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,
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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.