Imagine you are the head of a grocery chain and one of your executives comes to you with a plan to boost sales of over-the-counter remedies. These are the things you buy for a sore throat or an upset stomach. His plan involves subtly infecting the customers with a mild virus. They will get sick and then come back to buy something to remedy the symptoms of the virus. The virus will be mild, but enough to cause most people some symptoms in the week after having been infected.
Unless you are a sociopath, you will think the guy is nuts. Odds are you will think it is some sort of elaborate gag. If he is serious, then you will call security to have the guy removed from the building. The reason is not just the ghoulish plan to poison people, but the fact that he could think of such a thing. You would quickly start to wonder what else this guy is capable of doing. If he is willing to poison thousands of people to boost sales, he is capable of anything.
The truth is though, companies are full of people who think like the ghoulish executive in that short example. For example, there was someone at the multinational that owns the Häagen-Dazs brand who decided to start shrinking the pint. It used to be that a pint is a pound the world around, but no more. A pint of ice cream in the United States has shrunk down to 14-ounces. The container has been subtly changed so the shrinkage is not as obvious to the consumer.
Shrinkflation has been a thing for a couple of decades now. Bottles of beer have started to shrink as well. Many are 11-ounces now. They changed the shape of the bottle to trick the consumer. This was a trick they started at ballgames. They made cups taller, but narrower, so they could call the regular sized beverage a large, when it was the same amount of fluid as the smaller size. Packaging science is now mostly about tricking the consumer into thinking less is more.
The marketplace has always been about deception. The seller is motivated to lie about his product and the consumer is motivated to lie about his interest. Since the dawn of the marketplace, authorities have promulgated rules in an effort to keep the lying to a minimum and therefore maintain a peaceful market. Those rules have fallen away in the modern age, where deception has now become a virtue. In this age, only suckers are honest in their dealings.
Mass media is the prime example. The big media operations publish stories that they know are false when they post them. They are not simply wrong about a few facts, but deliberately designed by a staff of people to tell a false story. We saw that with the Russian collusion hoax in the Trump years. The Post and Times had teams whose job was to make up fake stories, with the help of friends in government. Everyone involved volunteered for the job of deceiving the public.
We see this with the war coverage. This story is being pushed by the Drudge alternative called Revolver News. It looks very official, but a quick search of the three authors reveals they are Ukrainian activists sponsored by the usual suspects. All three are children, fresh from school, with no experience in this area. The people behind that institute had them do the copy editing and let them put their name on it in order to add to their resume. It is a common fraud in Washington.
That is the thing though. It is a swindle and a well-known one. Operations like “Institute for the Study of War” are just lie machines. Their task is to pump out regime friendly information that will get circulated by the media. The media, of course, knows this better than anyone, but they choose to pass it along anyway. Given what we saw in the Trump years, it is possible that the Washington Post put out an RFP for a fake study to fit the latest narrative on the war.
Joseph de Maistre famously said, “False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing.” This is true, in that the authorities in this age pump out false opinion in immeasurable volume. Normal people inevitably believe some of it and pass it onto friends. That gives it authority and before long a third of the public wants nuclear war over Ukraine.
Of course, that survey could be entirely fake. That is something else that has changed over the last several decades. It used to be that polling firms guarded their reputations by avoiding sensationalism. Now they only care about getting noticed, so we have polling firms publishing complete nonsense. Many are happy to give the customer what they want and those customers are sociopaths in the media. Polling is just a corrupt as everything else now.
If we return to our grocery store CEO and his psychopathic executive, the issue is not the scheme, but the person behind it. The sort of person who thinks it is normal to poison people is not going to think twice about poisoning his boss. Similarly, the sorts of people who think it is normal to fabricate studies, stories and so on in order to fool the general public is no different from the psychopathic executive. These are people who lack the ability to tell right from wrong.
It is tempting to think this is just the way the world is and we just see it more clearly now thanks to the mass media age. Some of that is true, but we also know that this sort of behavior was a primary concern in the past. Medieval governments passed rules to limit deception in the law and the marketplace. The ancients had draconian punishments for those who deceived the public. The ancient Persians treated deception more harshly than murder. People used to worry about this problem.
In this age, we have turned this on its head. Deception is a valued skill. The media selects for sociopathy. Our political parties admire those with a natural skill to deceive and quickly raise them to national status. That grocery store CEO would not exist as described, because he would have hand-picked that executive and probably gave him the idea for the mass poisoning campaign. The lie is the coin of the realm and the liars are the new aristocracy.
America is often called a great experiment and that is true. This is the first society to exist with nothing holding it together but impersonal economic relations. We are reaching the point where there are no rules, just who can get over on whom. It is the anarcho-capitalist society in which no one can trust anyone or anything. Instead, a war of all against all, it is an endless series of confidence games. Everyone has an angle and is trying to get over on someone else.
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