Monday, June 22, 2009

Rant, rant, rant

Marketing, at the best of times, consists of inventing a series of non-solutions for fictional problems caused by our overwrought anxieties about non-existent disasters that are always just going to happen; and, having invented these things, selling them to us at the highest price possible. We do not, however, live at the best of times. Instead, governments, supermarkets, community groups, and self-appointed experts bludgeon us continually with a series of hideous euphemisms that often mean the reverse of what they seem to mean, to force us into accepting solutions that solve nothing.

Pundits like to refer to the 'real cost' of products on the market, that 'real cost' being distinct from the real real cost of products on the market. The 'real cost' is marked up to reflect the environmental, social, political, and fictional impacts of the product, and is therefore little more than a series of arbitrary figures made up by the pundit on the spot. The principal effect of a 'real cost' instead of a real cost would seem to be that the consumers would find it more difficult to consume consumables, because they would be more expensive.

Supermarkets sell 'fair trade' labelled products, and use the 'fair trade' label to mark up their own profit margins, and people pay extra both for the 'fair trade' label and for the supermarket.

Governments talk about 'carbon trading' and 'emissions trading', and talk about the need for a 'price for carbon', disregarding the fact that the world already has a price for carbon, that price being the price that people pay for carbon. When people talk about the 'need for a price for carbon', they probably mean 'the need for a price for carbon that is higher than the price that people currently pay for carbon'. This is possibly because they want to cut the consumption of consumables like carbon, though their language is so roundabout it is impossible to say for sure.

But these are all urged upon us as simple. They require no change to our lifestyle, we are told. And it's true, the solutions in each case proposed by these euphemisms are simple, but the implementation of each of these simple solutions is complex, and taken together, all these simplicities become hideously complex beyond all reckoning.

And look, here's another one: 'CO2 labelling'! The idea is that products sold on the shelves of stores and shops should come complete with a list, or at the very least, a figure, that is calculated after the store takes into account the whole process of growing, transporting, packaging, and selling the food, and all of the carbon dioxide emitted in that whole process. Now, when I go into a store normally, I decide if I like something and I look at the price. The decision is, indeed, simple. But does anyone advocating CO2 labelling seriously think that a shopper will compare long, nebulous lists that take into account the whole life of the products they want to buy, and the carbon emissions of all the people and companies who were related to the making of that product? That is just turning a simplicity into a difficulty, and a decision into a non-decision.

And what, in the end, is the idea behind all these hideous marketing euphemisms, the guiding philosophy behind 'real cost' and 'fair trade' and 'emission trading' and 'CO2 labelling'? It just seems to be a statement of the obvious (that we are all born into an infinitely large chain of cause-and-effect), and a lie (we are all morally implicated in everything that has ever happened). Everybody is responsible for everything: and, because of the infinite difficulty involved in making a decision about everything, nobody can ever do anything. But the people who decide what the 'real cost' of a thing is, or who are able to define the difference between 'free trade' and 'fair trade', of course, do decide on these things: you or I are never simply allowed to make a decision on our own. Before we make a decision, our decisions are decided upon by others, and for no good reason.

If the reasoning is spurious, the results are absurd. Imagine if I wanted to buy a hat, and decided upon which hat to buy, and took it to the counter, and the person there told me that I was completely free to buy that hat if I wanted to, but shouldn't I rather look at that hat, over there? And if I continued, and insisted on buying the hat, and they insisted that I was free to buy the hat if I liked, but I should reconsider - then what would the results be? No-one would want to go to a store like that. But that is more or less what devisers of 'CO2 labelling' and such schemes want us to do: to redecide, redeliberate, and reconsider our decisions, deliberations, and considerations according to their idle whims.

If we took 'CO2 labelling', and the other ugly euphemisms that come with it, seriously, it would have this effect: some people that are in business would go out of it; some affordable products would become unaffordable; some choices would be taken away from people; and less choices would be given back.


TimT said...

Apologies for the boring political rant - back to my irregularly scheduled inanities soon.

nailpolishblues said...

That was pretty good, actually. Remarkably reasonable for a rant.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Re paragraph 4: it's not that we consume carbon; it's that we produce it; or actually, that we release it from its cosy storage places (e.g., trees, coal seams, etc) into the atmosphere.

Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Is that true, that supermarkets put a higher mark up on fair trade products than on non-fair trade products?

TimT said...

There was a study done in Britan a few years ago that seemed to demonstrate that supermarkets did do that... marking up prices on certain brands would be one of their regular tricks anyway, so I'd say the same thing happens in Australia.

Reading over this rant now I feel like getting into a good hearty argument with myself, since, although I agree with my main thesis, I'm now not 100 per cent sure if I should have brought in all those euphemisms as examples of it. Another good instance of why I should avoid cranky old man rants - except about the really important things, like the size of chocolate bars, or the holes in my comfy red socks.

Maria said...

If the carbon was tasty enough, I'd consume it. It's just that they haven't marketed nice chocolate flavoured carbon desserts at me, or none that are better and cheaper than the non-carbon ones. They really need to do a better job in that department.

TimT said...

In this case 'carbon' refers to 'carbon dioxide', which is another slightly misleading phrase that's used, since an element (carbon on its own) is very different from a molecule (ie, carbon dioxide), and different molecules containing carbon are very different.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that just about every chocolate bar and bowl of icecream that you do eat probably contains carbon. So consume away!

Bwca Brownie said...

That was no 'rant' - it was just brilliant logic.

There's no 'fair trade' mentioned at the many $2 shops successfully flogging the endless flow of crap from Chinese child-labor factories.
(that list includes Bunnings by the way - all Made In China)

Baron Von Harlot: have I been wrong all this time I thought that trees ate the carbon dioxide and gave us back oxygen in return?
More trees gets rid of more carbon is the delusion I have been under.

re marketing to the public:
every bit of it is lies and corruption, bar nothing.

One of my favourite healthy food items (ORGRAN brand buckwheat flour) is no longer carried by UNSafeway, who have replaced it with a falsely labelled own-product (which I will not buy as it has evil additives).
Very soon it will be too late to turn back this evil food tide.
Dairy farmers are swindled badly by Big-Food Marketing.

TimT said...

I think people generally talk about consumption of products that are have carbon dioxide emitted in the process of their being produced, but I was a bit sloppy in my use of words there.

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TimT said...

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Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I'm no biochemist, Brownie, but here's my understanding of the tree/atmosphere dynamic: the tree consumes carbon dioxide; it stores the carbon and releases the oxygen; if the tree is burned or decomposes, the carbon is released as carbon dioxide. But T makes a nice point, that all organic things contain carbon, so my attempt to claim that carbon isn't a consumable was schtupid. I'll now return to my navel.

Bwca Brownie said...

Dearest Baron - I am less of a biochemist. Your information seems accurate now that I think on it - treetrunks-carbon-coal-diamonds.

Bushfires are clearly more of an atmospheric nightmare than I previously thought.

The branding 'carbon footprint' irritated me a lot. How many low-watt globes do I have to buy to cancel out the floodlights at so many football grounds from Melbourne to Manangatang?

peace and love to you

Maria said...

I have a small foot so I think of my carbon footprint as a little one!

So via Baron's logic I would be doing better if I ate a very big chocolate covered tree?

I can do that.

Maria said...

Maybe they should start making shows abouta scary monster called Big-Carbon-Foot?

(my word verification is "degree" I think it's saying that this is a smart idea. To a degree.)

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