Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Rebel Oversold

(I just finished reading The Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter, this blog is about my thoughts)

Overall, I found the book to be filled with fallacious reasoning that led to specious argumentation in numerous points.

Fundamentally, they seem to be more concerned with consumerism as regards to a capitalist angle than human rights. They address counter culture more than counter consumerism. I felt No Logo was about raising awareness of how advertising is used to persuade your desires and inform people of the issues of job loss and the terrible working conditions of people making our junk. This book is not a response to that. I found many of their arguments quite unnecessary, but that could be because I’m not aware of the stupidity of others and their activities. All too often though, I felt they would pick an extreme position on an issue and argue against that. Bravo guys, you showed extremists were wrong. *clap clap*

The fear is that once some illogical arguments are made, how does one know if the others are sound (especially when the authors are your source of information)?

Another major point is that nearly all of their arguments are based on inference or observation. How about actual evidence? If describing someone, it is best to match self-report with behavioural data. If you just guess at what something is, it is just conjecture and other opinions are just as valid. (Not a good way of doing things.)

The following are thoughts while I read. Some of points are specific, some are only intelligible if you’ve read the book, and for some of them I just didn’t think it worthwhile to put in the energy to show how illogical something was.

I found their coverage of Freud confusing. They mention Freud’s theories, say they are mainly discredited, then keep mentioning Freud’s theories. Additionally, it is hard to separate what are the logical implications of Freud’s theories and what their interpretations of them are.

Whilst I understand their analysis of American Beauty, I disagree with it.

In their discussion of Fight Club, they slightly misreport a scene. It wasn’t a businessman, but it was a priest. I probably remembered it so well because it was such a great scene.

“Being Normal” was actually decent. I didn’t know it had to be said that “some rules are good” but if so, congrats boys. Anyone who supports the statement, “no rules” is an idiot.

They also misrepresent our economic system and don’t seem to realize some facts about consumption. Why is it important not to buy Nike’s? Not to be cool, but because of human rights! And if you follow with, that’s just cause caring about human rights is cool, well then so what? That’s what will make the world better.
They manage to discuss the prisoner’s dilemma and competition without any mention of evolution (used the word once, but it was the layperson’s definition). That is saddening, because the evolutionary framework would have been wonderfully useful here, having much greater explanatory power and evidence to support it. Ah well.

They don’t give enough credit to the criticism of mass society. How do you explain boycott’s? How about Pepsi moving out of Burma?

Extreme Rebellion (page 154) – When you just use observation, it can go both ways. Here is a more ideal (equally valid) version of such an analysis.
· You don’t just buy organic to be cool, it is because it might be healthier, and the companies that force GMO on you and your crops are hurting farmers.
· You might give up a gym membership so you can spend time with a loved one.
· Living in the moment is also about appreciating what is in front of you and not letting thoughts of the past and future ruin the present.
· Repairing one’s own things brings a sense of accomplishment and worth, as well, one is not dependent on someone else (contractors are late and might overcharge)
· Making your own clothes might be so that you know someone wasn’t beaten or mistreated to make it for you.

“Uniforms and uniformity”
It’s not the uniforms that are the problem, it is how we are taught. There is too much recycling of info and not enough critical thinking. If people are actually saying uniforms are evil then they are just dumb. People don’t always know what is best for them.

“From status-seeking to cool hunting.”(page 207). A lack of conscious memory for ads does not mean they don’t work! That entire paragraph was one of the most spurious arguments of the entire book. Again, they pick the extreme and argue against that, bravo. As well, Starbucks sees their stores as advertising.
On page 213 they say, “Consumers are extremely savy…” No, they aren’t! There are so many psyc studies to indicate that people have irrational beliefs associated with products they value, possessions, and the influence of those in their environment.

They actually mention Daniel Dennett (the smartest thing in this book), but then they soon use the word “guarantee.” Why? That’s just silly. One of you is a philosopher!

“Coco-colonization”
Free-range chickens aren’t free range. That was the most interesting thing thus far.
McDonald’s is the problem because it is not good for you. Consumers do choose things that are bad for them. Smoking, drinking… etc. As well, franchise operators still follow orders from head office so there isn’t as much independence as they think.

“Thank You India”
“Many listeners found the level of self-absorption implicit in this remark positively breathtaking. Did she imagine a billion voices in the sub-continent rising up, crying out as one, ‘you’re welcome, Alanis. Whenever you need us, we’re here to help?” (page 252) What the hell are they talking about!!! This is so presumptuous and likely highly inaccurate. How about reading the lyrics? Or how about presenting actual support for your stance on Alanis?

They say Japan and Hong Kong represent a new form of commercialism. This is a recent development. Post war Japan has been so Americanized that there isn’t much of a difference. But by talking to the older Japanese and watching their movies and themes, one sees a sadness because nature is not being respected. The gods in all living things are being pushed aside for concrete and development.

As for the Native coverage, I know things weren’t as rosy as they are made out to be, but there is likely more reverence than anything the white man has had. Columbus’ thoughts on greeting the peaceful ‘Indians’ is that they would make great slaves. And they keep dismissing Alanis, doesn’t help guys.

Page 278, “in the end, it may be that the only ‘authentic’ form of travel is business travel.” So dumb.

“Spaceship Earth”
On page 297, they say “the sewing machine soon begat the sweatshop.” No, it didn’t! Bastard people who exploit others ‘begat’ the sweatshop. Do they think there were no sweatshops before sewing machines?

Page 325, “but the fact is, an enormous number of people don’t care about the environmental consequences of their actions, and they’re not going to be talking into caring anytime soon.” What does this mean? Don’t bother trying? Don’t do anything? They unjustly criticize Naomi Klein for not doing enough, and then provide little in the way of a thorough plan to change things. (As an example of what one should do, see E.O Wilson’s The Future of Life, chapter 7 titled “The Solution.”) As the aforementioned sentence indicates, it sounds like they have given up hope in some areas. Thanks for the inspiration guys. I’m not ready to give up yet.

Decent points are made, but I think they failed. My main concerns in life are critical thinking, human rights, and the happiness of the world. They were not the main concerns of this book.

General Criticism
It would seem that I am used to a different style of argumentation. In well-written science books, there are numerous experiments to back up any argument and there are multiple footnotes or end notes on every page. Books like The Rebel Sell (and even No Logo a little) do not use much experimental, referenced data, nor are they thorough in their coverage. In The Rebel Sell, there are only 9 pages of notes. They don’t even have their endnotes numbered!?

For comparison, Daniel C. Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life has a 25 page bibliography; Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature has 19 pages of end notes, and 29 page of bibliography.
These books are wonderfully well written and provide intelligent analysis of complex issues with specificity and experimental data to back up their viewpoints. I recommend them to everyone.

Lastly, if you had to choose between No Logo or The Rebel Sell, pick No Logo.

2 Comments:

Blogger ape said...

I think you missed the point of the book a bit. They are not saying that things cannot change but the fact is that things will not change through competitive consumption.
You missed the entire binding message that people compete for status through consumption, and that the only way to limit that type of competition is to set standards. These standards are good. They are the rules that help us have unions, they make it manditory to label foods with transfats. So the very important point that we need to limit our competitive consumption habits is the way we can all get along.
One of the other big points was that counterculture "rebels" spend a lot of time complaining about undemocratic systems but when push comes to shove they have never even talked to their MP. We need to encourage people to get involved in politics, but this is not "cool" in the view of the rebel.
The point about most people not caring about the environment is very true. When we accept that it is true we can begin to solve the problem. You cannot influence other people's consumption habits by separating yourself from them. If you think organic foods are the way to go you need to convince a bunch of people to talk to their MPs instead of just buying that organic food for yourself.
People with no money are going to buy the products that are cheapest. Remember, being a counter culturist is a luxury. If you think everyone should be able to buy the food you can then get the government to outlaw other food. If the government doesn't outlaw it, it means that the majority of people disagree with you.
This book offers solid real ways that we can proceed, No Logo offers overwhelmed teens a reason to get angry at the "institution".

I used to think that people need to be educated, and we need to stop ads because people are being brainwashed. I subscribed to adbusters, read no logo, went to protests. The fact is that consumers know what they are doing, they are quite aware of sweatshops. The problem is either that they cannot afford other options, or the status that the item offers them is more valuable than the good conscience.

We need a 35 hour work week. You can't just buy consciously and expect things to even out. Buying consciously is a status symbol. The greatest mindfuck is convincing people that ads have fucked them up. People need to be responsible. Tax advertisments, tax pollution. Don't just complain, don't just sit around drinking fairtrade coffee talking about how the "normal" people need to be educated. The people are at fault, not the corporations, not the government, the people are lazy.

2:50 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

Hi there,
First off, I wanted to say thanks for commenting. I usually love commentary and debate.
As for your commentary, we have some points of agreement and some points of disagreement. I’ll try to be thorough.

My first thought was that you didn’t seem to address the areas in which they seem to make really bad(specious) arguments. This is a very important issue. It relates directly to the intellectual ability of those writing, and how much leeway should be bestowed in situations of uncertainty. Here is another example from page 278 when they discuss alternative medicine: “In 1997, Americans spent an estimated $30 billion on alternative health care. (To put that into perspective, Canada’s ‘socialized’ medical system cost the government a total of $55 billion in 1997 and provided comprehensive basic health care to every citizen of the country.)”

Let me ask everyone (and you) two questions: What is the population of Canada? What is the population of the US? My guess is that most people don’t know (I asked friends and most didn’t know). I happen to like numbers, so I knew the populations were about 31 and 290 million respectively. Yet, even with this information, nothing is ‘put in perspective.’ Are we to (unreasonably?) extrapolate and surmise that a national health care for the US would cost about $500 billion? And if the US then spends what is equivalent to about 8% on alternative care is bad? Or would Canadians then spend about 3 billion on alternative medicine? As you can see, one cannot answer these questions for the data provided.

Generally, of course it is the people that are both the problem and the solution. Governments are made of people, as are corporations. Our AI technology isn’t quite there (yet), so aside from natural disasters, it is pretty much all people all the time. (Unless some bear is all up in your face being like, “Yo, buy Nike or I’ll bite you).

You mention that “the fact is that things will not change through competitive consumption,” but how do you explain why companies pulled out of Burma after boycotts and protests were made? I argee that it won’t solve all the problems, but that one example show that at least some things change through consumption.

As for the “binding message that people compete for status through consumption,” it wasn’t something I missed. I should have been more explicit when I mentioned evolutionary theory. In an evolutionary framework, many things are seen in terms of competition and status, so the point was obvious to me. In the next couple lines, you mention how standards and rules are good. I thought my agreement was evident when I wrote ‘I didn’t know it had to be said that “some rules are good” but if so, congrats boys. Anyone who supports the statement, “no rules” is an idiot.’

As for the next paragraph when you discuss ‘rebels’ not being involved enough politically, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think everyone should be involved more politically. As for whether this is actually the case, I’d have to say I am ignorant. One would have to do a representative poll of all ‘rebels’ (with a measure to define rebel) and then try to determine the amount of politial involvement and see if the prediction/observation is in fact true. I’m not saying it isn’t, I’m just saying that I don’t have enough information to make the call.

When we discussed the environment you said “The point about most people not caring about the environment is very true. When we accept that it is true we can begin to solve the problem.” But they point they made, and the one that I quoted is that “an enormous number of people don’t care about the environmental consequences of their actions, and they’re not going to be talked into caring anytime soon.” My issue was with the phrase “they’re not going to be talked into caring anytime soon,” because this indicates an unchangable system. I don’t agree with it. I don’t think you do either because you said “When we accept that it is true we can begin to solve the problem,” and then go on to list how one needs to convince other people to talk to an MP. Thereby these people might be talked into caring, meaning that you disagree with yourself. Alternatively, you could be saying that once you
understand some people will never care, that’s when you can start to change things, but this would mean that one would completely disregard these people or put up special laws to restrain them. Thoughts?

You say “Remember, being a counter culturist is a luxury.” Just so you know my background thoughts on things, I think eating is a luxury.

You also say that “If the government doesn't outlaw it, it means that the majority of people disagree with you.” That may be so, but ALL people are uninformed, there are just varying degrees of ignorance. Do you truly think everyone is aware of the manufacturing, production, distribution and selling of all goods and services? More so, just because most people disagree doesn’t mean it is right. If most of Canada (instead of just asinine Alberta) was against gay marriage they would still be wrong. A public majority does not necessarily lead to useful ideaologies.

You then say ‘This book offers solid real ways that we can proceed, No Logo offers overwhelmed teens a reason to get angry at the "institution".’ We may just have a fundamental disagreement. The Rebel Sell has useful observations only half of the time and bad arguments for the other half. It does not really address anything to do with companies and human rights, and the ‘solid real ways’ are not that detailed, comprehensive, or entirely logical. As well, Noami Klein does realize the use of the political system. That is evident near the end of the book as well as this in this quotation from her website:

“But capitalism, and the colonialism and imperialism that found it, can only be challenged if we understand ourselves as people and as political agents struggling against a web of interconnected systems of domination—not merely as consumers trying to make the least evil choice. Real political change can't be bought by the dollars wealthy people can spend on niche markets. Our political power does not reside in our capacity as consumers, but in our capacity as human agents fighting on many fronts for the justice and dignity of all people.”

You also wrote “The fact is that consumers know what they are doing, they are quite aware of sweatshops.” Do you actually believe this? You’re saying that when someone buys a toy from Disney they know it might have been made by someone urinating in bags underneath their assembly line because the bathrooms are pad locked!?!? Take a poll on the street, see what you come up with that quesiton. I think you grossly overestimate the disemination of this information. More so, I will admit I wasn’t informed, nor was my roomate. As a consequence of this information we will actually change our spending habits. This would seem to directly contradict your “consumers know what they are doing” statement.

I think you might have more merit in the next sentence when you say, “The problem is either that they cannot afford other options, or the status that the item offers them is more valuable than the good conscience.” I still think that most people don’t know and my goal will be to increase the saliency of terrible situations occuring in the world.

Whether we need a 35 hour work week or not is something I would have to learn more about before I make a decision. You say, “You can't just buy consciously and expect things to even out.” That’s true, but you can use awareness to support some companies rather than others (to get companies to pull out of Burma) while at the same time pursuing poltical action. You say, “Buying consciously is a status symbol.” I disagree with you. Almost everyone could (in theory) buy consciously. Some may have to support things they would rather not because they are poor, but they can still be aware of how it was made. I feel like your statement almost means ‘knowledge is a status symbol.’ That is somewhat true because education is correlated with income, but I don’t think that is what you meant.

You then make the outrageous claim that “The greatest mindfuck is convincing people that ads have fucked them up.” If you were right, there would be no advertising. Yet, it seems billions and billions is spent on advertising. Are you saying profit driven corporations are just wasting money? Do you sincerely believe advertising doesn’t affect you? Do you have any evidence for this?

I completely agree when you say “People need to be responsible.” But I think it is a non-statement. Are there actually people out there saying “people should be irresponsible?” If so, they are really dumb and haven’t really thought about it.

You then have a little rant about how people are aren’t doing enough, and for that I probably agree with you. I also think you might have exposure to different sorts of people than I do which might lead to different perspectives and therefore approaches. (Not saying good or bad, just different.)

You end with “The people are at fault, not the corporations, not the government, the people are lazy.” You are right, people are lazy. They don’t ususally critically think, nor is anyone a perfect processing device of all the information around them. That is why I disagreed when the authors said “consumers are savy.” If consumers are people (and I think that they are) then how can people be both lazy and savy? Going with “people are lazy,” I think it is important to see what the reasons are for the problems of the world. Of course, people are at the root, but while we work on making them ‘unlazy’ it is worthwhile to minimize those systems which seek to exploit this laziness; advertising, marketing, and sophistry.

9:06 PM  

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