“He who cannot obey himself will be commanded”, wrote Nietzsche. And he added “There are those who know how to command themselves, but they very far from knowing how to obey themselves.” Self-control, mastering oneself, is what allows us to take charge of our life. Without self-control we are especially vulnerable to two mechanisms of manipulation and domination: one occurs below the threshold of our consciousness and the other is more explicit.
Who makes you angry, controls you
Self-control is what allows us to respond rather than react. When we are able to control our thoughts and emotions, we can decide how to respond to circumstances. We can decide if a certain battle is worth fighting or if, on the contrary, it is better to let it go.
When we are not able to control our emotions and impulses, we just react. Without self-control, there is no pause to reflect and find the best solution. We just let ourselves go. And often that implies that someone will manipulate us.
In fact, emotions are very powerful states that energize our behavior. Anger, in particular, is the emotion that pushes us the most to act and leaves us the least room for reflection. Science has revealed that anger is the emotion that we identify the fastest and most accurately on the faces of the others. It has also revealed that anger changes our perceptions, influences our decisions and guides our behavior, extending beyond the situation that originated it.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, for example, when Carnegie Mellon University researchers experimentally induced a state of anger in people, they found that anger influenced not only their perception of risk about terrorism, but also on their perceptions about everyday events like getting the flu and their political preferences.
When we are angry, our responses are predictable, so it is not by chance that much of the social manipulation we are subjected to is based on generating emotions such as anger and the states that often accompany it, such as indignation and rage. In fact, the contents with the greatest potential to go viral on the Internet are those that generate anger and outrage. Researchers from Beihang University found that anger was the most widespread emotion through social media and had a domino effect that could trigger angry posts up to three degrees apart from the original message.
However, when we react exclusively driven by anger or other emotions, without having passed them through the screen of self-control, we are more suggestible and easier to manipulate. Of course, that control mechanism usually occurs below our radar, so we are generally unaware of its existence. To deactivate it, it would be enough to stop for a second before reacting to regain the control referred to by Nietzsche.
If you don’t have clear your path, someone will mark it for you
“Not everyone wants to carry the burden of what is not ordered; but they do the most difficult when you command it to them”, pointed out Nietzsche, referring to the quite widespread tendency to flee from our responsibilities and let the others decide for us.
Developing self-control also means recognizing that we are responsible for our actions. However, when people are not willing to assume such responsibility, they prefer to leave it in the hands of the others, so that they are the ones who decide.
The trial that began on April 11, 1961 in Jerusalem against Adolf Eichmann, lieutenant colonel of the Nazi SS and the main person in charge of the mass deportations that ended the lives of more than 6 million Jews, is an extreme example of the abdication of the control.
Hannah Arendt, a German-born Jewish philosopher who fled to the United States, wrote when she came face to face with Eichmann: “Despite the prosecutor’s efforts, anyone could see that this man was not a monster […] pure and simple thoughtlessness […] was what predisposed him to become the greatest criminal of his time […] It was not stupidity, but a curious and truly authentic inability to think”.
This man considered himself a “Simple wheel of the administrative machinery.” He had let others decide in his place, control him and tell him what to do. Arendt realized this. She understood that completely normal people can commit heinous acts when they let others decide for them.
Those who escape from their responsibilities and do not want to take charge of their lives, will let the others take on that task. After all, if things go wrong, it is easier to blame the others and look for scapegoats than to examine our conscience, sing the mea culpa, and work to correct the errors.
The concept Übermensch of Nietszche goes in the opposite direction. His superman ideal draws a person, woman or man, who does not answer to anyone but himself or herself. A person who decides by following his or her value system, has an iron will and, above all, takes responsibility for his or her life. This self-determined man or woman does not allow himself or herself to be manipulated by external forces, much less does he or her allow others to tell him or her how he or she should live.
However, those who have not developed an locus of control internal and do not have sufficient willpower will need clear laws and regulations that come from outside and help them direct their lives. Then external values take the place of eigenvalues. The decisions of the others guide their decisions. And they end up living the life someone else outlined for them.
Fan, R. et. Al. (2014) Anger is More Influential Than Joy: Sentiment Correlation in Weibo. PLoS ONE: 9(10).
Lerner, J. S. et. Al. (2003) Effects of Fear and Anger on Perceived Risks of Terrorism: A National Field Experiment. Psychological Science; 14(2): 144-150.
Hansen, C. H. & Hansen, R. D. (1988) Finding the face in the crowd: an anger superiority effect. J Pers Soc Psychol; 54(6): 917-924.