Monday, December 21, 2009

Kilroy Café #60: "The Burden of Choice"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

The Burden of Choice
More options aren't necessarily a good thing.


Choice is good-or so we are told. 500 channels are better than five. 30 flavors are better than three. In theory, the more choices you have, the more ways you can solve your problems.

In practice, though, too much choice can be a burden and often leads to bad results. The more choices people have, the more opportunity they have to screw themselves up, especially with choices they are not qualified to make.

"Get out and vote!" the public is urged, but this advice only draws uninformed voters to the polls who don't have a clue who they are voting for, so we end up with inept public officials. Likewise, when people have too much choice about their investments, health or nutrition, they are likely to make poor choices that are statistically worse than making no choice at all.

The healthiest diet is usually one where someone sets a meal down in front of you and says, "Eat this!", but that's not the way most of us do it. In the commercial world, we are bombarded by choices-a glorious buffet of them!-and the more we have, the more likely we are to eat poorly and far too much.

In general, it is best to preserve your future options whenever possible. You shouldn't choose for a whole lifetime if you have the option to choose for a year then choose again later. On the other hand, every choice is stressful and uses up resources in itself.

If you have 500 channels to choose from, then you have to take time to go through all those options and evaluate them. This wasn't the case when there were only a handful channels: You always knew what was on, and your relative lack of control was a natural limit on how much you watched.

Unlimited choice is a delusion. Instead of 5 channels of crap, you now have 500, so the healthy choices, if any, are buried in the noise.

It is the natural aim of marketers to create new choices based on increasing trivial criteria. Why buy an ordinary laundry detergent when you can get one with blue freshness crystals? Modern commerce gives you endless choices, but it also extenuates and deadens your ability to choose. If you are spending too much energy on the trivial choices like laundry detergent, then you can't be paying enough attention to the big and important ones.

But choice isn't necessarily a panacea for the big decisions either. At every crossroads, it is good to dwell on your future direction. Huge amounts of energy can be saved by choosing a wise path at an early stage rather than enduring the long-term defects of a badly chosen route. Yet, at some point you have to accept the path you are on and work with it.

For better or worse, each of us has already made a number of choices that are difficult to change. While it is a fallacy to say you have "no choice", you are probably going to stick with your current path unless there's a reason to alter it. Breaking an established route takes courage and effort, and it may not always be wise.

Choosing the right path is only part of the journey. The other part is traveling the path you have chosen. You aren't going to get anywhere unless you actually start walking, committing yourself to resolving whatever obstacles you encounter along the way.

It is a mistake to call it an absolute commitment, one you will never break, but it is okay to turn choice off for a while. You can say to yourself, "I'm going to climb this mountain," and once you have made a route selection, you don't have to revisit it every hour. You just accept the path and get on with it.

The balance here is between freedom and structure. If you have too much freedom, you won't know what to do with yourself, and you'll make uninformed decisions based on superficial criteria. If you have too much structure, then you won't have the ability to change paths should a better one come up.

Choice is expensive! It soaks up your time and energy, and the lure of it is often irresistible. How many of us can go into a sumptuous buffet and choose only the healthy items and portions? Most of us will gorge ourselves because we aren't truly qualified to handle all that choice.

So what's the solution? You don't go into the buffet! Likewise, you can avoid the burden of 500 channels by simply not subscribing to the service. If you treat small choices as a package, you can be more detached about the decision and whether it is good for your health. Then you are less burdened with the micro-choices within the big one.

Instead of choosing all the time, you can manage yourself as you would a child, presenting to him only the choices he can handle. It sounds silly, but it works! If unhealthy choices aren't available, then they aren't a temptation.

Sometimes, the greatest wisdom is knowing when you are unqualified to choose and limiting yourself accordingly.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell,
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Birchim, Indiana.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

Kilroy Café #59: "The Limits of Charity"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

The Limits of Charity


Your only real meaning on this planet lies in somehow making it a better place. The problem is how to go about it. Giving selflessly to others may seem noble, but that's not the issue. Simply giving away what you have isn't necessarily going to improve anything.

Each of us has limited resources. You have only a certain amount of time on Earth, and that's all you've got to work with. Some of this time can be turned into money, power or knowledge, but no matter how rich, connected or skilled you may become, that influence is limited, too. Even the wealthiest philanthropist can't make a dent in the world's problems if his resources are used indiscriminately.

If a beggar asks you for money, do you give it to him? Your emotions may say so. It feels good to be generous, but generosity alone doesn't guarantee a positive outcome. Is the money going to be used for drugs? Will the ease of his getting it discourage him from getting a job? In those cases, giving to the beggar may actually hurt him, not help.

An extreme response is to not give anything to anybody, but what's the point in that? So you accumulate resources all your life and then die. Your skills will be lost forever, while your money will be passed to your heirs who will either use it wisely or they won't. You're essentially dumping your own problem onto them!

The solution lies in "strategic" giving. You apply your resources in clever ways that multiply their effect. Just feeding the hungry doesn't necessarily help. You want to attack the real sources of hunger, like war or overpopulation. You want to see the problem at the highest level possible and look for solutions there.

But there is futility in trying to attack all the world's problems at once. It isn't clear that by giving to any global cause you are improving things any more than by giving to a beggar. The amount you can donate is usually trivial, and no worldwide movement is without its potential feedback flaws—i.e. the risk of unintentionally making things worse. If you place your resources in the hands of others in the blind faith that they know what to do, there is never a guarantee of the results you intend.

No matter how you intervene, there is potential for both good and bad. It isn't enough to have a theory about what works, you have to see how the object of your charity actually responds. To get the most from your resources, you have to be able to monitor the results. Then you can adjust your intervention accordingly.

This implies a balance between global and local. It is unproductive to dwell on the whole galaxy but also to devote too much attention to a single person or local cause. You want to focus on areas you understand well, viewing them from a distance but without losing your connection to real people.

Simply the fact that someone is in desperate need does not mean you should help them, because there may be other places where your resources are more effective. In almost every charitable venue, need will far exceed your resources, so you have to be cagy about how you use them. You will say "yes" in the right circumstances, but more often you will have to say "no". You have to conserve your gifts for their most productive use, and this means turning away most applications.

You also have to preserve your own ability to give. Your life is a tool, and you can give to others only to the extent that your tool is well-fueled, well-maintained and growing in and of itself. If your selfless charity begins to intrude into your own self-maintenance, then you won't be helping anyone in the end, because your own system will collapse.

If your life is a machine to help others, you shouldn't be running it at full capacity. From time to time, you have to shut it down for scheduled maintenance. You have to upgrade the technology. You have to confirm, on a daily basis, that the machine is really doing what it is supposed to. While you attend to these matters, people may die, but the long-term productivity of your machine depends on this seemingly self-absorbed behavior.

Most importantly, you can't let people become dependent on your machine, because eventually they are going to have to live without it. Ultimately, people have to help themselves. They will have to come up with their own solutions that don't involve you. These may not be solutions you approve of, but you have to let them be.

The world is a hard and desperate place, and your hopes for changing it must be modest. You intervene where you realistically can and step aside otherwise. Much suffering will go on because you failed to help, but you can't save everyone.

In the end, you are but a visitor here. The problems of the world were here before you came and will continue after you leave. Your task is mostly an academic exercise: to see how much you can accomplish during your brief assignment here. If you apply your resources wisely, without obsession, delusion or waste, you can step away satisfied.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell,
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Lexington, Kentucky.
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You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Recession is Over! (So Says I)

The Recession is over! That's my assessment. I'm no economist, just an amateur soothsayer who happens to have lived through several of these things.

Upon what do I base my analysis? A single statistic: In November, the US economy lost almost no jobs. (Just a statistically insignificant 11,000 jobs instead of a predicted 130,000. See news story.)

This is in spite of the fact that that layoffs seem to be everywhere. Many local and state governments, for example, are only now laying off workers as their budgets reach the breaking point. I see these as lagging indicators, however. Government layoffs are a reflection of how the economy has been over the past year or two. Business layoffs, on the other hand, tend to be more pro-active, reflecting present and anticipated conditions.

If government layoffs are still happening, but the total job numbers remain steady, that implies that somebody out there is hiring enough workers to compensate. It can only be business doing the hiring, and it would do so only if sales are actually picking up.

Saying that the recession is over does not mean the pain is over. Big sectors of the economy are hurting and will continue to hurt for years. Governments continue to be in dire straits. New workers being hired now might be getting only a fraction of their former wage. Some industries will never recover, but this is mainly because their time has come and gone.

All that matters when defining the beginning and end of a recession is the current growth of the economy as a whole. Somebody out there is engaged in economic activity, and it's apparently enough to bring up the numbers. Maybe the good times we knew will never be back, but "recovery" is defined only by growth relative to the trough.

The world took a massive hit from the housing collapse, but the economy as a whole may have already discounted that. One should never underestimate the ability of U.S. Capitalism to roll with the punches. What emerges from the ashes is a new, different economy, based on different assumptions and probably much lower expectations. Some individuals, industries, cities and countries based on the old assumptions will continue to founder (Las Vegas, Dubai), but wily new operators will take their place as the leaders of growth.

Oh, in addition to the job numbers, I have one other indicator that the recession is over: Glenn Beck and others in conservative media are urging people to buy gold! I remember gold fever in the past, and every time it happens—every time the average sucker is talking about it at dinner parties—gold prices collapse. When stupid white people start buying gold, they're investing in the recession. It's the reverse hysteria of the boom years: Gold can't rise forever any more than housing prices can.

Sooner or later the economy is going to factor in all the excesses of the past, and growth is going to resume along a different track. Then everyone is going to want to be out of gold and into the market. Glenn Beck's groupies will take a bath, just like the conspiracy believers in every past recession.

Greed will be back, you'll see!

Glenn Campbell
Laramie, Wyoming

NOTE: I don't necessarily believe one aspect of the graph above: that the next peak in the economy will be bigger than the last. (That would be a big bubble to blow!) I only believe that the trough has been reached.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Kilroy Café #58: "Russian Roulette: Childbirth..."

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

Russian Roulette

Childbirth is one of the world’s most dangerous and costly games of chance, but the gamblers keep playing.


What would you think of an extraordinarily expensive recreational activity that had a 10% chance of resulting in death or lifelong disability for one of the participants? Is it wise or moral to take part?

People do it all the time. It's called childbirth.

Having a baby is spinning a genetic roulette wheel. Genes of mother and father are mixed up in random ways, and the result could be an Einstein or Mozart. It is far more likely, however, that the experiment will fail and the offspring will have a serious disability.

Birth defects occur in 3-5% of all live births. If you add mental disorders, diseases and accidents of childhood, 10% is a reasonable failure rate. No matter how you add it up, when you create a child there is a substantial chance he will die, suffer trauma or become profoundly disabled before he reaches adulthood.

Most people would engage in no other activity with such a horrible safety record. Why, then, do they choose to make children?

It's not like the human race is in any danger of dying out. There are plenty of children already here and never enough resources to care for them. Why, then, would anyone of conscience want to add still another needy child to the mix?

It is noble to address the needs of a neglected child. The net nobility vanishes, however, when you yourself created the need. It is like digging a hole only to fill it up again: Yes, you worked hard, but at the end of the day the world is the same as when you started.

Raising a child is monumentally expensive, not just in time and money but in the parents' loss of freedom and potential. Responsible parents cannot take risks; they have to follow a relatively safe and conventional path. Years of your life devoted to child rearing can't be used for other things. They might have been great things that helped many existing children, but you will never know.

Only in recent times have people have had the right to say "No." For most of human history, if you obeyed the sexual urge then babies followed. With birth control came the ability to disengage sex and mating from procreation. You could choose to procreate; it wasn't a requirement. At the same time, the world population exploded to unsustainable levels. The ethical response is to not further contribute to the agonies of Man but use your resources for better things.

When you create a child, you create a liability that didn't exist previously. If something goes wrong with this Frankenstein experiment, you will be responsible because you are the one who initiated it. Even if everything goes right, you are essentially deferring your problems to the next generation. You expect your children to do great things instead of you.

So why do people do it? Narcissism, mainly. It isn't done for the child, it is done for the parents, who are trying to fill some hunger or emotional void. It is an off-the-shelf solution to an absence of meaning in their lives.

This is a politically sensitive topic, because all of us our products of childbirth! You can't argue against it without insulting your forebears and a fair number of your friends. When talking to someone who has already invested in this belief system, you have to carefully watch your words, because they are now imprisoned in their choice and have to believe in it.

Furthermore, it is next to impossible to talk anyone out of having a baby. Childbirth is a religious practice, and like all forms of religion, it is immune to logic. By the time you learn about it, the decision has probably been made, so you can only offer the usual congratulations.

Creating a life requires a huge and delusional ego. Like other gamblers, parents think they're special. They inflate the odds of success and discount the possibility of failure. They believe God will protect them. Even if they are not religious, their explanations are invariably filled with self-serving sentiment and circular logic.

Why do they really do it? People hit a blank wall and don't know what to do with themselves. Their romance is running down and going nowhere. They want to buy a ticket on some train that promises to give their life purpose.

If you try it, yes, you'll have purpose! You've just dug yourself a big hole you are obligated to fill over the next few decades. Now you have to believe!

Parenthood can be joyful and will certainly to keep you busy. But that's not the same as knowing who you are, having real creative direction and doing something positive for the world.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell,
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photos)
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kilroy Café #16: "Mindless Entertainment Wasting Our Planet"

Here is a re-post of a Kilroy Café philosophy essay from July 2008. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

Mindless Entertainment Wasting Our Planet


There is an evil upon this land. It is a parasitic force draining our society of life. It seduces our young people into slavery. It clouds the mind and prevents the individual from accomplishing anything near what he is capable of. It takes whatever it can get from us and gives back nothing.

Entertainment. It's the scourge of humanity.

It's a lot like cocaine. When entertainment is available, most people will ingest as much of it as they can. They may not feel good afterwards, but they keep coming back for more because they're addicted. Withdraw the entertainment, and there are terrible symptoms: tremors, anxiety, profuse sweating. When locked up alone with his own thoughts, the subject claims to be "bored" and makes desperate attempts to fill the void with something, anything to displace his own identity and occupy his mind.

The content of the entertainment isn't important. Video games, romance novels, re-runs of American Idol—it's all the same. It's 99.9% meaningless. You sit there for an hour, two hours, eight hours, 16 hours, and nothing at all is accomplished. Soon, half your life is wasted on entertainment, then the other half. You're dead, and all they can say at your funeral is, "He watched a lot of TV."

Nonetheless, entertainment remains legal in most jurisdictions. It is even glorified. Who are the most visible heroes of our society? Are they teachers, humanitarian workers, great thinkers and activists? No, they are actors and performers. We worship poseurs whose only claim to fame is pretending to be someone else.

Their job is to promote the addiction, to keep the illusion going so the corporate sponsors can continue to feed off it. It's a huge conspiracy—the entertainment-industrial complex. Its purpose is to sell the public candy-coated garbage, because that's what makes the most profit. It peddles empty calories instead of real food.

The opposite of entertainment is "function." That's when people have a genuine need that a product quietly and efficiently serves. When a doctor saves a patient's life, that's not entertainment; it's a legitimate service. When you provide people with information that somehow improves their existence, that's not entertainment either. It's education.

Entertainment is certainly capable of such enlightenment, but it rarely happens. Hardly one product out of a thousand is in any way useful or illuminating. The remainder is drivel and dross that people lap up because it engages their emotional circuitry and seems to be meaningful on the surface.

News and documentaries are like that. They seem to be illuminating but really aren't as long as people "watch" instead of "do." Even things you "do" can be entertainment in disguise: surfing, mountain climbing, expeditions to Machu Picchu. The main criteria to distinguish entertainment from function is whether anything is really accomplished.

Entertainment exists because the channels for it exist and someone with a profit motive is willing to pay for access. If you've got 200 TV channels available, they have to be filled with something, and a huge pimping and whoring industry has arisen to feed this machine.

An endless stream of naive virgins are sacrificed in the volcano of entertainment. Young people are seduced by the apparent glamor of it, the promise of fame and the tiny sliver of hope that the product they generate might be meaningful.

Most are sucked dry by the beast and discarded, realizing only then that they'll have to get a real job.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell,
See my other philosophy newsletters at
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main page for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kilroy Café #57: "The Tragic Burden of Stuff"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

The Tragic Burden of Stuff


Humans are natural packrats. Back in our prehistory it was logical to horde food and tools in case they might be needed in lean times. Naked animals that we were—without fur or claws—we couldn't live without possessions. When your survival depended on a spear or piece of clothing, you didn't lose track of it and were loathe to abandon it even when you had more than you needed. To stay alive, you always knew where your stuff was and you guarded it jealously.

In modern conditions of plenty, that impulse has become dysfunctional. We have way more stuff than we need while our urge to collect it is unimpeded. It's like our lust for sugar and fat even when we have had enough to eat. Today, we suffer not just obesity of the body, but obesity of ownership, to the point where we are crippled by our stuff and our true quality of life is sacrificed.

Some possessions, no doubt, are valuable tools. Take, for example, the fork: unquestionably a useful eating utensil. The personal ownership of a fork is not unreasonable. You use it, wash it and use it again. Owning twenty forks, however, does not add any utility to your life, only obligation and complication, yet few people would divest themselves of extra forks if they weren't forced to. The first fork is useful, but the others are programmed by our packrat genes and are justified only by excuses.

If you own multiple forks, then you can employ a mechanical dishwasher to clean them—a supposedly labor-saving device that has to be fed, serviced and housed. Soon you're buried in such ancillary obligations when a simple fork was all you really needed. Multiply this complicating process by the thousands of objects in one's life, and you can see how people imprison themselves in their stuff as soon as they have the means to do so. Whatever resources one has, they are quickly absorbed by possessions and their maintenance.

Businesses, honed by the pressures of the marketplace, are relatively lean in their use of stuff. A machine has to prove itself in stark monetary terms or it's out the door. The same cannot be said of individuals, who will acquire tools and supplies they use only rarely and decline to get rid of them. They will also accumulate vanity objects of no practical value, seeing these possessions as a measure of their own worth.

At the same time, business is utterly relentless in its attempts to sell us stuff we don't need, because that's where the greatest profit lies. You don't just need a fork, they say, but a jewel-encrusted fork. You need a fork with special qualities you never knew you needed until advertising told you about them. Since advertising is the dominant voice in our culture, it's hard to resist the commercial message: Buy more stuff! There's no money to be made in encouraging thrift, only in promoting obesity, so that's what most of us are: big fat possession hogs!

And "stuff" isn't limited to physical objects. There's also mental stuff congealed around us—accumulated habits, projects and activities of little practical value that tie up our time like possessions monopolize our space. If Tuesday nights are dedicated to a certain activity and Sundays are occupied by another and every year a certain holiday must be celebrated in a certain way, soon your whole life is preprogrammed and there is no opportunity left for growth or change. Mental stuff is having prior commitments and perceived necessities occupy all your future time, so your opportunity for creativity is low. The world changes but you can't, because you are already committed to certain entrenched ways.

It's easy enough to take on new habits or obligations but often painfully difficult to withdraw. If you volunteer for a worthy cause, they soon depend on you. If you start growing a plant that needs your attention every day, how can you let it wither and die? Things like this may occupy your time, but they aren't necessarily the best use of it. You could be doing something more meaningful, but your calendar is already filled.

The accumulation of stuff—both physical and mental—is the primary burden of old age. It isn't the deterioration of the body that makes us old but the accumulation of possessions and preconceptions. Even if our lifespan was 500 years, the problem would be the same: After a few years of prosperity, we become ensnared in a web of our own stuff. We can't move because we can't bear to part with the objects and habits that no longer serve us.

Thankfully, we don't live 500 years. We'll die soon enough, and when we do our stuff will be quickly dispersed in some undignified garage sale. Our heirs will shake their heads at all the crap we accumulated as they crudely perform our downsizing for us.

It would have been better had we controlled our stuff on our own. If we had held the line on acquisitions and conducted our own garage sales before they were necessary we might have remained young forever. Sure, the body would have given out eventually, but there's no physical reason you can't be productive and adaptive until the very end.

Only your stuff holds you down.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell,
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Bedford, Massachusetts.
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main page for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Kilroy Café #56: "Boundaries: Your Defense Against Chaos"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.


Your Defense Against Chaos


An essential dilemma of life is figuring out where your own personal responsibilities begin and end. No matter what resources you have, they are never enough to address all the needs around you, so you have to decide which problems are "yours" and which are not. The place you draw this line is called a boundary.

If my own life is at risk, that's certainly my problem. If someone else's life is a risk—a stranger I have no connection with—it's not my problem. I may be able to sympathize, but my resources are limited and I can't save everyone. If I try to do too much, then my own system will collapse and I'll be able to save no one. Therefore, I have to draw the line somewhere.

A boundary is a fenceline between yourself and the outside world. The health of what goes on inside the compound depends on how well you defend the fence. If you try to take on too much responsibility by letting too many problems come in, life inside the fence will eventually degenerate into chaos.

The problem of the underclass in a wealthy society like ours is not just the lack of resources but poor personal boundaries. The limited resources of an average family usually get absorbed by things that aren't related to core survival: pets, entertainment systems, drugs (legal or otherwise), friends who visit and never leave, etc. In fact, this is a problem of the upper classes as well. As soon as someone has more money or time than they need to survive, the fence of their compound usually expands to absorb those resources.

Intrusions into the fence are sneaky. If a stranger was breaking into your home, you would have no trouble defending your boundaries. You would call the police! However, if a relative lost his job and moved into your home, your defenses would be a lot weaker. When he has nowhere else to go, how do you tell him to leave? The real threat to our boundaries is situations where our emotions say we have no choice.

No one would turn away a starving child or a little lost puppy appearing on their doorstep, but what if there were hundreds of starving children or lost puppies? At what point do you close the gate and start refusing entry?

That, in fact, is the permanent state of the world: Needs will always far outstrip the resources available. Once you start caring about others, the problem is deciding where to stop. If you can't stop, then your compassion will eventually eat up everything you have.

Indeed, most people don't know how to stop. Regardless of their starting position, their responsibilities tend to expand until all their resources are absorbed. That's when chaos kicks in. When any system is over capacity, safety systems break down and catastrophe becomes the de facto defender of boundaries.

For example, if your family has ample resources, it is noble to take on a foster child, but if you take on ten foster children, the integrity of your household is going to deteriorate to the point where it is just as dysfunctional as the families those foster children came from. Yet, how can you turn away a child who desperately needs you? Knowing he may be lost forever if you don't help him, how can you refuse?

The answer is: You can and you must! Defending boundaries means looking into a cute little puppy's eyes and saying, "No," even if it means the puppy might suffer or die.

Every relationship involves boundaries. Certain things are my responsibility and other things are yours, and if the border between the two becomes blurred, our relationship will deteriorate. You can't help your child too much or you'll damage his incentive to help himself. You can't be too supportive of your spouse or you will become the crutch he habitually leans on. In even the most caring relationship, you have to carefully guard your fence and push back responsibilities whenever they intrude into your space.

To someone who is repulsed by a boundary, it will inevitably seem cruel and arbitrary, but an arbitrary line is better than none at all. Whenever possible, you should use natural borderlines and simple rules. For example, it is a lot easier to say "No dogs" than to say "Only one dog," because one dog will often open the door to others.

To prevent your own life from sliding into chaos, you have to actively define and defend the responsibilities you will let in. You can't be totally cold to the needs and suffering of others, but you also can't let your life be taken over by other people's problems.

Your main instruments in this world are your own body and mind, and your first priority is their health and maintenance. It is noble to help others, but only as long as your own core resources are protected. If the problems of others take too much out of you, you have to pull back and redraw your borders.

If you truly care about others, then your first responsibility is protecting yourself. You must define your island and what you can reasonably do on it, then defend it firmly against any new entanglements.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell.
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Stroud, Oklahoma.
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main page for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kilroy Café #55: "Puffery! The Legal Way to Lie!"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.


The Legal Way to Lie!


To lie in a commercial transaction is illegal. That's called "fraud". However, it is not illegal to distort perceptions, misinterpret facts, overstate benefits or fail to disclose drawbacks of a certain product. That's called "puffery", which is constitutionally protected free speech.

We live in a world of puffery. It's everywhere! Whenever someone has something to sell us, puffery is probably in use. Over 99% of all advertising consists of it. We are told a product is NEW! Improved! Amazing! Legendary! We see the product being used by beautiful people (usually paid actors and models) who say it's wonderful. Puffery leads us to believe that the product can do more for us than it actually can, and such suggestions are perfectly legal because no one has technically misstated facts.

Take soda pop. It consists of water, sugar, caffeine, artificial flavor and carbon dioxide—a penny's worth of ingredients. Watching the advertising, though, you'd think consuming the product was an important lifestyle decision. You're imbibing "The Real Thing" or "The Taste of a New Generation". Sugar provides simply food energy; water replaces any that was lost, and caffeine temporarily stimulates nerve cells (depleting them later). Anything more you believe you are getting from the drink was planted in your head by puffery.

It becomes so natural to order a $2 soft drink with your meal that you don't even know your mind has been polluted. It's possible your whole life is enslaved to puffery! Perceived needs have been planted in your head by those who have something to gain, and you run around trying to serve these illusory goals as though they were real.

And puffery isn't limited to advertising. Anyone who is already emotionally invested in something probably wants to sell it to you. They tell you how great their own choices were, and if you're naïve you'll follow them.

What advertising is not puffery? There isn't much! One example is an airline ad that simply shows you a list of destinations and the lowest airfare available. That's the original form of advertising, as it first began. A merchant says: "I have this product to sell with these characteristics at this price." If you need the product, and the price is right, you'll buy.

Today, reasonably honest advertising, mostly free of puffery, can be found on eBay and Craig's List. Other honest advertising might be an impartial review in a neutral forum. But most mass-market advertising—the stuff that pollutes the environment around us—is not honest. It is focused on creating artificial needs where none previously existed or on distinguishing the product based on functionally insignificant factors. It's an exercise in image spin and fact distortion. Legal or not, it's all lies!

Does it matter that Britney Spears uses the product or appears in its ads? Of course not! She has been paid to do it! Yet, advertisers wouldn't pay the price if the ploy didn't work. Most people buy image, not function. It must be part of our genes!

Perhaps puffery is so powerful because modern culture consists of little else. Is there anything on television that isn't puffery? Is there anywhere you can go where puffery isn't the dominant public message? Religions use puffery in all the pomp of their rituals. Politicians are full of it! Entertainment is mostly puffery: It may occupy time, but it's not usually very satisfying because it rarely consists of more than self-promotion.

Certain rare art works are not puffery—a deep song, a meaningful movie—but you'll encounter only a few of these in a lifetime. A few products are indeed useful; they can save time or even save your life. All the rest is crap that continues to sell only because the puffery works.

Most people are happy to live a life of lies, fulfilling artificial needs that have been handed to them by others. Is that you? Are you a puffery addict, or do you care about function?

Function is what really works, what really serves your needs. The trouble is knowing what your needs truly are, and for this you must return to basic science. You conduct experiments. You collect data. You employ dispassionate logic to reach provisional conclusions. Advertising is irrelevant, because you know it's skewed in favor of the advertiser.

Puffery is legal because these lies are unenforceable. Advertising usually implies the lie rather than stating it. The only way to stop puffery is to defeat it in your head. "This guy has something to sell me, so I can't trust him!" To live well in your own unique world, you must conduct your own research and reach your own conclusions.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell.
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Written on a transcontinental flight. (Released from Las Vegas.)
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main page for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kilroy Café #54: "The Fallacy of 'Commitment'"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

The Fallacy of "Commitment"

Young people often mistake imprisonment for commitment. Commitment isn’t real if it is enforced by outside chains.


On the subject of marriage, a correspondent writes:

"Once someone marries, there is a high cost for divorce. Accordingly, one is willing to work harder to solve problems resulting in a better marriage via effort."

This is a big, fat fallacy, perhaps the most common one cited when young people get married or bind themselves to any extended contract. It's the equivalent of saying "I don't trust myself to do the right thing unless I am forced to."

If this were true, then we would always choose prison over freedom. Prison forces us into a single path, and, yes, we are going to have to make the most of that path, but that's still not better than having many paths available.

Indeed, there are many happily married people who have made their relationships work. The question is whether it's the hard-to-get-out-of element that makes it happen or something else?

Do you make your life better by locking yourself into a certain path and throwing away the key? Does lack of choice improve your life or make it worse?

The issue here is free will. Are you staying with your partner because they are the best one for you, because you are constantly testing the relationship and proving yourselves to each other every day, or are you staying together merely because the cost of breaking up is too high? In the first case, you are staying together freely; in the second, you are not free at all. You can't say for sure that your choice is best when you don't have a realistic option of choosing another.

Locking yourself up with someone is not the recipe for vibrancy, creativity or motivation. Instead, it's a plan for entrenchment. Battle lines will be drawn, and they won't budge for years. You'll learn to survive by recognizing fragile boundaries and never stepping over them. Over time, you inevitably become mutual enablers, carefully avoiding and thereby implicitly reinforcing each others' weaknesses and sensitivities.

The essence of any relationship is negotiation. Each partner is always struggling to get what they want from the other, and love alone can't solve anything. It would be nice to think you could talk every problem out, but with entrenched and emotionally driven behaviors (which we are all composed of) words just don't work. To get what you want, you also have to have an element of power at your disposal, including the ability to withdraw at will.

Everyone has "issues". Everyone has problems integrating themselves with the outside world, and these things are bound to interfere in a relationship. Let's say your partner drinks more than you'd like him to. If you are imprisoned with him, than you have little leverage to change his behavior. You probably have to accept it as it is.

If you are not imprisoned and are free to come and go, then you have more weapons at your disposal, including the ultimate one. You can say, "This behavior is too much for me; I have to pull away." Then your partner will either change or he won't, and the relationship will either last or it won't.

Is it frightening to know your relationship could dissolve at any time? Darn right! But that's the cost of freedom. Nothing is really solved by neutralizing choice and forcing people to remain together. Prison doesn't resolve problems as much as it pushes them underground, where they fester for years and may eventually explode.

The theory of the correspondent is that if it is painful to withdraw, you'll have to make the relationship work, but the way you'll probably do it is by accepting a mediocre relationship that is no longer growing.

People say they are getting married to express their love and commitment to each other, but really they are doing the opposite. Once you lock yourself in, love and commitment are no longer a choice but an obligation. Yes, married couples say they love each other. They say they wouldn't want it any other way, but how can they really know? It's more of a religious belief at that point. You believe because you have to believe, because the alternative is simply too painful.

Religion works for most people, but it's not the same as free-will choice. Face it, most relationships don't last forever, and you can't make the magic last simply by taking away future discretion.

Personal growth is, by definition, unpredictable. If you are truly alive you are bound to go through many unanticipated changes, and your partner may or may not be able to follow. By making it harder to withdraw from a relationship, you simply slow down growth for both of you, not encourage it.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell.
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Written in the library the University of Louisiana, Monroe.
(Released from the library at Western Piedmont Community College, Morganton, NC.)
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kilroy Café #53: "Why Do You Believe?"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

Why Do You Believe?
People believe what they need to believe to protect the value of their prior investments.


What makes someone a liberal or a conservative? Why do they believe in one religion and not another? Why do some people become vegans or lawyers or skiers or con artists? Why do they choose a certain spouse and stay with them? How do they choose their personal preferences? How do they know which sports team to root for?

If you ask someone why they believe something, they will usually give you rational-sounding reasons. "I am a liberal because X, Y and Z." They claim logic is their only guide. Alternatively, they may insist the decision was in the stars, and they present a mythology showing no other choice was possible.

But these are rationalizations, not true causes. Beliefs usually arise from emotion, not logic or fate. Beliefs are largely egotistical and self-serving. The "reasons" are assembled only later, after the belief has already been established by emotional necessity.

Both liberalism and conservatism have their strengths and weaknesses, their absurdities and excesses, and you can debate endlessly which one is right. If a person chooses one over the other, it's not because it is demonstrably "correct" but because their ego in some way benefits from this choice. They have already invested in a certain way of life and can't go back, so they tailor their beliefs to support this investment and make it seem heroic.

What really determines human belief? Two factors: (1) the quest for personal identity, and (2) the defense of one's prior investments.

The first trend tends to happen early in life. If your parents are conservative, you might embrace liberalism to distinguish yourself from them. You may also choose outrageous fashions, hobbies, behavior or body art to tweak your elders and define your own path.

Such defiance of convention can also happen later: A successful businessman who built his life on capitalism can vote liberal to show how independent and well-rounded he is. Both young and old are using their beliefs to say: "Look at me, I'm unique and special!"

The second motivation for belief is to maintain internal consistency. Whatever you have already done with your life, it needs to be defended or you will experience great emotional discomfort. "Is my whole life worthless?" you would ask if you fairly consider a contradictory belief, so you don't fairly consider any. If you have already committed yourself to a certain set of assumptions, your current beliefs are usually going to support this investment.

Due to the second factor, beliefs tend to be self-reinforcing over time. That's one of the reasons old people get stuck in their ways. You may choose a certain religion to be unique and annoy your elders, but once you start investing, you tend to retain the belief forever. You believe in your religion because you have already invested in it and you continue to invest because you believe.

For most people, beliefs change only when they smack hard into reality. If you believe you can fly and you jump off enough cliffs trying, eventually you might begin to see the error of your assumptions. On the other hand, each attempt to fly is in itself a costly investment. Instead of withdrawing, each failure may reinforce your resolve, leading you to repeat the behavior.

Belief can become a drug. Whatever people invest in at the beginning of their life is usually what they continue to believe for the remainder. It's an addiction they rarely escape from.

There is no sense is faulting humanity for this trait. Humans are matched only by dogs for their fierce loyalty to their clan, regardless of logic. It has always been true that people will defend the prevailing beliefs of whatever group they are invested in. "My country, right or wrong!" is as old as the hills.

But while it may be good for social cohesion, invested belief is a burden to one's personal problem solving. People who are heavily invested in certain belief systems may do well within the artificial protection of their clan, but they make poor decisions when presented with the complexities of the outside world.

Wise decisions do not arise from ideology. They depend more on assessing current conditions as they actually exist and fairly considering all the available options. An entrenched belief system blocks out many of those options and may prevent you from seeing the problem as it really is.

To protect the integrity of the decision-making process, you must eschew belief. Is that even possible? Never entirely, but you protect your discretion by avoiding situations where you have no choice but believe. If you remain lightly invested over time and return to a neutral base whenever possible, then you will be under less pressure to believe your own dogma.

Freedom is not just the ability to choose your own beliefs but also the privilege of not believing in anything. All that really matters is the decisions you make and how well they turn out.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell.
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Fort Stockton, Texas.
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Monday, September 28, 2009

World's Worst Songs

On my Facebook page, I have assembled a list of songs I like, but my critical analysis would not be complete if I did not create a list of songs I hate. Too many hit songs have lyrics that suck, and I'd like to give them credit.

To qualify for my list of World's Worst Songs, a song must (1) be a former hit, (2) have compelling music, (3) have words that are extraordinarily stupid if you analyze them without the music. My list is short, but I will add to it as new candidates come to me. (You can also email me your suggestions.)

Waiting On The World To Change by John Meyer.
Listen to the words. Translation: "We know the world needs to change, but we prefer to sit around and do nothing." Great social message!
Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston
This song is a compilation every conceivable adolescent cliche, starting with "I believe the children are our future." Duh! There's no obvious connection between the cliches. If you throw in enough of them, every teenager's going to find something to identify with. Basically, though, the song is about "me, me, me," which also helps sell it to teens.
You're Beautiful by James Blunt
"I saw your face in a crowded place, and I don't know what to do." This guy is beauty-fixated. I mean, this girl could be a total moron, and he don't care. The purest form of love, it seems, is based purely on appearance where you never actually communicate with the object of your desire.
Lady in Red by Chris De Burgh
Everything in this song is about superficial beauty. Not one word about this lady's abilities or anything she actually does, only about how she looks to the singer and others in the room. Complete and utter idiocy.
ALL Rap Music
The whole genre is crap! These guys know how to rhyme, nothing else.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Glenn's Photo Management System

One of my Facebook friends, Gavin Payne, writes:
How about a new blog entry on how you process all of your images, index them, make the libraries, add text to them etc?
As you wish. Let's see if I can give you the highlights in 15 minutes...
  1. I take a LOT of frames, only a tiny percentage of which I ever show to the world. The pictures are all free on a digital camera, so why not?
  2. On my laptop, I store photos in directories by year and month and setting. e.g. inside directory "2009" is a directory "September" which has a directory "BAR HARBOR".
  3. Inside the setting, I have four working directories: "raw", "web", "UPLOAD" and "UNPROCESSED".
  4. When I download the photos from my camera, they go into "UNPROCESSED" and are immediately deleted from the camera.
  5. I go through UNPROCESSED at my convenience, looking for good photos. I'll first "cherrypick" the very best photos, then I'll go through the rest of them as I have time.
  6. Each photo I choose will be cropped, corrected for color/darkness/etc and resized to 604 pixels across, as suitable for Facebook. (I use Corel Paint Shop, the cheaper equivalent of Photoshop.)
  7. For the clear, crisp quality, I "sharpen" at 604 pixels. (Makes all the difference in the world.)
  8. I save the edited photo under the same name in "UPLOAD".
  9. I move the raw photo I just edited into "raw", along with any original photos I know I won't be doing anything.
  10. Facebook is my main album medium. (I once had my own album system, but Facebook does it better.) After I upload the "UPLOAD" photos to Facebook, I move them into the "web" directory.
  11. If I have time to edit the whole batch, I'll end up having all the original photos in "raw", the upload photos in "web" and the other two directories empty. Then I delete those two directories and have only "raw" and "web" left. I'm done!
  12. More likely, however, I will still have some "UNPROCESSED" photos left by the time I move to the next project. I could come back to these later, but probably not. C'est la vie!
  13. As I pass through my parent's house once or twice a month, I back up my new monthly directories onto some terrabyte hard disks I have. Once I have backed each directory up on two or more media, I can delete the "raw" directories. (I keep the "web" directories because they are small.)
  14. My on-line index ( is of my own construction using Perl. (Remember that I used to be a programmer.) I can't easily explain how it works, but it all routes back to the albums on Facebook.
  15. For every album, Facebook provides a public URL that anyone can use to access the album, even if they are not on Facebook. (Look at the bottom of the album's page.) I use that address but don't have complete confidence that the address won't change. (It has in the past.) To protect myself from future address changes, I have an intermediate system that translates my own preferred address into Facebook's address. For example...

    I have a spreadsheet table I maintain that has both addresses, as well as some other info about each album, and this is what my online indexes are generated from.
  16. My Facebook albums roughly correspond to my monthly directories (e.g. "Bar Harbor"). At the end of each directory, I have a bumper image...
    On that page, I provide my preferred public URL, as well as links to my photo home page and any other albums that are related to this one.
That's my system (or at least all I can think of).

Most people can do everything I can do except the fancy index, but most people don't have hundreds of albums like I do, so it doesn't really matter. You can always create a similar index in html using Facebook's public address, since it has been stable now for over a year. (You could just copy my table at, edit the html and plug in your own album information. I won't object.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Kilroy Café #52: "The Shamanism of Luxury"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

The Shamanism of Luxury


In ancient shamanic traditions, one could supposedly gain power or good luck by ingesting, touching or possessing certain sacred or magical objects. A cannibal might eat the flesh of his enemy to gain his power. A pretty stone could be used as talisman to attract a mate. Even today, endangered animals are poached throughout the world for certain body parts that are seen to have medicinal properties when consumed.

Western society today generally rejects such beliefs as unscientific and destructive. Ground horn of rhinoceros is not an effective cure for cancer, except to the extent that any placebo is. The danger is that it displaces more effective treatments—not to mention threatening the rhino!

There is one form of shamanism, however, that remains strong in our society: the market for luxury goods. We don't necessarily believe that a Louis Vuitton purse or filet mignon dinner will bring us good luck, but there is always an implied belief that consuming the special product—ingesting, touching or possessing it—will somehow make us more valuable ourselves.

Behind most consumer products is a practical function. The function of a wristwatch is to tell time. The purpose of food is energy and nutrition. The role of a car is to get to you from place to place with minimal maintenance.

The luxury market says that function is not enough. The product has to have a right brand, the right cachet. It has to convey the impression that you are important, distinguished. That's where the shamanism comes in. By consuming the product, you believe you are gaining some sort of magical power.

Advertisers never exactly say what the magical power is (so they can never be accused of lying). Instead, they imply it with imagery, such as a gorgeous model displaying the product in a prestigious setting. And no one purchasing the product would acknowledge a belief in magic, but that's what their purchase implies.

You can buy a wristwatch for $10 or $10,000. What do you get for the extra $9990? Do you get a more accurate timepiece? Only marginally so—and how accurate does a wristwatch have to be? The purchaser might claim that the luxury watch conveys a good impression to business and social contacts, but does anyone you meet really care about your watch compared to your words and personality? A valuable watch has to be protected and locked up. It limits your movements through the streets. In functional terms, it's a pain in the ass.

There's only one reason you would own a $10,000 timepiece: the implied belief that possessing such an object makes you a better person.

There's always a cover story. The purchaser may speak of the watch as an "investment" or talk about its beauty or workmanship, but it's all a sham. The fact is, the purchaser suffers from low self-esteem and the luxury product is a magical talisman to salve it. "If I own such a valuable object, I must be valuable, too."

Luxury shamanism permeates our society, not just in the objects labeled "luxury" but in excess of all kinds: the premium hamburger, the exotic tourist destination, the expensive wine. It persists because of people's natural affinity for shamanic solutions to their problems. Buying something always seems much easier than actually changing one's life, which involves far more anxiety.

The other reason luxury grips our society is there's huge profit in it. There is little money in selling people things they actually need, because this is usually a commodity business where competition keeps prices low. Slap some premium cachet on the product, like a designer label or vintage year, and suddenly you can sell the same thing for many times more. This obscene profit margin fuels the advertizing that dominates the world around us. The luxury sellers are out there hawking, cajoling, pushing their products on you, while the things-you-really-need sellers can't afford to. You have to find them.

Take luxury out of our economy, and there wouldn't be much economy, but that doesn't mean it's healthy. When people seek talismans for their problems, they aren't taking real actions to solve them. They are burdened by luxury, not freed by it, and real solutions are pushed into the distance.

There are other remedies for low self-esteem. You could, for example, accomplish things you are proud of. If you're not inherently pleased with who you are or what you've done, then there's always luxury to tell you what you want to hear. That helps explain why drug dealers, mafiosos and scam artists are notorious consumers of luxury. The more reprehensible your industry is, the more you need the shamanic potion to try to feel right.

But the rest of us should be content with function. If you do what you're proud of then you don't need the false reassurance of your value. You don't need the better class of wine—or even any wine at all! You need to find the things that work, that most efficiently get the job done, so you can get on with your own job of doing what's important.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell.
See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Bar Harbor, Maine.
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Glenn's Photo Tips

Here are my tips for taking good photos, as expressed succinctly on my Twitter feed:

#1: CROP. Cut out extraneous data along edges of photo, either in-camera or in post-production.

#2: SEPARATION OF ELEMENTS. Each person or other subject should be distinct from its surroundings. Move to make that happen!

#3: SINGLE FOCUS POINT. Each photo should have only ONE center of attention, no more. If two things are competing, cut one out.

#4: COMPRESSION. Select a viewpoint that compresses the scene into a tight area. E.g. A whole mile-long train seen from the front.

#5: ILLUSION OF DEPTH. Always put something in the foreground and something in the background.

#6: HUMANIZATION. Every photo needs a human or human-like character to give the scene perspective.

#7: HIGH CONTRAST. Search for bright colors and high contrast between colors. Avoid dull grays.

#8: IRONY. Seek the outrageous and that which is unexpected for the situation.

#9: FIND HIDDEN MESSAGES. Look for messages in the juxtaposition of objects. Change your viewpoint to bring these items together.

#10: TAKE A LOT OF FRAMES. Shoot first, ask questions later. In the digital age, it's all free, so why not?

#11: REMOVE DISTRACTIONS. Frame or crop to exclude distracting objects, or Photoshop them out.

#12: KEEP SUN BEHIND YOU. Whenever possible, stand with the sun behind you for best light.

#13: ILLUSION OF MOTION. Every photo should be "going someplace" with its main character engaged in an action.

Most of these elements are present in the photo above (from Rome, see larger version). The girl in pink is the reference point. There's depth. There's motion. Most of the people in the photo are nicely separated. The "irony" element is that this place looks surreal, yet it is real.

Also see my Guide to Photo Cropping.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Song #12: "Can't Stop Thinkin'"

Here is my first love song! (albeit a bit obsessive) Intended for a male singer but might also work for a female. (I imagine Ringo Starr singing it. Shouldn't be a polished singer but someone seemingly clueless.) Here is the tune (.mp3), the sheet music (.pdf) and a video of me singing the song. (The song obviously exceeds my own ability to sing.) It was written on a road trip to Alaska.

Can't Stop Thinkin'

Oh, I can't stop thinkin' in my mind.
I got a melody playin' overtime.
I think my sanity's crossin' the borderline,
because I can't stop thinkin' all of the time.

I try to stop the voice in my head.
He's anxious, angry, wants to be fed.
But every time I see you walk by,
My mind starts racin', it won't stop takin' me
Back to the scene of the crime.

Oh I can't stop talkin' to myself
About the damage you're doin' to my health.
I saw you walkin' on water like God himself,
But now you're drivin' me crazy, straight into Hell.

Can't eat, can't sleep, I'm wastin' away.
I stare at walls and mumble all day.
But every time I see you walk in,
My mind starts racin', it won't stop takin' me
Back to the pickle I'm in.

Take my red pill, blue pill every day.
I'm a model patient in every way.
I'm making progress with my therapist
Who wants to help me mend,
But soon as the doctors have walked away,
I just start thinkin' again.

Oh I can't stop thinkin' in my head.
Can only stare at the ceilin' above my bed.
I think you're tryin' to kill me. You want me dead,
Because I can't stop thinkin' thoughts in my head.

I hear you, smell you up in my nose.
I feel you, taste you down in my toes,
'Cause every time you give me a kiss,
My mind starts racin', it won't stop takin'
Me back to perpetual bliss.

Oh I can't stop thinkin' what to do,
'Cause my reality's shaken, through and through,
And every little bitty neuron is black and blue,
Because I can't stop thinkin',
Can't stop thinkin',
Can't stop thinkin',
Thinkin' of you.

Lyrics and tune copyright © 2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173.
Released from Las Vegas.
Here is my complete song archive.
My songs and screen stories are indexed at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kilroy Café #51: "In Defense of Stereotypes"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

In Defense of Stereotypes


It has become fashionable to say there is no difference between men and women, gays and straights, or between one race or culture and another. If you portray women as homemakers or gay men as walking around with a limp wrist and swish, you are supposedly engaged in bigotry and are perpetuating destructive stereotypes.

In an earlier era, people were imprisoned by those stereotypes. A woman would become a homemaker whether she wanted to or not because so many other roles were reserved for men and closed to her. Today, at least in North America and Europe, most of the barriers have fallen. Women can join the military and fight in combat. Men can become flight attendants and nursery school teachers.

And still the stereotypes persist. Males shoot guns, drink beer and watch football. Women primp and preen. Gay men flip their wrists and say how APPALLED they are at someone else's fashion sense. Nature designed these groups differently, so statistically they are going to behave differently.

If you try to point out these differences you are considered a bigot. According to current thinking, if someone from a certain genetic strain behaves in a manner typical of that group, it is only because SOCIETY MADE THEM DO IT, not because of any inborn inclination.

If women primp and preen and take an unusual interest in the aesthetics of their environment, it's only because the male-dominated culture expects it of them. If men treat women as sex objects and are drawn to mindless porn, it must be because the media already portrays women as sex objects and men learn from this what their role should be.

Rubbish! Stereotypes do not come out of thin air. There is almost always some truth to them. While it is unfair for an individual to be blocked by a stereotype from what he wants to do, it is equally destructive to say such patterns of behavior don't exist. By denying the behavior, you may be denying yourself an important tool for dealing with it in yourself and the people around you.

Human behavior is patterned by our genes. We may have "free will" but only within a framework that nature has designed for us. If you want to understand human behavior in the present, it's helpful to look at our genetic past, at what might have been critical to our survival in the hunter-gatherer days when our genes were formed.

If you love sweet and salty food today, it's because your genes set you up for it. If you can acknowledge this pre-programmed impulse, then your "free will" can adjust for it. If you refuse to acknowledge the role of your genes, then taste is your only guide, and you're going to turn into a little piggy.

Likewise, when dealing with others, you would be foolish not to acknowledge the patterns of behavior that are right in front of you. Saying that a male is "testosterone-driven" when engaged in certain risk-taking behaviors can be a pretty good shorthand for understanding his behavior and dealing with it. Whether testosterone itself is the culprit may be debatable, but you have to acknowledge that males are jumping off cliffs at an extraordinary rates compared to females. To deal with groups of males effectively, you have to grasp these typical patterns.

All humans are coping with powerful drives within themselves, and you can't simply talk them out of the resulting behavior. To a large extent you have to simply accept the behavior as it is, and stereotypes are one tool for doing so. Males behave in a certain way, and so do females. A stereotype, refined by experience, may be a good starting point when you first meet someone. After that your actual experience with them takes over, and eventually the stereotype can be set aside.

Since we are dealing with a lot more people in our lifetime than we will ever know intimately, we have to have slots to slip them into. After talking with someone for two minutes, you can usually say, "Okay, I am familiar with this personality type and how to deal with them." There is nothing wrong with that, even if it leads to mistakes sometimes. Since you often don't have more than two minutes for assessment, making these judgments is an essential social skill.

There is also nothing wrong with seeing that someone is labeled "female" on the internet and approaching them differently than you would a male. Genes aside, being male or female implies a certain kind of life experience. It's only prudent to approach each gender with your stereotypes activated, just in case they might be true.

Even when all the practical barriers have fallen, you will still have people behaving in the manner "typical" of their group because that's what they choose to do. It's what feels good to them. To force them into cultural sameness is as bigoted as the original stereotypes once were.

Just because women can go to war doesn't mean most of them have any desire to. Sometimes, homemaker or fashion maven just works better.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Boston.
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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kilroy Café #7: "Preening and Nesting Behavior of the Human Female: A Study"

Here is a republished Kilroy Café philosophy essay, originally released 6/7/08. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

Preening and Nesting Behavior of the Human Female: A Study


My many years of research into the behavior of the human female have yielded more questions than answers. The chief difficulty with studying this species in the wild is that the observer tends to change that which is observed.

The researcher can't set up his cameras and recording equipment and expect the female to act naturally. As soon as observation begins, the female instantly becomes aware of the researcher's presence and withdraws to the bathroom, where she remains for hours.

When she finally emerges, there is artificial pigmentation all over her face, while an overpowering floral scent permeates the air within a 20-meter radius. The clothing is frilly and impractical, and the subject has gained 4 to 12 centimeters in height through the attachment of bizarre pointed extensions to the feet. Fingernails may be similarly extended and decorated, and useless baubles and charms are attached to various parts of the body. The hair on the head has been colored and coifed, while extraneous hair on other parts of the body has been plucked or shaved.

Only when the female opens her mouth and speaks is it clear that this is the same individual who went into the bathroom.

Evidently, the female has difficulty "being herself." There always has to be a layer of decoration between her and the outside world. This can be a veneer of makeup or a whole houseful of vanity objects. The risk to the female is that adornment takes over her life and nothing is accomplished all day except primping and interior decoration.

Males just want to get a job done, while females (and some gay males) have a dangerous aesthetic sense which says things have to be done in a certain ceremonial way. Females are often called more "sensitive" than males, but an alternate term is "superficial," as they can easily become obsessed with outward image rather than delving below the surface for substance.

Given the resources to do so, a female will build a nest. This appears to be a deeply ingrained behavior that may have evolved to meet the needs of offspring when the world was more dangerous and resources were scarce. A nest is a comfortable, protected place in a harsh environment. Nest building, however, can get out of hand in the modern world. If excess resources are available, the typical female will invest them all in her creation, regardless of true need, until the nest becomes an obscene and overwrought display of selfindulgence and waste.

In the female universe, one cannot simply sleep on a mattress on the floor of an adequately heated cubicle, no matter how comfortable it may be. One has to sleep on a raised bed with an oak frame, a feather comforter and color-coordinated sheets, surrounded by furniture and art objects that radiate good taste. The room should have a light scent of potpourri, and the windows should look out upon some idyllic scene of nature. The female fails to recognize that when she is sleeping, she isn't going to notice any of this, but the symbolism and psychosocial imagery of the nest seem to be more important than actual function.

Feminine nest-building is directed toward an unfulfillable ideal epitomized by the pornographic imagery of Martha Stewart. In magazines and TV shows, the Stewart communications empire shows us idealized, softly-lit images of what the gentle life should look like—not unlike the dreamy images of centerfolds in Playboy. Females usually fall for this nonsense just as surely as males drool over Miss November.

According to the Stewart ideal, objects brought into the home should not be hard and functional but soft and rustic. They should seem to come from a theoretical "Middle Earth" era when most things were made by hand and life supposedly had more substance and quality. The nest is lined with cotton and lace, never nylon or polyester. The idealized pornographic home is always pristine but never quite finished, as there are always new projects to start as soon the current one is done.

By genetic predisposition enhanced by commercial marketing, a female's nest tends to absorb whatever time and money are available to her. If she has a million dollars, she'll soon have a million dollar nest. Necessity and function are usually the least considered issues in nest implementation and the female will respect them only when poverty, divorce or other outside factors force her to.

The tragic part of feminine nesting is that the nest, once built, has to be defended. After years of accumulated vanity, the home contains so many complex and fragile investments that the female can hardly move. The "nest" becomes more like a "web" with a ill-tempered spider in the center. "Don't touch that!" the female snaps if you try to change anything. Once the web has been spun and attached to the surrounding terrain, it becomes nearly immovable. The female can thus become trapped in her own elaborate creation, which can inhibit all forms of personal growth.

The female, like the male, has only a limited time on Earth. If precious years are wasted in creating the perfect home, there will be little time left for actual living.

—G .C.

ALSO SEE: Male Sports Addiction: A Clinical Profile (Kilroy Cafe #10)

©2008, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at
Originally published from Las Vegas, 6/7/08.
Re-released from San Diego.
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kilroy Café #50: "The Tragedy of Success"

Here is the latest Kilroy Café philosophy essay. You can click on the image above for a larger version or print it out on a single page via the pdf file. The full text is also below. Also see other Kilroy Café newsletters and the KilroyCafe Twitter Feed.

The Tragedy of Success


No one wants to experience poverty or misfortune, but wealth and comfort can be just as debilitating. Success, in any field, isn't all it is cracked up to be. It can open doors, but it can also become a drag on personal growth and set you up for catastrophe later.

The requirements of life are relatively simple and cheap. If you have just enough resources to meet those needs, you are going to use them efficiently. Once you have excess resources, however, you tend to become less efficient and more arrogant about how you use them. You take on more burdens and obligations to absorb that extra time or money, and soon you feel just as trapped and "poor" as you did before.

There is nothing wrong with having money in the bank, but it is human nature that when people have extra resources (or the illusion thereof) they are likely to use them. Instead of a simple apartment, they acquire a country estate with maintenance costs many times greater. Obligations mushroom, so that no matter how much money one has, it is never enough.

When your obligations are greater, you are much more vulnerable to unexpected change. You have to generate a huge income now to support it all, and if you can't, the whole house of cards will collapse.

At the root of most personal catastrophes is the euphoria of previous success. Once you win one great prize, you think the sky's the limit, and you start wasting resources and taking on obligations as though success was your right. Now, you can't simply fall back to the simple state you were in before. If your destiny shifts just a little, all your obligations will come due and there's likely to be a disastrous crash.

When you are struggling for success—for love, money, fame, power—you think this goal is all you need. When you get there, though, you face a whole new set of challenges. Will you fall victim to all the seductions and addictions of success, or will you know when to stop? If you don't stop, success will kill you just as surely as poverty will.

Success tends to stop personal growth in its tracks, because once you find something that works, you usually stick with it. Because you don't want to give up a good thing, it can be extraordinarily difficult to change gears. Success builds a protective cocoon around you that restricts your openness to the world and inhibits your motivation. Barring a calamity, you tend to follow the same easy patterns for the rest of your life.

If you find success as an actor, that's what you'll always be, and if you find too much success in one role, you will be forever "typecast" there, because that's what the world expects of you.

Many a rising young star has been brought down to earth by taking the logical next step in a perceived progression of successes. They accept the irresistible promotion offered them, and in the process they move from free and happy to burdened and trapped. Every "success" is potentially like that: a prison rather than a panacea.

It would be ideal if you could experience all the benefits of success while holding your needs and obligations at their pre-success levels. Success without obligation is the finest reward, but this is a scarce commodity. The world will rarely hand it to you, so you have to create it for yourself.

The first step is to redefine "success". We are used to thinking of it in external terms: as millions of dollars, a high-ranking position, a plaque on the wall or fame among people you have never met. These are all things you can point to publically to prove you are successful, but they aren't what matters within your own world.

Internally, the most valuable fruit of any success is freedom. The greatest prize is to be able to do what you believe is most important at the moment without being held down by past obligations. Money, and to some extent fame and recognition, can sometimes help you achieve this freedom, but it isn't necessarily true that 10 times the money will give you 10 times the freedom. You also have to control your expenses and obligations.

Any "success" that also results in greater risk and obligation may not truly be a contribution to freedom. Think of the typecast actor or the struggling business owner. Many of the stereotypical roles seen as "successful" are little more than gilded prisons you would never want to inhabit yourself.

When you are poor, you have to carefully manage you pennies to make sure outflow matches inflow. Success requires the same sort of careful management. Just because you can do something within your expanded resources doesn't mean you should do it. You still have to monitor the burdens and obligations of every action, and refuse those "successes" that dig you in too deep.

Freedom is the real coin of the realm. Rich or poor, your lifelong allocation of time is still the same, so you have to make the most of every minute.

—G .C.

©2009, Glenn Campbell, PO Box 30303, Las Vegas, NV 89173. See my other philosophy newsletters at
Released from Ft. Collins, Colorado.
You can distribute this newsletter on your own blog or website under the conditions given at the main entry for it.
You are welcome to comment on this newsletter below.