I don't have a television at home. I use Adblock in my browser. I'm really not that exposed to advertising. Generally, the only time I will watch TV is when I'm stuck in a hotel, which I am right now, and so when I do watch TV, I am struck by how odd a thing advertising is. How superfluous and silly these products are, and how strange the methods used to sell them. So far what seems to be going around is trying to get me to watch even more TV later, trying to get me to pay some outrageous fee to watch some chump get knocked out in the third round of a PPV boxing match, trying to get me to use my credit card more, trying to get me to buy some sort of sheet that sits in my washing machine and absorbs colours when they run so they don't dye other clothes... what is the use of that? What gaping hole in the market did that fill? What demographic are you appealing to? If people forget not to throw a red scarf in with their whites, why would they remember to throw in some odd colour-absorbing sheet?
So many products are just useless. The world is like a giant Sky Mall: full of junk that on first glance seems like it must be useful but on further reflection is easily shown to be a complete waste of money. I know Obama wants everyone to get out and shop to save the economy, but leaving aside the dubious economics of that, what are we supposed to be buying? I need some plastic thing to microwave bacon on so the fat drips off? I need a beverage chiller that runs off my laptop? My life has been incomplete until these things were invented!
There have been lots of inventions and products that made a big difference in people's lives. Canned food. Refrigeration. The telegraph. The telephone. The internet. Electrical power. And so on. Even back then, though, people were selling useless junk. Actually, more of it then was probably harmful junk since there were fewer regulations - but remember, government regulation is bad! We want to go back to the good old days when people could sell you tapeworms for weight loss and give you crippling doses of ionizing radiation for depilation, and there was nothing you could do about it when they had taken your money and ruined your health.
Mindless consumption is a terrible danger to the species. It's destroying the environment and promoting horrible social inequalities. The world grows enough food to give every person on it 2,700 calories a day, yet the developed world faces growing obesity while the developing world starves. Don't just consume for the sake of it. Do you really need what you're buying? Will it really make you happier? Are we really dumb enough to fall for these incessant commercials?
It's that time of year again, and I am starting to see plastic poppies appearing on lapels. I hate this practice, and I will not be wearing one, even though my grandparents fought in World War II. The Remembrance Day movement has basically combined honouring the deaths of fallen soldiers with glorifying the pointless conflicts they died in. The last stanza of In Flanders Fields, commonly associated with Remembrance Day and one that adorns many war memorials around the world, reads:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
"Take up our quarrel with the foe." Continue fighting pointless wars. 16 million dead in World War I for no reason? Take up the struggle (since World War II was, essentially, a continuation of World War I) and kill another 60 million. Violence begets violence. The proper reaction to war is not, "we need to win this," but "we need to stop this."
My opinion is that you would best honour fallen soldiers by trying to save more from dying in war, and I think a significant part of that involves not glorifying the wars that those fallen soldiers died in. It does not downplay their bravery to say that the wars they died in were futile and stupid, and that the politicians and generals who sent them to their deaths were short-sighted cretins who, for their part, died peacefully in their beds with the blood of millions on their hands. Dead soldiers are not heroes, they are victims.
If you are in the UK, you could wear a white poppy, which is something I do support. It's important to divorce honouring the dead from the glorification of war, bravery from violence, and virtue from suffering. Anyway, this year you won't see a red poppy on my lapel, and if I see one on yours, be prepared for a lecture.
Now, sure, it's a smoking gun. But it shouldn't be that surprising. There were allegations of prisoner abuse, collateral damage and civilian deaths before Abu Ghraib and long before the helicopter video. Anyone with access to a news outlet (other than Fox) and half a brain should have known that this was going on. That was my reaction, anyway: yes, now we have details of all the deeds I long suspected were being committed. Abuses in war are as old as war itself. The Athenians slaughtered the civilian inhabitants of Thyrea. The Romans burned Corinth to the ground, enslaved every woman and child, and put every adult male to the sword. We are naive to have expected things to change. We have taken American kids with 5th-grade educations raised on a diet of videogames and war movies, put them in charge of tanks, gunships and artillery, and are surprised when they fail to show the discretion we would like. We shouldn't be.
I'm not saying that this is great. I'm saying that we have been foolish to delude ourselves into thinking we can fight a new, clean kind of war; that precision weapons will eliminate civilian casualties for all time and that from now on, all our wars will only punish the guilty and spare the innocent. War is terrible, it does terrible things to the people fighting it, and they in turn will do terrible things to the people they are fighting and the people they fight amongst. When you go to war, you are unleashing something terrible, and you cannot control the direction it will flow in.
I was forced to attend a religious ceremony recently. It was important to She Who Must Be Obeyed, not because it was important to her but because it was important to her friend. Ironically, She Who Must Be Obeyed snickered and rolled her eyes throughout the ceremony - even more than I did.
How does this happen? Why does anybody think that the benevolent invisible man in the clouds who loves you, but will condemn you to eternal suffering for any number of petty reasons, wants you to spend several hours a week in a drafty hall being bored to death? The ceremony we attended went on for about an hour and a half - although it seemed more like a week and a half at the time - and dealt with the event in question for all of five minutes. The rest was just droning and irrelevant speeches, singing, and mindless chanting. I think the reason congregations have to stand up and sit down regularly is to prevent them from slipping into comas. Also, I never realized how much I blaspheme on a regular basis. Every time we were instructed to stand (about every five minutes), it was "Jesus Christ," "goddamnit" and so forth. On average I probably take the lord's name in vain once an hour.
I did notice that the congregation was predominantly made up of the elderly, so once they all die off I look forward to church attendance dropping dramatically. This is a good thing, because, quite frankly, we have too many churches. There is not an infinite supply of building materials, and we have a shortage of hospitals, schools, affordable housing, etc. We don't need to squander those materials on making halls whose sole purpose is to bore people to death (other purposes don't count because talking to people who don't exist when no evidence of their existence exists is insane, asking said make-believe people to violate the laws of physics or even get you a promotion or find your car keys is even more insane, and I generally dismiss actions and rationales conceived in bouts of mental illness).
And that is why I don't go to church. If I'm forced to attend any more services longer than two minutes I am going to publicly proclaim apostasy and leave. Faking some sort of fit and glossolalia might only lead to being invited back.
I really find this disturbing. Watch this campaign broadcast for Christine O'Donnell, who is the Tea-Party-backed surprise Republican nominee for a senate seat in Delaware.
She opens with, "I didn't go to Yale." It's clear her message is a populist one: I'm not an educated person, I'm a salt-of-the-earth type with folksy wisdom, and that's what we need more of in the world.
What we need is not more folksy "wisdom." It's become so common for populists to claim that they are smarter than book-smart educated people, and thus, they don't need to listen to them. People ignore climate change because it snowed last winter, therefore it's not getting warmer, and these egghead climatologists don't know anything. People believe the earth is 6,000 years old and that god created all living things in their current forms despite the total lack of scientific debate over this, and the mountain of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. People don't like listening to economists, judges, professors, doctors, engineers, and other experts who are highly trained, experienced and educated. How many times have you watched a TV show where the genius expert can't figure out a problem until some turnip-farming moron regales him with a folksy story which, as luck would have it, is a great analogy for the problem and inspires the genius to solve it? This never, ever happens. Common sense is not good sense. It's common sense that the sun goes around the earth. It's also wrong.
In the university setting, this also leads to students questioning pedagogy and their professors, and no wonder; they've been taught that their common sense is at least as valuable than the knowledge accumulated over decades of study that their professors have, if not more so.
Just listen to the experts. When you want medical advice, trust the guy who graduated from medical school and interned in a hospital, not the half-wit who did the two-week unaccredited correspondence course in homeopathy. If you want to know what's going wrong with the economy, ask an economist, not some twit who can't even balance their checkbook. If you want to know what happened on 9/11, don't listen to anyone whose only 'qualification' to talk about it is their ability to slap together an amateurish website. And if you want your government to be run with the slightest hint of sanity or reason, don't elect anybody who brags about their lack of education.