Getting people to do what you want them to do is difficult. Whether it is selling a product, trying to get laid or setting people against each other or squirming out of trouble, your mission is fraught with danger from its very inception. The brightest minds in the world can form intricate plans and pathways, but nothing is ever guaranteed, and there is one aspect of all of these things that has been true for all of eternity and shall forever be. In order to get people to do what you want, or to decide what you want them to decide, you have to control a conversation.
You’ll see it around you every day. At work, at school and at church. At home with the spouse, in the car with the kids. Your power and influence over others is directly linked to your ability to control the story. Controlling the story is the most difficult part.
It is generally accepted that the rule of Strategy over Tactics is paramount. Your strategy is your story, and your tactics are the methods with which you keep to it. This is why when you lie, you spend extraordinary effort in keeping the changes to the lie minimal but believable. The lie has to be malleable without stripping away the integrity of the story.
In the world of politics, this is the lifeline of any campaign. When one person is competing against the other, invariably their success is drawn from which of them is telling the story that the other is reacting to. This battle over the control of the strategy is a long drawn out, bloody cockfight. Pecking holes in the story is one thing, a trap that is subtle and engrossing. The big boys, however, turn the tables and take control of the narrative by eschewing it completely. This is known as ‘the Dead Cat’.
Boris Johnson, cunning and false buffoon cum-Bond villain that he is, illustrated it excellently in an article penned for the Telegraph.
“Let us suppose you are losing an argument,” opined Boris Johnson earlier this year.
“The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case.
“Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate’.”
The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.
It’s something that comes naturally to humans, even when they’re still toddling. In any online discussion, there are those pleading whataboutery in comment sections. Distraction is a survival mechanism, but it is also a deft tool. The art of politics is the art of controlling your external environment, something which affects us all directly, for we do it in every aspect of our lives and in every interaction we take part in.
This is why honesty comes as such a burden to politicians. There are dead cats, everywhere. Opening your mouth could strangle another, unless the ramifications have already been planned out in full.
The lesson is not necessarily how to deploy the Dead Cat. The important thing to learn is how to react to it. Mastery of the Dead Cat will carry you through your career. It’ll win you the hearts of friends and lovers, and it may even get you elected.