This Is Not About Spam
By A.D. Freudenheim  

3 May 2005

Aren’t the motivations behind SPAM are a complete mystery? Yes, clearly, the goal is to make money – and make money they must because people seem to find this an attractive occupation. But the business model relies on two essential practices, both of which are so obviously stupid that it makes it difficult to believe that SPAM does not just fizzle out, as most Ponzi schemes eventually do. The first premise of SPAM is the sale of some kind of product – herbal “Viagra,” or penis / breast enlargement systems, or really cheap ink jet cartridges – while the second is the sale of lists of e-mail addresses to whom these products (or other millionaire-making opportunities) can be marketed.

One frightening conclusion is that there are people stupid enough to order drugs and breast enhancements and the like from completely unknown and intentionally-disguised sources. Spammers are people so uniformly reviled that they have entire systems built to take advantage of holes in the internet, to send out e-mails that they hope cannot be traced back to them? Yet the SPAM persists, and logically it continues because the market for SPAM products persists. The other popular service offered is the sale of bulk e-mail address lists: for a low, low price, one can tap into someone else’s network of “contacts,” in order to send out SPAM of one’s own ... presumably either of similarly unnecessary or untrustworthy products, or offers to others to buy “your” e-mail lists. SPAM is the ne plus ultra of pyramid marketing, but with much less to offer than its earthly competitors like Amway or Avon; at least with those systems you get to meet your sales representative face to face.


Increasingly, it seems that American politics is a reflection of SPAM, as mindless and irrelevant, and as reliant on the sale of ersatz prescriptions for what ails the nation. There are a number of manifestations of this. For example, the blue state vs. red state structure created by the nexus of the Republican and Democratic parties and the media is completely mock-strategic; it mimics the language of careful analysis to project an aura of understanding and validity that ignores the reality of our evenly-split, geographically-mixed electorate. We are a nation of nuance, of mixed feelings and contradictory opinions and conflicting beliefs – and we are being denied that nuance by the politicians and their parties, and by the news media as well, because it simply is not convenient for any of them. Subtleties do not sell nearly as well as a four-inch headline and a firm proclamation of political intent (no matter how misguided).

Fortunately, there are plenty of political prescriptions offered for American ills, in the best, most simplistic, SPAM-like approaches. For instance, plans are offered to “reform” Social Security (as if the program had done something naughty). One side blasts away with simplistic messages about the imminent bankruptcy of a program that likely has a longer lifespan than any of the politicians who wish to dethrone it; little mention is made that their proposed changes will leave poor and middle class Americans at the mercy of unpredictable financial markets, while reducing overall benefits. The other side, meanwhile, fires back with unending streams of abuse of their own, suggesting that any change to the system is equal to destroying it; this is an equally misguided and wrong-headed message.

So too with changes to Medicare and Medicaid, where modifications will offer costly benefits to growing numbers of aging and financially-shaky participants, while increasing the health care debt burden that the next generation of Americans will have to carry. In fact, all of these changes – and many more, such as the unfunded mandate and unrealistic testing demands of the No Child Left Behind act; or the mock-strengthening of public accounting rules – are just snake oil prescriptions for political “change” or “reform” or whatever phrase is popular. These are a set of placebos that cure nothing, but are intended to make us feel better, while protecting the vested (financial) interests of their makers. The health of American social programs is as easy as penis enlargement and as satisfying as your easy, web-cam access to hot Asian girls!

As with SPAM, there is little one can do to filter out or block the invasive idiocy of contemporary politics. If one reads “mainstream” newspapers or magazines, the tone is mild but persistent: the alleged divide within American culture is addressed as a topic by itself, which in turn implicitly supports the us vs. them political divisions. Watching incendiary television news networks or reading passionate (and, usually, poorly-written) blogs can lead one to believe that the only challenge Americans truly confront is the damaging politics of the opposition. Substantive ideas are rarely discussed or debated, because it is not good for advertising revenue, and the presumption is that no one cares anyway – therefore, the tone of the dialogue simply degenerates further and further, while the volume increases to ensure advertising eyeballs.

Nor can one seek refuge in churches, mosques, and synagogues; many of these places of worship have adopted a political perspective because they believe their congregations need to hear from the pulpit about the politics of the day, however irrelevant. This kind of religio-political networking seems obvious at a time of radical social division, now as much as in the 1960s, even if those radical divisions may be manufactured by the politicians rather than a function of the people themselves. Sadly, few filters work except total ignorance. Let’s be generous, and hopeful, and say that total ignorance is not an option for most people.

Of course, for the politicians that is exactly the point: like the spammers, they do not want you to be able to escape their pernicious messages, and so they mimic the SPAM-driven marketing approach of constant mailing list development and eye-catching mailings. How else to explain why, during the run-up to the Republican convention and November 2004 election, I received two “signed” photos of George and Laura, with personalized pitches appealing to me to help re-elect Mr. Bush and support the GOP. Clearly, the folks at the Committee to Reelect George never read my web site or they’d know better; they just acquired my name and address from some other mailing list. (The Kerry campaign, however, must have known I supported Dean, since they never sent me anything.) I also continue to receive mailings warning me in bold black or red letters of the dangers of the liberals / activist judges / pro-choicers / pro-lifers / gun nuts / gun-control Nazis, and so on. Both sides just want me to do the same thing the spammers do: open the message, click on the link, and provide my credit card info. No way, fellas.

The worst part is the impact on our lives, our culture, and the way in which SPAM politics engenders either political extremism or apathy. SPAM politics is the leading edge of a pernicious and damaging approach to the “sale” of an idea, and the successful transfer of a bunch of names and voters from one column to the next. Those acts – scaring or misleading voters, gerrymandering election-proof districts, seeking money from anyone with a thick wallet, doing everything possible to ensure re-election over good governance – has come to hold the greatest meaning for our politicians and political parties, much more so than any of the ideas that we the voters should, theoretically, be weighing. We the voters must be too busy cheap software and low mortgage rates – customized just for us! – to care.

  Copyright 2005, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.