Caveat Emptor

Monday, 24 May 2010

There are end­less things we can and have learned from na­ture that have daily, prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion in our lives. Velcro was in­vented by a guy who took a close look at the burrs that stuck to his dog’s fur. It wasn’t given to us by Vulcans. I’m sure my mom has a spe­cial place in her heart for those things, since there were in­nu­mer­able times that my socks went through the wash com­pletely cov­ered in them. Velcro is use­ful, and it is kind of dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out how it could be mis­used.

Marketing, on the other hand, is some­thing that na­ture has in­grained into us, and learn­ing to use it as a tool for just about any job means it gets mis­used all the time. The most bla­tant form of nature’s mar­ket­ing is used for sex­ual se­lec­tion. Think pea­cocks, or Irish Elk. Pretty harm­less, specif­i­cally tar­geted mar­ket­ing. That eas­ily ex­plains the mar­ket­ing phrase “sex sells.” Properly mar­keted, you can sell any­thing. With prod­ucts, this has been age old; there were huck­sters sell­ing snake-oil and hoof grease to dirt-farm­ers in Ur. I’m sure the mar­ket­ing of ideas dates to an­tiq­uity as well, but the pro­lif­er­a­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the in­for­ma­tion age com­pounds this into a se­ri­ous prob­lem.

With proper mar­ket­ing, you can sell any idea. There’s a sucker born every min­ute. What sucks about the suck­ers is that they’re more likely to be­lieve the hype than due the dili­gence. So you can sell cre­ation­ism, fas­cism, racism, and that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslin and folks will take the good mar­ket­ing as gospel.  It’s Colbert’s truthi­ness. Facts are hard things, and think­ing re­quires thought. Since we’re hard-wired by na­ture to buy good mar­ket­ing, it’s eas­ier to buy in­tel­lec­tual snake oil (es­pe­cially when it goes with our pre­con­cep­tions) than put forth the ef­fort to test facts for scratch, in­den­ta­tion and re­bound hard­ness.

Caveat emp­tor, and if you don’t, God help the rest of us.

Obama Lexicon

Friday, 8 January 2010

I’ve no­ticed that Obama’s stock turns of phrase ap­pear more and more of­ten on blogs and com­ing from state­ments from other folks all over the place. To doc­u­ment, these are:

  • Let’s be clear
  • Make no mis­take

I don’t be­lieve this is con­fir­ma­tion bias. They’re used in the same rhetor­i­cal con­texts, for the most part. It’s a sub­con­scious sign that the per­son speak­ing or writ­ing has a deep re­spect for (and very likely looks up to) the President.

Personally, I like it when he talks about teach­able mo­ments, when he’s deal­ing with thorny but morally im­por­tant is­sues. I don’t know that I al­ways agree with what he de­fines as a teach­able mo­ment, but I cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate the sen­ti­ment that there are times when it is im­por­tant to learn a lesson, and to let the mo­ment teach that lesson to you. Your re­ac­tion to that mo­ment pro­vides some­thing you can teach your­self, and then oth­ers. It’s a good mech­a­nism for thought­ful liv­ing.