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Q: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action? ( No Answer,   14 Comments )
Subject: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: jaseaux-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 06 Sep 2005 12:41 PDT
Expires: 06 Oct 2005 12:41 PDT
Question ID: 564884
I could be wrong, but I think that the word manipulation evokes a
negative connotation.  A manipulator is thought to be a bad person. 
Why is that?  Certainly some manipulators are bad people, and some
manipulations are bad, but shouldn't the specific item or person be
addressed, instead of lumping all manipulations and manipulators

For example, my friend wanted to buy a new car.  There were several
that he was interested in, none really more advantageous than another.
 I manipulated him into getting the car that I would most like to have
him drive me around in.  I don't see anything wrong with that.

Another example would be hurricane Katrina.  I wanted to experiment
with people's reaction and their willingness to give.  I manipulated
many people into giving money and other supplies to organizations such
as Red Cross (They donated directly to the organization.)  These
people are not hardshipped after giving.  In fact, they feel great
about it.  But they would not have given anything had I not
manipulated them. (Simply asking for a donation did not work either.)

Then there are manipulations that aren't really good or bad. 
Manipulating your friends into paying for dinner and movies, your kids
into cleaning their rooms, your boss into giving you easy assignments,
your teachers into giving you extra time on your project, etc.

Yes, there are many instances where people are manipulated into doing
things that are detrimental to themselves.  That manipulation, I would
agree, is negative.  But why is there such a consensus that every
manipulator is bad?

Is it similar to the way that many people think that all lawyers and
politicians are bad?  Or the way that all Democrats think George Bush
is bad.  Maybe it's not something they truly believe, but they're
programmed to say it?
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: hammer-ga on 06 Sep 2005 13:07 PDT

What do you believe to be the difference between "manipulating"
someone and "convincing" someone? "Manipulation" has a negative
denotation to go with the negative connotation. It specifically refers
to using devious means to gain advantage for oneself. Is this how you
define of manipulation in terms of your question? Did you manipulate
your car-friend by citing false statistics about the car you
preferred, or did you manipulate him by telling him that you really
liked Car A?

- Hammer
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: pinkfreud-ga on 06 Sep 2005 13:15 PDT
To me, manipulation differs from persuasion. Manipulation implies an
element of deception. Take, for example, advertising. The purpose of
an advertisement is to lure me into buying something. I see nothing
intrinsically wrong in that. If an ad presents a product in an
attractive manner and promotes its best features, that's fine with me.
That's persuasion. However, if an advertisement misrepresents the
product, or uses misleading terms in describing it, that is
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: jupdfl-ga on 06 Sep 2005 13:55 PDT
I think it has a negative connotation because to manipulate someone
infers that you are gaining something from the manipulation. To me,
persuasion simply means making someone agree with your point of view.

In your car example, you gained because *you* now look good driving
around in a car.  Your example of Katrina you doesn't say how you
manipulated people to give. If you lied and said you were a victim
when you weren't, and you benefitted from their generosity, that would
also be manipulation, no matter how good they felt about it.  If you
did not benefit from their generosity, you simply persuaded them to
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: jaseaux-ga on 06 Sep 2005 22:29 PDT

My confusion may stem from using words like devious to describe
manipulation.  Devious, one who deviates from what is right and
commonly accepted.  So while I may not have lied to my friend or given
him false statistics, I still used methods that are commonly thought
of as deviant or manipulative.

I think the difference between convincing and manipulating have to do
with logic.  If you lay out the facts to someone like a roadmap, and
attempt to lead them logicaly to your point of view, you may be able
to convince them.

A manipulator prefers to use subtle comments that are designed to lead
the person to a particular destination, without the person realizing
he was led there.  You might call it a psychological roadmap instead
of a logical roadmap.

Here is a quick example of the two methods.  Not the best example, but
it should show what I mean.

John wants his friend Mike to take him to the movies on Friday.  Mike
already has plans with his girlfriend.

John: "Don't go out with Sally on Friday, lets go see a movie."
Mike: "Sorry bro, I already promised her."
John: "You've gone out with her the last 5 Fridays, can't we hang out
this Friday?  That's reasonable."
Mike: "Sorry bro, no-can-do."
John: "I'll buy the tickets, and I'll make sure Sally is okay with it."
Mike: "No way bro."

(John remembers that 2 months ago Mike and Sally got in a fight about
Sally talking to her ex-boyfriend.)
John: "Mike, my girlfriend has been talking to her ex-boyfriend on the
phone.  It's driving me crazy.  My girl said that Sally talks to her
ex-boyfriend all the time and you're okay with it.  Man, teach me how
not to be jealous."
Mike: "Sally doesn't talk to her ex-boyfriend."
John: "Oh, maybe my girl was thinking of someone else.  Anyway, it's
driving me nuts.  She wanted to go go out this Friday but since she's
been talking to her ex, I don't want to take her anywhere.  Why should
I take her out if she has a desire to talk to other guys.  She
probably has a bunch of sexual thoughts about him.  You want to hang
out on Friday?  Oh wait, you were gonna go out with Sally, right?"
Mike: "Well, we haven't hung out in awhile.  I'll call Sally and tell
her I'm hanging with you on Friday.  She's been kinda getting on my
nerves anyway."

See, so you elicit some type of targeted emotional response designed
to have a particular reaction.  It's manipulative, and it's awesome. 
Nobody gets hurt.  Show me why it's negative.
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: jaseaux-ga on 06 Sep 2005 22:34 PDT

What if the ad plays certain music during the portion where they talk
about the competitors product.  What if they acertained by polling
that a large majority of the population have negative memories when
they hear that song, for whatever reason.  That's manipulation. 
Manipulation doesn't imply deception, it implies unfair control over
the person being manipulated.  Unfair because he/she doesn't realize
why they now have a subtle negative feeling towards the competitors

Or how about at a retail location.  Take for example the aspirin
bottles at wal-mart.  Many stores put products up smallest to largest,
left to right.  Since most people are right handed, there is a
manipulative force, however slight, to buy the largest item instead of
the smallest.  No misrepresentation, but obvious manipulation.
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: jaseaux-ga on 06 Sep 2005 22:38 PDT

With the Katrina example, let's say I didn't lie, but again, I pushed
certain buttons to elicit a response.  The way it benefited me is
simple.  I was able to study reactions to my psychological button
pushing and take note of what was effective, and what wasn't.

So the person wasn't harmed or lied to, they felt good about what they
did, I didn't convince them using logic but rather nudged them
psychologically, and I benefited from it.  Does that make it bad?
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: hammer-ga on 07 Sep 2005 05:31 PDT

<<<See, so you elicit some type of targeted emotional response designed
to have a particular reaction.  It's manipulative, and it's awesome. 
Nobody gets hurt.  Show me why it's negative.>>>

In your example, you lie to or mislead your friend when you claim that
your girlfriend is telling you that his girl is talking to her ex.
Even if it is true (which your example implies is not the case), you
are only sharing the information for the purposes of causing your
friend enough pain that he will refuse to see Sally. In addition, you
claim that "nobody gets hurt" which is not the case. You damage the
relationship between Mike and Sally in a very real way. You may also
damage the relationship between Sally and your girlfriend when Sally
finds out why Mike is upset with her and wants to know why your girl
is telling lies about her.

So, to gain for yourself the relatively trivial benefit of going to a
movie with Mike, you have lied to or misled a friend in a way that
does quite a bit of harm. This meets the criteria of manipulation (as
opposed to convincing) because you have employed devious methods to
gain an advantage for yourself.

- Hammer
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: jupdfl-ga on 07 Sep 2005 05:59 PDT
As to the original question, "Why is manipulation always considered a
negative action?", I think the reason is because that is part of its
very definition. Whether you manipulate or persuade, the end result is
the same. Some one is doing something (or believing something) that
they they wouldn't have done otherwise. To get this result from
devious or insincere means (both negative) is to manipulate.
Otherwise, you have persuaded.

You are persuading your friend to go to the movies with you if you
keep up the argument about buying tickets...OK'ing it with girlfriend.
But you start manipulating him by triggering jealousy in him (devious)
about his girlfriend.

Not to imply that it is always easy to persuade.....sometimes it takes
manipulation to get what you want.

Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: myoarin-ga on 07 Sep 2005 06:58 PDT
" Why is manipulation always considered a negative action? "

There are several expressions for the different ways of arguing or
presenting one's own opinion about a decision someone else will take: 
convince, persuade, talk him into, influence, coerce ...(?)  and

It is the common and generally understood interpretation that
manipulate is at the morally lower end of the list, implying devious,
dishonest methods.  That is simply the way the word is used.  With the
variety of expressions available, manipulate is the one used to denote
a negative action.  If one does not want to imply this, one of the
other expressions should be used.

If there were only one word for the activity of influencing another's
decision, we would have to used additional words to express the

The dictionaries give the meanings "manage, handle", which suggest
control.  People don't likes to feel that they are being "controlled"
concerning a decision that they consider to be their individual

The Latin root of manipulate, "manus", hand, is evident in other
expressions about a person who can manipulate someone:  He was putty
in her hands; or she could wrap him around her little finger.  (No
apologies, girls; it's the men who let themselves or like to be

Does that help?  Myoarin
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: rogerwilco-ga on 08 Sep 2005 02:45 PDT
Hi Jaseaux,

I'm studying the semiotics of language right now, and yours is a very
interesting question! Of course, the negative connotation is just part
of the way English-speakers use the word  'manipulation,' so perhaps
another term gets more to your point (myorian's 'hande' or 'manage,'
or, to be more high-fallutin' about it, 'orchestrate,' 'choreograph,'
or even just 'design'), but that's no answer to your question.

I think the moral objection to alll of these, though, comes from the
fact that they all involve an inequality of information. That is, in
fact, a form of deceit. Don't kid yourself that a passive lie --
leaving out relevant information only you could possibly know -- is
that different from an active lie -- putting in incorrect information.
That's a distinction ethics rarely draws, and the law doesn't always
draw either. Putting the aspirin on the shelf a certain way might seem
innocuous, as long as *the customer knows what they are doing,* just
as much as the shopkeeper does. So yes, that might be a form of deceit
-- a trivial one, but deceit nonetheless. This is why advertisements
need to be labeled a such, even if they don't actually lie, and why
things like drug ads need to state complications and side effects,
even if, again, nothing they say is actually false. The advertiser or
drug company is assumed to know more than the consumer, and that
inequality of information is assumed to be (at least potentially)

In your example: 
>So the person wasn't harmed or lied to, they felt good about what they
>did, I didn't convince them using logic but rather nudged them
>psychologically, and I benefited from it.  Does that make it bad? 

I think the appropriate question is this: If the person knew
everything that you did (about the potential benefit to you, about
your tactics, about the situation), would they *still* feel good about
it? If the answer is no, then yes, IMHO, you're being manipulative.
You're using an inequality of information for your benefit, and that's
a form of passive lying.

Just my two cents,
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: jaseaux-ga on 08 Sep 2005 13:34 PDT

I like your answer.  It's pretty thought provoking.  I think there may
be some flaws, however.

I think an inequality of information will always exist, and I don't
consider it deceitful.  Think of the complexities of the human mind. 
Someone who is often thought of as a manipulator might see dozens upon
dozens of "angles" regarding a single subject.  To level the playing
field, the manipulator would have to prepare a speech to inform the
other person about the different ways they both may benefit or
detriment, and all the other ideas the manipulator may have.

Tylenol certainly knows that generic brands are just as effective, but
they don't ever mention it, and they manipulate you by saying
"Tylenol, a brand you can trust" which causes the human mind to
question whether or not they can trust the generic brand.

I also think we need to draw a distinction between relevant
information and vital information.  I don't consider it deceitful to
leave out relevant information.  Relevant information is too vast. 
Vital information, on the other hand, is when you really break it down
to the pieces that are absolutely necessary to make an informed

I think a talented manipulator can provide all the vital information
and then play around with the relevant information to make things go
the way he desires.
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: amber00-ga on 08 Sep 2005 14:19 PDT
Sissela Bok wrote a book called 'Lying: Moral Choice in Public and
Private Life' (Vintage Books). She compared lying and violence. Both
involve coercing the other person into doing what they don't want to
do; the former by force, the latter by fraud. So does manipulation in
the manner that you describe. It denies the other person the chance to
make a free and informed choice.  It is treating them as a means to
fulfil your goals without considering their goals or aims at all.
(This violates the autonomy of the other person, so is contrary to all
Kantian ethical systems as well.) To deny this adds hypocrisy to
How would you like it if you became aware that other people were doing this to you?
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: jaseaux-ga on 08 Sep 2005 18:04 PDT
Amber, it's not fraud.  You should have said, one by force (physical)
and one by thought (mental).

I never make a decision unless I have all the facts I feel are
necessary to make an educated decision.  If someone attempts to
manipulate me, if I fall for it, then I accept that.  It doesn't anger
me.  That being said, it's difficult to manipulate a manipulator.  If
someone succeeds, I would probably take a close look at their
successful technique rather than getting upset.
Subject: Re: Why is manipulation always considered a negative action?
From: sojourning-ga on 16 Nov 2005 11:59 PST
The Law of Human Nature is at play here.

Let me give an example: If you made yourself a home which I then took
from you and lived in, you would feel slighted and wronged. Why? I
could argue that I was needier than you or that since I was smart
enough to take it from you I deserved it more. Whatever the reason, it
is of no matter, you would still feel wronged and I would still be the
one who had selfishly wronged you.

Allow me to clarify my point; I am not talking about the laws of
nature ? where only the strong survive or where the powerful consume
the weak. No. These are animalistic behaviors that humanity has risen
above. No ethicist would defend the public murder of a weak child by a
300 pound brut, which is the very real extension of animalistic
behavior allowed free reign. If you study human history, you will find
that no intellectually advanced society in history has ever held these
types of behaviors up to be admired.

In fact it is considered a form of social dysfunction to look up to or
admire a person who is animalistic in there behavior. Now, to be sure
there are these types of people in life, but psychologists tell us
that by-enlarge they are socially handicapped and mentally sick. They
are deviant from the acceptable actions of a moral society.

In particular to your question; to manipulate (as you have used and
explained the word) indicates a violation of the victim?s cognitive
and emotional personhood. If you utilize abilities or talents to
undermine the cognitive or emotional processes of others in order to
make a more favorable outcome for yourself you have imposed a form of
animalistic control. You are stronger in some form than the person
whom you have manipulated and you have used that against them.

The outcome is not a matter of opinion. It cannot be logically asked
whether or not it is right to manipulate others or if it is
advantageous to do so. Without exception, for the manipulator the
answer is yes it is advantageous. However, for the victim, the answer
is always no, it was not advantageous. This is the nature of
manipulation as you have described it.

It comes back to the Law of Human Nature. Unlike the Law of Gravity or
the Law of Biology, we have a choice as to whether we follow the Law
of Human Nature. But human beings from every moral background have
throughout the history of the world held an understood code that puts
them into a higher category than animals. We understand fairness,
justice, sacrifice, and selflessness.

The United States honored the firefighters of 9/11 because of those
qualities. The British, French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Greek,
they all honor their national heroes and historical figures for
exampling these qualities.

Going against the basic Law of Human Nature, lying, twisting facts (or
manipulating them ? to say it another way) imposing a dominant will on
others against there will or without there knowledge, stealing ?
whether overtly or covertly ? as in the eroding of the ability of
others to make fully informed choices: these are actions to be looked
down upon in an advanced society.

To allow oneself to participate in them or for a society to give
validation to such behavior leads to the weakening of that society and
ultimately will destroy the society that allows them.

Remember Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Both historical examples of
societies that have manipulated their citizens with small amounts of
truth and large amounts twisting. From the Kamikaze Fighters to the
Holocaust guards, misinformation and skillful manipulation destroyed
thousands lives and ultimately the societies that employed those
devious tactics.

Something to think about...don't you think?

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