conjugate into the first person
Alaungpaya, the founder of the last dynasty of Burma, would have made a great essayist.
Only two major cities stood in the way of a united Burma: Syriam and Bago (where I once spent two hours at a bus stop with two Germans and a hundred flies, hanging in the air like fat black bullets). Syriam’s walls were too difficult to successfully siege, and French reinforcements were on their way to drive Alaungpaya back. With the clock ticking, he put out a call for volunteers. 93 of his men came forward; guards, officers, princes. They were given leather helmets, fresh armor, and were sent to the walls by night.
That same night, Alaungpaya had his drummers beat loudly, to convince Syriam’s guards that there was a celebration in the camp—that they were too distracted to attack. The drums beat, the monsoon rains fell, and the 93 soldiers of the Golden Company of Alaungpaya climbed the walls of the city, slaughtered their way to the gates, and swung them open for the army to pour through. 73 of the Golden company died. Alaungpaya lives forever in stone and steel and the hearts of the Burmese people.
The goal of the essay is the same as the goal of any other will to power: to conjugate into the first person.
By military power, you conjugate foreigners into citizens.
By religious power, you conjugate heretics into adherents.
By political power, you conjugate multiplicity into hegemony.
And by intellectual power, you conjugate one worldview into another.
Intellectual power has to be sneaky in order to be effective. The Backfire Effect has been (finally) noted by scientists, trailing their usual few thousand years behind attentive observers of the human condition: when people are confronted with facts which contradict—even subtly—their beliefs or worldview, they walk away from the confrontation more assured in their original beliefs than they were before. This shocked the scientists who first (“first”) discovered the effect, but wouldn’t much surprise anyone who’s paid attention to the movements of their own mind while reading an article they disagree with, or hearing an anecdote that points against a belief they hold. The mind stiffens its borders, moors against the tide. –If you’re a big believer in the sciences, for example, note how your mind acted all through this paragraph. Note how hostile you’re probably feeling about now.
If you want to convince, you can’t attack head-on. You have to make someone believe that they already agree with you. You have to send in the Golden Company, to open the gates from the inside.
One experiment would be to strip away all persuasive language from your essay. Take away everything meant to convince, leave only the direct evidence presented. Have faith that the facts as they stand will form an irrefutable constellation of crystalized reality. The scales will fall from your readers’ eyes, and their neurons will re-map in thine image.
Different cultures have different ideas of the constellations. We call the same thing the Great Bear and the Big Dipper. There’s probably a culture that thinks it’s a fish.
I searched around, and the Burmese called the Great Dipper ‘Pucwan Tara,’ or ‘The Crustacean.’ Many cultures agree on ‘Bear.’
Alaungpaya’s persuasive flair extended beyond military maneuvers. After taking the throne, he opened a line of communication with England by sending King George II a letter, engraved on gold parchment, lined with rubies, and rolled up into an ivory vase.