, but still nothing. The volume of each successive plea rose higher and higher, until Councilor Fanjoy finally asked him, quietly, what he thought about economic development.

"GROW OR DIE!," Kelly cried out, in a booming voice.

"GROW OR DIE!," thundering now.

A hush came over the room. People were looking around, as if for someone in a white coat. I felt like asking him if he was okay, but I was afraid. The psychologist seemed to be in need of one.

When public comment was limited to ten minutes, at the request of Councilor Postein, Kelly tried to filibuster time by reading an article out of the Katahdin Times, using a singsong, insane sort of voice.

Then they left, Kelly and the entourage that accompanied him.

We would all be better off if they were to leave the Katahdin region, once and for all. Whatever we've paid them, count it as a loss. We'll only lose more by continuing this madness.

Councilor Nelson, a stakeholder in the vision process, said that he was insulted by the comments that I had made in front of the council and on the pages of the Magic City Morning Star. He also said, of the vision process, that he wouldn't expect anyone to understand it unless they were involved. Somehow, this was disconcerting.

Chairman Danforth said that I was ridiculous, but I forgive him for that, as I will believe that he means well until proven otherwise.

Councilor Fanjoy complained about people complaining but not getting involved in the vision process, while Councilor Polstein said that my writings were destructive.

Interesting. I spend far too much time on this issue to believe that I am unwilling to get involved, so I guess the only way that one can be involved, as defined by the vision committee stakeholders, which include both Fanjoy and Polstein, is to go along.

Anyone unwilling to blindly follow is destructive.

Fanjoy also said that it was unfair to criticize the vision process after so many people had put so much hard work into it.

I wonder how much time and effort the Germans put into building the Third Reich?

I understand the sentiment, however. I've driven all over the country, as well as in Canada and Mexico. Being a guy, I do my best never to ask for directions. There were times when I would learn only after having driven a hundred miles or more out of my way that I was on the wrong road. So I can sympathize with anyone who doesn't want to go back after having devoted a whole lot of time and effort traveling in the wrong direction.

But it still doesn't make sense to keep going.

There are some evil people at the helm of our vision process, but this is not at all true of most of those who have taken part in serving on the various committees. Most of you have given of your time in order that you might be able to contribute to the community in which you live. I applaud your efforts, but I will insist that you're being led in the wrong direction.

How is that done?

Mr. Kelly has always identified himself as a facilitator. He said it again during his performance Thursday night. They call themselves facilitators because it sounds neutral.

In a group of people not under his control, Kelly was out of his element, and not at all impressive, but I have to believe that this isn't the case when he is doing what he does best.

Have you ever wondered why a psychologist would choose to be a facilitator rather than to do the things that psychologists usually do? Or, perhaps more significantly, why AMCi would have a psychologist in this position?

What professional facilitators really do is work the group over to ensure a predetermined outcome, which they call a consensus. If the discussion is "facilitated" properly, the participants will emerge believing, as many of you do, that whatever decisions were reached were your own idea.

Only later will some of you realize that you were duped.

Before I go further, I should remind you that the folks who make up the "vision committees" were selected, not elected. If you were selected, it was for one of three reasons:

  1. you were already in agreement with the predetermined outcome; or
  2. it was believed that you could be easily manipulated; or
  3. you could be easily marginalized.

Once the vision committees met, the facilitator could be expected to don his manipulator hat. The facilitator/manipulator would encourage each person in a group to express concerns about the program, topic, or policy in question. He would listen attentively, elicit input from group members, form task forces or action committees, urge participants to make lists, and in going through these motions, learn something about each member of the group. The facilitator/manipulator is trained to identify the leaders, the loud mouths, the weak or noncommitted members, as well as those who are likely to change sides during an argument.

The facilitator/manipulator might first try to become an accepted member of the larger group, then later turn factions of the group against its own members. If done properly, this will not be noticeable to anyone other than the victims.

The amiable facilitator might use the pretense of being a "devil's advocate." Using the "divide and conquer" principle, he pits one faction against the other, making those whose views are not desired appear ridiculous, unknowledgeable, inarticulate, or dogmatic. This is called marginalizing.

If the stage has been set properly during the list-building phase, the well-trained manipulator will be able to predict the reactions of most members of a group. Those in opposition to the desired outcome will find themselves effectively shut out.

In psychology circles, this is known as the Delphi Technique. The group rarely, if ever, realizes that they are being manipulated. If they do suspect what is happening, they generally don't know how to shut the process down, and so remain quiet.

Facilitators will often utilize a "selective hearing" process, so that only those questions that support the predetermined outcome are placed on the table for discussion. Generally, the only opposing arguments permitted will be those the facilitator/manipulator deems possibly helpful in escalating tensions later on.

The manipulator, acting as a facilitator, guides the discussion so that it doesn't get away from him. This means that the facilitator/manipulator frames the debate and is careful not to let it go. Soon, some participants begin to adopt the predetermined outcome as if it were their own, and they will be manipulated into pressuring the entire group into accepting it.

The vision process works because people will do just about anything to avoid being ostracized, ridiculed, or otherwise lose face. What happens is that somewhere in the consensus-building process lies a switch that confuses, numbs, and freezes normal responses. Aware that something is going wrong, yet unable to explain, define, or confront it, participants find themselves tongue-tied. They can't articulate the questions or comments that will shut the process down.

Dean Gotcher, the Director of the Institute of Authority Research, explains that there appears to be a trigger mechanism that cuts off one's awareness of impending danger and suppresses the ability to resist, resulting in indecision, and eventually capitulation. Part of the numbness one feels, he says, comes from this fear of potential alienation and loss of credibility or status by one's peers, which is engineered by the manipulator.

If you were at Thursday's council meeting, think about the response that my comments received from Michael Kelly, Councilor Polstein, and other vision stakeholders.

Their attempts at marginalization were crude, perhaps because Kelly was out of his familiar surroundings, but more likely because the people in that particular room had not been pre-selected.

In towns the size of Millinocket, East Millinocket, and Medway, it's pretty easy to pre-select individuals who are most likely to agree or disagree with a proposal, thus packing a forum. Participants against a facilitator-desired proposal are frequently screened to ensure that they will not be particularly articulate, or that they might sound shrill and hysterical in their voice, or that they have a reputation for being unorganized in their presentations.

Others were selected because they agreed with the predetermined vision, or were financially invested in the outcome.

The competent manipulator will control the vision committee process in such a way that no questions will be explored and no views will be aired that deviate from the pre-decided topics.

Another tool of the trade in psychological manipulation is the ability to make "facts" and "truths" interchangeable. The skilled manipulator can make you question the difference between a fact and a truth.

Making facts and truths interchangeable involves easing people away from thinking about how they personally feel about a situation in the context of their own experience. This is achieved with the help of strategically placed social (peer) pressure.

One tactic that is used is placing members of a group into a hypothetical environment that is essentially foreign to their experience, but which requires their involvement - in other words, a what-would-you-do-if situation.

If it is accomplished correctly, each individual in the group will move from fixed beliefs to a transitional mode of thought in which facts become murky, and truth is in doubt, where black is no longer black, nor white, white, so that the individual is willing to accept a group consensus of gray.

From there, the various views held by the participants of the vision committee can be reworded by the facilitator until the opinions that a person walked into the room with become watered down, distorted, or ill-defined.

The facilitators are not here to help the community decide what to do, they are here to sell you something you neither want or need.

To accomplish his purpose, the facilitator/manipulator will try to trick the group into believing that the program or vision was its own idea. From there, the group will be manipulated so that those who are still saying to themselves subconsciously, "Wait a minute, this isn't my idea," are either convinced to change sides or are overwhelmed by the other members of the group.

The manipulator's job is to set the agenda and keep it going, often assisted by carefully placed stakeholders who have already signed onto the agenda, out of commitment to the green agenda, for personal gain, or for other reasons.

Councilor Polstein suggested that he may have been recruited by the Nature Conservancy to come here and to do just as he has done. I don't know if this is true, but he did host their annual meeting, and he has done their bidding.

If you are a member of one of the various vision committees, please understand that it is very difficult for anyone to counteract the methods of a trained manipulator in his own environment.

You did what you thought you should be doing, and for all of the right reasons, but you were wrong, and the sad thing is that you are probably not even among the stakeholders who stand to gain from this process.

You have been duped by a professional. You should feel insulted, but not by me. I am not the one who is using you.

The people who make up the group of select stakeholders in the Katahdin Region Vision are anything but representative of the community.

The Vision Committee stakeholders were not elected by the citizens, and should no longer be permitted to make decisions that are rightfully those of the elected officials in this area, who themselves must be held accountable for their actions.

We still live under a republican form of government that allows us to undo errors that have been made. Lobby your councilman or selectman to stop the implementation of Local Agenda 21.

There is still time to take back Millinocket. There is yet time to take back East Millinocket, and Medway; in fact, I think you guys figured it out before we did here in Millinocket.

Let's take back the Katahdin region while we still can.

Related Articles Published be Magic City Morning Star

Information from the text, How to Counter Group Manipulation Tactics, by B.K. Eakman was used to some extent in this article.

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