Welcome to manhood

Asked recently to define my technical term, “Twisted Nanny State,” I replied, “The Gillette company.” Their unctuous, misandrist advertising campaign from last winter got my attention, but that was only a symptom of what I had in mind. I was referring to the company itself, though soon I learnt that it doesn’t exist any more, having been swallowed by the still larger fish, Procter & Gamble, which split its operations into related P&G divisions. Gillette is now just a brand, its reputation as much for sale as any of its products; there is no “there” there, any more. The manufacturing itself can be moved from one labour market to another, and the management enjoys a kind of extra-territoriality in which personal responsibility is progressively dissolved.

Gillette had previously swallowed I don’t know how many smaller companies, one of which was Braun of Germany, once associated with high standards of industrial design. (Their famed designer, Dieter Rams, master at the marriage of art and engineering, remains one of my somewhat numerous heroes.) But Braun, too, had absorbed smaller companies in its turn.

Gentle reader may object that none of these entities is a government department, except insofar as it is the subject of taxes and regulations, and as it grows larger, an ever more formidable force in lobbying for subsidies and legislation favourable to itself. Objection sustained. Verily, this is just my point.

Each entity made its way until the gobbling by means of mass consumer advertising, in which morally illegitimate methods of persuasion — principally hype, actual lies, irrelevant claims and endorsements — are instrumental to sales success. Honest advertising (e.g. catalogues with exact descriptions) is theoretically possible but practically extinct; campaigns are based on the tawdry manipulation of human “perceptions” — behaviourist psychology at the level of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, but elaborately quantified, with financial and pricing arrangements factored in.

Indeed, one may link most disastrous marketing decisions to the decline of intuitive reasoning, as statistical reasoning takes its place. The manager who knows in his gut, from experience, what might work and what won’t, or can’t, is displaced by the young analyst with computer modelling skills and all the jargon of “science” to express the platitudes he was drip-fed in school.

But here, too, “private” and “public” enterprise are fully integrated. Both are adapted to the “planning” paradigm, and each is utterly dependent on the other, in what is misleadingly called “the mixed economy.” The critics of abstract Capitalism, on the one side, and abstract Socialism, on the other, draw a false contrast between two administrative orders, when they are both bureaucratic in nature, inhumanly oversized, and habitually dedicated to the pursuit of monopoly.

Several of the readers with whom I correspond are under the immovable impression that I am against making money, or improvements in technology, per se. In fact my outlook is cutting-edge mediaeval Catholic. The moral questions are instead such as, How is the money made? And, for what are the improvements to be used? As I must remind e.g. my Chief Texas Correspondent, I am not against electricity or indoor plumbing. But I am against worshipping such things, or making them the criteria for high civilization.

“Progress” in this kind is an empty achievement. Every supposed “advance” requires the sacrifice of something, that ought to be carefully examined. The real question is not who makes the decisions, but whether the decisions are good. We get lost in technicalities. The ultimate human decision, whether to opt for Heaven or Hell, does not involve statistical analysis.

“Welcome to manhood” was a long-term marketing campaign, in which sample packs of Gillette products were sent to presumed males on their eighteenth birthdays. One could imagine the immensity of the commercial bureaucracy required to “target” this ultra-specific demographic “group,” and giggle when the packs were mailed, mistakenly, to little old ladies. But it is more than a joke when we see that the company, along with the rest of Twisted Nanny State, is trying, in their more recent campaigns, not to sell their irritating products to men, but to redefine manhood.