Archive for June 2012
This commercial is an example of the fallacy of the frozen abstraction. It treats one moral code – altruism – as the moral code, and thereby precludes the existence of any other. It also treats one type of way that money can go from one person to another – stealing – as the only way money can do that, and in doing so conflates trade with stealing. The two conflations – altruism as morality and trade as theft – are interrelated, of course. If you hold, as the altruist does, that it is your moral obligation to help others, then if you do not (or if you do, but compensate yourself for it) then you are stealing from them.
The people who constitute “the banks” are not their customer’s slaves. They exist to serve their own ends, and they do so by offering a service and asking to be compensated for performing it. Why is this immoral? Altruism has no answer. It simply asserts that it is, as if it were self-evident. But that assertion is internally inconsistent. If it is immoral for “the banks” to take a fee for holding your money, since they (allegedly) could just hold it for free – as this commercial demonstrates – then why is it moral for you to benefit from them by giving nothing to them in return? You could just hold it yourself. If “the banks” are evil and selfish when they ask to be compensated, would you not be equally evil and selfish if you were to receive their service for free?
What this commercial really demonstrates is not altruism, but benevolence. To agree to help a stranger in an emergency – even if there is no clear benefit to oneself – is far, far different than to, for example, do so day-in and day-out, in perpetuity, for the rest of one’s life. One is benevolence, the other is altruism. The man in this commercial did not agree to watch the money because he felt morally obligated to sacrifice he time for another. Just as banks do when they agree to take you on as a customer and hold your money for you, this man actually did what he did for selfish reasons (even if he were to say otherwise when directly asked). His moral obligation was to himself – which is why he helped someone else. Benevolence towards others presumes that people are basically good. Basically worth one’s time and effort in an emergency (and certainly someone would have to be dealing with an emergency in order to ask a stranger to hold $100,000 in cash for him). It presumes that emergencies are not the norm of life, and so to help another when they happen is only to protect a value (even if a very indirect one, as in the case of a stranger). It’s an investment, basically. Just like a bank’s investment in you when it agrees to do business with you. It expects a mutually-profitable outcome – and so do you when you agree to help a stranger in an emergency. The stranger gets to (hopefully) resolve his emergency, and you get to live in a world where there is one more decent, productive, unharmed person walking around (to say nothing of the “karma effect”, which refers to the fact that if you wish to live in a worlds where people are courteous and benevolent towards you, you must be that way towards them).
The fact that a bank – Ally – is willing to participate in twisting these already very twisted concepts even further – and to ad on an extra layer of distortion by explicitly claiming that not only is trade immoral, but that it’s also basically stealing – is despicable. They have committed treason to the very morality – the moral code of rational self-interest (not altruism) – which is the basis of all business simply for the sake of some short-term approval by an altruist public, and therefore a bump next quarter’s revenues. Whatever extra, added regulatory and financial oppression Ally – as part of the business community – experiences as a result of an ever more altruistic public voting for anti-business politicians, they will have no right to complain. They will have brought it upon their own heads.
People are confronted with an obviously irrational situation. For whatever dishonorable reason, the people participate anyway (except, of course, the elderly couple who were completely duped; probably precisely because the producers knew that if told up front that they were taking a “car insurance taste test” they would be the least likely to continue). The message of these commercials is “look how stupid or fearful most people are” (the fact that some feature people who realize immediately what is happening and play along, but in an over-the-top, insincere way does not change the message. It merely includes them in the same category as the audience). This message is expected to appeal to people, and to endear GEICO to them for the reason that the people who make up GEICO evidently share the same attitudes and personalities as the demographic these commercials target.
Which demographic do these commercials target? Young adults. Why? Because young adults, more than any other demographic besides perhaps criminals and the clergy, truly believe that the essence of human nature is irrationality and immorality (specifically, in this instance, cowardice). Not the irrationality of creating scenarios like this – in their twisted minds, manipulative power games like this are perfectly rational provided you can get your ends met by engaging in them – but the irrationality of failing to do anything except dismiss, immediately and without qualification, any attempt by someone to get you to do something absurd like take a “car insurance taste test.” Similarly, not the immorality of wasting people’s time for the sake of your own twisted, short-term goals – again, perfectly rational provided it “works” – but the immorality of being unable to refuse to have your time wasted when it hits you that that’s all that is happening.
The young have reached the spiritual low point where they believe that to tear down (or to at least help keep down) is the same as to create and uplift and enrich. They operate on the philosophical premise that there is no objective reality, and therefore there is no such thing as rationality, and therefore there is no objective human nature, and therefore there is no such thing as right and wrong. Instead, all there is is whatever you feel like doing. Whatever you can get away with. If people have become so conditioned to expect anything to make sense that they can’t even reject what clearly doesn’t make sense when they have no stake in the matter besides perhaps an unkind word from a stranger, then they deserve what they get (which is ironic and self-defeating, because part of what motivates these people to play along with a “car insurance taste test” is the hope of being deemed important and valuable by some weak, irrational mind, so that they can do they exact same to others: them).
These commercials give young adults solace from the guilt they (deserve to) feel as a result of the professions many of them choose, by providing them with validation of philosophical premises many of them aren’t even aware that they hold. The emotional manifestations of those ideas are tapped, they feel a sense of intimacy and psychological visibility, (hopefully) they connect those feelings with GEICO, and the company – desperate to remain profitable in today’s politically-controlled, unpredictable economic environment – meets it’s earnings goals for the next quarter. What about the fact by further inculcating in young adults, who are only going to increase in political and economic influence, their worst ideas you’re ensuring an even more desperate and unpredictable business climate quarters to come? Aw, there’s no objective reality, no such thing as logic, and no right and wrong except what “works” right now, in this moment.