Flattery & Power

by Caleb Roberts

This underlying design makes the message a flattery, even in the popular meaning of the word.  The other, whom I try to influence with what he likes to hear, ceases to be my partner; he is no longer a fellow subject.  Rather, he has become for me an object to be manipulated, possibly to be dominated, to be handled and controlled.  Thus the situation is just about the opposite of what it appears to be.  It appears, especially to the one so flattered, as if a special respect would be paid, while in fact this is precisely not the case.  His dignity is ignored; I concentrate on his weaknesses and on those areas that may appeal to him — all in order to manipulate him, to use him for my purposes.  And insofar as words are employed, they cease to communicate anything.  Basically, what happens here is speech without a partner (since there is no true other); such speech, in contradiction to the nature of language, intends not to communicate but to manipulate.  The word is perverted and debased to become a catalyst, a drug, as it were, and is as such administered.  Instrument of power may still seem a somewhat strong term for this; still, it does not seem so farfetched any longer. (22-23)

Josef Pieper | Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power