Consuming Research?

monocle image Approaches to Social Research, by Royce A. Singleton and Bruce C. Straits, is a lovely, well-written book about what social scientists call “research methods,” i.e. the techniques for maximizing the relevance and minimizing the imprecision of the evidence against which honest social hypotheses and theories should be judged. I like the book, really.

One of the topics it covers is the “validity” of concepts and measures. In social science, a concept or measure is more valid when its “goodness of fit” to reality is higher. For concepts, the question of validity is answered by judging whether a particular definition “adequately represents all facets (the domain)” of the particular aspect of reality its purports to describe.

Quite so, and quite important. Is it childbirth or stork fly-overs we’re talking about here?

Funny, then, that Singleton and Straits, in explaining the reasons people ought to read their tome, say that “You may be a consumer of research.”

Really? How, pray tell, might I possibly consume research? Would putting Approaches to Social Research through a wood chipper do the job? Perhaps exposing it to a few bursts from a flame-thrower? Would refusing to read it at all count as a form of its destruction, which is, after all, what “consumption” has to mean in any sane universe?

What S & S mean to say, of course, is that, if you pay any credulous attention to today’s shared non-fictional world, you are by definition going to be a USER of social research, and therefore ought to have some knowledge of the basic rules and standards for conducting, evaluating, and reporting such research.

So, despite its inarguable and flagrant violation of one of the bedrock rules of social science, the “consumer” vocabulary is now so triumphant, so breezily familiar, that it sails right past even major experts on the importance of holding to robust, unbiased definitions.

Would that we could consume this confounding reality…

Facebook Ain’t Going Away

The question of the week comes from marketing guru Rich Greenfield, who just said this to Advertising Age about the status of Facebook, following more (mis-reported) revelation of its core business practices:

“Why would [an ad agency] advise clients not to use Facebook?” Greenfield asks. “It’s not like there are a lot of good alternatives.”

That is what they call, in academia, “instrumental morality,” i.e. the ends justifying the means.

Big businesses will, in other words, keep doing what they need to do to achieve their end, come –ahem — hell or high water.

Biden in a Nutshell

trickle-down imageHarry Braverman classically observed that Frederick Winslow Taylor’s refinement and promotion of the principles of scientific management was “nothing less than the explicit verbalization of the capitalist mode of production.”

In a system as forceful and predictable as this one, this system-speaking happens quite often, if you listen for it.

One figure who has managed to voice the regime is none other than good ole Joseph Robinette Biden, presumptive seller of the Democratic Party brand, 2020 edition.

In a May 8 address to the Brookings Institution, Biden revealed his theory of social class:

[W]hen the middle class does well, everybody does very, very well. The wealthy do very well and the poor have some light, a chance. They look at it like maybe me, there may be a way.

So, to clarify:  When the wealthy do “very well,” the middle does “well,” and the workers get “some light, a chance.”  And this is the ideal — the way the system is, in Biden’s world, supposed to work.

This premise is exactly, precisely the disguised content of all the “middle class” talk that has always been the Democratic Party elite’s proffered reply to the Reagan Revolution.

Upon Millsian translation into plain language, this, of course, IS the core claim of the Reagan Revolution: Say’s Law, a.k.a. trickle-down economics, a.k.a. the timeless maxim of the masters of mankind, a.k.a. Douglass’s rule.

Facebook as Lightning Rod

lightning-rod-image The New York Times has obtained some of Facebook’s internal planning records.  These show that Facebook is what it says it is, what its founders have always understood it to be: a device for harvesting intimate knowledge of people’s private lives and selling that knowledge to corporate marketers.

The meat of the NYT story is the revelation that, despite pretending to promise the Federal Trade Commission that it would cease doing so, Facebook has continued to sell “what are known internally as “capabilities” — the special privileges enabling companies to obtain data, in some cases without asking permission.”

This means, among other things:

Facebook [has] assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight. Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages. The social network permitted Amazon to obtain users’ names and contact information through their friends, and it let Yahoo view streams of friends’ posts as recently as this summer, despite public statements that it had stopped that type of sharing years earlier. [The New York Times, 12/19/2018]

Despite its importance, the great problem with this exposé is that it is yet another major case of rotten-appleism, of trying to portray a systemic imperative as a mere miscreant malpractice. As the NYT acknowledges, “personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.”

Why is that, and what entities and forces are genuinely responsible for the radical, progressively worsening market-totalitarianism of our life environment? It ain’t just ham-handed, yuppie-faced Facebook. It is, as somebody once said, a matter of Economics 101 in our supposedly best-possible, history-resolving system.

facebook finger-point image

Meanwhile, the proper answer to all this is not more silly efforts to regulate private-sector media providers. It is to empower the United States Postal System to enter the realm of modern communications, on all fronts, with full competitive aggression. A non-commercial, publicly-guaranteed social networking website, for example, could neatly and reliably dispose of all the problems inherent in Facebook, including the privacy issue.

Shitty Deal

Here at TCT, we of course delight in delivering all the great news about how corporate capitalism keeps winning the day by deploying its special, unimproveable innovation techniques to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.

New and better methods of butt-wiping, as you surely know without being told, is way high on the list of things people want and need in this, the year of our lord 2018.

So, let the rejoicing continue! The Procter & Gamble conglomerate, by working, as always, “to sustain the ongoing health, viability and sustainability of the Corporation,” has now achieved the breakthrough required to bring us the Charmin Forever Roll!

charmin ad image

One less hassle!  You’ll love not having to constantly change the toilet paper!

Indeed, who hasn’t lost sleep over that?  Oh, the waste! The pathos! The squandering of human hours! Tell us, dear readers, all the wondrous things you’ll do, now that you are free from the oppression of changing your TP…

Meanwhile, of course, there is the actual plan and purpose: P&G’s never-ending battle “to fuel investments and margin” while “driving…increased consumption.”

The new Forever Roll, you see, is a clever repackaging of Charmin Ultra Soft toilet paper.  Walmart sells various quantities of the conventional format of that long-running P&G product for 4.0 cents per square foot.

The Forever Roll, meanwhile, sells — apparently only directly from P&G — at $9.99 for 185 square feet and $5.99 for 92 square feet.

That works out to 5.4 and 6.5 cents per square foot, respectively — price increases per unit of 35 and 63 percent.

In order to achieve such wonders, P&G undoubtedly conducted many millions of dollars’ worth of marketing studies, to explore how to profitably insert this trope into people’s lives.

Such, dear friends, is the baseline stuff, the (pun intended) bottom line, of our socio-economic order.

Our grandchildren, should we somehow manage to pass them a world capable of remembering such astounding institutional facts, will be amazed and disgusted by what we did to them — and ourselves.

What “Consumerism” Denies

Almost all who favor taking conservative action to prevent existential catastrophe nevertheless accede to the allied ideas that “consumer” is a valid word for product-users and that we live in a “consumer culture” governed by “consumerism.”

This concession is itself pretty catastrophic, as we here at TCT have been trying to point out for fifteen years now.

Want an illustration?  Consider this graphic:

survey results image

Now, try to explain the reality shown there in terms of “consumerism” and “consumer culture.”  You can’t, because the facts in question utterly contradict those very concepts.