Furthest Right

Keeping up with the Joneses

Our legions of teachers, pundits, entertainers and government employees love teachable moments.

These occur when you get an example of something so obvious that every person in the room, no matter how stupid, can see the point (e.g. trigger of mental control) you wish to communicate.

“See, class. When Johnny comes into the room and sees the nuclear device, he presses START and everyone in the whole world dies. When Jimmy comes into the room, he sees the nuclear device and goes to find a teacher or responsible adult. Which would you prefer? World destruction agony, or a few moments to find Mrs. Hauser or Mr. O’brien in the hall?”

In order to have teachable moments, you need very simple mental viruses that have two components:

  1. Universal. They need to be simple, and highly vague in scope, yet very clearly delineated. Thou shalt not kill functions because it is vague, but it’s easy to pass on.
  2. Dramatic. They must have emotional appeal, by showing us on one hand the happy ending where everyone is friends, and on the other, the boatload of dead orphans surrounded by crying parents.

It’s no different than writing a television commercial: you want to show your audience two options, one of which is really good and the other of which guarantees they will never have sex again. (For all our pretense, we are just silly little animals underneath the suits, laws, tech and verbiage.)

The problem with teachable moments is that while they appear to be highly valuable principles, the process of making them teachable has made them limited and vague, which means they inevitably clash with other needs and leave the student confused.

Each of these teachable moments must be abstracted into an easily-remembered and dramatic principle. Here are some good examples you were taught in school:

  • Share. If someone comes up to you and you have a toy, share it. This doesn’t take into account relative need or whether you were actually doing something and he’s just screwing around.
  • Non-violence. Violence always leads to suffering, and suffering is bad (and we like to pretend, socially, that it is avoidable) so never violence. Again, no scope or need considered.
  • Materialism. The love of the dollar is bad. So is “keeping up with the Joneses” or buying stuff just to impress others. Good citizenship award winners don’t do this.
  • Tolerance. No matter how crazy someone else’s lifestyle, you should tolerate them, because you would want to be tolerated. Never mind that you put many hours into behaving sensibly and so do not need “tolerance.”
  • Power. Teachers like pithy statements like “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” which is their way of blaming leadership for bad leaders. Good citizenship students don’t want power, they want love.
  • Unity. We are all the same under the skin, in the soul, we all bleed red, etc. They don’t want you to shut down your classmates who happen to be idiots, so they force this idiot subsidy on you. But we’re all one! Fearful people love this, because it appeals to their terror of conflict.

All of these miss the real point. Not sharing is a form of putting personal needs before anything else, pointless violence is focusing on means not ends, materialism is a lack of forward motion, hatred of the person distracts from fixing the pattern that produced them, power must not be used for selfish means and group survival is how civilization works. Each of those is too abstract for the teachers much less an assembled group of students ranging widely in ability.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is one that we are taught by our movies, government propaganda and academic instructors. The classic example is Mr. Smith who sees that Mr. Jones just bought a new wide-screen TV, so Mr. Smith runs out and buys an even bigger one. A pointless consumption race ensues.

But where they fall down is telling you about the abstraction. It’s more complex than buying consumer goods. What about when you decide to put in extra hours at the food bank because Mrs. Jones did? Or gossiping about how crass and trailer trash Mrs. Cook is?

Or even my favorite example, and the point of this article: human consumption. Not the fun kind that involves an open spit and flame, but comparing your “baby bangles” — your loin-fruit that you are certain are smarter, cuter, nicer and more enlightened than the little simians Mrs. Jones popped out.

Ever since WWII, parents have treated children as an extension of themselves. This is equal parts consumerism, moral superiority (mimicking their governments) and conspicuous success, where each person is able to shout down others by showing them wealth, good breeding and possessions all in one.

The results on children have been catastrophic. They experienced both fawning helicopter-parent love and the sickening realization that it is not about love for them, but love for self. The parents want children to show off, “proof” they can use to remind their neighbors that they are indeed inferior.

Generation X got accustomed to being unimportant while the parents had TV to watch, but suddenly vital to the family when neighbors or relatives showed up. We were paid actors — free rent and food — whose purpose was to make the parents look good. And if we didn’t?

Well, I’m sure you’ve all seen the teachable moments about child abuse.

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