Here’s the biggest thing about advertising that I can relay with some considerable confidence… it works. Even on you. Even when you are sure it doesn’t.
And spending trillions of dollars globally over three generations is a recipe for an extremely effective campaign. With that kind of money, what you say goes.
In order to get an OAT distribution of basically anything; money, influence, a bigger herd of cattle in sub-Saharan Africa, the top of the triangle has to have things come out of its mouth that do not match up with things in its head. It has to lie.
This does not make us “lower triange folk” the victims of conspiracy. Most conspiracy theories are cognitive errors emerging from our tendency to narrativise everything.
No, It is not a conspiracy any more than oceanic tides or flocking birds are conspiracies. It is simply how a reasonably complex dataset self-orders. (And we like to think of ourselves as reasonably complex.)
But that doesn’t make the misinformation emanating from the top any less dangerous, any less carcinogenic. And it is the duty of those at the top to convey to us the “Big Things”: We are at war now, Bin Laden is dead, financial success is down to hard work only and is available to anyone, etc.
Just like believing the Madison Avenue tobacco hype in the fifties could kill you, believing it today can bring down the world. Literally. The belief that every single person in every developed economy -whether they were employed or not (!)- should get on a miraculous property ladder where we begin in a one bedroom crap shack in Bradford and all emerge at the top into Trump’s loft apartment broke the world.
We know why the top of the OAT did this, of course. Because they made more money selling our debts than they did taking our mortgage payments. So they needed more debt. So they went out and got it. (Honestly, the housing market reminds me more than anything else of Soylent Green.)
Read this article and come back. Yes, it’s another one of those posts that requires context or it will appear nonsensical. But it’s awesome, anyway.
On his way to an excellent point, the author brushes over something that is crucial to understanding this swindle.
It’s such a great business, in fact, that banks have spent 200 years drilling it into us with billions in advertising that the “American Dream” is to own the white picket fence, the paved driveway, maybe borrow more to make an extension to the house. Put in a swimming pool. Tear down some walls. Nobody can ever kick you out. You’re not flushing your rent down the toilet. You’re owning! You’re keeping up with the Joneses (the most successful, yet mysterious, family in American mythology, that we all have to keep up with. What happens behind closed doors when the beatings occur, when little Bobby Jones cries himself to sleep, the Joneses will never tell us.) But, at least in 30 years you will own that home. You’ve fixed in a mortgage rate so inflation won’t kill you. And having your own home means you now have “roots.”
I’ve now worked in every medium (except outdoor); digital, magazine, newspaper, tv, radio, cinema. Mortgage advertising underpins everything. When that gravy train stopped in 2008, thousands of publications collapsed around the world. The “advertising recession” was really just the near-complete halt in mortgage and SUV advertising. (What does that tell you about how we are living, by the way?)
For me this is probably why the post resonates so much. It really was a 200 year ad campaign. Advertising is what you do when you want to say something and the rest of the world wants to say something else. It’s about shouting the loudest. Which you only need to do if you’re lying about something.
And a 200 year ad campaign? You could turn entire countries gay with that much time and money. (I vote Sweden.)
“Big Things” and “Small Things”
My old flatmate told me a story of when she was a child in religious education classes. She’s a credit controller now so hopefully that paints some picture of how her brain works. Anyway she couldn’t understand the ‘transaction’ of Jesus’s death. Those were her words.
Why would his dad kill him? How does that pay off “our” debt? She couldn’t see how these things were related. These were earnest questions from a sincere seeker. This is how the little girl who grew up to be -and love being- a credit controller was wired. She was willing to buy into the story but no one could explain to her how that murderous act “paid” for anything. No one offered an alternate suggestion or provided a road that suited her better. It made her feel stupid so she kept quiet. Your spirituality is a “Big Thing”.
I had a similar realisation in primary school when we first learnt about compound interest. No one could explain to me how paying $950K in total over twenty years for a house that was initially worth $100K and then gets sold for $200K makes sense. I did not understand the transaction. How is this supposed to make you rich? It made me feel stupid so I kept quiet. Your financial situation is a “Big Thing”.
That math class anecdote came rushing back to me as I read the Freakonomics post on the train to Manchester on Thursday because I get the suspicion the author probably had a similar moment as a kid:
“Leveraging up 400% in an illiquid investment with no diversification is a scary concept to me and should be to any rational person.”
He understands how chaos and probability operates over extended time periods. You simply don’t know what a good investment is going to be, you simply don’t know where (or if) you will be in twenty years. It’s a long time for black swans to land and none of those swans will be in your favour. He is, like myself, what The Amazing Taleb calls in this fascinating video philostochastic.
30% of Chinese health professionals smoke. They have the highest percentage of adults smoking out of any country in the world. The population simply doesn’t know that smoking is killing them. And it very much is. It’s too late now. 60% of Chinese men smoke. There are an estimated 300 million smokers in total in the country.
1 in 2 people who smoke will die because of it. Tragically, 150 million deaths in a couple of generations will probably do a good job of getting the health message out there. The housing fantasy had its “Chinese cancer” moment in 2008. (Pop quiz: is cigarette advertising still legal in China? Exactly.)
These are “Big Things”. You know as well as I do that there are people in China coughing their lungs out and thinking “surely this has something to do with all these cigarettes I smoke but the doctor says it’s okay.”
“Small Things” I am never right about. Honestly, I’m a useless modern human. I don’t know how to fix a car. I don’t know how to cut my hair. I don’t know how to speak Italian. In the matter of “Small Things”, always defer to the expert. He or she will always be right.
You can own a house if you want to own a house. Do whatever you want with your incarnations, of course. But never stop listening to that little voice that says something isn’t right here. When it comes to “Big Things”, never let the sheer decibel level of opposing opinion convince you that you are stupid. You’re not.
Because, coiling like cigarette smoke out of the mouth of hegemony, is a stream of carcinogenic lies.