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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





If a person could be at every place, understand every language, listen to every message, receive every symbol with perfect understanding, without modifying it in any way, such a person would exemplify perfect receptivity. If, in addition, this person could pass along, unchanged, all of the symbols he received to all members of an audience, he would be a perfect channel or medium of communication.

Such a person does not exist. There are spatial, language, and volitional barriers to receptivity. And there are barriers produced by the social experience and the personality characteristics of individuals. Even though man has developed many complex and efficient mechanical and electronic means of circumventing some of these barriers, they too are less than perfect. To speak only of mechanical limitations and to use some of the language of information theory, the message may be obscured by "noise" (or error) occuring at the time the message is encoded. There may be additional noise in the channel and finally noise produced in the decoding process. All of this noise or error interferes with the reception of the message.

Human tendencies to put their own cultural and psychological peculiarities into an outgoing message, and to add to or subtract from an incoming message by the same process, introduce another "error" which has been called "semantic noise." If a potential target is jammed by "semantic noise" it is just as fruitless as if it were jammed by mechanical or electronic means.

The operator is concerned with communications which will go to a group and which will be received or not received, passed on or not, in accordance with the characteristics of this group and of the individuals within it. Putting the problem into tabular form, the operator wants to divide up the elite into :

Symbol-conveyors Symbol non-conveyor
Receptors of sender’s symbols p q
Non-receptors of sender’s symbols r s

He wishes to locate the channels to the symbol receptor-conveyor group (p), and to know as much as possible about their channels to q, r and s, so that the amount of favorable communications from p to non-p influentials may be increased.


XXV-1. Spatial availability of elite to communications. A first step in isolating the symbol-receptor-conveyor group is an obvious, yet necessary task of identifying the physical means of communication which are available to the operator. What opportunities, for example, are there for face-to-face communication? Is the elite concentrated in a physical place? Are there language barriers? Are there space or time barriers? Are there special opportunities for face-to-face communication because of habits of the influentials? Is the elite despersed geographically? Are means of travel to them available? Does the influential have a favorite bar, coffee house, night club or park bench?

The operator should also endeavor to inventory the means for indirect, yet personal, contact. Is there opportunity for telephone conversation? Are there unlisted phones. Is approach by telegram or by letter a possible channel. Are there persons near to the influential either in power rank or in physical proximity who can serve as message conveyors? Are there more effective times of the day to use these indirect means of personal contact. When does the influential get to his office? Or to his home? Or to his mistress’s apartment? Are there barriers in the form of subsidiary personnel such as secretaries who must be by-passed.

XXV-2. Face-to face contacts. The operator should gather information answering these and other questions on simple availability of influentials. Face-to-face contact remains the most effective means of symbol conveyance. Yet it is often difficult merely to get to see or to talk to the right man at the right time. And the operator’s general efficiency demands an efficient use of his time. There is not enough available for him to spend much upon futile attempts to get to the influential.

The study of opportunities for face-to-face contact with influentials is virtually endless. The skilled operator with a storehouse of such information will add to it almost daily. He will record changes promptly, will assemble the pertinent information on the ascending influential, note changes in old habits and relationships, catch quickly the discovery of a new favorite eating place or coffee house. He will know which influential one can talk to directly, which can be called on the phone; he will know where influentials are likely to be day or night or which of their associates can and will give information on their whereabouts.

Direct channels are particularly important in a hostile state or organization, where any open dissemination of one’s messages is all but impossible Recent studies have indicated that in Russia, for example, word-of-mouth communication plays a very important role in the communication system. Indications are that more than half of the population utilize word-of-mouth as a regular source of information and that one-third regard it as their most important source. Of special relevance to the operator, this study also indicated that individuals in the urban elite were above average users of this unofficial "communications network" and that they were almost unanimous in regarding it as providing more reliable information than official sources such as newspapers and radio broadcasts of the regime. In this respect, these individuals differed markedly from the worker and peasant representatives of the group studies, who made a similar use of word-of-mouth communication, but had much less faith in it. A note of caution should be injected concerning this study, since it was based on refugee groups who had voluntarily left Russia. The authors point out, however, that reports of use of word-of-mouth communication and tendency to consider it reliable, were as strong or stronger among individuals who had low anti-Soviet feelings as among those who had high anti-Soviet feelings. They suggest strongly that it is a reliable indicator of the use of the unofficial "network" within Russia.

That such a phenomenon exists in Russia should be encouraging to the operator who is faced with hostile or closed society, which puts almost insuperable barriers in the way of his reaching the target. At the same time, this word-of-mouth network should not be overlooked by the operator who is working in a more friendly atmosphere. Such a network exists in open societies as well, and provides real opportunities for the circulation of information.

Of maximum importance to the operator is the similar, but much smaller network of the elite. It will be made up of the patterns and habits of contact between elite individuals. As the theory of elite networks indicates, this will probably be a relatively self-contained interaction pattern, though there certainly will be offshoots into lower levels of the power structure. These offshoots may be of particular importance when the operator discovers that he has no direct access to the elite network.

XXV-3. Inventory of mass media. As well as making an inventory of the means of direct communication, the operator should become familiar with the less personalized communication channels. What mass media or communications exist? And especially, what media are particularly read, listened to, or looked at by influentials?

The first task is to take a basic inventory of the mass media in the target area. Yearbooks, directories and other publications often will list them quite definitively. If the target area is relatively small, the operator can easily prepare adequate lists himself. Names of media personnel (if not already obtained on the grounds of membership in the elite) circulation figures, statements of political affiliation, and other pertinent information should be obtained. A caution on circulation figures of printed media (and of radio audience estimates) is probably in order, since virtually no foreign publications are subject to the rigorous kinds of checks on circulation figures which are standard in the U.S. A special note on magazines: the operator should expect a diversity of kinds of magazine, including many of small circulation, but particularly important as elite publications. While foreign magazines are not as multitudinous as those of the U.S., the standard path to success in the magazine field, abroad as well as in the U.S., is to find a specialized audience and to put out a publication for it alone.

Resources of the target area in movie-making facilities supply of films, and movie-showing facilities should also be checked. Similar categories in the book field are useful; publishers, supplies of books, libraries, book stores. Information on particularly successful films and books in the target area also will be helpful. Information on the legitimate theater, concert programs, lecture programs, and other such programs, along with facilities for them, is useful, even though they do not fit the notion of mass media. More detailed information on the media, with special reference to both individual influentials land elite groups will be taken up in the following chapters.

XXV-4. Analysis of personality factors in receptivity. Before ending the discussion of receptivity of the target, one should consider two other limitations upon it - those related to individual personality and those related to group associations.

While study of elite groups has failed to isolate universal personality types or even common dominant traits among leaders, psychological research has indicated that there are personality types which are more susceptible to persuasion than others. To a degree, this research confirms the man-in-the-street stereotype of the gullible individual ("He’ll buy anything") and of the man from Missouri("Show me.") Anyone who has engaged in activities related to persuasion, from salesmanship to seeking political converts to getting a neighborhood petition signed, has observed such a range in "persuasibility."

Psychological studies of American groups indicate that the individual with a feeling of social inadequacy who is shy or has low self esteem, tends to have more persuasibility. In addition, the person who seriously inhibits his aggressive feeling, who rarely criticizes others, who is not distrustful, is placed in the same group, along with the depressed or unhappy persons.

On the other hand, the aggressive person, the one who is socially withdrawn (in a narcissistic sense), or who is actually acutely psychoneurotic, has been found to be low in persuasibility. Other characteristics related to an unwillingness to change of ideas were symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of obsession.

While quantitative information to support the idea is lacking, certainly the stereotype of the influential tends to fit the latter configuration of traits better than the former. If in fact the target group is made up of individuals of these traits, the operator would have to face the fact that he is dealing with a group with generally low persuasibility. On the other hand, there certainly have been (and continue to be) influentials with personality traits associated with persuasibility. The existence of elites dominated by men of violence skills suggests a group of low persuasibility, while the existence of others predominantly made up of men of bargaining skills suggests personality traits associated with persuasibility.

This is only to suggest to the operator that some assessment of the personality of the influentials who are members of the target group is advisable. And if the operator finds characteristics associated with steadfastness in opinions and attitudes, he will be forewarned about the difficulty of the task before him. Certainly, if within the target he discovers a variety of personality types, it would be sensible to assess them as to persuasibility, and to concentrate upon those who present more opportunity for success.

Studies of the relationship of intelligence to persuasibility have produced a variety of results, but they do tend to confirm the common sense notion that one has to be as smart as his prospect, if he hopes to convince him. And as far as the quality of the message is concerned, there are experimental indications that a more intelligent target is more likely than a stupid target to accept a message relying on impressive, logical arguments. To use a military analogy, it’s waste of ammunition to shoot armor-piercing shells at infantry in an open field.

This discussion also suggests that the operator must be aware that the personality of the target influential, in terms of the opening remarks, may create a measure of "semantic noise" which will interfere with the reception of his message. The relation of the above personality factors to other phases of communication, such as readership of the mass media will be discussed in Section XXVII.

XXV-5. Finding the channels through target’s associations. Sections VII, VIII and IX have already discussed elite groups in some detail, but it should be reiterated here that the group associations of the influential will have much to do with his receptivity. Actually, the operator should always include in his concept of group associations, the total number of "reference groups" of the influential. It has been often demonstrated that an individual tends to act in accordance, not only with the standards of the group to which he belongs, but also in accordance with the standards (the sociologists call them "norms") of groups which he admires, would like to belong to, or to which his admired associates belong. Study of elite groups in accordance with the suggestion of early chapters also will have revealed to the operator that the "norms" of some are more favorable to the U.S. than those of others. In addition, the development of detailed information on the influential’s group associations will usually have revealed that he has a variety of them.

Again the suggestion is to be selective. If one group association offers a barrier to receptivity, look for another more favorable. In personal discussion with the influential, in indirect contact through message conveyors, in choice of media, select the channel and use the "cues" which will evoke the norms of the U.S.A. - favorable group; avoid the channels and the cues of the U.S.A. - unfavorable group. Further, (see Section IV-10), the operator should always be aware and alert when he is dealing with an influential who is being subject to group cross-pressures. Reaching the target in such circumstances is a delicate task, always in danger of failure through evoking the unwanted set of norms.

XXV-6. Differential cohesion as a limit on vulnerability. Some discussion of the intensity of group associations, along with suggestion that information be recorded to indicate it, has already been presented (Section IV-3). This must be mentioned here again, as it affects the persuasibility of the individual, especially when the message is contra-group norm. Tests of individuals with high valuation of membership in a group have indicated that they also have a high resistance to change. Conversely, individuals with low valuation of membership in a group are more likely to change their opinions in the direction of a persuasive communication, even though it is contradictory to their group norms.

XXV-7. Differential status as a limit on vulnerability. The status of the individual within the group is another factor which probably is related to persuasibility, but the evidence of how it affects the individual is mixed. This is unfortunate, for the influentials in which the operator is most interested, will have high status within their groups. There is some evidence to indicate that the high status member of the group can at least receive contra-group communications without affecting his status (while the slow-ranking individual might not even be accessible). But whether he is more or less likely than a lower ranking person to be persuaded by the communication depends upon a number of factors: is his leadership in the group based upon his own conformity to group norms? Is his leadership related to his ability to make changes or innovations. Instances can be cited which would tend to prove either hypothesis. An anthropologist, discussing this question, suggests that there are two circumstances in which the elite are more likely to be innovators: when their "prestige ratings depend upon their support of novelty within a limited framework of expectancy" (as in the setting of new clothing styles or fads) and when their "power prerogatives" are so great that their followers have no choice but to submit. (H.G. Barnett, in Innovation (1953), p.318).

The first instance is probably not very important to the operator, but the second may be very valuable. But, in general, as the writer goes on to caution:

"The advocacy of a novelty is a precarious venture..An eminent man owes something to his admirers, and one of his obligations is to meet their expectations of him. These expectations may be imposed upon him because of the status accorded him by birth, or they may be extrapolations based upon his achievements. In either case they impose restraints upon his behavior and forbid radical departures from the norm that has been determined for him or that he has evolved for himself. A reputation is an obligation to conform, and it permits little freedom in advocating novel ideas..."

XXV-8. Leakage of symbols-meaning over target boundaries. Although stress has been placed on limitations to receptivity in terms of the individual influential and in terms of the groups of which he is a member (or which he admires), it should be noted that modern communications are providing a measure of "cultural diffusion." This may help eliminate some of the barriers caused by the group "references" of the elite. A study of national constitutions, for example, indicates that there are striking similarities, with approximately four-fifths guaranteeing such rights as freedom of speech and press, property, assembly and association, religion, conscience, inviolability of domicile, etc. At the same time, the operator should be alert for possibilities that there may be considerable "semantic noise" if he endeavors to use such phrases and concepts, with the target elite having definitions and nuances of meaning quite unlike his own when they use these phrases.

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