Cosmolosophy: The Immorality of the Hard Sell.

There is a document whose message has survived over the years precisely because it was expressed in the manner that it tried to convey. It became something of a Hippie cliché during the sixties unfortunately, but it has always been a statement of guiding principles for me. This document starts with the following lines:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit..

This is of course is the Desiderata (by Max Ehrmann. It should be noted that there has been some controversy on who wrote it. The Wikipedia reference indicates Mr. Ehrmann and the Rev. Frederick Kates, as denoted by the Yale Book of Quotations, but this link from Fleur-de-lis Designs has a more detailed history.)

It is interesting to consider that the word desiderata is Latin for "desired things." It is even more interesting when you consider that Mr. Ehrmann also wrote a book entitled "The Desiderata of Happiness," which was a collection of philosophical poems (and highly recommended.) It is interesting for me to ponder when I consider it within the context of our current social household (from the Etymology of the word economy). Desired things, and the desired things of happiness indeed. If you read some of Mr. Ehrmann's poems you come to see that he too was looking to ask deeper questions of how to understand these things within an overly rational (which is to say overly objectified and abstracted) society. What, you might ask, does this have to do with the "Hard Sell," and whether it's immoral or not? Let us consider it.

It is human to desire things of course. We also want to be heard so as to know that we matter. We thus want to express ourselves in varied ways (imagining, building and maintaining all sorts of material and immaterial constructs). We want useful tools (that we forge strong and lasting relationships with) with which to make and preserve our expressions. We want reasonably comfortable and secure surroundings with which to center our growth and extension of connection (via family, friends, neighbors and expressive collaborators). And we want the material sufficiency to allow for leisure, recreation and contemplation. This is all human and healthy, but in a social household that is the poster child for abstraction, what we are meant to desire must necessarily be manipulated at the very least, and most probably corrupted in the long run. How can it be otherwise when each of us toils within our own bit of isolated labor in the great matrix of manufacture; where not only is what is manufactured decided by others, but that what is to be desired is manufactured as well. And for all of this to work (all puns intended) there has to be the hard sell.

In considering this we need to put aside for the moment the fundamental absurdity of a people who have allowed themselves to become so disconnected, not only from each other, but from that which sustains them. This is inherent in a specialized, commercial-commodity form of economy; something we've already explored in previous tenet concerning connection. For now, however, I want to discuss what I see as the horrible effects that a world of the hard sell engenders.

Even though most of us might, in a general sense, have a visceral connection to what the hard sell is (we know it when we see and hear it), I still think the first question we must ask is: What separates the discourse of ordinary exchange (the regular give and take dialogue) that might surround the barter or trade of anything material or immaterial? And in this, of course, we can include the notion of selling someone on an idea or belief, as well as a physical item. Towards that end I think we can declare at least 3 parameters in which extremes, omissions, or specific qualities, will make our distinction. So let us start.

Let's call the first parameter "Reciprocity". In this I would encapsulate the notion of how much actual give and take is possible. I think we can all agree that, in the hard sell, it is mostly a case of a one sided exchange. We are only shown or told what the seller wants us to see or hear; and all without much possibility of issuing answerable questions in return.

Let's call the next parameter "Full Disclosure." This is where we ask the related questions of not only what the seller really wants to gain from what is being sold, but is what is touted as being the value or usefulness to us truly intrinsic to the thing (does it actually do or provide what is promised)? In the hard sell, because of both the first, and the following parameters, these questions become tricky indeed. One might even ask, would the hard sell be necessary at all if those who avoided full disclosure weren't around?

And finally, let's call the last parameter the "Lay of the Lever." One might also call this the "Background of the Button," but whatever metaphor of instrumentality one chooses one is talking about the means by which we are pushed or played upon to get us to accept the thing being offered. This is where the formulation of the persuasive message is guided by varying degrees of application to things that are important to us. Hardly a problem in ordinary persuasive discussion, certainly, but when the seller has the "hard" motivation all propriety goes out the window (and truly nothing is sacred). For in this parameter lies the subtle and not so subtle use of every aspect of our baser psychology; our deepest passions, fears, prejudices, and fantasies. The hard sell neither cares for which, or to what extreme, any of these basic aspects of our nature are taken advantage of; for there is only one bottom line for the hard sell, only one measure that really matters, and that is to close the deal.

I think there is also a certain desperation behind the hard sell. I hesitate to call it an actual parameter, but I think it an important aspect of it. Certainly understandable within the context of a specialized, commercial-commodity form of economy. With an ever increasing number of livelihoods dependent upon the creation of consumables, and with ever improving technique allowing fewer producers to produce even more, how could there not be desperation to get the consumables consumed. A process that becomes consuming in and of itself. "Competitive Consumption" is what I call it. That it is insanity is certainly (at least at some level; especially concerning the inherent limits of any planet keeping an intricate web of organic processing going) obvious to all of us. That it creates more than one moral dilemma perhaps not so obvious.

What we are talking about, in my opinion, when we consider the notion of the hard sell, is nothing less than violence done to the human condition in general, and the individual soul and spirit in particular. For in the world of the hard sell very little can be sincere or genuine when the motives of most must be suspect. Electrified facade, glowing terms, and resonant imagery become the norms (along with the amplification of everything in the lower brain). Very little is communicated to actually inform precisely because that would encourage thought and questions; when what is really desired of your desire is more akin to impulse and reflex. That cynicism and apathy result should be of no great surprise to anyone (and sadly, isn't very surprising any more). How can Loving Structure be encouraged in such a toxic atmosphere? How can we even hope to continue creating shared vision (the essence of cooperation and in finding common ground) when we atomize to isolated interest groups (commercial, social, or political) all working their own sales pitch? All with a bill of goods that hides both motive and actual value; with everybody getting more and more desperate to make their sale.

I hasten to add that I am not so naïve as to think that the temptation to resort to the hard sell can ever be ultimately removed from human behavior. Any more than greed or envy might be completely removed. Heaven help us though if we can't come to see the hot house we've created for these kinds of emotions and behaviors to grow in.

I started this with the first few lines of the Desiderata. I would ask the reader to harkens back to it and consider this: Do we really want to continue down the path we're on, or do we want to create a social household where "Speak(ing) your truth quietly and clearly..." is all anyone would ever want to do? And where, as well, the notion of really listening to others would be automatic, even if you perceived them to be "...dull and the ignorant..." for you would grant them the same respect and sincerity that you would expect them to grant you? If we could apply the immense creativity of this nation we could figure out a Loving Structure to provide the green house where connection and cooperation could flourish. This is another example of making something and believing it. We first need to make it in our heads however. Make it there and then believe in it. We can then engage each other in real give and take dialogue, hammering out a common ground for a shared vision. And make no mistake. Americans with a shared vision are a true force of nature. It is a choice as to whether that force will be used for good or ill. What I find truly depressing, though, is trying to decide which is worse: An America that can no longer forge a shared vision, or an America that creates one that ends up causing no end of grief and mayhem. With the way we're going, and the way the rest of the world will probably follow, would there be much effective difference in the two outcomes?

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