Undue Influence And Free Will


Following my recent post on undue influence as a possible legal recourse in certain situations, I want to give some additional and complementary perspective.

Here’s an excerpt from a book by Robert Kane, philosopher and acclaimed teacher at the University of Texas at Austin:

“Now it may occur to you that, to some extent, we do live in such a world, where we are free to make choices but may be manipulated into making many of them by advertising, television, spin doctors, salespersons, marketers, and sometime even friends, parents, relatives, rivals, or enemies.”

He easily could have added professors, bosses, ministers, preachers, gurus, and self-identified prophets.

Kane continues:

“One sign of how important free will is to us is that people feel revulsion at such manipulation and feel demeaned by it when they find out it has been done to them. They realize that they may have thought they were their own persons because they were choosing in accord with their own desires and purposes, but all along their desires and purposes had been manipulated by others who wanted them to choose exactly as they did. Such manipulation is demeaning because, when subjected to it, we realize we were not our own persons; and having free will is about being your own person.”

The book excerpt is from Kane’s A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford University Press, 2005).

In my previous post on undue influence, I quoted Steve Hassan, counselor and cult-deprogramming expert (with several books on the subject), saying he believes people who join cults and high-control groups do not in fact choose freely.

Another key insight into undue influence is found on a website devoted to Jonestown & Peoples Temple and maintained by San Diego State University’s Department of Religious Studies.

On the site, in an article on undue influence, Patrick O’Reilly, PhD, writes, “The legal way to view undue influence is to see it as an act of deceit and manipulation in order to suppress an individual’s free will and replace that free will with the goal of the perpetrator.”

Consider this especially when contrasting a stated goal and a hidden agenda. Such a contrast is certainly possible in many kinds of churches. If a leader manipulates a group with a stated goal while trying to bring about a hidden agenda, he might be guilty of undue influence.

O’Reilly also describes the element of “siege mentality” present in cases of undue influence, and it is pretty creepy when considered as a means of converting others to one’s own goal:

“Anyone who is not part of the perpetrator’s plan is a potential or actual threat to the victim.”

In other words, the undue influencer says, I’m the one who is trying to help you, and those others are trying to lead you astray.

A false dilemma or false choice of us versus them has been established.

Said to an emotionally vulnerable person, that can be manipulation and deceit at their worst.
 
Take-aways:

  1. People are manipulable.
  2. Some people in positions of influence and leadership have mastered the techniques of manipulation.
  3. When a person is manipulated in certain ways and in certain types of situations, he might have grounds for legal action.

 

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