On Message

Messages should be ways to communicate about things, ways to encourage actions. When the message itself becomes the product, run.

If someone sells painted rocks for a living and does well, then that person is unlikely to stop painting rocks and selling them. Likewise, if someone’s message has become elevated to the point where they make a decent living off of simply transmitting that message, then they’re unlikely to stop. That means you can safely ignore them, forever. And you should, even if you agree with the message.

Why? Because it won’t change, won’t produce new information, won’t adjust to reality. Here’s a hypothetical: let’s say some public figure is strongly anti-cigarette. Strongly! So strongly that it’s their whole public brand – they’re publicly well-known as the “anti-smoking guy” and they post on social media all the time about it. He leads an anti-smoking foundation and he’s always protesting tobacco companies. He does lecture series on the dangers of smoking in high schools across the country, etc.

I don’t have a particular problem with this guy’s message. I think smoking is bad, generally! But I would absolutely ignore this guy because not only don’t I need to listen to him to gather information, but there’s a very strong chance he’ll lie to me.

If some famous celebrity were to die, and in their apartment the police found drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes – what do you think Anti-Smoking Guy would tweet about? You could probably guess, and you’d be right. Anti-Smoking Guy would tweet about the dangers of smoking – and even if a later autopsy revealed a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning to be the cause of death, Anti-Smoking Guy would tweet about how cigarettes led to those things, were a “gateway habit,” or whatever. You could predict that, and you would be right, and that tweet wouldn’t contain any new information that would be helpful to you, so you can safely unfollow.

And you should, because that’s just the most benign version. The more malign version is this: imagine that some new research emerges that says that smoking cigarettes, if combined with the right daily vitamin regimen, not only has no adverse health effects but tremendous health benefits? What if it added 20 points to your IQ and thirty years to your lifespan? What if it cured other diseases? What if it turns out that with the right additive, cigarettes became one of the greatest boons to mankind in history?

Do you think Anti-Smoking Guy would care? Do you think he’d pack his things and go home?

Of course not. Once your message is your living, you’re chained to it. So in the best-case scenario, cigarettes are poison, you already know they’re poison, and Anti-Smoking Guy just exaggerates (note, that doesn’t mean that Anti-Smoking Guy isn’t possibly doing some good by spreading the message itself to people who might not have heard it yet, just that you don’t need to listen to it). In the worst-case scenario, Anti-Smoking Guy actually impedes progress.

Heck, Anti-Smoking Guy doesn’t even want cigarettes to go away. Then he’d be out of a job. His personal best-case scenario is that cigarettes stay around forever so he can just keep on advocating against them… and maintain his grift.

Because it is a grift. Even if the message is true and good, most of the messengers are grifters. There’s a difference between someone who actually works to increase public health, regardless of what form that takes, and Anti-Smoking Guy. ASG just wants to get paid to yell; he doesn’t want to make anything, doesn’t want to produce alternatives, doesn’t even want to pursue a goal like “public health.” He just picked a thing that a lot of people don’t like and publicly disliked it with enough passion and charisma that its other detractors started paying him – paying him in attention, in clicks and likes, in lecture fees, in notoriety, in book sales.

But you know what? Pro-Smoking Guy gets the same deal. So the fervor of the message alone isn’t enough to prove truth. You have to find that out on your own – and the grifters are the first people you should ignore in your search for truth.

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