Ideas for Life

Advertising can be philosophically annoying.  I don’t just mean ads which contain obvious lies (Carlsburg — probably the best beer in the world), trivial truths (There’s only one Coca-Cola), irrelevancies (Waaassuuuuup!), or fallacious thinking (If I can lose weight, you can too).  I mean adverts which wander into philosophical territory before jumping up and down.  Happiness is not a cigar called Hamlet.  The pharmacy Boots has finally stopped using the slogan ‘Boots — ideas for life’.  Boots does not provide one with ideas for life.  It sells deodorant and soap and hair gel and drugs.  Boots — objects which change the way you smell.  Boots — things which you can use to change the way your hair looks.  Boots — drugs you can ingest to stop stuff running out of your nose.

These sorts of adverts can be mildly irritating, but I lost my composure when I read Starbuck’s claim that it offers ‘100% ethically traded coffee’.  Really?  A bit of unscientific googling reveals a lot, but doesn’t an ethical trade require all sorts of things Starbucks probably doesn’t (maybe cannot) provide.  Does it require making amends for past injustices?  (If I’ve ripped you off in the past, don’t I have to make up for that if I want our present connection to be morally adequate?)  Does it require procedural fairness?  (If you and I enter into a fair agreement, we have to make sure we both know what we are getting into.  Certainly one cannot take advantage of the other in any way at all.)  Can a multibillion dollar company ethically trade with a poor farmer and leave that poor farmer more or less poor?  I know it’s a minefield — for all I know, Starbucks does some good — but the sentence, on its own, struck me as almost certainly false.

I nearly had a seizure a moment later when I glanced at a flyer from Barclays Bank with news of their work with Save the Children.  All very well, but did they have to say that ‘Nothing is more important than the life of a child’?  They can’t really believe that and still be a bank, can they?

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