Friday, November 14, 2014

Half-Lies and the Assumption of Stupidity

Pardon my language folks, but I just saw an ad on TV that has me really steamed.  It's a Public Service ad, the sort that's supposed to be For a Good Cause because it's meant to discourage cigarette smoking (ooooh, evil-evil!), but it pushes a common half-lie that I've seen used many times before -- and assumes that nobody will bother to check it out and learn the truth, and that, thank you, is a huge pubic disservice.

First off, I prefer the term "half-lie" to "half-truth", because it's closer to the actual effect.  It's using one sliver of truth and concealing all the rest for the express purpose of deception, which makes it a helluva lot closer to a lie than the truth.  But to continue...

The ad shows a pretty girl screwing a cigarette into her forehead while the narrator solemnly intones: "Every cigarette changes your brain -- permanently."  Then it switches to some computer animation of supposed neurons zapping, and claims that in a few years of smoking, your brain "isn't the same anymore".

Rrrrright.  Years ago, I heard this same argument used to claim that marijuana was a Dangerous Drug.  Before that it was claimed against video games.

The whole truth is that everything "changes your brain -- permanently".  Eating changes your brain, sleeping changes your brain, exercising changes your brain, memorizing anything changes your brain, and -- above all -- learning changes your brain, permanently, because it creates new neural connections.  What's more, it's not true that nerve cells don't regenerate or replace themselves;  all cells in your body replace themselves, so that every seven years you've completely regenerated yourself and have, in effect, a new body -- including brain.  This is because the body is a dynamic construction, and the brain is an especially dynamic organ.  It's supposed to change constantly.  When your brain stops changing, it dies.

What offends me most about this ad isn't just that it promulgates a half-lie in order to scare people For A Good Cause (remember what the road to Hell is paved with), but its arrogant assumption that everybody will automatically be scared so that nobody will bother to check out the story.  Pushers of ads like this seem to have forgotten Abraham Lincoln's warning about fooling all the people all the time, and prefer to live by Barnum's theory that there's a fool born every minute.  They're not in the least worried about the fact that the Internet puts most of the world's knowledge at everyone's fingertips, so scams can be easily uncovered;  they trust in the assumption that most people won't even bother to question what they're told, to see if a story is a scam or not.  That's what really tees me off.

Worse, this attitude seems to be common not just among ad-men, who can be expected to lie and scam as part of their business, but news-media pundits as well, who are supposed to supposed to give us the truth -- and the whole truth.  How else can you explain all the news-anchors chatting about how the election ten days ago was a "Republican sweep"?

Consider that 99% of those races were close, if not very close -- in fact, several of them are still being recounted.  Also consider that only 37% of the registered voters bothered to vote in that election, which means that 63% were too disgusted to cast a ballot.  Likewise consider the number of ballots that were cast for anything but Republican or Democrat candidates;  here in Arizona, Barry Hess -- the Libertarian candidate for governor, who got no media-advertising time at all -- got nearly 10% of the vote, which is more than any major Libertarian candidate has ever gotten before in this state.  The AmericaVotes candidate, whom likewise nobody had ever heard of, got 2%.  All of this strongly indicates a deep dissatisfaction with both of the Big Two parties, rather than any great support for the GOP.  Yet the media pundits mention only the Republican wins.  Half-lie!  Do they really think nobody will bother to hunt up the truth, or do they really believe the half-lies themselves?

What all this shows me is an arrogant assumption that the majority of the population is too stupid to look for the truth, ever.  History has proven that that assumption can prove disastrous to those who hold it.  Pride doth indeed go before a fall.  I just hope that, in falling, the Masters of Manipulation won't crush too many innocent people under them.

--Leslie <;)))><



Aya Katz said...

It's not really that they assume we are -all- stupid. It's just there are enough stupid and corrupt people to win elections.

Those public service announcements were never intended to touch everyone or to change the minds of smart people. There is public money paying for them, and until we withdraw that money from the government's use, it is a win-win for them. Think how many public sector families were fed just making that ad.

Ori Pomerantz said...

I don't think the pundits can process "people want less government". They assume it is zero sum between the Republicans and Democrats.

Having said that, I don't think the low voter turnout this year is big news. Historically speaking, midterms have a low turnout. 37% is low, but not that much lower than 42% or 41% (the 2010 and 2006 values).

BTW, do you have references on how close the races were?

Anonymous said...

I've tried and tried, to no avail, to point out to my drug-crusading acquaintances that their stupid lies come back to bite them in the ass. Once you're tagged as a liar, you might as well shut up because nobody will listen to you even if you're telling the truth.

Leslie Fish said...

Ahahaha! Remember the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf!

Ori Pomerantz said...

Would now be a good time to plug my blog about bad memes? It has a category for wholly misleading half truths.

Leslie Fish said...

Ori: Yes! Definitely! Do it!