The Use of Language to Manipulate People

We have encountered day in day out language-using manipulators in practically all areas/sectors of life. In one particular instance, we regularly hear them over the radio and see them on TV. We read their messages on the pages of dailies and magazines, even in posters that line-up walls of public places. The Internet is full of websites that banner the captivating ideas of these thought influencers. The term we use to specifically refer to their kind of game is advertisement. This is the basic intent of an advertisement: To attract, fascinate and ultimately persuade people to dig into their pockets for the amount needed to satisfy the desire that has so far been created in their minds by the power of advertisement. This is manipulation at its most subtle and sophisticated refinement.

Nowadays, with the advancement of cybertechnology, professional advertisers have literally at the tip of their fingers all conceivable tools to come up with the best presentations of product promotion in all forms of the available media. Striking logos, snappy slogans, attention-grabbing illustrations, mellifluous jingles, eye-catching photos, among others, conspire altogether to create a powerful advertising stunt, so powerful that it can knock out analysis and reason in an instant. Using the classic Aristotelian categories of persuasion modes or artistic proofs, this is a case of how pathos (appeal to emotion) exerts a significantly tremendous edge over logos (appeal to reason) and ethos (appeal to a person’s credibility and ethical character). Manipulation of this type is so easily effected because its operators have already mastered the art of handling the general tendency of people to succumb to what their “hearts” dictate at the expense of what their “heads” would reasonably tell them.

This is humanity at its most prevalent and persistent configuration: a creature of emotions. And the modern–as well as post-modern–commercial sphere has taken advantage of this seemingly perennial reality to its extremest point, full steam ahead, so to speak. Within the warp and woof of the human fabric, the pathos reigns supreme and is deaf to the call of logos most of the time. It even has the forceful motion of a whirlwind to bypass and ignore the wisdom of the purveyors of ethos. The pathos is, therefore, the central arena where the ebb and flow of manipulative undertakings function with clockwork efficiency.

But there is nothing new in this consideration. As an emotional being, humanity has always been the subject of manipulation since time immemorial, i.e., long before the age of advertising. Well concatenated words that constitute a delightful message can instantly–i.e., spontaneously–capture the heart of an individual person. The head equipped with its reasoning power has to get through a more tedious process of coming up with a clear-cut and rational/reasonable decision on whether to accept or reject something presented before it. Besides, the individual who is supposed to be at the disposal of both heart and head has a much easier predisposition to utilize the former and set aside the latter. As has been observed time and again, it is the heart that easily gives in–even caves in–to the pleasing lines articulated by an apparent persuader like an irresistible confectionery offered to a child by someone who wants to win her/his friendship.

Friendship is basically a matter of the heart and could breed manipulation on the wrong side of its broad layout. It starts with a proposition along the line of amity that in many cases gets deeper so that it could even reach a high degree of intimate connection. And once the target has already been taken over, that’s the point where manipulation sets in. A well-stringed set of pleasurable words can easily disarm and capture the emotional framework of an individual and put her/him in a situation of non-resistance. Again, this is nothing new to us even in a large-scale scenario wherein the power of a minister’s preaching becomes a manipulative tool to gather together unquestioning believers in the context of a religious assembly. This is not advertising but all its components run parallel to its commercial counterpart.

Many religious assemblies–whether you call them “fellowships” or “churches”–in the present modern dispensation have gained the notoriety of being called manipulators of the first order as their leaders have transformed themselves into multi-millionaire and billionaire high rollers who own luxurious mansions, travel by land in their chauffeur-driven limousines and visit their overseas congregations on their sophisticated private jets. And it is a known fact that all their riches are drawn from the ten percent of the incomes sweated out by their hardworking members. This shows how powerful manipulative words are as these preaching conmen put them all together in the language of a homily that they deliver from the pulpits of their churches’ sanctuaries “Sunday in Sunday out”.

But why specifically zero in on the religious preachers when these guys have their exact kins on the political arena? We see the same manipulative acts among politicians during the campaign period prior to an election. They all want to get elected and in their campaign sorties, it is not unusual to hear the manipulative promises of these political thugs whom the electorate tend to give in and give up their votes when election day comes. But it does not stop after the election. Those elected officials continue to use the power of political rhetoric to further deceive their constituents with more promises despite the fact that those they had promised during the campaign period haven’t even been implemented, much less fulfilled. However, in this particular scenario, what is so strange is the reality that the people who have been manipulated in the past continue to allow themselves to be manipulated more.

In the final analysis, it is with a certain degree of logical accuracy to conclude that the majority of the people in the world have the general tendency to let themselves get manipulated in whatever life condition they are located. This reality is sustained by the dictum that human beings are predominantly creatures of pathos, i.e., people who find it much easier to cope with life’s complexity by way of emotion rather than by way of reason. But on a more serious note, the more honest-to-goodness question is, Is that really the best way to cope with life’s reality with all its complexity and difficulties?

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 26 June 2019

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Great Achievement

On a subjective plane, we could assume that all achievements from the point of view of the achiever are great. There is, therefore, no small-time achievement from the ordinary-language perspective. One’s achievement must be big-time for it is generally associated with her/his feeling of exhilaration. It could be viewed by an external observer as something that’s no big deal at all. But external observers are not the appropriate evaluators of a person’s feeling of elation that necessarily connects with her/his achievement. They don’t know–and it’s impossible for them to directly access–the concrete and exact circumstances surrounding such a delightful feeling exuded by one who celebrates her/his achievement.

We humans are creatures of ambition. We don’t only dream of better things in life; we want them to actually happen. We invest effort, time and resources to make a dream come true. We want an ideal to pass through a trajectory that leads to its realization. And once we find ourselves in that point of consummation, time stops as we savor the sweetness of success. Those who wish to join us in the celebration can only approximate the depth of what we feel. This is the essence of achievement which from our point of view is great and definitely big-deal.

But don’t get me wrong because even on the objective plane, we have witnessed great achievements. Being rewarded with a prize in a special field of interest is an unassailable achievement even if viewed from the vantage point of an external observer. We have witnessed so many instances of achievement particularly in the world of sports, arts and corporate careers, to name a few. It is indeed impossible for us to get into their emotional locus but we can at least approximate the obvious circumstances that have triggered the outward manifestation of their feeling of gladness over a great achievement.

We may be light years away from such kind of big-time achievements but we have our own regardless of how insignificant and commonplace they are from the point of view of an outside observer. Pride isn’t generally considered a value but we cannot help to be proud of our achievements. As congenial appreciators of a friend’s or a family member’s great achievement, we join her/him in feasting and celebration. In this sense, there’s nothing small-time or no-big-deal achievement in the case of friends and family.

Acknowledging true achievements is reflective of our appreciation of the indomitable human spirit. Our desire and struggle to win is embedded in the fiber of our humanity. It doesn’t, however, mean that we abhor losing and thus detest losers. Losing is a fact of life and none of us is immune from losing. The agony of defeat is within the sphere of our reality. But like the proverbial phoenix, the human spirit rises up from the ashes of defeat and plods on along the rocky and dusty path to continue the struggle until victory is finally achieved.

The magnitude of achievement overwhelms our being for we know that such victory has come through our own efforts and not anybody’s. We started off from scratch and our endeavour has paid off. We began the journey with a meager resource and now we have already reached unprecedented heights. We used to be an insignificant entity but is now reckoned as a major player in our chosen field. Nobody took notice of us at the initial phase of our undertaking but now, we are the focal point of those who have finally recognized that our role in society can no longer be ignored.

In the final analysis, an achiever is a winner. S/he has made use of the available resources, logistics and finances before her/him to their optimum magnitude and s/he has fully achieved now every detail of the master blueprint that has finally led her/him to her/his present state of affairs. Without humanity’s sense of achievement, this world could have been bland and boring, disgusting and dull. It is this very sense of achievement that gives essence to every effort we take to realize our aspirations and hopes.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 19 June 2019

Why Do People Perceive Ageing Differently?

There is a saying, “Age is just a number.” True, in a way. And in line with this is the notion that every person has her/his own way of viewing the issue of getting old. In other words, it takes a subjective attitude to consider oneself either old or young. In this sense, ageing is taken as a matter of feeling. One may already be in his 60s but still feels like s/he’s in her/his 30s or even younger. Whereas, another may still be in his 20s but s/he feels s/he’s already in her/his 40s or even older.

There is a generally accepted view that a highly developed sense of humour contributes significantly to delay a person’s ageing process. By and large, people endowed with this quality have the common tendency to take life’s problems in stride, i.e., with a very positive attitude as they don’t allow themselves to be overcome and dragged by the weight of the problems. Rather, they look at them as challenges to their wit and automatically transform them into something that if perfectly uttered will deliver a message reflective of the speakers’ appreciated sense of humour. And commenting on their physical aspect, we say, they are younger than their age.

Corollary to this is those who look at life’s problems like a burden heavier than the planet Earth itself. These are people who tend to believe that they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They may be young in chronological age but we could definitely say how their attitude has detrimentally affected their physical appearance. As we say it in simple terms, they are older than their age.

The different perceptions of ageing are precisely determined by our personal outlook in life. One’s generally negative outlook creates a personality that defeats openmindedness, flexibility, and creativity which are strong factors to make one feel great and fantastic. These, in reality, are strands that constitute the fabled “fountain of eternal youth” whose physical reality was sought after but never found in days gone by. So many explorers embarked on tortuous journeys just to get finally frustrated in their failure to physically locate this fountain which in reality is within us.

There’s no doubt that no one is getting any younger–unless s/he has the consanguineal strain of Peter Pan or Benjamin Button. We are all undergoing the physical process of deterioration though genetics contributes to its velocity as it runs more quickly in some while more slowly in others. In this connection, it has been widely observed that Asians get older more slowly than Caucasians in general. Whatever the case may be, the truth of the matter is, we are all getting old in terms of the number of years we have spent on the surface of planet Earth.

Finally, we get face to face with the reality of our mortality so that one day, the inevitability of death comes. To the more fortunate ones, it comes after living the fullness of a good life at an average old age of more or less 95 years. But of course, there are those who won’t be able to enjoy such longevity which is also a fact of life. Again, we could say that this matter is basically dependent on genetic factors and the manner how we have conducted our lives as well.

Considering the issue of how we’ve been conducting our lives in the present, there are moments when we couldn’t even feel we’re getting older. The more well off among us have even the tendency to enjoy the things that make them feel good unmindful of the consequences which in many instances are not contributory to leading a healthy life. The spirit of youth at its highest point of celebration aggressively controls the situation and pushes people to continually “paint the town red,” so to speak, as if there’s no tomorrow. Figuratively, we say, we stop the hands of time and enjoy the seeming eternity of youth.

But surely time will come when our feeling–which is, of course, subjective–will finally give in to the objectivity of the fact that we are actually getting old. And then we sit down exhausted in a corner with the eventual realization that age has taken its toll in our lives. At the end of the day, we are ultimately cognizant of the fact that we are not getting any younger anymore and this reality is irrevocable.

Yes, age doesn’t MATTER when we don’t MIND it. But MATTER does age, whether we MIND it or not.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 13 June 2019

On Envy

Envy, in general terms, is an individual person’s expression of dissatisfaction and acrimony triggered by another person’s possessions, qualities, success or advantages in life. It is basically a feeling caused by a belief that if someone else is in possession of a valuable property, either material or mental, s/he should also have the same. In a lot of ways, it is blown out of proportion by the persistent question, Why does s/he have it and I don’t when the truth of the matter is, I am much better than s/he in terms of intelligence or looks or financial capability? Having this egotistical idea in mind, one puts her/himself in a competitive position against someone who doesn’t even have an iota of hint that the former has already launched a “war” against him.

This whole tendency on the part of the envious person could start from the most fundamental stage of reaction to the most hostile–and thus destructive–posturing, i.e., to the point of getting into a “programmed” action of going around and brazenly spreading damaging lies about the other person against whom her/his envious feeling is directed. This is a “tactical” move grounded on the belief that pulling the other person down will give the envious attacker the vantage point to put the former at her/his level if not to actually have an upper hand over her/him. Because in many instances it is next to an impossibility for the envious one to instantly match the level of the other person whom s/he thinks is over and above her/him at a certain point in time, pulling her/him down is the quickest option.

The envious person is enslaved by the notion that if s/he cannot “lick” the envied person as yet, the better condition is to let the latter join him in her/his lower state of being. At the present moment, equality down below is the most feasible “plan of action” that will make the envious feel better and the envied humbled if not totally humiliated defending on the intensity of the peddled lie. Self-conceit creates such a lie based on an unrealistic estimation of one’s real status and capabilities in life. In this sense, what characterizes a person’s strong feeling of envy is an outright delusion. On this basis and at this point of the discussion, it may reasonably be said that the principal factor prompting envy is delusion: a bizarre idea or apprehension sustained by irrationality despite the fact that it goes against the fiber of reality.

On a lighter side, envy may not really be as destructive as we have previously seen especially in a situation where the envied matter is no big deal at all. It could be an affordable item possessed by the envied and may easily be obtained through the personal capability of the envious. However, there is still something negative lurking underneath the mentality of the latter if such an envious feeling has become a common tendency. In other words, if it is something considered and entertained normally and spontaneously as it occurs every now and then with a certain degree of sustained consistency, it goes through an “evolution” that opens up the possibility of getting worse as time passes by. And as it gets worse, the moral balance of the envious person intensifies to an unreasonable and hence damaging level. Getting at this point, the envious person whose attitude has gotten worse can lead to the commission of nefarious activities that are not only damaging to her/himself but likewise to other people. If the envied stuff is a material possession, a possible outcome by the time one has reached such an escalated point is to resort to at least, stealing and at worst, full-scale robbery.

In the final analysis, what we have seen is the fact that envy is actually grounded on an unrealistic perception of one’s lot in life. It is a failure to grasp one’s scope and limits of capabilities within the framework of what is real in her/his condition. In this sense, if an individual person has a strong grasp of her/his own reality, envy is most unlikely to happen. Having a sober disposition in life and a realistic acceptance of what is and what is not within the sphere of her/his being is the best antidote against envy. This mindset doesn’t, however, prevent us from pursuing a better life. But let’s always get reminded that such is only possible within the realistic limits of our existential circumstances.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 05 June 2019

On Food

Food is for both nourishment and enjoyment. The physical existence of living organisms is sustained by food. Animals–both lower and higher (i.e., human)–rely on food for physical sustenance necessary to do activities, both productive and leisurely. Food is, therefore, necessary stuff of life. Life may be reckoned in various ways and means but without food, it is doomed to perish. And food depends on the species that avails and partakes of it. In other words, a kind of stuff which is food for a species may not be food but rather a poison for another.

Focusing our attention on the animal world, it is only the higher form, i.e., homo sapiens sapiens, who has the capability to process food in various ways. Like their lower form counterparts, humans eat raw foods like fruits and vegetables. But unlike them, humans are equipped with a highly evolved brain capable of concocting a variety of food ingredients and come up with a dish that is not only cooked to satisfy hunger but whose palatable taste gives delight to the hungry consumer.

Under normal circumstances (i.e., in a healthy state), we humans are insatiable eaters. Our appetite demands so much that we want variation in our food intake. In fact, hundreds of thousands of recipes have been prepared, tested and made into actual dishes by thousands of traditional cooks, celebrated chefs and gourmets, published in tens of thousands of cookbooks made available in thousands of bookstores all over the world. Food concoctions have developed and evolved into exquisitely delectable dishes through generations and ages in various parts of the modern world. In the process, a new aesthetic field has been added to modern culture: culinary art.

In a lot of instances, spices are the secret of savory dishes. Among the most common ones in a typical kitchen pantry are garlic powder, chili powder, ground ginger, dried oregano, dried rosemary, dried thyme, smoked paprika, curry powder, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, black peppercorns, vanilla extract, and of course, salt. Add to the list taste-enhancing liquid blends like soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and Worcestershire sauce among others. Expert chefs are the master mixers of spices and in every cooking event, what they primarily have in mind is the satisfaction of their prospective consumers’ palates. Putting themselves in such a demanding condition, they are not only competing with the others of their kind; they likewise compete with themselves and in the process, continually improve their expertise towards higher refinements. This makes culinary art an exciting and challenging field of professional interest.

Good food is therefore associated with the good life. In this connection, people in the comfort of their stable condition are generally the ones who can fully understand how the good life is associated with good food. Partying is a common event among them and their discriminating attitude towards food and drinks is more expressed in a parlance that is seemingly exclusive to them. They are the certified judges of their class identity. In an exorbitantly budgeted party, guests mill around an expensive array of specially prepared cuisine on a long table.

However, taking this line of thought is just one side of the story. Corollary to this is the other side that in reality, life in this world is not all good. A big chunk of the populated Earth is home to disadvantaged people whose conditions are besieged by the forces of oppression, violence, even death. What we see in this situation are emaciated bodies of victims of inhumanity. Men, women, and children at the brink of death because of hunger and sickness. These are human beings who have long been forgotten by those who enjoy the good life. The good life is so anesthetizing that they who have long been enjoying it doesn’t care at all about the sufferings of those on the other side of the planet. These are human beings who do not ask for delectable cuisine but simple food that could fill their empty stomachs.

In almost all instances, these are victims of destructive wars exported to their geographical areas by the powerful nations of the west where their citizens enjoy the amenities of the good life. We have seen these hungry and sick victims of imperialist wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine, among others. These are people who have lost their sense to distinguish between good food and otherwise. What they wish to have in the kind of hapless situation they have been experiencing is not to enjoy delicious food but to satisfy their hunger even with the simplest nourishment they could avail of.

We have been so engrossed with the good food we regularly enjoy at home, at expensive restaurants and exclusive parties that we have actually forgotten the reality that there are hungry human beings in war-torn countries whose aggressors our respective governments support so actively in terms of logistics, personnel, and armaments. These are no big deal matters to us simply because we do not care.

Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 May 2019

Inefficient People

“There are only two qualities in the world: efficiency and inefficiency; and only two sorts of people: the efficient and the inefficient.”
— Josh Billings

The norm has been established and the machine is set in motion. High productivity is the name of the game. The objectives are clearly posted and the goal ascertained. This is an honest-to-goodness test of efficiency. At the end of the day, the operation stops and the evaluation of performance is released. Perfect. Everybody is satisfied. The goal has finally been reached. Once again, the system has been proven efficient. The best use of time, effort and resources is graded excellent. Expanding this scenario to the level of actual life on a daily basis, we call it an accomplishment of a tall order, i.e., of a high calling.

However, this storyline remains to be an ideal whose practical realization requires a herculean endeavor. What we see in reality a lot of times is its diametrical contrast. Substandard quality performances that mess up objectives and crush goals. An entire project getting completely demolished and vanished into oblivion. Large-scale wastage of big-budget resources that simply go down the drain in the wink of an eye. This is the aftermath of large-scale inefficiency perpetrated by reckless practitioners entrusted with lofty responsibilities and expected to discharge high-quality accomplishment.

But whose fault is all this fiasco? Does the blame go solely to the people directly involved in the project? Fault-finding becomes the main issue at this point and scapegoats are pinpointed in every corner where weaker personalities are found by the stronger ones. Those who have been categorized as the powers-that-be cannot be accused of inefficiency on the basis of this game rule. As if there is an overarching mandate that those in power are not capable of inefficiency. The brunt of blame generally goes to the people on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. They are the culprits. They must be condemned. Their inefficiency is epic. But are they really the wrongdoers? Is it just to heap all the fury of condemnation on them?

Efficiency or its opposite, inefficiency, has to be viewed within the totality of a system. On one hand, there is a generally exceptional performance of tasks within the whole range of an undertaking because the dynamics that engulf it are characterized by a system of total efficiency. Efficiency is the power charge that trickles down the line from the top echelon to the workforce on the ground. Within these dynamics are the mechanics that are responsibly discharged at all levels and in all sectors by capable and well-trained practitioners endowed with a high sense of accountability, reliability, and credibility.

On the other hand, inefficiency becomes the pattern of events in a particular state of affairs fundamentally because of the pervading system of inefficient leadership. The tracing of the roots of inefficiency–as in tracking down the source of efficiency in the previous discussion–goes uninterruptedly upwards to the quality of administrators on the topmost stratum of the organizational pecking order, so to speak. Having this in mind leads us to infer that though the most visible cases of inefficiency are witnessed on the ground level, the real culprits of gross inefficiency are those that occupy the top-level posts.

Inefficient government employees in villages, towns or cities are the exact reflections of the inefficiency of their immediate superiors while the inefficiency of the latter is a replication of the same that characterizes their immediate superiors. The tracing moves on and on and on upwards until the last point at the uppermost level is reached and this obviously is the leader of the national government. This condition is the basis of the principle of command responsibility which works most distinctively and effected most effectively in the organizational structure of the military sector.

On the basis of the military chain of command, the inefficiency of top-ranking officers trickles down to the inefficient performance of foot soldiers in the field. Any stupid activities committed by a soldier is, therefore, a reflection of the stupidity of the immediate superior. The bucket does not stop at this point because the situation calls for the question, “Why is this officer stupid?” The most definite response is because he has never been properly monitored by his own immediate superior officer and the tracking order goes on and on upwards.

Under normal circumstances, the military system cannot tolerate inefficiency. The same applies to private business companies. Inefficiency in the world of business means wide-ranging–even sweeping financial–losses that most likely end up to bankruptcy. In contrast, national governments can afford inefficiency. In fact, a lot of governments in various parts of the world are unabashedly inefficient and such is the major factor that makes the nations of these governments economically, politically and socially weak under the pervading culture of corruption perpetrated by the inefficient government leaders themselves.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 22 May 2019

The Law of the Jungle

Neither physicochemical nor legislated, this law manifests itself within the primal dynamics of the human condition but whose rootage is the animal strain in our collective unconscious (with apologies to Carl Gustav Jung). It is characterized by spontaneous reactions driven by the complexity of events that occur within a sphere of existence basically defined in terms of survival and competition. There is no logic through which the whole gamut of its operation may be explained, reasoned out or argued.

In its most primitive and fundamental manifestation in the animal world, it is particularly depicted in the predator-prey encounter and the predator-predator competitive engagement as well. In the human realm, this law takes effect in practically similar conditions where one individual tries to dominate over the other by way of both psychological and physical maneuverings. “Dog-eat-dog” world is the common expression in English that describes the domain of this law. It is therefore preconditioned by the notion that the strong dominate over the weak. Nevertheless, the wind can always change and turn round toward the opposite direction pushing the weak to rise up and wax stronger with the resolve to fight back and defeat the adversary.

This is the law upon which the real world operates. There are persistent and seemingly unsolvable problems, difficulties, sufferings, and tragedies in the human realm generally because of the uninterrupted and constant power of the law of the jungle regardless of the sophisticated lifestyle we have gone through in the modern (even post-modern) world. In this sense, we could realistically say that we’ve never been modern at all (with apologies to Bruno Latour). The law of the jungle is the law that operates in a lot of instances where the leading objective is always to get ahead, take over, dominate and control situations, events, and people.

Though there seems to be a thematic pattern that manifests this law, experience has brought us to the conclusion that such is only a semblance of what may reasonably be tracked down since the underlying factor that evinces this law is purely instinctual and hence non-thematic. The very essence of this law is, therefore, a matter of habit embedded in the depth of the animal instinct that remains operational in the human genetic apparatus. This whole condition creates a natural ambience to the point of even forcing reason to capitulate under its power. In other words, the law of the jungle does not respect reason for it has “its own reason that reason does not know” (with apologies to Blaise Pascal).

In conclusion, it could be rightly surmised that the law of the jungle is the motivating force underlying cyclic events in reality wherein the perennial motion of human desire to predominate over situations, events, and people is the non-negotiable rule of the game. In this connection, it is now reason’s high calling to look for its reason to be and convince humanity that reason will rule the world very soon. The truth of the matter is, it has never been so and I remain pessimistic about reason’s bright future. The law of the jungle rules and remains triumphant in the macrocosmic reality of human existence.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 15 May 2019