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“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Disgraceful Business

I get spam emails asking me if I’d be willing to campaign for this or that political candidate. They always make me think for a minute: I have strong political views; I believe electing officials with certain beliefs is bad for the country; so maybe I should campaign.

But the fact is campaigns are a disgraceful business. Citizens shouldn’t need to be chased down and bombarded with marketing and PR gimmicks. It’s their duty as citizens to research the candidates and the issues on their own and to vote for the one they decide will best represent them.

This is naïve, I know. We have been trained by the media our whole lives. We want first to be entertained, second to be uplifted, and third to be told how great we are. When it comes to making decisions, we don’t want to have to take any active part in discovering the best course of action. We want to sit back and be allowed to play as passive a role as possible. We’re not looking to be convinced or persuaded—we’re looking to be sold.

In the past two weeks, I’ve gotten around fifty calls from some company whose purpose is to get donations on behalf of charities who hire them. It turns out Doctors without Borders hired them. And since I’ve donated to this cause in the past they see me as a good target for their campaign. But all the other times I donated I simply went online and entered an amount, without getting a single call. Since I’ve been getting calls, I haven’t made a donation.

I go to Sears and buy socks. Not a single brand offers any guarantee that they weren’t manufactured in sweat shops. Then I get to the register and I’m bombarded with more marketing. This is called POS, or point of sale marketing. “Would you like to save 15 percent by signing up for…?” No, I just want to buy some fucking socks.

So many companies are vying for our attention and trying to squeeze money out of us that civic and economic life in this country can no longer deal with actual ideas or values. Every encounter is based on strategies and every strategy is contingent on some number it generates.

As we’re fatted on entertainment and passivity, businesses and political parties continue running their focus groups and assessing campaigns, figuring out better and better ways to parasitize us. And we sit cheering on our favorite football team.

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