Above image of “Wellness Warrior”, Jess Ainscough, who was actually dying from a rare form of cancer while claiming to have cured herself by following a fresh food diet and lots of daily coffee enemas. Her blog was followed by thousands. Shortly before Jess died, her mother passed away from breast cancer. It is possible that both women’s lives may have been saved with a medical approach. It’s also possible that other people died needlessly because they followed Jess’s advice.
“Blind Faith” is Ben Elton’s cynical, satirical novel, written 10 years ago, depicting a futuristic, exhibitionist world where there is no logic and only what people think, feel and believe is deemed important. Anyone with real knowledge is considered to be a heretic and risks being killed by the mob or burnt at the stake.
“Faith means not wanting to know what is true”
– Frederick Nietzsche
Right at the end of the 1990s I worked for the Australian branch of a privately owned, international publishing company.
Even back then, print publishing was not a particularly lucrative industry in Australia because we have such a small population compared to the US and the UK. In those countries, even the strangest-seeming niche titles with the oddest themes have the power to capture a reasonably-sized audience and perhaps make a small profit.
Around this time, a big Hollywood Sci Fi movie was about to be released and our company had obtained a license to create merchandise in the form of picture books. Merchandising obviously wasn’t a new thing but, in terms of branding, this was probably about the time when it started to become a massive part of projected profit margins.
All staff attended a general screening of the movie. Some of the PR and Marketing team even got to walk up the red carpet at the Australian premier. Exciting times!
But, as I stated previously, Australia represents a very small market. If you’ve ever wondered why it is that so many information books have not been adapted for Australian readers, it’s pretty simple; It’s business and it’s bottom line. Some books will be deemed worth “Australianising”, but this will generally depend on how famous the author is, how fashionable the topic, and how much is actually in the pot for marketing purposes. (It’s also why unknown authors find it very difficult to get their work published. It’s sell-ability, not just raw talent). As with most things, the bigger the bulk order, the cheaper the unit price. For publishing, this means that by jumping on a massive, one-size-fits-all print-run involving the US, the UK (or both), profits may be higher because unit cost is less. But it’s a fine line. If the public aren’t interested and the market ends up flooded, those books that are unsold will generally be stored in warehouses at great cost and eventually pulped. Books sitting on shelves in retail outlets that haven’t been sold will end up in remainder bins. The crap that nobody wanted!
No adaptations were needed for these books and it was an international buzz. Marketing budgets were in place. Our sales team were hyped and ready. Let the good times roll. Yay! Only, it didn’t quite go that way…
Not that long prior, our English chairman (the company owner/founder) had acquired himself a new 2IC (second in command). A bold, self-assured man who had convinced the Chairman he could rescue the company from its declining profits and recent troubles. He was confident these titles were going to present a positive turn around. I think it’s fair to say that he pushed for quite possibly, one of the biggest print-runs in the history of the company.
I’m no marketing expert, but you would imagine that with a population less than one third of the UK, it was reasonably obvious that Australia wouldn’t be shipping in quite as many books as the UK or the US from this immense pile. But not obvious, unfortunately, to 2IC who, from his office in the UK, announced that we would, in fact, be receiving thousands of them. I can’t recall exactly how many, but all-in-all, 13 MILLION copies of these titles had been printed and were ready for distribution around the world*
Our Operations Director begged and pleaded for reason, quoting figures and offering examples as to why it would be business suicide to import as many as 2IC was demanding. He was abused, humiliated, sworn at and threatened. Anyone who understood the nature of what we were doing could see that if our subsidiary did what was being asked, then even if every Australian household ended up with two on their bookshelves, there would still be some left over. It was also the case that The Next Big Thing (Pokemon to be precise) was imminent and it was time to get things rolling and then move on as quickly as the public.
But the rest is history and it was the end of an era.
Predictably, the market was flooded. Millions of books world-wide ended up in warehouses before being pulped. The whole company recorded another massive loss and ended up being sold. Most of the staff lost their jobs. As for 2IC, he resigned (with a payout of course), and no doubt, talked his way into another high-paying, high profile position pretty quickly.
When it comes to the idea of “self-belief”, this kind of confidence – I guess you could describe it as arrogance or narcissism – is interesting. Interesting because when a person is that self-assured AND confrontational it can be dangerous. In this case, it brought down a company, but we can see how it has the potential to create instability on an international level when narcissists become world leaders. Which, sadly, they often do. Mr and Ms Average are actually quite fearful of confrontation and so find it far less stressful to just go along with something. Nobody enjoys being shouted down. Or worse. And even if we are sure this person is wrong, self-belief can be so convincing. What if we are wrong? Maybe they know something we don’t? It’s easy to start to question what it is what it is we thought we were sure of – even our values.
History shows us that narcissists such as Hitler and others like him had amazing rhetorics and super-human egos. So yes, it seems easy now to ask “How did that happen? Why?” But I would argue that on some level, this kind of stuff happens every day. For the most part though, thankfully, it doesn’t lead to such immense harm. It’s important nonetheless though because, even when belief has nothing to do with narcissistic behaviour or confrontation, we often find ourselves swept up in the idea of something and never even think to question what we are being expected to accept in good faith. “WOW? Tuppaware lasts forever?” (Yep and so does most plastic). “What? Bicarb can cure cancer?” (er no unfortunately…). And then of course there’s unsubstantiated gossip, memes and hearsay.
The truth is (pardon the pun) that “belief” in itself, means nothing. Unlike actual knowledge, proven facts or evidence of some sort, it’s kind of irrelevant. Personally, I do not care what someone believes – But I am interested in the why because it helps me understand who they are and how they think. And it’s not enough to say “just because”. What does that mean? If we are honest with ourselves, we will realise that most of our unquestioned and generally accepted thought-patterns are a mixture of nurture and environment. They are worthy of deeper investigation.
It’s belief that typically affects human behaviour. As one example of how an idea can quickly morph into meme, somebody somewhere will post an image or a news story, perhaps on Facebook, and relate it to something trending politically with the hope it will incite an avalanche of hate comments. Humans love negativity – despite our denials – and in many ways we have become perversely addicted and attracted to it. We like to feed the beast regularly.
Maybe a piece like this will be examined and researched in depth by a couple of smart observers – the intelligent thing to do you would think BEFORE sharing or getting caught up in nasty, ignorant commentary. But even if it becomes clear a story is nothing but BS, it doesn’t halt the emotional or aggressive outpourings. To the majority, it seems facts, evidence or an inquiry into the mind to examine WHY something seems to have invoked such an emotional response for us, are irrelevant. It’s far easier just to jump on the bandwagon and go with.
And that, my friend, is the essence of blind faith. It’s dangerous, it’s en-trend and it’s a massive, worldwide and humanitarian problem.
*Only three million copies of this book were actually sold world-wide, which meant 10 million were surplus.