So, for the most part, I’ve stopped calling things snake oil and started looking at who they market to and whether they’ll be helping those people.
Why I stopped pretending that I’m a robot and other insider musings about the human performance…
Tony Stubblebine

A compelling case, Tony!

If I may paraphrase your general argument, you are saying that marketing/story-telling should be judged not by its proximity to the truth, but by its effectiveness at creating a positive outcome for the people it is marketed to. Let me know if that’s incorrect, and how.

Assuming that it’s a fair paraphrasing, here are the pieces of your argument, as I see them:

  1. The marketing narrative
  2. The intentions of the marketer
  3. The relationship of the marketing narrative to the truth
  4. The targeted audience for the marketing narrative
  5. The impact of the marketing narrative on the targeted audience

In your argument, if #5 is positive, as measured by some trustworthy source, then #3 is irrelevant and #1 is justified in their actions and #2 can be assumed to be defensible on moral grounds.

You also call out another audience:

6. The rational cohort, who presumably do not belong in #4.

I don’t claim to be a rational person. In fact my objection to this general argument is based more in emotion than logic.

My primary objection is that there is very little chance that the marketer has good intentions. I don’t know this for a fact but I just feel very strongly that anyone who is lying to me does not have my best interests in mind. They never even bothered to ask me what I wanted, but rather launched right into their pitch.

If the marketing ends justified the marketer’s means then would all fire and brimstone priests be justified in using fear to make their congregations obey their authority (and maybe play by the rules a tiny bit more)?

Does all government surveillance get excused in the name of national security?

Does all lying in order to maintain the marketer’s conception of a desirable state (which we weren’t consulted on) get grouped into the blameless category of white lie?

What if the messages reach beyond their intended targets?

What if the lies have side effects?

Who’s accountable for #5 when the positive outcomes veer into the negative?

In the meantime, who gets granted that level of trust and responsibility in the first place? The same people that we just determined would lie to us because they know our own desired outcomes (and how to achieve them) better than we do?

I’m pretty sure even irrational people would not sign up for that. And if they wouldn’t sign up for it voluntarily, at what point does a marketer get consent for their false narratives?

My irrational argument is this: a false narrative will ultimately cause more harm than help, and can never be justified (even if you’re as successful and well-intentioned as Tony Robbins) regardless of the short term outcomes which are never measured by anything more than sales numbers anyway.


— written on BART