We buy a lot of things that simply aren't there. A local merchant advertises furniture for 10 cents on the dollar. Our major newspaper runs ads for placebos. My phone rings with messages for phony products or services. Television preachers promise miracles if we send money. Our president routinely says things that are untrue. The list is long and seems to be growing.
That's because some of us will believe anything. Alternative facts are all around us. We seize on them because real facts are boring. We want a dream. Don't you love it when you're notified that you won a lottery you never heard of, let alone entered? All you have to do is send in a routine registration fee.
Many merchants are in the business of selling what's commonly known as bull poopie. The problem is that many people fall for it. We pay for something that isn't. Are we really that gullible? Apparently, or all of the above wouldn't be happening.
A disproportionate portion (bad English) has to do with medications of one kind or another. Drugs of course are regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration, so if you have a miracle cure for something that might kill you, you can go ahead and sell it if you warn the buyer that your miracle cure might kill you. Don't sue, you've been warned. Then there are the pills that promise the moon without the necessary disclaimers. Disclaimers aren't required because these pills don't do anything.
For example, you can take common baking soda, buy a pill-making machine, and produce a remedy for cancer, impotency, muscle pain, restless leg syndrome, dry mouth, or a host of other common maladies. Think of something, anything, and there's a pill for it.
Most of the pill-making machines are made in China and shipped to the United States. China is more than happy to ship us anything we want, whether or not it makes sense. Anyway, armed with an innocuous bottle of pills and no brain, you can start the regimen for curing what ails you. The FDA won't interfere because it knows there's nothing in the pills. The list of people who have died from taking small amounts of baking soda is quite short.
All of this is enabled by two things — the First Amendment being first. Short of shouting fire in a crowded building, we can say anything we want to say. Of course we can't slander or defame someone, but we can claim truth for any number outlandish promises about products or services.
The second great enabler is our gullibility. Many of us will swallow anything, including useless pills — if we are so inclined, and lots of us are so inclined. It's become an enormous industry run by clever people who apparently sit around all day coming up with ideas to fool us. We are constantly warned about scams but the warning falls on deaf ears of those born to be scammed.
You may have heard the recent report about the phone calls where the caller asks, "Can you hear me?" In this case the person receiving the call is supposed to say "yes" and his words are recorded and edited in such a way to obligate him to accept another phone offer at a later time. While this story has truth in it, it stops short of the complete truth, which is that the scam never actually caught anyone. But it's enough to cause us to ask the age-old question: What will they think of next?
Well, I don't know but I do know this: Tomorrow there will be an even cleverer scam we've never encountered before.
All of this has become so common that one wonders if there will be a course taught in school. Not a course to protect the consumer, we have that already, but one to teach people how to market a hoax. Get your bachelor's degree in scamming. I mean, if it's in the newspaper and on TV it must be OK. Now that's an idea that might be worth consideration.
One of the for-profit colleges could add it to their curriculum. The federal government will lend you the tuition. S
Gene Cox is an author and inventor who retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.