If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
― Sun Tzu,
Back in 2016 I published a post called Advertising : Respect your enemy. It was light-hearted. It didn’t get many comments. Many people probably just thought it was a bit of fun.
But there was a serious point in there. Advertising works. To defeat your enemy, you must know and respect your enemy.
I used to think adverts were just harmless background noise. I thought that stuff would just run right off me, like raindrops run off a rock.
But here’s the thing. With enough time and enough water, even the strongest rock in the river gets worn down.
If you live in a city, you’re surrounded by advertising. If you watch TV, you’re surrounded by advertising. If you’re on social media or have a smartphone, you’re surrounded by advertising. This shit is everywhere.
Advertising works…but not on its own. It mixes with peer pressure. It mixes with our competitiveness and our desire to rank ourselves in hierarchies. It mixes with our monkey brain desire for MORE SHIT. It mixes with the toxic effect of watching The News. This makes the cocktail of consumerism that I call “The Prison Camp”.
There is far more to The Prison Camp than just working an office job that you don’t like. The Prison Camp is complex. It’s an economic system and a hierarchy, but its more than that. Above all, The Prison Camp is a belief system.
The Prison Camp broadcasts messages at us all day long via The News and adverts. These messages multiply our wants, whilst making us less effective. Double lose.
With repeated exposure, adverts form part of your Money Blueprint. The Prison Camp eventually comes to form the “frame” through which we see the world. The assumptions of the frame are all the more powerful for being implicit and unchallenged.
My suggestion: remove advertising from your life as much as possible.
Advertising is powerful…far more powerful than most people realise. More powerful than your conscious brain realises. Its NOT that your conscious brain thinks:
“Aha, the product in that advert looks good, I’ll go out and buy it now
That’s not how adverts work. Most of what passes for our thinking is automatic, instinctive and based on habit. Adverts work mainly in our sub-conscious. Even when adverts seem cheesy, they’re having an impact on your sub-conscious.
To illustrate the difference between conscious and unconscious thought, here’s a simple exercise. Sit somewhere quiet and notice yourself inhaling and exhaling. Consciously breath in….then breath out.
You were breathing long before you focussed on breathing. What then happened is that your conscious mind grabbed the steering wheel from the sub-conscious part. Your body has this amazing ability to operate on automatic pilot and do the breathing without you even being aware of it.
Now, I’ve got news for you. That sub-conscious bit of your brain is doing a lot more than just keeping you breathing. Its influencing all your money decisions as well.
How many times have you heard people say that advertising works on them because they are an easily influenced sucker? Probably never. That’s not how people think of themselves. But we should pay much more attention to what people actually DO than what they say.
What people actually DO is buy more stuff that is advertised. Newsflash: Consumer goods companies are not paying billions of £$£€€ to advertising agencies, Facebook and Google for a laugh. If advertising didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it.
Brand symbols, slogans and jingles lodge in your head without you even knowing it. This shit never really leaves you. Instead it sits somewhere on your “hard drive” taking up valuable memory space…like some malware program sitting there dormant…until you get to the shop, restaurant, bar etc. And then boom it re-activates! When you see the outline of the traditional coke bottle, you instantly know what it is without even reading the word Coke.
For a wonderful illustration of how powerful subliminal suggestion is, check out this video from hypnotist Derren Brown. The fact that he plays the trick on advertising executives just adds to the delicious irony.
You probably need to watch this video a couple of times to appreciate just how clever it is. Symbols and slogans are subliminally embedded in the minds of the victims who think they are operating from free will.
Perhaps this was just achieved by TV editing? Well, I’ve been to one of his shows and Brown does this stuff live and in person.
If you are going to escape, you need to unplug from The Matrix. This is of course a reference to the 1999 sci-fi classic film. The Escape Artist is not the first person to have seen the spooky parallels between The Matrix and Financial Independence. Back in 2011, Mr Money Mustache joined the dots for us here.
The Matrix helps visualise what financial independence is all about and why it seems so counter-intuitive at first. Let’s start with the easy bit…our hero Neo is a cubicle dwelling office worker trapped in The Prison Camp.
Neo has this niggling sense that there must be more to life than working at Megacorp. But, although his boss is a bit of a drag, his everyday life is familiar and comfortable. Change is scary. It will take a change of mindset where he embraces a new reality.
This is shown in the famous Red Pill scene. Neo has a choice between taking The Blue Pill (continuing with the comforting routine of work, shopping, holidays, consumption etc etc) or taking The Red Pill and seeing the world as it really is.
Having taken the Red Pill, Neo is unplugged from The Matrix….wrenched away from the comforting myths and false beliefs that have occupied and distracted him for all his life.
Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus : You’ve never used them before
When I first stumbled across FI blogs, I had that weird realisation that there’s another world out there. I’d found the rabbit hole that could take me to that other world. The Red Pill analogy provides a way of thinking about that perception shift.
It also explains the difficulties of “converting” other people. Every so often on FI discussion groups online, you’ll see a FIer talking about how their colleagues are moaning about being broke yet they’ve just bought a new car / holiday / phone whatever. Surely what that colleague needs is
a lecture some good advice?
Well maybe… but need and want are 2 different things. In the words of Morpheus:
You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependant on the system that they will fight to protect it.
When you watch the clip above, note how what at first looks like a random crowd of people are actually made up of the occupations which keep The System going:
- The suits = Big corporations
- The nuns = Organised Religion
- The sailors = Military
- The cop = Law Enforcement
- The teachers = Education
- The agents = Politicians
- The woman in red = Distractions (alcohol, shopping, passive entertainment etc etc)
The Escape Artist is not “against” the people working in these fields. It’s not that simple. For example, teachers are motivated to educate students, not enslave them. But life is full of unintended consequences and second order effects.
The Prison Camp is the end result…it’s what happened when big corporations, advertising, the media, politics and education came together. Most politicians didn’t set out to create a system that would encourage over-consumption and environmental damage. Nor a society where everyone is fat, broke and stressed. It wasn’t designed that way, it’s what evolved in a complex world where people want to influence other people.
Here’s how Ed Latimore puts it:
I don’t think there’s an INTENTIONAL conspiracy to make everyone fat, lazy, and stupid. The goal is just to make a lot of money. The best way to do that is to get people hooked on junk, both physically and mentally.
A fat, low-attention span, instant gratification, dopamine seeking population is easy to control, and better to profit from.
So, there is no organised conspiracy. But the effect is much the same.
So control your own environment as much as you can. Don’t go to shopping centres. Don’t watch TV news or adverts (there are mute and skip buttons on TV remote controls). Opt out of marketing junk mail. Hit unsubscribe rather than just delete when you get a marketing email. Change your settings on social media to get fewer notifications. Stop sharing your location and data with big tech companies that use it to beam targeted ads at you.
To escape, you need to unplug from advertising and The News.