Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ubiquitous Yet Counterproductive Deceit

     Honesty has apparently gone out of fashion.

     Have you been thinking approximately the same? The political lies alone are enough to drive an “indifferent honest” man to drink. The self-promotional lies being told by business institutions and ordinary persons around us are marginally comprehensible for motive, at least. Whatever impels them, every deceit great or small leads us deeper into what Samuel Johnson termed “the general degradation of human testimony.”

     If you’re wondering what triggered this particular outburst, it’s an email I just received. It comes from a well-known newspaper which operates, as they all do these days, a Web annex. The subject line did the job all by itself:

Sale extended due to popular demand! 99c for 3 months or $9.99 for 6 months of digital access [Now ends 9/30]

     “Sale extended due to popular demand?” No commercial institution has ever extended a sale because it was popular. The very idea boggles the mind. A sale is instituted to encourage customers. If a sufficient number of persons respond positively, the sale will end. It will only be extended if the institution’s operators badly need additional customers and the first iteration didn’t produce enough of them.

     A newspaper that stages a sale is admitting, sotto voce, that it needs subscribers – “eyeballs,” in journalism jargon. The bulk of a news outlet’s revenue comes from advertisers, and advertisers prefer outlets that can claim a large subscribership. “Popular demand?” Please! “Advertiser indifference” would be the honest reason the sale is being extended.

     Such insults to our intelligence are the very worst sort of lie. They work against the objectives of the liar. In effect, he’s saying to his target that “you’re too stupid to notice what I’ve done here.” The intelligence to be downgraded in such a case is his.

     SF writer John C. Wright recently wrote that he could understand and even somewhat admire a well-crafted lie that actually advances the purposes of the liar. Such a lie is morally deplorable, but tactically justifiable. What he couldn’t grasp were the sort that sets those purposes back. Yet such deceits are all around us – and a great fraction thereof come from persons already well established as founts of fabrication.

     It would seem that there’s an underserved market niche: instruction in how to lie constructively and effectively. I’d rather see that niche remain unfilled, but this is the United States of America, where demand calls forth supply as regularly as the Sun rises in the East. Or perhaps we’ve at last deduced what sort of creature pays to go to those innumerable, intolerable “self-improvement” seminars, most of which are operated by persons whose entire fortune comes from...operating self-improvement seminars.

     Later, Gentle Reader.


JWM said...

There's a phone solicitation gambit going on here where the caller begins by telling me that one of their representatives was recently at my home discussing with me the possibility of doing some repair work. How anyone can be so stupid as to open a sales pitch with a blatant lie is just mind boggling. Mostly I hang up, but sometimes I pursue it just to put the creep on the spot, and force him to keep lying. I will confess that what follows from me is not meant for polite company. I can be seriously abusive, and I let 'em have it with both barrels. Admirable? No. But it gets the anger out on a deserving target.


Anonymous said...

Aw come on guys.. they aren't lying.. its called 'marketing'.

My fav is the mags that send me issues then eventually a card to 'resubscribe'. Since I never did subscribe I pass on the re-subscription too.