Monday, March 23, 2015

Flies: Watch Out for Honey / Consumers: Watch Out for Deals

"You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
— Poor Richard's Almanac (traditional)

         On the web on 27 August 2011, someone posting as "Jeremy" noted "that you actually attract more fruit flies with vinegar than honey, because the acetic acid in vinegar makes them think they sense fruit," but he (?) was good enough to note also that even if that bit of natural history is true, the proverb is still that you can deal more effectively with people if you are sweet to them than if you are sharp and biting. The upshot of the saying is the same as that of Aesop's fable of the Sun vs. the North Wind (Boreas), competing to get a man to take off his cloak. The more and harder Boreas blows, the tighter the man wraps his cloak; when the sun shines bright and hot, the man, of course, removes it.

         From the man's point of view, however, either way he's ultimately doing what some minor deity wants him to do, even if in basking in the sunshine he's doing what he immediately wants to do. But let's move to the point of view of the flies.

         I'm not old enough to have ever seen people try to kill flies by putting out honey or vinegar, nor even old enough to remember flypaper. I do, though, remember fly ribbon, also called fly capture tape: "a fly-killing device made of paper coated with a sweetly fragrant, but extremely sticky and sometimes poisonous substance that traps flies and other flying insects when they land upon it. "

         You can spray insecticide and kill flies efficiently (until they mutate and you get immune populations), and you can try to smash flies with newspapers. It's arguably more effective, if esthetically pretty nasty, to capture and poison, or capture and starve to death, flies with sweet sticky stuff.

         I have been thinking about such things because I have a "Rewards!" coupon from Office Depot that expires shortly, one for $24.48, and I will almost undoubtedly go to Office Depot and cash it in and buy computer printing cartridges I don't really need yet.

         And there's a fair chance that while in the store I'll see something I don't need at all but will come to want and will buy.

         That is, of course, the whole idea. If coupons really got customers to spend less money, companies wouldn't give them out.

         Like most people, I prefer to be warmed by the sun on a mild day rather than be blasted by the North Wind. Like most people, more relevantly, I prefer to be bribed rather than coerced.

         Still, I don't like to be manipulated, and I am quite certain that the bribe from Office Depot — or the Kroger Corporation or Bed, Bath, and Beyond — will end up costing me one way or another, even if, to my surprise, the coupons and other deals end up saving me money.

         'Cause unless you're Scrooge McDuck and get your kicks rolling around in money, money itself isn't your goal. What we want are the things money can buy, and for me, one of the major things money buys is some of my freedom and sense of control.

         Mainly, money buys freedom from money worries that are endemic to most strata of capitalist society. Having modest but secure income, and being careful with my money — not cheap but definitely tight — I've been able to live most of my life not having to worry much about not having money. I also haven't had to worry about just how to invest and conserve my fortune since having a modest but secure income I didn't have enough money to invest and conserve.

         It has made little sense, and continues to make little sense, for me to sacrifice any of my time to money issues to save a few bucks.

         Ah, but that $24.48 coupon is a temptation. Cheap people don't want to spend money; we tightwads will spend, but we get very upset if we waste money, and some place buried deep in my brain, probably just north of the limbic system, there's a small set of over-trained ganglia convinced that not cashing in a coupon for $24.48 is wasting $24.48 and — and those brain cells are sending out the neurological equivalent of "The horror! The horror!"

         I finally gave in to the Kroger Corporation, so I have a Ralphs card — Kroger's in the West is Ralphs — and also a card from Von's, another grocery chain; grocery stores make you an offer very difficult to refuse: you either allow them to track your purchases or you pay significantly more for their products. Freedom is valuable to me, but not paying $4 extra per pound of shrimp, which was the bit of extortion that got me to finally give in and get the card.

         I have done this much however, especially since shopping at a supermarket has become a rat-running exercise in figuring out a maze, as the rat: I make a shopping list of basics and try to buy the same basics every time, with only minor variations. So KrogerCorp can track my purchases, but the data, I hope, will bore even a computer program.

         "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" and, all things considered it's better to be bribed than coerced. Still, with all the PR people, advertisers, politicians, and propagandists trying to get our votes and our money and our "hearts and minds" — I'd just as soon do without both for. Or, if I had to choose, I think I might prefer an outright threat (if nonviolent) to a bribe.

         On the other hand, I pass Office Depot fairly regularly, and $24.48 is almost twenty-five dollars ….

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