The Cry of Bitter Wolves

In the immortal words of someone famous somewhere that appropriately said this before something happened:

Brace yourself.

Here comes a rant.

I’m a firm believer that there is no greater commentary on both the present and the past than the possible future. Science fiction as a genre, historically, has been given the cold shoulder by a good chunk of popular culture, taking back seat to the more “engaging” tunes of mysteries, dramas, and romances. Why is that?

In all the history of life on Earth, never has there been a species with the propensity to reverse or forestall its own evolution like the human race. We sit in a comfy spot at the top of the food chain; we haven’t had the need to adapt to a drastic change in our environment in centuries. With that increased comfort, and decreased vigilance, change becomes a hassle. Not only that, change becomes undesirable because it allows others to “get ahead” when lazier people haven’t the drive to make the effort.

There is so much wrong with our society – not just American society, but the entire global culture as well. I understand that preserving our heritage and our traditions is an important part of creating a solid foundation on which to build a successful family, but our fear and paranoia – overfed to obesity by sensationalism, marketing, and social networking – has made the familial organism into more of a virus than a healthy and stable cell.

Let’s start with how marketing has destroyed our common sense.

All products have a shelf life. The moment a company places its product on the shelves, it has two choices. It can either immediately make more of that product to keep in stock until that product is cleared off the shelves, or it can spend money to develop the product further and create that product’s replacement. Let’s ignore the competition aspect of this scenario for the moment. In this example, let’s just say the company decides to make more of the same product. As consumers buy more and more of the product, the company can use sales data to determine how often you will buy that product in the future.

Side note: If you think this isn’t happening to you, then you had better be one of those people that doesn’t have a “rewards” card. No company is going to give you a discount on something just for fun. With those cards, they can sacrifice a few cents to give you a lower price, because they are getting important trend data from you. They know what you buy, how often you buy it, what sort of neighborhood you live in, who your friends are, who you work for, how many children you have, what your political leanings are, what diseases you have, and how much money you are willing to spend on things you don’t need. If you don’t believe that, I welcome you to the 21st century and commend you on your wily inventiveness – obviously you come from 1955 and used a time machine to get here. And even if you are not one of those people who has rewards cards, these corporations still have ways to mine data on you from a number of sources. Internet laws may be in place in this country that require companies to promise not to willingly disclose information to outside sources, but SURPRISE, a good number of those law are not yet fully enforced internationally. Here’s a scenario: Company A outsources their data storage in Country B. Company B is connected to that same database and feeds sales data to the companies that manufacture the products that Company A sells. In Country B, there is no law preventing Company B, who by rights has access to that database, “giving” your data to Company C, D, E, and F. They aren’t selling that data. They don’t have to, and on top of that, they’re not Company A anyway. Company C,D,E, and F get enough revenue from using Company A to market their product for them (using the data they just received from Company B). Confused yet?

You should be. What I just told you is garbage. I made it up. But if I didn’t come out and tell you it was speculation, you might just believe it … filing it away in your head until someone else says something similar – perhaps a post on a social networking site that suddenly is cemented in your mind as FACT. On the other hand, I could be totally right, even if I just made it up. If there’s one thing you can count on, its that if you can think it up, someone else already has, and they probably did it for a corporation looking for ways to maximize marketing returns with minimal investment.

Let’s go back to our first company and the product on the shelf. Let’s say this time, they choose to go the other route and improve the product. Competition is going to force that company to at least match the innovations of the other companies if they are going to move product off the shelf. Now, when it comes down to it, no company really cares who you are or what you can afford. You are a consumer, and your purpose to them is to buy the product they sell whether you need it or not.

Which makes more sense?

1. Improving a product by making it more effective and less costly for the consumer by researching new processes and innovations in the production of that item.

or

2. Change your manufacturing processes just enough to allow you to market the product as something new and improved, when really there is no difference and minimal extra costs to market the new product (new packaging, new commercials, etc.)

Option 1 is going to be most expensive, because it requires testing and approval from industry regulators. On top of that you still have to revamp your marketing.

Option 2, if it can be done, could almost cost you nothing while giving you a sudden boost in sales. Everyone wants the newest thing. Heck, you can even jack up the price a bit because its NEW and IMPROVED.

Here’s an example: 2xConcentrated Laundry Detergent! Now less detergent needed per load! Now in smaller economy sizes! In the beginning, those smaller containers were all you saw for the 2x improved formulas. Now they come in bigger containers, and do you really think every consumer out there is only filling up that lid with 1/3 of what they used to? They’re not. These companies pay good money to research firms to figure out just how stupid most people are. Now people are spending twice as much and using it just as fast as the regular stuff. Now how difficult do you think it was for the manufacturer to change their process to increase the amount of cleaner (and/or reduce the amount of extra filler liquid)? This is an obvious example. Just because you research your own purchases, doesn’t mean that everyone does.

So my question is: Is this treatment by corporations evil? In other words, should we be complacent in accepting that capitalism has created the corporate mindset that consumers are stupid until proven intelligent?

Let’s talk about trend marketing for a second. There was a day recently when the words “Now Trending” first appeared on a website. I can’t confirm what website first did this, but the “trending” trick as a marketing tool is something that social networking has exacerbated the impropriety of. How many of those bullet point headlines are really trending? How difficult would it be for a corporation to pay for their product to appear on that trending list whether it had excessive hits or not? Not very difficult. At the moment, there’s no law against it. Or how about “People who viewed this also viewed …” or “Recommendations for you …”? The mass media conglomerates are especially guilty of this. If you log into a major news website, you are going to be guided to certain stories with certain advertising attached. Those news agencies make bets on which stories are going to be hot and offer their advertisers spots on hot stories for increased fees. News stories today are crafted to sensationalize the subject at hand. Headlines are superbly crafted, sometimes with more thought than the article themselves, to draw you in and get you to open that page. Sometimes there are more ads on that page than there is copy.

Another example: Did you hear about those mysterious mass bird deaths? There were several stories from around the globe about mass deaths of fish and birds that popped up on news sites for about two weeks.  About the time that the story died out, you see a new headline: “MASS BIRD DEATH: FEDS TO BLAME”. Now what do you think this story was about? Sounds like they finally found the culprit and its a conspiracy! It’s the government! No. It was a sanctioned poisoning of a flock of starlings that were causing catastrophic damage to the environment in some way. Completely unrelated, but employed to get you to click that page. How full of ads do you think that page was?

Look at the Super Bowl. How many times have you heard “I only watch it for the commercials.” How horribly and terribly sad is that?

You are a number … unless you are smart … then you are a calculated loss to corporations.

Allow me a moment or two to construct a shaky analogy to nature. Mind you, this scenario is not something that happens in the wild … but neither is capitalism.

Hyenas are both scavengers and hunters. They are not the top of the food chain, but they are close. If they can’t compete against a larger predator (and even though they rarely coexist in the same habitats, lets just make it wolves, since they are technically in the same family) then hyenas are perfectly content with scavenging. Let’s say a pack of hyenas represents a conglomerate of once-competing companies who have merged to better corner a sizable chunk of a certain market. Let’s make our lone wolf a privately-owned company in the same industry. The wolf is skilled at hunting on his own. He doesn’t aim for prey he knows he can’t take down unless he’s absolutely desperate. Let’s make consumers a flock of sheep. Our current business/consumer relationship puts the consumer in a small valley where he/she can live, eat, sleep, and multiply. Outside of this little valley, and keeping the entrance to it guarded, is the pack of hyenas. They control their food source, preying when they need it and keeping the wolf from being able to get to the flock. They have cornered the market so to speak. They have the consumer loyal to their corporation and all its subsidiaries in real life. The wolf can’t get to them because the pack is too big for it. The privately-owned company can’t compete against the pack, because it will never be strong enough to defeat the pack and pull the flock away. The wolf is going to have to look elsewhere for food, or its going to die. 9 times out of 10, that privately-owned company is going to die or be bought out. This is how things are right now. Humans have the choice to be herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores in their interaction with the rest of humanity. I’m going to stay away from discussing the three big economic systems that happen to line up pretty well with those three choices, but I’ll say that a world full of carnivores is going to destroy itself. So will the world full of herbivores. Omnivores are able to adapt. I mean, as animals, we are omnivores anyway. We’re engineered to adapt, to change, and to evolve as a result. However, our social, economic, and governmental traditions do not mirror that adaptability in their current states.

Don’t think that I’m painting the lone wolf as the victim here. The bitterness of the individual who fails in business infects his peers like rabies. The cry of bitter wolves turns to a cry of fear and terror as small businesses are forced to turn against each other in the face of giant mega-corporations.

So what does this have to do with Science Fiction?

Believe or not, science fiction has already written this, its way old news. Going back to H.G. Wells up through some of the earliest pulp authors, our present was predicted based on the society at the time those authors were alive. What really sucks is that the way we are now was ALWAYS the precursor to a dystopian future in early science fiction. There was always a better way than this. Where are those flying cars? What happened to the sustenance pills and communal hives and space exploration? Where are those colonies on Luna and Mars? Why didn’t things go the way that science fiction authors (who are without question some of our most intelligent writers ever) predicted they should go?

One reason is man’s inherent greed. Look at fossil fuels – a limited resource. Excessively wasteful and expensive and still currently our main fuel source for one One ONE reason only.  How are those companies going to make money if the global demand for oil goes away? All the money spent on regulation, wars fought over oil, and making cleaner technologies able to compete with oil, could have just gone into making alternatives happen instead of gradually phasing out fossil fuels at the cost of billions of dollars and millions of lives. I’m not saying solar and wind technologies are the way to go either – there’s greed and foul play there, too. What about the rest? How much further would we be with cold fusion if 1% of the trillions went into that kind of research instead of defending or attacking the industry that opposes you? In a capitalistic society, what these companies are doing makes total sense. We are NOT a progressive country anymore.Everyone gets fair play, including the hyenas. As consumers, and as just humans in general, we are content to be led into pastures to graze without having to think about it. Look at what we watch and what we read. Just because you don’t watch TV or read garbage or plaster your life all over the internet, doesn’t mean you aren’t partially responsible for the stagnation of the evolution of mankind.

If there’s one thing the social networking boom has taught us, all you have to do is say the right things to the right people … whether what you are saying is true or not.

Am I advocating a misinformation campaign against the current status quo in order to facilitate a subversive change in public opinion on the subject of where our species should be progressing to .. if at all?

No. Mostly it was my intention to get you to think about things. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much support the traditionalists drum up to keep our political systems in line with or opposing the ideas of our forefathers. Our country was established at a time when a “business” was a shipwright and his crew, or a cobbler and his assistant. With exceptions like Trade Companies who could literally own countries, it was never dreamed that so massive a capitalistic endeavor as a mega-conglomeration could influence the course of history. They had no concept of a global society, let alone a galactic one. They could never have foreseen how their concepts would give rise to a land of ultimate greed. I’m not saying I have an answer to what should come next, I’m just saying too many people are covering their ears when they hear someone mention change.

Asbestos was a great material once. Dating back millennia, people have used the material for its flame retardant properties. Thousands of years it worked for society before it was discovered that asbestos was harmful to human beings. There are plenty of substitutions available, but what person, who has dumped all their money into being an asbestos manufacturer or distributor and whose entire livelihood is based on continued use of asbestos, is going to go down without a fight … whether it kills other people or not.

So how much of what you just read is fiction? What, if anything, did I just make up? It certainly sounds like I could possibly know what I’m talking about. Are you willing to do the research to confirm it though?

I could have spent months doing this research, verifying and bolstering every vague reference with a mountain of data behind it so that if you did doubt me, you’d find evidence that I know what I’m talking about.

I could be exactly what I am: a writer of fiction.

In closing, here’s some truth:

There’s always a better way. There’s always a direction to a brighter future. That direction is never backwards – and the majority of the time, neither right nor left is forward.

The future of the human race is not a destination to be reached and halted at. The progress of mankind is a continuous journey away from the encroaching specter of stagnation and extinction.

Science fiction taught me this.

2 thoughts on “The Cry of Bitter Wolves

    • Thank you. I usually hesitate to rant, but I had been in meetings most of the morning with two groups of people trying to sell us IT solutions. The first was a bunch of geeks who just love what they do, the second were slick salesmen. Guess who I picked.

      I don’t get to talk about this kind of stuff with many people, so I’d be interested on more of your thoughts about this subject, if you care to share them, adequate or not.

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