Posts Tagged ‘fads’
Wednesday, March 30th, 2016
Late stage empires are rootless. People have no fixed pursuits because they have no consistent values. As a result, they pursue novelty to distract themselves from the emptiness. This spills over into policy because whatever the hive is excited about becomes an opportunity for marketers, advertisers, politicians and celebrities to use in their own appeal.
These “obsessions” happen periodically and sweep through like a desert wind, then depart and are forgotten. The fear of eggs as a source of cancer was one, back in the 1980s. For several years, the news was filled with scientific studies about how eggs were linked to different cancers and were probably killing us all right now. There were calls for increased taxes and regulation of eggs.
Then, it all vanished. Someone put out contrary data, or discovered some common sense, and they bucked the herd. Once one person had stood up to the great wall of conformist neurosis, others did the same and the wall came tumbling down. It had always been a phantom of our minds, as it turned out, but for most of a decade people accepted it as ironclad fact.
Another nonsense freakout was the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. If you listened to the media, and the scientists who apparently wrote studies hoping to get picked up by the media, AIDS was going to wipe us all out. It was going to become airborne and you could get it from doorknobs if you had a cut on your hand. And then, poof!, this attack of fear also disappeared.
There are other great freakouts. From the 1940s through the end of the 1980s, people were just about certain that humanity would perish by nuclear warfare. Admittedly, there was a greater chance of this threat than eggs giving us all AIDS, but it also made little sense given that the risk was widely known. Panic and obsession crowded out good sense as usual.
Since that time, we have had global warming and now global terror. Neither of these are an actual threat, but with a twist: they are visible manifestations of bigger problems. “Global warming” consists of lumping together observations of some of the impacts of overpopulation and blaming gasoline for them; terrorism is just the tip of the iceberg of the many problems of globalism, a stupid Tower of Babel project for our elites and their fawning egalitarian useful idiots.
On the flip side, some obsessions are positive. When something succeed, all the monkeys imitate it slavishly. The best example of these is multitasking, an illusion which is failing. Back in the 1990s, someone came up with the idea that the ideal dot-com employee could multitask, which originally meant that they could be on hold on the phone and still get stuff done elsewhere on their desk.
Then the idea of “multitasking” became a trend. Employers were asking janitor candidates if they could multitask. Articles and books were written about the importance of multitasking, and motivational speakers earned a living by teaching people who to multitask in daily life. And then, the first people bucked the trend. They pointed out that multitasking meant lower attention to each task, thus less depth and quality.
And now, the multitasking trend is vanishing into silence, just like all the other panics and fads.
Let us look at diversity. In the 1970s, the West was looking for allies to stop the spread of Communism through the third world. We came up with the idea of forcing them to be linked to us by economics. So we started importing them into Europe and the USA as cheap labor, enjoying the luxury of newly-affordable goods and services that provided, and the notion of the healthy mixed population — a goal of Leftists since the French Revolution at least — was born.
Over the last four decades, diversity has always been the answer. It is a form of pacifism which entails no longer struggling to rise above the lower, but mixing everyone into one big happy pool so that there is no longer racial strife and class warfare. It makes women swoon and men think about golf. The illusion being pitched is that with this problem of racial strife out of the way, we can all go back to what we were doing.
And yet the reality starts to dawn. Diversity does not mean that people are here to live elsewhere; it means they live among us. It means our children, who are still not neurologically mature, will bond with them and want to marry them. It means that they will always be given preference in jobs and customs, since we are trying to show how nice we are. It means endless costs and slowdowns making life so miserable normal people want to die.
Look for this trend to die this year. Like the others, it will blow away, forgotten in our embarrassment and irritation at having been duped for so long.
Sunday, June 7th, 2015
The news will give you a headache because reading it requires separating the unimportant but overhyped from the actually relevant, and only then reading between the lines. The big event last week occurred when media realized that the culture war was over and that the left won. This came not as a huge surprise to anyone, since the left specializes in validating as altruism the desire of individuals for greater narcissism, licentiousness and obliviousness to actual opportunity and threats.
When they raise the headstone over leftism — and it is not long now, despite appearances of strength — the epitaph will read simply “Here lies a FALSE HOPE.” Liberalism specializes in convincing people that actual problems are not problems at all, and with the energy saved fighting real threats, they can set aside some to fight imaginary threats and invest the rest in themselves. Liberalism sells a product called justification. On the surface, it takes the form of altruism, but more in-depth exploration finds that this was just advertising like the promises of a used-car salesman. The left resembles the guy at a party who tells you to not worry about the thirteen beers you have had because he needs you to drive him to the convenience store. And if a car crash or arrest occurs, it will not be his fault, but you will pay the price.
The recent culture war pronouncements remind me of the history of rock and roll. During its earliest years, it was simple and functional, but then with The Beatles it discovered pretense, and flowered into many directions as others interpreted that, some improving it and others making it more like the usual. At some point, everyone figured, it would just keep on going to greater extremity and intensity. That did not happen; instead: rock moves in circular patterns, rediscovering old influences and mellowing those instead of delivering intensity. It, like liberals, specializes in novelty or appearing to have new ideas all the time while it recycles very old ones. Yet it stalled sometime in the 1980s when, having exhausted its arc of discovering its logical variations and incorporating new technology, it collided with the brick wall of its own lack of ideas. There simply was nothing going on other than the variation of surface sound, and so instead of trying to change itself to grow toward new variety, rock settled for being a known quantity. Like properties on a busy drag or roles at work, it thrived less but kept the money flowing on the basis of not rocking the boat. It manufactured a series of trends, like using certain scales or guitar sounds over others, but kept all of this at the surface so everyone could participate.
Similarly the great leftward shift of American attitudes resembles not new terrain, but a circular motion achieved by a lack of space to expand. As detailed by The New York Post, American liberalism comes at a price — it is designed to encourage others to self-destruct so that valuable resources can go to those who do not follow destructive paths. In other words, this tolerance is not altruism; it is the exact opposite, which is competition so intense that you celebrate the self-destruction of anyone who might be an adversary. The culture war was won by schadenfreude:
Americans are simply, broadly, more tolerant of others who are unlike them. As a general trend, that’s heartening. On the other hand, what comes along with this mass departure of moral judgment from public life?
Let’s say we grant that it’s morally acceptable to smoke weed. Is it morally acceptable, then, to spark up a joint every day at lunch? Sure, as long as you’re not endangering others. It’s still not terribly wise, though.
This shows us America at her most cynical. Each of us derive benefit from having our potential competition strung out on drugs, obsessive about gay marriage, or otherwise taken out of the loop for actual competition. Even more, we get social success points for approving of the latest ideas that media, government, big corporations and all of our friends also approve of. In this we see the paradox of non-conformity: if most people conform to a single idea, changing the ideal just creates a different form of conformity. Only finding a different direction avoids the endless loop of trying to stay cool, keeping up with the Joneses, following trends, chasing fads, and other ways of keeping “relevant” that people who do not believe in themselves depend on in order to like themselves.
Social justice viewpoints are a way to show that you are “above” others. They are ignorant, primitive, unthinking and impulsive. You are enlightened, altruistic, egalitarian, tolerant and compassionate. This puts you above them, even if they have bigger genitals, smarter brains, heftier muscles or more money. You have a reason to sneer at them and treat them like the people who should be picking your cotton. Social justice makes heroes and tyrants out of underconfident people, and does so in the same moment.
What we see now playing out in the last days of the culture war is the same stuff we were introduced to in the first days of elementary school on the playground. People will do anything for power, short of achieving it by being actually useful and contributing to society and nature, and they become horrible bickering chimpanzees who drag each other down in order to rise above the herd. The nonconformity and iconoclasm of the gay marriage and pro-pot people is in fact the ultimate form of conformity, which is not behaving as others are, but having the same motivations as they do. Americans are trying to be cooler than each other by embracing whatever weirdness has come to them from above, and finding ways to both be obedient and appear “different” at the same time, and the result is the loss of the culture wars to the attention whore era.
Sunday, May 28th, 2006
Science suggests that socialization has an evolutionary effect on animals: it makes their brains more complex, perhaps bigger, to deal with the infinite interdependent details of manipulating other individuals. All things in nature however fit onto a kind of bell curve where too little is not enough, but too much becomes not enough of other necessary things, and leads to a collapse of the system. It is not unprecedented to assume that too much socialization might make individuals oblivious to anything but socialization.
Those who are familiar with this balance come to distrust trends. A trend can be defined as any behavior which is transmitted on the basis of its popularity, and not its inherent value. People select it by proxy; because others do it, it must be smart. Some trends are not destructive: if one sees a crowd fleeing a predator, it is not entirely unwise to follow, but a crowd fleeing an imaginary fire will trample those who join it. For this reason it is wise to suspect any trend which has no corresponding stimulus in reality. We who have grown up among the socialized look for smoke when someone calls “Fire!”
Most trends are simple behaviors that keep those with no capacity to think or lead busy, and the worst thing they generate is landfill (piles of Emo CDs, “Baby on Board” signs, Kewpie dolls dot the nation’s garbage heaps). However, in a socialized system, trends tend to pile up and while it is easy to recognize the new ones, it becomes hard to see the more pervasive ones — these tend to be the broadest and most fundamental assumptions of those one meets on the street. The greatest trend of the last two thousand years has been utilitarian individualism.
Utilitarian individualism is the idea that we must please ourselves with what exists instead of striving for an abstraction that not all can see; like all forms of government or social principle, it is a control mechanism. It starts from the principle that material obligations liberate the individual, and progresses to the idea that the individual pursuit of pleasure is more important than the pursuit of an accurate abstraction of reality and the tendency to master it such as to create an ascendant civilization: art, philosophy, science, religion and heroes of a higher level than would be expected from the simple material needs of life. Descending civilizations concern themselves with what exists right now, and how to divide it up, where ascending civilizations direct themselves toward conquest through creation.
From this materialistic individualist perspective comes a morality of the physical such that we judge actions by their potential material consequences on individuals, and are blind to the impact of individual actions upon the whole; the individual has become sacred, and what inconveniences an individual — even if a higher state for all of civilization is to be gained — is viewed negatively if not outright made taboo. Our morality is materialistic in that we think it “exists” as an absolute categorization, where the ancients saw morality as a matter of motivation and the significance of acts in the physical world. To an ancient society, to intend evil was the same as having a poor philosophy of the world, and intent naturally led to acts which would be seen as evil. The modern view of the world sees only the act, classes it as evil, and therefore attributes an evil mindset to the doer. Ancients believed evil was mental error, but now we believe it is an inescapable category and thus refuse to see how our ideas might be mediocre and thus destructive — evil.
In the ancient system, evil and good were like heaven states of mind, and the gods were personificiations of nature, not some powerful deities existing in a space that like technology acts on our physical world from an abstraction and is mechanically consistent. Modern people think of religion and morality like machines: the act originates from a desire toward a function with no necessary mirror in reality, a pure arbitrary “evil” that can have no worth in life. Gone is the idea of evil as an extension of predation or parasitism. We in our modern wisdom need to make up reasons for the fundamental categorical altering of the evil individual, so we see them as motivated not by logic but trauma from child abuse, financial gain, etc. We believe to do evil is to intend evil, or to be of an evil machine-function, but choose not to notice evils which may arise simply from bad logic.
All of this supports the over-arching trend of looking away from the world as a whole, and accepting time as a series of moments with cause and effect, to instead see it as a matter of what already exists and how individuals will exploit it. Translated loosely through the filter of motivations, this can be seen as a desire to back away from rising above our fundamental obligations — eat, sex, sleep — and to legitimize them as goals. The modern trend is a shattering of goals beyond function and the pursuit of the comfort of the individual. Translated from the perspective of the single human to that of all humans, it is utilitarianism: that which most people consider in their interests is right; forget all those abstractions like better art or ideas, or even comparing ideas at all. Everything is an arbitrary choice.
Of course this trend has its defenders. “It’s simply human nature,” they say waving a hand in that dismissive coffeehouse gesture normally reserved for mention of Republican candidates. Or: “But it’s what I want.” Even worse is the moral argument, which is utilitarianism translated to religion — the only moral right is allowing most people to pursue what they see as the fulfillment of their interests. And what if they’re wrong? Well, no choices are wrong you see… it’s all machine function… unless you disagree, in which case you’re evil (abused child, mental illness, drug addiction, service in Viet Nam, or even greed are to blame).
Where the ancients saw a world of both positive and negative attributes, and determined to accept those as method so they could transcend them in order to achieve the greater positives — art, culture, religion, learning, heroism — that life has to offer, the modern trend-person is stranded at acceptance of negativity. We don’t want to accept it. We want only the positive, but since we cannot accept the positive, we achieve only the material positive, the here-and-now, the limited to the individual… we forego the greater positives that can be had by accepting the negative as part of the mechanism of life, and thus using it for the purposes of achieving those higher positives. We just don’t want to see the dark side, whether it’s death, aging, fatness, baldness, hemorrhoids, war, chaos, sodomy.
The ancients did not have a science of mechanical logic, or acting upon the world to produce uniform results. Their science was inseparable from the world, as was their religion. This bonding with the world and acceptance of its nihilism (one must kill to eat, other things may kill you, some are stronger/smarter than others, some ideas are wrong because they conflict with reality) was what enabled them to stop struggling against the darkness in reality and to start looking past it toward transcendence and the creation of greatness. In their view, this entire world is a machine, and it enables those who understand it — like a paintbrush, a musical instrument, logic and martial skills — to choose what they wish to render. In that was the spark of transcendence, or a rising above material circumstance to see the creative aspects of life and to embrace them. Modern trend-people remain stranded in material circumstance, and consequently have no culture to speak of.
Still not all have joined the trend. It is encouraging to see a Kraftwerk record or Tom Wolfe book join the bestsellers, because it means those who understand the eternal philosophy of life are still out there. These are the people who see the genius in nature and let that override their fear of becoming prey or dead; these are the people who live not for what exists now but for what creativity, hard work and genius can provide. They are transcendents, like the ancients, and although there are fewer of them every year they persist in the knowledge that illusion always leads to a downfall, and that this modern world has a clock ticking over its head like the culled characters in the video game “Lemmings.” Their transcendence is the mark of a higher culture, like that of the ancients; as a whole society, we have abandoned this worldview, and our fortunes have waned in consequence even if it has taken 2,000 years to see.
Friday, April 15th, 2005
You won’t need to buy another one. Always golden, soft and buttery. Everyone likes it, even the slow kid on the block. 300 horsepower. A favorite everywhere. All that you wanted, and much, much more! Never a dull moment. Can’t eat just one! Show them how far you’ve come. It’s everything you wanted, and more. You’ll never look so good as with — well, whatever product it is. We’re familiar, on a daily basis, with advertising bombarding us. What defines advertising? It makes us associate a product with a lifestyle or a success; the product is the sign, and what is promised is something far beyond it. Do you really imagine simply owning one type of car, shoe, watch or jacket makes someone without power or prestige into someone with those qualities?
Of course it does not. But advertising doesn’t work by appealing to the logical brain, but to our memory, which dutifully stores the association (a brand of beer, leggy blond hotties clustered around::a car, pulling up to a class restaurant and being recognized) and, when we’re exhausted or distracted and trying to make a decision, pops it to the top of the stack and we select it. Of course I’ll prefer that brand, or, maybe I can afford a nice big car. Advertising works by targetting the part of our minds that don’t get translated into clear “I’m buying this for the following logical reasons” discourse. It hits us below the level we can even put into words.
The same is true of politics. The best product in politics is one that links together a number of things we think of as good, and puts a symbol atop them that is something everyone can remember and agree is a “good thing.” We might call it hyperbole, or overstating the effect and importance of something, or we might call it a superlative, which is attributing to something a universal degree of power and worth, but really, it’s both, and more. Advertising and politics both use universal symbols that are not anchored at all in reality, but in images, in associations, in non-logical ideas that attract our unguarded emotions but not our critical thinking. This is the power of symbols, when redirected to a base level.
In literature and art, symbols abound, but usually, their purpose is complex: to associate a certain action with a certain abstract idea or tendency. Advertising and politics are much simpler: they want you to see a one-to-one correspondence between a symbol/product and a life you can leading, if only you select that one thing. It’s a good way to get led around by your nose, because you’ll notice that in advertising and politics, no promises are made. You’re allowed to make an assumption because the advertisers and politicians are vocal about the same assumption, but there’s no followup and no guarantee. Did they explicitly promise that if you buy a certain brand of beer girls will flock to you? No, but they showed you it happening in a certain case. Same with the car. You saw one guy buy the car, and immediately be thrown into a world of success. It’s not logic, but imagery.
The modern age has done away with magic and most of religion except the most dogmatic and unworldly type, the kind that promises eternal vacations if you just do what the god in question demands (note that older religions would encourage you to sacrifice to the gods, but there was no guarantee you’d get anything out of it; half the time they were still wroth with you, and the sacrifice was in vain). Modern politics, religion and advertising thus are quite similar in that they say that if you do a certain action in this world, forces from another world will make of you something in this world. Whether that other world is the realm of gods, of the political-economic machine, or of money and leggy bimbettes, really doesn’t matter. The unstated promise, based on assumption, is what keeps you coming back for more.
We’ll take an example symbol, not for the sake of assaulting it as illusion, but for demonstrating its effects, although it is clearly one of the more destructive illusions. Why did we go to war in Iraq? Why, because once the Iraqi people have freedom, they’ll be like us. They’ll see our way of life is the better one, and give up those primitive tribal superstitions. They’ll stop being unreasonable, and see it our way. What is freedom? It starts with democracy, but it includes economic competition and the ability to earn lots of money if you dedicate your life to it. It also includes emancipation of women, and of every ethnic group and in short, equality of us all, except in our competition for money, in which we assume the best will win. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution. Freedom. And doesn’t it just sound good?
You’ll note these are not promises; they’re assumptions. And they operate like magic. When we bring freedom to Iraq, all of its previous problems (which required a series of hardcore rulers until Saddam Hussein finally unified the place and began selling oil for a fair price to the English) will take a backseat. A life of prosperity will settle. Presumably leggy Arab bimbettes will gather around sports cars, and those who drink certain brands of beer can go home with the hottie daughters of Imams. Ignorance will vanish. But does adopting “freedom” really have anything to do with sex, ignorance, or prosperity? These can come from other sources as well, and obviously have, if the fecundity of the Iraqi populace is any suggestion. We’re not telling them freedom is a better way; we’re letting everyone assume it is, and promising our lifestyle in return.
Astute readers (good to see you again) will have noticed that advertising is amazing in that it predicts inward and physical changes in response to outward, symbolic options. There is no more nutrition in one brand of beer over another that makes you smarter, sexier, etc. Nor is there anything in one brand of car that makes your breath smell better, your muscles tighter, your testosterone more vigorous or your penis heartier (that’s another product, but read the two pages of fine print, in case it kills you). Advertising and politics redirect our belief in a thought process geared toward the right answer, and supplants it with something which suggests a universal right answer, but in reality, only sells a product. It methods is this same superlative hyperbole that we see in the belief that democracy/freedom will somehow conquer the world and make it a safe, Utopic place.
You can even see this merely in how we define “freedom” and “democracy.” Democracy means government by vote; it doesn’t guarantee that those votes are intelligent, or that intelligent solutions come from it. We associate it with “freedom,” meaning civil rights, but those don’t ensure that what is best is done; they only grant us a defense against government. In short, with democracy/freedom, we’ve gone from trying to do what is right to trying to do what protects us against wrong. Our only direction is defensive. But when you package that up as a perfect cure for all ills at once, it sounds good. And then when out of the forty thousand words spoken aloud you hear daily, the loudest voices babble on about “freedom,” you follow that carrot even though you haven’t been promised any real effect. Just an image, a shining image, one that tugs at your emotions. Have you been sold an illusion?