Wednesday, May 30, 2012
profits of doom
"Choose" is a big-ticket word among capitalists and those who carry their water.
According to those who believe that the profit-driven society represents the best of all possible worlds, if I can come up with a product -- any product which people want and choose to buy -- I have the right to sell it in the open market.
Now, when a product is both lethal and addictive, as cigarettes are, the concept of "choice" becomes very dicey. Still, those who wish to sell this product are protected by the First Amendment, since advertising is certainly speech, and by the unwritten law that says profit is sacred, and must under no circumstances ever be portrayed as something sick, twisted, or unethical.
After all, those smokers "choose" to buy and "consume" this product.
However, when we collectively realized that tobacco companies were deliberately targeting 14-year-old kids in their advertising, getting them hooked early and fortifying their product with extra nicotine in order to produce a nice strong addiction, and that furthermore tobacco smoke contains numerous substances which can kill if taken in large enough amounts or over a long enough time, the redeeming aspect of the holy profit motive was laid aside (just in this one case).
Tobacco addiction was trendy, fashionable, and all the rage from the time of World War I until about 25 years ago. Today, smoking is socially gauche and decidedly unglamorous, and the companies which make this product are on the outs. But if you want or choose to get lung cancer or emphysema, cigarettes are still sold legally. For a profit. And the overseas markets are booming.
Today, we're undergoing the same experience with processed foods as we did earlier with tobacco, as there is no longer any doubt that this is the cause of the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes currently plaguing the U.S. White, refined flour has been identified as the "original fast food" by Michael Pollan, and after it was joined by white, refined sugar in the 19th century, led to processes being applied to every conceivable foodstuff, since processed food delivers big profits to the producers, and people over the decades have tended to "choose" it enthusiastically whenever it was available, and especially when it's been heavily advertised.
Our legacy from this has been premature death, cancers, and other chronic intestinal diseases.
I can't leave this topic without saying a few words about pornography, still a taboo subject, even though in recent times, especially in the new century and largely because of the spread of the internet, it's become ubiquitous due to its profitability and the tendency of people, especially men, to "choose" to "consume" it.
Like cigarettes and processed food, pornography is immensely profitable. Unlike those other things, it isn't lethal, but works its destructive effects on society by poisoning relationships between men and women. Fifty years ago, what little porn was available was extremely ugly and low-quality, and a person would have to be pretty weird to find it stimulating.
Naomi Wolf explains in some detail what has happened to us, what porn destroys, and why. It's not an academic study, but as clear explanations go, this one would be hard to beat.
We desperately need to re-examine the assumptions that provide the foundational ideology of our economic system, and re-think the unquestioning adherence to the idea of profit as the highest good. In such an environment, culture follows economics like the wagon follows the horse, and if death and destruction are profitable, then they are "good," and that's totally wrong.