Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

July 30, 2012

Counterfeit Reality

No one has a perfectly clear, objective view of the world. People believe goofy things because their leaders tell them to, because their language has its limitations, or because the best explanation they can come up with is still kind of goofy and wrong. Our very senses are kind of dim, compared to the full range of possible colors and sounds and smells in the universe (ultraviolet, subsonics, smelling the oxygen. There are shrimp that can see more colors than us). Yet, as a whole, most societies keep their sense of reality in tune to such a degree that life can go on, people can plant and harvest, be born, make love and be buried.

Lately I feel like we are off the rails, like a sit-com in its sixth season. The world as presented on the news, or as many of my dear friends understand it, looks like a sham, a bunch of props. People aren’t just buying into false myths here; they’re buying into a whole worldview built of deception. The world they think they live in is a counterfeit, an intentionally-built virtual reality. <sigh> Yes, it’s like the Matrix or Plato’s Cave.

Or maybe I’m psychotic. The little fake me inside me lives in this fake world, which is firmly centered on the United States of America. This guy believes in some impossible things, because he watches the television, goes to classes, reads media published by the six big companies, and is otherwise exposed to more information about the fake world than he absorbs from his own experience. He thinks that:

The Earth will never run out of resources. (Economies can grow without limit.)
Civilizations don’t decline or collapse anymore.
The serious threats to America are China and Islam. Or liberals, or conservatives, or atheists, or religious people.
There is a political spectrum from left to right, which encompasses all significant political thought.
Science is on the verge of finding keys to all the locks.
Democracy is working. The financial and political elites are working for us.

The Earth will never run out of resources.

Of course, people hem and haw about oil running out, or the rainforest being leveled. Yet, they behave as if these things are trivial concerns, as they keep on driving cars and buying tropical fruit from ex-rainforest plantations. (Well, me too. This is an area where my habits haven’t caught up with my thinking mind.) Most everyone still wishes for the economy to grow, fantasizing that it will someday run on sunlight harvested from deep space, simply free energy which exerts no effect on Earth’s systems. In the meantime, it’s mainly all about burning fossil fuels.

“We have to stop cutting down each others’ trees or no one will be able to build a canoe ever again,” said the least popular man on Easter Island.

Civilizations don’t decline or collapse anymore. The USSR was the last one to fall and now history is over.

Um, we don’t seem to respond to crisis any better than any of the fine examples of past collapse (Mayans, Greenland Vikings, British Empire, Rome…). Obama responded to a partial economic collapse with a stimulus package that his own advisors said was too small to work, which Congress then proceeded to whittle down. Republicans only continued to insist that the government should stand out of the way of corporations and super-rich people. Also, we have no response to Colony Collapse Disorder, the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, oceanic garbage patches, rising asthma and allergies, or climate change.

We’re like that teenager, the target of public service announcements, who thinks that “HIV can’t happen to me.” We think that plague and famine are things of the past, and that war will never, ever touch our American borders again. It’s pretty overconfident, given that our history doesn’t go back so very far.

The serious threats to America are China and Islam. Or liberals, or conservatives, or atheists, or religious people.

So you must fight that enemy like you’re Captain America.

Please do not notice the financial rip-off artists and multinational corporations who drive the race to suck Earth dry. Are Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert the only people alive who realize that the rules of the global economy are slanted to channel money, control and physical wealth to a tiny elite, fucking over all the nations, recklessly endangering our common resources?

People understand that money rules politics, but they see it as “the other party is controlling things through money!” No, the people with money are controlling things through the two parties. If someone is a threat to us, it’s not this side or that side, but it could possibly be the people at the center who wield indirect yet inviolable control over all the rest of us (rigging LIBOR, high frequency or algorithmic trading, lobbying Congress and officials with retirement packages).

An expert panel on CNBC recently admitted that “we all work for the bankers now,” although the clip is unavailable on copyright pretext.

I don’t want to bash a banker. I just want them to stop strangling the world with debt. Maybe I’m wrong, and the center of power which projects the fake world onto our eyes is the miltary-industrial complex or something. I know it’s not Black people, or Republicans, or anyone who would live next door to little old me. This thing comes “from on high.”

There is a political spectrum from left to right, which encompasses all significant political thought.

Well, I identify as an anti-statist, someone who is against rulers, domination and exploitation. I can’t even exist according to the rules of counterfeit reality. Anarchists are neutralized in the newspaper with the label “self-proclaimed,” as if to be an anarchist is philosophically impossible. Anarchists are a notoriously unreliable voting bloc, too.

Both political parties mainly support pot prohibition, blowing off the Constitution, bailing out Wall Street, ignoring Wall Street’s crimes, growing the economy of global suicide, smashing alternative food and medicine, and engaging in endless war. Does that sound anything like your agenda?

Many people don’t line up behind the Democrats or Republicans, exactly. Some people, like Joe Lieberman, are are torn between towing the two party lines. Others support candidates from outside the two parties, such as Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Roseanne Barr or Vermin Supreme. Unfortunately, many who support third-party positions feel bullied into voting for Teams Red or Blue come election day. Most of those who see through the two parties would rather not engage with sham democracy, and do not exercise their power to vote.

The big story, for half of the years, is Democrat vs. Republican for President. As if the President is a Biblical patriarch who will lead us all to glory (or ruin,) depending on who wins the selection.

Science is on the verge of solving our problems.

We’ll use hemp and solar power. We’ll engineer an economy that can’t fail, and tweak the prison and education systems until they’re optimal. An NSA database will locate all the terrorists. Pheremone perfume will help me get laid.

Unfortunately, science is largely controlled by the monied powers that control other human institutions at this time. Establishment science gave us the Green Revolution, based on petrochemicals; a pack of Canadian Amish demonstrated that organic methods are superior over the decades (citation somewhere within Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver). A bunch of hippies contributed to the methods of urban homesteading and learned to apply permaculture principles in different climates; DDT and Agent Orange were products of well-funded corporate science. Science does not hands-down show us the right way to go about living.

My Dad used science to protect GM workers from chemical and biological hazards in the factory, so I have respect for the field. But how many false hopes do we put in to it, and how much has money twisted it up? Science can be used for progress, or its opposite. Science can hold up Mordor or build the Death Star, or help us get along and recycle more efficiently. It’s up to scientists and their patrons, including the public.

I suspect that Internet Q & A and DIY forums will eclipse science as a source of significant information about getting along in the world. I suspect that direct action will supplant representative democracy. But I may be a psychotic.

The financial and governmental elites are basically honest and concerned about us.

In Yemen, my eerily-similar Arab equivalent was recently blown away by a Hellfire missile. He had received no trial. He was visiting some new friends at a cottage when President Obama ordered a strike on the place, obliterating Yemeni Ethan in the blink of an eye. He was engulfed in flames before he knew what was coming.

The Obama Administration reports Yemeni Ethan as a combatant, based on the facts that 1) he is between the ages of 15 and 35, and 2) he was in an area targeted by a Hellfire missile. Score one for the team.

Yemeni Ethan debated the meaning of charity and Islam, whilst American Ethan debates the meaning of welfare and government. Yemeni Ethan chewed khat, American Ethan smokes pot. Am I supposed to believe that my government is going to treat me  with any more humanity than the guy in Yemen?

To speak to the financial side… corporations operating in America are basically sworn to serve their shareholders and only their shareholders, and they serve to limit liabilities and push costs on to others: their customers, workers and neighbors. They view killing me as a possible liability, if their team of lawyers should suck in court.

Screw the elite. Rant against them! If they can’t see reason, fuck ’em over! Don’t live a spectator to the news, but see: They don’t give a fuck about us!

//

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

//

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

//

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

//

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

//

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

//

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

//

//

June 7, 2012

Feed the Heads

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 3:23 pm

Enough pruning people down into well-controlled bonsai bushes. Let’s feed the heads, and build a world from the individuals up.

Here are some great skills that empower people:

* Literacy. Arming people in the battle of wits since the dawn of civilization. An essential to learning from books or using the internet, not to mention expressing yourself in writing.

* Computer literacy. Having access to the Internet and means to look things up and communicate with your social network and interest groups. Excellent for self-education and organizing.

* Gardening. It produces food and medicine, and can be quite cheap to keep going. It’s also insight into the natural world.

* Statistics. Understanding the difference between median and mean, and the significance of error bars, gives you a much stronger grasp on polls and studies as reported in mass media. A little insight into study design will go even further.

* Critical Thinking. Examining arguments for logical validity and fact-checking their axioms. Spotting fallacies and biases. If this were effectively taught in public schools, those schools would be shut down.

* Domestic Chores. We’ve been sold a lot of harsh, expensive and unnecessary cleaning agents — let’s try mixing our own. Cooking is the difference between a crash pad and a home. There’s nothing lowly about operating your own household.

A lot of people worry that Americans have become too stupid to operate a democracy. It’s pretty sad, indeed, that public opinion can be bought for a few dollars a head.

After the disappointment that is Barack Obama, I don’t see change as something that is gonna come through political campaigns (well, maybe we can lift marijuana prohibition, but that’s about the deepest we can go.) Bonsai people just vote along with the rest of their hedge. We need to teach each other and train up, through reading groups, internet DIY forums, maybe even offer some time at a community program teaching people how to read. You can reach out really far if you learn Spanish or Conservative.

It’s going to take a lot more intelligent and undomesticated people to pull civilization off of its suicidal path.

April 4, 2012

Intelligent Design is Apparently True

Filed under: science — Tags: , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 4:18 pm

The theory of Intelligent Design is very annoying to mainstream science and its supporters. The theory posits that life on Earth was designed by God (or space aliens), rather than evolving through many iterations of natural selection. I.D. supporters usually point to some complex structure like the human eye or a ribosome and say, “This must be the work of a designer, because it won’t work without all the parts. I can’t imagine, and you can’t either, how such a thing gradually came to be, so evolution is not the valid theory to apply here.”

There’s something very unsporting about cutting down evolution’s explanatory power, and offering nothing in return except the insinuation that God did it. God can do anything; God can make monkeys fly out of my butt; God can make time run backwards and explosions unburst back into grenade shells; God could’ve made the world any old way He wanted to, and is known to work in mysterious ways, so what does it really tell us to know that God did it?

I looked around for some I.D. predictions, in case these might actually exist. According to ideacenter.org, besides the non-prediction of “irreducible complexity,” there should be “rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record,” “re-usage of similar parts in different organisms” and “function for biological structure.” To spin hypotheses in the I.D. fashion, you watch how people  design things. Then, you presume that the engineer of life on Earth works in a broadly similar way.

“Rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record” is an interesting prediction. If someone were tinkering with life on Earth all along, they might sometimes turn out a really novel batch of organisms in a short time. Unfortunately for I.D., this prediction is also part of conventional evolutionary theory, what is called “punctuated equilibrium.” Punctuated equilibrium holds that life on Earth get into stable grooves for thousands or millions of years, until perturbed by a meteor strike or whatnot, when life will suddenly evolve into different, sometimes more complex forms. Complexity does  rapidly burst into the fossil record (Cambrian explosion, the dawn of flowering plants), but that fact supports I.D. and evolution about equally.

“Re-usage of similar parts” suffers from the same basic problem. Similar parts evolve in different organisms because they employ similar strategies to survive, a phenomenon recognized as “convergent evolution.” It is  pretty freaky to recognize that an octopus, more closely related to a clam than a man, has eyes just like ours (iris, lens, humor, retina). Well, an octopus has a much more active lifestyle than a clam. All of the fine details are different, anyways (no land animals have rectangular pupils, for one thing.) Sometimes genetic similarities are found in disparate species. I think that that is evidence of genes moving about by means other than sex, such as viruses. If conventional biology does a piss-poor job of explaining these things in the future, that will give a little credibility to I.D. — Someone keeps using the same building blocks in all His designs.

The last prediction on Ideacenter’s list is “function for biological structure.” I think that this is a great prediction for digging into the philosophical issues around evolution and I.D. There are a few little biological structures with no function — the eyes of cave fish, the xiphoid process below your breastbone that can only break off and harm you. Possibly, a lot of DNA is junk. But, overwhelmingly, when you look at living organisms what impresses you is the functionality of the parts: the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone with ligament, tendon and muscle all arranged in a complex way, such that people look at it and say, “why, the knee’s purpose is to allow you to walk.” References to evolution are somewhat rare in my Physiology textbook, being reserved for broader, more reflective essays or explaining weird glitches in the human body. On the other hand, the book freely talks about the “function” of the kidneys, heart, liver and so on just as if it were describing the parts of a machine.  Do things have a function if they lack a designer? What is the function of a lump of granite or a cloud?

In the apparent world, living things grow according to designs. Saying that leaves were designed to collect the sunlight is no more wrong than saying that the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West (when really, the Earth is rotating and the Sun is practically still). In fact, for the first several hundred years, when science was called “natural philosophy,” everyone was operating under the assumption that God had indeed designed the world. The whole point of natural philosophy was to better understand God’s design — the practical results were mere side effects until science was melded to capitalism and power.

Intelligent Design is looking to return to that noble, if outdated, philosophy. When I.D. proponents point to apparent design and function in the natural world, it is really there… just as the world really appears flat when my horizon is blocked out by trees and buildings. And for many, many purposes, I really can work from the theory that the Earth is flat (as when using a level).

If Intelligent Design is rejecting Darwinian explanations in favor of a traditional, really pre-scientific view, it is what you call a “null hypothesis.” The null hypothesis says that nothing interesting is going on: eggs aren’t good for your cholesterol, they’re not bad for your cholesterol. Until someone proves that eggs really are good or bad for cholesterol levels, everyone should assume the null hypothesis. This accounts for I.D.’s lack of interesting predictions: it’s essentially a rejection of Darwinism and an acceptance of traditional beliefs and apparent reality, a default position to fall back on, although it’s struggling to become its own distinct scientific theory.

I just sharpened my own philosophy of science by considering the evolving position of Intelligent Design. Can our schools encourage students to question science, and discuss it, and imagine things from another point of view? Or must students accept the word of the High Priests of Curriculum?

I fear that we really can’t discuss evolution vs I.D. in a typical K-12 school. All anyone knows is one line of propaganda or the other, so that would surely be a discussion with zero brain engagement and maximum noise.

February 5, 2012

Pigs, in Cages, on Antibiotics

We experience many benefits from living in this modern world — great material wealth (A.C. units for the poor and such), pretty good expectations for health, formal equality between the sexes, a relative lack of violence, and for the most part the powerful don’t stick their domination in our face like the whip-wielding overseers of old.

So is everything great and nonviolent because we’ve evolved into enlightened Buddhas, or what?

If we had snazzy new social institutions that produced self-reliant and compassionate people, I could believe that. I have the feeling that our world’s lack of violence and overt oppression is actually the result of people having been trained into passivity. People are simply compliant towards their managers — most people won’t fight unless they’re ordered to, and no one needs to crack a whip on a worker who’s always willing. It isn’t simple to crush the (cantankerous, unpredictable)  human spirit and produce people who would volunteer for slavery. How are souls crippled on a mass scale?

It’s almost impossible to crush the spirit of a confident adult. They will come back from most kinds of tragedy and trauma and maiming, a little crazier, but still swinging. To consistently break people, you must break them as children. So, I’ll first take a look at our child-rearing institutions: school and television.

School

Most parents seem most concerned that their child’s education prepares that child for “a good job.” Educators tout children as “our most precious natural resource.” Oh no, have you seen what people do with precious natural resources? We have tacitly accepted that schooling is meant to produce a good corporate employee — a human resource, suitable for service to a bureaucracy. We hope that our children go far in education, so that they can be the most specialized, highly-paid corporate employees. Nevermind that two-thirds of millionaires are self-employed. The message that one must seek good employment under a patron has been so successful, that we went from a colonial America with two-thirds of households headed by a self-employed worker, to 18.5% self-employment in 1948, down to about 7.5% throughout the 2000’s (citation). Right from the get-go, we’re trained for dependency, and it is the norm.

I have a special feeling about this phenomenon of “employee-ism,” as it stands in a stark contrast to my dirt-worshipping worldview. In my religion, the generative power of Earth + Sun is the big sacred thing to organize life around. This is a viewpoint developed by ancient farmers, who were acutely aware of their dependence on earth, rain, sun, birds and bees and so on. They imagined gods behind natural phenomena, and tried to do right by these gods so that they would be able to keep on harvesting and living. Nowadays, employment is the big thing. People depend on “job creators” for abundance, and try to please those masters so that they might continue having money in their bank account and in this way be able to continue living. Bottom-dwelling janitors and garbagemen are low forms of life, unpleasing to the marketplace, and top-level executives with good teeth and sharp suits are what we should all aspire to. If it’s not a religion, employee-ism is certainly the dominant myth of our time.

So, employee-ism is one form of dependency that schooling fosters. As well, schooling extends childhood into the natural time for adulthood. Indeed, since adult minds are less plastic than young ones, this results in permanent  immaturity for most of the well-schooled (as evidenced during the GOP presidential debates?). Basically, a schoolroom is taking children out of the world and putting them in a laboratory for drama and psychological manipulation, isolated from adults except for the authority figure of the teacher. With one adult in the room, children compete for that person’s attention. The teacher can only do so much to dole out rewards and punishments to their oversized flock of children, so children end up in what a rat psychologist calls an “aperiodic reinforcement schedule.” Like a rat whose food-dispensing button is on the fritz, students’ minds react to their lack of control with frustration and increasing symptoms of psychological stress, sometimes including violent behaviors. Rats who cannot escape random punishments develop “Learned Helplessness,” the laboratory animal’s equivalent of clinical depression, arguably the distinctive mental disorder of the “developed” world. Those who don’t develop pathologies still aren’t striding through the natural maturation process — people just don’t mature by sitting in a plastic chair six or eight hours a day, performing almost meaningless tasks and competing for the attention of a parental surrogate. Just to prove the point: if there were no schooling, there would be no social ill of “teen pregnancy.” That is because, in the pre-schooling world, teenagers were adults considered ready to take care of themselves and raise children of their own.

School doesn’t even help academically. The Founding Fathers lived in a culture of self-education, where people ate up knowledge so that they could become more accomplished. George Washington did not enter school until he was eleven, at which time he could already read, write, and do simple math. He studied surveying for three years, and at the age of fifteen went to work earning the equivalent of six figures in today’s dollars. While surveying and amassing a real estate empire, Washington taught himself geography and astronomy. By the age of 18, he’d read all the works of Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett, and Daniel Defoe, the Commentaries  of Julius Caesar, Morals  by Seneca, and other works by Roman generals. Yet, according to John Adams, he was “too illiterate, too unlearned, too unread for his station and reputation,” and other contemporaries agreed. What Washington really liked was dancing and riding horses, not being an intellect, yet his academic accomplishments are impressive enough by today’s standard. He spent three years at school, learning mainly surveying. Ben Franklin, writer, diplomat, inventor, pretty much the National Genius, was schooled for only two years (citation).

The important skills like literacy and numeracy can be learned in a few weeks, when the student is ready. What is going on during all those other years of education?

Our American system of schooling was intentionally and explicitly designed to produce docile workers,  as shown in this 1906 statement by Rockefeller’s General Education Board:

In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.

So, schooling encourages stupidity, subservience and immaturity, in the name of an efficiently-managed society. I have educator friends, and I know that you guys are trying your best to push against that system, to raise up kids who can think for themselves, and to teach powerful skills like literacy. I know, and I respect you for it. You have little chance with the system you’re in. A guard can only do so much to make prison nicer for the inmates.

Television

For most Americans, time not spent at school or work is spent under the blare of a television. According to Nielsen, the average American watches 4 hours of television in an average day, every day, for their entire life. Over a 65-year life, that totals to 9 years of solid gazing time. It’s amusing to see Americans as television-junkie couch potatoes, so go ahead and visualize a guy drinking canned beer, with orange Cheetoh fingerprints all over the white-T-shirted dome of his belly. Are you back?

Television is the new hearth. Instead of gathering around a fire, good for warmth, cooking, and generating relaxing alpha brainwaves, we gather around the television, often eating meals in front of it, and getting the same brainwave payoff as from a flickering fire. The chatter and friendly faces on television alleviate loneliness , just a tiny bit. And, television can captivate small children and temporarily prevent them from creating chaos. So having no hearth and maybe no friends, television is a necessary second-best. This may tend, however, to devalue actual human relationships.

While we like to deride television-watching as “mindless,” all that time spent watching is time spent learning, absorbing the truth as television presents it. Even though no one believes  that they are influenced by advertising, we know  that everybody is wrong on that count. First of all, big, for-profit corporations pay for most of the advertising on teevee. To those entities, even charitable giving is calculated to maximize profit. They find that $60 billion / year is about the optimum amount to spend on televised ads (citation).

To some extent, these ads are about brand choice. I may have been influenced by the pro-working-class Miller High Life delivery guy character to drink that beer instead of Budweiser, but that doesn’t concern me a lot because the choice between macrobrews was pretty meaningless to begin with. Ads are also designed to increase demand, even to create a demand where there was none before (how did life ever go on before Febreze?). Often the protagonist in an advertisement caves in to desires they know they should resist, or acts selfishly and puts the product above their human relationships. The programming around the paid ads is also advertising, for the most valuable programs create a buying mood — ever watch HGTV?

Comparing ourselves to the comfortable families on teevee, we experience “relative deprivation,” the feeling of doing worse than our neighbors. No, you cannot keep up with the Kardashians, but why would you even want to emulate those hopeless consumer addicts? Oh yes, real people are uglier than those on television. Sometimes you may catch a British show and be startled to see actors with imperfections such as crooked teeth or a droopy eye, but thanks to miracles of modern medicine, the people on American teevee are pretty close to flawless. You  need some new clothes, a little surgery, and a case full of Maybelline products.

It demeans human relationships and promotes consumerism and encourages passivity with its very form… there’s one last nasty effect of television worth mentioning. Television dominates our politics. For national-level positions, 94% of candidates spending the most money win. We could auction off Congressional seats, and not lose anything important from our democracy. Much of the ruling campaign / PAC money goes into television ads. These are so hopelessly small-minded and childish that it’s hard to imagine people being manipulated by them… a black background, scary violins, an unflattering still of Newt Gingrich and an ominous narrator claims that… NEWT EATS BABIES! I’m not sure what they’ve claimed about Newt lately, but the specific, rational content hardly matters. Either 1) voters have been so pacified by schooling and television that they lack the critical thinking ability of a voodoo zombie or 2) television ads exert sway over our subconscious minds, similar to hypnotic suggestion.

I can’t prove it at this point, but I believe that advertising is the most powerful force in mainstream American culture. Advertising may have more sway than reason, ideology, or religion — after all, it is the deciding force in elections, and not those other dusty old ideas. Today is Superbowl Sunday, a national festival of advertisement. Everyone is eager to see the newest innovations in the external control of their minds. We identify as employees, but relish the role of consumer.

A Well-Managed Life

If I am correct, people’s ability to determine the direction of their own life has been hollowed out by the vast time devoted to the passive pursuits of watching television and being schooled. Television specializes in creating artificial demand, and schooling specializes in letting every student know their proper place in the class hierarchy (mainly, the system needs worker bees). Welcome to the cycle of work-consume-sleep. It’s tempting to apply livestock metaphors to the half-people produced by this way of life. We are cattle, we are the herd, we’re sheeple. Or rather, all the people outside my own clique are cattle — our  little clan is totally above it!

Sheep need shepherds. We have a vast priesthood of experts to manage our unmanageable lives for us.

While the availability of quality food is abysmal and the validity of most nutrition research is questionable, a standing army of nutritional experts will happily tell you how to eat. The massive effort hasn’t helped the Average Person’s health any — that guy keeps getting fatter and sicker. The experts will tell you how much to drink — 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men. They’ll tell you what drugs are okay to use and which are not, and the consequences of stepping out of line on this count are drastic. There are experts to reassure you that your sex life is normal while telling you how you’re doing it wrong. Experts advise on exactly how to write a resume and conduct yourself during a job interview, and I have to wonder what differences a manager can even find between applicants #’s 1 and 2. Hell, today the television is full of talking heads advising you on how to understand the Superbowl, in case you can’t invent your own Superbowl comment to share around the water cooler tomorrow.

The cult of expert serves a greater evil — the consolidation of power in the hands of a few. The new power is a unity of government with big finance and leviathan-scale corporations: it goes by the names corporate fascism, corporatism, crony capitalism, the bailout state, oligarchy, plutocracy, or kleptocracy. Part of what these people want is to limit economic activity to establishments like Big Pharma, Big Food, and Hollywood. People who willingly follow expert advice, vote, work hard and consume mass quantities of corporate goods will experience a slowly declining quality of life and loss of rights. Those who resist the encroachment of a corporate-government Uberpower will be vilified as conspiracy mongers, terrorists or violent protestors.

I write this mainly from a blindered American perspective, but it is a worldwide phenomenon. Recently Greece’s democratically-elected Prime Minister Papandreou was ousted and replaced by the “technocrat” Papademos — a professional banker, the former employee of JP Morgan and the European Central Bank.

I will not accept a totally passive existence, with my personal life hanging on expert advice and my material and political life dictated by managers working for the corporatist monster. My own struggle is with depression, aka Learned Helplessness. I just can’t seem to deeply believe that I can change the circumstances of my life through my own actions. I will keep trying, though, so you keep trying and maybe someday we’ll both break out of our cages and meet out there beyond the barbed-wire fence.

Special thanks to Radiohead for recording the inspirational “Fitter, Happier.”

March 10, 2011

Why Obama et al. Can’t Stop Bullying in School

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , — paragardener @ 2:56 am

Tomorrow Obama is hosting a conference on stopping bullying in public school. Said the Prez, ““For a long time, bullying was treated as an unavoidable part of growing up, but more and more, we’re seeing how harmful it can be for our kids…”

The Shill in Chief earns a warm golf clap for recognizing that children have a right to be free of physical and verbal abuse, as most adults take for granted. Not too many people have to worry about getting beat up or duct-taped into a locker at work.

Too bad the public school is an engine for turning out abusers and victims. It isn’t that the institution is sadistic (that’s too human for it) — it’s a side effect of a system designed to turn out obedient corporate workers and consumers. If you doubt this purpose for a second, try to remember why you were supposed to work hard in school — was it to get “a better job” once you were finally allowed to work? Yay, then you can get a bigger house which will hold more stuff.

I must bring up John Taylor Gatto, a writer and retired, prize-winning teacher from the New York City public schools. He came to question whether he had actually been hired to teach children, or to dumb them down, thus opening a Pandora’s Can of Worms. “Slowly I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to -prevent- children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.”

Gatto taught both envy and derision by numbering and grading students, and generally making them “know their place.” He taught indifference by halting any conversation or project at the ring of a bell. He taught dependency by doling out punishments and rewards, which, in confinement, can be as measly as a trip to the restroom. Gatto resisted, but ultimately had to play his role in the institution. Imagine how much harder for students to resist the institutional pressure!

Some students respond with apathy, depression and generally feeling locked out of life, which turns them into excellent victims. Others rebel violently, which most likely spills onto fellow students. Like a diluted version of prison, the institutional structure of school breeds lying, bullying and snitching.

(Remember the Stanford Prison Experiment? The weird routine of prison life left both inmates and guards in a “continuous present” wherein they thought little about consequences. Uniforms and identical haircuts made them more anonymous to each other. Abuse was rampant and the experiment had to be shut down ahead of schedule. Yet, schools are being made more and more to resemble the experimental prison.)

There are alternatives to warehousing the children and coercing them to jump through an endless series of academic hoops. I don’t expect the President’s conference to address any such alternatives. What a waste…

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