Sunday, November 15, 2009

Honesty is Inconvenient

It's funny that when one settles on an idea to write about that one suddenly notices dozens of examples in newspapers, radio, television or Internet content. The other day I began to think of how hard it is to be honest, ethical and moral while watching one of Michael Sandel's Harvard University Justice: What's the Right thing to do? episodes. In fact, it is so easy to find examples of dishonest, unjust, unethical or immoral behavior from sources that one would expect better of that one can become cynical about almost everything pretty quickly.
Take KGO Newstalk AM810 Radio, for example, where every other advertizement is a scam or get-rich-quick scheme; such as “Castro Valley woman [picture displayed] earns $67/hour working part time on the Internet,” or “Castro Valley mom loses 47 pounds on secret diet.” These are tabloid ads, not respectable radio ads. Since our kitchen is being remodeled, and my radio is somewhere in the stack of pots, pans, dishes, canned and boxed food in the living room, I've taken to listening to the radio over the Internet, so I can see the ads that I'm listening to. On two consecutive ads in a one-minute period the same Castro Valley woman made $67/hour and $83/hour working part time from home on the Internet. If that isn't a clue that it's a scam, I don't know what is. Follow the ad's link and you eventually find Herbalife, the pyramid scheme that has you working 80 hours a week and lying to recruit other Herbalife salespeople to eventually become a “manager of a pyramid” making income from those you recruit; something like Amway. Search for the scheme in Google, and you find testimony after testimony of people getting ripped off by the scheme. But, people keep buying into the scams.
I wondered how Ed Baxter, a KGO morning news-talk-jockey, felt about the deceitful ads, so I wrote him an email. He didn't respond. I suspect his conscious bothers him. I hope it does. But, he accepts the ads because he has to make a living and if that includes accepting money from companies advertizing scams – then so be it. It is hard to be honest and ethical and still keep a job. He also carries that idea into the news he reports, for example he tries to take both sides of an issue even though one side is clearly spin or out-right lie. KGO is one of the most popular stations in the Bay Area, but they've tried to copy Fox News in being “Fair and Balanced.” I guess fair and balanced means both truth and lies and spin like Fox News. That's the way ratings stay high and you and I stay confused and ignorant. Personally, I don't see that spin or a lie are any part of fair and balanced. What's fair and balanced about a lie?
Well, keeping “the mob” appeased and ignorant is an age-old idea. The Romans built the Colosseum to appease the masses, keep them entertained and their eyes diverted from what the Roman Senate and the Emperor were doing. Killing Christians was great sport in ancient Rome; the mob was appeased. The mob , by the way, in the eyes of the Roman Senate and Emperor is you and me, the public.
Appeasing the mob is an historical problem. Alexander Hamilton called the people “the beast.” James Madison's main concern when the forefathers were sorting out their ideas for our government was how to limit the effect of the whims of the majority , i.e., the common people; you and me, and still provide Democracy, or as close to Democracy as possible. They came up with the idea of a Republic , whereby we elect elite to represent us and they do the deciding, like Rome. The idea was that "enlightened and educated” people would be in charge and the masses would simply “consent to be led.” But, the election of George W. Bush is proof that ignorant, unenlightened and mediocre people can be elected to the highest office and do great damage to the country. How did that happen?
It happened because the consent of the voting majority was manufactured. Manufacturing consent is a learned lesson. In 1917 President Woodrow Wilson had a problem. He was faced with public opinion overwhelmingly against the United States entering World War I in Europe between Germany and it's surrounding countries, including Great Britain. So, he created the Committee of Public Information by executive order specifically to change public opinion. It was a success. Within a year, Wilson took America into World War I with public support. The committee was abolished in 1919.
On of the most effective so-called “public relations” experts of the day that was hired by the committee was Edward Bernays, nephew and student of Sigmund Freud. Bernays, knowing group psychology and behavior, brought a whole new level to the idea of manufacturing consent. Later in the 1920s, Bernays sold America on the idea that its favorite breakfast was bacon and eggs in an advertizement campaign for the pork industry. So, the die was cast. Bernays proved that consent could be contrived and manipulated without the person giving consent knowing it. He became known as the father of public relations. Of course, “public relations” is just another word for “propaganda.”
So, what's all this come to? A big mess. For example, the Congressional Record, which forms the opinion of Congressional Representatives, is written by lobbyist. The New York Times reports that 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats cited talking points given them by Genentech, the world's largest biotechnology company and a subsidiary of Swiss drug company Roche, for the Congressional Record. Is some of our government policy coming from Switzerland? What's that about? When we vote for the so-called “elite,” we expect them to read the bill they're voting on and make judgments that represent the people who voted for them. If they're simply parroting something some company gives them, it doesn't sound like they are “enlightened” to me. It sounds like they are parrots. It sounds like they have a problem being honest and ethical. It sounds like they sold us, the voters, on one thing and do another in Washington.
Then, at the other end of the propaganda spectrum is the enforced advertizement, the idea that you and I will be forced to look at, and respond to, an advertizement. That's what Apple Computer Incorporated appears to be doing. It filed a patent that would allow it to display an advertizement on any device that has a screen and freezes the device until you respond that you've seen the ad and you answer a quiz about the ad. Ha! Then you can use the device! Do you have an iPhone? Guess what. If you don't want to see the ad that pops up on your iPhone and freezes it, you may have to pay not to see it. The fact that Apple is doing this is somewhat surprising to me. It has always represented a more trustworthy, ethical company. But, when dollars are involved, someone, somewhere in the organization will think up a scheme to get more. Whether it's moral or ethical doesn't enter into the decision. The more money involved, the harder it is to be moral and ethical. You already pay for the phone, and it should be yours, so having to pay not to see ads on it is a slap in the face. Do you use Microsoft Office? Well, welcome to Windows Live. Windows will download and install Windows Live and load it automatically every time you start your computer - whether you like it or not. And it is annoying and makes your computer slower.
I guess the biggest deceit today, however, is the deceit perpetrated on the Christian Right. Almost to a person who believes in the Christian Right's fundamentalist doctrine, they also believe that the Republican Party represent Jesus' teachings the most. The core Republican ideology is “free, laissez-fair markets” that allows Apple and Microsoft to do whatever they want in developing their business, including forcing you to see their ads or use their products. How does that even compare to “treat others as you would be treated?” The only way that compares is if I want to be slapped in the face. Yet, I know Christian fundamentalist who fanatically follow Republicans. I guess Edward Bernays showed the way all too well to manufacturing consent – consenting to selling your soul.
The prospects of the new “millennial” generation coming of age in my last post gave me a short reprieve from my cynicism. Now, however, after following an idea for this blog entry, I'm right back to my old cynical self. How will they, the new generation, ever be free to think for themselves when it is so hard to be honest? Or, to even know whether our consent, and our ideas, is being contrived by some public relations firm?
On the other hand, the Creationists-anti-Darwinist may have proof that Darwin was wrong. There appears to be one exception to the “survival of the fittest theory:” the Human Being. If there's one animal on the planet that can screw things up to the point of destroying itself, it's humans. Give ourselves the Darwin Award! We'd rather have a public relations company run our lives.
Ah, what the hell, let's read the truth about Death Panels from the Congressman who wrote the provision in the Bill. Twenty million idiots believed that! And, after reading the Congressman's editorial, if you honestly believe that the U. S. would create Death Panels, read this “liar, liar, pants on fire” article, then go look in the mirror at the idiot staring back at you. Give yourself the Darwin Award!

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