Povertyjacking, Fearjacking, Sympathyjacking: Parasites Spamming a Noble Cause

Onion Magazine, October 2009
Lou Reed died Sunday.  Saturday night, I watched Steve McQueen in Papillon, my favorite movie of the early 1970s.   I read the book in Junior High School.   Steve McQueen died at 50 years old.

I'm 51.  So let me take a few minutes to write down what I'd call my "nudge the world" contribution.  Because "e-waste" is a debate about something people have already discarded and want to check off a mental list, it's over.

I'm not being smart or trying to be pulling my part
And I'm not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve
But you know people get all emotional
And sometimes they just don't act rational
And y'know, they think they're just on TV  

- Street Hassle, Lou Reed

What we have to expose is the "jacking" or "hijacking" of our collective compassion.  Our species has either evolved or been blessed with the ability to nurture, to care about others, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  But we are not blessed with omniscience.  So we have to choose what we care about, or let others choose for us.  Social cognitive dissonance creates a vacuum, which is easily filled by "celebrity experts".

What did we care about, and when did we care about it?

The blog noted Chevron Oil's titilating exploitation of the poverty aversion in May 2012, and other blogs have noticed, too.  "We agree".  Embrace the poster child image, get in front of it, own it.  Whether it's a small NGO with half-baked "statistics", or a big oil drilling natural resources in Africa, a certain number of people are going to get "cognitively dissonanced" (to verbization) out of caring.

pumpkin pie
Chevron Economist Ads
Below is chart credited to someone in the "art of self promotion" business.   Don't really care to give the guy a hyperlink, it looks like he wrote his own Wikipedia entry.  But you have to give him credit, he is correct in the life of a news story, and the opportunity between when a story becomes popular and people start to form opinions, or care about it.

As the chart shows, there's almost an art to "riding the wave" of social guilt, of channeling the "caring" to your own cause.  The African Arguments blog (Diana Jeter) taught me the phrase "parasites of the poor", reminding us to do the shakeout, in the end, of how much of the money goes back to the poster child's family.  In the math of exploitation, tinkerer trade is more balanced than either raw material mining (resource curse) or Basel Action charities, or even textiles and contract manufacturing.  More of the value of the sea container of monitors winds up in the hands of the Egyptians, Nigerians, Indonesians, Malaysians, Chinese, etc. Tinkerers or GOCs (Geeks of Color) than drilling, assembly, or even USAID.

But today's blog isn't about the math, or the Economics.  It's about how to hijack the white guilt as a force to kill the tinkerer's "gray market" and "white box factories", and how you, too, can put BAN's pictures on your website and show how much you care, with absolutely no accountability for the royalties the E-Steward branding costs your company.

The chart is about hijacking or "newsjacking" media attention, about the art of inserting yourself as an expert in order to catch the tailwind of public attention, and the benefits of whatever those eyeballs, clicks, or awareness gives you.   If your goal is to become a "celebrity expert", there is an art to that.  And most of us have a distaste for someone who plays the system this way, it's a single surf, an opportunistic ride of the wave.  We hope that the reporters, or the followers of the story, give more credit to people who have been "in the trenches", "boots on the ground", who somehow "deserve" the attention they accumulate.

Reporters and researchers, who are on the lookout for "newsjackers", have a set of criteria to vet the small crowd of people who insert themselves as "credibility celebrities" in the news cycle.  And people who care about children, who seem to have altruistic goals, fare much better in the screening process than people who appear to be out for profit, or gain.

Comme ca, monsieur?
In fact, if you are competing for some "pole position" at the newsjack cycle, poisoning the well of another expert is easier to do if you can attribute "greed" to the competitors motivations.  You are motivated by nurturing the poor, the sick, or the weak... they are motivated by money.

Reporters and journalists, priests and politicians, anyone who has the power to influence a crowd, have some other tools in the vetting shed.   Do you know what you are talking about?  Have you been there?  Does your story make sense?  Is there a scientific basis for your claim?  If not, are you an underdog, is there a "David and Goliath" angle to pursue?

The chart can be about more than a news story.   It can be about any of the limited number of concerns we hold in our national conscience.  Kony.  Ozone holes.  Less government.  Rain forests.  Toxics.  Civil rights.  Womens' rights.  The Second Coming.  We all have somewhat separate agendas, somewhat influenced by the people around us.  The things we choose to care about.  Some of our caring is ingrained by our evolution - things that are a risk to us, our children, our genetic heritage.   Some of our caring is, I choose to believe, from a higher power which enables us to act as Agents of Conscience.  But each of these stories has an arc, and each has the ability to snowball into followers.  If you catch a call for Reformation early, celebrity expert status awaits. Poverty Porn is just one avenue.

The story told about "e-waste" is just a lens, a sandbox, for how someone promoting a story or narrative takes over a news cycle.   The result is no longer in dispute.  Millions of people, in major cities like Lagos dump their own used electronics in their on junkyards.   Millions of people in those major developing countries are poor and sick.  If you can lasso the guilt over poverty, and tie it to a fake source of guilt, you have the opportunity for "sympathyjacking".

Been there, done that, much?
People who actually spend 2 years in Africa or Asia, people who really "follow the trail", see that the money for the used electronics brought to Cairo or Jakarta or Accra or Lagos is used and generated from within those countries.  People in emerging markets were getting online at 10 times the rate of growth of wealthy nations, and to do that, one of the things poor people need is a display device.  African and Asian consumers needed internet bandwidth, they needed audio speakers, and processors.   But what was unique about the display devices is that they don't go obsolete, but are very expensive to make, and rich countries are turning them over like hotcakes, looking for flatter, wider, 3D, or other more fashionable resolutions.

So how did someone get away with making up a Mike Daisy statistic, that "Eighty Percent" of the imports were junk, end-of-life, useless, waste material?   How did someone make up that "80%" of what was in the African city dumps was freshly imported?  How on earth did someone manage to get news reporters to repeat that "80%" of electronics collected by USA recycling programs is sent to these dumps, to be burned by children?

Charles Schmidt - NIH 2006
Scott Pelley - CBS
Canadian Film Class - Frontline

And in the most egregious case, they convinced Interpol.   Interpol assumed that "80%" of the exports were criminal, and if it was criminal, then money spent on it was a sign of "organization", and therefore "organized crime".  White International police officers began running down African businessmen like Joseph Benson, or seizing sea containers bound for Semarang Indonesia.   And the "sympathyjacker" posed as a hero in the media, a sort of Green Zimmerman, who saved the African children from toxics.  In the Bullyboy Series last summer, which culminated in a personal hadj to Interpol HQ in Lyon, I describe how the Africans were profiled by the 80% fake number, how the NGO refused to let it go despite admitting "collateral damage", and how the Interpol agents could not fathom their position.  Not a soul at the Interpol Office knew a display device from a toaster, but they could not believe that the 41 African businesses targeted by "Project Eden" hadn't done something wrong.  And in any Prohibition economy, that's not actually a bad bet.  But their Interpol enforcement had been Hijacked, Newsjacked, Fearjacked, and Interpol is along for the ride.

I wrote a series of blogs called "E-Stork" in 2011 which described the irrational belief in fairy tale explanations by reputable journalists. I'm trying to link that with the E-Waste Cell Phone Cancer (Cognitive Risk) analysis that year.  But what will add real value will be tools which will help Agents of Conscience, including journalists, regulators, and enforcers, spot when they are being Sympathyjacked by parasites of poverty.  We can see how it happened, with E-Waste news and laws, over the past 15 years.  But how do we come up with a tool so that our next cause - be it ivory, rain forests, ocean health, acid rain, global warming, or baby harp seals - isn't as readily hacked by planned obsolescence corporations or the next "big shred"?

The witch hunt is not a new invention.  I've been watching History Channel tonight, about the origins of Halloween.

  - Discovery News

Persistent Irrational Belief is a label.  What I believe is "upstream" of PIB is the allocation of trust to an authority.   The authority has a multiplier effect, or derivative power, when trusted news agents like CBS, Frontline, and Terry Gross (NPR), vet and then repeat a false statistic.

The statistic of 80% e-waste exports is blown out of the water.  It's impossible to recreate with African money, there is no incentive for it, no matter how Environmental Injustice descends on property values, there just isn't enough of an incentive there for Africans to take their money and spend it that way.   Again, this essay/blog is trying to use popular belief about "e-waste exports" as a lens for how environmental physicians go horribly wrong in their misdiagnoses.

1.  Reporters are more likely to believe a source who has statistics, field experience, and photos.
2.  Reporters are less likely to believe a contrary source with a financial interest in the outcome.
3.  Agents of conscience are more likely to be "nurture photography" (poverty porn) than by math.
4.  Agents of conscience are emboldened when journalists vet and apparently verify the claim

Corporate Planned Obsolescence, the "Waste Makers" described by Vance Packard, have a powerful tool in Cognitive Dissonance marketing.  If they can enlist, leverage, and help an idiot do-gooder to become a "celebrity expert", inserting an NGO into a "newsjacking" position, they will benefit from all the sympathy, fear, and poverty aversion we can muster.

We need a tool to better vet snake oil salesmen.   The "environmental malpractice" is natural, and snake oil salesmen will descend into the market for environmental health just as they did the market for human health.  Western Medicine combats these prescriptive mistakes with scientific method, dialectic, and vetting, and does NOT rely on public news sources.   The journals, like NIH, which attract experts to vet and question their theses, do the most to save environmentalists and do-gooders from our biggest threat - ourselves.

This same fear of perverse incentives and unintended consequences is what underlines my conservative friends fear of government solutions, such as ObamaCare (ACA).   Everyone meant well with Medicare.  But over time, it becomes a tool for profit seekers to spend putting liver transplants in 71 year olds, or heart bypasses in 91 year olds, and squeeze billions of health care dollars out of diminishing assets (older people) who face the biggest cognitive risk of all - death.

I woke up at 1 AM with an irrational fear of dying in a clausterphobic condition last night, which is why I came and started today's blog.   And that fear is fresh in my mind, and I can see myself being forced to choose to spend my grandchildrens money in the face of that fear, close up on me, and I can understand my weakness.  I found a little bit of comfort focusing on 50,000 years from now.  A time impossible to reach or impact, yet possible to imagine.  There ought to still be a mankind then, as there were people 50,000 years ago.

This is another blog that sat too long in the box.  It needs to be better edited, but I'm in a conscious-of-my-days mindset, and I want to at least contribute to chumming the social discourse.  It's not edited like I want to, but I've been so busy with lawyers and regulators and clients the past three months, that the posting, and readership, is way down.   I've been told not to write about specific things going on, though I will someday.  For now its the time to throw out a huge concept - how our innate, evolutionary, or Godly or spiritual passion for the underdog, the impulse to nurture, can be harnessed and hijacked by BullyBoys.    My contribution to the world won't be about junk electronics, or even natural resource recycling.  It may be the outing of cynical, greedy, selfish, egotistical, paternalistic bounty-hunters within our own green sustainability army.   Dishing out collateral damage to the GOCs (geeks of color) because a do-gooder news headline both intimidates the shredding companies you are shaking royalties from, and recruits neophyte care-givers.

You are busted, bullyboys.  Whatever happens to my company, and my employees, the secret is out.  I look forward to having more time to write about it.  The jig is up.

Life is too short to waste on bad solutions to falsely framed problems.

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip? Yo

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,
But he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down,
The whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out
He's choking how, everybody's joking now
The clock's run out, time's up, over, bloah!
Snap back to reality, Oh there goes gravity
Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked
He's so mad, but he won't give up that
Easy, no

So I'm ready to make a move, hoping that I can give Fair Trade Recycling a break from the animus that seems to follow me.  I want to write bigger, I want to write farther, I want to contribute something that's more than a good feeling about yesterday's discards.

I wanna lose myself...

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