Snake Oil

When we consume it’s good to know what’s being sold, and what we’re actually buying.  It’s all processed; the tomato is either from your clay pot on the back porch (minimally processed, maybe a few bugs have had at it or it’s absorbed some pollutant, airborne or critterborne), or from the grocery store in February (best case scenario, hydroponically grown, worst case, genetically modified, or bred to be not tasteworthy but travelworthy).  The homegrown tomato is a pretty straightforward transaction: you buy seeds, you invest labor and water and offer the environment of your back porch with its attendant sun, insect, rodent, and outdoor cat exposure.  You get a real tomato.  The store-bought winter tomato is a different thing.  You give money to get a tomato, but you are sold only the promise of wholesome nutrition and summertime juiciness.  You pay actual dollars for a piece of crap.  Why?  Because the commercial, the processing, the packaging, is that good, and because it requires no actual work.   Why is the tomato so pretty, so red, why does it mimic the homegrown tomato so well?  Because the manufacturer (with the use of chemicals and hybridization it’s nothing short of a factory) wants to make money.  The manufacturer does not care about your health; the manufacturer wants to do everything in his power to make you buy, and if that includes practically lying, he is more than willing to practically lie.   And you are more than willing to buy, because it’s EASY.

We have become cynical about being sold to, yet strangely unaware of it most of the time.  If a breakfast cereal is found NOT TO BE the best possible start to your kid’s day, and it’s company is forced to change it’s commercial slightly so as not to outright lie but only to practically lie (“keeps ’em full, keeps ’em focused,”), we don’t even register that.  We don’t even say, “hey, they just completely lied, they just took a bunch of wheat and sugar and called it a perfect thing despite all kinds of evidence that kids eat too many carbs and too many sugars.”  Where’s the outrage?  They have zero interest in your kid’s health; they have 100% interest in turning profit.

When the prince tells me about something heard or told, a conspiracy theory, a political agenda, an urban myth, I ask him to think about who is selling what and why.  Who stands to gain something?  Who is deflecting scrutiny away from himself?  Who is trying to look wise or pure?  Virtually nothing comes to us untouched, without a spin. without repackaging.  When a friend says, “you’ll never guess what happened,” the friend is heightening the importance of the tale and gains the cachet of having delivered scandal.  When the news anchor states “Tragic circumstances led to the death of” whomever, she has already told us how to feel about the death– that it’s a tragedy.  Is it?  Maybe it was fitting, not tragic.  Maybe it made perfect sense.  Maybe it was justified, and not tragic a bit.

Trying to separate fact from spin is a skill most adults don’t cultivate.  We prefer to have stuff come to us pre-digested, spun, painted, packaged, sold.  If there are directions and extra bolts and screws, if it requires any effort at all, if we’re required to think and come to our own conclusions, we give it up as being too difficult and turn again to Fox News for something already mechanically processed, pre-chewed, shaped, and deep fried.  Something carb-loaded, high-glycemic, a zinger to the brain.

The instant, easy high– it’s the consumer’s cocaine.  And we’re all addicts.