Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ho, Ho, What a Ho

Forget nukes or environmental damage, the 20th century's greatest enduring legacy is our refinement of 'marketing'. Given that insanity, we need to change our formerly pagan seasonal holiday from being some wishy-washy family-oriented value-inspired celebration of some kid born well over 2000 years ago, to one that celebrates the real modern values of Christmas: the power of Marketing!

After all -- like lemmings to a cliff -- we succumb to the propaganda wave year after year, buying tonnes of useless stuff for each other so that we can either immorally re-gift it, or just toss it into our basements to await the untold years and inches of dust buildup, before someone else comes along and dumps it into a land fill site where it really should have been sent earlier.

They say Christmas was an early propaganda attempt to sway the hordes from celebrating their drunken festivals -- such as Saturnalia -- which would make it a very early form of mass marketing. An historic spin-fest. One that has received a lot of effort over the years, which is even more interesting if you believe one of my own insane quotes:

"Marketing increases with necessity. The more they try to convince you, the more skeptical you should become." -- me.

As the forces of 'good' and 'boringness' have had their hands full over the centuries trying to tip the balance towards something more pious, we still pack the malls angrily in search of that last damn gift to finish off our ever-growing -- but never again -- list of materialistic obligations. Mindless followers of the great bellowing voice, laughing at us.

Santa commands that we buy only the latest and greatest bits of electronics and plastics. Santa commands that we eat fatty foods. Santa commands that we spend more than we earn. There is more. Santa commands an awful lot, but I'm just tired of typing it into the stupid computer.

Through the power of marketing he appears in so many ways in our life to tell us what we, our families and our friends need most this year. He even consults us on how to 'charitize' our incomes properly across the largest number of causes. Is nothing sacred? Oh yea, it ain't. Not even me: buy lots more of whatever I'm selling or just promote me to the world. I still can't afford a mansion or a yacht yet. And don't forget in this holiday season to aggressively market your own family and friends. If you can't find a way to commercialize them, how are you going to afford all of that crap you bought and gave away? Who'd notice if you sold a relative or two?

Turn off, tune out and listen to the vocal styling of the man in red. Santa says "it doesn't matter what Simon says anymore, buy more stuff this year". Buy lots. Go crazy. You can't resist the hype and a big bushy white beard, can you?

So have a Merry Marketing Day and a Happy New Shopping Year. And don't forget to light a candle for all of the those things that you really wanted, but couldn't afford this year; hopefully you'll win the lottery in the next one.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


"The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless" -- Steven Weinberg

The key to our spiritual needs is the answer to the question "why are we here?" No other question, in history has ever been answered so often with so many different variations. Yet, for many people they still search for an answer they can accept.

It is, of course, our Achilles heel, that fabled weak point to which virtually anybody can seize control of our will and our actions if they understand how to invoke the right magical incantations. Countless religions, cults and other "organizations" have existed since our very origins as a socialized species whose sole claim to control is the possession of this answer. How many of our billions are under some spell or another?

It is funny, because it always seems like the little kid in the car screaming "are we there yet?" every five minutes. I mean, do we really need to know why? We've kinda guessed at the fact that we are just one step on a long journey. Hubris wants us to believe that we are near the end, the final product, but really if you think back to people 10,000 years ago they probably figured -- while sitting around their bonfires, outsides of their caves, surround by protective dogs -- that they had reached the height of their existence. 3000 years ago some of the Asian cultures were phenomenally sophisticated, and much of our current philosophy was set and written down 2000 years ago. They do probably thought they were close to reaching the end. It has been a long journey to get here, but its also been incredibly short by universal standards; an instance in time, really.

Time moves on, and many more billions and probably trillions will follow in our footsteps. We can only image how crude those that live 10,000 years from now will think we were when they looked back at us.

Barely out of our caves, we've only just started playing with technology. We're still stupid enough that we keep creating nifty gadgets like atomic bombs that are incredibly unhealthy for all of us. We figured out how to build skyscrapers and bridges, but we have no clue how to maintain them. We are drowning in our own rules, with no idea how to even measure if our society is better off today, than yesterday. Our newspaper chronicle that our perpetually repeating nature. We often know what is wrong, but we cannot fix it.

A fine example of a civilized society -- by our own understanding -- we are not. We often can't even live up to our simplest of ideas, let alone the really lofty ones. Crude and contradictory.

Ironically, that answer: the one that allows people to so easily lead us around on a leash? It is simple. We are, just a step on a great path that the trillions of us will take over the many millennia as we evolve from a crude uncivilized representation into -- hopefully, if we actually make it -- something truly shaped by our intellectual ideas.

In this day and age, sometimes there is no justice. Sometimes the bad people win. Sometime you do get away with being horribly selfish, mean and cruel. That it happens, is the defining characteristic of the proof that we are not even nearly there yet. Our journey ends, at least when we are so much closer to our ideas then we are today. If you really see how many bad people currently win, you know that we still have a long long road to travel. It is early days yet. All our our idealistic qualities, fairness, justices, equality, democracy: these things can only really exist whence we have evolved enough to allow them to exist. We can dream of them now, but we cannot find a way to make them in our current world. That is the road on which we are traveling. That is were we have yet to go in the future. And of course, that is the answer to that annoying question.

If you need to personalize it: we get there, when all of us no longer act or are tempted to act in an uncivilized manner. Conceptually, that's a mouthful because I can't even imagine living in a city were everybody strictly follows the proper rules of driving, for example. And they do so because they want to, not because there is any pressure. A super-uber polite place, with no crime and everybody is happy or friendly. Contrasting that to where I live today, makes me think that we haven't even begun the journey yet. We're still trying to find a way just to keep the lights on without destroying the planet. Still, you have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How to Survive the End of the World

I always knew it was coming. Since I was a kid, somehow I figured that my generation was going to be the one to live through the height of modern civilization. We were destined to get to the other side and see a long slow steady decline.

Maybe it was all of that nuclear paranoia, or the talk of asteroids. It might be those sci-fi books on biological disasters, or our more recent understanding of our own environmental consequences. One thing is certain, I am convinced that the end is coming soon and fast. I feel kinda like one of those crazies on the street with a picket sign prophesying our impending doom. "The end is nigh", it says. You just can't live through that much anti-propaganda and still remain positive.

I figure that for all of the potential environmental, biological or natural disasters, we're most likely to do it to ourselves. We are overwhelmed by the sheer number of indicators that are leading the way. We feed on fear in the news. The media keeps delivering wave after endless wave of bad news and impending disasters. We've so commoditized everything in our world that even our charity is just another type of business. We can buy our way out of feeling guilty. Our physical and emotional health are products. Pills and couches are available to get you back into working order. We've completely lost control of our own infrastructure. We can build it, but we can't maintain it. Our technology has completely outgrown the average man. Most people have no idea how most of the common daily used items in their lives actually work. Few people on the planet know even a fraction of how the whole thing runs. If we ever lost the right 5%, the rest would just stand around, completely helpless.

Even worse, our politeness and our civility get less and less as we get more and more. Our dense living is making for dense and often extremely rude people. Moral degradation -- while it might be fun, and sometimes liberating -- still seems to be a symptom of other much larger problems. If just few were doing it, it might be fine, but when it becomes common place we need to be more than a little worried.

The growing religious fanaticism is another strong indicator of serious trouble. When people quote dogma as an excuse to deny normal behavior or condemn it, we set in motion bad things. Religion wields a dangerous amount of power; used carelessly it can cause catastrophic events. It makes asteroids look tame by comparison. What makes it so scary is how easily the wrong people seem to be able to get control of it. It's like leaving a loaded hand gun on a public sidewalk.

People are drawn to sports and fashion during times of cultural crisis, preferring to bury their heads in a friendly entertaining sand box. Sports for the men and fashion for the women are the junk food of our combined global cultural heritages. The more money that flows into these past times, the more likely we are to be avoiding the real issues in our lives.

As we get more overcrowded, more people bump into one another, buying, selling and spewing propaganda at an ever increasing rate. They flow around the rules, decaying and demobilizing all in their path. We are out of control, running head-long into an unknown future fraught with self-inflicted sufferings.

Hope, or at least a temporary reprieve from our failings comes only in the form of some hard to swallow growing-up that we need to do collectively. The real trouble: our own greed and selfishness are eating away at our social fabric. People looking for the 'quick' payoff play the legal system as a lottery. People looking for an 'easy' payoff play the political system as if it were a contest. People looking for a 'big' payoff play the business world as if it were just another board game.

People just keep looking for those things that are cheap and easy, irrespective of whoever it is that is stuck with the consequences of their actions. Who cares how many people you've harmed if you can hide out in your mansion? A Rolls Royce is the perfect antidote to bad karma, some foolish people believe.

From those annoying goofs that block the exit doors on the subway car because 'they' need a place to stand but they don't feel like moving out of everyone else's way to that executive that helps himself to everyone else's money because no one feels like they have the power to say 'no', these people are the people that will bring us all down with them. We are -- we so often find -- totally as weak as our weakest link. And these days it seems as if it is a contest to see who can hit a new low point. Just like a bad reality TV series.

I figured it was coming; the end that is. Or at least the beginning of the downfall of this version of modern society. As Pete Seeger borrowed from a well-known verse: "to everything there is a season" and we all known that every season has to end sometime. Thus it's not hard to guess that the end of our collective summer holidays will come; it is just a matter of when.

I doubt I'll be shocked if or when things turn for the worse. Like an expected birthday gift, maybe I'll feign surprise when it happens just to make it more interesting to the people around me. Then again, saying "I told you so" a bunch of times could be fun too. At least it will help pass the time, as we all wounder around stunned foolishly waiting for things to get better. The trick is to occupy your time and not think about it, that way the end won't seem nearly as long.