I am finally getting to this and there is something I want to address above.
It's the blanket mental load included in the term "hucksterism."
My question: is a huckster an evil creature?
How's that for philosophy?
It may sound funny like that, but take a look at what people (mostly intellectuals) say when they criticize someone or something that is gaining in popularity. They talk in disparaging tones about hucksterism or bash the hucksterish part of the matter. This is especially true where different viewpoints are on the table. Everyone thinks hucksterism is sleazy--at best. Right? Thus, condemning a huckster is safe ground. Or so they think.
That even goes to the personal level here in O-Land. Want a hoot?
There is a confused (albeit sincere) bonehead in our neck of the woods named Joe Maurone. He's the guy who betrayed Chris Sciabarra and helped Perigo and Hsieh try lynch Chris in public a few years ago. (I still get irked when I think of that sad-ass episode.)
He runs a Google blog and back on January 11, 2010, he wrote an article about me: Carny Huckster Incarnate: Michael Stuart Kelly
. Unfortunately, if you try to go to that link now, you will be greeted by a message that you have not been invited to read the blog, so you have to request permission first. That must be new, but I don't mind. Nobody goes there anyway. If you don't want to ask for an invitation or you get denied, you will still be able to read a cached version for a while--see here
--but that link will not last for long.
So you see my predicament. I'm obviously a huckster hucking up a huck-storm in hucksville, but I have to listen to people talking about how evil hucksterism is.
What to do?
Woe is me...
What to do?
Incidentally, the behavior Maurone criticized me for was opening dialogue to Muslims--LM in particular. He made it clear that he did not approve of anyone engaging in civil conversation with Muslims on an Objectivist board. (I'm pretty sure he would have no problem with someone harshly condemning them to their faces.) I guess I'm just not a good little ole' scapegoater like this dude wants all true-believing Objectivists to be.
I hope you get to read the piece since his twisted rationalizing is a wonder to behold. He tried to equate my opposition to bigotry to P. T. Barnum. And he got both wrong.
For instance, he took strong issue with me saying that Objectivists are "slaves to reality." He apparently left his classic Objectivism behind in his mental kneejerk since the phrase, "Nature to be commanded much be obeyed," permeates Objectivist literature. It's so frequent that I really don't have to provide a quote. It's not used as much as "A is A," but it's in the same ball-park.
Let's do a little third-grade logic for the conceptually challenged, though. This is more for the mental-kneejerkers than for the third-graders. So work with me, now. Work with me...
If you must obey something, it is your master. That makes you the slave to it.
Clear so far?
Now to the point. Man must obey reality. That's "Objectivist," right? Well, that means reality is man's master. Thus, man is a slave to reality.
Anyway, it's a boneheaded piece and I won't go into it--except for one more point. I'm far more interested in the concept of hucksterism per se
than what a weak-minded person wrote about me a couple of years ago.
Normally, being a huckster means hustling people for money in a pretty blatant manner and delivering something worthless in exchange. A kind of low-level market deception.
And it's on this point where Maurone's effort bridges to my interest. He got Barnum totally wrong when he wrote:
... suckers are still born every minute.
He didn't specifically attribute Barnum with that phrase when he wrote it (actually a paraphrase because of the word "still"), but he implied the attribution by the general tenor of his article.
The problem is that Barnum would never say or feel anything like that. He had the utmost respect for his customers and always strove to give them one hell of a show, in other words Barnum constantly over-delivered in value. His attitude was more along the lines of "customers are born every minute." Some people even think he said that particular phrase a lot. Here's a Wikipedia article for easy reference (but I suggest further reading if you are interested): There's a sucker born every minute
This points to a problem both within Objectivism and among intellectuals at large. Let me start with Objectivists. But first let me qualify that by saying I am not talking about all
Objectivists, just the sanctimonious moral condemners. The assholes. I call the problem blatant hypocrisy
Out of one side of their mouths they will extol the virtues of capitalism, but out of the other side they will condemn as a "huckster" one of the greatest entertainment entrepreneurs the world has has ever known. You will never see a person who does this actually run a business, though. That would mean he would have to use his brain. Hell, he has Ayn Rand for that. He is far more interested in telling others how to live than doing something himself. He's a moral condemnation junkie, not a producer. And, by Galt, he needs his fix!
Now for the intellectuals (I mean intellectuals in general as they appear in our current culture).
Ah... me... such children...
Man, do they look down on hucksters. You hear it all the time.
But where would these great thinkers of the world and contributors to mankind's intellectual heritage be without the "hucksters" out there selling their books and events? And selling them every day of the week? Especially if the thinking class can't toady their way into political power somewhere?
Broke and without an audience, that's where.
But there's a deeper issue--wealth creation and the human mind.
There's a view among intellectuals I have come across in several places. Some claim that the modern consumer is a new concept in humanity. Before modernity (say, the 19th century and earlier), people generally needed stuff like food, clothing, etc., and others produced and sold it to them. The world and markets were simple. Those were the good old days.
But consumerism came along and screwed up everything. Consumerism was basically invented by master manipulators like Edward Bernays (who put his uncle Sigmund Freud's ideas to good manipulative use) and it is maintained these days by "hucksters." That's the view I have encountered. (I could dig up links, but I am sure you have seen something similar out there. Bashing consumerism is pretty common.)
In this sense, they actually mean marketing and advertising. They also mean the enormous wealth people have and have access to, but I never see them own up to that part.
You might be surprised to learn that I somewhat agree with this, at least the operative part (without the condemnation). I can't think of anyone who actually needs most of the stuff he has acquired over his life. Yet everybody acquires mountains of crap (along with good stuff, of course).
The answer is simple and it goes to the heart of consumerism. Marketers (i.e., hucksters) covertly appeal to subconscious values and manipulate innate subconscious processes. They wed these efforts to their products. You get crowd control and people buy oodles. That's how it works in a nutshell. And, boy, does it work!
But is this a good thing?
I believe so.
It's a way to create a demand for a product where there was none before. And that directly translates into jobs and wealth. If you remove that artificially created demand, you remove the entire business that goes with it. Obvious, no? When you create a new demand, you have to have a new business to supply it. That means money and jobs. And if the demand grows (vertically within the market for the same product or horizontally to other areas), the business grows. More money and more jobs.
But look at something else. Do people really buy stuff they don't need because they get brainwashed? Or is something else operating?
I have an idea. Do you want a real good metaphysical reason to buy tons of junk? Here is a great one.It's fun.
I mean that literally. Fun makes for great metaphysics when discussing human nature. It makes the universe so friendly!
I think it's marvelous that human beings create wealth with fun as the main demand driver.
It's fun to buy cool stuff and it's fun to try to resolve a serious problem by buying a silver bullet. (Hyped products that offer instant solutions are called "silver bullets" in marketing.) There's other fun, too. It's fun to think about attractive people. It's fun to try to emulate the awe you see on the face of actors in a commercial when they open a wrapper. It's fun to sing the jingles when you dig out a thingamajig you bought. I could go on all day about how much fun it all is. I'm serious.
Hell, P. T. Barnum knew that. He helped create the process.
But I'll make a qualification. Hucksters in the bad sense actually do exist. Con men selling snake oil and sky hooks. They are not as numerous as the finger-pointers would have you believe, but they are there. So you have to include caveat emptor
(buyer beware) as part of learning how to enjoy all this fun.
Also, covertly appealing to the subconscious is the only way propaganda works. That's not so good. That often means war. Literally killing people. Maybe that's the evil yang to the fun yin in covert persuasion.
And this leads me to a question, one I will end on.
Why is P. T. Barnum generally considered morally corrupt among intellectuals and Mao held up as a great leader? Both provided jobs, I guess. But one provided laughs and thrills and temporary escape into imaginary wonder while the other butchered millions of innocent people out here in harsh cruel reality.
Why is the huckster considered evil, but the politician and scapegoater good--or at least "understood"? By intellectuals, including Objectivists?
But that's not fair because Mao's stuff is contrary to Objectivism, you say? Hell, read any Objectivist board. Yeah, they think Mao was evil, but you will also find lots of people talking with great enthusiasm about deploying nukes--especially on Muslims. So what's the difference? An innocent person is just as dead regardless of who or what killed him. That goes for mass killing, too.
So which is morally superior? Mao or Objectivism-sanctioned nukes?
Let's do some huckster-thinking backstage. What to call this? What indeed?
Hey, I know!
Same crap. Different brand name.
To me it's a no-brainer.
I'll take P. T. Barnum any day.
So step right up, folks...