Subverting Social Roles

Next time I’m on a plane with a child yelling behind me, I’m just going to start yelling too.

Whenever this kind of thing happens I’m always thinking “Hey kid, you’ll have plenty of time to complain as an adult. Right now, this is quiet time. So shush.”

Thing is, we all have social roles. I can’t start yelling in a plane because I’ll get kicked off it, but the child can yell all he wants, because expectations and our roles are different. Any treatment you receive is based on what people see and hear from authorities. The visible matters to them. The rest does not.

Two things become interesting here.

ONE>>> You need a strong social role to be taken seriously. A big part of social engineering involves taking on false authority in order to bypass security measures. If you want to get in the back door and out the side the way the best do in the internet age, you need to do it the same way.

Those that learn to do it go up the ladder fast, because they are doing a form of simplifying complex business models that is based on doing what’s needed to find results, instead of going through the usual bureaucratic maze.

TWO>>> The message must come from a social role they respect. I read a lot about anarchism but the street punks asking for change won’t listen to me because I don’t look like them. If they see my tattoos it might be different. Same with any person– the role must be congruent with what they feel themselves to be or the message isn’t heard.

I don’t think any of this will help me yell in an airplane, but certain parts of it might ensure I don’t get put on any blacklists.

What tricks do you have to subvert this kind of behaviour? Teach me something.






3 responses to “Subverting Social Roles”

  1. Ian M Rountree Avatar

    There’s a fun dichotomy that goes on between fitting in and standing out, isn’t there? Especially with simple cues.

    Social engineering gets a bad rap for involving complicated tactics and well-planned execution. As you say – expected associations are powerful.

    Thus, this:

  2. Justin Kownacki Avatar

    I presume you’ve already read this, but your readers may not have seen it: Tom Chiarella’s Esquire essay about the power of simply saying “no,” and how it changes the way people perceive and respond to you.

  3. Tamsen Avatar

    It’s all about trust, isn’t it? As you know very well, trust comes in many forms, and is ascribed to others for many reasons.

    My best tactic for subverting social roles has been to observe a situation long enough to figure out which of two paths is more likely to bring about the outcome I want at the moment: blend in, or stand out?

    Both tactics use surprise as the main source of power, but trust happens in a different spot in the interaction. When you blend in, you gain trust from being seen as part of the group. When then you use that group’s own norms in a different or unexpected way (to subvert the social role), that surprise element gets people to take notice. If done well, it also can create *more* trust–you are one of us, and yet see things differently.

    When standing out, the surprise comes from difference, and the difference draws attention. That’s the tricky one, though, as attention is so fleeting. When you choose to stand out to subvert a social role, you need to be able to back up, immediately, the attention that’s going to be paid to you as a result. That means not only having something legitimate to offer, but having integrity to your core AND respect for the role that you’re about to subvert. In that case, it’s that combination of integrity and respect that gains the trust–you’re different from us, and yet your difference is real, makes sense to me, and is presented to us, without judgment, as a different way to be.

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