Roe vs Wade
Plus The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity
I hope that all is well with you and yours.
Today’s newsletter will be a bit of an odd one, as we recap the past two weeks and look forward to those that are to come – particularly for paying subscribers. As I have said before, I want to create more premium content and, starting next week, a new, exclusive feature will be added to every piece I send out. It will also mark the start of a long series of core subject newsletters without interruption by non-strategic matters.
But more on that in a moment.
First, we must yet again acknowledge what is happening in the US. Certain topics transcend all others. Ripping up Roe vs Wade, undoubtedly, is one of them.
For those unaware of what I write, the US Supreme Court last week decided to overturn a landmark case regarding the right to abortion, citing a number of supposed legal issues with the original ruling. The Constitution, they argued, does not provide the freedom of abortion, which makes it a matter for state legislation.
In and of itself, there is a legal-logical argument for the conclusion that the Republican judges reached. Many forms of interpretation exist and are accepted; subsumption, systematic, subjective theological, objective theological, extensive, restrictive, analogous, e contrario, and so forth. If one reads the original text as defined by the literal meaning of the words and the context in which they were written, as Judge Alito has, one could feasibly (if by some effort) end up where he and his supporting colleagues did.
One must also admit that there are weaknesses in supporting precedent. Roe vs Wade was not argued on an equality basis due to it effectively being too early – the court did not apply equal protection to women until 1971 (yes, you read that correctly). A year after Roe, the court decided that discrimination against pregnant women was not a form of sex discrimination (again, yes, you read that correctly). This meant that the subsequent Casey case, in which abortion was considered an equality issue, could be challenged by the claim that the regulation of abortion was “not a sex-based classification” under precedent. Which Alito also did.
So, yes, one can see how someone might make the argument that the legal reasoning was apolitical.
Of course, in reality, it was anything but. Not only did the judges very much cherry pick quotes to suit their ill-hidden agenda, but the words used were also carefully chosen to enforce a particular view. According to Alito, it should be up to states to regulate abortion, but challenges of abortion bans could only happen if a state lacked “rational basis” for thinking restrictions could serve legitimate state interests. This cements the ruling. Out of the various standards of justification that a state can be required to meet, this is the lowest; as many legal observers have noted, unless the law is arbitrary or clearly in bad faith, it will pass rational basis.
His argument also very much sets up a situation whereby modern US life henceforth could be judged by an archaic yardstick, which we know from history gravely retards intellectual and societal progress. Not only would lawmakers at the time have been unable to imagine future progress, but such an interpretation assumes that values would remain constant. Although some conservatives might disagree, this is not only objectively false but also thankfully so; had they not changed, same-sex marriages and interracial relationships would still be illegal while slavery would not be.
Yet the same conservatives are now indisputably in a potential position of power; judge Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion that the legal rationale used for overturning Roe vs Wade could be applied to also overturn other landmark cases such as precisely those that legalize gay marriage, prevent the criminalization of consensual homosexual conduct, and protect the rights of married people to access contraception.
Christ on a bike.
Beyond the legal argument, one could, as some have, claim that this is a matter of morality, the religious sanctity of life and so on. But that is walking on thinner ice still. Morality comes out of people and is subject to change – as it indisputably has over millennia. From this follows that the majority view therefore should rule, which presently it does not. Nor does the religious arguments fare much better; other large mainstream religions accept abortions. An increasing number of people are also atheist and thus lack any kind of claimed celestial decree regulating their behavior.
And while we are at it, medically speaking, not allowing women abortions is utterly ridiculous. I once asked my mother, who in her working days was one of the world’s foremost experts in IVF (in vitro fertilization), what she thought of the populist arguments and the sound she made was not particularly verbal.
So, we end up in a situation in which a minority exerts power over a majority, where mainly white men (and a few white women) control the reproductive lives (and just lives, full stop) of others – and the United States take yet another step away from the beacon of hope that is has been towards the heliograph of despair it is becoming.
Moving on to Cannes, I last week spent Monday to Wednesday at the Lions Festival. For the uninitiated, it is the largest and most prestigious conference in marketing and advertising, akin to what the film festival is to the movie industry. Unfortunately, it has a reputation for being detached from the reality in which the rest of the world lives (particularly among those who have yet to take part in the event). And, having attended for the first time in my career, I must admit that those feelings are at least partly warranted.
It would be impossible not to see how it might come across as provocative that companies which have suffered more than a 50% market cap loss so far this year still find it financially prudent to provide yachts and even rent entire beaches for small, invite-only events. Similarly, I can fully appreciate that presentations such as that involving Gary V and Paris Hilton promoting NFTs can be harmful to the industry’s credibility (though I would also point out that many big-name media outlets have been covering that session in particular – celebrity drives clicks).
But based on my own experience, most of the festival is no more than harmless, rather pedestrian networking, albeit in a luxurious setting. A lot of attendees do not even listen to the talks, instead filling their days running from one meeting to the next. To illustrate, I saw one (very big brand) global head of media spend almost his entire days at the same hotel garden table, seeing one person after another, as if there were a queue lining up just beyond my view. And obviously there was, in a manner of speaking.
It is indisputable that the event has a public persona that many love to hate, but as is so often the case, it is not entirely representative of what the reality is like. Far from everyone taking part is an executive flying in on a private jet.
Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of people who go to Cannes: the highlight speakers, the executives, and the rest (the majority of which are agency representatives, PAs and journalists). Out of the groups, I was in the best one. Once James and I had done our talk – which audience members dubbed “the best ever talk at Cannes”, to which I do not even know what to reply (it will soon be up for everyone to see on the WARC website) – we were left entirely to our own devices. This meant meetings, granted, but also getting to catch up with friends and have lunch at the bistro of a fabulous two-Michelin-star restaurant.
So, all in all, I would still recommend a visit if you have never been and get the opportunity to go. Just remember that there is a lot more to the festival than most see – and that the surrounding area is one of the most beautiful on the planet. It is perfectly acceptable to flee the scene for a few hours. In fact, I would advise you to.
Last but not least, I am happy to introduce the first new feature (of many soon) to come for paying subscribers.
Going forward, regardless of whether what I have written is free-for-all or paywalled, I will add a summarization of the most important market events from the previous week, that only paying subscribers can access, at the bottom of the newsletter. Its balance between topics will vary, but always include trends, data, consumer insights and key articles from the previous seven days. In short, it should move Strategy in Praxis towards being the only newsletter one needs to read and increase the value provided further.
Next week, we will start a long line of practice-focused pieces with an introduction to sense-making – which will also set us on our path to Cynefin, Wardley maps and more. And, of course, introduce the new feature.
Until then, have the loveliest of weekends.
Onwards and upwards,