Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

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Always remember, with great power comes the opportunity for massive profits at the expense of others

One of the nice things about listening to the radio, as I was on my constitutional last night, is that you get to listen to all sorts of low budget commercials that they would never show on TV. I was listening to a golden oldies station ('60s and '70s. By the way, Back Stabbers is still a hell of a song. A HELL of a song. The fact that it was performed by a band called the O'jays and features a lyric about 'taking all these knives out of my back?' Just a bonus.) so I heard a lot of ads for concerts by artists who had a few hits 30 years ago and are still squeezing a living from them, and for badly produced anthology CDs. Those were cool, but the ad that really got my attention was one for hair restoration surgery. I'm not bald yet, although I will be, but it wasn't the product being offered that caught me, rather one particular phrase in the ad copy. It referred to the doctor serving as the face of this particular company as a genius.

Genius is a word thrown around far too often these days, along with love. I've been called a genius, although I've not done anything since my youth that would give evidence for that diagnosis. (By the same token my writing group leader tells everyone she loves them, yet she won't respond to emails! What she actually means is "I'm kind of fond of you," but you can't say that anymore, it'd be seen as an insult. In our extreme society the only sort of affection one can claim to have is love.) Nonetheless it is possible that this hair replacement man is, in fact, a genius, and that makes me very sad.

I'm not sure how a genius becomes a hair transplant guy. When does he make that decision?

"Jake, you're a really special talent. The most brilliant student I've ever had the pleasure of well, if not teaching, at least having in my class. What are you going to do with that mind of yours. That glorious mind."

"I have a plan that I'm working on. It's in a medical field."

"Oh. You're going to become a doctor? Try to work on cancer or AIDS or something?"

"Not exactly."

"A researcher? Or you want to be a surgeon and just work to heal individuals. I can understand that."

"It's sort of surgery. You see I think of myself as a visionary, and I have a vision burning in my brilliant mind. A vision of me incredibly wealthy without doing a lot of work. I want to work in the hair transplant field, helping older men recapture a few wisps of their youth through overpriced and painful surgical procedures."

"Jake, what are you...."

"Now I like to think of it as a social good too. There are a lot of confused young women out there. Sexy women with flat stomachs and tight little rear ends. These women often have daddy issues, and they need to spend a few months in the smelly lecherous embrace of an older man to help work through those issues. The thing is, those older men don't have the CONFIDENCE to approach these vulnerable young girls when they don't have a hair on the top of their heads. I'm going to change all that. With my procedure a man won't need a Porsche. He'll get a hair transplant, find a nice girl, sleep around, get found out, his wife will leave him, and it'll stimulate the economy or whatever I'll be rich from the fat fees."

And our society would be fine with that. It would be fine with letting someone use their genius on HAIR PLUGS rather than something that really matters. In fact it would promote it. Geniuses who work on things like cancer or physics or other important issues receive less compensation than those who work on shit like Viagra or marketing or real estate.

Now I'm not saying Jake the Genius should be forced to spend his life working on cancer if he doesn't want to. While I agree with John Rawls to some extent that genius is a social good that should be shared by all rather than a possession of the person who happens, through an accident of genetics and environment, to possess it, I do not think that we can enslave ANYONE to do what society wants him to. If the genius wants to sit on his duff smoking weed and drinking beer, working at a 7/11 and using his smarts to bamboozle chicks into boning him then I say we shouldn't be able to force him to do otherwise. That'd be impinging on his freedom. On the other hand I have a serious problem with a society that rewards him for choosing hair plugs over cancer. I am kept up at night thinking about the fact that in our culture we push the exceptional people to spend their lives churning out crap of one kind or another. We worship Donald Trump who builds palaces of excess and greed. How many of you can name ONE developer who works on making housing affordable for working class families? Not much glamor or money in that.

I also understand that communism is not the answer. I am not naive enough to think that central planners will be any less short-sighted than individual consumers, just in different ways. I know that you need financial incentives to get people to do stinky annoying things, and that capitalism allows for creativity in a way that other systems do not.

The problem is not capitalism then. I think that American capitalism as it used to be, with social safety nets and decent amounts of regulation, is probably the best system for the world as it currently stands. No the current problem is in our culture. See capitalism used to be tempered by values sprung from Greek philosophy and filtered through religion. That's who our founding fathers really were, classics scholars who paid lip-service to Christianity because they had to (more or less depending on the individual) and what our national character was for quite a long time. Calvinism and Aristotelian beliefs mixed up in a blender and spread from sea to shining sea. Unfortunately that blend has been diluted, some might say washed away, by money. After World War II America was making so much money it had no idea what to do with it all. It created massive inefficient cars and ugly suburban sprawl. It promised not just a chicken in every pot but a brand new pot sitting on the gleaming counter of the kitchen of tomorrow in every white person's house. Eventually the bounty grew so great that we were able to invite people of other colors off the floor where they were eating crumbs and up to the kiddy table where they could have bones and even the occasional piece of skin.

And we forgot what it was like to balance the material and the philosophical. When working in a factory could afford you a comfortable and happy life what need was there to prize college and learning? When young white men in nice starched white collars could make millions by signing with the right company, well what did family and community matter? If you live in a Penthouse you don't need to see the crippled veterans sleeping on the street.

So now we're stuck. We've got a society where the culture and the economic structure no longer compliment one another but feed into each other's worst impulses. Buy buy buy says the advertisement on television. Buy buy buy says the programming sandwiched in between the ads. Buy buy buy says the teacher in school. Buy buy buy says the textbook. The rest of life gets only lip-service. Sexual liberation moves from "Don't let yourself be guilted over your sexual desires and needs" to "INDULGE YOURSELF and if you don't you're a repressed idiot." With the recent trend in reality TV our wealth worship is now as out of the closet as Elton John. Give up your dignity, your friends, and your morals for a shot at some cash. The American way. Hallelujah.

It doesn't work. Cash, sex, food, drugs, clothes, whatever, they are the icing on the cake of life. You can't make a meal of icing, it's unfulfilling, it leaves you feeling sick and craving something more...solid. This country doesn't care about solid anymore though, we seem to think that if you just eat enough icing you'll get full. You won't. At least most people won't. I'm sure Trump sleeps well at night. The bastard.

So there we are. Christianity isn't the answer, it's been co-opted by the wealth first people (Ironic considering its origins, but Calvin worked his magic and everyone thinks that a big bank account is a key to the pearly gates.) Televangelists are no different than hair plug salesmen.

I don't claim to know what the solution is. I think it can be found in re-awakening a love of ideas and learning if not in the population then at least in the popular culture. Ideology has gotten a bad rap recently, but ideology divorced from power can be truly great. Some of the world's finest minds have been afflicted with goofy ideologies, and I don't think you can necessarily divorce their achievements from their beliefs. This is one of the reasons I want to be a culture-maker of some sort, either writing or film making or something I haven't thought of yet. I want to weigh in, however lightly, on the side of thoughtfulness, consideration, contemplation, and ideas. I want to help re-establish the belief in America that you need more than a full wallet and a nice piece of ass to be happy and fulfilled. I want to work towards the goal of having geniuses decide that while the money's good in hair plugs, true satisfaction can't be found in perpetuating dysfunctional relationships between aging men and very young women.

They don't have an advertisement for that.

Yet.
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