Monday, August 10, 2015

Week of 08/10/2015

Preacher Is Wrong: Need More Me To Counter Joneses
No matter which news station I turn to here in the South, it seems I just cannot avoid the occasional religious commercial.  And it’s usually the same preacher paying to get his quickie sermon.
Every so often, this minister has something optimistic to say, and, of course, it has the same theme: “turn to God and everything will be okay”.  Of course it is implied that he is referring to the Christian version, not just any old “God”, but he makes it just generic enough to not appear to be an out-and-out plug for his ministry.  That part comes at the very end of his commercial.
So not too long ago this minister was talking about “Keeping up with the Joneses” and how people feel compelled to spend and spend and spend into debt and misery simply to keep up with appearances with the neighbors.  He blamed this on too much “individualism” and a culture of “greed” and “envy”.  His solution?  “Turn to God”, of course!  Stop thinking about “me” and start thinking about “God” and what “God” wants of us.
Sadly, this minister couldn’t be more wrong.
The idea that we need to “keep up with the Joneses” is really nothing more than an artificial demand imposed on us in society.  It’s designed to keep us spending money and keeping the economy going at all costs.
Why did we buy certain vehicles when they were “trendy”?  Why did we buy the Saab or the BMW when they were “trendy”?  Yes, the minivan was practical, but why, then, did we switch to the gas-chugging urban assault vehicles... aka the SUV?  Because we saw our neighbors drive one.  Because the subtle push in the media told us “we need to get an SUV”.
Why did you buy that big flat-screen HDTV?  Because they were cheap?  Probably not.  You bought one because your neighbor bought one and loves the high-definition quality.
And how about the continual changes with HDTV?  First we had HDTV, then “smart” HDTVs, then 3D (and what a big scam that truly is), and then 4K, and now it’s all about “curved” 4K.  Never mind that the entertainment content for that ultra-mega-super-dog-dare-times-infinity-high-definition can’t even catch up.  Never mind that you’re paying upwards of five or six thousand dollars for something that will last maybe five years and will be outdated in less than one year.  It’s all about getting it.  It’s all about having it.  It’s all about bragging rights to your friends and neighbors.
Oh, and it’s not enough to have the ultra-mega-super-dog-dare-times-infinity-high-definition that is so large that it takes up the whole wall and you can count the pimples on the cute weather girl’s face that are hidden by makeup.  You also have to have the super-duper-ultra-quality sound system to go with it so you can hear that cute weather girl’s breathing and hear the producer’s voice in her earpiece telling her what to say next.
Look at all of the mindless myrmidons that line up at Apple stores to buy the latest i-Product.  And then Samsung does the same thing.  And then Sony cranks out the newest PlayStation game system, and Microsoft follows suit, and then Nintendo.  And the myrmidons line up like zombies for them so they can have it the minute it shows up at the stores. 
Why?  Just “because”.  Because it’s “hip” or “trendy” or “cool” to have the “latest thing” right as it comes out.
Can’t afford it?  Not a problem!  That’s what credit is for!  And the bank executives have gotten obscenely fat and obscenely rich with issuing you lines of credit so they can literally own you in perpetuity.
All of it is fake.  All of it is artificial and designed to get us in the stores often to keep the economy going.
And it’s not a recent trend.  This goes back over a century.  Mark Twain talked about this in “Corn-Pone Opinions” when he talked about how the “Smiths” see a new play and like it, so the “Jones” go see it and like it as well.  In fact, some people think this is where the whole saying “Keeping up with the Joneses” came from.
Even worse, some of this demand to “keep up with the Joneses” is required.  Zoning regulations and covenant neighborhoods require you to keep your homes not only maintained, but also pretty much identical to every other home in the neighborhood.  That means your house can’t have a shocking color.  You can’t have sculptured hedges in the shape of animals or letters.  Want that brightly-colored mulch that will make your home stand out?  Forget it.  Some places won’t even allow you to put up a flagpole so you can hoist Old Glory, never mind the Jolly Roger or the flag of your alma matter.  And it’s not even done for your sake, but for the sake of the precious property values of your neighbors.
But here’s the thing: what the minister thinks is “greed” or “envy” or “selfishness” when it comes to this idea is really just the opposite. 
It’s actually about the lack of self.
Let’s get brutally honest here... what we see with this idea of us “needing” to get the latest, greatest, hippest, trendy thing simply to keep up with others is not a sense of self, but an artificial substitute of true individuality in the name of conformity.
Ask yourself this question: What are you outside of the things you own?  If you lost your job, lost your home, lost your precious-precious credit, forced to rely only on what you can pay for in cash, and have to make do with what you have instead of simply getting the “latest-greatest”, is there still something that you can say is completely you?
And the minister’s assertion that we need to “turn to God” for those answers and think about what “God” wants only makes things worse.  How do we know what “God” wants?  Quite often the “answer” to that question involves you mindlessly dedicating yourself to others, which is no different than you mindlessly buying stuff to keep the economy going.  You’re just substituting the beneficiary of the items from yourself to other people.  That’s really not helping you.  Funny how religious people manage to pull off that little slight-of-hand so easily.
Here’s a good question to ask yourself: why do you really “need” that thing?  It’s one thing to get a new cellphone because the old one is broken or falling apart, or if it is so outdated that it’s incompatible with your current provider.  But why do you really need to get the newest version if you already have the previous one and it already does everything you want it to do?  Who are you really getting this new thing for?  Is it for yourself?  Or is it because someone else or something else expects you to?
Having a true sense of self is not about materialism or about how much of yourself you give away to others.  It’s about being able to answer that question of “why” in a way that best reflects who you are instead of feeding some corporation or some religious institution.  Having a true sense of self means the things you acquire reflect you instead of define you. 
You can understand, then, why big business and organized religion don’t want you to know that... because it means you have the power to tell them the one word that they don’t want to hear: “No.”

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