A few years ago I was listening to The Age of Persuasion on CBC Radio; in this particular program, host Terry O’Riley was talking about cigarettes and the industry behind their promotion. The program was pretty interesting; it caught my attention from the get-go because I happen to be an annoying Anti-Smoking Zealot. The reason, if anyone cares (and they usually do), is that tobacco smoke makes me sick to my stomach, so much so that even being around people who smell like smoke makes me gag.
In my youth I used to swim in a swim club. Smoking was not very compatible with that sport, so when all of my friends were starting to look cool with their cigarettes dangling from their fingertips I was the nerd girl from the pool. But alas, I was not somehow magically protected from the psychological trap of peer pressure and soon after quitting swimming I started smoking. On purpose! I remember hating every single minute of it, but at the time my need to fit in overruled my loathing of the disgusting habit. Thankfully that phase of my life did not last long and soon I stopped trying to make myself “fit in” by slowly killing myself doing something which I loathed anyway. I wish I loathed chocolate, cookies, and ice cream.
At the time I didn’t think too much about the fact that I had been daft enough to participate in something that stupid; I just chalked it up to one of those idiotic things you do as a kid. Then years later two things happened within weeks of each other to make me realize that is wasn’t “just one of those things you do as a kid.” First, I heard Terry O’Riley on The Age of Persuasion and second, I read the Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan; then I had one of those Eureka moments that hit me like a blazing meteorite of truth. Right in the middle of my cerebral cortex!
I listened while Terry explained that up until the beginning of the last century the tobacco companies had successfully persuaded 50% of the population to become addicted to their cigarettes, but that they weren’t satisfied with that result, so they deliberately laid out careful plans to lure the rest of the population, the population of the female persuasion, into using their products. A plan which ultimately would get women hooked for life, but even better, hooked into helping fill the company coffers for life, which would probably not be quite as long as if they had never been granted that privilege. I listened as he explained how the tobacco companies used psychology (the theories of Freud’s own nephew no less) to come up with a plan which was brilliant but evil, a plan that would make women fight for the right to smoke, which in turn would become part of the struggle for women’s equality. Bastards!
Then I read The Demon Haunted World and finally really understood the concept which Mr. Sagan was trying to get across. In the book he states that when ideas are offered for consideration, they should be tested by means of skeptical thinking and these new ideas should stand up to rigorous questioning. No matter what they are. Sagan proposed a set of tools for skeptical thinking which he called the “baloney detection kit.” Eureka!
From that point on I have gone a little more slowly before I jump on the latest band wagon; I try to spend some time checking into it before getting sucked into someone else’s “get-rich-quick” scheme which could potentially leave me poorer, injured, or even dead. And when I am feeling particularly clever I will re-evaluate activities, beliefs, and ideas I already hold.
Humans are herding creatures; we group together because there is safety in numbers. Individually we are no match for even small carnivores, but in a group we are powerful. As a species we have used our numbers, and our reasoning powers, to not only protect ourselves, but also to transform the world into a place where people are able to survive almost anywhere, not just on a tiny percentage of the globe. But as a species we have also developed our reasoning powers to manipulate and control each other.
Just think for a moment of your everyday life and you will realize how much you are being influenced in almost everything you do. Let me list examples of things which if our ancestors saw us do they would shake their heads in disbelief. Smoking, shaving our legs, walking on high heels, plucking eyebrows, smearing on deodorant, wearing makeup, bleaching our teeth, injecting botox into our faces, taking pills to have sex or to stop ourselves from feeling hunger, eating high fructose sugars, consuming genetically modified foods without a by your leave, eating only carbs, only protein, only fats, only vegetables, only fruit, etc.
In America alone people spend over $40 billion a year on the diet industry. There are estimates that every year 400,000 teens start smoking, that 5.5 trillion cigarettes are smoked annually. People die each year from getting fat sucked out of their bodies, having operations to look younger, thinner, and better. So shouldn’t we be asking the question, looking better than what? Who is setting the bar for looks? When I read a magazine and see the emaciated models in them looking like survivors from concentration camps, even without a Mensa IQ I can figure out that someone is trying to manipulate me. However, when I go out and buy a brand new cell phone just because I no longer like the colour of my old one, shouldn’t that also tweak my Spidey Senses? Especially since I only use it once or twice a week!
Don’t you think that it is about time that we began to take our world back? Isn’t it about time we stopped believing in the fairy tales that we are being force-fed every second of every day and say no to those things which do not make life better?
And now you will have to excuse me because I have to go and dye my hair.
Images from ClipArt