It occurs to me today that spam may undermine some of the principles of existentialism. Not in the personal sense, of course, which is the core of the philosophy. Spam will not extinguish existentialism. The American education system can do that just fine.

Here’s what I mean.

My interpretation of some of Sartre’s writing on the subject is that we must all choose what we think should be done in any case, even if the effects are not immediately different. He uses war as an example. Even if not protesting a war seems to have no different effect than protesting it, a man must follow his conscience. Making the choice even if it has no immediate practical effect is important.

My idea of why this makes sense is that if everyone did follwo their conscience then the percentage of people who acted that way would make a difference even if a minority.

Sartre was referring to World War II. But let’s apply the principle to the much more mundane problem of spam. If everyone in the world ignored spam, didn’t even open it and deleted it, there would be no more spam, or very little of it. Even at the low cost of sending spam, if there were no return it would be abandone.

Spam exists because the tiniest of tiny percentages open the email and an even tinier percentage respond. Although in some particular cases the percentages aren’t as small as one would hope. The cost of sending spam is so low, that even this tiny percentage is enough to make the enterprise profitable for the perpetrators.

So bringing it back ’round to exitentialism, if I make my choice not to open and answer spam, my hope would be that I and enough other people would be able to have a slowing effect on it. That is not the case. Even if 99% of all email recipients followed my principle, there would still eb spam. Nothing but full 100% response can inhibit it. So it reduces my action to one of symbolism only with not only no immediate effect but no effect at all. The only effect of not opening and answering spam is the effect of having the amount of spam I get rise at a slightly slower rate.

So my spam-reading decisions become consigned to the realm of philosophy with no practical effect at all. I realise that this may still be within the parameters of existentialism, but it is much less compelling than the example where I’d at least have an idealistic chance of stopping the war.

In the example of the war, there is a reality that if everyone who agreed with me acted as I did, there might be a chance to stop/change/start the war, whatever it is I wanted. The impracticality is getting everyone to act on their own conscience. I know there are enough people who agree with me, it’s a social change.

With spam, even if 99% agree AND act on their conscience it’s not enough. There’s someone out ther who likes spam and in a universe as large as that of email users it doesn’t have to be a big percentage to render the actions of the overwhelming mahority useless.