"Was it a millionaire who said imagine no possessions?" - Elvis Costello (The Other Side of Summer)
In just another example of media-generated hysteria and manufactured fear, thousands of people sincerely believe the world will end a week next Friday when the 'long-count' Mayan calendar ends its current cycle. Panic buying of candles and other essentials has been reported in China and Russia and the trade in underground survival shelters in the US has picked up very nicely.
By what appears to be sheer coincidence, the 2009 disaster movie "2012" starring John Cusack made around $770 million at the box office worldwide (the budget was $200 million).
It is no surprise that there will always be some gullible enough to fall for this kind of thing, and yet if it is so obviously bullshit for the vast majority of people (and it really is the vast majority), why does it receive so much coverage nonetheless?
Remember Y2K, aka the Millennium Bug? That had significantly more people fearful, probably because it was based on a rational possibility instead of some Nostradamus-type prediction; namely that computers would not be able to handle the change in their internal clocks as they entered the new millennium and go haywire, causing mass chaos and probably destruction.
Apart from a few minor problems, they didn't, but anyone regularly watching the mainstream news channels and television in general in the final months of 1999 was subjected to relentless fearmongering as well as half-baked speculation on what life would be like after the disaster struck.
How can the sane and rational among us repel this endless assault on our brains by the various forms of media, and why is it important that we do so? In considering this question it becomes apparent that it is not just the media we need to tackle in order to retain cognitive independence...it is practically everything around us. With this in mind, today's blog posting will provide a (non-exhaustive) list that will aid you, the reader, in breaking free of the materialistic hell we all inhabit, in many cases without even realizing we do.
1. Re-order Priorities
Modern mainstream media reporting relentlessly promotes the concept of economic growth, namely growth of GDP, as paramount in creating and maintaining a successful society. This is a dangerous and indeed erroneous view. GDP growth does not necessarily create a healthy and happy society, partly because it does not address issues like inequality and tax avoidance/evasion.
Yvonne Roberts expressed the dangers of putting economic considerations before human ones very well in a short column on the recent moronic prank by two Australian DJs that allegedly led to the suicide of a London nurse:
The late philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in the 50s that if prevailing trends that put economic production before human engagement continued, we would all eventually occupy a dangerously unbalanced society, peopled by alienated individuals living atomised existences, lacking in empathy, quick to judge because judgment by others is always anticipated, equipped with "the greatest material power without the wisdom to use it". What might halt the march to misery, he argued idealistically in The Sane Society, was sharing experience, living by "love, reason and faith".
Certainly, in the decades since then, aided more recently by the instant opinionator Twitter, blogs and social networks, our inclination to judge, critique, analyse, blame and scorn, often on the basis of next to no knowledge, has grown incrementally. We are propelled like narcissistic toddlers in a permanent state of tantrum to place ourselves in the centre of the dramas, scandals and terrible tragedies of total strangers. We cannot bear to witness a set of circumstances that remain private and resistant to our obsessive compulsion to know all and pass judgment, no matter what the consequences to the sometimes random recipients of blame.
Sound familiar? Until human concerns are placed above all else, societies are doomed to be just so. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of believing the manufactured consensus that economic growth trumps all.
2. Turn off the TV
Television is a colossal waste of everyone's time except for the corporate advertisers desperate to brainwash everyone into thinking that the product they are selling is absolutely vital for your lives. Worse, great human achievements in the fields of art and music are co-opted by corporate interests to sell products which have absolutely no connection to the original work of art. When one hears a beautiful piece of music by Mozart playing as the BMW glides down the empty road, we unconsciously link the two together, debasing the music as we do.
Sports stars and movie actors are paid millions to allow their images to be used in conjunction with corporate advertising. Watch Brad Pitt rake in a reported $7 million here simply by making a complete dick of himself. The ad is quite entertaining in that you can see in Pitt's face that he is trying not to throw up in horror at the words he is forced to speak, giving an extreme new perspective to the expression, 'think of the money'.
Mainstream newspapers and magazines should also be avoided except perhaps for some of the straight news articles in serious publications like the New York Times and the Guardian etc. Opinion pieces should be treated with extreme caution as many newspapers have clear ideological axes to grind, as can be seen for example in the Guardian's embarrassing and seemingly endless hatchet jobs on Julian Assange.
It must always be kept in mind that the single number one priority of television stations and most newspapers is profit, mainly advertizing revenue, and for this reason we can expect manufactured drama and endless sensationalism. In other words, many articles cannot be trusted to be truly balanced and objective, especially when the big stories hit. The Fukushima disaster in Japan was fertile ground for many a dishonest and idiotic reporter, as this wall of shame amply demonstrates.
It is a real balancing act to get trustworthy news while at the same time filtering out the white noise. One useful medium for achieving this balance is Twitter, on which one can directly follow trustworthy journalists and other people who provide a wide range of views that are not hysterical or hyped. It is also possible to follow investigative journalists who actually report from the troubled areas of the world - but be sure to avoid the so-called 'embedded' journalists working for the mainstream news cable channels, who are far more likely to omit information that does not conform to the prevailing view of the channel they work for.
If a great movie or drama is on, record it and watch it later with the ads filtered out. Do not pollute your brain with the rampant commercialism that pervades television, both during and between ad breaks.
3. Buy Only What You Need
People are often heard to lament, in these times of rampant materialism, that the true spirit of Christmas has been lost. This does not seem to prevent millions of people maxing out their credit cards to buy stuff for people who don't actually need it. Letting kids believe in Santa (that guy in the Coca Cola outfit) is a very early form of commercial indoctrination that they will pass on to their own kids when they grow up, believing that everyone should 'experience the magic' of Christmas.
This may sound Scrooge-esque (which is how the establishment tries to make people feel guilty for not conforming to standard Christmas behavior), but going into credit-card debt to enrich department stores and thereafter suffering financially is surely not the only way for kids to experience the 'magic'. And let's face it - kids know that Christmas is a time when they can get new things, again reinforcing the idea that material possessions beyond what you need are extremely desirable. One could not play into corporate hands more easily.
Here is the true meaning of Christmas.
It is hard to imagine Jesus being pleased to hear that Christians around the world celebrate his birth by going into debt buying computer games that glorify war or the latest Nike offerings, but this goes beyond Christmas, which, along with Black Friday after US Thanksgiving, certainly encapsulates pure commercialism more than any other holiday.
People everywhere are constantly conned into thinking that there is no choice but to spend large sums of money. Weddings, for example, are extremely expensive. People are conditioned to believe it is the 'happiest day of your life' and they should therefore not hold back on spending when it is in fact possible, with a little imagination and planning, to hold a very nice wedding at extremely low cost. However, fears of being labelled a cheapskate in this instance are overpowering, leading to...
4. Reject Conventional Thinking
Stop caring what others think about you. There is no shame in standing out and going against the crowd - in fact, such behavior can be worn as a badge of honor. Constantly question one's beliefs, even (and especially) the most closely-held ones. Billions around the world follow the standard life path: go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, retire, die. While there is nothing wrong in following such a path, it can be problematic when people do so due to peer pressure.
5. Reject All Dogma
Almost every person on the planet holds beliefs that are based on erroneous foundations, hearsay, religion or obsolete philosophical/psychological thinking. If these beliefs are not backed up with hard, irrefutable evidence, they are worthless and must be discarded. Anything else is lazy thinking. One may believe in UFOs and ghosts as much as they wish, or that our world was created 6,000 years ago by a supernatural, omnipotent being, but until these hypotheses are proven without doubt, such beliefs are without basis, having the same value as believing black cats bring bad luck or that the movements of gaseous spheres millions of light years away somehow affect the life of a person born in a particular month on Earth.
6. Trust REAL Science
And avoid pop/junk science: coffee three times a day is good for you etc.
Via the scientific method using careful, painstaking experimentation, analysis, and extensive peer review we can best describe the physical world around us. That said, scientific theories should never be accepted as universally correct - Darwin's Theory of Evolution has been amended multiple times since it was first published - but they nonetheless represent the safest and most logical ways to explain observed phenomena. The alternative is creating possible explanations using cultural or religious dogma as a context (thunder and lightning means God is angry and so on).
7. Treat All Equally And Do Not Bother Others
This English translation of the fifth chapter of 'Ti Tzu Kui', a book written during the Qing Dynasty by Li Yuxiu and based on the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius sums it up perfectly:
Human beings, regardless of nationality, race, or religion - everyone - should be loved equally. We are all sheltered by the same sky and we all live on the same planet Earth. People with high conduct naturally have high reputations; what people value is not high looks. People with great ability naturally have great fame; what people respect is not great words. If you have an ability, don't be selfish with it. If other people have an ability, don't lightly denigrate them. Don't toady to the rich; don't be arrogant to the poor. Don't despise the old; don't favor the new. If people don't have time, don't bother them with things. If people are not at peace, don't bother them with words. When people have shortcomings, definitely don't publicize them. When people have secrets, definitely don't tell them. Speaking of others' good deeds is in itself a good deed. When others learn of it, they become more encouraged. Publicizing other people's shortcomings is in itself evil. People hate it very much, and troubles arise. Admonishing each other to do good builds up both parties' virtue. Not dissuading the other person from doing wrong damages both parties' character. When taking and giving, making the terms clear is most important. Better to give more and take less. When about to do unto others, first ask yourself; if you don't want it yourself, then stop immediately. One wants to repay kindness and forget grudges. Repaying grudges is short; repaying kindness is long. In dealing with maids and servants, one is of high station. Though of high station, one must be kind and forgiving. Using force to make people submit doesn't make their hearts submit. Only using reason to make people submit will cause there to be no mutterings.
8. Renounce and Condemn War and Violence at Every Turn
There are really only two morally defensible reasons for war or violence: self-defense and perhaps in very strict circumstances (though this is murky) humane intervention (peacekeeping) by a neutral body (as the UN should be).
Any other war, however noble the stated justifications, is ultimately a grab for power and/or resources. In an era when the world's nations spend $200 million an hour on arms, when only around 13% of that could eradicate hunger and extreme poverty while providing clean water for all, the behavior of the human species needs to be stated exactly as it is: insanity.
Only with these recommendations (among others) kept firmly in mind and acted upon can one successfully evade the commercial deluge and live free of the forces that see each and every person as a consumer. Only if significant numbers of people unplug themselves from the matrix, as it were, can human society have any hope of tearing down our commercial hell. Under those circumstances alone can a world in which human rights and interests are put firmly above financial ones emerge.
'The 99.99998271% - Why the Time is Right for Direct Democracy' by Simon Wood is available for free download. In this 70-page book, the current state of human rights and democracy is discussed, and a simple method of implementing direct democracy is suggested.
Simon Wood on twitter (@simonwood11) and Facebook or at his blog. The Direct Democracy Alliance, a voluntary group dedicated to creating national/global direct democracy, is now also on twitter: (@DDA4586)
Author's note: For nine months I have been writing detailed articles on human rights and direct democracy, and have written a book on the topic which is freely available. However, despite some small successes, I am yet to make a scratch in any meaningful way that will bring about real change. For this to happen, I need to create an NPO or similar organization devoted to creating and promoting direct democracy. I therefore appeal to any reader who has significant resources, or who has connections to someone who has, to contact me with regard to making a philanthropic donation to bring about a transparent organization with paid, professional staff which can actually make a difference.