Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Evil Corporations

A conversation with my father - a man whose sociopolitical views could hardly be more opposite to mine - highlighted very well a fundamental lack of reason so characteristic of those who say that corporations are evil.

Father: Cigarette companies just make their money off the backs of the helplessly addicted.
Me: Ha, ha! You're joking, right?
Father: Certainly not! Cigarettes are a chemical addiction.
Me: ...Yes, but you don't really think that cigarette manufacturers are motivated to produce on that basis.
Father: Smokers are completely addicted to cigarettes. It's that that keeps the money coming in for the cigarette manufacturers.
Me: Demand for cigarettes is cultural, though. It originates from a time before people knew that it was bad for you (and if I recall correctly, they thought it was actually beneficial).
Father: No. Smokers can't stop buying cigarettes, they're addictive.
Me: Yes, but they weren't addicted before they started smoking, were they?
Father: ...

I really never got an answer to that. Do people not think at all before saying things like this? It's the matter of seconds to realise that the demand for cigarettes can't possibly originate from the addiction (I won't get into the idiocy of implying that chemical addiction is somehow irreversible, or nearly irreversible, or even that it has any great power over people. Especially considering my father brags about how easy it was for him to give up smoking!), because the demand must exist before the addiction is created.


  1. I have recieved a reply to that. It was that the evil companies *make* you want to buy their goods.

    Modern advertising must be *powerful* stuff.

  2. Haha, actually, there was a thread on a mailing list I'm on in which a person couldn't see the difference between persuasion and coercion. Like, if the persuasion succeeds, then it becomes coercion. We were wondering what broke his mind.

    I imagine it could be some kind of regressive reasoning. Like, they decide that advertising is evil, coercion is evil, persuasion is good; therefore advertising must use coercion. Something like that, maybe. :/ It seems like something that's easier to persuade a person of in conversation rather than in a post.

    Additionally, if modern advertising made you want to buy the goods, then everyone would smoke. But a lot of people don't feel the need to buy cigarettes. A possible retort might be, they prey on those who are weaker-spirited and less able to resist the advertising! But then you can hardly say with such certainty that the advertising is the cause, if they were already inclined to buy the products...

  3. "the demand must exist before the addiction is created."

    *The* demand? I'd say part of the demand, or rather one *kind* of demand.

    A person who has never smoked a cigarette, or who hasn't done so in a long time (long enough to no longer be considered addicted) may feel a speculative desire to try doing so. Some of these people will act on that desire by buying some cigarettes and smoking one or more of them. That represents a demand. Let's call it the speculative demand. It might have been motivated by advertising, or by seeing somebody else smoke, or by peer pressure, or by curiosity, or by some combination of these (or perhaps other) factors.

    A different kind of demand exists among smokers. They know how smoking feels, and crave - for whatever reason - to do more of it. They may or may not know that smoking could seriously harm their health. Since these people are numerous and buy far more cigarettes per head than the speculative smokers mentioned above, it is plausible that they provide the bulk of cigarette companies' income.

    Now, *if* they do indeed provide the bulk of cigarette companies' income, *and if* smokers crave and buy cigarettes primarily because they are addicted to them, then your father would appear to be right to contend (and this is a minor modification of his original assertion as you quoted it) that cigarette companies make most of their money off the backs of the addicted.

    To determine the truth of those conditionals would require research beyond the scope of a blog comment, but perhaps you will feel inclined to pursue it?