Thursday, October 29, 2015

A bit late in the game, perhaps. But very nice nonetheless.

I'm posting what follows at the request of someone who contacted me today, and who asked to remain anonymous. I know it seems self-serving on my partself-congratulatory, and yet at a very odd juncture at which to be self-congratulatorybut he took the time to write it, so I'm posting it. Apart from that, it is quite elegantly reasoned and beautifully rendered in its own right. Love his thoughts on the "dictatorship of virtue."

I can only thank him profusely for these sentiments. In particular you will notice how well some of those sentiments dovetail with my own observations on cancer advertising.

Dear Steve, 

I bought your book SHAM in 2006 and it was a huge relief to read it and realise I wasn’t alone or insane. I think it might have been George Orwell who said the best books are those that tell us what we already know. Yours fit that definition for me. 

By way of introduction, I am not American but I’m sure it will not surprise you that the SHAM phenomenon is one which, thanks to globalisation, now extends far outside of US borders. One corollary of it is the explosion in awareness-raising, the efficiency of which is so very doubtful. Where I live, for example, we are bombarded incessantly by cancer awareness adverts and offers to donate to cancer charities. These are couched in curiously martial language, whereby the treatment of cancer is invariably referred to as a “fight”, a “battle” or a “struggle” and anyone who has been diagnosed but not yet died is a “hero”. I seem to be the only one who thinks that portraying a biological illness as an implacable foe (which one must therefore fear and steel oneself against) is not necessarily an intelligent or desirable stance to adopt. 

Worse, the outcome of that sort of ideology – for an ideology is all it is – is a dictatorship of virtue where anyone not conspicuously trumpeting support and sympathy is seen as a heartless miscreant. If I may burden you with another example, right now where I live is “poppy” season, which refers to the purchase of plastic red poppies which are then pinned to lapels to demonstrate support for war veteran charities (this is an allusion to the poppy fields of Flanders, where so many soldiers lost their lives during the First World War). I was offered a poppy by one of the fund collectors the other day, and all but accused of callous disregard when I declined. What all these people seem to have forgotten is that charity loses all its meaning when it becomes compulsory. With all these awareness-raising campaigns, we reach a stage where people are supposed to care about everything, the ironic outcome of which, of course, is this: when everyone is supposed to care about everything, no one cares about anything. 

All these mass-behaviours are really a by-product of the SHAM movement which you have so felicitously exposed, I think. But I gather from reading your blog (which I have only recently discovered) that you have had your doubts about continuing to post, especially in mid-2014.  

So the reason I am writing is to plead with you to keep posting. Your exposure of the SHAM industry, the cynicism that underpins it, the rank opportunism that feeds off it and the lazy thinking that continues to sustain it, is vital to our society, that is if we are going to continue to have a society at all, instead of an ugly concatenation of sectarian interests. I am saying this not merely as a random citizen, moreover, but as a professional fraud investigator who has spent many years examining institutional crime in most of its forms, has paid a heavy price for it and happens to think that all too often we fail to see the forest for the trees; that we pay far too much attention to isolated acts, and not nearly enough to the noxious ideological undercurrent, propagated by our politicians, judges and media, which makes possible far greater absurdities and injustices. 

You are one of the few who sees that forest and is not afraid to say it. If only for that reason, please do not lose heart. I hope I am not being presumptuous in assuring you that I know how lonely this countercultural work of yours can feel. Unfortunately, though, it is no less necessary for that fact.


Jenny said...

Great letter! Especially "dictatorship of virtue" and (wow) this person is a "professional fraud investigator"! Please continue your work, Steve. You are definitely not alone.

Steve Salerno said...

Thanks, Jenny. You've been a faithful follower and a great help to my mental state at some key moments. Be happy and safe this Halloween.

Jenny said...

Likewise, Steve. There is a reason for my faithfulness! You've been a great help to me as well. I wonder, though, in hindsight, how would you characterize what happened, as the letter writer said: "you have had your doubts about continuing to post, especially in mid-2014." Would love to hear your reflections on this. I keep coming back around here, hoping to find a larger audience. I suspect people are still reading but maybe just not commenting. We surely haven't run out of things to talk about, have we?

Steve Salerno said...

I'll respond to your comments, Jenny, though I feel a bit constrained. But I'll take a whack at it soon.

roger o'keefe said...

A big amen here, Steve. To your Brit admirer and Jenny that is. Just stay away from the political stuff. There's a million other people covering it, and they were covering it long before you, and frankly I don't think it's your strength. No offense. That could explain a few things?

Steve Salerno said...

Well thanks, Rodg, I think. Next time tell me how you really feel, OK? wink

Anonymous said...

I join the chorus Steve. I miss the old vital SHAMblog, and Roger be damned, I even miss your political commentaries which may have been offbeat but were always provocative. If it's a money thing maybe you could convert to subscription? Are there enough of us loyalists left to make it worth your while? I hate to see it just whither away.

roger o'keefe said...

Steve, as noted previously I'd be willing to kick in a little something to keep the blog going if you post with reasonable frequency and you stick to your mandate. Okay I don't want to seem like I'm dictating terms (after all I'm not Trump jockeying for position in the next debate), so no I would not withhold my subscription monies just because you tore some poor right-winger a new one one day, LOL. Plus I actually do like a lot of your stuff about the evils of political correctness. Bottom line I'm game if you are and if the plan is viable with enough of the others.

Steve Salerno said...

Roger, Jenny, et al...

I much appreciate the moral support for SHAMblog and your kind gesture in offering more tangible support. There have been one or two others who made similar suggestions/pledges via email, but...I'm in a very "been there, done that” kind of place. I mean, how many times can a man go to that well when he's already made such appeals in his own voice over a period of months and come up empty? At a certain point it goes beyond being merely unwelcome and devolves into the realm of downright tacky and embarrassing for all concerned.

Wouldn't you agree?

The guest blogger whose wonderful material I use here alludes to that period in mid-2014 when I began to question the viability of continued blogging—and, to be perfectly candid, continued living. Those of you who commented here will recall that I was open about the fact that I was staring into the abyss; I faced an unprecedented financial crisis that had me reading the small print in my life insurance policy. Like any writer, I've had my ups and downs, and I'd have to say that among the vast universe of all who attempt writing for a living, I've surely done better than most. I've been at the pinnacle of my profession. I've had numerous years that ran into six figures. But I've also had years that sorely tested me—and inflicted an unfair (and unforgivable) emotional burden on those who counted on me to “make things right.” Fortunately, those bad years never broke me, financially or spiritually, and were almost always followed by good years—until 2014. Last year I faced a perfect storm of bad luck and broken promises. And trust me, folks, when it happens at 65 it's infinitely more troubling than those fallow periods that sneak up on you when you're in your still-resilient 30s and 40s. So I went public. I pointedly asked for people to make modest PayPal donations to underwrite the continued operation of the blog. I knew it wouldn't be enough to remedy the background situation, but I figured it was a fair bargain for people who truly got value out of my postings. It was a way of using my professional skills to earn money when everything else had turned to shit.

Two people read between the lines, sensed the scope of my predicament and made no-strings, one-time contributions to the cause. Another long-time fan extended a "bridge loan" that, I confess, I have not repaid, and I don't think he's happy about it. However, no one responded directly to my “subscription offer.” No one committed. I hope I don't sound peevish. It's simply the truth.

So what sense does it make for me to prostrate myself, and make my remaining readers cringe, by unveiling yet another “special offer”?

I hope I'm not offending anyone by saying this; certainly not any of the good people who've commented here. I'm just telling it like it is.

Jenny said...

I'm grappling here with the urge to give you a self-help pep talk, Steve. Paradoxically, the message I am compelled to share is one that might offend your sensibilities. Please bear with me, though.

These are tough times for many of us. Talk is so cheap; it costs nothing to use our words. I so very much appreciate your candor. I've shared privately with you some of the adversity I've seen over the last three years, in particular. Grief. Loss. Deep discouragement and frustration. All the while, though, I've realized so many other people are going through challenges that are at least as difficult as mine.

We all matter, when it comes right down to it. These people matter, where "these" refers to we who simply want and need to be heard. Not just the ones who showed their support by generously giving or loaning money to you out of the goodness of their hearts, and not just ones like me, like Roger, who are still here in the wings pulling for you, hoping and wishing for... well, the best possible outcome, I guess. But also people who have yet to discover SHAM and your blog.

Okay, here's the potentially offensive part: I want to encourage you to dare greatly, as Brené Brown would say. Yes, she's been on Oprah. Her videos became popular after a particular one on vulnerability went viral. You are a creative person who has survived a lot of adversity, things we don't even know about. Hell, if I told you some of the crap going on in my life right now, you might not even believe it.

Anyway, Steve, some of us are here for the long haul. After all, where else can we go? ;)