Labels as manipulation

  1. Labelling as the Very Definition of Manipulation

First, there is the clue of self-deceptive and manipulative ‘labelling’ of others. For example, if a congregation member writes a letter about an issue to the church leadership, and they are either ignored or labelled as ‘God’s awkward squad’, then an attitude of superiority has been assumed.

If the reply is given, ‘but they really are from God’s awkward squad’, then the chances are that the self-deception on the part of leaders concerning their own ‘more mature’ status is even more deeply ingrained and subconscious. Thiselton reminds us that Gadamer, a very important philosopher, defined ‘manipulation’ in terms of

the reduction of people to passive objects, subsuming them beneath a ‘prior netting’ of imposed categories, assumptions, stereotypifications, artificial constructs, closed statements, superficial generalising explanations, or pigeon-holes.

This is a way of ‘apprehending’ somebody without listening to them. In short, we cannot tell what or who a person is until we know them very well. Whenever we ‘label’ somebody before we know them very well, then we are committing the sin of false testimony. This is not ‘a’ way of manipulation, but the very definition of manipulation, according to Gadamer.

This raises problems even about using labels E.G. ‘straight’, ‘gay’, or ‘traditionalist’ prematurely. This is why I have used the terms ‘designated’ or ‘self-designated’ above, and it is also the reason I am critiquing ‘traditionalism’ as an approach, rather than persons who are ‘traditionalists’.

It is true that one self-designated homosexual writer, Jeffrey John, argues that it is OK to use the term ‘homosexual’ because it is like saying ‘Englishman’. In deference to this perspective, I will not always prefix the terms ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’ with the phrase ‘self-designated’. But I often will since, given a biblical notion of human personhood, it is simply ‘false testimony’ to reduce a person solely to a function of their sexuality. Sexuality is an aspect of personhood, but not the sole determining factor. Further, homosexuality characterises different people to different degrees. There is a whole range of extents to which a person may or may not be homosexual.

To use the term ‘homosexuals’ as a blanket catch-all phrase, then, could have the status of the ‘knowing nod’ of the ignorant critic who says ‘Oh, them’. This is potentially manipulative, probably pre-critical, and often patronising false testimony that can so easily go hand-in-hand with an implicitly parent-child model of authority. There can be an appearance of understanding, but it is what Heidegger calls ‘ambiguity’, a self-deceiving evaluation that understanding has occurred when it has not. All that has happened is a resort to cliché. And, as Spike Milligan put it, ‘the cliché is a handrail for the crippled mind’.

Part 1 of 3

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