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Friday, September 15, 2006

In Which Our Hero Waxes Incoherent

This post may ramble. My head is so stuffed it feels taxidermically mounted, I have a sore throat, and I’m praying… or whatever shabby thing we agnostics try to pass off in prayer’s place, damn us… that I’m not slowly getting whatever respiratory shit laid SuperFiancee low last weekend. If I am, I’m a dead man, or at least, very probably, unemployed, since I really can’t take any more time off work than I have already, and the SuperFiancee Bug doesn’t fucking play; it lays you right the hell out and then stomps a mud puddle in your chest while you’re down there.

Whatever the case, the stuffed-like-a-Christmas-capon sinuses kept me from sleeping much last night (I want to say at all, but I must have slept someor I’d be a trembling prostrate mass o’ random twitches right now, instead of merely wishing I was) and I’m staring down the barrel of a 12 hour shift at the Scream Center on what should be, in a brighter, better timeline, my goddam day off.

(In said brighter, better timeline, as noted in my previous entry, the motherfucking Bucs managed to win their game on Sunday instead of bending over and dropping trou for the piece of shit Bawmore Ravens, the inevitable dividend of which, I am morally certain, would be that SuperFiancee wouldn’t have gotten sick, we all would have worked the days we were supposed to work this week, I wouldn’t be coming down with whatever I’m coming down with right now, and I’d be home at this very moment sleeping the sleep of the smugly justified instead of here boring y’all with this nonsense when I’m not speaking in an apathetic, exhausted monotone to idiot participants.)

(Speaking of idiot participants, why can’t these guys with FSA accounts handle it themselves? Why is it always the wives who call me? Normally I wouldn’t mind, but HIPAA laws prevent me from discussing details with anyone but the person named on the account, and a lot of spouses get really pissy with me over it.)

Anyway. Let’s talk about just how crappy our consumer culture really is.

We all know it. There’s no arguing or evading the irrefutable conclusion. But I didn’t really get the message tattooed on my brain until my seemingly eternal internment in the sickly bog called Florida, which is one of the places where our rampantly corrupt, entirely short term, and deeply insane consumer culture is most conspicuously displayed.

Florida has a pretty healthy economy, assuming the only indicators you’re using are the only ones anyone ever uses in our culture – employment is up, most people are living on easy credit terms, and the local fiscal churn is always in a happy little frenzy, throwing off interest points and dividends and leveraging the living fuck out of itself like a crazed wolverine trapped in a Wall Street boiler room.

By any sane standard of measurement, on the other razor clawed paw, Florida’s economy is deeply cirrhotic, because it is entirely predicated on a finite supply of one specific resource that is rapidly being depleted and that cannot be replaced – undeveloped land. When the undeveloped land runs out in Florida, the whole bubble of swamp gas will collapse, and God help the land o’ the former Ofeekenofee. (I say ‘former’ because at that point, the Ofeekenofee will exist only as an obscure, unheeded name on a few street signs in a cut rate, already decaying housing development that will quickly end up deserted when the madding influx of sun belt seekers moves on to other states that still have employment to offer them.)

The problem is, very nearly our entire economy is fueled, at some level, by the current boom in leveraged housing, which means all across America, we are lavishly and frantically consuming the exact same very finite and non-renewable resource as is currently going so rapaciously under the bulldozer blade in Florida. Everyone in the real estate business who doesn’t have their head firmly tucked into the back of their waistlines is aware that eventually the unbroken ground is going to be, not dog gone, but long gone; if they think about it at all, it’s only long enough to offer up a brief hosannah to the heavens that it doesn’t happen in their lifetimes. But it will happen in their children’s lifetimes, or their grand children’s, at the most.

This insane, massively short sighted and pretty much kamikaze consumerism isn’t limited just to real estate, of course. We’re all on the treadmill, running just as fast as we can, not to keep up, but just to minimize how far behind we get from one billing cycle to the next. And what are we failing to keep current with? Usually not the basic bills; generally, we’ve contrived our lives to cover the monthly nut, barring unplanned disasters. But excess income is always compulsively expended, and what is it expended on? Worthless crap nobody really needs, but that we’ve all allowed ourselves to become addicted to anyway.

I’m no exception; in fact, other than in the specifics of the worthless crap I’m addicted to, I imagine I’m a very nearly emblematic example of the problem. I save pretty much nothing; anything I have left over after paying the monthly nut, I pretty much throw away on unnecessary merchandise I’ve let myself get hooked on. In my case, the worthless crap generally comes down to entertainment – books, comics, DVDs, CDs, HeroClix, Magic cards – and entertainment is, by its very definition, a complete non-necessity. In fact, entertainment is, at base, simply something which artificially creates and then releases tension – a pretty horrific realization, when you stop and try to emotionally grasp just how much of our lifespan we use up on things so entirely contrived and ultimately pointless.

It is, in fact, really only in hopelessly decadent civilizations (like ours) that entertainment becomes a lucrative industry. Truly productive members of truly productive cultures don’t need artificial constructs to create and then release artificial tension; their real lives produce plenty of the real thing. Productive societies do often have entertainment, but what entertainment they have usually serves some other pragmatic purpose or it couldn’t exist. Square dances are also mating rituals; barn raisings, obviously, put function first and the inevitable social pleasantries are just an enjoyable by product. It’s only when people have a lot of time to spare, and live very sheltered lives, that they turn to either dice or dumb ass duels (or, in the modern day, video games and cybersex, I suppose) to supply them with the vicarious thrills they don’t get out of real life.

Rampant consumerism is, by and of itself, empty and futile; it goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing. I’m hardly the first person to point this out, and I won’t be the last, I’m also hardly the first person to wonder exactly how, or what, it is that we’re missing in our madcap modern day existence that we could find real, actual, valid meaning in. Falling in love and raising a family would seem to be always a worthwhile pursuit, but if in the end we simply expel another mindless marching moron from the tunnel of childhood into the world of woe, what real good have we done?

You can see why people turn to existential concepts for some meaning in their lives, when our mundane reality seems so empty and ultimately useless. Religion or patriotism or some philosophical ideology certainly seem like better investments if we’re looking for a way to make ourselves feel meaningful. Ultimately, though, nobody knows if there’s a subatomic particle of validity to any of that blather, and it all comes down to one’s own subjective perceptions… and if one’s cosmic significance is simply subjective, well, it’s easier and more fun for me to find meaning in my HeroClix House Rules than to waste all that time and effort getting signatures on a petition or collecting canned food for those shiftless, scruffy types in the trailer park across town.

Yet the trick, if there is one, may lie in not trying to define our own significance ourselves. Of course, trying to accrue self worth via consensus is a treacherous path on a slick and slippery slope; there are a lot of idiots out there, and if you take everyone’s opinion on your intrinsic worth as being equally valid, you’ll have a pretty gruesome time of it (a lesson that the Late Great Jeff Webb was never able to fully internalize, to my intense regret). Here’s where one’s own judgment comes into play – if we can only define our own worth through the eyes of the others whose lives we impact, well, we still have to decide for ourselves how to weigh and measure the people providing us with that feedback.

I would never simply conclude that one’s worth, meaning, or universal significance is measured solely by how many other people one makes happy in one’s life… that seems entirely too trite to be valid, and much too subjective. A more useful yardstick, though, may well be to measure, rather than happiness, some sort of objective improvement we have worked in another’s life, by our presence in it. To that extent, I myself am content at the moment to know that by moving to River City, I’ve helped SuperFiancee and the SuperKids move to a much better abode than the one where they previously resided, which has in turn allowed other quite tangible improvements to accrue to their lives, like the vastly more pleasant neighborhood they now have access to, the better schools that two of the three SuperKids now attend (SuperDrama Teen is stubbornly maintaining her allegiance to her established school, as she’s a senior there and doesn’t want to start over again somewhere else, regardless of how vastly better the somewhere else undeniably is in every significant detail), the easier drive SuperFiancee has to work and back, and, you know, on and on like that.

Also, the older two SuperKids really like living in the same apartment as the X-Box, and the X-Box enjoys their company, as well, so that works out fine. Additionally, it’s much more convenient for everyone to have three television/VCR/DVD player sets instead of just the one they used to have.

There’s irony, perhaps, in defining the improvement one makes to the lives of others in terms of the technological gimcrackery one has provided them access to. And overall, it may not sum up to much meaning at all, in any cosmic sense. But like Dick Jones, I say good business is where you find it.

And my, that truly DID ramble all over the waterfront, and in the end, arrived exactly nowhere. But hey, it’s not like anybody pays me for this fooforaw, and now, we all see exactly why.


At 3:54 PM , Blogger Tony Collett said...

The Colts won Sunday. I didn't get sick, but my life still sucks.

At 4:14 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

See, but if the Bucs had won, the Colts would have LOST. It's all on Chris. I swear it is.

At 7:32 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Mentally speaking, you've kicked over quite the can of worms. Materialism, that of which you wrote, is what I see as the primary cause of most, if not all, of the world's ills. That, in and of itself, is no great revelation on my part, nor is it some sort of visionary viewpoint. There's been lots of anti-materialist thought before mine, and plenty of far better writing on the subject than anything I'm likely to come up with. The Bible, Quan Fu Xi's teachings, or even the 'Way of the Force' from Star Wars, for examples.

Examine what is considered 'healthy' in modern terms for an economy: "Florida has a pretty healthy economy, assuming the only indicators you’re using are the only ones anyone ever uses in our culture – employment is up, most people are living on easy credit terms, and the local fiscal churn is always in a happy little frenzy, throwing off interest points and dividends and leveraging // itself //. "

In short, it is considered 'healthy' by modern standards for an economy to consume itself, and in turn produce only more consumption. And primarily, what is consumed is the land, and everything on it, including the people living there. So the message, the rythym pounded into our pulsebeats from birth onward, is consumption. Voracity is our standard of success.

We are encouraged to consume, not only that which is within our grasp, but anything at all that can be reached. '"Easy" payment plans', '90 days same as cash', '0% APR financing on select models', etc... Debt, once considered a sin because lending at interest was a crime, is now a way of life so there will always be not only another product to sell, but a person with currency to buy it with.

Consider that, for a moment. We are all actively encouraged to seek out and acquire things we cannot afford to pay for. To seek loans and credit to purchase what our income will not support the purchase of. Insane enough by itself, but our economy is BASED on that principle, it is replicated billions-fold world-wide. The foundations of our empire are consumption and indebtedness. Consume more than you produce, and borrow from others to get more to consume.

We live in house built by ripping up the floorboards to build the ceiling. How long can it possibly last?


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