Peter Clyne’s (1927 – 1987) seminal work ‘How Not to Pay Your Debts (a handbook for scoundrels)’ explains how debtors – including himself as it happens – use these tactics in an endless recurring sequence to avoid having to pay-up. A simple example:
- Denial: ‘I never borrowed the £500’ (in fact you borrowed £550)
- Delay: ‘I’ll pay you something soon’ (in fact, you won’t)
- Confusion: ‘Following my (non-existent) telephone call to your (non existent) assistant concerning your (non-existent) letter to me I posted you a (non-existent) cheque.
- Part-payment: Lets say £5 per week, which is prompt for 2 weeks, then increasingly late, and then ceases altogether.
At which point the cycle simply begins again, with a fresh denial, should the creditor persist. Clyne’s great insight was that, after two or three round trips using this strategy, many creditors simply give up.
My contention is that, with only minor modifications, this strategy is effective in the general case of avoiding any and all types of obligations, not the merely financial ones.
It was used to great effect in the 1950’s onwards to protect the interests and profits of the tobacco multinationals. In the sparkling land of CokeSpeak, this guiding strategy is all too evident as Big Food’s PR machinery attempts to rebut inconvenient research results. For example:
- Denial: ‘There are no bad foods …’ or for tobacco ‘Most Doctors recommend Chesterfield cigarettes’
- Delay: ‘More research is needed …’ identical to the tobacco defence. (it’s also true, by the way)
- Confusion: ‘Diabetes is multifactorial …’ or for tobacco ‘Cancer is multifactorial’
- Part-payment (a ‘concession’ without liability): ‘Drink our artificially sweetened soda pop instead’ or for tobacco ‘Smoke our Low Tar brands’.
Although presented in sequence, these tactics overlap, and are used concurrently with different messages targeted at different audiences. But together they form a generalised strategy akin to ‘kicking the can down the road’. The strategic reward being profit, and the cost (born by others of course) is the current epidemic.
The exact process by which this strategy evolves into persuasive CokeSpeak is shown on the mindmap. The next step, optional but ideal, is to include a ‘truism’ and you can read about truisms here.