Thursday, October 09, 2008

Marketing Truth

Today’s topic comes from one of the discussions that I had at Beyond Belief 3. This was a discussion of the role of truth in a political campaign.

As will all free-flowing discussions, it touched on a number of related topics. It touched on the need for a candidate to pretend to agree with the things that he does not agree with in order to attract voters. It touched upon what the religious views of the various candidates were, compared to what the candidate claimed to be true. For example, why do we believe that Alaska Governor Palin is seeped in religious ignorance, while Obama’s religious views are less dangerous. Is it the case that “our religious fanatic is better than your religious fanatic?”

When it comes to a candidate’s lies, we are quick to jump on any distortion of the truth that an opponent might make (even if it seems to be merely the type of slip we all make from time to time), while forgiving the deliberate distortions of friendly candidates.

We talked about Fox News and its business model. I hold that Fox News did not set itself up to be the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Rather, Fox News set itself up with the idea that people tune in to hear people who are telling them what they want to hear. For Fox News, stories are not driven by ideology. They are driven by popularity, so that, if the popularity of certain ideas change, Fox News will seek to preserve its high ratings by pursuing the new trend.

In this conversation, I mentioned that there is no organization out there that is marketing truth.

Here’s my proposal. I would like to see a non-profit organization created whose purpose is to promote truth and reason. This organization would be smart enough to take whatever contributions that it can raise and go to a public relations firm. It will then tell the firm, “We want to sell truth – or, more precisely, promote a love of truth – in America. We want Americans to be more enamored with science and reason, and less enamored with superstition and nonsense. I want you to help us.

There are a number of people out there professing an interest in promoting science and reason over superstition and nonsense. However, none of them, that I am aware of, has gone to the effort of hiring professional public relations and marketing experts to sell this particular product. They think that they (the rank amateurs in this field) can do as good of a job, or better, than the experts.

Why is it that people who know the value of going to an expert scientist when they want to know something about a medical problem, or global warming, or the possibility of an asteroid impact, or engineer a bridge, or program a computer, do not recognize the value of going to experts when it comes to the task of selling product, such as selling a love of truth and reason? It seems to be nonsense that people who would never be so foolish as to think that they can do brain surgery on their own child themselves (without specialized training) can design a marketing campaign for a whole nation.

One of the questions that came up with in this discussion was, “How do we pay for it?”

At the moment, I could not think of any quick answers to that question. However, an answer came to me later – a rather obvious answer. That this, too, is a question for whatever public relations form takes up the task of marketing truth and reason. You ask them, “We need to raise money for this campaign. So, in designing this campaign, design a fund-raising program for it as well.”

I am simply following the same general principle that I have described elsewhere. “If you want something done right, don’t ask me to do it. Ask a professional to do it.” The very idea of an individual providing advice where there are professionals to ask – from areas of finance, law, medicine, engineering, and even matters of ethics and of marketing – is a sign of arrogant foolishness.

The arrogant fool sometimes gets lucky. And there is a small number – a very small number – of true geniuses who can figure things out without a lot of training. However, when it comes to betting one’s life, one’s well-being, and one’s fortune, it is not wise to assume that one is going to be lucky, or that one is one of these geniuses.

However these experts may decide to market truth, there is certainly an argument to be made for making the investment. The objective would be to get away from (or at least to get a little bit further from) all of the things from myth and superstition to deliberate deception that are clogging our social interactions and our efforts to make a better world.


Sheldon said...

"For Fox News, stories are not driven by ideology. They are driven by popularity, so that, if the popularity of certain ideas change, Fox News will seek to preserve its high ratings by pursuing the new trend."

I have to say your view is very charitable of Fox News. What you say is probably more true of MSNBC, who once had a evening line up of Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson, conservatives, and now have a line-up of Olberman and Maddow. And they fire Phil Donahue in the lead up to the war.

Fox News on the other hand is more committed to a right-wing ideology and is less likely to sway with the changing winds. I would call it niche marketing.

Anonymous said...

You just described the founding of a religious structure of sorts. To the extent that it encourages fellowship, a shared set of values and beliefs, and the ability to raise funds and engage in community organization and social justice through education, empowerment and advocacy, I think that I'd like to be a member.

I've been mulling over essentially the same needs - community, fellowship and resource acquisition and disbursement around promoting reason, science and classic virtues.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Well, I see nothing wrong with fellowship - a community built on mutual trust and respect is certainly a better community than one built on animosity and contempt.

As for a "shared set of values" - this depends on the values. The values of honesty (or truth in general) and intellectual curiousity are certainly values that I argue should be shared. If, on the other hand, those "shared values" are hatred for homosexuals, subjugation of women, and contempt for reason, then the community of shared values might not be such a good thing.

Of course, we should promote institutions that tend to fulfill the desires of others. Institutions that help those in need, accurately distinguish between the guilty and innocent in order to punish the guilty and leave the innocent alone, and promote general education (knowledge and understanding of the real world) is a community in which its members would be better off. Particularly when compared to a community built on injustice (by divine command or some other source), ignorance, and a lack of concern for others.

We have many and good reasons to become members of such a community.

Of course, I would not call it 'religious' precisely because we are evaluating institutions by their real-world application and not making false claims about supernatural entities, promoting hatred for archaic reasons written into 2000 year old books, and denigrating the intellectual faculties or conclusions drawn from evidence.

Dan Doel said...

Your proposal sounds a lot like the Center for Inquiry, at least as far as their slogan goes. Of course, I don't know how much effort they've put into having professionals market them to the general public (and the slogan lacks the specific word "truth" I suppose).

Kristopher said...

i think the problem with professional marketing of the truth is that professional markters teach people to give professional grade lies.

the best advice that a proffsional marketing firm can give you is to go with things that work and the things that work best are appeals to emotion through lies

to promote truth by hiring perfessional liars is probably not the best idea...