On October 26,1967, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander John McCain was shot out of the sky as he flew over Hanoi, Vietnam. Both arms and his right leg were shattered. Unable to move, he was quickly captured by the North Vietnamese and taken to one of history’s most brutal prison camps, the “Hanoi Hilton.” Within a year of his capture, McCain’s father was promoted to Commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific. Seizing the opportunity to demoralize prisoners, the North Vietnamese offered McCain his freedom. He refused, later explaining:
"I knew that every prisoner the Vietnamese tried to break, those who had arrived before me and those who would come after me, would be taunted with the story of how an admiral's son had gone home early, a lucky beneficiary of America's class-conscious society."
As McCain no doubt expected, his angry captors intensified his torture to levels of pain scarcely imaginable. Over the next half decade, he faced frequent torture and even two-years of solitary confinement in a windowless 10-by-10-foot cell. In March of 1973, after 1,966 days, McCain was released along with the other Hanoi prisoners. He could have avoided over four and a half years in the most brutal conditions imaginable. Instead of opting for easily justifiable self-interest, he chose to sacrifice in favor of the principles he held dear.
“All great things worth having require great sacrifice worth giving. –Paullina Simons
1,966 days in captivity. The number defies comprehension. I’m annoyed when a cold holds on for a full week. While McCain’s experience is supreme in any generation, it wasn’t that long ago that sacrificing for the greater good was an expectation of daily life. We were a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Food and gas were rationed during World War II. Americans cut back and grew “Victory Gardens” to meet their family’s nutritional needs while allowing the country to devote resources to the war. Eleanor Roosevelt even grew a garden on the White House lawn, against the desires of the department of Agriculture. The modern equivalent: after the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, Americans were called to go shopping.
Today, untethered consumption is perceived as the guiding imperative of human existence. We need more channels, a bigger TV, and the highest quality robot vacuum. We need the new iPhone that opens when you wink at it and a new car that offers back massages while old ladies load your groceries at the curbside pick-up. We need strawberries in December, oranges in July and an ever-increasing supply of convenience foods. It is our right to feed our cravings and we don’t know or care who or what is hurt in the process.
In the 1930’s, years of over-plowing and neglected crop rotation caused the Dust Bowl- a nearly 10-year drought throughout the great plains. Dust storms mired the Midwest suffocating livestock as crops failed and families sought any source of food and employment. After these disastrous years, farmers instituted land use rules to reduce soil erosion. They learned that despite the demands of industrialized society they had to respect nature and yield to the farming wisdom cultivated over millennia. Today, these lessons are entirely forgotten, suppressed by that too common delusion that we can ignore nature while taking infinitely. Soils are saturated in chemical pesticides, foods genetically modified to keep growing when they shouldn’t, and we eat on, completely blunted from the realities of our lifestyle.
Americans have developed an unrealistic expectation that every problem is solved with a pill and all side-effects can be ignored. Whether in regards to debt, pollution, litter, or food production, we are unwilling to deal with minor inconveniences and, instead, consistently kick the consequences further down the road rather than make sacrifices.
Today’s brilliant marketers and politicians can rely on Americans to be unreflective, impulsive, and easily manipulated. The common good is constantly eroded by a consumerist drive to eliminate every inconvenience and satisfy every impulse. Consequently, companies are constantly rewarded for their attempts to confuse, disguise harmful effects, and create dependency.
Kellogg’s sales shot up after an advertising campaign that declared “a clinical study showed kids who had a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by nearly 20%.” Six months later when the claim was debunked and the Federal Trade Commission made Kellogg’s stop using the add, no apology was offered and no penalty incurred. Americans just kept on buying their favorite “healthy” breakfast dessert.
Shire pharmaceuticals had the audacity to name their industry leading drug, Adderall, blatantly professing their nefarious desire to sell A.D.D. drugs to all Americans. To assist this effort they helped concoct a make-believe adult onset ADHD diagnosis. Despite this and the overwhelming evidence of over diagnosis, Americans just keep on sending shire’s stock through the roof.
I could fill volumes recounting similarly manipulative campaigns. If interested in more, I encourage you to read my past articles, which outline the vast manipulative records of The Food Giants. The Technological Design Industry, and Big Pharma. Such obvious manipulation should insult us, but, instead, it works. At what point do we say, “Enough is enough! Stop patronizing me. I’m not going to be your pawn.”
“Don’t tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I’ll tell you what they are.” –James W. Frick
Trust me, I get that the point of sales is to convince people to buy a product. Still, we must be able to make a distinction between the desire to sell someone something by demonstrating its value and the desire to mislead. As responsible individuals, we need to begin reflecting upon:
a) The level of intentional deception in each marketing campaign
b) The real net effect, good or bad, of the products we buy
As mindful, principled individuals, we should be intentional about supporting good causes while steering our dollars clear of those most manipulative entities.
While many causes will be subjective, all of us should have no tolerance, whatsoever, for education and health institutions acting as willing participants in a campaign to mislead Americans about what is healthy. Lifestyle related diseases are the leading cause of death. A 2016 Harvard study predicts that over 57% of those between 2 and 19 will be obese by the time they are 35. Our country faces a growing health epidemic and the institutions we should be leaning on for direction have sold themselves to the devil, or, more specifically, Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola is going to extreme lengths to convince people that what you consume doesn’t matter as long as you exercise. Walk through any hospital or school and you’ll see their vending machines proudly displaying the tagline: “BALANCE WHAT YOU EAT DRINK & DO.” Dr. Pepper was all too eager to follow suit promoting its alliance with play.com. Coke brags that their initiative is the “single largest voluntary effort by any industry to combat obesity.” Of course this is analogous to Marlboro beginning a campaign to fight lung cancer by raising awareness about pollution on the back of cigarette cartons. Furthermore, Coke’s campaign isn’t a voluntary effort. It’s blatant marketing facilitated by contracts with hospitals, schools, and almost any institution that likes money.
Sure, people should move more, but that doesn’t downplay the reality that an equal or greater cause of our current health epidemic is what we are putting into our bodies. Harvard researchers found that people who drink one or two cans of sugary drinks per day are 26% more likely to develop Type II diabetes. Former Coke executive, Jeffrey Dunn says it best, “You can look at the obesity rates, and you can look at per capita consumption of sugary soft drinks and overlay those on a map, and I promise you: They correlate about 99.999%.”
But Coke isn’t after the can a day drinker. Coke executives talk in terms of “heavy users.” As Michael Moss explains in the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Salt Sugar Fat, their focus is on selling the “20 oz. bottle with 15 teaspoons of sugar; liter bottles with 26 teaspoons; and the 64 oz. Double Gulp sold by 7-Eleven stores, with 44 teaspoons of sugar.” Overconsumption is at the root of their business model and they’ll stop at nothing to convince you its no big deal.
The Global Energy Balance Network was a university-based non-profit claiming to fund research into the causes of obesity. As it turns out, they were just a front organization funded by Coca-Cola to produce made up research supporting the myth that less movement was the only cause of obesity. Essentially, Coke is aware of how terrible their product is for your health, so they created an organization dedicated to fabricating deceptive science in order to confuse the world into thinking that drinking soda is no problem at all. Just move.
The natural extension then became a partnership with the fitness industry’s most esteemed education and certification brands, the NSCA and ACSM. Coke helped fund their attempts at legally requiring that all practicing fitness professionals are certified through their short list of acceptable providers. In an effort to limit competition and funnel more fitness professionals towards their cert, the ACSM and NSCA took Coke’s money and their proclivity for bunk science. CrossFit recently won a lawsuit against the NSCA after proving the NSCA fabricated “unscientific manufactured hit piece(s)” intended to hurt Crossfit’s business. While I have at times been critical of CrossFit, it is the fitness industry’s most respected brand, the NSCA, that is compromising ethics and intentionally supporting the deterioration of American health.
Prior to the 1960’s parents and educators would not have dreamed of allowing the conveyor of processed junk food that now characterizes most of the school day. The Home Economics Association worked hard to teach family health habits and lobbied Washington to ensure that nutritious foods were made accessible to all homes and schools. In the late 50’s, however, the Food Giants began pumping money into college grants for future home economics teachers. Indebted to their financiers, Home Economics completely abandoned the emphasis on nutritious cuisine reorienting their curriculum into a class on smart consumerism. What’s left but square pizzas, nachos, and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies.
Every time a community institution compromises their principles for money, public trust and health suffers. But how can we expect them to sacrifice for their principles when we won’t?
Today, few have any idea how to eat healthy. We’ve all been conditioned to expect convenience food and we’re constantly duped into thinking it’s nutritious. I recommend watching the Nature’s Valley ad below for a couple reasons. First, these brilliant marketers have done a beautiful job of drumming up emotion for a very real and terrifying concern: a generation lobotomized by smartphones and Fortnite. Second, and more on point, the ad is meant to deceive you into making up for your child’s unhealthy tech addiction by purchasing Nature’s Valley bars. But these aren’t fruits, vegetables, or even nuts. We’re expected to associate eating these factory-made, sugar infused snacks with a reconnection with nature. While there are certainly less-nutritious foods, it is the obvious deception that is most demeaning.
The word “natural” is not regulated. On food labels, it means nothing. Unfortunately, food companies have made an art of manipulating health-conscious Americans. This is why I give up the wrapper completely. Nabisco, Kellogg’s, Kraft, General Mills, and every mainstream food distributor has lost my business. In a pinch, I’ll fast. I have control over what I put in my body and that is a sacrifice I believe in.
Whether we like it or not, our consumption habits are not a completely neutral act. We bear responsibility for either rewarding malicious intent or punishing it. In the modern world, nothing speaks louder than the refusal to purchase. Saturated in the incomprehensible magic of modern technology, it shouldn’t seem that crazy to identify a few causes worth self-denial. We’ll still live the most lavish lives in human history and probably be able to find a more rewarding substitute. No one ever regretted giving up McDonalds, anyway. Sure, it is easy to nitpick and suddenly demonize the whole world, but that would be missing the point. Let’s direct efforts towards the truly destructive. I know Black Friday specials are being offered Thanksgiving evening and I get that you love soda. But, at what point do you prioritize your principles over immediate desires and, if you don’t, what does that say about you?
“No law’s gonna change us. We have to change us.” –Macklemore
We may avoid inconvenience by avoiding strong convictions, yet it is us who suffers most. When you do what is easy and disregard your sense of integrity you diminish yourself far more than you harm those around you. You sacrifice the ability to grow and live purposefully. You create a habit of rationalizing lower standards and, consequently, sacrifice something far dearer.
Question of the Week:
Each of us has the power to promote the good and stand against the destructive. I’d like to see more people boycott coke. Furthermore, I find it very rewarding to know that my purchasing habits support Headspace, the Philosophize This Podcast, and markmanson.net. What causes are you proud to support and what do you intentionally avoid purchasing?