By Dan Burkitt
I’m reading a book. It’s called Poverty Safari and it was written by Darren McGarvey. Are you impressed? People my age don’t read do they? Because we’ve all got attention spans shorter than the spire at Notre Dame.
We don’t read because we have no self-control. We want instant gratification. We want everything now and we’re not willing to work for it. We can’t sit down and pay attention for long enough to read a book. We’re not capable of controlling our lizard brains. We’re weak, we’re pathetic, we’re a joke.
In the aforementioned book, McGarvey discusses his struggles with impulse control and addiction. He was – and at times still is – an overeater. He speaks of the shame and self-disgust he feels when he finds himself gorging at McDonalds, rendered powerless by his desire for the brief and fleeting gratification junk food provides.
I can certainly empathise with this. I used to be a big boy. I was about 20 kg overweight when I was sixteen, but thankfully managed to shed the weight through diet and exercise. But I still have anxiety dreams about waking up fat.
McGarvey suggests that, although our circumstances and ‘the system’ at large have a role to play in creating and reinforcing self-destructive habits (such as overeating), we have to take responsibility for our actions. In McGarvey’s case, he suggest that growing up in poverty was, certainly to some extent, to blame for his unhealthy relationship with food. But he does not consider it solely responsible.
He writes: ‘Evidently, while the system plays a significant role in how we choose to live our lives, we cannot underestimate the role our choices also play. And never before have we had so many things to choose from.’
The modern world is saturated with choice. You can choose to buy a Deliciously Ella cookbook or you can choose to order a nice, greasy Papa Johns. And I know which one most of us would rather have.
This inevitably led me to think about advertising. We are here to influence people’s choices. It’s a powerful and sinister business. But to what extent are we truly responsible for those choices?
Last week I was in a bar in Germany watching the Dortmund v Bayern game. It was a big match. I was supporting Dortmund and they were trounced 5-0, which was depressing, but that’s beside the point. I was quite shocked to see they have betting ads that appear on TV during the game. They pop up in the corner, giving you in-games odds.
I was stood by a fruit machine and the second the ad appeared, some bloke came over, practically pushed me out the way, and fed 20 euros into the machine. He had obviously been instantly triggered to gamble. Not to bet on what the ad was offering, he just needed to gamble full stop. It was pretty upsetting to witness.
Although I completely agree with McGarvey that people are responsible for their choices, I find the idea that I might incite self-destructive behaviours alarming. Working on betting, or booze, or junk food accounts leads you into a moral quagmire.
And I think if I was working on those accounts, it would be difficult to square my belief in freedom of choice and personal responsibility, with my desire to make the world a better place.
So what will be my choice? Will I have the self-control to turn down the work?