Manipulation by Government and Business Entities
As man continuously looks for ways to satisfy his various needs, his intellect prods him to become more creative in manipulating his physical and social environment. The technological and social developments that human research and invention have produced resulted from man’s innate drive to uplift his human condition. Man constantly manipulates the external world for a specific purpose and re-orients his way of thinking to adjust to new realities that his intellect has created.
The researcher concurs with Schwartz who insisted that … “social control through law is a tried and proven device to enforce whatever appear to be the dominant values of the moment”. (Schwartz). Thus, this paper presents the thoughts of selected philosophers who proposed ways by which the State or government could best consolidate its power over its citizens or against other entities that seek to take over the leadership of the state. It also considers how businesses, primarily through advertising techniques, manipulate the consumers to generate more profit. The contemporary ideas that seek to liberate man from the manipulation of the existing social order are also presented to lay bare the present dilemma of man where corporate greed appears to have begun enslaving man without his being aware of it.
Manipulation through Governance
The Greek philosopher, Plato, portrays as his ideal a state in which political power rests in the hands of philosophically trained rulers (Morrow 153). The philosopher-king must undergo a thorough and strict education in governance such that he becomes what we might call an intellectual in modern terminology. Just as Plato advocated the avoidance of excess for an individual, he likewise presumes that a good government is that which follows the middle way, between despotism and anarchy (Morrow 522). In enforcing the laws, Plato advocates the employment of Guardians who are classified into “soldiers whose function is to defend the state against external enemies and to enforce its laws, and rulers who resolve disagreements among citizens and make decisions about public policy” <http://www.philosophypages.com/sy.htm#doc> Britannica Internet Guide Selection, Philosophy Pages.
The importance that Plato placed on education as a means of choosing and training guardians who would later take over the reins of government shows that education can be utilized to mold and ultimately manipulate citizens to follow a pre-set way of thinking. It is for this reason that every state regulates the content and program of education that it offers to its citizens. This rigid educational system reflects the thinking of Thomas Hobbes who proposed in The Leviathan that … “the Sovereigne is judge of what is necessary for the Peace and Defence of his Subjects” (Waller 123). While Plato resorts to education as a means of creating an orderly society, Machiavelli relies on an autocratic head of state who is vested with absolute power by proposing that the foundation of the prince’s power is force and his willingness to use it ruthlessly (Adams, and Dyson 41).
The view that society is but a sphere where men strive to dominate one another is espoused by Jean Jacques Rousseau who claimed that the state of nature of man was totally altered with by the introduction of the concept of private property, “under pressure of population this idyllic natural freedom is destroyed, private property is introduced, and with it
exploitation, inequality and all the ills of human society” (Adams, and Dyson 79). Hegel, similarly proposed that Civil society is the sphere of self-assertion and the pursuit of self-interest, of competition and ambition, and of the cultivation of the self. It is the sphere of individualism, and where property is important as an extension and expression of the self.” (Adams, and Dyson 109)
These political philosophies have a common view. Society is the arena in which men pursue their own personal interests. This being the case, the manipulative power of the state is the factor that holds society together. Therefore the primary method by which the State ensures its self-preservation is through its legal system. The legal system in turn defines the limits within which the citizens may exercise their freedom or rights. Hence, the government, invoking the rule of law, is in a position to manipulate the citizenry.
In instances where the State finds its citizens reluctant to embrace an ideology or way of thinking, propaganda is resorted to. “Propaganda is nothing more than the attempt to transmit social and political values in the hope of affecting people’s thinking, emotions, and thereby behavior.” (Kenez 4). Propaganda is an attempt to create a mindset which in the long run becomes beneficial to its initiator in as much as it makes the target more receptive to selected values or value systems.
Manipulation by Business Entities
Manipulation in the sphere of business primarily happens in the field of marketing. Modern marketers seek to understand, predict, and control the motivations of current and potential consumers. Over time, this marketing strategy has taken the form of what is today termed product management.” (Prasch). To increase the probability that a particular product is sold in great quantities, it is carefully studied in terms of its shape, color, size, packaging and other tangible properties. How the target market identifies with the product is also studied in great detail. It is not uncommon to find ads advocating a particular car brand for example to be the brand of choice for the upwardly mobile. To make the identification with a particular product and brand more appealing, celebrities are used to endorse it. According to O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy, “[Similarly], in consumer marketing the aim is to change interpretations or perspectives in line with brand appeal. Facts are not contested, only the way they are viewed or interpreted.” (O’Shaughnessy, and O’Shaughnessy 164).
Consumer goods are made available to the poorer segments of society by way of marketing toothpastes, shampoos and other beauty products in small portions or in sachets. Thus what could have otherwise been beyond the reach of the poverty-stricken consumer on account of the bigger volume or size of the product in which it is originally packaged becomes affordable. However, by buying the product in small quantities, the poor consumer eventually ends up paying more for the product than the more affluent one who can buy them in bigger quantities. Ironically, manufacturers give the poor consumer the consolation that the product has at least been re-packaged to conform to his purchasing power.
For the sake of generating the greatest profit for its stockholders, a company willfully manipulates the reaction of consumers by means of well-crafted ads. By appealing to emotion or a false value system, businesses engage in subtle manipulation of the consumers. Consumers eventually believe that their choice of a particular product is not swayed by advertising but a result of careful reflection.
The tendency of modern business to use whatever it takes to generate profit originates from the tendency of modern man to evaluate everything in terms of economic or monetary value. This is the contention of Herbert Marcuse. According to him “science and positivist philosophy tended to reduce everything in nature, including human beings … to commodities with the common measure of value in money terms” (Adams, and Dyson 212). Herbert Marcuse also propounds the idea that “civilization has progressed as organized domination” and that this has involved technical, material, and intellectual progress as well as more rational, effective, and productive systems of institutional authority” (Alway 79). In capitalism, technology means social control and domination. Technology does not serve humankind in order to make its existence easier by mediating between man and nature, it serves capital in order to exploit labor.
A parallel view is held by Alasdair MacIntyre who refers to this tendency of contemporary man as Emotivism. In the emotivist scheme, “others are always means, never ends.” The social world is “nothing but a meeting place for individual wills” in which a person attempts to align others’ “attitudes, feelings, preferences, and choices” to his own: “The distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relationships has been obliterated,” and questions of sincerity and authenticity are set aside. (Berry)
MacIntyre criticizes the present tendency of man to use the other man to for his own selfish interests and to evaluate almost every issue in terms of profit. This is the factor behind the persistence of man for economic gain and contemporary society is but a vicious sphere where men manipulate one another. For this reason, business entities find nothing wrong in employing marketing and advertising techniques that use the findings of consumer psychology and other fields to generate more profits.
What makes this exploitative tendency of technology evil is that modern man through the distortion of values through mass media has gradually learned to accept that this is just a normal way of life.
Manipulation is done by man as natural offshoot of his intellectual ability and it can happen in different ways. It happens when a government attempts to mold its citizens according to what it considers to be the ideal way of thinking or behaving. This manipulation is done quietly in the form of laws that define the relationships of citizens with one another and with the state itself. It may also come in the form of promoting an educational system where individuals are gradually taught to fit into the system. One philosopher who carefully thought out the emergence of an ideal society according to his own notion of what is ideal is Plato. In instances when the state finds it necessary to promote a particular view-point, propaganda is resorted to. Propaganda is nothing else but a means of inducing people to believe in a certain cause or ideology or value.
Manipulation also happens in the field of business through the various marketing techniques. This is most manifested in the way advertisements are crafted. Advertisements are made not only to induce consumers to buy a particular product but to subscribe to a suggested lifestyle that would make them even more vulnerable to spending. In advertising, consumers are manipulated in so far as emotions are targeted and a corresponding change in their value system is effected.
Finally, MacIntyre reminds us that contemporary man has fallen prey to Emotivism, where man simply regards his fellow man as a means to his own ends. In this context, manipulation and exploitation has become accepted and ordinary. Men deal with one another not in consideration of human values that he may learn or give but in consideration of what may be profitable for him. Lastly, Marcuse also reminds that we have to become aware of the fact that technology has become in itself a tool of social control and domination. It has turned human existence upside down. Instead of technology being at the service of man, man is gradually becoming a servant of technology.
Adams, Ian, and R. W. Dyson. Fifty Major Political Thinkers. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Alway, Joan. Critical Theory and Political Possibilities: Conceptions of Emancipatory
Politics in the Works of Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and Habermas. Westport, CT: GP, 1995.
Berry, Bryan. “Henry James and the Heavenly Light.” First Things: A Monthly Journal of
Religion and Public Life Nov. 2006: 34.
Britannica Internet Guide Selection,Philosophy Pages <http://www.philosophypages.com/sy.htm#doc> .
Herbert Marcuse Archive< http://cartoon.iguw.tuwien.ac.at/christian/marcuse/marcuseENG.html>
Kenez, Peter. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization,
1917-1929. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1985.
Morrow, Glenn Raymond. Plato’s Cretan City: A Historical Interpretation of the Laws.
London: Princeton UP, 1993.
O’Shaughnessy, John, and Nicholas Jackson O’Shaughnessy. The Marketing Power of
Emotion. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.
Prasch, Robert E. “The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life.”
Journal of Economic Issues 40.4 (2006):
Schwartz, Steven. Psychiatric Services 49:1099-1100, August 1998.
Waller, A. R., ed. Leviathan: Or, the Matter, Forme & Power of a Commonwealth,
Ecclesiasticall and Civill. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1904.