It’s often not the product that’s defective – it’s us

As one of my contributions to the Lead SA campaign, I’d like to tell you all to stop your moaning and complaining. Unless, of course, you plan some concrete action to back it up. It seems impossible to read a local news story that doesn’t have a stream of whiny complaints appended to it, where everything is wrong, and it’s always everybody else’s fault. This pervasive negativity can also be self-perpetuating. Consider the @PigSpotter micro-saga:  There’s a confirmation bias at play there, in that many of the callers/bloggers/twitterers are focusing on the cops who fit whatever stereotype is at play, and forgetting that the majority (?) of cops don’t deserve this moniker. Second, any justified ire is more perhaps more appropriately directed at those who give the cops their instructions, not the cops themselves.

But instead, abuse and ridicule of police is now a sport played by thousands of motorists, who are aggrieved that someone has the impunity to try and prevent them from endangering themselves and others on the roads. Sure, some police may be corrupt, and if too few of them are exposed, we end up being exploited. I’ve seen no reason to suspect that this is the norm, though – instead, this appears to be a case of people actively – and publicly – trying to find ways to evade their legal responsibilities. Why should this activity be praised, or protected?

Having said that, of course it shouldn’t be criminal to call cops “pigs”, and it should remain criminal to harass motorists and search their cellphones, as police are reportedly now doing. But being allowed to call cops pigs doesn’t necessarily mean we should do it. If you do believe it appropriate to spread word of road blocks & speed traps, that same information can be passed on via Twitter or whatever other channel, sans the abuse. Which might be more in our interests, seeing as the abuse might simply make the cops more inclined to do whatever it is @pigspotter and his supporters accuse them of doing.

Simply put, we’d have far less trouble with the law if we simply obeyed it. I’m of course making a general point, rather than addressing complications such as those involved where the law is wrong, and where we might have a moral or political duty to oppose it. Likewise, we’d make far less trouble for ourselves if we obeyed the common sense notion of doing our homework before investing in something, whether it be a product or a relationship. Sites like Hellopeter are replete with whines from people who bought something, or engaged with some firm or other, where the vendor or the product could be known to be unsatisfactory in advance – if the buyer had bothered to investigate the matter.

As any geek would attest, discussion forums dealing with complex electronic devices like smartphones are littered with this sort of victim mentality, where it’s always someone else fault that “my phone can’t do X” (if it’s an iPhone). Again, if something is that important to you, do your homework beforehand (as @6000 recently pointed out in typically diplomatic style). As with the Darwin awards, sometimes you entirely deserve what you get.

I speak from experience here, in that I recently sold a new laptop to a buyer I found via Gumtree. Except it turned out that the SMS’ed proof of payment he sent me was a fake, as I suggested it might be to the friend I was sitting with, waiting for the buyer. “It would be entirely my fault”, I said (or something like that), “because I’m too impatient to get rid of it, and can’t be asked to engage with any more emails or calls from random strangers. And so it proved to be my fault, and a guy going by the name of Mark Shoul has a free laptop (sorry, Larry, I could have just given it to you in the end), and a case number with “his name” on it at SAPS. But I don’t deserve to get anything back – I deserve exactly what I got, which is nothing, besides being taught a lesson.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.