Are You An Educated Consumer?

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How do you shop? Are you an impulse shopper? One day something catches your eye and the next thing you know you find yourself doling out wads of cash for something that in just a short while will prove to be far less than what you expected and something you didn’t even need? Or are you an ‘educated consumer’, determined to root out every detail regardless of how insignificant it may be, just so that you know your purchase is sound and worthwhile? I’m sure we all have friends of both types and perhaps even joked with them over their spending habits – either fast and loose or overly cautious. More than likely, as I am, you are a bit of both. Hopefully with major purchases you lean towards the latter.

Buying a Car on Impulse?

A couple of years ago we purchased a new car and while I would love to say that I spent lots of time scouring the internet researching all the fine details of all the cars in our price range, one day my wife said to me “Hey, my car is getting old and your car is starting to need work. Why don’t we buy a new car, you can have mine, and we can sell or trade yours in?” I said “Fine”, checked the manufacturer’s site for the models we might consider purchasing, checked a couple online reviews for the car she was interested in, and 3 days later we were the proud owners of a shiny new car. In all fairness I did look at one other make and model of vehicle (Tesla Model S) but it was clearly out of our price range at the time and as much as I would have made large sacrifices to own one I also realized that my wife would be the primary driver so I passed (What a jerk!). As things turned out, it was a sound purchase and we have been happy with it. What I didn’t state, is that I worked professionally on those particular cars for 15 years and was very familiar with them. I knew the reputation of the manufacturer – excellent – and had personally seen many extremely satisfied customers come through the dealerships where I had worked. I was confident that I was purchasing an excellent vehicle which would provide years of dependable service and so far this has been the case, I just needed to ensure that the quality had not declined since I had last worked on them.

Now, suppose for a moment that I did not have significant first-hand experience in the automotive world. I would certainly have been far more thorough in my pre-purchase research, even asking people who owned the same or similar models what their personal experience had been and whether or not they would recommend that car to a friend. Naturally any negative experiences would be invaluable taken in context and would factor in as much as the positive ones, perhaps more.

So, purchasing an automobile (or any other major item for that matter) comes down to two steps if you want to educate yourself:

  1. Go to the manufacturers website to gather basic information about the vehicles that match your basic requirements. You might consider things like price, fuel economy, horsepower, air conditioning, number of doors, and type of upholstery to be important. Or perhaps other factors such as cargo capacity or 2 wheel drive vs. 4 wheel drive matter more to you. These details are all available on the manufacturer’s website and are easy to find compared to yesteryear when you may have spent weeks visiting a number of car dealerships picking up brochures, test driving cars, and talking to sales persons of varying levels of competence and honesty before making your decision.
  2. Go to review sites, consumer advocate sites, etc. and seek out advice and reviews for the cars you are interested in. While there will be reviews describing both good and bad experiences, taken on the whole you should be able to get a reasonably good picture of how you would fair in the long term if you purchased any given make and model vehicle. Included in this category would also be industry-specific sites with general advice and warnings. These sites would be especially useful if you are looking into something that is not mainstream. You may have an earnest desire to purchase a nuclear powered car and you may have heard incredible things about them but you may discover that it might not be practical and in fact could be downright dangerous.

Selling the Sizzle

Why this separation of concerns? Well think about it. Suppose you manufactured and sold Widgets. How many Widgets would you sell if your marketing literature had all the problems that people experienced with Widgets prominently displayed on the front of the sales literature? I don’t know of any manufacturers who are 100% open and candid in this area unless subject to regulation and most manufacturers realize that chronic problems with their products can eventually result in their demise (or a huge government bailout – GM I’m looking at you) so they generally do try to improve their products. You will sell the most Widgets if you make them appear as appealing as possible while glossing over potential trouble areas if you bother mentioning them at all. While you may include a section on the engineering excellence of your company along with pictures of awards and accolades given to your company, testimonials from satisfied clients and details of the warranty that comes with a Widget to prove your commitment to your customers, these do not and cannot reflect the long-term experience of the average owners. Catchphrases like “Pure exhilaration!” and “Own the open sky!” stir the emotions but add nothing except a not so subtle boost to ‘desirability’. This is why it is important to also do objective, unbiased research from independent sources which is really what the second bullet item was about. Without the unbiased information you risk being force-fed propaganda.

Unless you have loads of disposable funds and can pay someone to shop for you major purchases can be a stress-inducing ordeal because you need to ensure that you are not overpaying for your purchase and also getting your money’s worth. It may be tempting to just believe your new BFF salesperson, hand over your money, and be on your way. This could prove to be dangerous as not all retailers have adopted Sy Syms’ slogan “An Educated Consumer is our Best Customer”. Many wish that their customers were hopelessly ignorant or gullible because they are easy marks, a quick sale. Consumer laws have been enacted in an attempt to mitigate the problem of dishonest merchants taking unfair advantage of people and yet people are still victimized by unscrupulous salesmen.

Marketing, Religion, and Critical Thinking

Unfortunately there is an area of life that is far more important and with long reaching consequences where such protections are non-existent. Consider the following scenario:

One day you are presented with information for something you were curious about and in it you found strong warnings from the company discouraging you from reading any material about their products anywhere but on the company’s official website, along with stern statements that anything negative that you may read or hear about them was written by enemies of the company out to draw customers away and put the company out of business. How would you react? Undoubtedly it would set off alarm bells, and while you may continue to read out of curiosity, maybe thinking (hopefully with a high level of skepticism) that the warning may be warranted at some level, you’d probably move along without wasting any more time.

With that in mind note the following (emphasis added):

Apostates “quietly bring in” corruptive ideas. Like smugglers, they operate in a clandestine manner, subtly introducing apostate views… apostates are “mentally diseased” – The Watchtower 7/15/2011 pp. 15,16

“5 How do false teachers operate? Their methods reveal a cunning spirit. Apostates “quietly bring in” corruptive ideas. Like smugglers, they operate in a clandestine manner, subtly introducing apostate views. And just as a clever forger tries to pass phony documents, so apostates use “counterfeit words,” or false arguments, trying to pass their fabricated views as if they were true. They spread “deceptive teachings,” “twisting . . . the Scriptures” to fit their own ideas. (2 Pet. 2:1, 3, 13; 3:16) Clearly, apostates do not have our best interests at heart. Following them would only divert us from the road that leads to eternal life.
6 How can we protect ourselves against false teachers? The Bible’s counsel regarding how to deal with them is clear. (Read Romans 16:17; 2 John 9-11.) “Avoid them,” says God’s Word. Other translations render that phrase “turn away from them,” “keep away from them,” and “stay away from them!” There is nothing ambiguous about that inspired counsel. Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease. You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are “mentally diseased,” and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings. (1 Tim. 6:3, 4) Jehovah, the Great Physician, tells us to avoid contact with them. We know what he means, but are we determined to heed his warning in all respects?” (The Watchtower 7/15/2011 pp. 15,16 – “Will You Heed Jehovah’s Warnings?”)

(This is a quote from an article in the Watchtower magazine published by Jehovah’s Witnesses dealing with former members who have rejected their beliefs – otherwise known in Witness circles as ‘apostates’.)

Does this strike you as fair, honest ‘marketing’? Given the context of the article and perhaps circumstances unknown to the reader a warning may be justified but is this just a warning or is it heavily biased and paranoia inducing propaganda, loaded with generalizations and negative statements about former ‘customers’ who had a bad experience? Let’s break this down.

  1. The article’s title “Will You Heed Jehovah’s Warnings?” attempts to claim authority by calling these ‘warnings’ Jehovah’s warnings. While the article does contain scriptural references are you sure that they completely apply in this context? Can you assume that everything that reflects negatively on the Watchtower organization and Jehovah’s Witnesses is accurately described as ‘counterfeit words’? How do you know they are counterfeit, false? Did you check the facts? If they are facts they should be provable and incontrovertible, if they are not then you have a decision to make. No examples of such ‘counterfeit words’ are provided, the implication is that all words coming from such ‘apostates’ are false – lies designed to cause harm or wreak havoc.
  2. Note the modus operandi that is described – “cunning spirit”, “clandestine”, “twisting”. Scary stuff for sure but taken at face value you would get the idea that these “counterfeit words” being spoken of are being spread from within. It certainly doesn’t seem to apply to material that you have to seek out from outside of the confines of the religion itself.
  3. Liberal use of the word ‘apostate’. The formal definition of the word apostate according to Miriam-Webster Dictionary is “someone whose beliefs have changed and who no longer belongs to a religious or political group”. Period. In simple terms you left your religion. However, the Watchtower has redefined it to mean anyone who has left the Jehovah’s Witness religion and no longer subscribes to their doctrines, conveniently ignoring the fact that a sizable percentage of their membership, anyone who was not raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and had converted to their faith from another religion, could be accurately be described as an apostate from their previous religion. They go beyond this though by embellishing the word with the connotation that those described as such are out to harm the organization and/or its members – “apostates do not have our best interests at heart”, describing them as “mentally diseased” and “contagious”. The Watchtower has a long history of throwing this word about freely and for a very good reason – it is a trigger word that any Jehovah’s Witness will react to, even subconsciously. Any non-Witness is left to scratch their head. This is a strong cult flag, usage like this is designed specifically to generate a reaction. I have witnessed the reactions of many Jehovah’s Witnesses when told that so-and-so is an apostate. Most often the look is one of palpable revulsion, shock or fear – as if they had just been told that the person had contracted a disfiguring and highly contagious disease or had participated in Satanic rituals involving sacrifices.
  4. Finally there is another call to authority playing off of a bad analogy to a serious medical condition and describing Jehovah as the “Great Physician” as if it is beyond the power of mere mortals to resist the influence and message that is proffered by such ‘apostate’ ones.

A religion is not something that people regularly find themselves in the market for. It usually takes a significant event in one’s life that put them in a vulnerable position where they respond to a religious message that sounds too good to be true. Jehovah’s Witnesses are trained to identify people in such a situation and are quick to provide a solution that sounds ideal at first glance, and perhaps second and third glance as well. However, remember how a wise consumer researches her purchases. The website jw.org is a trove of articles and information on the Jehovah’s Witness religion, at least all the good parts, but like any commercial business it is designed to attract potential customers, in this case new converts. However, what is blatantly lacking from the site is information on ALL aspects of Jehovah’s Witness life, what is required, the rules that must be followed, the consequences if one chooses to leave, and a myriad other Pharisaical details that govern life. These details, while suppressed in the ‘honeymoon phase’ become all too obvious once you have formalized your decision to become a Jehovah’s Witness and sign the contract with baptism. At this point you have forsaken many rights that up to that point you most likely have taken for granted and now it is too late. It pays to do the research first.

Thankfully many resources exist that you can take advantage of, some are listed in the sidebar. On these sites you will find information about every aspect of the Watchtower, jw.org, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Much of the information found is unknown or rationalized around by most active Jehovah’s Witnesses because of the strong indoctrination and loaded warnings such as we discussed above.

It is important to understand that while Jehovah’s Witnesses may sincerely believe in the sinister motivations of such ‘apostate’ ex-members most fail to understand that the vast majority are simply people who were not afraid to take a step back and look objectively at their beliefs and seek confirmation of them for reassurance that they were not being misled. When provable facts didn’t align with what they were told was true, rather than turning off their critical thinking they chose to leave. This same critical analysis of existing beliefs is required of anyone considering conversion to their faith and it is strongly encouraged, usually by comparing them to the Watchtower teachings on related doctrines, as if the Watchtower teachings were the ‘gold standard’ of religious doctrine. The notion that most people who hold to a religious belief system are convinced that what they believe is true is dismissed out of hand as blindness induced by Satan, and they arrogantly and hypocritically encourage you to measure your beliefs by their doctrines, at the same time discouraging you from comparing the Watchtower doctrines against other sources, e.g. archaeology or science and even their own beliefs which have changed and flip-flopped far more frequently than most are even aware.

Critical thinking, the ability to objectively examine a belief against outside facts and determine its validity is a skill that must be developed and used. It is a critical part of life’s skills and most importantly serves as a protection against exploitation. If a belief is true it is provable by facts and it shouldn’t be subject to change unless the underlying facts change. Critical thinking is vital to being an ‘educated consumer’.

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