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.