Beware: Fiction Controls You
Sunday, April 23, 2017
My Dear Readers,
Fiction controls your life more than you know.
A plethora of examples come to mind, but I begin with only ones related to the aggressive advertising practices of global corporations.
But first, this:
The fiction begins every morning when you look in the mirror. You think, “I look nice today.” If you’re mood is good, perhaps you add,
“I’m a good mother, a nice person, a friend. I enjoy my work in the law. I hate my mother-in-law, though. How I wish I liked her!”
Most of us struggle with facing this truth about ourselves:
We are monkeys with language, and,
fiction controls almost every aspect of our lives.
Physical attractiveness is controlled by the media. During the Italian Renaissance, men considered voluptuous, corpulent women attractive. Work is a social construct, existing within the global capitalist system.
The law, while an extremely useful concept and better than cave-persons bashing each others’ heads with clubs, is nothing less than a complex game. It consists, at its essence, of sets of rules. Law students study legal procedure. Attorneys negotiate, make deals, represent clients in Court. It’s a game albeit a civilized one.
And what does nice mean, exactly? Self-effacing? Tolerant? Masochistic? Of course, friendships and family relations are entirely fictional. The phrase, “mother-in-law,” literally reflects its stature as a legal fiction. And who says you should like her?
A recent NPR story about Teva footwear and the Coachella Festival brought these ideas into sharp focus. One of those kind-sounding, mellow-voiced commentators interviewed a Teva representative. She constructed a huge display at the entrance of the concert. She invited tall, sexy models, provided ample photo opportunities, and disbursed reams of shiny brochures. She thought the branding opportunities rich. Teva wants to set the trend for what will be fashionable.
Because we are monkeys-with-language, we sport mirror neurons. They propel us to mimic. Don’t monkeys do that? Parrots certainly do. We can hardly help responding to memes, the social equivalent of genes. Therefore, Teva will succeed. You’ll see your friends, particularly the young, music-loving ones, wearing those groovy sandals.
Advertising firms excel at understanding our monkey-natures. They get human needs. They know we can never be satisfied. They comprehend the difficulty adhering to the messages preached by Buddhist and Taoist philosophers:
Beware the hungry ghosts!
You can never satisfy them.
You eat, and in a few hours, you’re hungry. You drink, and quickly become thirsty again. You like those sandals today, but in a month you’ll feel bored with them.
Two immediate examples demonstrate how I was recently manipulated by Big Advertising. I try to avoid it. I treasure freedom. I read voraciously. I keep hoping, foolishly, immersion in knowledge will free me from my monkey-status.
It will not.
I fit an obvious demographic regarding which I feel shame. I read the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. (Lest any doubts remain, I write here in my small backyard, looking out at bird feeders and a fountain, and listening to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.)
The advertisers who buy ads in the the New York Times, particularly its digital edition, like to peddle, of late, Harry’s razor products. They also hawk Samuel Hubbard shoes and UnTuckit shirts.
I tried resisting purchasing them. I failed. They seemed so cool! I could not garner enough free will. I can blame Sam Harris who thinks free will an illusion.
I’m just another monkey who mimics.
I despise Jacques Lacan. His writing is awful. He obfuscates. He claims to be speaking directly to the unconscious. What a rationalization! And yet, Lacan offers occasional wisps of wisdom. He writes,
All desire is reducible to the wish to be unconditionally loved.
Will you find my closely-shaved-Harry’s face appealing?
If not, dig my Sam Hubbard shoes and my Untuckit shirt!
Do we monkeys realize we are being played? Whose writing our scripts?
In his recent book, Sapiens, world-history professor Yuval Harari attributes most of the “success” of our nasty species to our capacity to weave and believe stories. He writes,
Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story, the Dreamtime myths of the Aboriginal Australians, and the nationalist myths of modern states. Such myths gave Sapiens the unprecedented ability to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. (p. 25)
Do we cooperate? Or do we manipulate?
Harari continues, “That’s why Sapiens rule the world, whereas ants eat our leftovers and chimps are locked up in zoos and research laboratories” (p. 25).
More than a century before Harari slid out of his mother’s birth canal, Nietzsche wrote,
We need fiction lest we perish from the truth.
Ain’t it the truth?
And, Chomsky writes,
Propaganda is to democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.
Let’s face it:
Advertising is nothing less than propaganda.
Try to seize your freedom nonetheless. I wish you success.
In closing, I ask this:
Whose writing your scripts?
Submitted while trembling with the terror lying behind my fictional self,
Chomsky, N. & Herman, E. (2002). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon.
Harari, Y. N. Sapiens. New York: Harper.
Harris, S. Free Will. New York: Free Press.
Lacan, J. (2002). My teaching. New York: Penguin.
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