Politics, information exchange, religion, and pop culture: all have an impact on how we think both historically and up to the moment.
Some things in the world of ideas are not true, but I wish they were. For example, when someone casually asks “How’re you?” it would be nice to think that person really cared how you were, and was not really just giving you the brush off (while verbally acknowledging your place on the planet but not caring truly whether you lived or died).
So, let’s take a quick look at a few ideas whose surfaces look all shiny and bright, but underneath of which there isn’t much.
And, as before, there will be no hand-holding. And if that’s gum in your mouth, I sure hope like hell you brought enough for everybody!
It is the idea that a person’s actions have consequences meriting reward or punishment. In a religious philosophy heavily invested in the concept of reincarnation, karma is the moral law of cause and effect by which the sum of a person’s actions are carried forward from one life to the next, leading to an improvement or deterioration in that person’s fate. At its simplest it espouses the old adage “What goes around, comes around.” This circle-of-life application to human behavior simply translates into “Whatever you do will be repaid in kind.”
This is all nicey-nice for sure, but in all Eastern philosophies for every “light” element there is a “dark”, a “male” to the “female”, a he-man Ahnold to the girly-man Justin Bieber. “Good karma” begets riches (materially, intellectually, or spiritually) to its practitioner. The best pop culture example of this “good” karmic aspect was the brilliant sitcom My Name is Earl. [And it was brilliant in its concept and writing. Despite its hillbilly milieu, as sitcoms go this one was more intelligent and sophisticated than the norm, and I miss it.]
However, it is “The Dark Side” of karma that I wish were true, what is called “negative karma”. This is the exact opposite of good karma – if you do bad things, calamity and disaster will plague you all the days of your life.
My all-time favorite example of negative
First, some background. The saguaro cactus is rare; its range is limited to Arizona, southern California, and the Sonoran Desert of Mexico. It is a protected plant species in the United States (it’s the big, long-armed cactus one sees in all the classic Warner Brothers Roadrunner cartoons). It is a flowering desert plant that can reach heights of up to 70 feet and can weigh tons. Because of the fragile nature of desert plants (they exist in a unique microcosm and environmental disturbances can be catastrophic) harming the saguaro carries fines and jail time if caught.
So, according to my all-time favorite bad karma story, some redneck with a shotgun goes out into the Arizona desert and is using the saguaro for target practice. He picked out a particularly large one and started blasting away at it. The cactus was sawn in two and felled by the shotgun blasts.
But wait, here’s the best part: the two-ton cactus landed on the redneck and killed him!! This story’s simple beauty (karmic justice) almost made me believe.
Unfortunately, the story is false. It was a prank posted in a local Arizona paper that got out of control and reached the level of urban legend. Imagine my disappointment when I learned this particular truth. I was inconsolable. That story had everything – a dead redneck, a killer plant, irony, karmic justice. What’s not to love?
In the end there is no such thing as karma in the cosmic sense. Anything ascribed to “karma” is really no more than cause-and-effect or coincidence. Do good things and good things can happen to you. Do good things and bad things can happen to you. Do bad things and bad things can happen to you.
Or, one can be like a certain former US president and do the supremely bad thing of involving our country in an excruciatingly costly foreign conflict of our own creation (where no conflict was warranted; I call it “Viet-raq”), then retire smugly from public life without anything bad happening to you.
That right there is proof there is no karma.
4. Revolutions Are Good
Not all revolutions are good.
Revolutions are supposed to replace something bad with something better. The Chinese Cultural Revolution, however, destroyed more than it created, for example. Rather than focus on pop culture “revolutions” (the “Tween Revolution”; the “Lady Gaga Revolution”, things like that which don’t matter) I’d rather take a look at real revolutions (not the meaningless application as bandied about casually for everything ranging from “The George Foreman Grill Revolution” to “The Amazing New God-Awful Frammis Adjuster Revolution”).
Revolutions do not always work out. Ask any Cuban who lived in the Before Times – before Fidel Castro impoverished his country (which was thriving, by the way). Ask those tens of thousands of Cubans who fled their country why they left. They can pretty much sum it up in one word: Castro.
Cuba used to be the Western Hemisphere’s good time place, and Havana was a cultural and artistic hotspot. Not anymore. The Castro Revolution took care of all that.
Ditto for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Communism as practiced by humans (not in theory) can never work. The simple truth is this: the human organism is basically selfish.
True Communism, to work properly, requires a level of altruism we do not have. I will not work harder than you to get only the same thing as you. Conversely, why should I work hard or work at all when the “sharing and caring” of Communism ensures I will have my share regardless of what I do?
The proletariat that was supposed to be set free and glorified was reduced to grinding poverty and despair. No one except the apparatchiks lived better in Communist Russia than they did in Tsarist Russia – they lived worse. The selfishness of humans was Communism’s downfall, not any Alzheimer-twisted rhetoric from Ronald Reagan (who had no hand in the decline and fall of Communism whatsoever – it was already in its death throes before he took office and ushered in The New Dark Ages).
Most revolutions are a crap shoot. The French Revolution frankly was a failure. Equality, Liberty, Fraternity did not happen. The “heroic” storming of the prison/armory, the Bastille, was the result of rabble-rousing – the garrison of the stronghold fired on a group of unrulies agitating near its gates, killing 40 of them. This sparked a sacking of the Bastille and the liberation of the prisoners there. What we’re talking about is a handful of political prisoners (this was not a pre-planned social statement, it just happened).
No, the rabble got all worked up by a group of Machiavellian clergy and nobles, killed their monarch and his family, and a bunch of other people who did not need to, or deserve to, die (including mathematicians and scientists), and later ended up with the megalomaniacal Napoleon for their stupidity.
They also cost themselves a place as a world power – the turmoil in the wake of their revolution took too long from which to recover. Today, France is just kind of “there”. They probably should have simply gone with the constitutional monarchy thing. That would have been better.
But France, unfortunately, had taken its cues for its revolution from us. The American Revolution (and this is the rare exception and not the rule historically) was a success. France eyeballed our good luck and tried to apply it to a completely different set of circumstances, though.
The differences are simple. We were a colony of Britain, not Britain itself. We did not attempt to dismantle the British form of government. We severed our ties and created our own form of government. We weren’t destroying a government that had existed for centuries. We didn’t kill King George III, his entire family, and a bunch of people who had absolutely no dog in that hunt. The wrongness of the French Revolution’s methods cannot be disputed. It was an unnecessary bloodbath. [As was the Bolshevik Revolution. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated in February 1917. He and his whole family were executed over a year later in July 1918 – they did not deserve execution, certainly not at that late date. Nor did the other millions ultimately killed in the name of that revolution, which, incidentally resulted in an impotent government that only lasted for about 70 years, and at no time was it ever truly “thriving”.]
We owe a huge debt to France, however. If it were not for France (and their beef with Britain) the United States would not exist. No he-man, ’backer chawin’ ’Merkin wants to hear this, but it’s true: France pulled our fat out of the fire. We were toast. It was their financial and materiel support that won the war for us (and France actually bankrupted itself in the process of helping our “cause”; one of the fomenters of its revolution was poverty brought on by this insolvency).
Luckily, the American Revolution worked out for us. But, I think it’s an interesting question to ask: what would have happened if we had continued to live under the British Crown? Would it have really been so horrible? Do the Limey’s live worse than we do, barring their horrible dentition and ridiculously smug accents?
I would submit that living as a British citizen in this great land of ours wouldn’t have been the big, horrible nightmarish deal people like to believe (just ask America, Jr., . . . er . . . Canada how they feel about it). Britain practiced its Common Law (the basis for our own justice system). Barring their stupid peerage and “class” system, we would still probably be living pretty well. The British colonists elsewhere on the globe didn’t agitate for revolution – just us. Our speech would still be the same goofy mish-mash, drawl, and twang.
No, being a British citizen probably wouldn’t be that awful except for subsidizing a hugely wasteful bunch of protoplasmic lumps that do nothing but leech off the taxpayers and have cost their country billions of dollars.
These parasitic wastes are better known as the British Royal Family, by the way.
Memes are annoying little contrivances that attach themselves to pop culture like tapeworms, and they can be words, phrases, or images.
The “dancing baby” on the Web nearly two decades ago was a meme. So are those insipid little emoticons thrown out on almost every text message like so much e-confetti.
“lol”, in the parlance of that bastardized language “text-ese” (that shorthand written language that slugs use for communicating with other slugs), is supposed to mean “laugh(ing) out loud”.
Fundamentally, it means nothing – the person writing “lol” is not laughing out loud, he/she is just a lying liar telling a lie. He/she is too indolent to come up with a truly creative or proper, thoughtful response to someone else’s attempts at merry-making, yet still wishes to acknowledge the sender’s contribution to the world of entertainment.
This carries all the sincerity of “A.F.A.”[“A Friend, Always”] written in your high school yearbook, and also a lie. [“Hello, Biff? Yeah, this is Vic. Remember when you wrote in my yearbook ‘A.F.A’? Well, I’m in jail again, and I need bail money. No? But you said you were ‘a friend always’!!”]
When I was a kid I had a teacher yell at me (potty mouth that I was, and frankly, unashamed, still am), “Profanity is the last resort of a small mind.” [Not true – I have a genius IQ and am quite capable of enlightened elucidation when required. But, sometimes, a good, lung-busting string of creative profanity works better and is wayyyy funnier].
But that teacher’s point is valid today. Social networking sites promulgate the banal. On-line, the “lol” meme has reached a level of stupidity that is unfathomable. Its overuse has deprived it of any meaning at all: “I ate a sammich – lol”; “I pooped my pants – lol!”; “Taking the dog for a walk – lol!”; “At the gym – lol!!”
To illustrate the absurdity of this ridiculous meme I have started using it in my every day speech and SAYING IT OUT LOUD to underscore its stupidity. In conversation, I will actually respond to someone, “Ell-Oh-Ell”. It’s pretty annoying, and it sounds completely ’tarded when said aloud. That’s the point: quit it!
Here’s the way to beat a meme, especially an annoying one like “lol” – stop using it!! [Seen any dancing babies on-line lately?]
And if someone you know on-line says something witty or comically absurd, or makes you smirk, write back to that person in a complete sentence, “I say, old bean, that was top drawer humor. Jolly good show!” [Just practicing my British in case anyone decides to rescind the American Revolution].
It will mean much more than the indifferent, completely fallacious, and insincere “lol” ever could.
2. “It’s Not You, It’s Me”
This is the greatest untruth of all time.
I don’t know who came up with it, but I wish it had been me and I got royalty payments from it. I get why it exists. No one likes the idea of hurting another person’s feelings. “It’s not you, it’s me” takes some of the sting out of being dumped – not!!!
I hate ending relationships with women. I hate that I have to mentally prepare for “The Speech” and sit her down, asking her to please turn off Dr. Phil, put down the rack of lamb she’s inhaling, and listen.
And then it starts: I say what’s really on my mind, and it just goes downhill from there. She looks up with her big, baby bloodshots, mascara all smudged Alice Cooper/raccoon-like, a fat tear rolling down her cheek to drop onto the unfiltered Camel cigarette dangling off her lower lip in disbelief – it’s heart breaking.
I’ll do anything to avoid it. Even if the current model is a succubus who is draining my very life force from me as I sleep, I will still do almost anything to get her to break up with me instead (usually I start wetting the bed – that’s a classic that always works).
But what I can’t stand is being lied to. As any of you can well imagine, living with me is no day at the beach. So my getting dumped doesn’t usually come as a surprise (what I’m always surprised by is how long women can hang tough!!). However, if you pull the old “It’s not you it’s me” shtick on me any respect I had for you evaporates. Just tell me the truth: I’m a jerk; you hate that I slept with your sister/mom/smokin’ hot cousin Elaine; I accidentally microwaved your cat. I’m a big boy and I can handle the truth.
I never use the old “It’s not you, it’s me” line on women. For starters, I’m sure it was probably a woman who invented it, so it wouldn’t fool them. Besides, regardless of what any woman does, even if she just torched your car and you tell her to get out of your life, she’ll still tell all of her friends that you burned your own car for the insurance money and she dumped your sorry derriere. It’s a no-win. So, “It’s not you, it’s me” is a waste on women.
But it works on a lot of men, oddly enough. I’ve heard guys actually tell me, as if they just hadn’t been ash-canned, “She just said she needed some space,” whined with a forlorn look on Sad Sack’s face.
“She said it wasn’t me, it was her.” Wrong! It was you. Some men are such egomaniacs with such fragile macho psyches that if a woman does use this line on them THEY BELIEVE IT!!
“She said it was all her, not me. Her loss!!” Wrong, chief. It’s not her – it’s you. She didn’t break up with you because she is flawed. She dropped your butt because of you.
It’s you alright. It’s always you.
Then, I was exposed to The National Enquirer and papers of its ilk and realized, “Hey, they’re making this %^#* up!!” What a disappointment.
So, I learned at an early age to 1) question the provenance of anything I was told, and 2) question the authority of any informational source.
A great example of questioning credibility: virgins writing about sex have no authority.
“Sensitive” men pretending to enlighten us about the female psyche in books like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus are pandering jackholes who truly don’t understand women or humanity. [Guess what? We’re all from Earth, dipwad!]
Women and men are more alike than they are different – any cosmetic differences and biological differences are generally exaggerated out of proportion. Women are not a mysterious, separate foreign species. I don’t need some fawning metrosexual to subvert this simple truth by playing up gender differences when there really aren’t that many. [Social conditioning is what makes females “women” in the abstract. If anyone went back to pre-revolution China and saw the peasant women slogging around in the rice paddies, he’d rethink the whole “difference” argument. Women and men are fundamentally the same.]
The point is one cannot take everything one learns or reads on-line at face value. This is to actively and aggressively urge people to please look askance at some things one might find.
Peer review is a process whereby the scientific community vets its findings before publication. Encyclopedias, such as the iconic Britannica, similarly use a peer review process before publishing anything in its oeuvre.
But the Internet is not Britannica. It is a populist forum, and it is amazing, wonderful, and annoying all at the same time. Wikipedia, for example, began life as a truly well-intended peer-reviewed web-site under a different name and submission method and was going nowhere. The process was too slow, and the Web waits for no one. When the nascent Wikipedia allowed non peer-reviewed material (with guidelines, of course) the site exploded, and today it is probably one of the few truly trustworthy sources for good information. However, even that has its flaws, and occasionally one will find the old warhorse rumor or lie in an otherwise well-researched piece.
Thus, in the end, for those inclined to dig just a bit deeper, it pays off in spades to recognize where one might need a bit more information. It’s always a good idea to delve into multiple sources, and the more obscure, the better. It also pays to revisit a source’s bibliography. Doing so may reveal material that the citing writer did not find of interest, but you might.
Simply put: Be an originator, not a perpetuator or an imitator.
If something you find on-line looks a bit hinky, rather than blindly repeat it, check it against something else. Research can be good or bad. It can be diligent or indifferent.
Remember: “It’s not the Web, it’s you.” (It’s always you).
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