Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Shopping

As Christmas nears the shopping frenzy becomes more intense. If only Christmas were only a Christian celebration and the emptiness of shopping could be removed. The retailers don’t want Christ involved in Christmas because if all Christians adhered to the teachings of Christ the last place they would be would be a shopping mall searching for some useless, advertised frippery. Retailers don’t want the teachings of Christ involved because, I believe, he would have cast everyone out of the mall and told them not to desire these mere things while they neglect their souls. Consumerism has become a religion. The constant craving for the next new thing be it the latest movie, mobile phone, clothing or electronic gadget has replaced the time that should be spent with family and friends. All of these things and the craving of them takes us away from those experiences that could make us better people capable of experiencing joy. Things, and the constant craving of them, prevent the experience of joy. Would Christ have preached to the masses encouraging them to shop and spend and waste their lives in the pursuit of empty, meaningless pleasures? I am not a Christian but even when I read the parables that Christ preached the last thing I want to do is step into a mall.

I suppose this could be viewed as self righteous and who the hell am I to judge the motivations of people I don’t know. For all I know all of this shopping could be a healthy thing. But I suspect that it is obsessive and has more to do with what others think than with what the buyer feels. The majority of purchases are a form of show and status display and are therefore empty.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Soft Minds and Bodies... The Decline of America

Is it time for a new radicalism in the United States? It is my belief that the United States no longer exists as a beacon of freedom. The United Sates is now only an economic entity where it is easy to buy and own things. This is no small accomplishment, but it is not something for which we can ask others to die. The right to shop for and consume as much of the world’s goods as possible is not a freedom that inspires sacrifice. As we drift closer and closer to the idea that our country’s primary purpose is to clear away obstacles to the accumulation of wealth, we will lose our soul as a country. The selling of goods and services doesn’t inspire. When there is no goal other than making it to old age in comfort at any cost then we have also lost our moral compass. When we are willing to borrow from the future to pay for present comforts we are no longer a moral society. We are a nation of children unable to defer, or even reject, any pleasure for the sake of another. We will sacrifice our community so that we can buy cheap clothes made by slaves in a totalitarian country. We will close our eyes to the evils perpetrated by our “friends” so we can use their swimming pool. We are a nation of children unable to set aside that third bowl of ice cream. We waddle out of our houses filled with over-stuffed furniture and lift our gorged bodies into massive vehicles so we can drive to some grotesque row of box stores to stock up on processed foods and mediocre entertainment. We have become a nation not of children but of babies. Our bodies have now become as soft as our minds. Where is the sacrifice for the greater good? Where is the grand objective for our country other than the cutting of taxes and the preservation of a decadent society that seems perfectly contented to continue its slide into meaninglessness? Everything has been tainted by this ignorant laziness. We have lost the ability to think clearly about anything. We value the tawdry over anything that takes effort. We have come to believe that something can be derived from nothing; that we will all win the lottery. What we have failed to understand is that we won the lottery by being born in this great country that we have allowed to fall apart.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Perception is not Reality

When business is separated from the realities of the material world it becomes more politics than business. What makes this possible is the development of multinational corporate monopolies that derive their profits by squeezing labor and cutting costs. The corporate world itself is populated by an army of marketing types that have the business world convinced their physical assets are of no value, that their employees are meaningless, that the very goods and services they produce are but air. The real value of any organization is the position they own in a customer’s mind—their brand. And worse, employees have come to believe they are their own brand and that the perception they create is of a higher value than the actual contributions they make. The elevation of the MBA to positions of leadership within both the private and the public sector has led to a decline of actual performance in favor of perceived performance. It is no longer what you actually do that matters; it’s how what you do is perceived that matters. How you market. We are all familiar with the expression: perception is reality. But, perception is perception and reality is reality. Being convinced that something is true doesn’t make it true regardless of the massive amounts of money put at the disposal of PR and marketing agencies. This idea has muddled the world of business and the world of government. Think back to Katrina when FEMA and the government were trying to manage perceptions more than they were trying to manage the reality on the ground. The same is true in Iraq. Rather than the US government focusing 100% of its energy on making the situation better, it was putting a vast amount of energy into trying to make us believe it was better. Showing the coffins of dead soldiers returning is bad image management. Dead soldiers are bad PR. A good part of this is a result of MBAs taking over positions of power. You don't market a war by focusing on death and destruction. Just like you don't market a drug by revealing facts that might cut into sales. (A side story here is pharmaceutical companies hiring large numbers of former female, college cheerleaders to be their sales representatives. For some reason, doctors are more likely to meet with them to discuss their patients' needs for better treatments than a less "spirited" representative from another company.) The problem comes from the idea that everything can be managed; that reality is open to manipulation and that the truth is this malleable thing that can be twisted into anything we desire. We can fix most any problem by simply tweaking the marketing, by changing perceptions. Not so.

I say all of this because I work in marketing and my corporate masters are letting me go. My brand has lost mind-share and the low perception of my work is, unfortunately, too closely aligned with reality.