The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: “Despite” What?
We’re all addicted, despite our better judgment. The same goes for Apple consumers.
The growth of human knowledge, especially with the help of technology to store and process it, will always outpace the growth of human wisdom. We may even have reached the point where the two have become rivals, if not enemies.
This conflict appears regularly in the news, though we don’t always notice it. The clue to finding examples can be as simple as looking for a sentence that starts with the word “despite.” For example, an article in The Guardian relates the unethical use of artificial intelligence in the online gambling industry. A digital marketer quoted in the article tells us: “The industry is using AI to profile customers and predict their behaviour in frightening new ways. Every click is scrutinised in order to optimise profit, not to enhance a user’s experience.”
The Guardian then informs us that, “Despite condemnation from MPs, experts and campaigners, such practices remain an industry norm.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A word to indicate a lack of logically predictable effect from the stated cause, highlighting a contradiction. Especially useful for describing the growing gap between what people know and understand, on the one hand, and the actual practices and policies of governments and corporations, on the other.
Not many people expect the online gambling industry to be a paragon of civic virtue. Labour MP Carolyn Harris, quoted in the article, calls them “parasitical leeches.” But we should remember that all commercial companies are committed to the mission of managing their greed for profit, while doing what’s necessary to remain within the letter of the law. The complaint here relates to their purported addictive effect.
But isn’t addiction what every commercial enterprise aspires to? They may prefer to call it “customer loyalty,” but addiction could only be a consummation devoutly to be wished. Isn’t addiction the secret to Apple’s success, an enterprise universally admired?
Harris complains that “the industry is geared to get people addicted to something that will cause immense harm.” This accusation contains two elements: “addiction” and “harm.” So, if addiction isn’t the problem, then it must be harm. And the harm can only be the monetary cost, the transfer of wealth from the individual to the corporation through the play of desire for an illusory good. Except that gambling can pay off in ways that purchasing an Apple product can’t. It’s actually possible to come out ahead, whereas that will never happen with an iPhone or an iMac.
So, why don’t we see the Apple addiction as harmful?
The answer could only be that the addiction to Apple products, while qualitatively similar, turns out to be quantitatively different. Gamblers’ addictions lead to frequently repeated behavior. Consumers of Apple products cannot consume the same product repeatedly, at least not beyond a certain rational limit. Gambling knows no limit other than the extent of one’s financial resources.
Despite the deeply ingrained belief that our evolved civilization is the result of an evolving history of political and social progress, the competitive nature of today’s industrial capitalism encourages and rewards two tendencies that most people disapprove of: monopoly and addiction. The success of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon can be attributed to their skill in using the tools of the marketplace to create a monopoly, while denying that it was ever their intention.
Each has perfected the true secret to modern monopoly: get people addicted. That implies the transfer of responsibility for a monopoly to the consumer, concealing the monopoly’s strategy. The public does have the right to refuse, but once a corporation has created a state of dependence for a critical mass of consumers (the network effect) and is shielded by legal protection from interference because other choices exist, the blame for addiction falls exclusively upon the shoulders of the consumers themselves.
The recent Facebook crisis demonstrates this obvious fact about the modern economy. The European Commission, because of the diversity of national interests within its regional framework, has showed real sensitivity to this issue and has dared to challenge the monopolistic practices of Microsoft, Google and Apple. Not that it has had anything other than local effect, because monopoly is now global. But it does show that governments can just possibly defend the public interest.
Monopoly can be challenged and perhaps will be more aggressively in the future. But despite everything we know from history about the economic value of addiction — think of Britain’s Opium Wars in the 19th century — not even the European Commission will address this far more fundamental problem, which is social, not legal.
All of which highlights the meaning of “despite.” Science and history have taught us a lot of things. But when speaking about actual practices, we have no choice but to fatalistically introduce many of our sentences with the locution, “Despite…”
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.