Saturday, August 22, 2009

American Cultural Idiocy and Our Future

Our reactions as an American people is like coming home to spend time with the family; not your wife and kids, your folks, your parents, brothers and sisters. It’s like being thrown back into the fire, into a different mix that you remember with some distaste, but you go along with it just the same. In this mix you do your best to step up, take care to the dishes, do the chores, only to find that in the end your parents enjoy taking care of you once again. You end up in the situation where things are provided for you, meals are cooked, beds are prepped, days are planned. You find yourself in a routine being cared for… a life filled with thoughtless actions, lazy habits, and dreamless nights. Though you may be irritated, you are surrounded by comfort and ease of life, neglecting dramatic spousal tensions of course.
Eating to eat, not necessarily because you are hungry, sleeping to sleep, though you are restless and full of energy, suppressing the jitters to do something else for the sake of the family, surrounded by the wings of the family, knowing that we don’t have to worry about much… food will be on the table tonight
This is how we are as a people. We are Americans and each and every one of us wants to be a Hero and believes in the Hero mentality. We are instilled from youth with the idea that you can be saved when all has gone wrong, that you can repent and seek forgiveness, that when you are in your deepest darkest moment, there can still be a happy ending. We believe as the little rat drowning in the UC Berkley lab, that we will be saved by the ever glorious outstretched hand. The hand of God, the hand of a parent, the hand of a Super Hero, the hand of a passing stranger who wants to be that Hero. We believe as part of our culture that a Savior will come in our daily lives, in our worst moments, to solve our problems as a species, to correct our errors in this world. Even if we are not glowing outward with this revelation, this belief, we at least consider the possibility that we could be saved, that there might be a God, that even if we completely screw everything up, Big Daddy will come save us. Even if we turn this world to shit, a day may come when we are taken away from “God-awful world” into one of peace and harmony. That a hero will save us, don us in white robes, and welcome us to some glorious land where all our conflicts, disagreements, and discourse in this life will cease to exist. We will undergo transformation through death, and find life anew… maybe we will… maybe we will find ourselves right back in this world with a chance to do it over again… with the opportunity to try one more time from the beginning.
It is in this belief that we dismiss all responsibility. Sure, I am concerned about the environment, I want a good future for my family, I don’t want to just throw life away; but I have more important things to worry about. And besides, aren’t we supposed to have a savior coming one of these days? Aren’t others always calling for the end of time? What about Y2K version 2.0 (December 21st 2012)? Or is there an ice age coming again? One of those things should fix all the problems right? And even if not, there are tons of people smarter than me that should worry about that sort of thing. I mean Big Brother is scary at times, but doesn’t it also give you the confidence that Uncle Sam is looking out for our best interest. I mean Big Brother is smart right? He’ll take care of us. It’s the USA man; we always save the day…
Or so we would believe. Hollywood movies read like a US Military advertisement campaign. I don’t know if directors get free access to Military Stock footage, equipment, personnel, tactics, and consultation, but it sure has been a good move on their part if they have. Movies like the recently released Transformers 2 shine an amazingly bright light for the United States and make claims that would have you believe that the President of the United States is the Supreme Ruler of the Earth; thought I know other countries would have their two bits to say about this. I saw this movie in New Zealand with a Frenchman and a New Zealander after which both proclaimed that they wished they were United States Citizens so that they could join the US military. Now I know this is just a movie, and I know this is just ONE movie, but it is the epitome of what we portray and believe as a populace.
We believe without question what we see in movies and TV without even realizing it; we believe in being saved, in always having a hero, in always having a savior. Now I will not shed this all in a negative light, because through our beliefs we have pushed harder in the past than many would have ever thought possible. Like the rat in the experiment swimming for 20 hours instead of the median 7 simply because of hope, belief; not something that we simply tell ourselves, but a deep down knowledge that even if we fail we will be caught. Even if we slip on the ice, fall off the rock, collapse from the heat; we will be taken care of, saved, comforted, and nourished back to health. We have the wings of a family, the arms of an angel, and the grace of a father high in the sky that will take us to his kingdom everlasting.
With Television in our lives as a constant background noise, Movies as the stories we hear and know, and music filling any void left, our world is shaped. We define our realm by what we see. Life is no longer shaped by life, but by our perception of life. People no longer recognize the world for what it is, but instead for what they compare it to on television. Wow, these loggers are just like I saw in Axe Men. This ship is just like on Titanic. This beach is just like in the OC. I feel like Ewoks should be popping out of this forest. Hollywood’s “reality” is so entrenched in us that even our movies refer to movies; Martin Laurence in Bad Boys 2, “Mike, I seen this in a movie once. They didn't make it!” We quote movies every day and in part define our culture by them. I mean, who hasn’t said, “I’ll be back!” imitating the Governator’s thick accent?

Consider this; I’m pretty sure that it is a general consensus that we enjoy living and/or that it is better than the alternative. We find ourselves on this earth for one reason or another (I’ll leave that for another discussion) with a whole gamut of future possibilities in front of us. Each of us has a feeling that we are going in a certain direction, we are driving in our car at 100 miles per hour (160 kph), moving along on some course. It is obvious the direction we are going, for the immediate future, because we can see the road straight ahead and just in front of us. We know we’re running out of fuel, and we are idiotically keeping the pedal to the medal in our jilapi hoping we can make it to another gas station. We know that we don’t want to take any immediate abrupt turns onto side roads because that would cause us to slow down and loose the thrill of breaking the speed limit. But heck, if we saw a sign that for sure told us there was a truck-stop to the right at a y in the road, we might be willing to take a last minute veer off-course.
Now if we were all to stop, pull each of our cars off the road for a few minutes and line each and every one of us up along a great race line extended through the salt-flats without any speed rolling under our wheels, we would realize that we can go in any one of millions more than 360 degrees of direction. But what happens? It’s a prisoners dilemma isn’t it. One jackass with a nitros tank and racing fuel decides he wants to spin some broadies and jet off into the distance seeing how fast he can go, and we say, “ I bet I can beat him” and off we go. Off without purpose of direction, or course; just a straight line with the idea that we want to go faster than joe-blow ahead of us. If we beat him, go faster than him, and leave him in our dust, we’ll slow down, spin a couple more doughnuts and jet off in the next straight line for the immediate thrill and maybe hours later when we’re all out of fuel we’ll return to our original line to fuel back up and ask where we really want to go.
The point is, if we don’t get off our high horses and realize that we have to take responsibility for our actions; not just throw away those 1000 year plastic bottles; not just say that it is a concern but it’s not that bad yet; not just write it off for the future generation and assume that our problems will be solved by someone. If we all drive by the accident on the freeway and assume that there are so many other people passing by that “I’m sure someone else will call.” What happens when we all say that? What if there is no savior? What if alien life forms do not come from another planet with all their life-saving/changing technologies? What if we realize for once as a species that we are responsible for our own demise?
Step back, take a look, the future is upon us every waking second and to assume we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it without considering the ensuing monsoon is arrogant, irresponsible, and flat-out idiotic. Living for today’s satisfaction will not work any longer. We have become fat and lazy driven by immediate desires and lacking long-term goals. We have become a consumer (and I hate to use the cliché statement but) fast food economy, driven by immediate results even if it means sacrificing long-term goals instead of the opposite.
Where is our discipline and determination? Our ability to sacrifice today for tomorrow? It is so easy today to be wasteful because wasteful is cheaper than thrifty. Costco and Walmart make more sense than the corner store and buying what you really need. What happened to building something that lasts, buying something that has been prolonged, planning for more than now? We all know what happened; in a Capitalist economy it didn’t make sense any more. When we are all driven by value, by money; when it is the foundation of our culture and defines class; why would you but an $90 part for your broken outdated printer when you can get a brand new one for $100? Why would you drive miles to recycle your used batteries, glass bottles, and old clothes when the trash man come to take away anything you don’t want every week? Why would you buy organic eggs, bio diesel, or recycled paper when it costs four times more for the same amount? You wouldn’t, you won’t and you don’t unless your perceived value of the more thrifty, more eco-friendly, more intelligent choice is greater than the cost difference over time. And we can see that it is only when the cost of the usual, more economical option is comparable to that of the smarter option as is seen in tough economic times (such as gasoline in 2008) that we will choose the smarter option. We act on money first, then intellect.
Of course we can see the other side of this money issue as well. If money is taken out of the equation because it is of no consequence (i.e. we are not sacrificing mortgage payments to buy different groceries), then we once again act on intelligence and choose the free-range, organic, brown eggs because all choices are on the same playing field.
So how do we put the smarter options on a level playing field? Who determines what the smarter option is? Do we go for the Best Available Technology or the Best Practical Means? We use these terms when referring to pollution control of the environment and they might rightly be applied to the intake and experiences of the human body with the environment.
The time has come for practical consideration and effective action toward designing our world as a whole. No longer can we sit back, act as individuals, the keep our heads down to the grind without constantly analyzing the consequences of our actions. As my welding teacher Tommy the Torch once said, “If you don’t Stop Think Act and Review it will turn in to the other acronym; Shit That Ain’t Right!” The plants and animal life that surround us, the earth as a whole, the planets, stars and galaxies that surround us have not continued to exist through chance, regardless of how they were initiated; each and every one has evolved. Life has changed, organisms have died and been reborn, plants have found the environs in which they belong, fish the water to swim in, being the planet to be on, stars a fuel to burn, and planets a star to surround. The answers for survival exists around us though the natural process of selection, survival of the fittest, existence of the most suitable. We’ve had the stigma for the longest that environmentalism is the hippie-ism, earth-child, granola crunchy, weed-smoking, dread-lock totting antithesis of Capitalism. What we fail to realize is that being eco-friendly is not underserved, counter-productive, or about being “green.” It’s not about donning earth-tones. It’s not about giving up everything and attempting to live in the woods. What we must realize is that we need to be intelligent about the mutually symbiotic relationship that we need to share with all the surrounds us and part of that is our environment, the earth we live on, the only place in the universe that we know for sure hosts life.
For as long as we can remember as a “civilized” people with written history we have not had to take responsibility for our actions with respect to the environment. The assumption has always been that this world is so large and has so much to offer that our small little actions will be corrected by the natural processes of the world that we don’t fully understand. If I pour out the oil from my truck today, it will just filter back into the earth where it came from. If burn a wood fire, the trees will sort out the CO2, the rain the ash in the sky, and so and so. If I kill a wild animal to eat, there will be more later on next time I am hungry. If I don’t want something anymore I throw it away, the garbage man takes it, and I don’t care about it anymore. If I sell something, it is bought, I get the money, and I move on to the next sale. What about the lifecycle of what we create? The plastic water bottle is the epitome of this. Because we feel that our time is more valuable than the time it would take to plan, refill, and place a bottle in the refrigerator we continue to go with the easier cheaper option. I don’t blame you. It makes sense. It’s cheaper in all of our minds to continue purchasing the 24-packs of bottled water for five dollars because they are so convenient.
But think about the life of these bottles. These bottles consume ungodly amounts (17 Million Gallons per year) of petroleum and natural gasses, sure and use about seven times more water to produce than they hold… okay, that’s great. We know all these facts, blah, blah you’re boring me with statistics... The real issue here is our stupidity.
Imagine you try a new candy. Now this is no normal candy, this is the Wanka of all Wanka bars and puts those little green-haired, orange skinned Umpa-Lumpa’s life work to shame. This candy is so delectable, it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, and what’s more is the sensory you feel while trying it is truly better than the hottest sex you could ever imagine. It’s not a drug, there is nothing immoral about it, and even the church is a fan of this stuff for abstinence. The only downside is that every bit you ingest will be weight added to you for the rest of your life. If you eat an ounce of it, you will be an ounce heavier for the rest of your life no matter what you do. Now one try sure as heck won’t kill you, nor will consuming it for months straight, as long as you are okay with putting on pound after pound.
As a kid it is candy, you love it, you love the sweets, you don’t know enough to care about sweets. As an adolescent you become a little self conscious and aren’t sure you should consume as much, but you love the feeling. As an adult, you realize how much weight you have gained and know that you shouldn’t have a dip anymore, though you sneak a taste every now and again. But then you reach true maturity when are retired with your kids well out of the house and financial freedom in front of you. Now you have time to look at past present and future with analytical eyes and realize, before you hit an age where you feel too old to accomplish much in a given day other than the necessities, that you wish you hadn’t gained so much weight living for fast cars and freedom. You now understand that you need to live today not just for today, but to live today as the first day of the rest of your life with all those handfuls of experiences in your bag as tools of knowledge to use all along the way.
Now sitting pretty at 62 and a half years old you consider that each M&M sized candy you consumed only weighted ½ oz, or 1/32nd of a pound. If you consumed those little babies at the same rate we consume water bottles in the US, those little guys add up to 420 lbs! [1]Even if you only horded those little delicious bites as a teen, you easily double your fat; and that is rock-hard weight that you will never, ever loose. You are an oversized mammoth who even overbears the weights of his quarter-ton truck all because of instant satisfaction.
The point is to illustrate the stupidity with which we consume because we do not have to see the background action. All we care about is the fifteen minutes to four weeks that a water bottle, for example, plays in our life; or rather we play in it. It will well outlast us, our grandchildren, for that matter 40 generations down the line that water bottle will still be staring someone down in an over-stuffed landfill. “We recycle!” you say. The sad part of the story is that by saying that you are in the minority. Even by the most liberal estimates, only 30% of plastic drink bottles are recycled today (2009). So let’s put these forty generations in perspective. Two generations ago my grandparents were living through the Great Depression being as thrifty as possible, Four generations ago my family was making carriages in Pennsylvania, Twelve generations ago my family came across the Atlantic Ocean with William Penn to start a new life in a new world, Seventeen generations ago my family were Schwabish Knights who had just received a Coat of Arms from the Emperor Ferdinand, 40 generations ago Leif Ericson was just discovering what would become New England. All 15,622 could have consumed[2] in his 73 years would still be around not just today, but for another 709 years! Is that how we want to be remembered? Remembered for filling the earth with our garbage. Producing a world just to dispose of it? Enough about water bottles, but we are consuming 8 light minutes worth of plastic water bottles every year in the United States. 8 light minutes! That’s the same as a tower of water bottles stacked from here to the sun! And the largest shame of all is that we find a use them for one twelve-thousandth of their life at best. In comparison that would be two days of your life. You are only useful for two days of your life out of 365 days a year for seventy-five years. Can you imagine being kept in jail, being told you are useless, and sitting in the dark for 27,391 days out of 75 years? What sense does that make? Can you imagine having a 13-year old Labrador that you have only ever given 4-minutes to play in its entire life? Can you imagine owning a house your entire life, making mortgage payments on it month after month and only ever using it for one weekend and then setting it on fire? How about purchasing a $200,000 Ferrari just so you can drive it seven and a half miles and crash it off a cliff? (whew!…Sorry about that rant)
With this said, don’t be mad at the bottle producer. Don’t be angered with all the friends you know, your family, and even yourself for purchasing the cheap option. You have been logical, they have been logical when it comes to the short-run, and the immediate satisfaction. You can’t say bottled water producers are evil; oil companies are bad; fossil fuels are the devil. The response to problems cannot be pointing of fingers, “You are on the evil team, and this is good versus evil.” Finding problems is great because that creates opportunity. To react with stubborn hatred is punish a baby for crying as a natural reaction to plugged ears on an airplane yelling “Shut Up! Please Shut Up!” We cannot simply treat the symptoms and assume all is good. If you have a headache, chances are it’s for a good reason. Instead of treating the root the problem and looking for the understanding that we need to eat better and get glasses because we spend too much time staring at a computer screen, we down the Advil every day and keep on chugging. If you have back problems it’s probably because you didn’t take good care of your feet. If you’re fat, it’s probably not because you have a disease and don’t drive to the gym and look for the closest parking spot every week, try living a more active lifestyle. What do all of these things teach us? That before “civilization” we may have had all the tools to live a healthy life; that we need to seek understanding; that we cannot discredit the decisions we make every day and how they butterfly affect the world. So don’t point that finger, don’t call companies evil, instead ask if we’re on the wrong path, how do we correct ourselves? How do we have an understanding with all that we do? How do we consciously evolve and ensure that our posterity may live as fruitful a life as we can ourselves?

[1] Based upon 2008 bottled water market of 8.6 billion gallons with average bottle size of 0.5L and US populations of 304 Million. Gives 214 bottles per year average.214
[2] Based upon 2008 bottled water market of 8.6 billion gallons with average bottle size of 0.5L and US populations of 304 Million. Gives 214 bottles per year average.214