The Triumph Of Meaningless Choices

Sometimes it does not matter what side one picks. One of the triumphs of contemporary American business culture is the way that an artificial conflict being pit between two sides to try to hype up hostility in fact serves the interests of both, because both are under common management. I first became familiar with this phenomenon when I learned that a beer company that was large and prominent in the place where I grew up made both rather basic beers for general consumers and also had bought a lot of microbreweries that made craft beers more favored by others. As someone with little interest in beers I have never been particularly interested in either side of the dispute, but it struck me as interesting that this company had advertisements on both sides running against each other. They were trying to hype fans of their big-market beers to look down on hipsters, and then trying to hype fans of craft beers to look down on mainstream beers, but no matter which side one chose one was still likely buying beers from them, and thus they were making money out of it. The division was illusory because both sides were serving the same leaders.

I saw this phenomenon in a game I played in as well. A long chain of advertisements existed in the game’s banner ads between two alliances, both of which were themed after The Game Of Thrones. Both of them made use of the symbolism of that fantasy series, but it came to light that both of these alliances were in fact part of the same alliance bloc and therefore both on the same side. Whatever hype they were trying to build up against the other alliance was in the goal of building up the strength of the larger alliance bloc by mobilizing enthusiasm and activity on the part of those who were big fans of the series to join one or another of the alliances. The choice, therefore, was a meaningless one. Whatever the hype that was trying to be manufactured, that hype was ultimately in service of a larger unity between the two sides, where even if there may have been partisans of one side or the other, their rivalry was meaningless because it served to benefit the common alliance bloc in which both were members. And eventually this became recognized because one of the alliances was rebranded and deactivated and its members were taken up into the other alliance.

Perhaps the apotheosis of a meaningless choice is the series of commercials that pits left Twix against right Twix. It is generally a phenomenon of marketing that the less difference there is between two products, the more intense the marketing is to manufacture hostility between supposed partisans of both sides. If that is ridiculous when it comes to different types of beers made by the same company or different alliances in the same alliance bloc in a game, it is especially ridiculous when one is looking at a supposed rivalry between those people who are fans of two different but identical chocolates that are packaged together. If there is a choice that is more meaningless than that between left Twix and right Twix, it would be hard to think of one, and the commercial series leans into the meaninglessness of that choice by trying to tell people they have to decide.

A meaningless choice like this one is a key type of false dilemma that is common in marketing. The false dilemma has two additional solutions that the people trying to promote the false dilemma do not want to be considered, and it is worthwhile to consider why this is the case. One can be a fan of both left and right Twix, but of a mild kind that does not admit to partisanship, or neither, and not be a fan of the product at all. One can be a casual fan of the Game of Thrones but not have a partisanship for or against either House Stark or the Seven Kingdoms as a whole, or not be a fan of the series at all. One can also be mildly fond of both craft beer and mainstream beer but not be especially stirred by either, or one may simply drink something else entirely. These options are less desirable for a company because they indicate that someone is either not interested in either side of the fake conflict or they are mildly interested in both but not committed to either, and thus possible to be swayed by an appeal to an entirely different company’s products. The whole goal is to increase sales and passion and loyalty to a company’s product, and a big part of doing that is to hype up conflict between sides that all serve the same master.

This has larger consequences. A great deal of the conflict we face within our lives is conflict that has little objective reason to exist. It is by no means necessary that people who drink craft beer should have hostility towards those who drink mainstream beer, or vice versa. One can drink what one chooses in peace. But it is in the interest of those who own and control various companies and institutions to create imaginary conflicts that drive up loyalty to each side, because those loyal customers and partisans can be relied upon to serve the interests of those in charge. People who are only casually and mildly approving of both sides or uninterested in the whole argument as a whole are not the sort of people who will have intense (if misguided) loyalty. What it means is that when we see conflict between two sides, we must always be alert and aware to the specific aspects of the two sides that are fighting, and what options are not being focused on in order to draw attention to those two sides. Where there is fake conflict that need not exist except that it serves someone else’s benefit, it is worthwhile both to expand the suite of possible options that one keeps in mind and also to ponder whether the interests of those who manufacture unnecessary conflict and meaningless choice are in fact serving your own interests. You may find very well that they do not.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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