Adidas Canada — Really, that’s the best you could do?

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Adidas Canada — Really, that’s the best you could do?
Aug 032023

On behalf of parents everywhere, I want to tell the brand and/or marketing manager at Adidas Canada who authorized the FIFA World Cup ad spot featuring Ashley Lawrence they should be sorry.

If you have already paid your agency: ask for your money back. The art is fine. Ashley Lawrence is excellent subject matter. The brand association works. And it’s certainly had a more than sufficient media buy during Women’s FIFA 2023. But…

It’s a mediocre idea badly executed overall.

Sorry/Not Sorry is, of course, just sooooo Canadian. We’re sorry about everything, all the time. It’s our social default. Got it. The stereotype is so overworked it is probably not insulting. But, neither is it creative.

The copy should have been better considered and reviewed. Then, if everyone is OK with it and the risk, COMMIT TO IT, which, ironically, is the point of the ad.

There are four “I’m sorry” stanzas followed by the pay off, “Not sorry” line.

The first 3 of these “apologies” are doubtlessly directed toward Ashley’s parents. By even the most generous interpretation, they are not flattering to those parents. But as it’s obviously leading to an, “I told you so,” for commercial purposes, I’m sure we can all get past it.

The 4th “apology” is as adrift as a hesitant header attempt. Somebody decided that maybe this targeting of parents wasn’t a good idea and “cleverly” redirected the missile toward “impossible.” Just like hesitating undermines a header, this is what makes the ad rubbish. Commit. Hammer the parents. They had other children in mind for success, not Ashley. Say it. Then have her say, “Not sorry.”

All in all: tone deaf or insulting. Either way, it’s just bad and misses the goal.

Religious About Capitalism

 Business, organization, Religion, society  Comments Off on Religious About Capitalism
Jun 292023
Capitalism as Religion is a serialization of a book-length argument that capitalism behaves like religion. And there's something to take from that.

This piece was completed in 2018, before the pandemic. The other essays in the serialization of “Capitalism as Religion” are descendants of this essay. It’s contextualizing references—Brexit and Trump—are a little stale. Also, its argument tilts very heavily to defining religion for the first half of the essay, all in service of the argument that maybe capitalism is (like) a religion. For those uninterested in such things, you can probably search for and skip to the section “Capitalism’s aspects of religion”. I think you’ll miss something, but it’s your time and choice.

This essay is cross-posted on my Substack.

Inexplicable events routinely happen. The unfathomable crowd actions of Brexit and the American election, both in 2016, demand explanatory gymnastics if not wholesale suspension of disbelief. What possesses millions of people to decide by all reasonable measures, on balance, decidedly not in their own best interest? What rationalizes such thorough irrationality? Super moons? Late onset millenarianism?

     To say these throngs were cajoled or coerced into self-defeat by demagoguery or were fed up enough to “cut off their noses to spite their faces,” is to presume naivety and even stupidity on the majority of those voting, and willful negligence on all who did not. Perhaps satisfying to say, but unsatisfactory as an explanation: among Brexit and Trump voters are many articulate, educated, and arguably successful people—and MBAs.

     So much of the West woke up after those electoral reveries to the stark realization there is no morning after pill. Joy and celebration were offset by equal parts of fear and loathing. And so the whole world struggles with “Why?” Despite gallons of ink and petabytes of pixels devoted to well-argued theories from economic and social despair to political disgust to (white) nationalism, none seems sufficiently robust to stand scrutiny. None feels exactly right, begging a meta-explanation to hold together the explanatory shards.[1]

     Such a meta-explanation, or at least the one I propose, does not directly answer the question, “Why?” It contextualizes and frames the other answers to cohere. It presents a tide within which these currents of socio-political change flow. As befitting anything “meta,” it could explain a lot—at least loosely. The explanation that I suggest fulfills the job best is religion.

     This paper presents the idea that religious thinking—its psychology—pervades the most significant secular ideologies of the West: Capitalism and Democracy. The point is not to litigate the merits or drawbacks of Brexit, nor to project success or failure of Trump’s possible policies and actions as President. So, for the purpose of this essay I accept the broad consensus opinion that Brexit will have a generation’s negative economic impact on Great Britain. As for America, project forward Trump’s rapacious first 69 years of self-aggrandizement at the expense of others who presumed he might live up to his many words. Reckon by the Trump campaign’s flagrant lying, policy flopping, and juvenile petulance. All of which at least suggests that the vast majority of Americans will not benefit from Trump’s presidency. In other words, they voted against their own self-interest. We will accept these as premises.[2]


     To be clear, for this purpose religion is not simply a system of belief in a divinity and an answer to the question of purpose. It does not narrowly refer to sects or cults of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or any other past or prevailing religious system.

     Religion, as exposed it here, is a means of communing with the unknown. Because at some point even the known was unproven and possibly unknowable, I stand with the view that all religion is an explanatory system developed in the absence of proof. For religion, the unknown is essential. Once institutionalized, religion is a construct for social organization and a robust tool for control among what would otherwise be thoughtless, irrational, unconsidered, random, disorganized human behaviour.

     According to some, the most fundamental and essential—arguably only—part of religion is the duality of sacred and profane. These, within an explanatory teleological story, with or without a divine presence, create a morality. And a moral system, whatever it is, intrinsically motivates the believer to behave as if controlled by this unseen, possibly irrational force.

     The notion of religion in general, but specifically for this purpose has nothing to do with divinity or codified faith. To help suspend the reflex to rebut the core theses based on some Abrahamic equating of religion with God and/or organization around this premise, dispel the image of popes and prelates, imams and rabbis by thinking about Zoroaster or the Aztec, Maya, or Inca. This helps reveal the human imperative toward religion without the emotional baggage of the proximate organized religions of the past two millennia.

     That important, human imperative is for answers to the unknown. In many forms, the imperative leads to systems of beliefs that rely on a form of sacred as lodestar with its profane and telos as navigational bearings. Such systems of belief need stories that can be decomposed into a catechism of some sort. It needs pithy self-confirming affirmations. It needs a formal schooling and instruction program. Above all, over time it needs for its believers to become unflinching. For that, the believer’s identity must be entangled in the goals and objectives of the religion’s moral universe so that to not believe is to challenge one’s own worth if not purpose or existence.

     Many ideologies qualify within these parameters. For instance, based on how politicians and party members behave, it’s arguable that Republicans and Democrats are two sides of a schism in American, democratic political religion that hold forth as articles of faith and belief a founding mythology and enumerated commandments amending a given scripture.

     But this is not where I choose to go. The religion I believe to be the foundation for all the right and wrong that has reached a recent nadir, is 21st-century Capitalism. Moreover, within the broadly understood persistently diminishing religiosity in Western nations, I would propose that the surveys miss the point.[3] Those who are distancing themselves from their traditional religion may be doing so only because they’ve found a new place to worship.

     Before exploring that contention, we would do well to define and expand upon the features of both capitalism and religion, unpacking them from some of our more biased, flawed, or simply irrelevant notions.


     Let’s be clear, capitalism is not a replacement for spirit-quenching trips to the holy places. It is, or at least it was an organizational framework for a competitive economic philosophy. Some would say that capitalism is an ideology, full stop. That is fine and I have no truck with the notion of capitalist ideology.[4]

     Capitalism, standing alone, is not a religion as we commonly understand it. As an organizing paradigm, capitalism was conceived and evolved on a simple premise that competition and demand are a stronger organizing driver than anything else. It has proven to be effective and resilient. Certainly moreso than Socialism or Mercantilism. The beauty of capitalism is that it aligns to and harnesses human nature. For better or worse, the butcher and brewer provide their wares in their own self-interest.

     Capitalism has religion in its DNA. The creators of capitalist philosophy were religious men—as were most Enlightenment and near post-Enlightenment philosophers. While undoubtedly the product of human nature, the butcher and the brewer proffered their services to satisfy their needs by serving others’ needs at a profit substantially driven by their religious beliefs. This heritage informs the original purpose of creating wealth not for its own sake, but for the greater glory of God to express one’s divine calling, as well as to benefit oneself and one’s neighbours. Keep in mind that at the time of its conception capitalists risked their own wealth. Profit and loss affected them directly.

     For these God-fearing capitalists, Monday was clearly separate from but not different than Sunday. Not until the complete ascendance of the limited liability, share capital corporation did capitalism evolve beyond those capitalists of old. The corporation was one key factor to shift emphasis from the greater glory of God, exposing one’s divine calling, and creating profit for oneself and one’s neighbours to profit for profit’s sake.[5] The effect of the share capital corporation on capitalism is well-documented by Joel Bakan in his book, The Corporation. For our purpose here, three things about this capitalist evolution are important.

  1. It created scale. Organizations now did much more, much more broadly and thus more impersonally than before.
  2. It demanded a class of professional managerial employees—even at the pinnacle of the organization—so day-to-day decision-makers were no longer “skin in the game” capitalists.
  3. Most importantly, it effectively reoriented the driving force for profit to a class of absentee owners (i.e., shareholders). The absentees, detached from the value the business provided, could value nothing as much as return on investment.

Public Company from Limited Liability

     It was only a matter of time for the institutional investor cadre to sever the last sinews of connection to the origins of capitalism and the early capitalists. The scale of institutional investment lets it wield the control of a proprietor. Except a proprietor has interest in all the stakeholders—especially customers and suppliers, let alone pride of accomplishment that the detached institutional investor does not. Without that background or skill, our institutional investor is not in business to make and/or purvey something the invisible hand determines to be of value. The closest (s)he gets is to satisfy some anonymous market of potential customers based on the impersonal metric of revenue. And because of the self-inflicted demand for ever-quicker proof of revenue-based success, the average institutional investor’s depth of vision is 90-days long.[6] Thus the institutional investor cannot be loyal to anything but return to shareholder: not to the customer, not to the employee, not to society at large. Along the way, capitalist thinkers and economists turned this aberration into a virtue. To the original capitalists it was not.

     This brief and rough description is not judgment. The intent is not to challenge capitalism’s value but to make clear that the impelling original notion of capitalism not only strayed from its philosophical root, it is, in fact, effectively rootless beyond making money through shareholdings.

     Making money to create wealth is fine: that organizing motive has served humanity—the West, anyway—well. But the turn from owner-operation toward investor ownership pulled down two foundational pillars philosophically grounding old-time capitalism: (1) glory of God and expression of divine calling, AND (2) benefit to oneself and neighbours. Apparently, this evolution hollowed out traditional capitalist values while leaving the organizing framework and desirous economic effect undiminished. By all outward appearance, to so many, these were advances.

Nature, meet Vacuum

     The Protestant Ethic, for those with only a hazy recollection, is sociologist Max Weber’s explanation for the rise of capitalism. To him, the Spirit of Capitalism is a set of values, the spirit of hard work, and progress.[7] While Weber argued it is best exhibited particularly among Protestant Christians (Calvinists to be sure), the universal values it identifies and extols are most important for our purpose. It’s important because when one denies the premise that the Spirit of Capitalism has a special relationship to Christianity—or Protestant Christianity specifically—the only thing left is a set of values that includes hard work and progress. Removing the religious values—glory of God and personal divine purpose—creates a void rapidly filled by a reverence for money.

     The imagination is not especially taxed contemplating the Spirit of Capitalism encountering the moral vacuum of the institutionally-owned, limited liability corporate business environment. Obviously, the need for purpose and direction satisfied by the spiritual is replaced by the “Godless” Spirit of Capitalism. The other parts—profit, hard work, and especially progress—are grafted to the natural human need for Telos. Profit as the means to fulfill God’s purpose turns into the purpose in itself. It’s our nature. And (our) nature abhors a vacuum.

Our Nature

     Telos is a Greek word that means end, in the sense of goal or objective. The idea is that we humans are self-starting, purposeful, and, once in motion, move toward something. That is our Telos.

     It alone does not explain why religion takes hold of us. That requires our special need for community atop our inherent curiousity.  Telos does, however, explain why, once we have an end in mind, we get so committed to it. Some would argue goal-orientation is an innate drive: a compulsion to seek, to be purposeful. Others point to the social pressure to conform, lest we be called lazy, unfocused, directionless.

     So we may be either or both hard wired and programmed with teleological motivation. The implication is that even if we don’t know what the end is, we seek resolution to the compelling tension created by it. Some psychiatrists postulate it is a root cause of crippling problems from addiction to depression and other dissatisfactions with life, because where we have purpose, we have satisfaction if not joy. Not coincidentally, a Telos underwrites both the original purpose of capitalism—to express one’s divine calling, as well as the multi-billion-dollar self-help industry. You see, purpose demands a reason.

     Without one or both of purpose and explanation, something has to fill the psychic hole. Nature—and our mind—abhors a vacuum. The unknown presents such a vacuum. It tends to confound our calculation. Whether lazy or just disinclined to ponder more than what keeps us alive day by day, the majority of people are unable to contemplate “why” questions that require more than quotidian information, experience, and mental processing. Thus are they happy with expedient and convenient, comforting, ready, and sanctioned answers. Lore and legend satisfy this need, as can scientific theory and proof—sometimes. It is someplace between these termini that we find religion and ideology. Both address the unknown to fill the void. Both rely on belief and faith. Both provide guidance and rules for adherents to follow. Both promise the right end if the believer commits.

     Setting aside divinity for the moment, where religion and ideology tend to diverge is in how they substantiate the underlying belief. At the highest level, religion is an allegorical story that demands faith to its accepted truth by the mystery of the narrative itself. Wisdom through aphoristic writing, allegations of divine perfection, and apparent successful application of its rules and lessons are told in stories to prove the religion’s veracity and social acceptance. Ideologies hold themselves as more high-minded. Proof for an ideology is typically logically reasoned and observable proof applied. More rigorously than religion, ideological proofs are comparative… to other ideologies (e.g., democracy v. communism, capitalism v. mercantilism), although phenomenological (i.e., experienced) proofs, today referred to as case studies, are also brought to bear.

     Be that as it may, it is mere shades of grey that contrast religion from ideology even when divinity, the sacred, and the profane are present. And without these features, it’s hard to distinguish where along the spectrum from “reason” to “faith” religion begins and ideology ends (and vice versa) since they have essentially similar features.

It’s Just Divine

     The divine is the first thing those with a common grasp but insufficient understanding identify with religion. To many, an ethereal, anthropomorphic divinity like God/Allah/Jehovah or Jesus Christ (after resurrection, obviously) is the hallmark, if not defining quality of a religion. To some superficial degree in the Abrahamic tradition, let alone those of the Norse, Indigenous American, and African, it’s true.

     In all these situations, irrespective of epoch and intellectual sophistication, the divine is the reduction of causal attribution into a form readily understood by the common person. The resilience of the idea of divinity is evident in what was explained as a god and god’s doing at any given time inevitably being revealed as unsophisticated if not foolish in light of a better causal explanation. Yet the divine persists.

     It’s worth noting the explanatory device—the divine—need not carry the baggage of the name “god.” Belief in the explanatory value of polling, market timing, astrology, or grandpa’s lumbago as a weather predictor is different only in degree. Even Einstein used the divine to express the idea of the unknown mechanism saying, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Notably Einstein, unlike many other luminaries of science such as Newton and Galileo, was an atheist.

     I’ve deconstructed this notion of divinity being a distinguishing feature of religion even though all but the most devout will acknowledge the divine as probably metaphorical. Reducing the divine to an embodiment of causal attribution can avoid some debate. The point is that inclusion of the divine idea is not by itself sufficient to separate religion from ideology. If it were, we ought to question to just what god’s body is the “invisible hand” attached?

Your Worship…: damned rites!

     Worshipping a metaphorical god would seem to make identification of and distinguishing religion easy. Even if the god is knowingly metaphorical, worshipping that god by thoughtless rites and offerings and so forth is certainly the hallmark of the irrationality of a religion as opposed to the common sense and reason of ideology, no? No.

     To classify then dismiss as religion any belief system that demands from or engenders worship among its followers is wrong. It confuses action with purpose. Are groupies or Apple consumers or post-season sports fans/players following some religion? Are the ceremonies carried out to bring political leaders into chamber, to convoke new degree holders, or to celebrate Octoberfest beer drinking religions? They have rigorous rites, some of which are centuries old, that they may even be superstitions. This hardly rise to the level of defining the underlying purpose as a religion.

     Worship of the deity in a religion happens on two levels. First, there is reverence for the deity’s omnipotent infallibility. This is fearful supplication: avoiding repercussion from an all-powerful and all-knowing power. The second level is in the performance of rituals, presumably to achieve the first goal. As Emile Durkheim noted, this element of religious faith does not serve so much a dogmatic purpose as a social one:

Thus is explained the preponderating role of the cult in all religions… This is because society cannot make its influence felt unless it is in action, and it is not in action unless the individuals who compose it are assembled together and act in common… A society can neither create itself nor recreate itself without at the same time creating an ideal.[8]

     Again, let’s not focus on the supernatural, but on that which is done: on the act of worshipping. This is known as the cultic aspect of a religion: the application of rites, rituals, and catechisms that anchor the idea and faith. We will attend to these features individually later. Try now, however, to erase the vision of subordinate employees supplicating to the all-powerful CEO in ways as trivial as gifting and laughing at bad jokes, and as far reaching as endorsing the boss’s (obviously) bad investment decisions. Beyond blatant careerism, this tableau recognizes the secular worship that goes on broadly even within an ideology from time to time.

     These are signs of deference and respect. Why call a judge “Your Honor,” or a mayor “Her Worship” if not for that? But as Durkheim suggests, those repeated acts reinforce behaviour and expectation. Actions and customs normalize. In their worst uses, customs and such repetitions of worship normalize even the most disgusting of an ideology’s aspects. The worship of the ideology and its all-powerful—god-like—leader was in full display in the 1930/40s Germany. Naziism was hardly a religion.

Sacré bleu

     Utter the word religion and divinity is instantly conjured. To those without religious faith, the entire notion of a deity is fantasy: a child’s conception of what moves the cold mechanics of the world. That makes it easy to dismiss religion out of hand as unworthy of reasonable consideration. Not so with things sacred, which are much less readily relegated to ridicule. So the sacred and its counterpoint, the profane, do the heavy lifting.

     Everything—even religions—needs scope, rules, boundaries. Without limits, a belief is aimless. So too do divinity and worship need scope and shape. Even in religions whose god(s) has complete, omniscient dominion over the universe, there are rules. Definitions of what is appropriate and not gives purpose, direction, and structure to the religion.

     The sacred is that which is unimpeachably right within the religious construct. It has special significance, may belong to, and certainly leads to the good or beneficence of the divinity. The genesis of what’s sacred may be metaphysical or something more prosaic. However it came about, as a relic or artifact or the ritual application of some once valuable action, that which is sacred is self-evident and to be obeyed. Even if its origin was reasoned and purposeful, at some point that which is sacred becomes immune to challenge. It passed into lore or common wisdom and needs no further substantiation—like a law of science. Because the sacred must not be transgressed, there is no acceptable means to disprove it. There is only heresy (or apostacy) at even having the notion to challenge the sacred.

     Thus a heretic is one who (purposefully) challenges the sacred. Practically, heresy provides the faithful with cause to repudiate, isolate, and diminish any challenge to the sacred. The heretic is punished, sometimes by shunning and isolation, maybe by banishment, and at its very worst, by death. The punishment signals to the faithful that the sacred may not be challenged without consequence. It also erases evidence of the challenge itself. This is critical because the divinity does not or cannot act to reprimand transgression. Besides, should the faithful see that good need not only flow from the divine and sacred, faith itself may be challenged. The sacred must remain self-evidently unquestionable lest everything else be subject to persistent reappraisal. Where that leads once started, could put the very objective of the faith at risk. A reasonable person could say this makes the sacred more important than even the divine.

     The profane, too, is a matter of faith: unquestioningly accepted and passed on irrespective of origin and original purpose. By definition, that which is not sacred is common and hence profane. More commonly, the profane tends to have one of two fundamental formulations: it is either a negative rule to protect the imperviousness of the divine/sacred (e.g., uttering “God damn” is a profanity because it takes the Lord’s name in vain) and thereby stifling larger possible challenges, or it is a rule that prohibits things, behaviours, or thoughts that may lead to group decohesion, harm, and injury. The Semitic prohibition on pork (meat of the cloven hooved animal) in Deuteronomy, for example, is a health protection measure and probably arose that way.

     Profanities—and dealing with them swiftly and strictly—are important to a religion because profanities challenge the faith. The power of the faith is the unthinking acceptance of the goals, structures, and rules. But since, practically speaking, there is typically no substance to the religion’s promises—they being answers to “unknowns,” there is rarely a direct line between the demands of the faith and its promises or threats. More plainly: there is no assurance that the faith leads to the goal and all non-faith does not. Disavowal of the sacred or application of the profane having no impact on the faith or faithful would be problematic to the central organization of the religion. It should be obvious why. Little flaws, once exposed, can expand into bigger flaws. So it is critical for any religion to very strictly enforce its definition and policing of sacred and profane.

Catechism: rites, rituals, and repetition

     Advertisers, teachers, tyrants, and organized religions know one thing for sure: repetition works. To be clear: repetition works. Advertisers, teachers, tyrants, and organized religions know this. The number varies, but seven is commonly accepted as the exposures to an ad needed before the message takes effect on a consumer. Writing lines on the board as punishment (something lost in the keyboard era), reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and so many similar instances of individual and group ritual are pure repetition of a thought. Why? Because repetition works.

     Repetition, a foundation of rote memorization, is a fundamental means for driving an idea first into conscious memory and then, more importantly, into the subconscious. It is also a key to skill mastery, where it goes by the name practice. Extensive research has been done on the effects of the repetition of ideas and actions, especially how they get driven into the subconscious. The psychological and physiological fact is: repetition works.

     The idea that becomes ingrained in the subconscious through repetition transforms into (a) truth and (b) an operating instruction of the mental firmware. Why do you think self-help programs make such extensive use of a small number of affirmations? Because repetition works. Would we remember so vividly that Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream if he had not said it ten times in sixteen minutes?

     Religions are profoundly attached to the miracle of repetition. In the Catholic church, for example, there are the liturgy, prayer, and above all catechism. Liturgy is the ritual said by the priest. Though repeated at every mass, it is not nearly as powerful as prayer and catechism, which are repeated by the faithful. As Chinese proverb says: Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.

     Prayer, repeated everywhere, is a religion’s primary entreaty to the deity. In this respect, it could fall into that easy ridicule of anything to do with the supernatural. But at the end of the day, prayer is just a form of repetition with a particular expectation. Its repetition is no doubt a supplication before a deity, but it is also an insidious reinforcement of the rules of the religion. Regardless, because the red herring superstition aspects are hard to overcome, we’ll leave it out. Instead, let’s move to catechism, of which prayer is only one special type.

     A catechism is in no uncertain terms, the repeated exposition of a belief. Tied in Western culture by name to the Catholic Church’s Rites, catechisms actually appear everywhere. Any time a believer repeats a core doctrinal truth, it is a catechism. Instances of ritual repetition of the core logic of a belief are catechisms. The recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the regular rituals of Elks and Freemasons, and even memorizations of scientific and other laws would qualify on this basis. The whole point of catechisms is to capture those cornerstones of the belief system and turn them into truth and operating system instructions of the subconscious. When these foundations are truth, everything else about doctrine flows readily.

Religions are organizations

     Ultimately, religions are organizing frameworks. At one level, as we’ve considered, they represent the organization of an idea.[9] That idea is an explanation of the unknown with elaboration that provides purpose, direction, means, rules, and structures to survive an otherwise random life. While that’s all well and good, without a practical organizing structure to manage people a religion’s ideas would be a fanciful ideology at best. A practical organization is needed for people to codify central ideas, provide doctrines and policies, proselytize to the other, and teach, minister, and ultimately police the faithful.

     We have to recognize and accept that, irrespective of their righteous purpose, religions are about interests. Whose and what the originating interests were may be lost to time. Because religions are living political things, the original interests that inform doctrine and mythology evolve over time. They physically mould to the shape given them by those who, at any given time, control the religion for the purpose at hand. Unlike most secular organizations, however, the underlying precepts cannot wander without alienating the faithful. So doctrine changes slowly. It is much easier and faster to adjust the meaning of the doctrine to suit prevailing interests. The result is that by massaging definitions the stable doctrine evolves to suit contemporary needs through time.

     An ideology does not need an organization, let alone a hierarchy, to express, propound, and defend it. Ideas themselves cohere and sustain through intellectual debate. That there is an organizational hierarchy reflects the social control aspect of the religion’s purpose.

     Honeybees, hyenas, and human groups rapidly evolve into classes of leaders and followers. Nuance beyond this blunt fact is found in the purpose of the organization. For a religion, a closer view reveals a formal set of leader classes within a supporting structure of those who teach, minister, and police the faith and faithful.

Followers: the faithfilled

     Especially in religious organizations, followers have a very simple purpose. In addition to being the bulk and weight of the community, they provide the organization’s resource needs: acolytes to support and sustain the purpose/values/norms; benefactors to provide the money and capital to operate; labourers to perform needed work; missionaries to expand the organization’s domain.

     Followers are taught and trained to be followers of the religion by accepting and abiding by the dogma (the idea). Being part of the community typically from birth sets the path for all members being properly indoctrinated. This, of course, is all too simple. Religion fulfills individual psychic needs at the outset and in perpetuity that makes then keeps adherents. At first, perhaps, that need may have been the prime unknown the religion’s idea addresses. Over time, however, the idea expands to satisfy other wonderings likely to trouble followers as well. Psychology and history indicate many of these individual and social needs are met by the idea and the organization. As we’ve said, religions not only provide answers but also structure, comfort, and community. In many cases the (divine) telos even reduces or eliminates the burden of personal agency, which is truly a comfort to a large swath of humanity.

Leaders: the faithful

     How the religious organization parses itself to best stay atop its flock is, like any other organization, a function of its breadth and purpose. Not uncommonly, religions—especially larger ones—recognize geographic realities. Within or alongside that, they also have functional divisions. These functions, excluding those that constitute the typical overhead of communications, legal, accounting, governance and compliance, and so forth, line up to the objectives of ministering and teaching.

     Again, like in any other organization, a religion will have an overall leader who may or may not be a spiritual leader. Because during the last millennium or so gods have not availed themselves to the dirty work of operating religions, the human leaders and the god(s) are distinct. The human leader is, however, by some mysterious mechanics typically chosen/revealed/appointed by the god to hold the revered middleman position. Beneath this are layers of (sub)leader that get ever closer to the followers.

     Let’s start close to the followers with the priesthood. Priests have special knowledge of and proximity to the godhead and codes of the religion. They use this special awareness to coerce the faithful into performing roles demanded by their faith. Having been formally schooled in the ways of the religion, they are suited to minister to the faithful, support missionary work, uphold the creed and customs, and so forth. Priests hold tightly to the mysteries of the religion to ensure the faith survives any challenge. This usually involves both a single-minded devotion to the faith and a clear-eyed understanding of the power of ritual and mysteries over the masses. Moreover, the upper echelons of the leadership hierarchy come from the priest class.

     Asserting that the priests of any religion are not also the most faithful would be deeply cynical. To suggest that politics and personal ambitions within the religion may shape as much as the creed itself would, at the least, be not nice. Yet, it’s hard to not see this aspect of human social nature bleed through in current and historical examples, even—or perhaps especially—within a religion. As an organization with a goal or mandate to control or at least shape human affairs, the religious organization is innately political. Priests rise in authority, rank, privilege, and power no differently than in any other human organization. The Medici popes make this abundantly clear.

     Through a variety of means, the priest and near-priest keepers of the faith are, in no uncertain terms, indoctrinated for their roles. This is the cultic aspect of a religion.[10] Ultimately, because of their role to preserve the religion’s idea and grow the organization’s size, preserving orthodoxy is obviously critical and ought to bear no further explanation. Except this: unless the priest is unthinking and unswerving in propagating the faith, the priest is failing him/herself, let alone the religion.

     It should also be evident—perhaps—that growing the organization is an ongoing imperative and may validly be the only thing separating it from irrelevance or extinction. First, people get old and die. Their beliefs and faiths, unless passed on, die with them. At the very least, there is the potential for a generational loss of potency. Second, ideas—even those underpinning faith—are continually under threat from competitive ideas, particularly those that resolve the underlying unknowns and uncertainties upon which a religion is built. Ideas that resolve questions more simply and clearly demand less (mental) energy to sustain through extravagant and elaborate commitments. This economy allows them to naturally better survive and sustain.

Capitalism’s aspects of religion

     To summarize, when we abstract away the prejudicial connotations and our rationalist bias about the irrationality of religious faith, when we subdue any obligations we feel to our own religious faith, and we explore the facets of religion itself, all that’s left is an idea explaining some unknown aspects of our understanding made manifest in a structure for behaving and perceiving. It is, of course, an idea of another time locked in another level of sophistication. So by our reckoning here, religion typically has but would not be burdened by the absence of divinity except insomuch that worship is easier to justify when directed toward some (anthropomorphic, supernatural) deity. Religion codifies what is sacred to the idea and, conversely, what is profane. It propagates and extends the idea with explanatory stories or myths through an indoctrination, education, and persistent (repeated) enunciation and application of the core idea. All this is carried out by a mundane human organization of leaders and followers—haves and have-nots—that are ultimately a political entity.

     Earlier, I said categorically that I believe capitalism is neither a religion on par with those for which a supernatural divinity, holy buildings, and scriptural books for worship of a god are required. That stands. Be that as it may and whether moot or obvious, it’s of value to test capitalism against the qualities of religion as we’ve established them.

     The arguments that capitalism is a religion or not are neither new nor do they track easily without fairly esoteric elaboration. Among the more infamous is a fragment of an essay by Walter Benjamin.[11] The following is an attempt to summarize it without drawing on Marx’s counter-capitalist positions. As I’ve stated, the point is not to diminish either capitalism or religion. The point is only to illuminate how capitalism sufficiently aligns to religion in terms of its behaviour and effect on its adherents.

     Let’s first consider and dispense with the divine. In capitalism, there is no supernatural anthropomorphic deity. None of its creators or proponents qualifies either. Still, one has to wonder about the reverence given to certain elements of capitalist ideology. Most obvious is the anthropomorphic, supernatural invisible hand that directs commerce. While we are all sophisticated enough to believe Smith’s choice of words was metaphorical, that’s not obvious when observing the unthinking reverence given to this truism among capitalists. Moreover, why is it here metaphorical but other explanatory, anthropomorphic, supernatural instances are not? Then there is money.

     Once again at the risk of being dismissed as anti-capitalist, leftist, or whatever other “ist” conveniently deflects from the point, it is obvious that in capitalism one prays at the altar of money. This essay’s purpose is not to assess why money may merely represent good and valuable things—which it may. It would not change the fact that despite shows of valuing other things, capitalists must value money above all else. That may not be god, but it’s certainly worshipped.

Worship is another area where capitalism parallels religion as we’ve marked it out. For capitalists, not just the invisible hand and money are sacred and worshipped. To name a few in no particular order:

  • Credit. Credit is the essence and driver of both the good and bad of capitalism. While Christianity tends to frown on credit—or, more particularly, on lending at interest, it is the fundamental concept for everything capitalist, not least of which is fiat money. The word itself seems to derive from the Latin creditum, which is the past participle of the verb credere (“believe”). So credit is that in which we have faith; or, to be more blunt, in which we deposit our faith. It feels churlish to point out the obvious alignment to what, after a supernatural divinity, constitutes religion for most people: blind faith. But I suppose I did it anyway. More importantly this word choice and description elevates fiduciary responsibility to the level of faith.
  • (Self-)Improvement and Growth. The telos of capitalism parallels the progress Telos that temporarily usurped Divine Providence during the Enlightenment. Held to holy esteem in capitalist dogma is the notion of persistent growth and improvement. Ritualistic quarterly reporting season and stock market gyrations are the direct result of this sacred feature. It even bleeds beyond business into our personal mandates for personal improvement and growth. Though logically reasonable and natural, the notion of stagnation or even decline are admissions of defeat and hence profanities. This thirst for improvement blankets capitalism from Six Sigma and Kaizen at the organization level through to the billion-dollar self-help industry targeting only career and vocation improvement.
  • Worldly accumulation. The awe at and reverence for worldly accumulation is so pervasive it hardly needs explanation. But unlike the popular gawking of TMZ and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, displays and portrayal of wealth are not restricted to capitalists: they seem to reveal universal envy. As for capitalism, one instance provides indisputable proof. That is the typical annual listing and ranking of the “biggest,” “richest,” “fastest growing,” and so on that appear in business-directed media from Fortune down to the local business improvement zone newsletter. At the household level, larger houses that bulge with stuff to the point of driving a burgeoning self-storage industry ought to be more than abundant evidence of worldly accumulation down to the personal level… in the West, anyway.
  • Homo economicus. Few things are held in as much thrall by capitalists as the centrality of economics. For the economic man, nothing exists outside economics. Capitalists worship and project this core belief onto everything, permeating capitalist society thoroughly. It is an idea that may not be so much sacred as elemental, like there being no Christianity without sin. Homo economicus gives lip service to other redeeming qualities and values. But ultimately, everything boils down to dollar value. This doesn’t raise an eyebrow with the reader any more than saying, “Gravity makes things fall down.” In the absence of some heresy, maybe the lowest common denominator across domains and purposes is, in fact, dollar value. So be it. But that puts the idea on an unchallengeable pedestal. Given alternative approaches in other societies, however, this notion is not a universal. It is not actually a law or truth like those in the physical world. Yet Homo economicus and her ways are sacred. They are emulated as accepted wisdom. And in that respect, we revere and worship at the altar of economics.

     I certainly don’t want to come off as ill-mannered by taking cheap shots, but while they may not strictly be sacred, the bear and bull idols revered by capitalist stock traders certainly qualify. Maybe that bull was actually once a calf called Baal…

     While these are examples of things worshipped, without a formal and acknowledged divinity, it is hard to pin down sacred things that belong to the god. That makes it equally challenging to distinguish what is common, and thus by counterpoint, profane. Some who have weighed in say capitalism is a cultic religion and, moreover, one that by virtue of its objects has blurred if not erased the distinction between sacred and profane. Loosely, the logic is that it effectively eliminates the sacred and renders everything profane. There may be merit to the argument, but it neither contributes to this discussion nor (I think) does it matter except to a tiny coterie of academics.

     Irrespective of sacredness or profanity, all sects of capitalism have their holy texts. Not the annual deluge of words dedicated to recipes for growth, progress, or (self-) improvement, although some of these eventually rise to near canonical status. The holy texts are the ancient scriptures. In addition to The Wealth of Nations, a relatively small number of works deliver the basis and foundation for all capitalist faith. Because of its basic nature, much of it is in the form of economics theory. Economic laws—supply and demand, scarcity and diminishing returns, etc.—and the works of its pantheon, such as those by Friedrich Hayek, inform all capitalism. The application of theory to that foremost church of capitalism—the stock market—is found in various models of Benjamin Graham, Black-Scholes, and other lesser luminaries. The remainder of the capitalist corpus covers specific functional areas from management to operations to strategy to marketing, and on. For instance:

  • Frederick Taylor is appropriately revered as the father of scientific management, an evidence-based approach to primarily rooting out efficiencies in operations. In many ways, Taylor’s work was the “child” of originating theory of division of labour (another of the capitalist holy things) initially propounded by Adam Smith (a foremost apostle). On its formidable shoulders stand all other current forms of evidence-based management thought.
  • Henry Ford was both a practitioner and quasi-theorist who put the notion of division of labour into the practical environment of efficient production when he created assembly line production.
  • W. Edward Demming is often referred to as the father of quality and made his mark helping rebuild the Japanese empire after World War II before applying his theories of management to quality control that indirectly spawned TQM, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and so forth.
  • In the realm of strategy, none are revered as much as Harvard’s Michael Porter mostly for his theory of Five Forces. The framework itself is sufficiently lucid and simple for the inherent complexity of the commercial environment understood by many, and was an icebreaker for so many others with theories for strategic thought.

     There are a host of other luminaries of management thinking, categorized most typically by their areas of functional expertise. It is almost assured that I have missed critical developers of the system. And this is, of course, without adding the more contemporary chroniclers and popularizers such as Henry Mintzberg, Jim Collins, Tom Peters, Clayton Christensen, Stephen Covey, Michael Hammer and James Champy, and so on.

     Often, based on the arguments of such “theologians,” capitalism, like any other big tent religion, eventually splinters or—at least—propagates off-shoots and sects that may flourish for a while. If strong enough, these sects can even redirect the religion. Over the years, America has been the breeding ground for two, among the many, deeply influential sects.

     The first is the so-called Chicago school of economics. This body of thought that arose out of the work done by scholars associated with the University of Chicago particularly dominated capitalism in the 1980s. Among its many Nobel laureates over the years are Ronald Coase (Nobel, 1991), who wrote The Nature of the Firm and introduced the notional power of transaction costing friction; Gene Fama (Nobel, 2013), often referred to as the father of modern finance for originating the efficient-market hypothesis; Freidrich Hayek, who’s Road to Serfdom became a Libertarian testament; and, the highly influential Milton Friedman (Nobel, 1976) whose support of business-friendly laissez-faire government policy did as much as anything else to drive the radical perceptual shift toward commercial infallibility in the 1980s and 1990s as did anything else.

     The second is the more sinister/deviant Objectivist philosophy of dime store novelist, Ayn Rand. Until taken up by acolyte turned Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, the Objectivist philosophy of Atlas Shrugged and Rand’s other pulp usually overtook freshmen (and women) in college or university for a semester or two before being consigned to hold up dorm room shelving. Greenspan and the Libertarian movement that largely arose at the same time with the same fundamental philosophy, however, gave the Objectivist movement credibility and legs, entrenching the all-for-one, one-for-none philosophy of self-absorbed greed.

     It’s not our place to critique these and other sub-philosophies, only to note that they represent (cultish) branches of the main faith. More significantly, to greater and lesser degrees, they influence the capitalist faith temporarily or permanently. In these two cases, the written philosophies, aphorisms, and mentalité become acknowledged parts of the canonical literature.

     Earlier, we noted a rite or ritual of capitalism in quarterly earnings reporting. There are many others of greater or lesser relevance from place to place. Just within finance and the stock market, one can pick out initial public offering, reporting, the pageantry and spectacle of the stockholder annual general meeting, and analyst conference calls. Within the companies represented by those stocks are annual strategic planning rituals, the corporate retreat, all-hands meetings, and so many other gatherings of the fold. Less regularly a company will make a ritual sacrifice of some valuable part of the organization as a cost-cutting measure to appease the analysts—and maybe stockholders too—or to satisfy some other current pressure. When something really terrible happens, first there is ritualized denial, followed by an appeasing sacrifice of the most expendable executive. If that doesn’t work, the reigning high priest (CEO) must be cast out. All these genuflections to the stock market are in service of persistent growth and wealth accumulation.

     More broadly, the annual pilgrimage to Davos is a rite of the wider system and a ritual to feed attendees’ need for ego massage. It also is a great spectacle to show the broader audience of the faithful their faith is justified. After all, look at what the leaders are doing for them… in a luxurious mountain resort. So many other totems of the faith exist, it’s hard to choose those to include. So let’s stop here.

     Of course, capitalism spans the globe and has permeated all aspects of life. It comprises adherents in education, business, government, and everywhere in between. Admittedly, there is no formal, global leadership seat or structure like other religions, from Buddhism to Scientology. In this respect, strictly speaking, capitalism would not qualify. But that may be to put too hard a contrast on the picture. After all, the aforementioned Davos pilgrimage to the World Economic Forum is nothing else if not a capitalist United Nations or Synod. Never mind the other examples more on the nose, including the G20/G7 (particularly the Finance Minister and Central Banker sub-committees), the World Bank, the Organization of Economically Developed Countries (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and on even before recognizing that at least the world’s 500 or 1000 largest corporations bestride the globe like colossi. Each piece contributes of a part to the leadership centrality of an inchoate organization.

     Everything about global capitalism’s structure is arguably voluntary and informal. That does not by any stretch of the imagination make it any less rigorous or far-reaching. The system is distributed with each participant area contributing to the preservation and expansion of the beliefs and orthodoxy of the idea. Capitalist democracy is the link that permits politics to carry the faith, especially to other non-capitalist parts of the world. Thus faith in capitalism is carried forth by politicians within and beyond democracies. Interestingly, and supporting the contention it is effectively religious, capitalism remains a chosen faith despite both its own setbacks and failings, let alone the successes of other organizing or economic systems. “Live and let live” strains the radical capitalist mind that wishes deeply to convert the Other.

     Ultimately, the real distributed structure for the capitalist organization is the business firm. It should go without further explanation that these represent the domain of capitalism most and best. Presumably there is no need to describe the various organization structures of these component pieces. Regardless of their organization, it is here that hollow platitudes are made manifest. “The market is efficient,” is regularly espoused—even when bubbles and other irrationalities overcome the market and render it anything but efficient by any measure. But as testament to the faith that is capitalism and religious hypocrisy at work, the inefficiency-perpetuating examples of corporate welfare, tax forgiveness, grants, border duties, and so forth are overlooked or rationalized away (“trickle down economics”?) so they do not mar the faith or the full-throated Hosannas given to it.

     Remember: the essence of market capitalism is the clarifying value of unspoiled competition. Yet, the capitalist faithful use the tenets of the religion—from competitive advantage to tilted playing fields to overwhelming force—to seek and secure monopoly. All skilled capitalists want to be monopolists—and some get there—to the detriment of consumers, vendors, and—ironically—the basic creed of the faith. Everyone, actually, except shareholders. Remember that part of original capitalist dogma that said the motivation was to benefit self and the community? How exactly does hiding profits offshore square with the latter part of that?

     The corporate and government capitalist organizations derive their primary sustaining resource, the faithful, through the system of higher education. Universities, colleges, and trade schools provide the next generation of employees and supporting enthusiasts. While in the West, we are dominantly raised within the idea of capitalism from childhood, it’s not until children are prepared for their business careers that we are truly indoctrinated. The process is fairly common and well-understood by those who study cults.

     University business schools are, among the others, the dominant preparatory seminaries for the new priesthood. Irrespective of education and knowledge, it is an indoctrination. It is here the sacred texts are taught, where the rituals are passed on, that the incantations are memorized. These people will comprise, after all, the new leadership class and they must have the right grounding. Catechisms like the previously mentioned “market efficiency,” as well as others like the primacy of the private sector, cost-benefit, and the sacrilege of taxes begins here. If the schooling is successful, along with the other fashionable insights derived from psychology, statistics, mathematics, and so on the catechisms will stubbornly persistent even in the face of failure and contradiction to inform the faith-based worldview of the next generation.

     With the regularity of the seasons, CEOs ruminate about graduates that can think critically, have imagination, and a breadth of intelligence (or at least knowledge) like they don’t have among their most highly sought candidates. There is hand wringing and supplication from academia. Humanities graduates get excited. And the corporations whose CEOs pondered in the first place hire MBAs—ideally after some time fermenting at a major consulting firm. Why? They don’t mean it. While some such critical thinking, non-business school grads will gladly absorb the faith, it takes time. They have not been suitably prepared. Who knows what heresy they might propose?

     As for rites beyond those already identified and others that are doubtlessly contributory but dubious causally (e.g., competitive sports, first jobs, promotions, and performance reviews that carry informal “nudges” to support the faith and tow the line), baptism in holy credit is probably foremost. By credit one becomes both of the flock and obliged to it. It is a common tool of the legitimate and illegitimate to have others indebted. The credit card industry and Mafia are built on it.

     One could argue that consumerist culture springs from and remains rooted in the sacredness and worship of money. Reverence for money, at least by display of the things that represent it, must be done even at the cost of being indentured. A corner office, private parking, and the adoration of peers and others in the office, at confabulations like conferences, or on social media are also steps to higher status in the faith. I could go on with dubious parallels, but you get the point.

     These passages lead always upward to more privileged castes. Eventually, if lucky, the ambitious and most devout may end up near the top of an individual or global hierarchy of the faith. It should, at this point, be self-evident how all this is nothing more than a pedestrian political association. Like any other big tent religion.


     While this idea and argument has been entertaining and rewarding (not least because of the anger and disgust it is undoubted to cause among a certain cadre including many of my friends and colleagues, never mind the religious crowd that will claim I’m diminishing their faith), I believe there is value in this perspective that, once past initial recoil, astute people will want to embrace.

     If this exercise has the added benefit of being suitably insightful and holds, behaviouralist marketers who target a capitalist market audience ought to realize new lines of attack. They can and will be able to understand and align to their audience on a new basis. Those with an objective of challenging accepted wisdom of capitalism will be able to draw from history (and behavioural/cognitive theory related to religion) for precedents and patterns to influence change and development.

     Beyond capitalism, this admittedly coarse framework for analysis could also be applied to other areas such as party politics, sporting event hooliganism, and so forth. Maybe, in my wildest dreams, there would even be some small advancement in understanding religious thought and affiliation. It is, after all, nothing more than a means of understanding that has millennia of case study.

Instalment 1 of the series, Transformation of Capitalism, an introduction.

Timothy Grayson is a transformation consultant and writer who lives near Ottawa, Canada.  Find him at Institute X, a transformation leadership consultancy and transformation/change leader coaching firm. One of its online presences is The Change Playbook. Be sure to check out the abundance of practical and pragmatic guidance. Subscribe to be notified of new, fresh content.

[1]   This essay has been in the works a long time. As I add this note in mid-2018, the magnitude of late 2016 fear and loathing—especially toward America—seems to have been comically inadequate.

[2]   Again, massive underestimation as the collateral damage mounts around the world.

[3]   See the Pew studies, among others.

[4]   I choose to not capitalize the ideologies identified after their first appearance(s). This is purely an esthetic choice.

[5]   If “neighbours” is dubiously interpreted to mean “other faceless investors” in the public company, I suppose the shift is not so great as far as profit motivation goes.

[6]   Consumerism and conspicuous consumption sustain this evolution of capitalism. But that’s for another day.

[7]   Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London: Routledge, 2001.

[8]   Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, George Allem & Unwin, London, 1976, p. 218-22.

[9]   Oddly, an ideology is an extended argument and philosophy around an “idea.”

[10]   All religions began as cults though not all cults are or become religions.

[11]   Benjamin, Walter. “Capitalism as Religion” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Vol 1. 1913-1926 (Jennings, Michael W. ed.) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA 2004. P. 288.

The Hypocrisy of Freedom/Fredum and Religion

 society, ethics, Religion, stupidity  Comments Off on The Hypocrisy of Freedom/Fredum and Religion
Jun 162023
Religious people that storm about Freedom are hypcrites

The word “freedom” has been drained of any worth. There was a time when it was a foundational article of constitutional republics and democracies the world over. There was a time that young men died in the name of freedom from genuine fascist tyranny. There was a time that the fight for freedom from a genuine oppressor of some type was a cause to join or if not join at least rally to.

Those days are over.

Most demands for “freedom” are pure hypocrisy if they rise above idiocy

But the cry of freedom as a rationale or excuse is at fever pitch. Why is something ridiculous or selfish or anarchic or antisocial or… being done? Why for freedom, of course. Freedom is even invoked when it makes no sense, such as in almost every complaint in the United States that the media or private corporations are imposing on freedom of expression by disallowing some expression of mental indigestion or another.

For clarity, it’s nonsense because the 1st Amendment applies only to the government imposing on the right to express oneself. And that’s just to start. Freedom, quite unsurprisingly spelled out as “fredum” or some equally incorrect variation, is like the universal “get out of jail free” card. Until it’s not. But that’s not what this is about.

Religious people tend to be hypocrites

What this is about is a segment of the freedom claimers that belongs to any form of Judeo-Christian organized religion. This is about the rabid hypocrisy of their demands and claims for freedom. Not necessarily but certainly including religious freedom.

Before getting into this specific consideration, it’s worth putting on the table that a large proportion of religious people are raving hypocrites. Undoubtedly there are many genuine believers who abide by the tenets of their faith. In my experience though, leaving Sunday to Sunday seems to be no problem for many of the faithful, let alone for the leaders. Yes, that would be you Jerry, Jimmy, Jim, Pat, Joel… It is table stakes in many churches.

But those garden variety hypocrites are not what’s troubling and generally has nothing to do with “Freedom.” Except, freedom to keep the grift going. The religious person/freedom nexus is with all those hypocrites who chant, march, spew bile, lie, and often just generally make a nuisance of themselves for the sake of some freedom that they are claiming, demanding, justifying some kind of alleged freedom.

When they do so, it is almost guaranteed that their demand for something—let’s say the right to ignore public orders, like wearing a mask to check the spread a viral pathogen—always quickly gets to the right to freedom… to ignore that order. This could be another essay about the selfish, privately and publicly regressive attitude. But it’s not.

There is NO natural or God-given freedom; it’s certainly not a baseline

The right to freedom claim is always framed as though this freedom or right to it is some natural or God-given right. That is the baseline and so whatever is being opposed is an imposition. Of course this is idiotic on so many levels through so many centuries. Even if one believes in God, it’s idiotic. God hardly granted a right to freedom.

Religious people that storm about Freedom are hypcrites

Or, probably more accurately, God did grant a right to freedom. One that was almost instantly taken away from the humans that proved incapable of abiding by the rules and responsibilities associated with it and too weak-minded to protect it. (Look it up. Genesis 2:16 – 3:24)

God did grant a right to freedom.
Humans couldn’t handle it and it was almost instantly taken away.

In point of fact, for those of religious bent, there is probably enough in these verses to set them on their heels regarding pretty much any order from an authority. But this isn’t theology class.

The point I have been late to making is very simple: religious adherents participating in any claim of natural or god-given freedom being imposed on by public order as a reason to defy it are hypocrites of the first order. In addition to the obvious first point just above about God having taken back that freedom, consider the following:

The 10 Commandments

Let’s say that you don’t buy my point about God-given freedom having been withdrawn at the time Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Let’s say that you were willing to make spurious contextual and semantic arguments. I absolutely defy you now to prove that the 10 Commandments are not massive, universal impositions on human freedom.

Fully eight of the ten are prohibitions on freedom. These are the ones that begin with or contain the words, “Thou shalt not….” The other two are positive instructions (Keep the Sabbath and Honour your parents). But, one would have to presume that God was not making an idle suggestion of these two. They are, after all, commands. So ten out of ten Commandments are impositions on freedom.

Again, it would be completely expected for you to argue that these are specific and definitive, and if the imposition were not coming from God or were of a different type, then they would be impositions on all the other freedoms (i.e., everything else). A very strict read and interpretation of an allegorical situation. Not dubious at all.

The Sermon on the Mount

Matthew recounts Jesus’ admonitions to his followers and the assembled for how to behave (Matthew 5-7). It is a formidable part of the Christian moral universe replete with guidance and the centrality of what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Again, as with the Commandments, it is not really my intention to debate the fullness of these declarations. It is, however and again, my desire to point out that the Sermon is several chapters worth of direction for how to behave if one is a Christian. Certainly the organized Churches promulgate it in their followers.

That has to be an imposition on freedom. For a Christian that wants to remain a Christian in good standing, it is kind of important to abide by these and many other rules (many of which have been appropriated by the organizations, but that’s another story). If you don’t, then, well you are at the very least a bad Christian at the worst, excommunicate. That’s a pretty fair reduction in freedoms even if they were natural or God-given.

The real point is that religious people are more than abundantly familiar with complaint to impositions on their personal freedom that come from their social leaders, or elders. Some might actually fool themselves into believing these are somehow acceptable constraints because they come from God, not from man. It’s ridiculous or if not let Him smite me now.

Moreover, it’s imposed and enforced by men even if its origination were God. The parallel, of course, is that the social freedoms or lack thereof (i.e., the impositions on freedom) tend to come from historical precedent for the social order. These are centuries old. They are codified. For all intents and purposes, they have the same origin and stature.

So, please, if you won’t stop being hypocrites, at least stop being falsely outraged when your bluff gets called. Be fearful that you will be seen naked and prepare to be cast from the Eden you’re in.

Check out some of my other extended essays and such (My Oeuvre).

Pro-Corporate Proselytization; The Best Since Christianity

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Pro-Corporate Proselytization; The Best Since Christianity
Jun 012023
Pro-corporatist proselytization is the best since Christianity

Proselytization is a fancy word for outreach and conversion. For reasons that will be clear to anybody arriving because of a post on Transforminator that presaged a series of posts exploring Capitalism as if it were religion, and because of just who I am that would be unsurprising to those closest to me, I have been observing the profession and work of public relations for corporate bodies with particular keenness.

Corporatists, paid or otherwise, are the best proselytizers since Christianity.

I am in awe of it. For the most part it tends toward unscrupulous and insidious. Yet there is both an artfulness and plain success to it that is undeniable. It could be used for good; but generally it is rallied to a much lower cause. No matter. The same can be said for so many things from guns to sweetner.

The Pro-Corporate Proselytizers

I am, of course, referring to the use of public relations and other communication in the service of corporate aggrandisement. These are the foot soldiers in the campaigns to make corporate entities, their leaders, and their commercial offerings not just acceptable but desirable, irrespective of their inherent worth. They are not the only ones on the field with this mission. But, they are the most obvious and easily identified.

Very few immediately consider industry groups and think tanks, university-associated organizations, and chambers of commerce as missionaries for corporations. They are. They will try to make their play as about “business” or “economics,” and there is certainly some of that. But the questions, “What business?” and “What economics?” makes perfectly clear this is a story about very large corporate entities. The kind that can pay for the hagiographies.

The Missionary Men (Mostly)

In any case, let’s sit on the word “mission” that I used above. It is apropos to this point of view because the comparison I now make for these corporate missionaries is to religious missionaries. Christian missionaries to be precise, those dating back as far as, say, 47CE.

Christian missionaries from Paul (Saul) and onward to the Jesuits, sect-specific proselytizers like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, Baptists, the Evangelicals and their late 20th-century televangelist offshoots, and all of the Arena-Rock Christians (Hillsong) have been prodigious and prolific in their recruitment efforts through the millennia.

Where Proselytization is The Name of The Game

Christianity is, in fact, the largest global religion in terms of both adherents and diaspora for a very simple reason. It has always been about proselytization and conversion. (I am, of course, assuming that in the course of two millennia, a 7-century age difference between it an Islam is not a truly material factor. I could be wrong. But then again, Islam is a proselytizing religion as well. So there’s that.)

Not that any of us were there in the early days, or in the heyday of the Jesuit missions, but we have to assume that it was as potent then as the Evangelical movement and whatever Hillsong purports to be are today. The long and the short of it is that when it comes to publicizing one’s position and drawing over adherents, nobody and nothing holds a candle to Christianity (and Islam). It is the ne plus ultra of converting minds to a particular belief set.

Which brings me back around to the pro-corporatists I mentioned earlier. Without a doubt they—doling out money (as corporations will do when it serves their longer term purpose)—should be at an advantage over a movement that asked for demanded money to participate and belong. They aren’t. But the corporatist track record of convincing the world that its values and needs are everyone’s values and needs (maybe even ahead of everyone else), has been astonishing.

That in major nation-states the law codifies a share capital corporation as a “person” ought to be sufficient proof. If it’s not, then one need only look to how corporations control the political landscape. True, it buys that control with donations and so forth. But that’s not the jaw-dropping part: those who are losing to the corporate gain (i.e., people whose support from its government is withdrawn in favour of billions and billions of dollars worth of support for corporations) support the corporatist position.

If it were only the rubes that are easily convinced to say something stupid for a mock interviewer that put the corporate (or their proxies, the so-called 1%) interest ahead of their own, perhaps it could be laughed off. But it’s not. Were it only those that know which side their artisanal bread is buttered on that put their overlord’s interests ahead of their own, perhaps it could be excused to pocketbook allegiance. But it’s not. The belief is pervasive. Seemingly in good times and bad.

In fact, corporatism is arguably a successful belief system implanted in the broad psyche by a relatively brief (at least as compared to Christianity) effort to proselytize the non-believers. I could go on here, but the point is well made, I think. There will be plenty of time to elaborate.

Feel free to lurk about my “oeuvre” as it were to get a flavour for how the series on Capitalism as Religion is likely to bend some long-standing poles.

Lab Leaks and Red Herrings

 ethics, politics, society, stupidity  Comments Off on Lab Leaks and Red Herrings
May 202023
The pandemic lab leak story that just won't go away is a red herring

Since 2020, I, like everyone else in North America, have been treated to a regular though slowly diminishing force feeding of “news” about the “Lab Leak” source for the COVID pandemic. At first, when it was novel (like the Coronavirus underlying the pandemic), it made me wonder. Today, it makes me wonder—about the people obsessing about it.

The Novel Coronavirus and the Pandemic of the 2020s

To recap:

  1. A novel coronavirus took hold near Wuhan, China.
  2. It rapidly spread, globally, because of the way modern society transits the planet and the fact that our virginal constitutions, at least with regard to this pathogen, were most hospitable hosts.
  3. The factors beneath this virus’s communicability and mortality led to it being declared a genuine pandemic of concern.
  4. To combat it, humanity in various parts of the world took various measures from the idiotic through to the excessive (and sometimes both together). That these were novel and tentative measures for which efficacy was still to be proven made some sense given the novelty of the situation.
  5. The biological problem turned into a political problem as the underlying virus issues gave way to the social issues surrounding combat measures. This, naturally led to tribal fault lines and the anti-vax movement.
  6. The WHO declares the official pandemic health emergency over. Right or wrong, we’re moving past the emergency posture. But the tribal fault lines remain as does the questioning about the source of the entire episode.

Through this latter period, one vector of attack and mis/dis/genuine information was the source of the virus itself. Did it arise organically as the result of a racoon dog in a wet market in Wuhan or was it a lab leak or was it something more nefarious.

The Source of the Novel Coronavirus

We are an inquisitive species by nature. If we’re that determined to source the origin of the universe BILLIONS of years ago, could anybody expect that we wouldn’t collectively insist on knowing “How this happened?” And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In some form, most of us know that if you want to prevent the same thing from happening again, if you want to not make the same mistake again, if you want to… it’s important to be clear about the real cause.

The pandemic lab leak story that just won't go away is a red herring
Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

In this case, there seems to be at least one naive and two clearly purposeful reasons behind the inquiry. None of which is of particular value to any but those with very particular interests and obligations. Ultimately, the source of the pandemic is a novel coronavirus in the same way that the cause of an ebola outbreak is the ebola virus, of SARS in the early 21st-century, another coronavirus…

A virus, even by name, is not a sufficient root cause

This seems to be the broad-based response that perpetuates the interest in the “lab leak.” That ought to be true to officials of research and other containment labs, to public health officials, probably to wildlife officers and various other ecologists in remote parts of the globe—especially those that are now exposing their hidden treasures (more below).

The Pointless Constituency: The General Population

It ought to be mostly satisfactory to the broad population. The cause of our experience is a virus. What does it matter, beyond curiousity, to a house painter or an opinion columnist, what lays as a deeper root cause. Would this information, whether accurate or misguided, have any impact whatsoever on his or her daily life? And what does debating the merits of a theory about the source do for that person? Play out the two basic alternatives: it was or it wasn’t. Will that change the tilt of his or her life in any meaningful way? It is truly mere curiousity, probably combined with tribal weaponization of mis/dis/genuine information.

Alternatively, there are those for whom digging deeper could be more meaningful. The World Health Organization and other national public health administrators. Surely they have greater need for more insight. Probably. And, probably more importantly, they ought to also have more perspective on what that added insight means. That is, what value it contributes to the issue. But do they really?

Why Should They Care?

In the event that there were a similar outbreak and similar situation, would the method of combatting it be different based on knowing it’s origin? For bold relief clarity, if the source were a wet market in a Chinese industrial city v. a isolated tribal village in the centre of the Congo or the Amazon basin v. the top of Mt. McKinley or Mont Blanc? If the core uncertainty is that we’ve never seen this before and we have no further insight into it, does it matter where it came from?

Somewhat less facetiously, whether the novel virus came from a lab or from out of the deepest jungle is also irrelevant without further information. And, it is that further information upon which any kind of meaningful alteration in response action might be based.

The further information is whether the virus is indeed “novel.” Perhaps this usage does not conform with virological definition so let me specific that when I used the word novel, here, I mean have we seen this exact viral strain before and do we know anything about it. Ideally we know things about it that would leapfrog our experimental responses in the wild and allow the response to the pandemic to be more focused. And, ideally, more successful (and shorter).

Presumably, a lab leak of a virus would have this kind of added information load. So it would not be quite as novel. Let me go back to my painter. If this were known, what possible impact could this knowledge and understanding have? To him or her, who stands in as the vast majority of humanity not specifically in the public health (virology, specifically) world, it’s trivia.

Such information, that the source was a lab leak, ought to have significant impact for those public health officials as stated. But, logically, the value of that information does not persist. It diminishes as time passes. As the fight against the virus and the pandemic wears on, the underlying virus becomes less novel. It becomes less relevant where it came from because generations of evolution have turned it into something else. And (and this is the important part), we have more meaningful and valuable insight about the virus problem than any amount of understanding about it in December 2019 or March 2020 much provide. In short, at some point, even for those on the front line of virology and immunology, determining the origin of the virus is ancient history.

Today’s Value of the Lab Leak Determination

Not to diminish but simply to overlook and ignore the value of this inquiry from a tribal, political perspective, there are two constituency that has an ongoing need to know for sure whether there was a lab leak. My painter is nowhere close to either one. (By the way, dear reader, don’t get to fixated on the “painter” as a painter. As I’ll explain later, it’s a broad-based stand-in.)

The Primary Constituency: Public Health Administrators

The first constituency that should know that there was a lab leak is the community of administrators and operators of similar containment facilities. In this case it’s so-called level 4 virus containment laboratories, but it could be study spaces for bacteria or any other biological or non-biological pathogenic research. If what’s being studied is inherently dangerous to humanity if it is not engaged with through strict protection protocols, arguably it would qualify. So, atomic experimentation fits. But it seems the focus should be on pathogens that can be extremely destructive to humanity without human help. More or less, we’re talking about biological pathogens.

This constituency deserves to know if for no other reason that to understand and remedy similar conditions in their own facilities. Strengthening protocols to prevent leaks and so forth would be a good outcome—obviously, IF there were a leak. Good faith errors happen. When the consequences can be so extremely bad, it makes sense to ensure there are fail-safes, buffers, and other backstops. What if this were the first virus to develop the ability to evade all such defences in some “novel” way? Again, knowing and understanding—and sharing—this information is to the good of humanity, full stop.

The Secondary Constituency: Governments (Including Defence, Military, and Public Safety)

All this is good and well. It represents the valid ethical and humanitarian reasons for searching out the source or cause of the virus entering our human biosphere and doing its damage. And, as I’ve stated, there is at least one good reason why determining a lab leak was the cause—and hence a lab—was the source of the novel coronavirus. It is, of course, not nearly the end of the story.

One way or another, sometimes only whispered because saying it out loud is diplomatically charged at best and racist at worst, the real reason EVERYONE is so interested in whether a lab leak is behind this is not the “leak” part, but the “lab” part. The point of the lab leak hysteria is whether there was a Chinese lab involved. More specifically, was a Chinese lab purposefully holding this virus in the Wuhan lab (that the origin is Wuhan, at least, is beyond dispute)? And did the virus “leak” from that lab?

Leak is a funny word in this situation. It’s banal obvious meaning is that perhaps through error or for any other of a hundred reasons, the virus being contained simply “got away.” Kind of like a lion escaping from a zoo. Maybe a keeper left the gate unlocked; maybe years of rain and heat corroded some part of the enclosure. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that (a) there was a lion there and (b) it got out.

The constituents in the heading are interested first in confirmation that this otherwise unknown virus was or was not known to “the enemy.” Let’s assume that’s proven, which in that world can mean anything from it is a very strong rumour that everyone feels good about through to there is absolutely unimpeachable, conclusive proof.

Once that has been “established,” a number of further allegations can be supported in a way. First, they “had” and knew about a novel virus that they kept from “us.” Obviously (natch!) this can only mean that they were seeking to use it as a biological weapon directly or as a stepping stone to something more deadly.

Such labs are known to perform gain of function experimentation. We do it for obviously good reasons. But maybe they were doing it for obviously(!) nefarious reasons. Either way, we obviously didn’t know about it. So, if we can establish there was a lab leak, then we know they were doing something and can focus attention on where they might have been going.

Even if we can’t prove “they” were doing something nefarious, we know that (a) they were being secretive and (b) they’re sloppy. In either case, we have a Western feel-good narrative. But wait, what if the nefariousness were not merely in what was going on inside and a mistake? What if the “leak” (see, I told you “leak” is a great word in this situation.) were purposeful? What if the pathogen’s release were not accidental but meant? What if the zookeeper wasn’t actually a little doddering but, in fact, left the gate open to see how many children the lion would eat before it were caught?

Speculation. Leave It For The Speculators

Who knows? Who cares? The point I’ve been trying to make is that it doesn’t really matter to the vast majority of us that neither administer public health facilities such as containment labs nor tread in the international diplomatic/military waters.

Sure, maybe my painter (who could be a divorce lawyer, dentist, accountant, investment banker, car detailer….) has some kind of morbid fascination with such things because he or she doesn’t have enough to do, a good family life, or an interesting hobby. But to get riled up by politicians and media using this as something to further deepen the chasm between political tribes is a little silly.

This aging red herring is almost certainly being poked to stink as a distraction from what’s important and to lend urgency to what’s not.

Have a read of Zeynep Tufekci’s column in the May 12 New York Times. There is some insight there for those of us in the pointless constituency: “The Pandemic Threat That Hasn’t Gone Away

Easily digestible conspiracy and pseudo-insight: strong misdirection?

 ethics, politics, society  Comments Off on Easily digestible conspiracy and pseudo-insight: strong misdirection?
May 052023
Magicians use misdirection to achieve the impossible or at least improbable.

Misdirection. A few days ago something exploded over the Kremlin. It was such an elaborate pantomime of an attack that only the willful, gullible, or compelled would not make common league with the conspiracists to consider the whole episode remarkable bullshit.

That Russia immediately took to its airwaves and any other channel that would sustain its message to say that it was a drone attack intended to kill Putin was the next proof point. One could argue that is a reasonable thing to allege in the circumstance. But, of course, it was conveniently—literally out of the blue—the doing of Ukraine apparently.

That kind of sealed the deal that it was likely a “false flag,” given that it had never even come close to happening in the past and that as the Ukrainian leader said, they don’t have enough ammunition to waste in defence of their territory. Why would they waste drones on an inevitably futile gesture? It beggars belief. Then, when that didn’t really stick the Russians took another tack: it was the United States (through Ukraine).

My usual response to ALL the idiotic allegations of “false flags” that have erupted in the past 6-years in the United States, is to roll my eyes. But in this case, it’s hard not to firmly believe that’s exactly what we’re witnessing.

But this is not my real point.

My point, as the title of the post would suggest, is that in all the shouting about false flags and injection of “false facts”, the simplest answer is to follow Occam and conclude there are a lot of idiots with the opportunity to spew their stupidity far and wide. And, when stupid meets up with stupid, it multiplies. It’s probably the right answer.

But what if it’s not the right answer. What if the answer is more sinister? What if there are, in this equation, some rational actors that are being “underhanded” (for lack of better word)? What if there’s a conspiracy about conspiracies?

“WTF are you talking about?” You might ask. Fair enough.


I could just as easily have focused this post on my second analog: magic. A false flag has a different intent and extent might be different, but ultimately these are of a kind. Let’s stick to magic and more particularly to illusion.

Magicians use misdirection to achieve the impossible or at least improbable.

There is typically nothing “magical” about magic. It is nothing(!) but the rigorous and directed application of physical and psychological conditions, constraints, and phenomena to achieve goals that somehow seem miraculous or impossible or, at the very least, improbable. That’s it.

A magician will use our brains against us including how it process the stimulus of light (I.e., vision). Magicians play with perspective. Our brains will attribute importance to things seen recently, more frequently, for which they have been “primed,” or longer. Magicians “force” card choices in this way. Some magicians—commonly known as “mentalists—use the same and other techniques to convince you that they have extrasensory powers and such.

Magicians, mentalists, and so many other persuaders (like lawyers, priests, reporters, analysts, executives, etc., etc.) use one technique more frequently and often than others. That technique is misdirection. We are all such frequent targets of it that it’s a wonder it continues to escape us. (And, by the way, when I say “us,” I’m not being falsely inclusive. The fact of that matter is that EVERYONE, irrespective of experience, education, raw cognitive or emotional intelligence, is at one time or another, with greater or lesser credulity and frequency, a (willing) victim of misdirection.)

As it’s name would suggest, the point of misdirection is to get the target person to focus on something else. (It’s important to understand that when a human focuses on something, everything else goes out of focus—to the point of being ignoring or overlooking a guy in a gorilla suit walking right in front of you.) In the service of the magician, the point is to make sure you aren’t watching too closely when (s)he palms the coin or such contrivance that is decidedly NOT magical. Politicians and advocates will emphasis something to get you to ignore another (probably damning) thing.

This post is about conspiracy theories, false flags, alternative facts, and all the other forms of wasteful attention-sucking misdirection that is going on in the world—especially in social media. It’s actually not that far removed from the theme and plot of many sci-fi stories: how the dupes are tricked into focusing on something silly while the “overlords” have their way. Or, getting closer to home, maybe watch the movie Wag the Dog. The boldness of the relief used in art, however, usually makes the premise ridiculous.

But isn’t there something just a little too on-point about the concept?

  • Why is it that when, more often than once daily in the United States, people (children! in schools!) are killed or injured en masse with a firearm, the usual suspects from the NRA and the GOP appear to redirect everyone’s attention to the Constitutional right to bear arms? (Like somehow the right to have firearms is related to the right to pull the trigger and kill… and all the logic that leads from possession to death…)
  • Why is it that when a Hollywood icon is proven out as a racist, misogynist, paedophile, or what have you, suddenly (with rare exception) talk immediately shifts to the value of “the art”?
  • Why is it that politicians and political parties and hypocrites (but I repeat myself) are caught up in their own lies and reversals, the focus immediately turns to something else? Pro tip: if the issue is small, widen the focus; it it’s broad, focus on the particular. Or, in the words of advice given to every second year law student: “When the facts are with you, pound on the facts. When the law is with you, pound on the law. When neither is with you, pound on the table.

I don’t care about the answer to any one of these questions. They are merely representative of the larger question that we all ought to recognize and expose. And that question is not about the direct nefarious reason for it (“…false flag”) or its truth or falsity (“check the facts”).

The question to ask is what else is going on that this person/organization wants us to miss? Why are these events or arguments going on? Why are these idiotic “facts” or what-have-you being sprayed out into our perceptual field like attack countermeasures from the back of an airplane or submarine?

Because we can only focus on one thing at a time, what is it that we’re supposed to not see?

Maybe it’s just magic; a form of entertainment. And it will evaporate. But that’s the risk we have to take. Because it could just as easily be something serious.

Has ‘stupid’ had its moment?

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Has ‘stupid’ had its moment?
Apr 222023

I’m certain the Globe & Mail story from Prince Rupert, BC, on 22 April needs no further adornment besides the following brief addition: Praise be.

B.C. Judge Cites Stupid Defendant… and was right

Judge in Prince Rupert, B.C., strikes arguments as ‘stupid’ in contempt case

Best of the judge’s language:

  • “organized pseudo-legal commercial arguments”
  • “…his arguments were not merely legally false but often just plain stupid.”
  • “…defence was vexatious and frivolous.”


The defendant should have been wearing an "I am stupid" t-shirt when he dealt with this judge.
 Posted by on 22 Apr 2023

“Everybody Lies” — But normalizing it is wrong

 ethics, society  Comments Off on “Everybody Lies” — But normalizing it is wrong
Apr 182023

Politicians lie. Trump lies. Criminals lie. But now I’m repeating myself. The point is that lying is human and it wouldn’t be central to every single ethos since the species became social if it weren’t. The quotation, however, come out of the mouth of fictional doctor Gregory House—itself… a lie, of a sort.

Oh the Lies, they are a changin’

Maybe it’s the excess or, if not excess certainly exuberance of the the lying going on in the first quarter of the 21st-century. Maybe the sheer volume and velocity of lying going on; maybe it’s the shamelessness and hypocrisy. Something has, however, triggered attention to be especially intensely directed toward lying. Even if the lying is banal or not even there, we see it. Some of us are creating conspiracies out of phantom lying. (Or maybe it’s real lying but merely pales by comparison to what we see every single day from those in positions of trust. There’s usually a pretty reasonable core to every conspiracy theory. )

But let’s get back to lying. There can be no doubt that it is capturing our attention. Media “Pinocchios” and flagrant political/corporate liars abound. Whether that is representative of anything more than that class of people (and by class I do not mean socio-economic, only “cluster”) is unclear. Though there is certainly a lot of evidence in “exaggerated” social media posts to suggest that the problem is wider spread.

Pinocchio is the archetype for lies that are visibly evident.

I will concede that it is entirely possible there may not be a widespread lying problem. It could be that the big lies (not just The Big Lie) are overrepresented and the vast majority do not actively create, generate, and propagate their own lies over and above what has been typical and normal through human history. In conceding this though, there is no accounting at all for the obvious gullibility and rampant willingness for people to believe the lies they are told and repeat them.

I’m sure it’s splitting hairs to prosecute them as liars and conveniently unnecessary since they are fools and maybe idiots anyway. And, in point of fact, could be liars in their own right in a much smaller arena that doesn’t grab wide attention—probably because they’re not placed appropriately for it to be seen. (I’m still going with fools and idiots. I’m a believer in Occam’s Razor.)

There are a lot of cognitive biases in play for anybody (and by “anybody”, I mean practically “everybody”) focusing on how much lying is going on. Despite the fact that it may have always been that way, we may be noticing it as a result of thinking errors like:

  • Confirmation bias — we see what we want to see and what supports our conclusion. More people are lying, we believe, so we notice more lying.
  • Base Rate fallacy — Essentially thinking the specific is the norm. We have noticed a lot of lying going on, so we jump to the conclusion that this is the broad norm: everyone is lying a lot and egregiously.
  • Illicit Transference — Applying the specific to the general and vice versa. Together with our base rate misunderstanding, we attribute specific (Ted Cruz) to the norm.
  • Frequency illusion — Once you notice something, it’s everywhere. The volume and voracity of lying from some parts is front of mind, so now we see it in everyone.

So, there are reasons in our heads. BUT, it’s not all in our heads.

Everybody lies. I lie.

Sometimes its banal, like when I say, “Doing great,” in response to the obligatory, “How’re you doing?” greeting instead of getting into my prevailing concerns or woes. Sometimes it’s significant but I weigh the lie as better than the alternative. There is absolutely no win in telling your spouse, “No, I think those pants make your ass look extra wide.” Nor is there any real point in pointing out to your child that his rendering of his recital piece made dogs howl. Just say it’s great, go for ice cream, and move on.

Some lies are obviously wrong in every respect, not least in law. Fibbing during sworn testimony is plain wrong. It is unredeemable lying. And could land you in jail. Even if you get away with it in the moment, the truth will out eventually. For those who are religious, I’ll point out that lying to God or God’s representative on earth is also a very strict no-no.

Between these extremes are shades of gray(son). It is here that theologians, philosophers, ethicists, lawyers, and so many others can wile away their days. And to what end? It is extremely unlikely that a definitive rule can or will be set. If for no other reason than the lying is contextual and other values come into play. It is almost certain that any choice on lying will end up bumping into and having a significant impact on some other (possibly moral) matter. (Is a “negligable”—in the sense of nobody being materially harmed—lie, in the service of a greater good, righteous?) This warrants a separate thought; let’s explore righteous lies just a bit.

By the transparency zeitgeist motivations and demands for personal freedom and uninhibited knowledge of everything, a national leader that makes a decision to keep something secret is hunted down politically at least and pilloried. After all (s)he knew and kept it from us, and lied about knowing it, and well, we really wanted to know because, we have freedom and agency and the right to know and… You get the idea.

If that secret saved thousands of lives, kept the economy stable, and let the country or the world get about its business was it worth it? Just because a relatively few wanted to know and felt that they should be part of the “need to know” crowd, but the vast majority didn’t need to know, wouldn’t know what to do when they found out, and knowing or not knowing made no difference to them anyway, does that make radical transparency alright? Does it make the lie less righteous?

This is territory that the vast majority of the population is ill equipped to trek. What the vast majority ought to be interested in is whether lies affect them (negatively) and what that does to their level of trust in the teller of those lies.

The real concern ought not to be on whether somebody is lying any more than on whether (s)he is speaking English, French, or Mandarin. It is something to be accepted, embraced, understood, and evaluated. That allows attention to be put on the purpose. What is the purpose and the outcome? Is the lie told to take unfair advantage? Is it to save another’s feelings? Is it for the benefit of the teller or someone else? Does it break the law? Does it do harm? If you swing that way, does it break a Covenant with your Lord?

We’re too focused on the lying and paying insufficient attention to the reasons and outcome.

None of which is to let the big orange Pinocchio off the hook for his LIFETIME of lying. It is to say that after so many years, we know it’s a lie. We (and by “we” I mean those who are followers) need to look at the end for which lying was the means. In his personal life, in his business life, in his sporting life, in his political life. In all these ways and for all these purposes the lying was for self-dealing and illegal, unfair advantage.

Enough said. Everybody lies. (Some more than others.)

For more thoughts and ideas check both other posts and my oeuvre.

Let’s Think This Through: Do we really want to destress teenagers?

 society  Comments Off on Let’s Think This Through: Do we really want to destress teenagers?
Apr 052023

The Ontario government may be open for business but it’s not helping prepare Ontario youth for the working world. One example is the move to eliminate final exams as a requirement to pass any courses. Apparently final exams take too much of a toll on the teenage psyche.

The mothers at the table next to us in the ski lodge were having none of it. “It’s too stressful? LIFE is stressful…”

Does de-stressing high school student life mean eliminating final exams? It shouldn't.

They’re right, of course. And not just because they were probably using it as cover for wanting their kids in school studying and writing the exam just that little bit longer. They’re right because the benefits to the child (to the extent there are any) are immediate and personal while the harm is delayed and societal as well.

But is it the kids or us that is to blame? Maybe “the call is coming from inside the house.”

In a microcosm I, too, have been guilty of not putting more pressure on my child. (And, by contemporary standards, my child’s experience was pretty demanding unless the standard is that of an abandoned inner-city child fighting out of poverty. In which case, my child loses… by a lot.) It make me, certainly, feel good to bat away some of the harder things I had to deal with and learn from in my youth. It feels good to let my child benefit from some of what it took me a lifetime of experience and effort to gain–be that monetary or moral… or mere fortitude.

Sadly, it was probably more to my benefit than my child’s. But I take solace in knowing that relative to peers my child is far more “worldly” in a fundamental way. Even though the bar appears to be a lot lower than when I was a youth.

Tempering: it’s not just for steel and glass

I presume everyone knows that “tempered glass” or “tempered steel” is harder and more durable.

Tempering is the process of giving hardness or softness to a substance; especially steel. It is essentially the application of artificial (extreme) stress to the substance so that it will be stronger under real stress.

If it works for knife blades and diving mask glass (and shower doors), why would we not apply that same logic to education and development of people. I can’t be the only one that has heard the adage that “Tough times don’t last; tough people do.” How exactly do people get “tough.” Is it genetic and if you weren’t born with it you’ll never have it, so we (as an education system) are loathe to challenge you?


Children are naturally resilient. Why do we insist on sponging that out of them? Wouldn’t it be better to build (or “nurture”) those natural tendencies to make more resilient, and mentally capable/durable adults? Isn’t it sufficiently proven over millennia that those qualities are selected naturally through the generations?

In any case, let’s attempt a simple pros/cons assessment.

Benefits of Structurally “Destressing” High Schoolers’ Lives

To be clear, this is only about limiting, if not eliminating final exams. It does not contemplate the many other ways that we avoid teaching the next generation. Usually these techniques are given cover under the aegis of “modern” teaching or “experiential” learning. I’m referring to not compelling a student to perform at a chalkboard (whiteboard) because of the anxiety, to not compelling memorization of multiplication tables even to 10; to not addressing or focusing on fundamentals of language and mathematics. All to the extent that there seems to be nobody under the age of 45 that can estimate change at a retail counter or tabulate a 15% tip in their head.

  • High self-esteem – This personal plus is the unblemished self-esteem of naivety. If we don’t have to endure the exam that’s good. To be unaware of how we might fare is bliss.
  • Less supervisory work – This is a personal benefit to the teacher or proctors. If some students write the exam, it’s a truly marginal gain though since supervision is required anyway—only for fewer students
  • Less marking work – Again, for the teacher, saved time accrues because the time needed to mark an exam is freed. Both this and exam creation, let alone supervision, can be a 100% gain to the teacher if/when the exam is completely abolished.
  • No dread and stress leading up to the exam – For the student, this gain benefits the individual’s mental well being, freeing up capacity to be concerned about important things like the state of social engagement.
  • Parents narrowly and society more broadly don’t have to endure angst-ridden teens complaining about how “ridiculous” and “unfair” having to write a final exam that tests knowledge of the whole course, and (of course) how hard it is on them.

Costs of Structurally “Destressing” High Schoolers’ Lives

On the other side of the ledger, there are costs—most of which will not be revealed for years or decades.

  • A generation of innumerates and illiterates – This is both a personal and societal cost that I’ve noted above. Of course, not everyone will be so, but the entire enterprise of a basic education that would bulge the middle of the capabilities normal curve is being decimated. The curve is likely to regress to a more U-shaped one with those (many) who are falling behind and those (fewer) that are both relatively and maybe empirically gaining ground. The impact here will be to all aspects of a more riven society: political, economic, social/community… At a personal level, those who would be in the middle will be in a middle that is at the bottom.
  • A generation wholly unprepared to deal with life – This is arguably the point of the ladies lunching at the ski hill. If we aren’t prepared to put this controlled level of stress on students as part of their education about numbers and letters—with its knock-on effects on resilience, durability, (time) prioritization, perspective (on relative importance and so forth), is it reasonable to expect that when these baby birds are released from the nest they will magically have those capacities. Do we believe it’s instinctual? This very real personal and societal impact should be a concern to everyone. It’s outcome would be general regression and the juvenilization of the nation.
  • A society where the blind lead the blind—or where the one-eyed (wo)man is king/queen – Today we can always count on an old fogie, who had been forced to stay in school and held back grades until (s)he passed with required knowledge, to step in as necessary. That level of knowledge and information provided a higher baseline and bar for leaders to exceed. So they did. Years ago that meant there were a lot of “adults in the room” for serious discussion. More serious discussion had even more serious and more educated adults. Anybody notice that happens less frequently these days?
  • Are national competitors gaining ground in this respect? – This is definitely a societal impact and one I can only speculate on because I have no interest in finding out what is happening around the world. But, and I know I’m going out on a limb here, I would bet that Asian nations are being a little more forceful about fully educating and preparing their youth. (And not, I really don’t want to get into a debate about the morality or philosophy that’s being imparted. I’m referring only to numbers, letters, and “stressors” to help prepare youth for independent adulthood.

So what?

Well, I seem to land decidedly on the side of applying some degree of stress. In school, there is nothing that could be deemed a life-threatening level of stress. (At least not in Canada; the USA is another matter, but that has nothing to do with curriculum.) Nothing that a healthy child should not have to face, will overcome, and will be a better adult for it.

On that basis, precious little recommends the alternative.

But then again, I have unusual views.

The Malevolent Imagination

 Business, ethics, society  Comments Off on The Malevolent Imagination
Mar 072023

Why are good ideas perverted, leaving an ineradicable bad condition?

This is an update to the post only to serve as a pointer to a genuine journalist who is on the same track and published very soon after this was posted. Ezra Klein’s Times piece, “This Changes Everything” (NYT 12/3/23) is well worth the read.

Name one “wonder” technology that wasn’t brought into the world on the crest of great promise of only good things that wasn’t quickly exploited for much less glorious purposes. It’s hard.

Imagination gets perverted

The printing press certainly opened knowledge to the masses, yet it was but a small hop to printed propaganda. Firearms probably were sold as the defensive equalizer, and … (Oh who’s kidding whom: firearms always had only one purpose: maybe noble, even necessary, but rarely “for good.”) What about social media? (cellular) telephony? the Internet itself? All wonders. Or crypto-currency? No, forget it. Again, there is really one purpose and value—and it’s not any sort of societal, human advance.

All were sold based on how they would enhance society or address unscratched itches, blah, blah, blah. To a one, each is non-trivially corrosive. They are technology lye: useful but will eat the skin right from your bones.

Wonders or not, the genie’s out of the bottle. So there’s no point in pretending it could be otherwise. More than that, it would never be otherwise. We are an imaginative and creative species. We will explore, discover, invent, and innovate. All of which will always be sold on the basis of the great good they can do because we are generally an acquisitive and ambitious species.

I’ve been talking to (smart) people about this for a while. What is almost never given adequate attention is the “malevolent imagination.” That is, the highly creative counterpoint to beneficent creativity. It exists. We see examples in every movie, novel, or other story featuring an evil mastermind. Some of us, within the fantasy of the story, admire the way the author has taken what we know as good and turned it to something bad. (It’s like how I admire a good burglar.) Even if it comes dangerously close to the loopier territory of conspiracy and conspiracy theory.

Malevolent imagination is the dark side of creativity
Image by Alvaro Zabala, ArtStation

Why isn’t such innate creative talent put to better use at the birth of these wonderous technologies? Why isn’t there considerably more open evaluation and understanding of new technology exploitation? At the very least it would create a richer appreciation for the technology and its potential—a boon for the innovator and promoter.

More important here, it would identify where caution should be taken and attention paid for the general good. For example, why is it that only with AI have many of the brightest minds come forward to say, “Hey, slow down. This could be really dangerous…?” Were they the only once primed by Terminator 2?

I am in no way suggesting that technology innovation should stop or even be curtailed (mostly). I am saying that there are an awful lot of stupid people that will amplify and push a technology because they are not clever enough to see the hazards. Even more people may see it but, frankly, don’t care because in the short term anyway, it’s valuable (to them).

So it’s incumbent on the relatively few remaining—so vastly outnumbered—to sway the rules of the game to account for these contingencies and risks. Even if they do not succeed in the short run, wouldn’t it be great to be aware of what could happen? What the warning signs might be, and what correctives could be applied? As in everything: forewarned is forearmed.

This thought is about the malevolent imagination. It exists and like the technologies identified, is neither good nor bad. In some circumstances, coupled to a IGNOBLE heart, it lends itself to the “evil mastermind.”

But what of the malevolent imagination attached a NOBLE heart? (It’s probably easier to think of this as partners rather than an individual; though it makes more sense in an individual.) In its most virtuous sense, the noble heart might ensure a dangerous technology were stillborn because of the terrible future the malevolent imagination sketched. Probably that only delays the inevitable. But having bought only some time, the noble heart could prepare countermeasures.

What if Oppenheimer’s later regrets were manifest globally prior to the atomic bomb’s development? More proximately, what if one saw the blindingly obvious eventuality of the attack/defense arms race of cybercrime or how “freedom of speech” becomes license to anonymous libel and extreme incivility in a global town square? Would the Internet or social media never happen? Would that particular path be erased?

Not in the least. But it is possible that we all might have given clearer thought to prophylactic measures viz. cybersecurity or time to take action to ford up civil connection at every level as a vaccine to the coming decadent societal impacts.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do that thing. Fording up social trust, reinvigorating morality or some other ethic may have been the bulwark. It may have worked. It may have had ripple effects. But these are different times.

Still, as a red team or by whatever name you choose, going dark early could be the only way to preserve the light.

If you’re intrigued, there’s plenty more to make you think about creativity and other things in my oeuvre.

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