In December, I will be giving my second guest lecture at Bournemouth University on the subject of the ethics of marketing. For all the shortcomings of that field, in marketing it is understood that all communication is aimed at change, whether it is changing a preference for toothpaste or a cultural narrative. If I invite you to come see my band or my niece’s piano recital, I’m trying to change what your plans otherwise are or might have been. Even sending out a press release debunking climate change is itself aimed at change, in the sense that it is seeking to change the believability of an opposing message. That is why Sinclair’s quote is so important for understanding the work that lies ahead of us – it discards the idea that what we are doing is somehow unique.
The difference between you and an oil company press officer is only the message, not the act. Your motivation might be loftier, your goal more beneficial for a larger swathe of humanity, but doing what you are doing is functionally no different from the press office at the Heritage Foundation or the Adam Smith Institute. Those people are also ‘change agents’, it’s just that they are trying to change society into something you and I agree is a Spencerian experiment in social Darwinism using high rhetoric about liberty and individualism to disguise the desires of their paymasters.
This may seem depressing, but it’s not. I’m not trying to tell you that what you are doing doesn’t matter – it matters a great deal. The truth, however, must be acknowledged because it will liberate you from the ‘I know I’m doing the right thing so why hasn’t it worked yet?’ burden that presses down on you in the dark when you lie in bed. You are telling people something that they are paid not to understand. Why let it upset you? It’s almost a law of nature.
I spent two years researching, writing, directing, producing and narrating a documentary called Critical Mass about the impact of human population growth and consumption on our planet and on our psychology: