Friday, May 28, 2010

The Dangling of the Carrot

The pursuit of power or wealth is an insider's joke, and many people don't seem to understand the punch line, or even realize that one exists.

The 'common man' and the 'elite': how do most view the widening gap between these two groups?

One way (an oddly popular way for the less privileged) is to say, "More power to those in power, I'd like a piece of that pie myself."

Another way to view the situation is to recognize injustice at the way the poor and middle class are manipulated and used to generate never-ending wealth for the rich.

For a poor or middle class individual to doggedly embrace the same obsession with acquisition that the wealthy have devoted their lives to, is an equally amusing and sad state of affairs. Amusing because the strings of manipulation are obviously invisible to them, and sad because they are blind to the detrimental results.

What strings of manipulation am I referring to?

I believe it was a Chinese proverb I read years ago that said it best: that which the eye does not see, the heart does not bleed for. This line was originally written in recognition of the human weakness of envy. In most cases, it is not until we know something exists, and that others apparently enjoy it or value it highly, do we begin to strongly desire it for ourselves.

It is this proclivity of human nature that is exploited relentlessly by the wealthy, in order to produce more wealth for themselves. How so, you ask? Envy is how the phenomenon of advertising has gone from clever street-corner hawking to a trillion-dollar industry. We humans are pathetically predictable when it comes to wanting what we see. Unfortunately, this emotional transaction does not stop at television, magazines and billboards.

Long before there were televisions, magazines, billboards and other forms of mass communication, there was the simple act of flaunting one's good fortune. Although not as many people would be affected by each individual act of ostentation, the results were the same for those exposed. I mention this because advertising is not the only generator of envy. Anyone who has attained the vaunted status of material 'success' spreads envy like a virus.

Every time an entertainer is photographed sporting the trappings of wealth, every time an overpaid athlete is in the news for an indiscretion, every time a CEO or politician is exposed for malfeasance, an entire generation of viewers and listeners are served up a huge portion of envy. We don't envy the negative results of their overindulgence; we oddly ignore those and lust after the assets that made them possible.

On a daily basis, we are given concrete examples of not only how money does not provide happiness, but that it often does quite the opposite.

Yet still, the carrot is dangled, and we predictably stretch for it, over and over again, day after day, year after year... never seeming to appreciate the fact that we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by those who ultimately are using us to produce more wealth for themselves.

Human beings are a proud bunch. We're infinitely confident, as individuals with our own minds, that we're not able to be manipulated by others. Most of you reading these words would instantly scoff at the idea that you could ever be manipulated by someone else without your knowledge.

Well, I'm giving you that knowledge right now. Every time you buy the latest gadget or accessory, every time you schedule another expensive vacation, every time you spend your time and money at a bar or casino, every time you buy a lottery ticket, every time you insist on the best of something, every time you get yourself further in debt by buying things that aren't necessary to live, every time you buy something that your favorite public personality wears, eats, drives, owns, lives in, sails on, etc. etc., every time you think you're not getting laid enough, every time you think you're not getting paid enough, every time you think life's unfair because you don't have that particular thing you really think you deserve... well, hopefully you get the idea.

You are being manipulated during these situations because the end result is a corporate mogul's dream: you do whatever you can to acquire whatever it is you think you need. Extra hours at work, maxed-out credit cards, lying, cheating, stealing, selling drugs, murder. While some of those activities are a bit extreme for most people, be aware that they are not limits for the richest people on earth. That's how they became rich and stay that way; don't let anyone convince you differently if you wish to remain honest.

The Bible compares a rich man entering heaven to a camel going through the eye of a needle. It doesn't make any difference which way you interpret the phrase; either a camel and a sewing implement, or a camel and the special gate that lets people in and out but keeps larger animals in. The point is that in both cases, it is impossible.

A bit of a harsh judgement, you say? Sure, and since there's no way to prove there's life after death, and since I'm no one to claim I have those kinds of answers, I'm not qualified to tell you for certain if the saying is accurate or not.

What I am in a position to tell you is that it doesn't take an exceptional dose of common sense to understand that wealth is never acquired and maintained without an equal loss to others. Simple math. The assets of the wealthy were not materialized out of thin air. They actually came from somewhere, and that somewhere is your pocket. While some of this loss is agreeable and acceptable, such as paying one dollar for a McDouble hamburger, most other loss is not. Even those who claim earth's natural resources for their own, an apparently 'victimless' way of producing wealth, will not give it away for free. Thus your pocket, or the sweat of your brow, is still the real source of the elite's wealth.

Most items (and services!) available for purchase are priced astronomically higher than they need to be. Look at the brazenly exorbitant pricing for services provided by doctors and lawyers. There has been (and still is) much marketing research devoted to figuring out just how much you can charge someone for a particular object or service before that potential customer tells you to shove it because it's too expensive. In addition to unreasonable pricing, there's a gargantuan mass of cleverly marketed crap that is entirely unnecessary to life and the enjoyment of it. Inexplicably, the utter complicity of the consumer seals the deal.

All these poor and middle class people, who make personal sacrifices of time (and often integrity) simply to feel as though they've achieved some important level of status in their own eyes (and in the eyes of others), don't even realize that their indulgence in this cycle of wealth production assigns them the mere status of revenue generating sheep. They not only dance vigorously to the tune of the elite puppeteers' whims, they help strengthen the connection of the strings by accepting and promoting the lie that captured them in the first place.

"Aw, come on! These guys are just getting paid, what's your problem?"

If in fact, your opinion is similar to the previous line, then this essay is a waste of your time. You have no conception of the pathological absurdity of pursuing status, and you will likely live the rest of your days saddled with Pavlovian desires that leave you feeling empty despite the efforts you make to satisfy them. You participate enthusiastically because you'd like to be the one pulling the strings? Shame on you.

If instead you see and understand the picture I'm drawing, then know this... if there's a God, and if our actions matter, then there's something you can have high confidence in:

The endless injustices in life that are originated by the 'love of money' have not gone unnoticed, and they will bring to fruition the prophecy, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last first."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Puzzle of Modern Love

For most people, sex is a complicated issue. The complications are many: confusion, delusion, restriction, addiction, fidelity, infidelity. I think it safe to observe that sex rarely manifests itself in a completely trouble-free and happy environment. How could something so wonderful and natural become so complicated?

You don't have to look hard to find advocates of extremes on both sides of the political sex fence. The entire spectrum, from if-it-feels-good-do-it all the way to sex-is-something-to-be-ashamed-of, is prolifically represented in life and on the Internet. There are a lot of people out there who would love to give you advice on how to best live your lives in terms of sexual activity.

However, neither extreme, nor the myriad variations in between, properly address the basic human instinct and need for procreation and sexual intimacy. Rather than a person submitting himself or herself to potentially harmful direction from biased sources, perhaps a simple question posed to one's self might be more edifying.


Why is sex considered in the 21st century to be just another biological function, similar to eating or going to the bathroom, when it is also the method by which new life is introduced to the world?

Ask people who are in love in a committed relationship such as marriage, how they feel about their children. Especially, ask them how they felt when their children were born. The answers come back with absolute consistency: their children are the most important aspects of their lives, and the births of these children were life-altering.

Why is that? Listening to the materialist exponents of the world will enlighten you to the chemical processes involved that, in their expert opinions, arose from millennia of evolutionary change. But that conjecture leads to a chicken-or-egg debate that doesn't truly answer the question.

The fact that this intangible bond exists consistently between parents and their offspring speaks much louder than any scientist's attempts to reduce the gravity of it with biological statistics. What we are still left with, since the question isn't sufficiently answered by science, is the simple reality of the strong attachment of parents and their children. It is that reality which plays the most important part in solving the puzzle of modern love.

There are many out there, for selfish (and ironically, some unselfishly mislead) reasons, who will speak unendingly about the joys of sex. These joys embrace all kinds of permutations, including sex within marriage, sex outside of marriage, sex before marriage, sex with the opposite gender, sex with the same gender, sex with animals, sex with corpses, sex with machines, sex with children, sex with one's self, sex with toys, sex with master/submissive role play, sex with pornography, sex with cameras, sex in public, sex with all sorts of odd, strange, or bizarre fetishes.

What does all this information and activity really say? Does it prove that sex is supposed to be a ripe fruit just waiting to be picked and eaten whenever the mood strikes? Does the excessive proliferation of sexual awareness prove that sex is something that should be experienced by everyone, anywhere, anytime, for whatever reason? Does it support the concept that sex is something that is everyone's 'right' to enjoy?

What of the other side? Does the puritanical backlash against such a sex-obsessed culture prove that we're all better off abstaining from sex except to produce children? Are human beings better served by not acknowledging their own biological urge to procreate, and instead living lives filled with shame because their hormones are doing their jobs?

Somewhere, somehow, at some time in the past, human beings in the predominant cultures of the world adopted the concept that sex was no longer a mystery. The physical processes themselves were examined and revealed by science. The emotions attached to sex were also dissected and analyzed, and the results reported were as variegated as the imaginative 'professionals' who presented their own conclusions with supposedly clinical accuracy. We were left to deal with the spurious assumptions that all these data were allegedly suggesting.

How have we dealt with this information? By pounding away at the delicate nature of the mystery of sex until there is nothing left but dust that blows away at the first strong wind of opinion. Try to imagine the excitement and anticipation that vanishes when something is made commonplace and sometimes vulgar.

Think about this. Our genitalia were once considered a mystery, something special, something sacred. That's exactly the sort of respect you give something that causes such a miraculous event as the birth of a child.

But now, in the enlightened, informed, educated and evolved 21st century, what you now possess between your legs is a recreational device. A toy that potentially exposes the rest of your body to disease, disappointment, guilt complexes, addictive behavior, marriage-destroying decisions, emotional anguish, monetary ruin, questionable reputation... and the greatest result of all: the depressing truth that the more you try to manipulate or control it, it manipulates and controls you even more.

I challenge anyone reading this to deny the negative results of the 'sexual revolution' without making yourself look disingenuous and foolish.

We humans are indeed masterful at deluding ourselves. Our popular culture promises that sex will fulfill and satisfy, but in reality sex has become an abused aspect of our existence that won't generate its natural state of bliss unless we close Pandora's Box. We need to once again imbue our sexuality with the respect and reverential mystery it had in our more 'primitive' past; otherwise the situation will only continue to digress and degrade until our ability to truly love others drowns in a cauldron of rational convenience.