This article slid across my desk this morning:
It turns out that our furniture first became full of flame retardants because of the tobacco industry, according to internal cigarette company documents examined by The Tribune. A generation ago, tobacco companies were facing growing pressure to produce fire-safe cigarettes, because so many house fires started with smoldering cigarettes. So tobacco companies mounted a surreptitious campaign for flame retardant furniture, rather than safe cigarettes, as the best way to reduce house fires.
The documents show that cigarette lobbyists secretly organized the National Association of State Fire Marshals and then guided its agenda so that it pushed for flame retardants in furniture. The fire marshals seem to have been well intentioned, but utterly manipulated.
An advocacy group called Citizens for Fire Safety later pushed for laws requiring fire retardants in furniture. It describes itself as “a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders.”
But Citizens for Fire Safety has only three members, which also happen to be the three major companies that manufacture flame retardants: Albemarle Corporation, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura Corporation.
Let me first point out that I am taking Mr. Kristof’s facts as real and genuine. This is called an assumption. When people make assumptions, they should know when they are doing it, and be ready to admit it–to themselves. It is not the making of the assumption that is the problem, but the conflation of the assumption as indisputable fact, without even knowing one has done it, that is an issue. Bear this in mind as we go forward.
When I read this article, I immediately thought of Edward Bernays and the acceptance of community water fluoridation. Bernays is someone you don’t know, who knew you very well. So well, he was able to manipulate you into accepting things that normally you wouldn’t have accepted. Here is the best part: after you came to accept whatever he was selling (and fluoridation is a notable example), you did not adopt a position so much as the attitude he wanted you to acquire. That is, if you had an argument at all, it was this: “You idiot. All the smart people think fluoride at ‘optimal’ levels is safe and effective. You must be a conspiracy nut-job.”
When I meet people who are pro-fluoride, they typically are completely ignorant… of anything having to do with fluoride. But they can tell you that the CDC and American Dental Association and your local public health director supports it. And who are you to have a different opinion than all the smart people? Are you an expert, like them?
Don’t laugh. I helped organize the drive to end fluoridation in my community and I can tell you from experience that this is indeed what they say… and all they say.
But of course, after you study fluoride, and the process by which it became accepted in America, you discover that Bernays was a shrewd fellow, and tactics such as what the tobacco company did above were employed. Of course, it doesn’t fall all on one man. But corporate interests and big government folks worked together to build support for fluoridation in much the same manner, forming organizations and lobbying groups that were chiefly composed of those with financial and other interests, but not the public interest.
Bernays came on my radar not because of fluoridation, but while investigating how various other ideologies came to be adopted (ie, were foisted upon) by the American public. Things you wouldn’t expect. Things you take for granted. Things you’ve never thought about. Positions you have that you did not come by research, contemplation, analysis. In the main, you believe them because you saw them on the television, or in a news article. You thought it was the ‘compassionate’ view, or the most socially conscious view, or the scientific view… and maybe it is all these things, but its not like you know any better. You saw headline in the newspaper, that’s all. Fine. You’re welcome to be gullible. But when you step into the real world and expect to have your position considered, some of us expect something a little better than “But all the smart people say…”
In fact, I think that the smart people are the most susceptible to being manipulated in this way. Being literate, combined with a desire to be fashionable and accepted into the ‘smart people’ club, runs into harsh realities: to really know what you’re talking about, you actually have to do some research. You need to crack open some books. You need to stop sitting on your brain, and use it for its intended purpose. And that takes work.
Too much work, as it happens. If we did this about every position we held, we’d probably never come to any conclusions. We certainly wouldn’t have any time left in the day to act on any of them. So, we take short cuts. Top of the list: we adopt wholesale whatever positions are being presented to us by people that, by appearances, share our values and letters behind their names.
Of course, we might not exactly know that’s how we are getting our views. If Mr. Kirstof is correct, flame retardant sofas came about largely because average, well meaning fire marshals accepted the ‘science’ they were being presented–that is, the fire fighters adopted the positions of the PhDs, not knowing they were bought and paid for by corporate interests. The folks on the street in turn made their decision based on the words of the fire marshals, etc. And who can be against whatever the fire marshal says? Or the local sheriff? Or the local public health director? Or the local … you get the idea. There is one word for all of them: DUPES.
And you are in danger of being among them if you don’t get your head out of that place that don’t shine and start thinking for yourself, and quick.
You might begin, not by sorting out the evidences and arguments for the positions you currently have. Don’t you see? If you are a ‘smart person’, these very well could have been manufactured. You need to revisit the issue of short cuts, first. I said: we tend to give credibility to those organizations and individuals that seem to share our values and have the appearance of credibility.
But what if even the values were manufactured?
Better get to work.