Tips for the Lazy

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.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

I've always been skeptical of the "one weird trick" ads and have refused to honor them with my click. And if I do go to a website that, after I attempt to leave, asks if I "really want to" I never return to it again.

I got caught by one such site because the teaser had been sent out by PJ Media - it is some fellow who tries to peddle his philosophy/psychology by saying that principles of personal interaction are as immutable as gravity. Well, perhaps at a high enough abstract level and over a long enough time period, that may be true. But the way he described it, one could be forgiven for believing that such outcomes were as inevitable as Galileo's spheres hitting the ground. And yes, it asked me if I "really wanted to leave." I've not opened any other PJ Media "special alerts" since. I wonder if they know just how much such trickery undermines their credibility?

Aha! And now that I have your attention, you're going to have to verify that "you really want to leave" my comment! You don't really want to leave, do you?

(computerized whimper...)

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...

"I wonder if they know just how much such trickery undermines their credibility?"

Maybe it enhances it ... for the right audience -- I mean, group of suckers.