Wednesday, September 04, 2013
There is a rather long article out on Slate about the psychological
trickery employed by the hucksters behind the "one weird trick" ads that litter
the Internet. The author, motivated by curiosity, got a license to click and a
credit card from his employer and went to town. What he unearthed reminded me
of Ayn Rand's identification of cynicism as naive.
Here is part of what Rand had to say about cynicism. Note especially the
reliance on stupidity and the appeal to knavery.
... A cynic is one who believes that men are innately depraved, that irrationality and cowardice are their basic characteristics, that fear is the most potent of human incentives--and, therefore, that the most practical method of dealing with men is to count on their stupidity, appeal to their knavery, ...And here is a representative part of what author Alex Kaufman learned about the ads and the sales pitches that will greet anyone who clicks them:
What is [the narrator] up to? "People tend to think something is important if it's secret," says Michael Norton, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School. "Studies find that we give greater credence to information if we've been told it was once 'classified.' Ads like this often purport to be the work of one man, telling you something 'they' don't want you to know." The knocks on Big Pharma not only offered a tempting needle-free fantasy; they also had a whiff of secret knowledge, bolstering the ad's credibility.While, yes, an inventor may keep a new discovery secret until he can secure his rights to profit from it, it does him no good to attempt to permanently hide his new knowledge from the world. (He can treat his knowledge as a trade secret, but this will not stop copying, based on studies of anything he produces with his knowledge. To whatever extent he creates something to trade with others, he is revealing at least part of his knowledge.) Furthermore, since all knowledge is interrelated, anything that really is knowledge can be discovered independently or verified by others. These aspects of knowledge are lost on anyone who is not in the habit of connecting his conclusions to each other and, ultimately, to facts. Too bad.
Apparently, significant numbers of people out there buy into the idea of arcane knowledge, and really do believe that it is more profitable to retard progress than to bring it to a mass market. The joke is on them, as it is they who will fall for ads that tell them what they want to hear (i.e., that everyone else is a patsie), in the process flattering them with the idea that they are getting in on some big secret. Ironically, should they realize they have been had, it is the success of the con and not the laziness and unfastidiousness that made it possible that they will see -- "confirming" their ultimately cynical outlook in the process.