Balm for a Guilty Conscience
What does the phrase “It’s a German luxury sedan, but it’s still an Audi” mean? What does owning a German luxury sedan imply? How does owning one that’s an Audi make that implication not applicable? The first part of the phrase, “It’s a German luxury sedan…”, is an expression of the notion that, normatively, in order to acquire wealth, one has to forego morality. The second part, “…but it’s still an Audi”, is a way of claiming that even though one has acted immorally (and is therefore able to afford a German luxury sedan), one’s soul is still salvageable (ie: One is still able to atone for one’s guilt, through intentionally selfless acts, and the fact that one prefers an Audi is somehow proof of having retained this capacity. That one has at least not become selfish in spirit).
Why would such an absurd claim – that a preference for Audis or a preference for other German luxury brands indicates the state of a person’s soul – be expected by this commercial’s writers to work? It has to do with the fact that most people believe in the moral-practical dichotomy, and therefore allow themselves to engage in a degree of (at least what they believe to be is) immoral behavior. Because most people believe that moral imperfection is unavoidable, the question they ask themselves is not if one should be immoral, but simply by how much. How is one to determine how much? In such a cynical view of morality, where nature is held to necessarily lead man into contradiction, there is no objective standard to appeal to, so the only way to answer it is… arbitrarily. Randomly. Completely by whim. Why not, then, decide that a preference for Audi’s luxury sedans – rather than for Mercedes’ or BMW’s – indicates that one is still morally salvageable? It’s as good a measuring stick as anything else. The claim that the cut-off point for irredeemable evil is not merely the evil of having come to be able to afford a German luxury sedan, but rather to desire to own one that isn’t an Audi, is clearly capricious – but according to the cynical view of morality held by most people, that isn’t a problem.
This commercial conflates altruism with benevolence. The purpose of that conflation is to ameliorate whatever moral guilt a person who can afford a German luxury sedan likely feels as a result of his wealth. Subconsciously, such a person feels no guilt – which is why he has a personality that is able to consistently act towards the selfish goal of becoming wealthy – and therefore whatever “altruistic tendencies” he might have are actually just benevolence; but consciously (ie: upon reflection) he feels plenty.
The attitude featured in this commercial is not selflessness. Instead, it is the positive, open, benevolent attitude which – contrary to the doctrine of altruism – is actually only possible to the truly selfish person. Nothing that the man in this commercial does is necessarily self-sacrificial. Each action could be – and actually often is – in a man’s rational self-interest. Simply because the actions seem blatantly selfless (and certainly can be) – and therefore flatter an altruist’s conscious convictions – doesn’t necessarily make them so. Even the subconsciously (ie: spiritually)-selfish, but consciously-selfless upholder of altruism senses this – and that’s precisely what bothers him. He worries that he may be selfish in spirit. Audi, with this commercial, is attempting to exploit that worry.
Because, in practice, benevolent acts are so often identical to altruistic acts, it is impossible for someone who consciously holds altruism as the moral ideal to know which motivation is causing his actions. There simply is no distinguishing factor. This commercial says that there is. What is it? It isn’t one’s motivation, but rather simply which brand of German luxury sedan one prefers. If one prefers another brand, then one is selfish in spirit (and therefore he will be completely unable to curtail his predatory tendencies – as dramatized by the BWM-driving person* who doesn’t just decline to pay a stranger’s toll, or stop to give directions, or yield the right of way, but who also fails to slow down for a puddle, and in doing so actively harms others by getting them wet). If one prefers an Audi, however, then one automatically knows that one is selfless in spirit. That preference tells one what one’s true motivation for doing such things is (ie: self-sacrifice, not benevolence). This absurd claim – that a preference for a particular brand of luxury sedan indicates motivation (let alone contradicts evidence to the contrary) – is only meant to appear to be absurd. In truth, precisely because it is so absurd, it is expected to work. Because “some explanation is better than no explanation” [a common, if unspoken, sentiment], it will finally give people who want to be altruistic – but who know they are merely benevolent – “proof” that their behavior has been altruistic all along. A sense of moral uprightness is a fundamental human need, and is therefore profoundly gratifying when experienced. Audi, with this commercial, hopes that by providing the viewer with it, the company will endear itself to the viewer.