What’s Wrong Here?

Perhaps you have seen the commercial. The idea is to sell Corona Beer and we close in on a magnificent, large home on a lake with four friends in their early 30s (all trim and fit) sitting out-of-doors at a table laughing and admiring themselves when suddenly a gust of wind blows out their candle. One of the more enterprising young men takes out his iPhone, turns on the flashlight and sets it under a bottle of “Carona Premier” which is thereby lit up and provides them with the light they need to continue to admire themselves and applaud genius.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Look again, if you will: the house behind them, huge and modern, has EVERY SINGLE LIGHT TURNED ON! So what? you might ask. And that’s the problem. Very few — if any other than nattering nabobs of negativism like yours truly — will see anything whatever wrong with this commercial. But all I can see is the wanton waste reflected in the fact that all the lights in that huge house are turned on. It says to me: this is a culture that is not only self-absorbed, and thirsty, but also terribly wasteful and unconcerned. We are a use and toss-away culture that thinks only about today and what might give us pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong. I like beer. I particularly like Corona beer. It’s yummy. I also suspect the director was going for mood and visual effect. All of this is irrelevant. The point is that those who decided to present us with this commercial message gave away the game: we simply don’t give a damn. It’s that simple.

Now I would venture to bet that anyone to whom I preach (and I realize that it is not a choir but perhaps only small chorus) would agree with the underlying message. I am aware of this. But we need to save the planet and it will take each of us doing whatever we can to help — though we would prefer to diss the Congress and point the finger at them rather than at ourselves. This is another feature of our culture: we don’t really like to accept criticism or responsibility. It’s easier and more comforting to place the blame elsewhere. But the planet needs our undivided attention: it is in serious jeopardy. And showing four mindless models sitting in front of a house with eighty-five rooms all lit up sends the wrong message — especially since the folks who sit in front of that house are proving to all of us that it’s all about having a beer and having fun. No worries. We’re having a great time — and look how clever Fred is with his iPad lighting up the table! Brilliant!

I fully realize that I see things like this and they bother me. I write about those things that bother me and that are worth thinking about. But this makes many people uncomfortable. I titled my blog the “Daily Gadfly” and initially determined to write a post each day about the goings-on around me. It became too stressful, for many reasons. So I slowed down and post only a couple of times a week — and I try to stay away from political machinations as they are way too depressing. But the job of the gadfly is to disturb and irritate in order to engender thought. It was a label Socrates wore proudly. But it puts people off and they turn away to look for happier news. No kitties or flowers here, folks. Sorry.

Indeed I do tend to see the glass half empty while others are able to see it half full. This makes me a pessimist I suppose, though I regard myself as a realist. In any event, the future of the planet and indeed the human race is a matter of genuine concern — for optimists and pessimists alike. But however we see the glass, we need to be awake and aware and to think about the things that each of us can do in our small way to address a very large problem.

And that starts with turning out the damn lights!

 

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Black Friday

[I am reblogging this post from a couple of years ago because the problem persists. In fact, it seems to be getting worse with stores now opening on Thanksgiving Day and employees being told simply to shut up.]

The headline read “Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers.” In an effort to have a better chance to get at the cheap electronics Walmart was using as a lure to get shoppers jump-started this holiday season, a woman pepper sprayed about 20 customers who were in her way. Except for the talking heads on Fox News who think this is perfectly acceptable behavior, everyone is in a dither —  but for many of the wrong reasons. Out-of-control shoppers are a worry, but the whole marketing ploy that increasingly encroaches on Thanksgiving is the larger problem.

We do live in a commodified culture, as Robert Heilbroner told us many years ago, but our values are clearly out of kilter when money and the things that money can buy become the main focus of an entire nation. If we take a commodified culture preoccupied with possession of things, combine it with an immense advertising machine that works buyers into a frenzy prior to Thanksgiving, it is no wonder that things like this happen. We shouldn’t be surprised; clearly things are out of focus when money becomes the center of one’s life. Citizens who bother to go to the voting booth any more are there to turn around a weak economy. That has been the rule for some time now: vote out the bastards who are taking money out of my pocket. The real issues, like spread of nuclear weapons and the damage we are doing to the environment in our tizzy to raise our already obscenely high standard of living, are largely ignored.

Christmas should, of course, be a time for reflection and thought about others. In this country, and other “developed” countries around the world, it has become a time to get that 30% of the yearly profits that keep the engines of commerce running. It is understandable, since business has become the cornerstone of our culture. But is it necessary to point out that the ideals of business are antithetical to the ideals of the one whose birth we celebrate next month? The fact that a woman in California would pepper-spray her way to the cheap electronics in Walmart is simply a sign of the times and a clear indication that we need to rethink our priorities.

“Defense” Spending

You have probably seen the chart here. It is making the rounds on Facebook, and it is alarming — not because our country now spends seven hundred billion dollars on the military, but because of the sharp contrast between this country and the rest of the world (including China!). Our priorities are clearly skewed.

Contrast Between The U.S. and The Rest of The World

In an election year when we might do well to do some deep thinking bout our priorities and about the huge debt we are passing along to our grandchildren it might be wise to consider this chart. We all believe the economy is “the problem,” or most of us seem to do so. It’s not. It’s the fact that we are throwing money into the black hole of the military (in the name of “defense”) while the nation goes deeper into debt. Meanwhile we refuse to pay more taxes while we cut and slash needed social programs, our infrastructure falls to pieces, and our health care system falls behind the rest of the developed world.

Though the military has had the lion’s share of the budget for years, the “war on terror” has given them virtual carte blanche. It is worrisome. It’s one thing for the money to go toward building “drones” that are sent into dark places and kill indiscriminately. That is a moral horror story. But perhaps we can rationalize it, together with our world-wide military presence, on the grounds that these things are keeping us safe from terrorists. Perhaps. But, as we all know, the amount of waste in this part of the budget alone is almost certainly enough to bail Greece out of its present economic woes — though you never hear those calling for tax cuts suggesting that the military budget be cut. No sir!

I recall a few years ago we got a little money at the University where I taught and it was decided that we would resurface two tennis courts with “omnicourt” and if they worked out we would resurface four more. These synthetic courts were terribly expensive and as it turned out we never could afford the four new ones and settled for two courts that were elegant but seldom used. The company that resurfaced those two courts left our town after installing the courts and headed for Omaha where they were scheduled to resurface 12 such courts for the officers at the Air Force base in Bellevue, Nebraska nearby. The tennis courts were located close to the golf course as I understand it.  I am also told the armed forces spend a small fortune in soft balls each year.  All in the name of “defense spending.”

These are anecdotes, of course, and anecdotes don’t prove anything. But they sometimes do tell a story: they reflect a mind-set, and in this case reveal the sorts of waste of taxpayers’ money that are typical — not only in the state’s revenue in the case of our two pathetic tennis courts, but the nation’s tax revenue in the case of the waste on frivolous,  needless luxuries in the name of “defense.” I daresay we could multiply these examples a  thousand-fold and it would give us a headache — especially when our kids aren’t getting an adequate education and the poor and the sick in this country are about to be abandoned, while the military grows fat. We really do need to reshuffle the deck. Someone isn’t playing fair!

Good News!

Whenever the N.R.D.C. magazine, onearth, arrives I shudder and tend to put it out of sight or recycle it immediately. When I do read it, there seems to be nothing but articles about the latest atrocity that humans have committed against the planet — news about the effects of global warming or climate change. It’s depressing to read that by 2050 “climate change could result in the loss of about two-thirds of arable land in Africa.” And this in the face of the disturbing fact that in 40 years the African urban population will have tripled. Who needs that?

But, then, if one is willing to grit one’s teeth and read on, there is also some good news, such as the news that a British economist has stepped forward and suggested that we abandon the outdated notion of continued economic growth for a new paradigm: sustainable growth. The idea has been around for some time, but there is a prejudice against the notion based on the false assumption that sustainability is a plot to undermine capitalism. It is assuredly the case that you won’t hear any of our politicians running for office in the next couple of years preaching the doctrine of sustainability. We continue to believe that a growth economy is a viable idea. But sustainability is a notion whose time has come, and the article in onearth gives one hope that others will step up and bite the bullet.

There is also news about various devices that have been invented to help provide energy from renewable sources, or modifications that can be made on our automobiles that will convert them from gas  to electric — with suggestions about how solar panels can be used to provide the electricity for the cars. For example, Ben Nelson from Wisconsin, one of the new breed of “eco-modders,” has modified his Geo Metro so it now requires no gasoline. It is encouraging to know that there are people like Ben around who are serious about getting us away from our dependence on oil, though they be few and far between.

Despite its glacial pace, there is in fact an environmental movement.  Politicians and large corporations refuse to back the movement — insisting (wrongly) that support of the movement will cost America jobs. This is what logicians call a “false dichotomy”: either we continue on our present path or we lose jobs. In fact, promoting renewable sources of energy would create thousands of jobs. But it sounds like heresy to a great many voters, so the politicians (and the corporations that back them) for the most part, keep clear of the “tree-huggers and insist that we open up the Alaskan wilderness to further oil exploration, or expand off-shore drilling — while we make a concerted effort to trash the E.P.A., that watchdog agency that has the unmitigated gall to put constraints on Big Business.

We have the unfortunate urge in this country to make heroes of our athletes and movie stars. In fact, people like Ben Nelson are the real heroes, people who are making an attempt to change our way of doing business and helping up find ways to treat our earth with more respect. The cynic in me worries that it is too little too late, but one has to start somewhere, and it is good news to read that there are those who have already taken steps. Further, it does appear that the younger generation has shown signs of a greater sense of responsibility toward their planet, and that is also good news. The trick is to hang in there until the movement gains momentum. And that means holding off the large corporations until the new generation of idealistic young people gains a foothold — or the situation becomes so grim that even the doubters are forced to pull their collective heads out of the sand (or wherever else they have them buried) and admit that the earth deserves the respect of everyone who lives on it.

Black Friday

[I am headed to Minneapolis to spend Thanksgiving with my son and his family. So I am copping out by re-blogging a post I wrote last year. When you’ve seen one Black Friday you’ve pretty much seen them all — except that the Walmart employees have threatened to strike this year and that will hopefully reduce attacks from pepper spray!]

The headline read “Woman pepper sprays other Black Friday shoppers.” In an effort to have a better chance to get at the cheap electronics Walmart was using as a lure to get shoppers jump-started this holiday season, a woman pepper sprayed about 20 customers who were in her way. Except for the talking heads on Fox News who think this is perfectly acceptable behavior, everyone is in a dither —  but for many of the wrong reasons. Out-of-control shoppers are a worry, but the whole marketing ploy that increasingly encroaches on Thanksgiving is the larger problem.

We do live in a commodified culture, as Robert Heilbroner told us many years ago, but our values are clearly out of kilter when money and the things that money can buy become the main focus of an entire nation. If we take a commodified culture preoccupied with owning things, combine it with an immense advertising machine that works buyers into a frenzy prior to Thanksgiving, it is no wonder that things like this happen. We shouldn’t be surprised; clearly things are out of focus. Citizens who bother to go to the voting booth any more are there to turn around a weak economy. That has been the rule for some time now: vote out the bastards who are taking money out of my pocket. The real issues, like the damage we are doing to the environment in our tizzy to raise our already obscenely high standard of living, are largely ignored.

Christmas should, of course, be a time for reflection and thought about others. In this country, and other “developed” countries around the world, it has become a time to get that 20% of the yearly profits that keep the engines of commerce running. It is understandable, since business has become the cornerstone of our culture. But is it necessary to point out that the ideals of business are antithetical to the ideals of the one whose birth we celebrate next month? The fact that a woman in California would pepper-spray her way to the cheap electronics in Walmart is simply a sign of the times and a clear indication that we need to rethink our priorities.