The Truth about “the truth”

At times “the truth” ads have done little or nothing to cover up the ideological commitments of the organization. In an absolutely appalling ad that was shown a few years ago a group of teenagers drive around in a car and, with a handheld camera, film themselves counting cigarette ads posted in convenience stores located in rich and poor neighborhoods. They count six in the poor neighborhood and one in the rich. One of the kids then looks at the camera and says “is it a minority thing?” Another asks, “What do you think Big Tobacco is saying?” Just another example of viewing responsibility as systemic and coercive rather than individualistic.

Ads where body bags are stacked in front of Philip Morris‚Äôs headquarters or spouses of the victims of tobacco related diseases shout at the headquarters with megaphones have also seen their time. One ad attacks a Big Tobacco ad campaign that asked women to ‚Äúfind their voice.‚Äù This ad campaign clearly must have been as efficient as mind control; totally irresistible to the woman who places a vibrator to her neck and asks the stoic corporate offices ‚Äúis this the voice you wanted me to find?‚Äù All of this from an institution designed to educate on the dangers of smoking but, instead, are educating in an undeniably proto-Marxist vein on the non-existence of personal responsibility. Marx’s lessons have been learned well by the modern anti-corporate advocate – the simplistic division of individuals into convenient groups, a clear delineation of the oppressor and the oppressed, and the interaction of those morally charged groups to create forceful systemic responsibility. These banal lessons comprise the syllabus of the course. The ads do not say anything as simple as ‚Äúcigarettes are bad for you‚Äù and try to show the negative effects of the habit ‚Äì as the ‚Äúthis is your brain‚Äù ads so poignantly did. In fact they do nothing to underscore the dangers of smoking. What they underscore, over and over again, are the dangers of living in a society bespeckled with corporate and capitalist institutions that may reach into your brain and suck your decision making abilities from your head.

Ideologues of all types are experts at insinuating and implying. An ideology is, more or less, a set of collected and intertwined beliefs that formulate a “viewpoint.” But, those beliefs have the tendency to turn into the unstated premises of massive arguments of which one usually only hears the conclusion. Conspiracy theorists are perfect examples of this ideological dead-reckoning. If a conspiracy theorist hears a new fact, such as the government reporting the crash of a satellite in the desert, he may immediately conclude that an alien ship has crashed. Clearly, this belief can only be justified on empirical grounds. But when incorporated into a belief system with numerous supporting premises it can be justified on simple inferential grounds. Or, to put it another way, if you believed to be true everything that they believe is true, then you would make the same conclusion. You may have scant evidence about this specific incident but “you know how the world works,” and therefore new data is incorporated into this viewpoint. Ideologies imbue new facts with an interconnected significance that the facts, in and of themselves, do not and could not have. Thus, an inequality between the numbers of posted cigarette ads in rich and poor neighborhoods becomes evidence of a massive, racially oriented conspiracy.

But one need not be a conspiracy theorist to perform this type of ideological calculation. One needs only to be human. It is unavoidable. If you are one to say that God has intervened when you find $20 on the street, then you are performing an identical type of ideological dead-reckoning – conclusions that are invalid without assuming a set of underlying premises. But despite the inevitability of such reasoning (this type of thinking may, in fact, be an essential cornerstone of “reason” itself) we can do our best to elucidate the follies, and the benefits, of this argumentative shorthand.

The idea that a majority of us are dupes – that, without our knowledge, we are influenced and coerced into beliefs and actions that are illegitimate – is the essential underlying premise that supports the argumentative insinuation of “the truth.” This is particularly true if you are, or ever have been, a smoker. But this type of unrepentant elitism is never confined to a single set of individuals. Of course, organizational entities such as “the truth” don’t hold beliefs; people do. And those people who believe us all to be dupes have a convenient loophole in their social organizing system that excludes them and their immediate friends and confidants. Thus, this produces another philosophically interesting question for these self-anointed Рif smoking isn’t your fault then how could not smoking be your fault? But, this issue is of no concern; for them, their choices are authentic, their deliberations genuine and their values legitimate. In fact, one of the fundamental and absolutely necessary premises of the predominant anti-corporate sentiment is the belief that the majority of people make decisions in an essentially different and inferior way from the way you do. This isn’t simply a more or less innocuous belief that other people are often more irrational than oneself – a belief that I certainly endorse – but rather a belief in a differential rectitude that allows oneself to be bathed in a light of goodness and knowledge while others are occluded in darkness. It is a belief that confers status on the believer. The offices of “the truth” must be awash with a sanctimonious, self-satisfied air. I can well imagine the staff engaging in a perpetual, unstated arms race of moral superiority Рvegans one-upping vegetarians, hybrid drivers one-upping gasoline drivers, bicyclers one-upping drivers, etc. It must get exhausting.

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1 Response to The Truth about “the truth”

  1. Brad Lopez says:

    I agree on some points, disagree with others.

    Oh wait, I’m on Symbolic Order, let me rephrase that: I concur with certain assertions, yet find myself compelled to differ with other portions of your thesis.

    I once saw a “truth” commercial with some old lady who was speaking through a voice enhancer like Ned from South Park. At the end of the commercial, she said “Is this the voice you were expecting to hear?” as though big tobacco companies are solely responsible for her sounding like a lo-tech Darth Vader. What a joke. She chose to smoke, no one put a gun to her head and if anyone was fooled into thinking otherwise, it wasn’t me.

    I don’t think that is leading an ideological assault on smokERS, though, just smokING. Essentially, what you do in this essay is take offense to’s commercials on behalf of big tobacco companies. This is a sad state of affairs, because you’re missing what is ultimately trying to prove: that tobacco companies really don’t care about you, they care about profit.

    The truth they are trying to expose is, in part, elitist in the way you described. I’m sure many of the members do think people smoke solely because they were “told to.” What they are more effective at conveying is the point that millions of Americans are addicted to smoking, and that tobacco companies aren’t obligated to care that those addicted are slowly dying. They only really care insofar as the government makes them, by placing warnings on every pack, limiting their advertising power and forcing them to pay for expensive anti-smoking campaigns.

    That is why the imaginary uprising of smokers you spoke of is absolutely laughable. It would be a rebellion of those who are being taken advantage of in the dumbest possible tradeoff: a buzz in exchange for your money AND life.

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