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Category: Humans

Consumption
Consumption, which was the common name for tuberculosis in its heyday, is an ugly, scary disease. It’s an aggressively contagious bacterial infection that attacks the heart and lungs, causing fever, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, and coughing up blood.

Thank God we’re not going to discuss that. Instead, let’s talk about a much more popular form of consumption: buying stuff. It’s a much more enjoyable topic, right? Well, not if I can help it, citizen.

There is no denying that consumption is most often thought of as a good thing. Upturns in consumer confidence, for instance, are seen as cheering signs, one of the indicators of a robust economy. After 9/11, George W. Bush called on Americans to spend their money as the highest form of patriotism. Shopping till you drop is considered by many to be the ultimate recreational experience. Consumption, then, is the sweet fruit of good times, right? It’s our duty and birthright as humans in good standing to consume to the max.

Let us agree that buying stuff does stimulate the economy. When you plunk down for that bright yellow Hummer Hybrid, all kinds of things happen. The salesman and his boss get fatter paychecks, and so do the folks at the factory. In fact, anyone who had anything to do with the creation of that product gets a fiscal shot in the arm. They all spend that money, and they hire new workers who in turn spend their money. The ripple rolls through the whole economy, splashes against the far side of the pool, and comes flowing right back. Pretty soon, you want a matching candy apple red Hummer for your mate. And on it goes; before you know it, the whole economy is humming like a Hummer. Birds are singing, children are laughing, and the world is a beautiful place.

In your heart, though, you know it’s all too easy. You think there has to be a higher price to pay for all this abundance, don’t you? Something beyond the mere sticker price? What about the cost to planet earth, for instance? Think of the last time you consumed a beer. Once you got to the bottom of the glass, that beer ceased to exist. There may have been other beers delivered to replace it, but that particular lager had disappeared, never to be seen again. It had been consumed — exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever.

So it is with the planet. Every part of that Hummer, from the triple-stitched manatee hide interior to the Tiffany taillights, will be headed to the dump someday soon, never to be used again. Oh, there will be some attempts at salvaging the metal bits, but everything else will have been exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever. There will be other Hummers, but that particular helping of nature’s bounty is gone. I hope you enjoyed it.

I submit further that the price we pay may be steeper still. If you agree that we are unique creatures who have evolved within this unique environment, then what happens when we destroy a chunk of that environment? Doesn’t each act of consumption, then, destroy a chunk of us as well?

Hold on, you may interject. Do you dare to suggest that we humans are being consumed by our own consumption? Let me assure you, citizen, that the answer is yes. Yes, we are the tubercular contagion infecting our own society. Yes, our compulsive urge to consume will cause our culture to be exhausted, used up, and pissed away. Forever. And yes, we will be run over by our own Hummers.

Never let it be said, though, that I have given up hope. If we all move back into caves, live solely on the bounty of native plants, and try to die (of consumption, perhaps) before we’re 30, there’s still a chance for us. But it will have to be soon, according to my calculations — probably before the end of July.


Old, and Weighing In
Youth is wasted on the young, they say. Well, allow me to suggest an update to that saying: wisdom is wasted on the old.

That’s because, dear reader, old people are obsolete. I like to think that there was a time long, long ago when the young deferred to their elders on a wide variety of subjects. The old were seen as the repositories, not just of high wisdom, but of ordinary practical knowledge as well. If you wanted to know how to track and kill a mastodon, for instance, you’d ask Dad for a few pointers. And when Dad answered, there’d be no eye rolling or copping of attitudes. Not if you wanted to eat, anyway.

With the rise of technology, however, the deference toward elders began to fade. All age groups had equal access to the latest thing, and Dad no longer had a monopoly on know-how. And now, with the advent of digital technology, the old are not only dismissed as sources of practical knowledge, they are also viewed as ignoramuses across the board. If you’re old, I’ll bet it’s a challenge for you simply to text OMG without flubbing a keystroke. Most five-year-olds, on the other hand, can hack into your bank account with an iPod. Compared to you, they’re geniuses.

And so, here we are in a new age, an era of high-speed, impersonal interconnectedness and non-stop sharing that only the young can truly appreciate. I’m not really complaining, though, because it’s all kind of creepy.

If you ask me. Which you won’t.
Smile or Die
Researchers at the University of Kansas have made an alarming discovery. Smiling, they have found, can relieve stress. Even more unsettling, the act of laughing actually improves heart health.

You might conclude that such a connection is good and natural and that such behavior ought to be rewarded with such side effects. It is not in any way alarming, you say, and in fact it makes you smile just to think it could be good for you to do so. What is so unsettling about that? And what planet am I from, anyway?

Well, let me tell you. The study found that these benefits attached to smilers and laughers regardless of whether they were actually amused. The results were associated simply with the exercise of certain facial muscles — those used in grinning — and not necessarily with any genuine feelings of mirth. Fake smiles and phony laughs, in other words, yielded the same benefits as the real thing.

This would be considered wrong on my planet. I concede that put-on facial expressions are a part of the manners that lubricate our social interactions, but let’s face it — a manufactured smile is essentially a lie. It says “I am pleased,” or “I am amused” when that is not necessarily true. It might even be suggested that lying about your emotions is more reprehensible than a simple misstatement of external fact. Should such dishonesty be rewarded and encouraged? Not in my neck of the universe; it may be good for the smiler, but all this insincerity is patently unhealthy for society in general.

And it is not just fake smiles that are reaping these benefits for their owners. Consider, if you will, the snicker. Those teenage girls on the bus the other day, the ones who were snickering at your fashion choices? Be assured that they will lead long, robust lives. Is the smug smirk worn by your jackass co-worker (directed as it seems to be at your abject inferiority) grinding down your self-esteem? Of course it is, but at the same time, it is putting a rose in that s.o.b.’s cheeks.

Think of the Joker, perhaps the most unrelentingly evil character in all of fiction, laughing maniacally while his victims writhe in agony. You can bet that his cardiovascular system is positively throbbing with vitality. And since Batman refuses to kill his hyper-sociopathic ass, he might just live forever. Still think the connection between smiling and health is good and natural? Don’t make me laugh!

There is nothing to be done about this, of course. We are simply caught in the grip of a cruel irony perpetrated by our own bodies. These false emotions seem to enhance the social order and tear it down at the same time. Now, I certainly wouldn’t argue for the trait of grumpiness to be rewarded in this way, since grumpiness has its own way of rending the social fabric. But at least it is an honest emotion honestly expressed.

This world is unfair; surely we can agree on that. Here, bogus facial expressions are granted a special premium for pretending to be real. Were this my planet, however, and if I got to decide such things, I would decree that the effect of expression on the individual would be health neutral — with perhaps a slight bump for honest-to-goodness sincerity.

For the record, I am not smiling.
Why Do People Have to Be So Mean?
It’s a child’s question, and like many such questions it is grounded both in innocence and in wisdom. Why do people have to be so mean? Why do we hurt one another? What possible justification can there be for such behavior?

To be fair, I suppose it could be evolution’s way of controlling the population. War is just meanness on a large scale, after all, and war has a reputation for getting a lot of people killed. Is it possible that such an attitude might be useful in thinning the human herd in a time of scarce resources?

Apparently not. We are killing each other in record numbers (at least in absolute terms), but the population has ballooned to over seven billion — way too many, in my view. The next time someone asks you, “War! What is it good for?”, you can truthfully reply, “I’m not sure, but definitely not for population control.”

All right then, anything else? Could it be a way of naturally selecting the strong and assertive over the weak, thereby strengthening our breeding stock? I don’t think this theory pencils out in the long run. If we really lived in a survival-of-the-meanest world, then wolverines would be running the show.

Unless I’m missing something, then, meanness is a bad thing. Unlike niceness, it is not a boon to human society. It’s not a deterrent to crime, it doesn’t stimulate the economy, and it practically guarantees waste, fraud, and abuse. Plus, it makes everybody feel bad — unless you happen to be a meanie.

This is not exactly news. There have been laws against doing mean things ever since there have been laws. Those laws prescribe punishments, and that threat of punishment has worked to a certain extent. These kinds of laws, however, do not address the root cause of crime: meanness itself.

Religion goes all-out against meanness (unless you count the terrorism, the child molestation, the war, and the virgin sacrifices). Not only does it threaten retribution for bad acts, but it also rewards niceness. Furthermore, religion has come up with the concept of sin, which comes closer to the mark in identifying the problem with meanness. Meanness is seen as a flaw in motivation by most religions, something that might be corrected with the application of a little effort. Still, the religious approach hasn’t exactly worked either. Commandments are being ignored all over the place.

So is there hope? Can anything be done to stop the meanness? Let’s go back to the main question: Why do people have to be so mean? Instead of treating the symptoms, perhaps we should get to the heart of the matter… with technology!

Here’s my hypothesis: people act mean because of bad chemicals in their brains. Those chemicals should be detectable. It’s simply a matter of developing the proper tests. Given the advances we’ve made in science and technology, that should be easy. Once we find those answers, all we’d need to do is summon the will to test everyone for the presence of these bad chemicals. We will have isolated the meanness before it has had a chance to cause mean acts. And then what, you ask? What do we do with this knowledge?

Do we punish people just because of a chemical imbalance? We can’t do that; they haven’t done anything wrong (yet). Do we force them to undergo drug treatments to correct the imbalance? To do so would be a gross violation of their individual rights. Rehabilitation? That only works if there is a real, substantial incentive to back it up.

No, there is only one way to handle this. We test people as described above, and if their blood contains the chemical markers for meanness that I am fully confident exist, then tax the bastards! The higher the readings, the higher the tax! The benefits for society would be immense. Revenues would go through the roof. A whole new industry would grow up around the rush to undergo voluntary drug treatments. Without mean people around, the need for police would disappear — as would the need for armies and navies. The entire defense budget could be eliminated. The world would be at peace, and we’d all be rich and happy!

Wouldn’t that be nice?
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee