This Ugly Civilization
Above all, this civilization is ugly because of the subtle hypocrisy with which it persuades the people to engage in the factory production of creature comforts while imposing conditions which destroy their capacity for enjoying them. With one hand it gives comforts--with the other hand it takes comfort itself away.
The servitude to the factory which it enforces uniformly upon all men harnesses skilled workers and creative individuals in a repetitive treadmill which makes each muscle in their bodies, every drop of blood in their veins, the very fibres of their being, cry out in voiceless agony that they are being made to murder time--the irreplaceable stuff of which life itself is composed.
For America is a respecter of things only, and time--why time is only something to be killed, or butchered into things which can be bought and sold.
The Gollum Effect
consumerism is not about humans consuming products. It is about products consuming humans.
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As I watched Sirot’s Gollum-like mannerisms in the video, my hair actually stood on end. I was that creeped out by her, as she caressed her own hands lovingly throughout her conversation with Katie Couric. I fully expected her to say, “My Precioussss” at some point. I found the video via a post on kottke.org, in which Jason Kottke notes:
This is a really strange and fascinating video…Sirot is constantly performing with her hands but it’s also like she hasn’t got any hands, not functional ones anyway. She holds them like atrophied T. Rex arms!
Sirot is a poster-Gollum for consumerism. I expected she is a leading and discerning consumer of hand-care products, which must help feed what appears to be a narcissistic obsession with her own hands, that goes well beyond pragmatic concern for her means of income.
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Put us all together, and you get what we call mainstream culture. What separates us from the fully-realized Gollums is that we mostly lack the talents to deserve complete possession. Our very mediocrity as food, with respect to the devouring appetites of the products that choose us, saves us. Each of our consumption behaviors feeds on us every day, but slowly enough that we can heal ourselves and achieve a fragile stalemate with the forces of complete Gollumization.
But the equilibrium state falls well short of “fully-human.”
The apparent variety and uniqueness in our personalities is as illusory as the apparent variety in what we consume. This illusory variety in our consumption homogenizes us, while supplying each of us with the raw material we need, to construct illusory notions of our own uniqueness.
Take the choices offered by the food industry for instance: permutations and combinations of a few pure and highly-refined (a lot of them corn-based) ingredients, all designed to hook our three main addiction circuits that crave salt, simple sugars and fat respectively. It doesn’t matter whether you are addicted to burgers, pizza, french fries or chips (my particular poison). To the extent that you don’t cook your own meals from scratch, you have been partially Gollumized by the food industry.
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Within the realm of food consumption, we are prisoners of what Michael Pollan calls nutritionism: a highly-legible combinatorial food consumption universe reductively captured in “Nutrition Information” labels.
Real food is simply so time-consuming to prepare that we cannot be allowed to indulge in it too much, lest it steal time from our reductive roles as crank-widget producers. The widget-cranker is necessarily a frozen-meal-eater.
I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave
[...] a good customer experience, to which our goal-meeting is essential, is the key to growth, and growth is the key to lower prices, which leads to a better customer experience. There is no room for inefficiencies. The gal conducting our training reminds us again that we cannot miss any days our first week. There are NO exceptions to this policy. She says to take Brian, for example, who’s here with us in training today. Brian already went through this training, but then during his first week his lady had a baby, so he missed a day and he had to be fired. Having to start the application process over could cost a brand-new dad like Brian a couple of weeks’ worth of work and pay. Okay? Everybody turn around and look at Brian. Welcome back, Brian. Don’t end up like Brian.
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My scanner tells me in what exact section—there are nine merchandise sections, so sprawling that there’s a map attached to my ID badge—of vast shelving systems the item I’m supposed to find resides. It also tells me how many seconds it thinks I should take to get there. Dallas sector, section yellow, row H34, bin 22, level D: wearable blanket. Battery-operated flour sifter. Twenty seconds. I count how many steps it takes me to speed-walk to my destination: 20. At 5-foot-9, I’ve got a decently long stride, and I only cover the 20 steps and locate the exact shelving unit in the allotted time if I don’t hesitate for one second or get lost or take a drink of water before heading in the right direction as fast as I can walk or even occasionally jog.
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Lots of retailers use temporary help in peak season, and online ones are no exception. But lots of warehousing and distribution centers like this also use temps year-round. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that more than 15 percent of pickers, packers, movers, and unloaders are temps. They make $3 less an hour on average than permanent workers. And they can be “temporary” for years. There are so many temps in this warehouse that the staffing agency has its own office here.
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I suppose this is what they were talking about in the radio ad I heard on the way to work, the one that was paid for by a coalition of local businesses, gently begging citizens to buy from them instead of off the internet and warning about the importance of supporting local shops. But if my coworker Brian wants to feed his new baby any of these 24-packs of Plum Organics Apple & Carrot baby food I’ve been picking, he should probably buy them from Amazon, where they cost only $31.16. In my locally owned grocery store, that’s $47.76 worth of sustenance. Even if he finds the time to get in the car to go buy it at a brick-and-mortar Target, where it’d be less convenient but cost about the same as on Amazon, that’d be before sales tax, which physical stores, unlike Amazon, are legally required to charge to help pay for the roads on which Brian’s truck, and more to the point Amazon’s trucks, drive.
The Year of Living Biblically
Christians believe that Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. His crucifixion made animal sacrifice unnecessary. And not just animal sacrifice, but many of the ceremonial laws of the ancient Hebrews. This is why Christians can eat bacon and shave their beards with impunity. And why they don't need to blow a trumpet the the new month.
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It makes me think of AiG's [Answers in Genesis] resident astrophysicist, Jason. Before I left, he wanted to make clear to me that he's not geocentric -- he doesn't believe the earth is the center of the universe. "Does anyone anymore?" I asked. He said, yes, there is a group called "biblical astronomers" -- they believe the earth is stationary because the Bible says the earth "shall never be moved" (Psalms 93:1). Jason considers them an embarrassment.
That was something I hadn't expected: moderate creationists who view other creationists as too extreme. But it will turn out to be one of this year's big lessons: Moderation is a relative term.
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Bertrand Russell -- the famous agnostic philosopher -- said there are two kinds of work in this world: altering the position of matter on earth, and telling other people to alter the position of matter on earth.
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Mine is not the shouting, pulsing-vein-in-the-forehead rage. Like my dad, I rarely raise my voice (again, I like to be emotionally in control at all times). My anger problem is more one of long-lasting resentment. It's a heap of real and perceived slights that eventually build up into a mountain of bitterness.
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Each cherry took about three seconds to eat. Three seconds to eat, but at least five years in the making. It seemed unfair to the hard-working cherry tree. The least I could do was to devote my attention to the cherry in the three seconds, really appreciate the tartness of the skin and the faint crunching sound when I bite down. I guess it's called mindfulness. Or being in the moment, or making the mundane sacred.
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In Karen Armstrong's terrific book A History of God, she says that the ancient Israelites weren't really monotheists. They believed in the existence of many gods: Baal, El, and so on. It's just that Yahweh is the boss of all Gods. Hence the command "You shall have no other Gods before me." It doesn't say "You shall have no other Gods at all."
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So how do I find an unblemished red cow in Manhattan? Well, I don't. They don't exist here. They don't exist anywhere yet. But maybe soon. On and off for the past twenty years, at a handful of ranches across America, people have been trying to breed just such an animal. The quest has created a bizarre alliance between ultrafundamentalist Christians and a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews, both of whom see it as a key to the end times.
The Jews need it because it will make them ritually pure from contact with dead people. Without that, they can't build the Third Temple in Jerusalem. Without the Third Temple, the Jewish Messiah will never come.
The ultrafundamentalist Christians need it for the same reason. Sort of. To them, the Jewist Messiah will be the false Messiah, the Antichrist. The true Christ will have an apocalyptic battle with the Antichrist, which will bring on the thousand-year reign of peace on earth. The Jews will convert to Christianity or be destroyed.
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I used to orient my week around Monday, the start of the secular workweek. Now it's the Sabbath. Everything leads up to the Sabbath. On Friday morning I start prepping for it like I'm going on a big date. I make a huge pot of coffee so that I don't have to do anything resembling cooking on the Sabbath. I pile my reasearch books in a corner.
And when the sun sets, I flip off my computer and get to work not working.
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I've come to see obeying traffic laws as an urban version of the Sabbath. It's an enforced pause. When I stand alone on the corner, I try to spend the time appreciating the little things New York has to offer. Look at that: The street signs have changed from yellow and black to a much more pleasant green and white. When did that happen?
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed
The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.
I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.
The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.
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But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.
Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.
Greetings from Idiot America
[...] the rise of Idiot America today represents -- for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power -- the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.
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It is a long way from Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush, in an interview in 2005, suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's science classes. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," said the president, "so people can understand what the debate is about."
The "debate," of course, is nothing of the sort, because two sides are required for a debate. Nevertheless, the very notion of it is a measure of how scientific discourse, and the way the country educates itself, has slipped through lassitude and inattention across the border into Idiot America -- where fact is merely that which enough people believe, and truth is measured only by how fervently they believe it.
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Idiot America is a collaborative effort, the result of millions of decisions made and not made. It's the development of a collective Gut at the expense of a collective mind.
Nickle and Dimed - on (not) getting by in America
There are no secret economies that nourish the poor; on the contrary, there are a host of special costs. If you can't put up the two months' rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week. If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can't save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food, or the hot dogs and styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved in a convenience store. If you have no money for health insurance - and the Hearthside's niggardly plan kicks in only after three months - you go without routine care or prescription drugs and end up paying the price.
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My first morning at Jerry's, when the hypoglycemic shakes set in, I complain to one of my fellow servers that I don't understand how she can go so long without food. "Well, I don't understand how you can go so long without a cigarette," she responds in a tone of reproach - because work is what you do for others; smoking is what you do for yourself. I don't know why the antismoking crusaders have never grasped the element of defiant self-nurturance that makes the habit so endearing to its victims - as if, in the American workplace, the only thing people have to call their own is the tumors they are nourishing and the spare moments they devote to feeding them.
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We talk about the usual girl things - men, children, and the sinister allure of Jerry's chocolate peanut-butter cream pie - though no one, I notice, ever brings up anything potentially expensive, like shopping or movies. As at the Hearthside, the only recreation ever referred to is partying, which requires little more than some beer, a joint, and a few close friends. Still, no one here is homeless, or cops to it anyway, thanks usually to a working husband or boyfriend.
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[...] something new - something loathsome and servile - had infected me, along with the kitchen odors that I could still sniff on my bra when I finally undressed at night. In real life I am moderately brave, but plenty of brave people shed their courage in concentration camps, and maybe something similar goes on in the infinitely more congenial milieu of the low-wage American workplace. Maybe, in a month or two more at Jerry's, I might have regained my crusading spirit. Then again, in a month or two I might have turned into a different person altogether - say, the kind of person who would have turned George in.
John Naish - Enough
Køb ikke en ting (før du har stillet følgende ni spørgsmål)
Har jeg brug for den? Har jeg virkelig for alvor brug for den? Har jeg bare lyst til den?
Er mit begær efter denne ting plantet gennem en eller anden smart markedsføring?
Vil jeg have den fordi jeg gerne vil være toptrænet, klogere, mere privilegeret eller bare smartere? Hvis det er tilfældet, vil tingen da faktisk få det til at ske?
Hvor mange timer mere skal jeg arbejde for at betale den? Hvad kunne jeg ellers gøre med den arbejdstid, som kunne give mig større udbytte end dette forbrugsgode?
Er der noget, jeg allerede ejer, som kunne opfylde samme behov?
Er jeg virkelig parat til at støve det af, sende det til rensning, betale for dets vedligeholdelse eller på anden måde betale for at holde det i god stand?
Hvis jeg erstatter noget, jeg allerede har, hvad er der så egentlig galt med det gamle?
Hvis jeg for alvor ønsker denne ting, kan jeg så på nogen måde erhverve den gennem en genbrugshjemmeside ellr låne den fra venner, naboer eller familie?
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Vær mere materialistisk
Vi kan alle blive enige om, at bæredygtige ressourcer og vedvarende energi er GODE. Men hvad med bæredygtige ejendele? Ideen om at vælge ting for deres holdbarheds skyld er stort set sejlet agterud siden 1960erne - fordi man har forført os med ord som 'ny', 'mere', og 'moderne'. Med ved at købe ting, der ikke varer ved, forgifter vi vores personlige økologi. Det får os til at arbejde mere, bekymre os mere og gå efter mere. Vi trænger i virkeligheden til at være mere materialistiske - i den forstand at vi skal påskønne vores materielle ting i stedet for bare at bruge og smide dem væk. Vi trænger til at genopdage glæden ved (banalt, jeg ved det) at knytte os følelsesmæssigft til materielle ting.
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Men selv om vores stadigt længere arbejdstid kan lyde som kontraktligt bindende slaveri, synes mange, selv blandt samfundets rigeste, at det er smart at løbe (for) stærkt. En undersøgelse foretaget af Institute for Social and Economic Research konkluderer, at "travlhed, ikke fritid, er nutidens adelsmærke." Men stop engang! I midten af 70'erne havde mange kulturforskere travlt med at advare mod en helt anden trussel mod vestens livsform: Denne femte rytter i Åbenbaringen hed ubegrænset fritid. Vi stod på tærsklen til en 'fagre nye verden' af stærke computere, automatiserede fabrikker og økonomisk overkommelige arbejdsbesparende hjælpemidler, der ville gøre alt det hårde arbejde. Hvad, spurgte eksperterne, ville der ske med vores selvopfattelse, hvis vi ikke brugte de fleste af vores vågne timer på produktivt arbejde? Hvordan ville vores forestilling om et meningsfyldt liv blive påvirket, hvis alle vores grundlæggende behov blev dækket så let? Ville der være tilstrækkeligt med fritidsaktiviteter til at fylde vores dag, så vi ikke hensank i ladhed, depression og åndelig tomhed? Jeg kan huske, jeg som barn så eksperter på tv profetere om menneskemasse ulykkeligt henslængt ved svømmepølen. De samme menneskers krystalkugle varslede også det papirløse kontor.
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Med mindre vi lider af en medicinsk beskrevet lidelse, ændrer vores personlighed sig normalt ikke efter den femogtyvende fødselsdag, hvor cementen har sat sig og på livstid begravet os i faste vaner, holdninger, adfærdsmønstre og andre af de forprogrammerede hjernereaktioner, vi lærer at kende som os selv. Man kan vinde stort i lotteriet eller miste begge ben i en ulykke, men studier viser, at et år efter begge begivenheder vil ens livsmod sandsynligvis være vendt tilbage til dets tidligere niveau. Sådan er det. Sådan er vi. Og det er derfor, vi som individer er nødt til at udvikle en vanemæssig tilfredshed med vores normale kvote af lykke.
Erling kagge - stilhed i støjens tid
Det er en udfordring, at noget så enkelt og ligetil som stilhed ikke rigtig passer ind i luksusbranchen, og derfor er stilhed også en undervurderet luksus. I den branche handler det om at opnå noget ved hele tiden at lægge noget til. Dopaminen i kundernes hjerner forårsager, at de higer efter mere. Stilhed på den anden side handler om at trække fra.
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Støj er også med til at skabe klasseskel. Lyde frembragt af andre end den, som bliver forstyrret, andenhåndslyde, skaber grobund for større uligheder i samfundet. Lavtlønnede har som regel mere støj på arbejdspladsen end højtlønnede, og boligerne har dårligere isolerede vægge ind til naboen. Velhavende bor i områder med mindre støj og bedre luft, deres biler larmer mindre, og det samme gælder som regel også deres vaskemaskiner. De har mere fritid og spiser renere og sundere mad. Stilhed er blevet en del af et skel, der giver mulighed for at leve et længere, raskere og rigere liv end de fleste andre.
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Det, som tilsyneladende sker mellem to mennesker, er naturligt nok bare en lille del af historien. Under overfladen foregår der et spil. Hvis der havde været lyd på vibrationerne, ville det larme som et serbisk hornorkester. Jeg fornemmer tit, at der foregår noget, men forstår sjældent, hvad det er.
Når jeg rejser i Japan, føler jeg, at det kommer bedre op til overfladen. Jeg kan ikke sproget, men er så heldig at kende folk, der behersker det. For mens vi nordmænd oplever stilhed i en samtale som ngoet, der helst skal brydes - en god journalist ved, at de bedst pointer i et interview ofte kommer, lige efter at hun har klappet pc'en sammen og takket for interviewet - er stilheden en væsentlig del af en konversation på japansk. Når jeg over tid kan se og høre to, som taler japansk med hinanden, slår det mig, at de korte og lange pause virker lige så svære at udtrykke som det at få udtalen på ordene rigtig. Stilheden fremstår lige så indholdsrig som ordene.
På mig virker pauserne som en bro, hvor samtaleparterne tænker, at de er på den ene side af floden, og når de begynder at tale igen, befginder de sig på den anden side.
For at opnå stilhed skal man beherske stilhed.
Svend Brinkmann - Gå Glip
Samfundene har forandret sig enormt fra industrisamfundet til det aktuelle videns- eller forbrugersamfund. Ikke bare hvad angår den grundlæggende økonomi, men nok så meget med hensyn til menneskets mentalitet. Sociologen Zygmunt Bauman beskrev det i mange af sine bøger som overgangen fra bankbogens samfund, der lagde vægt på sparsommelighed og behovsudsættelse, til kreditkortets samfund i forbrugerkulturen, der opfordrer individet til at “følge drømmen” og forbruge, før man egentlig har råd.
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Eksistentialismen hævdede, at et menneske defineres ved dets handlinger. Det er ikke helt forkert, men man skal have med, at vi defineres nok så meget af, hvad vi ikke gør. Vi bliver til som mennesker ved at gå glip af noget og ikke bare ved at gøre noget.