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Do any of us really actually care for each other? Or is everything we do ultimately in our own self-interest?
Isn’t looking out for the interests of my family & children in a way acting to guarantee the continuation of my genes? And is that in my self-interest?
How often is altruism really selfless? If you derive an improved sense of internal self-worth from the anonymous altruism you carry out, can you really call that truly selfless?
And can we fault anyone for putting themselves first? If the first tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is physiological, isn’t that just another way of saying survival? And who can fault anyone for wanting to survive? After all, if we don’t exist then we don’t even have the opportunity to argue about what self-interest is.
This image of a giant drug spoon has been lodged in my brain for the past month or so:
Built by artist Domenic Esposito, it was originally installed outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceuticals manufacturer, to protest that company’s role in the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States. What particularly fascinates me about this photo is the people walking past it. For the purposes of this post let’s assume they are employees of Purdue. I’m fascinated by the idea of what might have gone through these people’s heads as they passed the spoon: did they know what it was referring to? Did they feel any guilt? When they sat down at their desks and were still thinking about it, were they dismissive of the spoon & what was trying to be said by the people who placed it there?
What if you weren’t a chemist at Purdue but you worked in the maintenance department at the headquarters, fixing squeaky hinges and blown lightbulbs? By working for Purdue Pharma, are you in some way complicit? Do we all have a responsibility as humans to think about the consequences of our actions on other people? Or is our first responsibility to our self-interest i.e. survival? And is this why appeals to “family” are so powerful in advertising? Because when advertisers say “family”, what they are really saying is ‘Your survival and the survival of your family is paramount, we get that, and we’re in the business of prioritising your survival. Buy our products.’ So maybe the Purdue Pharma maintenance man says to himself “I’m not a bad person. I just fix squeaky hinges. I’m not getting people hooked on painkillers. The doctors who prescribe them are. And…” – perhaps most importantly – “I have a family to feed/mortgage to pay/etc”.
According to Wikipedia, Purdue Pharma has 5000 employees worldwide, and in 2017 made revenue of US$3 billion. How many of those 5000 people think about whether they are complicit or not in an opioid crisis? How many of those people think they are complicit but justify their job? How many of those people think that Purdue Pharma is complicit in the opioid crisis but they, a person working at Purdue Pharma, are not complicit because they “do not support Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis and are actively working to change the company for the better from the inside”. And how many of those people actually believe that change from the inside can really happen inside a giant for-profit global pharmaceutical company?
And what about the suppliers to Purdue Pharma? And the logistics companies that transport their drugs? And the public health systems that buy their products using taxpayers’ dollars? Obviously you don’t have to look very far to find other examples of the same sort of thing: people working for Uber after it became public in 2017 the company carried out the Greyball program, people working for HSBC in 2012 after it became public the company was to be fined US$1.9 billion by US authorities over its involvement in money laundering including providing banking services to Saudi Arabian banks linked to terrorist financing. And on and on.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine chose to start working for an online gambling company. I never called him out on it. I was afraid it would hurt the friendship and I wanted to keep being friends. He has now quit that job but I have still never asked him why he decided to work there. Now I justify not asking by saying to myself “He doesn’t work there now so what would be the point?”. I don’t want to hurt his feelings and it seems like, at the end of the day, that’s what is most important to me.
Link to the playlist in the Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6EFaKnuj5oVl11IZobLRBe?si=lOINSLeUS_e50HfGZ_8y1A
I am contacting you in advance of the “Parliamentary motions on a referendum” amendment expected to be voted on in the House of Lords around April 30th.
I am a British citizen who came to the United Kingdom 7 years ago. I met my wife here, got married, had our first child and call this great island nation my home.
I am writing to ask you for your support for the amendment proposed by Lord Newby, Viscount Hailsham and Lord Wigley. I think that the British public has a right to vote on the exit from the European Union that they are getting. I think that the lack of information about the ramifications of leaving the European Union (e.g. risks to the Good Friday Agreement) and misinformation & collusion by pro-Leave campaigners (e.g. false information about how much money the NHS would get if the UK left the European Union, reported use of discredited consulting firm Cambridge Analytica) means the British public are now more informed about what leaving the European Union really means.
I am also concerned about the rise of power-grabbing leadership in places like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. In Hungary the last newspaper that isn’t owned by the state has had to close down. I think the European Union has a crucial role in promoting unity & peace and guarding against international conflicts much in the same way the United Nations does. I think in a time when anti-immigration nativist movements are emerging across Europe, now is the time to bolster unity not to pull up the drawbridge.
Thank you for your time and thank you for reading my email. Thank you for your service to this country.
As someone with M.E. it has been frustrating wrestling with a disease that is hard to understand, destroys the lives of people suffering with it and seems to be underrepresented in terms of research funding despite the millions of people affected by it.
The film ‘Unrest’ is an important step towards awareness and funding. The makers of the film are asking people to support a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a publicity effort so as many people as possible see the film. The hope for people like me is that awareness will drive research funding and one day we will see drugs and cures for this disease.
So please consider supporting the Kickstarter with your money, and sharing about the campaign with your friends and family: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/959776320/time-for-unrest
It is this willingness to hand over our lives that fascinates and appalls me. There’s such a lovely perversity to it; it’s so wonderfully counterintuitive, so very Christian: You must empty your pockets, turn them inside out, and spill out your wife and your son, the pets you hardly knew, and the days you simply missed altogether watching the sunlight fade on the bricks across the way. You must hand over the rainy afternoons, the light on the grass, the moments of play and of simply being. You must give it up, all of it, and by your example teach your children to do the same, and then – because even this is not enough – you must train yourself to believe that this outsourcing of your life is both natural and good. But even so, your soul will not be saved.
The new man, Marinetti wrote – and this deserves my italics – would communicate by “brutally destroying the syntax of his speech. He wastes no time in building sentences. Punctuation and the right adjectives will mean nothing to him. He will despise subtleties and nuances of language.” All of his thinking, moreover, would be marked by a “dread of slowness, pettiness, analysis, and detailed explanations. Love of speed, abbreviation, and the summary. ‘Quick, give me the whole thing in two words!’“
About once a month my brain will ask me “Hey, remember that time Obama dropped the mic?”. And it’s not like he did it just once, I saw him do it twice: on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and at his last White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
The first time I saw Obama drop the mic on Jimmy Fallon I remember thinking that it was a pretty cool thing for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to do. It worked on me, at least. If you watch the clip Obama looks and sounds like a politician trying to do a bit on a late-night talk show, but that seems to make it more credible. And in the skit, there is a small jab at Donald Trump.
Looking back on this video now, it takes me back to a time when Donald Trump wasn’t a presidential contender but a punchline and we were fondly watching Obama take his bows as his presidency wound down.
The second time I saw Obama drop the mic was at the end of his speech at the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In his speech, Obama chastises the national media for the out-sized amount of attention they have given to Trump (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech) and then he goes on to poke fun at Trump himself (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech). I find this choice puzzling because, in the light of Trump’s election, this decision to mock Trump seems glib, almost irresponsible. But maybe that was the perceived wisdom at the time for the best way to puncture Trump’s credibility. I don’t know, but I do know that Obama has been mocking Trump publicly going right back to the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (here’s the link to the specific part of the speech).
So my first thought is to assume the mocking and positioning of Trump as a cartoonish character at the 2016 Dinner was highly strategic. And Obama was obviously committed to it, two days before the election he was still jeering at The Donald’s credentials rather than just flat-out seriously calling him unqualified for the job. And well, we all know how things turned out. And honestly? Retrospectively it just looks as though everyone, including Obama himself, underestimated Donald Trump’s appeal to the American voter. He treated Trump as a joke so we did too.
So there is something about the way he drops the mic that second time that frustrates me. It feels like here was this clever President, able to reference cultural memes while he, and presumably many others, misread the electorate and allowed Donald J. Trump to sneak in. And while the fault doesn’t lie solely with Obama, I think that some of it does.
The title of this post should be “The time I almost joined a multilevel marketing scheme” but that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.
Back in 2005 or 2006 during my mid-twenties my girlfriend at the time was interested in signing up to sell something called American Communication Networks (ACN for short). She explained it to me like this: ACN was a telecommunications organisation that let you sell on behalf of them to friends and family to make some money on the side. The best part (so to speak) was the opportunity for passive income, if you recruited friends to sell ACN you got a slice of your friend’s sales, and if your friends recruited their friends, you got a slice of your friend’s friend’s sales, and so on. The dream from what I could tell was to sit at the top of a pyramid of people selling ACN’s product and creaming off a passive income without having to do any work.
Eventually it would come to light that my girlfriend was going to have to shell out NZD$500 for the starter kit or selling strategy materials or whatever it was you needed to get started with them. For my girlfriend this was a lot of money at the time and I told her to pause on spending it before I had the chance to find out more. I did a quick google and it turned out ACN was an American company that sold VoIP telephone services. VoIP wasn’t as common back then as it is now but it was a real product from a real company so I had to admit on face value it seemed legit. Something fell off though, it was something about the way ACN presented itself as this multi-million dollar telecommunications company that no one online seem to be talking about except ACN themselves. And then there was the way they were using people in little old New Zealand to sell their product. It just seemed weird but the next time I saw her and told her not to spend the money she told me it was too late, she had signed up.
I remember from this point on every time I was hearing about ACN it was always a bit off. For starters my girlfriend never signed up for the ACN VoIP service herself. The focus was always on that passive money gravy train; how could she sign up other people to sell ACN. The instructional material for selling ACN talked about approaching people like family members and close friends because they would be more likely to sign up because of the personal connection with you. The material even said that people who were negative or skeptical of ACN were “bad apples” and that people selling ACN should move on as fast as possible from them. I remember reading this and thinking “Ok according to this I am a Bad Apple, but I know I’m not, so what’s going on?…”
The crowning moment came when my girlfriend and a couple of people further up the pyramid from her were organising a pitch night at my girlfriend’s apartment to get people to sign up to selling ACN. I was invited and I thought I would go to support my girlfriend and I figured I would just hang out at the back and watch proceedings. So I show up and it is just me, my girlfriend and these two ACN guys. I can’t remember if I twigged immediately but at some point I realised it was only ever going to be just the four of us so they could put the pressure on me to join. The moment that stands out in my memory is how after a bit of talking they said to me “so [girlfriend’s name] tells us that you would like to be a writer one day, is that right?” And I said something along the lines of “yeah, one day maybe, that would be cool”and then they said “well why aren’t you signing up to sell ACN then? Don’t you want to achieve your dreams?”. In retrospect it seems kind of hammy that that approach would even work but I do remember that evening stumbling a little bit saying “well, um, yeah I do want to achieve my dreams…” Eventually I committed to “think about it” and since I was only with her for three months I imagine I broke up with her pretty soon after that.
What’s weird is in retrospect I realise I don’t remember ever saying to my girlfriend “Hey, what was with telling those guys I want to be a writer so they could use that on me?”. I just wasn’t that alert to things like that back then, like I could only see 16 colours or something and it was like I just couldn’t even see some of the more complex workings of life. Writing this story now I feel a lot of sympathy for people that get sucked in by those sort of schemes. I can remember how my girlfriend had been signed up by a friend of hers and you got the feeling he was kind of using her and then I got to see my girlfriend sign up one of her friends. You could tell her friend was a lovely bloke but just not the sharpest guy and trusted my girlfriend and was open to persuasion and wanted to believe that easy money was just out there, and in the end she was using him a little bit too.