To avoid being tricked by The Man, you need to understand the cunning ways of his helpers in the advertising and marketing industries.
In Part 1, we took a look at how advertising works. When you are surrounded by advertising, you absorb it without thinking. It then shapes your decisions….unless you actively choose to reject it.
In the movie The Matrix, 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.
Now in Part 2, let’s take a closer look at Blue Pill fantasies.
Blue Pill fantasies are the rewards promised for good (read compliant) behaviour….as long as we stay in our cubicles. They’re the things that keep the hamsters turning the treadmill. They’re the treats thrown to an obedient dog. They’re the fish they throw to the dolphins at Seaworld after they done their tricks (Editor: that’s enough animal metaphors).
The easily outraged should look away now because some of these truths are uncomfortable. The big Blue Pill fantasies are Travel, Love, Dream Homes and Safety. These are things which we cherish. Advertisers know this and they play on it ruthlessly. I’ll say upfront that The Escape Artist enjoys travel, love, home and safety. But I don’t pretend that they lead to some perfect paradise where nothing bad ever happens.
Nothing in life is 100% good or 100% bad. Every cloud has a silver lining and every silver lining has a cloud.
What do I mean by this? Well, pretty much everyone could agree that Motherhood is a “Good Thing”. But even Motherhood has its downsides. Many women have the scars to prove this (literally…C sections will do that to you). There’s a downside to everything.
Now take something that pretty much everyone could agree is a Bad Thing. This being the internet, let’s go with The Nazis. But even that dark episode of history left us some small consolations. Without it, we wouldn’t have Victor Frankl’s masterpiece Man’s Search for Meaning.
So, to re-cap…some things are (mostly) good and some things are (mostly) bad. But nothing is 100% good or 100% bad. Anything that says otherwise is trying to sell you something.
Blue Pill fantasy #1: Travel
Travel can provide a powerful motivational goal for people on The Path to FI. But its also used to promote consumerism…and flog package holidays.
The dream: Imagine a beautiful tropical island. Its peaceful, the sun shines in the clear blue sky. You’re sipping a cocktail and warm water is lapping at your feet. You can see your seaside villa on pontoons, where your Special Love Muffin (see below) is lounging on Egyptian cotton sheets waiting for you. Everything is fucking marvellous.
The reality: You’ve spent a small fortune and you’re on the beach at Club Tropicana. There are lots of
annoying foreigners other people, mosquitoes and wasps. Might you be hassled by beach vendors trying to sell you nonsense trinkets? Yes. Might you be jet lagged? Yes. Hungover? Yes. Might you miss home? Yes.
Holidays are marketed as a panacea for just about everything. Stressed? You need a holiday. Tired? You need a holiday. Bored? You need a holiday. But what about this as a possibility…might you still be the same flawed and emotional person on holiday that you are in everyday life?
Wherever you go, there you are.
Blue Pill fantasy #2: Love
So obviously love makes the world go round and without it, we’d have given up on making and raising babies a long time ago.
Don’t get me wrong, The Escape Artist is as romantic as the next guy. Maybe more so? It’s just that I’m not 14 years old and I’m not as much of an idiot as I used to be.
Advertisers know that we are suckers for this stuff. For example, dating services play on the idea of “finding your soulmate”. No doubt online dating is
a giant fuckpuddle an efficient tool and has its uses…but you can spare me the soulmate marketing. There is no such thing as a soulmate, that one special person out of 7 billion who Fate has decided will “complete you”.
Yes, I know there are Nice Guys who proclaim that their better half “completes them”. But the only person you should say “You complete me” to should be your kidney / heart / lung donor when you’re on the waiting list for a transplant.
Blue Pill fantasy #3: Dream Homes
Don’t get me started on all those property porn shows on TV.
I know some people take pleasure from a beautiful home and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s not enough. Yes, environment matters…but true happiness comes from within: are you happy with who you are and where you’re going in life?
I know that a lot of people enjoy the process of building / decorating their “perfect” home. My wife’s take on home improvement is that its never over.
My take is that as long as the rain is not coming in and no one’s fallen through a hole in the floorboards, then what’s the problem?
If your other half wants to keep earning and spending money on even more soft furnishings or sports cars, then fine. But The Escape Artist will not be typing shit into The Man’s computer in an office on a grey Monday morning to fund that.
Once you are the workhorse for someone else’s perpetual dream project, you are their bitch and, in case you were wondering, that’s not good. Remember: power is the ability to control your own life.
Blue Pill fantasy #4: Safety
Many adverts bang on about something called “Peace of Mind”.
Peace of Mind sounds good. But safety is an expensive illusion. Its a mirage in the desert. Its the carrot on the stick that is always just out of reach.
Safety is a fundamental human desire. The desire for financial security overlaps with our basic desire for safety. But shit happens. So we do what we can to live with that. FIers build a freedom fund. Consumer suckers distract themselves with shopping, TV etc etc. Obviously, I think our way is better. But you can never eliminate all risk from life.
Trying to suppress the natural volatility of life is a mistake. Just as its natural to feel happy and sad sometimes, so its natural for the weather to change and for share prices to go up and down. Share price volatility is an opportunity yet it scares off those who don’t realise the game is loaded in our favour.
Who most benefits from our hunger for safety? The insurance industry who sell “peace of mind”. Insurance is for people that don’t have enough margin of safety in their finances. If you have a stash, you can self-insure. If you’re a minimalist you don’t need contents insurance. But if you have a mortgage and a middle class lifestyle to maintain, your conditioning will be screaming at you: play it safe!
This can hold you back in more fundamental ways than just buying too much insurance. It can hold you back from investing in shares. It can hold you back from letting go of a safe monthly salary and going self-employed.
Here’s how Ed Latimore puts it:
If you grew up middle class, you have been fed security your entire life. This will keep you from ending up in the gutter, but you’ll always be risk averse.
Most ways to freedom of time or money involve taking calculated risks that are beyond the comfort zone of most people. I don’t mean things that are inherently dangerous or scary, but things with no guarantee of a secure outcome.
If you’ve known security all of your life, you will not want to endanger that. You’ll always seek it.
So what is the moral of this?
A big chunk of the economy is fuelled by these Blue Pill Fantasies.
- The search for love is fuelling much of the alcoholic drinks market, the cosmetics market, the clothing market, the baby products market and did I mention the online dating market?
- The desire to travel is fuelling the oil & gas industries, aviation, cruises, luggage, outdoor wear, etc etc
- The search for the perfect home is fuelling the construction industry, the consumer appliance industry, the magazine industry etc etc
- The search for safety is fuelling the entire insurance industry, not to mention an army of elf ‘n safety regulators, administrators and bureaucrats.
Together these sectors make up a large chunk of the global economy. You can see how The Man wants you to dedicate your life to working & buying this stuff to keep the dividends on the Vanguard All World Equities ETF flowing like there’s a party going on for rich people (hint: there is).
Most people think they’re immune to adverts. Well, let me tell you, they’re not. Like I said before, this stuff operates in your sub-conscious mind. So how can you tell if you are truly free of their influence?
You know you’ve sussed adverts out when you find them unbearable to sit through. If, like me, you can no longer watch sit still and watch adverts without feeling an overwhelming urge to chuck the TV or laptop out of the upstairs window, then you’ve got it.
If you can still bear to watch them, that means you really shouldn’t.