It is common to see articles or social media posts about side effects of capitalism and how consumerism is driving the world mad. Sometimes it a funny to notice people making such complaints, while using some product which without consumerism/capitalism would not have existed. I think talking about capitalism or consumerism or for that matter any such topic make people feel knowledgeable, aware or alert to such phenomenon. But, the fact is that people really are not that aware of it. For example, it is another matter to swim in an ocean and talk about it. But it is a completely different matter to know the depths of an ocean. Well, lets stay focused on the topic rather than exploring depths of oceans and limits of the universe. As far as this topic is concerned, I want to take just one pillar from the introduction to connect modern and historical world of mankind. That pillar is sales(wo)man.
You can make a product or a story as good as you like. But without a proper salesman, it will not become a success. This is the key to any business, any transaction, any empire or kingdom. You need people, who can take you message, spread across the world and make people believe in your message. That message could be anything; Coke will quench will thirst better, a soap or a cream will make you more beautiful than Cleopatra and so on. It is a tough work and who works in the sales department knows it pretty well. Now, within this community of salesman, it is not that everyone is a master salesman. Even there, there are only few who create something new or adapt the story to changing times. Most of the salesman in fact are just following a given script. If you have ever received a tele-marketing call to buy a new health policy or new mobile plan, you know what I am talking about.
Today salesman are considered are smart or sometimes shrewd people, who can make you buy things or believe in things that you in fact may not care about. Sometimes, it does not work in the open market and a whole system need to be created to make people in a given theory. But, still today salesman are in general looked upon with a negative lens. They are accepted as kind of necessary part of the system to keep it running. But, if some would have it, they would like to remove them from the system. Pretty much like people would like to pick and smell roses without having to touch thorns. If not already, may be some will soon create such a rose. I am sure, most of the people know and understand, especially when wearing the hat of a consumer, why I am painting a negative picture of a salesman. But, still let’s take few examples of situations we face due to salesmen that makes consumer take such stance. Do note that salesmen are not the only players who controls all aspects of these stories.
One of the most common one is about soaps, detergents and similar. There are more than enough varieties of soaps available in the market today to fill a small grocery shop with soaps of every single brand. Since the invention of soap in 2800 BC , the industry is still going on telling people, how their soap will make their skin special. Interestingly the same companies will then sell you oils and creams how those products will make the skin special. In general purpose of the soap is to clean the skin/cloth/surface. But, today nobody tells you that their soap will clean the product. Rather lot if it is about fragrance, colors, touch and other properties. One or more combinations of chemicals would be mixed to create a new brand. No wonder, the same company also has a product to clean and rejuvenate your skin from various harmful chemicals. It is not just enough to take a shower and have a clean, smooth skin. We need to decorate it as well. No longer is the time, when a person would decorate himself/herself for a particular purpose or an occasion. Today, half of the population is convinced that their original look is not good and it must have a daily, professional coverup to hide way “believed marks of imperfection”. The list goes on about various body products, health care, or other products. From a simple pencil to house to forest to professions and sports, it just keep on going. The more you can sell, the more people you have, that means easier it is to sell. The salesman also goes to educations and seminars. Sometimes, the drive to sell is so strong that the person forgets he is contradicting himself. This usually does not backfire as the audience itself is not aware of it. As an example a person comes to give a seminar ,”Why most of the population is wrong”. The topic could also be ” Why most of the population is unsuccessful” or similar. The presented make a well developed mathematical case to show why only a certain percentage of people can be on “the other side of the line”. Then he goes on to tell his “secret” on how to cross the line!! I mean seriously! We need to have a lecture in physics that says, universal laws and formulas says that we cannot go faster than speed of light. But here is the secret of how you can go faster than light.
But, what was the case earlier? Were salesman doing similar kind of things all the time? How many soap brands were popular lets say, 500, 1000 or 2000 years ago? Maybe not many as probably lot of people did not care much about soaps and creams. It needed a big work to convince the mass audience that few soaps and creams they can look as beautiful and healthy as someone who is taken care by special people and painted for the sole reason to sell products to you. But behind that soap story, main concept that is being soled is that you self-worth as you are is useless, unless you like someone else. When the old salesmen did not have such kind of messages to sell, what were they doing? The regular business, I assume was straight forward. E.g. selling your spices or perfumes or clothes etc. The main salesman, however, were much smarter as they would also be respected for what they did. The salesman of old times sold different stories to people and tried to convince them as true. It was all done in a way ( to some extent), that people would still respect them. One of the items in their sales bucket was superstitions. There are many superstitions across the world that still exists. They probably differ from region to region and culture and culture, but they still exist. One of them e.g. is if a cat crosses your path, when you are going somewhere, it is a bad omen. People, then found different ways to tackle it. Some would not go and will plan for it the next day or some would take and alternate route and so on. Imagine, if you live in a village and someone brings a lot of cats. No one would be able to do anything. Similar is the story if you happen to sneeze while taking off for some work. What proof does people have to believe that a cat has nine lives? The people who managed to sell some stories were generally regarded as wise men.
One of the largest and probably the oldest domain where we have seen salesmen is the domain of religion or God. What kind of imagination or a skill is needed to convince people that there is some God somewhere taking care of everything. Today, the popular religions are monotheistic; with one and only GOD. There are exceptions e.g. Hinduism, which is much more complicated with a great multi-level and cross domain structure with flexible and some times changeable boundaries about the function and roles of Gods. It is arguable the more complex and flexible religion in the world. Historians believe that most of the old time religions were polytheistic. With every God or deity related to certain function related to daily life of the culture e.g. rain, sun, moon, birth and death. Why would a colony living in the middle of mainland that never visited or seen an ocean would need a God to control large waves or tsunamis or bring fishes to the shore. As communities travelled around and became bigger, one story had to win to bring everyone under the same believe system. Somewhere, with much more mixing of cultures and ideas and bigger and complex empires the idea or the need of one God emerged. This among other things probably made many explanations and thus the overall story simple to tell other communities, when they were taken over. In which ever system you believe, the salesperson underneath were masters of the trade. The had methods and ways to stay respectful and keep on convincing people in things the people could not even related to. How do you make someone relate to heaven or hell? How do you convince people to people that there is an after life? Why one community should bury people in ground so that one day they can come alive or others need to put bodies on fire, while others found it convincing to leave bodies for other animals/birds to eat.
One thing that the old salesmen used well is still popularly used today across the world. That is the fear of death or in general fear. The stories sold maybe different, the methodologies used could be different, but the base is still the same. No one was probably able to directly show the after life to anybody, but death was/is a global truth. I believe that fear of death was not so strong earlier was it was accepted as a part of daily life. A person get used to idea of death from the beginning. Many kids of die before 5 years of the age. People would usually die by the age of 40, due to illness, war or before farming killed by an animal during the hunt. I am not saying that those people did not fear death, but just that the intensity was much less. In today’s context you can see that when the Corona virus was declared pandemic, suddenly the whole world came to a halt. Before that, people were aware but life was going on. After now about 3 months, people have slowly accepted it as a part of life (well kind of). People are talking more about other topics and discussing about their work or even planning their holidays. In few more months Corona virus may still be here in the world, but world would come to terms with it and find a way to move on. In my perspective death in the old time was just like that. At some point in history stories started to develop before and after death. Main idea would have been to capitalize on that little fear of death to control the living years of the man. The fear of death was used to develop fear of unknown life after death. A person who had a hard life would quite naturally expect to have more relaxed life after death once he starts to believe it. Afterall, his whole life he struggle to have food, so what is the harm in believing that after death he can either have easy access to food (positive reinforcement/ carrot) or would suffer even more ( stick). Without that fear, why would one just care about going to heaven or hell? With time a whole system was build up around it with rituals and moral conducts and behaviors to ensure a good life after death, independent of how a person lives his current life. From another perspective, a person in bad situation had something to look forward to. This also gave control to the salesman of the people. He could now easily convince a poor farmer to donate his produce to the Gods in order to ensure that he would have a good crop next year to after death to next life.
The same concept i.e. fear of death or just fear is used very well by the salesmen in the insurance industry. It does not matter, if it is a life insurance, health insurance, property insurance and so on. People with time has been so convinced about the system that hardly anyone believes life is possible without insurance. It is still valid, when insurer can refuse property insurance if one loses it due to an earthquake or other natural calamity or they can prove that it was an act of negligence and so on. Certain health conditions cannot be covered in insurance and sometimes new diseases may not be covered, till the policy is updated. The salesmen of insurance are so convincing that even the people who are against “the system” and want to live “off-the-grid” with their independence ensure that they have health, accidental and other insurances. People do not want to have IDs as they believe this is the way ” the government” or “the system” controls them. But they still want access to the medical and other facility when they need it, so well used is the use of this old concept for new purpose. The difference is that people today can sit and talk negative about the insurance system and how it is bad in different way. However, the old salesmen were revered force of the nature and representative of the supreme power that must be respected by an ordinary kind.
Some salesmen like their work and some are proud of it. Some are appreciated while some (like tele marketing guys) are often yelled at. There maybe new types of salesmen in the future selling completely new products. Today already people laugh more or jokes in comedy shows or they are conditioned to have business laughs. There are some who are trying to teach people how and why to laugh from the heart and body. My hope is that it does not come to the point where we have salesmen selling devices how to smile and laugh and we need to select based on features and ratings.
Mulla Nasrudin was on his first ocean voyage and was deathly ill. Trying to comfort him, the steward said, “Don’t be so down-hearted, Sir, I have never heard of anyone dying of sea-sickness.” “OH, DON’T TELL ME THAT,” moaned Nasrudin. “IT HAS ONLY BEEN THE HOPE OF DYING THAT HAS KEPT ME ALIVE.”