Friday, May 14, 2010

When "What if..." precedes "If only..."

I was inspired this morning to submit a comment to Steve Salerno's excellent SHAMblog, and thought it only fitting to post my thoughts here on my own blog, as well. The discussion began with Steve's assertion that much of the self help & actualization movement (SHAM) depends upon its followers ignoring not only proven science, but plain old common sense, as well.

Having administrated a psychophysiology of sleep research facility years ago, I found myself daydreaming and remembering what it was like to actually create research studies.  I recalled the research team sitting around a conference table, formulating plans and structure of various studies. Inevitably, one or the other of us would begin a presentation with "What if...?" Recalling these meetings caused a light bulb to go on in my normally dim mind, as I recalled other places where the same phrase had recently found favor: the folks who inspired me to coin the word hustledorks. And I find myself thinking that perhaps one of the most insidious accomplishments of the SHAM industry is the widely successful effort to change public perception of the proper chronological placement of the phrase "what if."

In the scientific method, the phrase represents a starting point, an hypothesis upon which to structure research in order to establish (or discount) the viability of an idea or process. In SHAM nomenclature, however, "what if" is offered as a means to discount the value of actually determining that viability and encourage customers to purchase something that has no demonstrated evidence of efficacy.

If a prospective customer ("mark" is more accurate, IMO) finds a marketer's claim to be inconsistent with available evidence or even common sense, the marketer's typical rebuttal is something along the lines of "What if it works?"

Don't believe that a clipart doll that you buy for $40 and print out on your inkjet has the power to change your life for the better? Don't get all bogged down in all that common-sense-y stuff. Just wrap your mind around the really pertinent question: What if it works? Does it seem like a real stretch to believe that by merely wishing for and visualizing something, it will magically appear in your life, without you even having to do anything beyond dreaming? Again... what if it works?

With such a rebuttal, the marketer attempts - apparently, with an alarming frequency of success - to dissuade the prospective customer from using their brains. It's a technique that predates even the first sleazy used-car salesman's attempt to get a customer to focus on the pretty paint job, and ignore the funny noises emanating from the smoke-bellowing engine. It worked enough times to move a lot of clunkers, and it's moving a lot of clunkers now, it would seem. A lot of folks who bought the paint jobs ultimately found themselves saying things like, "If only I'd had the thing checked by my mechanic..." And an increasing number of people nowadays find themselves with a smaller balance in their bank accounts and nothing real to show for it beyond the need to salvage their pride by continuing their admiration of the emperor's new clothes. Some - such as the several attendees of the recent James Ray sweat lodge in Arizona - have even paid the ultimate price for buying into the spurious logic of, "What if it works?" And their families are the ones left saying, "if only..."

As I've frequently stated, humans are the only creatures in the animal kingdom who can hope to survive to maturity and be stupid. The stupid examples in all other species die off at a relatively early age. We humans are coddled and protected by various societal mechanisms and institutions, and can live well beyond our genetically-provided ability to survive... barring being sold on some expensive, death and common-sense-defying shortcut to "enlightenment."

BTW - Over the next few days, we'll be putting up the new and improved website for Schmidt Kaye & Co (our day jobs). Stop on by when you get a moment... just don't antagonize the webmistress. As she says on her Twitter page, "I won't be mean to you, but sometimes I like to play with my food before I eat it."

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