We are awash in a world of data, statistics, and relationships artfully controlled, and altered for insidious reasons by people for those people’s advantage. This is such a common bug in our culture that we rarely pay attention to it anymore until the manipulation burns us personally.
What we now call psychological manipulation is older than the dawn of spoken and written language. The best tool yet used to alter and shape reality is the manipulation of words and grammatical structure. A person who can skillfully manage the meanings of words can effectively control the thinking, emotions, and actions of people.
Cultures that are steeped in deceit, lies, and manipulation easily seeps into the individuals who live in those cultures. This darkness shades their thoughts and emotions in negative ways and can lead to the downfall and destruction of cultures, and nations. These days, the use of deception and manipulation is called “social engineering”. For instance, when you surf the Web for more than a few minutes, social engineering is apparent.
When we set aside nationalistic propaganda and product advertising, we have the very common situation of interpersonal manipulation. This can be used for good, but is most often used for bad reasons. When manipulation invades primary relationships, trust erodes and the wronged partner becomes distant, skeptical, and often cynical about the manipulator. The use of lies and manipulation in personal relationship is often the fatal blow to the relationship itself.
These observations are nothing new. All of us have been manipulated throughout our lives. The point I’m trying to make is that it is beneficial that we pay attention and be mindful about the information that showers upon us every hour of every day. I do not wish to add to the cynicism that already pervades our culture. It is cynicism that is one of the most corrosive byproducts of manipulation. Cynicism is a major distraction when we’re trying to observe and analyze a scenario.
Appeals to our emotions are the most effective means of manipulation. Advertisers have long understood that sexiness sells products. Greed ranks very high as something to utilize in mass communications. Con artists practice the use of human frailty to exploit their targets. The most dangerous con artists appeal to fear and anger. Fear and anger block rational thinking and enhance emotions that arouse our reptilian brains. Fear and anger are the easiest emotions to exploit because they are so quickly and easily invoked.
Manipulation by fear and anger also happens to be one of the most easily studied aspects of social engineering. As the United States nears the mid-term elections, we will be deluged in fearful, angry, manipulative propaganda coming at us from all sides. The already negative national mood will only become more so. We will witness the destructiveness of manipulation on a grand scale.
Which of our fears are touched by these messages. Is our anger stirred up by certain messages? Is loyalty and patriotism being used as a tool to manipulate our opinions? We will be coaxed into changing our opinions or becoming more rigid and inflexible about them. People who are not mindful of this manipulation are more likely to feel frustration and fall prey to cynicism. When we are mindful of the nature of manipulation, we are more capable of seeing clearly.
Whether the venue is political, commercial, or personal, manipulation is a very powerful tool of aggression against our private consciousness. The wise, skillful person is mindful in the consumption of information and how it affects her or his thinking and feeling.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Johnny Carson. “The mind starts to do things that you didn’t even realize it could do. I suppose it’s the manipulation. I suppose it’s the sense of power, the center of attention, and the me-ism. And performers have to have that.”