The Law of Fresh Tomatoes

Last night, some friends and I went out to grab sausage and punch. And I noticed something interesting.

The best restaurant in town is called “The Little Pub”. Conversely, the worst salmonella-ridden joints tend to call themselves things like “Le Grand Parisian Pompadour Bistrot Deluxe Coq au Vin”.

This reminded me of a piece The Financial Times ran recently about restaurants, and how they found a massive inverse correlation between quality of food and the amount of adjective padding on the menu.

Basically, if the menu was full of words like “succulent”, “fresh”, “tasty”, “farm”, “crispy” and “sumptuous”, the food was invariably nothing of the sort.

Then they went to some Michelin-starred restaurants, and what do you think? The menus were concise, descriptive and to the point. None felt compelled to burden customers with such superfluous bullshit. Not one.

That’s because when you’re good, you don’t have to say it. Of course the tomatoes are fucking fresh. There’s no other possibility.

And if it needs saying, it’s usually not true.

This is The Law of Fresh Tomatoes.

It is an attempt to supply with descriptions what is absent in substance.

That’s bad for two reasons. One, it is lying to people. And two, it invites complacency. The danger is that people fall for their own bullshit. “Our tomatoes are fresh, why try harder”. Only on paper, mate.

In other words, no fresh tomato in the history of the world was described as a “fresh tomato” on the menu. Fresh tomatoes just go by “tomato”.

The inverse correlation between bombastic pronouncements and reality is everywhere.

For example, I know several impressively successful women with incomes that make government ministers blush, harmonic families and interesting personal lives.

I never heard any of them refer to herself as “a strong, independent woman”. Because, obviously, they are. And they’re too busy having lives and careers and families to waste time on hissy internet comments and hashtags.

Fresh tomatoes.

And it is the same with men and the “alpha male” label, but worse, because with uglier genitalia. Guys who call themselves “alpha” are nothing of the sort. The alpha-est men I know use the word “alphamale” as a term of derision for try-hard losers, usually in connection with words like “gorilla” and “penis-fencing”.

If you have to say it, you’re not it. And, to be honest, I’m not the first one to notice.

Power is like being a lady… if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.

-Margaret Thatcher

And it’s not just the descriptions. It’s everything about the presentation – the manners, the choice of words, the clothes – everything about us sends a message. And the most interesting and useful messages are always unintended.

We’re walking advertisements for who we are inside.

There are things – fake Louis Vuitton bags, iPhones with cracked screens, third-hand (with two of them having stolen it) 1980s BMWs, spray tans, popped collars, sequins and leopard prints, fauxhawks and too much jewelry, speech liberally interspersed with appellations of “dawg”, “bro” and “bitch”, or whatever local equivalents – that are intended to be symbols of high social status within a certain stratum. But they are also unmistakably show which stratum that person belongs to, and therefore unintentionally communicate low status in absolute terms.

Proving that one is an alpha-plebeian also shows that one is a plebeian. Wrong game.

Or, a few steps up the social ladder, go to LinkedIn and read some profiles. You’re supposed to “sell yourself” on the labor market, but if the mere facts of your frankly awesome exploits don’t do that for you, bombastic CV decoration is going to be counterproductive. It might help getting a job as a warehouse supervisor or office manager, but nobody in their right mind is ever going to hire a “People-oriented problem-solver with great communication skills” for anything important. I wouldn’t.

The funniest I saw was probably a guy boasting of his good “soft skills” on his CV. Saying that on your CV is exactly the opposite of having soft skills.

“Dynamic young companies”. “Game-changing startups”. “Corporate social responsibility”. “Ethical business”. “Masters of business administration”. All of these things exist, but they’re almost never the ones calling themselves that.

And it’s not just businesses and people – it’s an universal trait of human nature. Ever noticed how all countries with “democratic” in their names are dictatorships? Or consider these examples:

  • People’s Republic of China is not a republic and the people have very little say in it.
  • People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is literally neither of these things (ever since they ditched Korean culture and tried to invent their own).
  • Russia’s Commonwealth of Independent States is a multilevel marketing scheme whose trade isn’t cosmetics, washing powders or insurance, but political corruption, composed of highly dependent satrapies, and all of the wealth is only common among a few guys in the Kremlin.
  • Historically, the Holy Roman Empire was not Roman, not an Empire and certainly not Holy.
  • George Orwell’s books are brimming with Ministries of Truth and Love that are totalitarian tools of repression.

Whenever you see over-decoration, self-praise and truckloads of happy adjectives, remember the Law of Fresh Tomatoes.

The need to over-decorate is usually compensatory –  the result of deep (and usually justified) insecurity, or awareness of deficiency.

Pay really good attention to whether any words you see and hear are accurate descriptions, or attempts to bolt perceptions onto things that don’t merit them.

I know this is rich coming from a guy who has “Big Ideas” in the tagline of his blog, but the penis jokes usually aren’t that funny, and the posting schedule is far from regular, so – all artistic hyperbole.

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