I wonder how do you read this question: How far could a peak social manipulator go?

A Rogue Ant. and I had a discussion in the comments and came to a realisation that we read this question in two different ways. A Rogue Ant. suggested that we 'bring this issue up in a meta question and ask for consensus'.

A Rogue Ant. sees this question as a question 'about their [character's] future possible achievements within an undefined and potentially huge set of situations', while I perceive it as a question about the character's capabilities (manipulation and its limitations).

My reasoning is based on:

  1. The OP's question in the body: However, how far could one with pinnacle skill in manipulation go in terms of what they're able to influence and manipulate without the skill being a superpower or supernatural in nature?
  2. Use of the

From my perspective, this question is about the nature of manipulation and its limitations. The character appears only to eliminate the skill level variable (which is also one of the limitations). The provided examples serve as an attempt to establish the limits of possible.


  1. Please read A Rogue Ant.'s comments or direct questions to them if you wish to learn more about their position on the issue and their reasoning.

  2. I agree that the question could've been worded better.

  3. This is not my question.

  4. My background is in arts, psychology, and communications. My perspective is influenced by my background. In other words, I am biased (and I do not feel bad about it).

  5. I am not looking for consensus. I am more interested in various interpretations of this question and the reasonings behind them.

I guess I need to make myself clear about my purpose for starting this discussion (which is most likely different from A Rogue Ant.'s interest).

I am not looking for a verdict on who is right and who is wrong. It does not matter to me. I want to understand how people perceive questions like this. I want to see what logic and what assumptions people use when interpreting this type of question.

I specifically stated my background because it is ultimately responsible for my understanding of the abovementioned question. I have biases that lead to certain assumptions that look 'obvious' to me. However, I have enough self-awareness to understand that my 'obvious' differs from other people's 'obvious'. The answers to my query can help me to see these differences.

I also hope that the answers can yield some insights into how to deal with questions related to humanities. It is my opinion that this stack is too focused on natural sciences and technology. I believe that WB.SE should have more questions about philosophy, culture, and societies because these are important parts of the fictional worlds.

If I understand better how people think and how they read questions I may finally be able to word my thoughts on the subject of humanities. And maybe put some suggestions that would make it easier for people to ask this type of questions.

Of course, this is my opinion and I would not force it on anyone.

Please feel free to ask for clarifications, explanations, or additional information in the comments.

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    $\begingroup$ Side note: don't expect from a new or unregistered user full awareness on the implications of using certain tags $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Mod May 23 at 6:59
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica It is a valid point, however, I think it is better to assume that they are aware of the implications unless proven the opposite. Account does not necessarily reflect familiarity with the stack (for example, my account is new, but I am not a new user of WB.SE). $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 23 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ Well, two good and very different answers, both clearly expressed and reasoned, there may even be more before long. Nice job on the question, I'd not checked-up 'till now if you'd posted. So far, I honestly can't say which way the argument is weighted. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. May 24 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt. Would you mind summarizing your position in an answer here? Our discussion was moved to chat and chats happen to disappear. I did not want to include too many quotes from your comments because it might've distorted your intended meaning. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 24 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking about it, yes. Time permitting, it'll be Wednesday that I sit down to write it. Your attention to not distorting the argument does you great credit. I won't write an answer unless (until, really) I can properly diligently, cover the issue as I see it. @Otkin $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. May 24 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ "However, I think it is better to assume that they are aware of the implications unless proven the opposite." That's a bad assumption and a substantial part of why your debate with ARogueAnt. and this post exist. See my answer. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 24 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH Assumptions about people are always bad. But if you must assume something it is better to assume good things. And you should never assume that someone is ignorant, it is not productive. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 25 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin Thanks, Otkin. I disagree based on decades of experience in life and years of experience on the site. You might not have thought the matter through, but assuming they're aware of the implications makes them intentional rebels against the rules rather than ignorant mistakes - that doesn't sound better to me. But there's room for disagreement. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 25 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Your perception is correct. However quite low effort and honestly pointless q, however u answer to it is top notch. Which combined makes it legit and on topic and acceptable. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg May 26 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg The funny thing is that I am not interested in 'wrong' and 'right' or who is 'correct'. I want to understand how other people read questions like this. I mentioned my own biases because they influence my thinking and sometimes I simply do not understand how people miss the 'obvious'. But the truth is my 'obvious' is not other people's 'obvious'. This question is my attempt to figure out how much my 'obvious' differs from others. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 26 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ Suprised u on such a jorney, as it has clear observable answer "jedem dass seine" "beauty in eye of beholder" etc. As my phylosophy teacher said, it was short and lausy course at uni but it all worth it because of this one - there are many ways assess philosophies or their truth so to speak, and one of is practical usefullness, to which I stick to. His interpretation yeilds no answer, yours do. How much is a difference? It is a subjective matter unique to anyone. And how much is defined by your metrics. Everyone reads q in framework of their knowledge, which yeilds results or not. $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg May 26 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg I would say that my journey is that of self-improvement with 'know thyself' as a motto. I believe that I need to work more on intellectual humility. I also believe that discussions like this are beneficial to the community as a whole. There are many ways to approach the same question or the same problem and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. There are very few distinctly right or wrong approaches when it comes to reality. I believe the same applies here, too. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 26 at 20:03

The question has a lot of problems before it even gets to your issue

It's not uncommon for new users to ask broad, vague, multi-point questions, all in violation of Help Center restrictions. Unfortunately, rather than insisting that the OP clarify and improve the question, Otkin and ARogueAnt. engaged in a debate (which I've done before... so this is certainly a case of the pot calling the kettle black).

  • Too many questions:1

    • How far ... without being a superpower?
    • Would 3rd party/commercial world feats be within the capacity of a...?
    • How far could my manipulator go?
    • What would be his limitations?
  • Undefined concepts:2

    • What's a "peak social manipulator?" I can legitimately come up with everything from a stone cold sociopath to someone who uses Facebook well.
    • What's a social manipulator superpower? And if we define it as Johan Liebert from Monster...
  • 3rd party/commercial worldbuilding is off-topic. In my opinion, asking if the abilities of a 3rd party/commercial world creature is within the OP's undefined concept violates our no-third-party-or-commercial-worlds rule.3

What's left is a bunch of assumptions: meaning Otkin and ARogueAnt. are both right and both wrong

This question should have been closed and should not be reopened. Honestly, it's so vague that there can be no objective answer.4

To continue, I need some definitions:

  • Worldbuilding (on-topic) is about the development and consistent use of rules and systems for a fictional world of the OP's own creation wherein an infinite number of stories can be told.

  • Storybuilding (off-topic) is about circumstances, plot, and character actions/decisions.5

I believe the crux of the issue is this: Is this question worldbuilding (Otkin's position) or storybuilding (ARogueAnt.'s position)?

IMO, I favor Otkin's interpretation because, lacking information from the OP, I don't perceive the question to be about a single "character," but about a "class of character" equivalent to . The OP made an error by not using this tag. Nevertheless, the post is not asking about how such a creature would respond in any given situation, but how that creature is reflected or expressed in their world.


Having said that, I remind the reader that I agree that this question should have been closed and believe it should not be reopened until improved. Problems like this analysis are the very reason closing questions exists. The debate between Otkin and ARogueAnt. (and my response, for that matter) is irrelevant. We're debating because we don't have clarification from the OP. That should have been red flag #1 that the question should have been closed.

And in that regard, ARogueAnt. (who voted for closure) is right and Otkin (who did not) is wrong.

BTW: The tag is inappropriate for this question (and that should have been a reason to close the question, too). requires the OP to present (a) a circumstance, situation, or construction that reflects the use or application of the rules of the world and (b) the affected rules of the world. The purpose of a is to verify that the circumstance, situation, or construction consistently abides by the rules of the world. As usual, the OP used the tag without reading through the tag wiki and didn't realize that it means something very different than they intended — which is inevitably, "is my fictional idea realistic in the real world?"1


This particular post will remain incomplete until StumblingOver, the OP of the linked question, posts a response. We can't read the OP's mind and no amount of rationalization will justify any interpretation of what the OP wants. Without the OP's clarification, this entire conversation, while interesting, is an exercise in futility. Whatever Otkin and ARogueAnt. think is right, the only interpretation that actually is right is StumblingOver's.

1VTC:Needs Focus, "This question currently includes multiple questions in one. It should focus on one problem only.")

2VTC:Needs Details or Clarity, "This question should include more details and clarify the problem," also VTC:Opinion-Based, "This question is likely to be answered with opinions rather than facts and citations. It should be updated so it will lead to fact-based answers.")

3Monica Ciello's answer to "Policy Clarification: Asking about commercial or third-party worlds")

4From the Help Center, "...All questions must be specific and answerable, ...must include context, ...[and] must include restrictions/requirements...." The same page includes a link to the perfect question checklist and further states, "Questions must be specific as well as answerable. If you are looking for discussion, brainstorming, or an overall process rather than specific questions and answers, the Worldbuilding Stack Exchange might not be a good place for your question."

5From the Help Center we read, "When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story. If a system, event or element of the world is causing you problems we are here to help. If on the other hand you aren’t sure what a character (be it an individual or organization) should do, that is out of scope for the site."

1There's an incredibly important point to make here. The answer to the question, "is my fictional idea realistic in the real world?" is always NO! The logic is both simple and undeniable. (a) The fictional idea doesn't already exist in the real world and (b) if it could, the question would become a real-world question without worldbuilding context making it off-topic. This is intentional. This stack is not here to answer questions about the real world in a real-world context. When asked in a worldbulding context (usually by making "my fictional world" identical to the "real world") the answer becomes very trivially (very trivially) YES! because the OP can always adjust the rules of his/her world to guarantee the consistent existence of the idea. The tag's purpose is to give people the ability to test the rules of their world. Nothing more.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer is precisely the reason we need meta questions like this, so that someone can overview the situation and give everyone the perspective they (myself) needed. The clarity and thoroughness of this answer seems to make any answer I might have written redundant or seem quibbling, trivial at best. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. May 25 at 0:52
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    $\begingroup$ @ARogueAnt. TBH, it is not an answer to my question. I appreciate the effort to list all the reasons for closing the original question, but I have difficulty seeing how the author reads the question and what is the reasoning behind this particular interpretation. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 25 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ I often go to the Help Centre after I read your comments/answers. And I find a lot of inconsistencies between definitions and explanations included in the Help Centre and linked posts and your own interpretations of them. Since you insist that your statements are consistent with the rules I would appreciate it if in the future you include links to specific topics in the Help Centre and posts in Meta that are accepted as definite rules. If there are no links I will have to assume that your words are nothing more than your personal opinion (not necessarily supported by rules). $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 25 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH This is the last time I am going to communicate with you directly. I do not appreciate your tone, attitude, and fallacious arguments. Have a nice day. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 25 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH, please use all those years of experience on this site to better deal with discussions. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Mod May 26 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica Please use that diamond so many of us granted you to better intervene more equitably. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 26 at 5:43

Both points of view are valid. This is one of those questions where neglecting to describe the setting so damages the question, that people will not see a question about a system of rules, but a question for a potential plot.

"What are the limitations of power X in setting Y?" is an acceptable kind of question.

"Can you give me a story where someone with power X ends up on top?" is not acceptable.

And the question "What are the limitations of power X?", sans description of the setting, can be interpreted as synonymous with that.

The specific power of social manipulation is entirely dependent on other people's actions. If we have no boundaries on those other people, for their actions and for circumstances, then we can imagine them to do whatever we like - not because social sciences are soft sciences, but because the circumstances for a manipulator to abuse are myriad. There is no way to even categorise them.

"The power can do as much as the author wants." is a terribly unhelpful comment that I see all too often on this site. But the intention behind it is not (in my interpretation) that manipulation cannot be defined or reasoned about - it is that the circumstances for a manipulator to abuse cannot be defined or reasoned about, because the question makes no attempt to narrow down the circumstances.

I think the question deserves to be closed, but the reason should have been "Needs details or clarity." That is a close-reason that prompts the remedy: adding extra words about the world, the setting. "You are asking a question about a story rather than the world." is unhelpful because there is no solution in sight, and it makes assumptions about the author's motivations that may be inaccurate.

I will not VTO but I would change the close-reason if I could.

  • $\begingroup$ I do not think that the setting's details matter that much. Humans and their reactions are predictable if we talk about averages. Individual's actions and reactions in specific circumstances are not as predictable unless one has a very good understanding of the individual and their background. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 23 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think my thinking will be clearer if I word it slightly differently. I think that the setting and other people do not matter at all, since the limitations of manipulation are pretty much the same in all human cultures at all levels of technological development. Technology and culture provide specific means to work around those limitations. For example, mass media allow for a wider spread of the message thus dealing with the limitations on the manipulator's reach. Filial piety makes it easier to force direct offsprings to do the manipulator's bidding despite psychological limitations. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 23 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin Forgive me if I misunderstood but I feel like you are contradicting yourself. "the setting and other people do not matter at all"; "tech and culture provide specific means to work around those limitations". $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm May 23 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin I think culture in particular is very important. The degree of individualism is paramount: it is easier to manipulate an entire group of people if they are already inclined to follow the pack, whereas in a more individualist society one will need to focus on the most powerful individuals. Culture provides a baseline for where people's allegiances lie, which is what a manipulator needs to tap into in order to gain the best results. $\endgroup$ – KeizerHarm May 23 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ Nature and limitations of manipulation are universal across cultures. Methods are situational and dependent on context. There is no contradiction. Setting and people do not matter when we talk about nature and limitations, but they do matter when we talk about specific methods, goals, and timelines. The former is capabilities, the latter is story, IMO. $\endgroup$ – Otkin May 23 at 20:11

Without knowing what kind of people we're dealing with, I read this as a question of human nature.

Human nature is, essentially a set of rules (or guidelines): the range of qualities and behaviours (at the least) that all humans share. As such, this is a "nature of the invented world" type of question. As with orbital mechanics, human dynamics are perfectly within our scope of practice to deal with.

My Perspective:
I hold that "human nature" in general, "sophont nature" of any kind, or any individual subset of such natures fall within our purview. These are fundamental considerations to stories, yes, but also to history itself. A sophont race's nature derives from its physical and spiritual evolution, the kind of world it arises and lives in, the basic kind of life form it is, the kinds and natures of other life forms around it. I'd argue that this is clearly on topic.

I disconcur with A Rogue Ant that this is a question about a character's future possible achievements within an undefined and potentially huge set of situations. The problems here are, at the least, character development is out of our forum's scope of practice, in so far as choices go. That's story building. I think had the OP not written "I'm trying to create a character..." and had in stead focused on what is generally possible within the broad range of human nature, I think the story focused VTC wouldn't have had a good reason. In other words, I understand the wherefore but disagree with the that.

I concur with Otkin that this is a query of capabilities. Specifically, capabilities within a given context of race, culture, history, technology.


I read that question and it appears to me as being pretty much how can my sociopath establish a regime - and that is blatantly story based. But atop that, that question is sickening because it fails to acknowledge that such manipulators can result in the death of millions.

Like, there was that talentless Austrian painter that was rejected by his own country's armed forces and joined as a volunteer for another. His superiors noted that he was unfit to lead. However, with the backing of a few radical cronies and a very well-maintained PR team under a cocaine and chocolate-addict thick guy, he managed to overthrow a country, dump a continent into war and kill millions of people.

Then there was that failed priest-student that joined a labor party, became besties with the ideologist leader of a revolution, took over, and then had any opposition worked to death.

A beardy Japanese guy started a doomsday cult and they did not commit suicide. Instead they used gas attacks on two occasions, attempted to use bioweapons, and planned to incite WW3!

THAT is what people without superpowers manage with words alone! People that think you need superpowers to manipulate people into murder or genocide have no understanding of history because it only takes a person that starts to talk about the right things at a fitting moment to incite the reaction they want, and then get group pressure running to get more and more...

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your perspective. I could never imagine that that question could cause such a strong emotional response. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Jun 15 at 20:54

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