[I]f one defines knowledge as that which exists independently of any particular perspective, belief — which is another name for perspective — becomes a bar to its achievement. In this view beliefs are the property of partisan agendas and if one is to resist their appeal, an appeal that amounts to nothing less than coercion, one must distance themselves from them an neutralise their force. It is my contention that this is precisely what one cannot possibly do and still remain a “one”, a being with a capacity for action. In short, you can never get away from your beliefs, which means you can never get away from force, from the pressure exerted by a partial, non-neutral, nonauthoritative, ungrounded point of view. (Stanley Fish, ‘Force’, Doing What Comes Naturally, p 519).
Now Fish is one of my lights. I’ve read, marked, learned and inwardly digested this stuff. And I’m totally with him that there’s no getting away from belief — and thus from persuasion (as opposed to ‘pure’, agenda-free reasoning).
The problem is, if Fish is right, where’s the line between persuasion and manipulation?
This is no idle question. I was asked it at my Moore College admissions interview. And for anyone contemplating preaching or leading a Bible study — heck, even just opening their mouth to counsel or encourage a friend — it can’t be shelved: We have an authoritative (even transformative) message that we’re rightly seeking to persuade people of. Yet this doesn’t licence coercion, manipulation or otherwise overthrowing the will of those we’re addressing.
Any tips or stories from your experience?