What's Wrong with a Little Manipulation?

I am a good student of the 21st century liberal academe. I’ve learned of the ills of modernism, with their manipulative methods and tendency to prescribe absolute solutions to situational problems. The modernists overlooked context (a real nurture over nature philosophy), failed to recognize the interconnectivity of everything, and used structuralist methods to draw conclusions. These structuralist methods were brought into the spotlight of social critique by the likes of Derrida, which in part contributed to the gradual abandoning of the method. The ideals on which the bureaucratic system was based, bringing order, safety, cleanliness, and logic into every aspect of life, were losing popularity. “The Man”, insuring the preservation of those ideals and the system itself, is the most callous identity, with absolute disregard for anyone or anything not related to its goals.

And then postmodernism, which sucks just as bad. Postmodernism means, among the few billion subjective definitions, can be described as, “Don’t tell me what to do, man!”, and with that a healthy dose of not wanting to oppress others with your opinions or values. Subjectivity reigns supreme, and climbs into the comfy seat that progress for progress’ sake occupied before, which claimed it from the hands of religion and aristocracy. Why is postmodernism such a miserable place? Because everything we thought was true, it turns out isn’t. History is relative, place is relative, opinions are relative. The centre cannot hold, and what is the point? Now we can take things out of context and not even pretend to try and have a reason or be trying to make things better, we can do it just because we can. It is empty and lonely.

And we have so much to criticize. Pretty much anyone with motives in the social realm, whether it be to get people to buy a product, pass a bill, or promote an idea, who is not 100% transparent is being manipulative. But if I make a product I think will really make life better, I no longer have only one goal. I now want to get you to buy something and I want to improve things. The first part I don’t really need to advertise, I assume you know I am trying to get your money, but I will promote that I want to better lives. So do we criticize anyone who doesn’t explicitly state all their intentions, labeling them manipulative? Is being manipulative so bad if it is for a good cause? Tricking people into recycling or to giving charity? Do the ends justify the means? Can the same argument be made for privately owned parks? Even if they leave homeless people further marginalized?

This isn’t postmodernism as it was imagined, unobtrusive and respectful of subjectivity. This is something else, which I am reluctant to name. As it is we are bombarded with millions of messages every day, some subliminal and some not. It is our constant mission to be sifting through the noise to see if there is anything that pertains to us. And I argue that that isn’t a bad thing. Of course it would be better if there were none of it, but that’s not a forward thinking idea, that’s a nostalgic idea that would involve superimposing these values on the supposedly free market. I argue that manipulation, or whatever, exists because we all want to contribute and nothing is ever 100% transparent. We are going to be swamped in manipulative messages; the skill to learn early is how to filter out the noise and appreciate the good things that by necessity communicate along the same channels as the bad, and stop being so mad that the noise exists. For someone else it may not be noise (one man’s trash is another man’s treasure), and besides, no one is forcing you to buy or do anything. So stop complaining about other people promoting their’s and stop feeling guilty about spreading your opinion even though no one asked for it.