Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lip Service

We are a lip-service people. Both as individuals and as a society, we solemnly proclaim belief in and adherence to one thing while doing the exact opposite. There is, far too often, only the most flimsy connection between our words and our actions. Generally, lip service is basically harmless; it's something everyone does. But it covers a very broad spectrum from the generally harmless—almost a natural reaction—to calculatedly cynical and hypocritical. 

Paying lip service to something is, for the most part, a form of taking the path of least resistance. We claim to believe things simply because, whether we honestly believe them to be true or not, we acknowledge that everyone else seems to believe them, and we don't want to rock the boat or risk calling attention to ourselves by standing out too far from the crowd. Standing out from the crowd makes one vulnerable and a potential target, like a wildebeest who strays too far from the herd. Few people want to be targets.

Lip service also provides protective coloration, offering a large tree behind which we can hide our true thoughts and feelings. And there are those who can delude themselves into confusing lip service with truth. Bigots, for example, almost always vehemently deny they are bigots. Religious zealots loudly and piously proclaim their fealty to the written tenets of their faith while totally ignoring and violating them. Muslim extremists have done perhaps irreparable harm to the religion they slavishly defend, often to the death of themselves and others. Christian extremists are somewhat less dismissive of their own lives, but still only slightly less reprehensible. Those who most strongly avow their allegiance to the Bible are often the very ones who do the most undermine it. They seem to have the astonishing ability to overlook such insignificant-to-them little precepts as "Love thy neighbor,"  "Do unto others as you would have done unto you," "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," and "Judge not lest ye be judged."

Corporations, which differ from religious zealots only in that the deity they worship is Mammon rather than God or Allah, have made an art out of saying one thing and doing another. ("Your call is very important to us," and "...where you, the customer, are our primary concern" spring to mind. Few if any of them even bother, anymore, to pay lip service to "the customer is always right." I suspect when they try to say that, they burst into uproarious laughter.) 

Lip service is the cornerstone of politics. Politicians regularly and unctuously pay lip service to any widely held belief they think might win them votes while, while subverting it for their own ends. Tea Partiers want to "take back our country" to its constitutional roots, but want to rid the Constitution of those parts they find bothersome.

On a personal, individual level, lip service is sometimes the only logical way of dealing with matters one is truly unable to comprehend. I pay lip service to—that is, I can accept, albeit with great reluctance—the belief that one is only as old as one feels, and that age doesn't matter. I can even say my age aloud, but though I say it in English, it might as well be Swahili. The words strike my ear, but not my mind. Try as I might, I simply cannot believe it because it can't be true. And you'll notice I'm not saying it here. It's not a matter of being coy, it's simply a matter of sincere incomprehensibility.

So, lip service, universally used and universally ignored, is simply yet another little device we humans use to try to make some sense and order out of what is too often a senseless and chaotic existence. It is one thin thread in the rope we have spun as a race to tether ourselves to reality. I just wish the rope were stronger, and that it didn’t so easily become a noose.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, January 19, 2015

Seriously?

Margaret Hamilton, as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz hit it on the head: “What a world! What a world!”

I have spent more than 3/4 of a century bumbling through life avoiding reality whenever possible, thinking I was unique in doing so. But I slowly became aware that my aversion to reality is shared by the vast majority of the American public, if not the world’s population. Our entire culture seems to be largely based on it. We have carefully created a world of euphemisms  and smoke and mirrors, applying layers of powder and rouge and eyeshadow to the harshness of reality. If we don’t want to think about something, we do our best to find a way to divert ourselves. It is simply easier to  evade and avoid.

Are you old enough to have ever bought a used car? There are no such things anymore. You don’t buy a used car…you buy a “pre-owned vehicle.” Oh, well, a “pre-owned vehicle” is obviously infinitely better than a “used car.”

Governmental agencies at all levels have developed their own language to convey their authority in pomposities intended to cow the public. Police reports never say someone got out of the car. No, the person “exited the vehicle.” (I don’t think I’ll ever understand the logic behind that one.)

Items are never sold for rounded-off amounts—$2.00 or $20.00, say—but for $1.99 or $19.99—because reducing the cost by a whopping one cent sounds so much cheaper and sells infinitely more. There is a world of difference between the sound of reality and the sound of evasion.

Perhaps my “favorite” example of reality-evasion is that in our society, people do not die; they “pass away.” Seriously? And, upon burying the container that the person came in, we murmur, “Rest in Peace.” Rest? The individual is as beyond resting as he/she is beyond every other problem, care, or concern. Why do people find the concept of simply returning to the eternity from which he/she came so disturbing/frightening?

TV infomercials excel at putting lipstick on a pig. They first do everything in their power to convince us that whatever is being sold is the greatest invention since the wheel; that there has never, ever, been anything like it in the history of the world. And then they offer to double or triple the order to encourage you to buy. Seriously? If it’s 1/1,000th as good as they say it is, why should they need to give away more than they have to? And then, as if it were some wonderful added benefit, we are told it is “not sold in stores.” They obviously hope no one wonders why.

The asking of questions is anathema to the anti-reality World of Mammon in which we all live. Large, pricey items are sold on apparently special credit terms to “well-qualified buyers,” though what those terms might be are never explained. And just what, pray tell is a “well-qualified” buyer? I have asked this question a thousand times and never received an answer.

We buy something and are told there will be “No Interest Until 2025” as an incentive. Not one person in 100 stops to think that the reality behind that statement is we’ll be paying for it until at least that date.

The evasion of reality is never-ending. Words and phrases like “piled high,” “big money,” “no reasonable offer refused,” “strict limit of,” are all blatantly false come-ons we have become so accustomed to that we never, ever question. We should. Seriously.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

You, Me, and Snowflakes

Glancing out the window during our most recent light snowfall, I got to thinking about snowflakes and our metaphysical resemblance to them. (Nice segue, Dorien!)

Each of us, be we human or snowflake, is unique, though when viewed in large numbers both are all but indistinguishable from one another. The closer one gets to either an individual snowflake or an individual human, the more distinct its differences become. The various components which go into each human's physical and emotional makeup--and their relative proportions--vary widely, though in most people these components are for the most party fairly well balanced. However, in others, the various elements--primarily our emotional composition--combine to produce some very strange results. 

I definitely fall into the latter category. For example, whereas most people are an easily manageable blend of self confidence and doubt, I find myself both irrationally insecure and unjustifiably egocentric, often at the same time. I am a glutton for attention and praise, yet am excruciatingly embarrassed to be singled out from a crowd. While others at a large public event effortlessly and openly display their enthusiasm, shouting and jumping up and down and waving their arms and dancing to the music, I stand like Lot's wife, an unmoving block of salt. My soul dances, but my body will not even try. And as a result I, who so fear standing out in a crowd, stand out by not being a part of it.

Like snowflakes, people vary widely in the symmetry of their physical appearance and, as a result, in their attractiveness. The laws of average dictate that there will be far, far more nondescript snowflakes as there are the nearly-perfect. And so there are infinitely more Roger Margasons than there are Tom Cruises. Perfection, in both snowflakes and the human concept of physical beauty, invariable comes down to symmetry. The "perfect" snowflake is one which is perfectly symmetrical, and studies have shown that the more symmetrical/balanced a person's facial features, the more beautiful he/she is considered to be. The perception of this symmetry in human faces is all but subliminal. Just to look at someone's face, unless the lack of symmetry is striking--which is seldom is--we don't notice that one eye is just a fraction of an inch lower on the face than the other, or that one nostril is very subtly larger than the other. But our mind subconsciously recognizes the differences.

Just as all snowflakes, no matter how they may vary from one another in appearance, share the commonality of water vapor formed around a minute speck of dust, we humans all share a common DNA, which is the core of our physical being. Though myriads of other subtle factors influence each of us, because we are biological creatures, the genetic makeup of our race influences and accounts for, either directly or subtly, the fact that the vast bulk of us have similar goals, needs, and desires. Most of us marry, or want to marry, and our need to reproduce to assure the survival of the species is a genetic imperative. 

There is a certain irony in the fact that the "be fruitful and multiply" imperative has proven so successful that we are dangerously close to imperiling our survival through uncontrolled overpopulation. With more than seven billion of us now taking up space and resources, the question is, might reproduction for preservation of the species basically been achieved? We're not in danger of running out of people. A nice, steady snowfall can be lovely: a force-10 blizzard with 20-foot snowdrifts can be devastating.

The single greatest advantage humans have over snowflakes is that, even among the billions of other humans, one single individual can have an effect over, if not all, large numbers of other humans. Snowflakes do not have leaders. And not all humans go down in the history books for influencing our fellow humans for good or for ill. But we have the ability and the power to make not only our own lives better, but to make a positive difference in at least a few others. We should use this ability far more than we do.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).


Monday, January 12, 2015

Boogeyman

There is a boogeyman who lives beneath my bed, and in my closet, and who stalks me every hour of every day, no matter where I go. I never see him, of course...boogeymen never show themselves...but I know he is there, and he knows I know. He saturates my mind like water saturates a sponge, and his name is Time.

He's been with me all my life, and has always been frightening. But he grows more so with each passing year.

I read a science fiction story many years ago that has stayed with me all this time. It was about a society in which murder was very rare, and the murderer was always detected. The punishment for murder was death, but it was administered in a very different way. The murderer was not put in prison. He could go about his life freely. But he was always accompanied by a machine which would, at some unknown point and totally without warning, kill him, as one swats a fly. He had to go through every day never knowing which moment would be his last, but knowing it was coming, and each passing minute brought it closer. Until....

And I still, strange as it may seem, identify with that story. Though I have not committed any crime, I am like that murderer, and the machine that follows me everywhere, and which I know will one day take my life, is Time.

I know this obsession is downright unhealthy. I know there is no boogeyman under my bed or in my closet, or deliberately, calculatedly, consciously following me around, just as I know a train speeding  down the tracks has no evil intent and has no awareness of anyone in its path. But if someone stands on the tracks in front of a moving train, the outcome is inevitable. Each of us is, in fact, standing on the track at different intervals, and each of us, in turn, will be run over. We can stand there, watching the train barreling down on us, and wave our arms frantically and shout for it to stop, but it won't even slow down. It's probably a blessing that most people stand with their backs turned to the train of Time, and are so preoccupied with the sounds of their own lives they cannot hear it coming. I can, and the sound grows louder every minute. 

I am fully aware, too, that in my preoccupation with how quickly the future becomes the past, I am unable to fully appreciate the present. Delight and joy are tempered by the knowledge that the particular moment must end. I wish with all my heart and soul that it were different, and am convinced that my life would be infinitely less stressful if I could somehow get over it. But as with so much of life, wanting something to be different does not, even with great effort, make it so.

On reading this over, it once again seems that I come across as a bitter, disagreeable curmudgeon; really a totally wet blanket, never happy, always bitching and moaning about one thing or another. I too, wish it were not so. Oscar Wilde observed that "A cynic is a frustrated romantic," and I fear he pretty much summed it up. I've often said that romantics are those whose hearts have never let go of the dreams of childhood and youth--of a world of kindness and beauty, without harshness or hatred or bigotry. Like all romantics, I want so very much for things to always go smoothly, and simply cannot understand why common courtesy and basic logic are almost universally ignored if not scorned. And disillusion creates a inevitable state of sadness and frustration. Perhaps, were it not for the boogeyman, all this wouldn't matter as much. But I feel cheated when so much of the terribly short time each of us has on this earth has to be spent countering the negatives. Let's add that one to my list of things I truly wish weren't so.

I blame it on my boogeyman. 

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).


Thursday, January 08, 2015

"You're Nothing!"

The human need to feel a sense of belonging is a subject seldom discussed openly, but is an important factor in each of our lives. While we may not think much about it, you can be absolutely certain that advertisers and those out to champion some cause or other do. They are firmly...and rightly...convinced that the best way to get you to join them is to imply, or simply come right out and declare, that there is something basically wrong with you if you do not agree with them.

Several of these blogs have, over the years, discussed the fact that because each of us goes through life as one individual in a vast sea humanity, the assumption too often is that we are different and apart from everyone else...that life is a huge club to which we don't really belong.

One of my favorite cartoons shows five men seated around a table, talking. One says: "So here we are, four intelligent men...five, if you count Frank, here...." And each of us is a Frank.

A couple of decades ago, there was a lot of talk about "subliminal messages" inserted into all forms of communications to influence you to think one way or another. I haven't heard subliminal messages mentioned of late, but it's certainly not that they have gone away. It's just that they no longer even make any pretense of being subliminal. We are bombarded with them every single day, and they have transmogrified from being subtle whispers to sledgehammers.

Consider for a moment.

"The movie/book/show everyone is talking about!" Well, I'm certainly not talking about it. I most likely had never even heard about it before, which isn't really surprising considering that it may not even have been released yet. However, that I haven't heard anyone else even mention it, either, is beside the point. The point is that since I'm not talking about it, clearly I am an outsider.

Politicians...and, in today's astoundingly mean-spirited times, especially Republicans...routinely use disenfranchisement as a weapon. How many times do they claim, unequivocally, that "The American people do not want" or "The American people will not stand for" some program they oppose--usually a program approved by the majority of voters. Since I've always assumed--apparently wrongly--that my birth certificate qualifies me as an American, where does this statement leave me? Usually they are talking about a program that I indeed do want, and that, since I probably voted for it in the first place, I certainly will stand for. But the message is clear: if I don't toe the line they have drawn, I am outside the circle and utterly worthless.

I am constantly amazed by the fact that anyone casting themselves in the role of the bull in the china shop has tens of thousands of people following them avidly, hanging on every utterly illogical word they utter, and believing without question every hateful, dehumanizing, self-serving statement they make. They take their power largely from convincing others that they have power, and a tragically large number of people, increasingly feeling they themselves are powerless, follow those who assume it, usually by playing on their fear and ignorance. It is a virulent case of the Emperor's New Clothes gone mad.

There is an old saying which, sadly, is becoming more and more true, and more and more accurate: "Those who cannot create, destroy." 

And you? Well, if you don't agree with every single word those-who-would-be-king utter, it doesn't matter. Obviously your opinion doesn't matter. You are worth nothing at all.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, January 05, 2015

Egotism vs Egoism

There is a very fine but very sharp divide between egotism and egoism, both of which are centered on the self. But it is the assumption of superiority that divides the two. Egotists have the luxury of automatically assuming they are aways right; egoists are never really sure. The egotist looks outward to feed his sense of superiority; the egoist realizes that, while he might assume what others are thinking or feeling, he can never really know for sure, and therefore looks within himself for answers.

Overt self confidence is a mark of an egotist; the lack of it is the mark of an egoist. The egotist, like an exploding supernova, projects his sense of superiority outward; the egoist, like a black hole, draws everything into himself, and can never truly be sure that what he finds there is correct.

While I have a certain grudging admiration for what I consider to be the gall of egotists, I am definitely an egoist. And because I cannot be sure of anyone else, I can seldom be totally sure of even myself. The result is, of course, utter confusion, and it is a state in which I have existed my entire life.

I am far too often conflicted as to whether I really believe what I think I believe. There are few things in life which are all black or all white. Every argument does, indeed, have two sides—and occasionally more. I seldom encounter a statement that I cannot, with however faulty logic, refute in some way. 

I’m enough of an armchair psychologist to be fairly confident, given the human tendency to self-delusion, that egotism undoubtedly often masks a deep sense of insecurity, and is used to shore up a fragile ego. I tend to equate egotism to agnosticism: both boil down to the statement, “I don’t know!”

There is very little in life that is absolute; few things either pure white or totally black. The more questions one asks, the more complicated life seems to get, partly because questions beget questions. The point could be made that the fewer questions—especially philosophical ones—one asks of life, the better. The vast majority of the world’s population manages to get through life by asking a minimum of questions not related to their day-to-day functioning. The tendency to just going along with whatever hand life deals them and not think more than a year or two ahead is undoubtedly also helpful.

Because there are so very many things we do not and cannot know about the world in which we live, let alone about ourselves and our true motivations, we tend to bumble through life making choices and personal decisions based on personal feelings, experiences, and preferences. And the amazing thing is that we do all this without giving any of it a single conscious thought.

I feel fairly confident (never, as a typical egoist, being able to be absolutely sure of anything) that there are a great many people among my 7.2 billion fellow humans who share my beliefs. 

But I can’t be sure.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).


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Monday, December 29, 2014

Slight Flaws

I recently bought a timer so that when I do laundry in my apartment building I can know when the time comes to take clothes from the washer and put them into the drier, then when to go take them out of the drier. I chose a streamlined, small, simple-looking, and inexpensive device from my local Walgreens. Three elementary buttons: hour, minute, and Start/Stop, with a small display window for the digital numbers. The simple manual (were it not simple, I wouldn’t have bothered to read it knowing I wouldn’t understand a word) told me it would beep 10 minutes and five minutes before the timer reached 00:00.

On it’s first two uses, I realized the “beep” was so soft that unless I was really paying attention or had the timer up to my ear I couldn’t hear it. I do not consider walking around with a timer to my ear to be an ideal situation. But by concentrating very, very hard, and being sure the timer was no further than a foot away, I managed, provided there were no overriding exterior sound distractions, like my cat breathing.

So we reached a sort of accommodation, the timer and I. Until yesterday when the sound of the beeping either stopped completely or dropped below the range audible to humans. So unless I sit there and stare at it, waiting for it to reach 00:00, I have no idea when the time has run out. But the little digital numbers do an admirable job of counting down the seconds…unless I have forgotten to watch very carefully when I hit “START.” If I don’t watch for it to start, it doesn’t. So not only do I know when the time has run out, I have no idea of how long it has been since I hit “START.”

My personal grand prize for slight flaws built into modern machines goes without question to a sleek, ultra-modern, efficient-looking streamlined, gleaming-aluminum ice cream bar dispenser I came across at a shopping mall. The attractiveness of the machine was enhanced by eye-grabbing design elements hinting of the delectable pleasures that awaited within. There were a set of sleek-looking buttons from which you made your selection, above which was a slot for inserting your money. All in all, a beautiful piece of modern technology. The only flaw I was able to determine was that the designers had apparently neglected to put in any way for you to get the ice cream out of the machine once you’d paid for it. The front, sides, and I assume the back, which was flush against the wall, was seamlessly smooth, with absolutely no doors or openings of any kind. After several minutes of searching, I gave up and walked away, wondering rather cynically if there really was any ice cream—or anything else—inside.

I can’t help but see malicious deliberation in a great many flaws, and I consider them specifically designed with me in mind. To me, all instruction manuals are deliberately flawed in that I have yet to get more than two paragraphs into one without being utterly confused. “Some Assembly Required” manuals and kits are classics of insidious flaws: not only are the directions impossible to follow, but I am convinced the manufacturers deliberately either leave one piece out, or add one simply for the perverse glee it brings them.

Some “flaws” are both subtle and truly brilliant: take the bottle of cough medicine on which the label says: “If unsatisfied with this product for any reason, simply return the unopened bottle for a full refund.” Excuse me?

A currently running commercial for something called “Zarelto” states, “Do not take if you are allergic to Zarelto.” Really? And the teeny-tiny print accompanying a product guaranteed to cure toenail fungus says, “Apply to affected area for 48 weeks.” 48 weeks?

Ah, well, nothing is perfect.


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).