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Social Constructivism as a theoretical framework, [and as conceived by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann] explains reality as a matter of human generation or construction. As an offshoot of this framework, what may be called as ‘knowledge’ [both in its theoretical and practical sense] and the ‘sociology of knowledge’ can also be conceived as a matter of human generation or construction. For the sake of clarity and precision, the aforementioned generation or construction is called ‘social construction’.
Knowledge can be conceived of as a body of true propositions about reality. But if reality per se is a matter of human construction [via what social constructivists call as social construction], then we can also say that our knowledge about reality is a matter of human generation or construction.
It is with this particular strand of thought that this paper seeks to explain why it is important to be vigilant about the information that we receive from various sources especially in the context of our time since now, more than ever, societies easily accept the paradigm of the ‘marketplace of ideas’.
History provides us with robust examples in which what we may call as knowledge can be manipulated or fabricated. On a preliminary note, it is important to differentiate what may be called as knowledge on the one hand, and information, on the other. This task may be illustrated by a simple analogy. Just as a pile of wood, let alone themselves, cannot make [and do not constitute] a house, a file of information cannot and do not properly constitute what we call as knowledge. For the pile of wood to be a house [and for the pile of information to count as knowledge], they must undergo a process.
As one may have noted at this point, prior to questioning whether or not something is to count as knowledge, in the strict sense of the term, one must be wary about its ‘source’. It is at this point that I raise a very important tactic which, for a very long time, has been used by many political figures and their accomplices to make the circumstances favorable for their various social and political agenda. This tactic is called data manipulation. In different periods in history, political writers and even intellectuals have been engaged in political propaganda to sway ‘public opinion’ or to justify the status quo’s political moves, policies and even its ‘legitimacy’.
Nicolo Machiavelli is regarded by many as the first political pragmatist. He offers a realistic account of politics and governance. As to how a prince [or ruler] should conduct himself towards his subjects and friends, Machiavelli wrote the following: It appears to me more appropriate to follow up the real truth of the matter than the imagination of it; for many have pictured republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done sooner affects his ruin than his preservation (p. 111).
In Machiavelli’s view, self-preservation or the preservation of power [as in the case of a prince or a ruler] takes priority over anything else. Indeed, one may say that what ought to be done may be overridden by self-preservation, the latter being, first and foremost, a basic drive. Applying this particular view to the case of the state, one may say that for the state to be able to fulfill its mandate, it must first ensure its preservation because only then can it enforce the law and exact obedience. In a very real sense, a prince must be amoral and must be able to discern what to do depending upon what the circumstances require.
“Hence it is necessary for a prince to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity” (Machiavelli, p. 112). To further this point, Machiavelli wrote the following: For if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity (p. 113). For most of us, Machiavelli’s ideas present us with a very disturbing picture nevertheless, their originality and potency cannot be easily dismissed since he reminds us of how complex human nature is.
Machiavelli’s ideas regarding the preservation of power may be seen at work in Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and how they both rose into power. Hitler and the Nazi Party employed different tactics and made extensive use of propaganda to sway public opinion. In all of these, the issue that this paper focuses on is the issue of ‘manipulation’ as employed by Hitler and the Nazi Party. Manipulation is common [but is not limited] in the sphere of the political. “The subject of manipulation is gaining more and more attention, as it seems to play an increasing role in many areas of our life, such as advertising, religion and politics” (Blass, 2005, p. 169).
Blass forcefully argues that Hitler and the Nazis employed manipulation in various forms to propagate their social and political agenda, which according to her is a very deceptive system. “An important factor is that manipulation of the population of Germany had been at the bottom of the success of the Nazis” (Blass, 2005, p. 169). For the most part, Blass claims that Hitler’s speeches and writings are two important mechanisms that play very crucial roles in the aforementioned manipulation. Galasinki (2000) provided a definition of manipulation when he wrote:
“Manipulation is an attempt to affect the target in such a way that his behavior/action is an instrument of attaining the goals of the manipulator, who acts without using force but in such a way that the target does not know the goal of the manipulator’s actions (Blass, 2005, p. 170). What Galasinki points out is that when we speak of manipulation, it is always intentional [on the part of the manipulator].
Nazi critics regard Hitler as one of history’s greatest manipulators. From the very beginning, Hitler’s goal was clear and he knew what was needed for that goal to be achieved; to win the support of the German people, particularly the working class. To further this point, Blass (2005) writes:
This means that if Hitler’s aim is to win the trust of the German people, in order to fulfill his own plans, he had to know the plans and intentions of his addressees and try to change some of their intentions which they would be willing to accept as being coherent with their own plans and higher level intentions (pp. 176-77).
Several examples will suffice to point out how Hitler’s speeches and writings indicate a clear manifestation of manipulation. The extermination of the Jews was a directive which was withheld from the people of Germany and so up to that extent, involves manipulative deception. This is what Smith and Peterson, Eds. (1974) calls a case of manipulation of the people by omission (p. 169). Historical accounts reveal that Himmler intentionally hid this from the German people when he convened Nazi’s regional leaders at Posen. Another case of manipulation tactics employed by the Nazis is familiar for most of us.
This manipulation technique is commonly used in marketing specifically, advertising. This is the use of propaganda material, which through catchy words and phrases as in the form of slogans and due to its repetitive nature, eventually persuades those who listen to it. Hitler himself devised this tactic to ‘convert’ more Germans to accept the new political and cultural system provided by the tenets of Nazism (p. 197).
A very interesting manipulation technique employed by Hitler in his speeches is his presentation of a dilemma in which his audience is inevitably forced to decide or make a choice. The problem however, is that there really is no choice since what Hitler conveys is that what he is proposing is a matter of ‘necessity’ and ‘ridicules’ those who will not agree. Simple enough, if it is a matter of necessity, then it is not a matter of choice. This is what he did when he justified the expansion of the German territory to the East. Hitler (1942) wrote the following:
The exterior politics of the people state ‘has to’ secure the livelihood of the race which is established through the state on this planet by creating a natural relationship between the number and the growth of the population on the one hand and the size and quality of the land on the other hand (p. 728).
As one may have noted, the phrase ‘has to’ implies that it ‘must’ be done otherwise; the livelihood of the race will not be secured. Hitler then, is not presenting truth in its entirety and is forcing a false dilemma since there are other options than what he presents.
At the onset of this paper, it was stated that one must be vigilant about the source of the information he/she receives. Aside from the aforementioned manipulation tactics, Hitler and the Nazis also prevented the German people from verifying the truth. Aside from fabricating evidences and information that serve their social and political agenda, they also deliberately denied the German people of their right to know the truth, not to mention a widespread conspiracy among their ranks to exterminate those who would try to know the truth.
In order to ensure the success of Nazism, its rise to power, prominence and domination, Hitler and his accomplices’ goal is to prevent truth verification. Hitler’s leadership and actions reflect, to a certain extent, the ideas put forth by Machiavelli. It seems that Machiavelli found his prince in the person of Hitler. “It is only possible to win the soul of a nation if next to the leading of the positive fight for one’s own goals one destroys the opponents of these goals” (Hitler, 1942, pp. 371-72).
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