Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Examining the Regulation of Consumer Choices (Polemic) by Edwin L. Young

Corporations oppose government regulation of consumer products. They say that such regulations control and restrict consumers’ right to ‘freedom of choice.’ On the other hand, consumer organizations and the government say that corporations use marketing, advertizing, and sales strategies that are overpoweringly seductive and deceptive. Corporations use these strategies to persuade uninformed, innocent, and therefore extraordinarily gullible consumers to buy products that are bad for their health and financial well-being. When consumers are without adequate knowledge of these tactics and risks, freedom of choice does not exist.

When there are no effective mass media programs to dissuade the majority of consumers from these harmful consequences, they are at the mercy of the corporations’ media blitzes. When there are no widespread and easily accessible contravening educational and training programs to assist the populace to withstand and avoid this so-called consumer ‘freedom of choice’ that is so detrimental to their welfare, the whole nation’s health is inevitably destined to degenerate.

There is a deadly combination of components in America, the West in general, and that are rapidly metastasizing to the rest of the nations. One component consists of the structures and systems of civilization. The other component consists of the nature of the human species’ internal structures and processes. One unfortunate attribute of that nature of our species is its proclivity for becoming addicted. Another unfortunate attribute is our species vulnerability to persuasiveness of words.

Humans take assertions about cause and effect relations made by authorities and other trusted individuals as true without questioning or testing for their validity. When a believable ad or endorsement about the advantages of a product is presented by a celebrity or attractive person, a sizable number of the targeted audience is predictably likely to be persuaded to purchase it. Without this attribute of blind acceptance of such claims and suggestions, a huge range of products would disappear. With this blind acceptance, our species proclivity for addiction is activated with drastic results for the people and inordinate profits for those who make and promote addictive, harmful products.

America’s corporate profit margins depend on top five addictions. In addition, a huge array of products and services promoted by such heinous advertising strategies induce damaging purchasing habits that become as intractable to remediation as do the neurologically based addictions. Some addictions are primarily neurologically based. Some are a combination of the structure and chemistry of the brain and the nature of internal processes that I call intentional processes.

Finally, some addictions are primarily and a matter of universal acculturation such as corporate induced purchasing habits. Universal acculturation includes the customs of social drinking such as when dining out or at parties, special occasion drinking such as when watching a sports event, and subtle peer pressure between users who are just ‘hanging out’.

These four factors: namely induced purchasing habits, brain chemistry based addiction, unconscious and uncontrollable sequences of intentional processes, and universal acculturation, work together to maintain addictive behaviors even in the face of concentrated treatment programs. For example, many teenagers are introduced to drinking through various modes of acculturation but the drinking is likely to become a brain-based addiction reinforced by the other addiction sustaining forces. Alcohol addiction may not be brain-based for many people but the other factors serve to maintain the habit. Addiction to hard-core drugs like cocaine also has these same four characteristics. Medical research may be finding out that purchasing junk food eventually may be found to result in addiction and is maintained by all four factors.

Sex may be an addiction with all four factors for some people. For some people, romantic love is like an addiction. After the initial glow wears off, these people have an addiction-like longing for that initial rush of exhilaration and repeat this scenario over and over. Many authorities claim that marijuana lacks the brain-based addiction characteristic but seems to be maintained by at least three of the factors if not by all four. Purchasing non-consumable objects like clothes and the latest gadgets and such, various forms of entertainment and especially escapism entertainment are examples of purely induced purchasing habits. T

The way a person engages in their occupation or slavishly and repetitively performs simple or elaborate daily routines can be labeled addictions because the individual has an uncontrollable compulsion to act (the intentionality factor) in these ways but probably lacks the brain-based factor. When confronted, people with all types of addiction typically provide rationalizations that, while plausible to them, may seem bizarre to others.

Alcohol, for example, is a neurochemically addictive substance. However, it also has aspects of addiction-like intentional processes, the induced purchasing habit, and the universal acculturation factors. Smoking, to a degree, may be similar to alcohol addiction. In contrast, gambling, while it may be just as intractable as other addictions, lacks the brain-based component. Nevertheless, gambling and alcohol, while differing with respect to being brain-based, both have in common that their life-destroying effects can be so readily denied or ignored. These damaging effects typically are not limited to the individual.

These effects also affect many other people in their life and much of the rest of their life. Universal acculturation provides a strong assistance to rationalizing their continuation on these self-destructive addictive paths. This pattern of facilitation of addictions through the powerful influence of culturally disseminated and endorsed rationalizations is also common to all other forms of addiction.

Purchasing a car, house, handheld electronic devices for communication and Web surfing, pieces of jewelry, or even purchasing a certain kind of pet, and a plethora of things like these can have a feature of addictions that is common to all, namely the feeling of ‘have to.’ Pharmaceutical corporations flood the TV with ads about medications. However, the way those ads are presented describes symptoms in a way that gullible people, especially stressed out people and hypochondriacs, will instantly, but falsely, detect those symptoms in their own bodies. Their doctors are then besieged with demands for those prescriptions. The doctor is faced with a ‘have to have’ ultimatum and he gives in to avoid risk of losing a patient.

Ads hour by hour expertly and routinely play on health fears, social and status anxiety, and apprehensions over present and future financial security. Phrases that have potent influence on consumers of such intangibles are those such as “He got xyz and his worries are over; If you don’t, you will be left behind; She got abc and her friends are so envious; You might have efg so you had better check and then buy ours; If you have mno, it is outdated.”

A young child may feel a desire for and demand that they have a very specific kind of birthday cake or toy. A parent may either sacrifice to get what the child wants or exhibit guilt if they cannot provide it. This child may grow up to feel they ‘have to have’ and demand that they have a wide variety of advertized ‘things’ in our culture. Many people in our culture have the feeling not just that they ‘want’ but they ‘have to have’ certain things like these. Furthermore, they do not just ‘have to have’ but they ‘have to have’ now or they will experience a agonizing obsession until they get it. They may even put their family’s finances at risk to buy it.

In a manner similar to the ‘have to have’, some people may feel that they ‘have to be’ something. For example, they have to be in a particular occupation or they have to have a certain level of applause. When they do not reach it or get it, they are likely to feel resentment or even rage. Some may feel that they absolutely ‘have to do’ a certain thing such as play a position on a sports team or go on a cruise to some glamorous island. These are all examples of this ‘have to’ addictive feature of our culture. This cultural phenomenon has a powerful influence over people that is beyond any contravening reasoning. These are culturally induced compulsions that are incontrovertibly ‘not’ subject to “freedom of choice”. The corporate use of this psychology of ‘have to’ is both pervasive and successfully precludes that hallowed but hollow injunction that we must preserve our mythical “freedom of choice.”

In brain-based addictions, these compulsions arise deep in the brain. Therefore, the prefrontal orbital cortex, a location that should be the seat of foresight, reasoning, and choice, is decommissioned before the surge of an addictive compulsion completely takes over. What we commonly think of as ‘will power’ is totally ineffectual when this happens. For an opposite example of an exception that proves the rule, if a person is trying to go to sleep, the prefrontal orbital cortex is intensely active or at least dominant. As long as it is active, the person will not go to sleep. However, it that person takes a placebo and thinks ‘it’ will make them sleep, the prefrontal orbital cortex is decommissioned, and they go to sleep.

The same thing can be achieved if that person learns to stop trying to go to sleep. In this case, the prefrontal orbital cortex similarly will be decommissioned and the person will go to sleep. This is a matter of self-training. On the other hand, the surge of addiction arises before the prefrontal orbital cortex can be put into play. In this case, the subject is not amenable to self-training. Furthermore, none of the other typical of causes of addiction is operating to prevent a person from going to sleep at bedtime. Contrariwise, all of the typical causes of brain-based additions are working against proposed treatments of those addictions. Invoking the concept of will in these cases is a mere futile distraction.

Non-brain-based addiction can happen when the prefrontal orbital cortex has a criterion for fulfillment that gets fixated. Examples of activities that are driven by a criterion for fulfillment are: gambling; video games or surfing the web; one-upping others; eating disorders; watching or playing sports; winning of any sort; exercise routines; rituals; shopping binges; compulsive talking; needing a specific kind of habitual focus of concentration like reading or solving puzzles; and the need for a wide range of numbing substances or activities to mollify painful emotions. The use of amphetamines to increase energy and/or overcome fatigue or lassitude can have a similar pattern even when the user is aware of the health hazards. These all have a fixated criterion for fulfillment in common. They have that ‘have to’ nature.

The prefrontal orbital cortex is the locus for planning, executing plans, and criteria for fulfillment or the feeling one gets when they have successfully achieved a goal. Once a ‘have to’ is in operation in the lower centers of the brain, the focus in the brain shifts to the prefrontal orbital cortex and, particularly in addictions, will stay there until the need or goal is met. Because of this, people can engage frenetically in addictive activities until they are exhausted and even in pain. What keeps them going, or prevents them from giving up in discouragement, is what behaviorists call variable intermittent positive reinforcement. When they succeed, that is to say, when they meet their criterion for fulfillment, the neurotransmitter dopamine is secreted, and they have accompanying feelings of pleasure of variable intensity. Once this fulfillment-pleasure is experienced, persons will feel that it will surely happen again or they can make it happen again soon. The more risk, the more danger involved, the more intense they will be, and the more adrenaline will be secreted.

For exercise enthusiasts, there is an added stimulus from the endorphins that kicks in just after fatigue begins to set in. These combinations of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, and the focal point in the prefrontal orbital cortex enhance and ingrain the habit or, more aptly called, the addiction. Engaging in expressions of anger, aggression, and many other forms of physiological/psychological excitement with their rush of adrenaline can run a similar course. There may be a wide variety of patterns like these but, from an abstract point of view, they all have the very similar sequences of these combinations in common. Together, they supersede rational considerations and ‘freedom of choice.’

If, in fact, there is no ‘individual freedom of choice,’ as I propose, corporations are ‘free’ to, and of necessity bound to, exploit their consumer-audience ‘at will’. Some of the best minds in the country have been recruited by corporations to design ways to entice and seduce the least knowledgeable, least intelligent, and to most susceptible in their targeted populations buy products that are the worst and most inadvisable for them.

With respect to the hoodwinking aspect of these corporate ploys, they have been around forever in styles such as the snake oil salesmen in early America. With the rise of modern communications, corporations began to scientifically design and create these ‘’have to have, be, and do’ needs in the population. Their marketing departments developed sophisticated demographic studies and marketing techniques with ads that are skillfully tailored to targeted audiences. With the latest computer software, these techniques are becoming remarkably precise and successful.

The corporations and their subservient media experts early on created the now legendary conspicuous consumption mentality in our acquisitive culture. The people now are born into a culture in which everyone engages in social comparisons, from the brand of clothes they wear, to their vacation itineraries, and everything else that can be purchased. This trend has created, or exacerbated, our ruthless, greedy, but ‘esteemed,’ corporate moguls, our status hungry heroes, and our vanity prone celebrities, all of whom are image-managed to appealingly display their ‘enviable’ ostentatious material wealth on TV.

These are held up for the ignorant and unwitting populace to model after. The people are easily led into craving the things the rich and famous have and, furthermore, into to being unhappy without them. These bogus incentives drive people to run the corporate and work-a-day rat race until their physical and mental health is destroyed. For those who collapse on the unending runway of working and buying, the symbiotic health corporations make fortunes by mending their health or feeding them legal or illegal drugs to keep them going.

And, the mesmerized, mind-clouded, devotees of the profiteering corporate myth-makers do keep going. They do so without realizing that their ambitions and their very occupations are all products of the universal acculturation that ultimately serves only the richest. All the while, this ubiquitous hoax is actually making them perpetually miserable and causing them to waste away both mentally and physically.

The nature of the corporation requires that they either grow or die. They devotion to growth causes them to disregard their negative effects on both the people and the planet and nature as a whole. It is a matter of ‘us or them’, ‘kill or be killed’, ‘take or be taken.’ Their stakes are incredibly high. It is the worst kind of winner-take-all zero-sum game. Moreover, what is so thoroughly disingenuous is the fact that, all the while that they are relentlessly working to eradicate ‘freedom of choice’ through their corporate strategies. They are pretending to oppose the proposed governmental regulations that they say would eliminate consumer ‘freedom of choice.’ The government is trying to save the population from the corporate death-grip on the people.

The government and consumer protection groups know that these corporate brainwashing techniques override the people’s ‘freedom of choice.’ This can be prevented only by a vast new system of regulations or laws that must succeed in regulating the virtually criminal practices of corporations. The current consumer protection organizations and the federal consumer protection agencies are like whistles in the wind compared to the incessant, booming effects of corporate advertizing and propaganda.

With the combination of corporation favoring campaign finance laws, the well-heeled and well-oiled corporate lobby storm troopers, the supreme success of corporate media blitzes promoting their wares, and the oblivious general public, whom do you think will win the battle for the health and welfare of the people? The government with its current paltry attempts at regulations designed to protect the people, its constituents, or will the winner be the robber barons that have evolved into a powerful, global Corporatocracy?

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