The question makes sense metaphorically. Literally, we ask: Are there external forces that manipulatively control our thoughts and actions of which we are not conscious? But how crucial is the role of consciousness on this issue? Does it imply that if we are conscious of such external controlling forces, it could not be construed as a case of manipulation? What if we are conscious of them nevertheless we allow ourselves to be manipulated by them? I am of the opinion that ¨puppetry¨ is real in both instances.
Even the case of not being conscious of such forces triggers a deeper question: What more fundamental events in the life of a self-conscious being bring him to a certain point wherein s/he fails to be conscious of the manipulation being done on her/him? One who has gotten used to a situation of manipulation likewise gets to a point where things are normalized, even the very experience of being manipulated. In this case, manipulation becomes normal and common and the ¨puppetry¨ continues unabated.
But are we not all puppets of our genetic configuration and social programming? Behaviourists of the Pavlovian-Skinnerian variety think we are. We have been conditioned by certain genetic and environmental factors from which there is no way out. We are captives of the past and every decision or action we make is predetermined by how we have been individually ¨engineered¨. In other words, human freedom is a fiction. We are not free moral agents, have never been and will never be. We are all ¨puppets¨ being manipulated by some mysterious hands that have put in order the genetic chips of our individual existences and placed us in social milieus where we find ourselves here and now.
But how does one get to this generalization when I am not only conscious right now but likewise self-conscious? I am aware of who I am and where I am at this point in time and anything I do or plan to do later is within the sphere of my volitional capacity. I am free to do what I want to do and resist getting into a situation where I don´t want to be. Now that I am aware of manipulation and the possibility of getting manipulated in certain circumstances, I will see to it that no one can ever get me into it. It is within the scope of my individual freedom to prevent any manipulative act of anybody to influence me and desecrate the freedom which I believe defines the authenticity of my person.
Yet, at the end of the day and in the silence of our hearts we get into a much deeper reflection of these matters and face the question: Isn´t this whole scenario simply a psyching up of ourselves to sustain a delusion we have been made to believe in since time immemorial? Could it be construed as an arrogant posture of one who has been led to defend the illusion that the sole basis of our humanity is the reality of freedom? What if we are not truly free? What if one´s consciousness of the notion of manipulation and the possibility of getting manipulated in certain instances doesn´t definitely prove that one is free? What if we become aware at a certain point that there is an uncharted corner of our inner life permeated by a kind of absolute weakness susceptible to manipulation? What is that overpowering force that is able to instantly dissipate the rhetoric of freedom fiercely asserted on a variety of platforms? And after all the diatribes and treatises vigorously backing up the proposition of human freedom, we turn around and find ourselves in the convention of real life amidst the instrumentalities of actual daily manipulations dominated by true-to-life ¨puppeteers¨ in a world of ¨puppet shows.¨
Real-life puppetry is a power issue and it is extensively pronounced in the realms of politics, economy and religion among others where we find power-wielding protagonists who are not only in control of their lives but of the lives of others. In the area of politics, they enact laws and exact duties. In the domain of economy, they own and manage the means of economic productivity and dictate the tempo and mode of goods and services production. Furthermore, they control the markets in terms of price manipulation and distribution priorities. In the sphere of religion, they formulate dogmas and deliver ¨hell-and-brimstone¨ sermons to instil fear in the hearts of the so-called believers.
At this point, we are brought to a realization that we are living in a world where on the one hand are the powerful manipulators and on the other are the manipulated powerless. We are caught and eaten up in a world-system where things are dictated from a modern-day Olympus, the mighty abode of ¨gods and goddesses¨ whose global powers do not only manipulate but likewise exploit the politics and economies of less powerful nations on earth. They create wars and destroy peoples they abhor or whose wealth of natural resources like petroleum they intend to monopolize . They make weak nations get much weaker and sow the seeds of poverty to extensively disempower them. These political and economic ¨puppeteers¨ have even been able to control the channels to situate and track the most modern developments in science and technology whose most current efforts are in the area of meteorological manipulation that creates violent weather and climate changes (e.g., the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program or HAARP in Alaska).
Human manipulation/exploitation as ¨puppetry¨ is not only seen in genetic and socio-cultural programming. The common citizens of a country are generally puppets of the state power machinery that in a lot of ways controls the lives of people through laws, orders, obligations, prohibitions, taxation, restrictions and a myriad of other control mechanisms. These are matters that the more critical members of a society are very much aware of. In other words, they know that they are being controlled and manipulated in an intricate maze of conditions, constraints and requirements carried out by the powers that be in a society which they call home. And it is the insufficiency and even the utter absence of the people´s united resistance to oppose such sheer manipulation that sustains and continually possibilizes ¨puppetry¨ despite the fact that they very well know such reality.
In a stricter sense though, they cannot be construed as puppets because a puppet qua puppet does not and cannot know that it is a puppet. However, in a looser and more figurative sense, they are as they allow themselves to be so. They are ¨puppetized¨ and hence viewed as puppets. Subservience to the manipulative, exploitative and oppressive whims and wishes of a political or an economic or a religious power is an absolute case of human ¨puppetry¨—an utter infringement of one´s human dignity as a moral agent supposed to be endowed with the non-negotiable factor of free will.
But are we truly endowed with free will? At this point, we are being dared once more to justify the reality of free will. If our persons are defined in terms of genetic assemblage and environmental programming, does it still make sense to talk of free will? It seems we have gotten to a point where the most rational resolution is to accept the fact that human personhood is pre-determined and free will is just a persistent illusion that is hard to die. And even right on this front, human ¨puppetry¨ remains strong.
If such is the real human condition, then moral responsibility dies with free will. One´s ability to distinguish and judge what is good and what is bad (evil) as well as to do what is right and avoid what is wrong is a matter of free will. If everything we do is just an outcome of what we have been conditioned or programmed to do, then nobody should be held responsible in destructive, harmful, injurious, vicious and violent acts perpetrated by a human being since such acts are precisely consequential to her/his genetic assemblage and the social condition wherein s/he has been programmed.
Such consideration is fundamentally deemed scientific and sensible nevertheless fractional for it de-emphasizes what a human being is capable to do in persistent resistance to and open defiance of an obvious expectation grounded on well-defined and clearly identifiable social orientation and programming as well as evidently traceable hereditary characteristics and peculiarities. This is the very locus where free will emerges. As such, it is a flawed configuration to reckon free will within the sphere of genetic and environmental determinism. A single counter-instance that disconnects itself from the train of such determinism destroys the universal presupposition that precludes the reality of free will. In fact, a clear case in point is in one´s refusal to be coerced. This is a genuine act of free will. A person who has the guts to resist and defy the coercive forces applied on her/him to yield to certain demands detrimental to his moral integrity is a clear ¨materialization¨ of the reality of free will. In specific instances where free will manifests, human ¨puppetry¨ dissolves.
Are we puppets? No real puppet has the high-level capability to ask that very question. But why do we often find ourselves in situations where we seem to be puppets? Because we allow ourselves to be ¨puppetized¨. In such instances, one knows within her/himself that s/he is no puppet at all but s/he appears to be one from the point of view of the powerful puppeteer. Where there are no conscious ¨puppets,¨ no ¨puppeteers¨ in human society will ever thrive.
© Ruel F. Pepa, 19 December 2013