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 part—self-congratulatory, and yet at a very odd juncture at which to be self-congratulatory—but 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.
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.