Rent Seeking

Peter J. D'Adamo, ND, MIFHI

Copyright 2008-2010

A long time ago I preceptored with a naturopath who was fond of having his handouts typeset by a local printer. He was an older style ‘nature-cure’ type healer, and his handouts contained some very far out stuff. When I asked him why he went to the great expense of having a printer typeset his advice, he replied that ‘when people see something in print, especially a format that they know is not homemade, they take it more seriously.’

Twenty years later we now would appear to know better. The easy availability of laser printers and desktop publishing software can make any would-be Hemingway look the part. Of course there is a price to pay for the ubiquity of it all. Nice-looking documents have become the very essence of banality and reader confidence further eroded by the inclusion of misspellings, bad punctuation and terrible font choices.

Many readers will remember that absolute reverence by which one beheld the evening news in our childhood. Walter Cronkite and The Huntley–Brinkley Report not only acted the part of impartial newscasters; they looked it as well.

In the arts we have recently seen the emergence of a new kind of artist. The conventional record labels, having seen their profits eroded by downloading and lack of consumer interest, can only play by the numbers and hope for another Britney Spears or similar mega-mediocrity. The industry crowns artless (but safe and cute) adolescents “American Idols” when in fact they have demonstrated no skills beyond what one would expect from a decent karaoke bar singer.

Composers and musicians who actually do have something to say have opted instead to release material direct to the public, often with a payment-optional policy. Although this would appear to be financial suicide, surprisingly, many of these ventures have been economically successful.

Have been re-reading Vivian Perlis' great book Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral history. I’ve drawn much comfort from Ives over the years; certainly through his music, but also with many of the corollaries between his life and my own. Our homes are within ten miles of each other, and we both shared the benefits (and challenges) of being the sons of men who were themselves way ahead of their time.

Ives was a musical genius, anticipating the serialism of Schoenberg and many other elements of modern music, such as microtones, by many decades. Unfortunately, this placed him squarely in the path of the conventional musical minds of his time. What frustration he must have felt reading reviews of his work, where instead of seeing the horizon line of a new art, the reviewer merely saw an amateur composer who just wrote down the wrong notes!

Ives had no patience for these people. On top of one review, he simply scribbled the phrase ‘rot and worse.’ To Ives, these were just mediocre minds, steeped in the traditions of the past. Problem was, they taught in the conservatories, wrote the reviews and set the standards.

"Stop being such a God-damned sissy! Why can't you stand up before fine strong music like this and use your ears like a man?"

- At a 1931 concert when a man booed during one his friend Carl Ruggles's works

Three decades ago Steward Brand said ‘information wants to be free.’ Brand’s WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) was a precursor of the Internet, the greatest source of unfiltered information in human history.

When information is free, people get to choose what they want to hear and read about. When it is filtered, news organizations, corporations, professional societies and political parties choose it for them.

Years ago doctors would never think of explaining their premises and motives. To whom? The village blacksmith? What does he know of chemistry? Now consumers can harness the power of the Internet to research their health issues to any depth they desire. Yet most doctors still function in filter mode, thinking that the deck is still stacked in their favor.

It's not.

Doctors have to learn about everything. A patient has to just learn about what is wrong with himself. You would be surprised by the speed in which a motivated patient can become a virtual expert in their condition.

In my vision of the future we will all become our own ‘aggregators,’ selecting information sources from an abundance of highly specific and single purpose ‘channels.’ Once aggregated into our lives, all these channels will fuse into a Multiverse of realities shared between like-minded individuals.

For example, you’re currently on the ‘Peter D’Adamo Channel.’

This will not stop filtering. Evidence suggests that we all filter out information that we disagree with. In True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, Farhad Manjoo cites an experiment in which smokers and non-smokers could vary the amount of interference in static filled recordings of speeches. When smokers heard a speech about smoking and cancer risk, they did not try to improve the clarity of the recording. But they did push the button to get a clearer version of the recording when a speech was playing that said that there was no link between smoking and cancer. In non-smokers the exact opposite was true.

In Filters Against Folly Garrett Hardin writes about our so-called free enterprise system:

"What is the free enterprise system? Calling the system a 'profit system' is misleading, because it is truly a 'profit-and-loss system' as far as the competitors are concerned. The general public wins because competition ensures low prices. Unfortunately, the truth is not always so simple. A comprehensive history of great business fortunes would show a disconcertingly large number that were made in a quite different way: the enterpriser devised a silent way to commonize costs while continuing to privatize the profits -- but don't tell anyone. This has been a formula for success for centuries."

Truth be told, the last few years have been a painful, if eye-opening education in the reality of rent-seeking, the corruption (intellectual, spiritual and economic) that results when learning is wedded to bureaucratic authority and income. Competing with rent-seekers can be a wearying and scarifying experience and a note like Stephan's does a lot to reassure me, a least a wee bit, that I am not some type of evil lunatic.

'Many years have you have been snubbed and even mocked, your theories debased and reviled. People seem to offhandedly wave away the world of discovery you have achieved like an odd odor in the air. It would seem that tremendous psychological forces are interacting in peoples minds when it comes to change, specifically in terms of attaining concrete understanding of health. You scare people, they are not ready for the truth.

-Stephan (comment on one of my prior blogs)

Rent-seeking can take many forms. There was the time a major manufacturer of ephedra-driven diet pills, fronted by a now-deceased somnambulist reality TV star, advised me via FAX that they had been awarded the patent for developing supplements based on blood type and unless I 'played ball' with them, they would issue a cease and desist order. Investigating the patent quickly disclosed that the source material used in their application was in fact my first book. They were, in essence, using me again me. We rolled the patent back, but only at great expense. But what about people who can't afford to fight back against the well-heeled?

Maybe I’m just a libertarian (or just an aging hippy) but I would opt for choosing my own filters --versus having information filtered for me—- especially when the filtering is being done by individuals and organizations that I do not trust and for which I have no respect.

Reviewed and revised on: 01/12/2023      
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