Friday, December 22, 2006

Free Will, Predestination, and Advertising

Tuesday night, we watched snippets of a Frontline special entitled "The Persuaders" on PBS. It traced the science/art of advertising from the age of the smoking Flintstones to the nueromarketing of today. It was a fascinating program and can be watched in its entirety at: .

Several thoughts:
  1. In regards to my previous post, while Big Brother may be a still distant vision, Big Business is already here and really creeps me out. The amount of information they have on you and the ability to use that information to filter out people who do not fit their target demographic is breathtaking.
  2. Related to #1, it was amazing how companies can look at a person and from seemingly banal facts about them, figure out how they vote, what type of car they drive, and
  3. One of the final statemens of the show reminded me of the Reformed understanding of the will. The reporter basically concluded that advertisers are not really trying to make us purchase something we don't want. Instead they are trying to find out what we want and then provide us with it. In a similar way, speaking of "free will" Reformed theologians contend that man is unable to do good on his own not because he is compelled by God to do wicked but because he doesn't want to do good. As Calvin writes: "Man will then be spoken of as having this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion. Well put, indeed, but what purpose is served by labeling with a proud name such a slight thing?"
  4. That last statement strikes me as especially profound. Fine, let's grant that man has free will. We're in the spectacularly unenviable position to freely choose any evil we desire! Advertisers exploit our greed, gluttony, and selfishness for financial profit. They are not manipulating us...just giving us what our far too wicked hearts desire.

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