Life isn’t Fair … to the other guy!

Somewhere between the point of impact and the bloody nose, some back-fence philosopher will invariably tell you life isn’t fair.  Not very witty and not very original but true all the same.  We all know life isn’t fair.  For example, the San Diego Chargers have never won the Super Bowl and the Dallas Cowboys have won it like two hundred times.  NFL parity be damned; that’s just not fair.  Nor are the long lines at the DMV, the amount of sodium in a Big Mac™ or the odds of winning in Vegas.  I have a friend who used to say, “Life is a series of long shots and then you die.”  I never agreed with him, but he’s got a point.  The fact is life isn’t fair.  The problem is we all know that’s true, but nobody believes it – not really.

We believe life isn’t fair … to the other guy.  We think the random bumps and bruises Mother Nature dishes out on a daily basis should be reserved for somebody else.  We’re willing to take our lumps too but we want a reason for them.  We also want our personal attributes recognized by the universe, and we want rewards and punishments meted out accordingly.  When that doesn’t happen, we think we’re getting screwed.

This wasn’t always the case.  In the late 19th century, novelist Thomas Hardy made a career out of ruining fictional lives with innocent acts of chance: an appointment missed or a letter misplaced meant his characters lost out on happily ever after and went straight to abject misery.  These days, we pooh-pooh Hardy`s ùse of coincidence as a literary device, but the Victorians thought it quite acceptable.  (They were more concerned about the sex.)  Our recent ancestors realized that life was hazardous and you had to be very careful because happenstance did happen – with dire consequences.  Our benevolent universe is a recent invention.  It`s less than sixty years old.

For the last three generations, we`ve been working under the delusion that we can build a risk-free society.  Actually, we`ve done a relatively good job.  Life — as we know it — has come a long way from what 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”  Our institutions give us a level of protection against random acts of misfortune.  They provide a certain amount of certainty to our lives, and offer slight guarantees against disaster.  Unfortunately, because we’ve been living under these minimal safeguards for so long — and they have worked so well — we now not only believe in a benevolent universe; we demand it.  In short, “life isn’t fair” might apply to the generic universe, but nobody takes it personally.

The real problem is, as our society’s cocoon wraps itself around us, we simply don’t take life seriously anymore.  We don’t believe it can hurt us, and when it does, we’re shocked.  I’m not talking about life-threatening diseases or major disasters like earthquakes; you’re not going to win those babies.  I’m talking about everyday trouble that comes whipping out of nowhere and kicks us in the teeth — stuff that just happens.  It’s nothing personal.  There’s no giant ledger of debits and credits, and you didn’t get your share of credits.  Nobody’s trying to thwart your attempts at a good life.  There’s no need to rage against the machine, get angry or threaten to sue.  And it’s not going to do you any good to cry or sulk or go back into therapy.

Here’s the deal.  Sometimes, the owner doesn’t clean up after the dog. It’s that simple. There’s nothing you can do about it — except, maybe remember: despite our best intentions, life isn’t fair and you need to wear shoes.

Perfume: The Smell of Extinction

The human race is heading for extinction.  No, guess again: it’s not climate change – not yet anyway.  It’s much more basic than that.  We stink.  We absolutely reek of chemicals.  Every day, we pour, spray and smear huge amounts of artificial smells on our bodies.  If that isn’t bad enough, we fill the air around us with a chemical cocktail, as well.  We’ve become obsessed with odor, and we attack it like it’s Satan’s grandson.  However, in our zeal to defeat aroma, we’re cloaking ourselves in a chemical cloud capable of defoliating Denmark.  Our noses haven’t worked properly in decades, and our poor lungs can’t even gasp for help anymore.  Most importantly, we’re losing our original human scent, and this will be our demise.

I know it’s hard to believe in a world filled with Driven, Hidden Fantasy and Hugo Boss, but we humans have our own smell – individually — just like cats, dogs or elephants.  It’s a perfectly agreeable odor that is simply Mother Nature’s way of recognizing her kids with the lights off.  We don’t smell it consciously anymore because we’re a gillion generations out of the caves.  Basically, we haven’t needed to distinguish our buddy Cro-Magnon Carl from the local sabre tooth man-eater for many millennia — so we don’t.  But it’s still there, all the same.  Ask any couple who’ve been together for any length of time and they will tell you their partner/husband/wife/lover has a distinct smell.  It’s recognizable on the pillow, on their clothes or in a room.  It’s identifiable.  This smell is extremely important.   It’s how animals find and keep sexual partners.

In our oh-so-sophisticated contemporary society, we don’t want to believe we’re still just really smart animals.  We think we’re halfway to the gods or something, and ordinary human activity is dirty, dangerous and offensive.  Just take a look at how we go after bacteria.  We’re willing to flush tons of life destroying chemicals into our water supply and massacre whole species of fish just so our children don’t touch anything that isn’t double-dipped in Lysol.  We treat smell the same way (worse, actually.)  We’ve convinced ourselves we smell bad, and not just occasionally – all the time.

Take a walk through any shopping mall and count the number of places that sell fragrance of one kind or another and not just perfume — any fragrance.  The only places that don’t are A & W, the bank and the guy selling lottery tickets.  There are entire stores devoted to smell and that’s just human smell.  Other stores have departments for kitchen, bathroom and household odors.  Still others have a whole aisle for air fresheners, and some have little mini-sections strictly for pets.  This is outrageous.  Clothing stores have tables for celebrity perfumes, hardware stores sell AXE and gas stations sell travel size deodorant  – just in case.  In case of what?  It’s a gas station!  It smells like gas!

We don’t generally notice the amount of retail space given over to the war on smell — simply because it’s everywhere.  However, the real problem is, it’s chemical warfare!  Most of the perfumes, deodorants, soaps, body sprays etc sold, are not naturally derived from the lavender plants of Provence lovingly crushed by the local peasants.   Trust me: 99% of the stuff we use every day is concocted by scientists in a laboratory.  And get this — it’s a secret laboratory — because the makers of all those perfumes, deodorants, soaps, body sprays etc. are not obligated by law to list their ingredients on the label.  These are unknown chemicals folks, in strange and unique combinations, and we’re putting them on our skin — which, by the way, is porous.  Unless you’re Robert Downey Jr. from Iron Man II your body is absorbing those chemicals like a brand-new loofah.

The other side of the coin is that some of those chemicals remain on our skin and attack the sensory organs of the people around us.  Try walking through the perfume department of The Bay (no offence, it was the only name I could come up with) and you can taste the fumes in the air.  Or ride in an elevator with a Radioactive AXE Man, and somewhere around the 25th floor, you’re going to need oxygen.  I have no fear of industrial air pollution because we are breathing the chemical waste of Obsession, Heat, Glow, Unforgiven and a thousand more – up-close-and-personal — every moment of the day.  No wonder there’s a pandemic of asthma and respiratory illness in our society.  Our lungs simply weren’t made to absorb this amount of crap.  These days, people who quit smoking just come out about even.

Eventually, between the amount of fragrances we use to disguise our natural scent and the damage we’ve already done to our noses, lips and tongues, we’re not going to be able to smell each other anymore.  We’ll all smell the same.  This is not a good thing.  Any anthropologist, biologist or zoologist will tell you that animals, including humans, depend on smell.  It’s the most intimate of the senses, and it’s essential — not only for reproduction but also for natural selection within the species.  If we’re not careful, we’re going to become a-scentual.  After that, it’s a straight slide to extinction.

Friday the 13th: A Silly Superstition

Today is Friday the 13th, and even though I’m the last person in the world to willingly tempt the Fates, it’s my duty to set the record straight.  There is no room for superstitions in our modern society.  Science and technology have banished them from our world and driven them out into the limitless ethereal — where they frolic with dragons, trolls, banshees and goblins for all eternity.   Luck, good or bad, is nothing more than a random set of circumstances.  The gods do not control our lives (frankly, they’re not interested) and haphazard actions do not set the tone for the rest of the day, week or year.  This is fact; let me demonstrate.

If you’re living on a farm near Memphis, Tennessee right now, you’re probably experiencing a run of bad luck.  The Mississippi River has decided your farm needs to be moved to the Gulf of Mexico and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.  I don’t care how many pennies you found and retrieved, how many rabbit’s feet you have on your key ring or how many times you didn’t walk underneath that ladder, your luck isn’t going to change in the near future.  Conversely, if your name is Mark Zuckerberg, you could hire an army of black cats to cross your path and never worry about it.  You could spill salt, leave your umbrella open in the hall and break the mirror on the Hubble telescope — all in the same day, if you want — and it wouldn’t matter.  You’re likely the luckiest guy on the planet.  Point proven: case closed.

I think all reasonable people can agree that superstitions are absurd, and our lives are not governed by foolish folklore and old wives’ tales.  There are strict physical laws in our universe that can be tested and proven.  These laws were set down by the gods and Mother Nature in a time before time and they (and they alone) dictate the scope and skein of our lives.  All the rest of it is just silly hocus-pocus, left over from a time when primitive humans did not have the extensive knowledge that we have today.  This, too, is fact; let me demonstrate.

You should never hang a new calendar before January 1st.  This angers the gods and they will visit their displeasure upon you for the entire year.  It’s best to leave the new calendar in its original package until after breakfast on the morning of January 1st; then, hang it, when you’re safely into the New Year.  This is prudent behaviour, handed down through the generations, learned and tested many times through the millennia.

Likewise, you should never propose or drink a toast in water.  The gods demand that offerings to them should be made with strong spirits.  Anything less shows disdain for their power.  The gods will not look kindly on your invocation if you don’t treat them properly (quite rightly) and, depending on how pissed off they get, they could actually reverse your plea.  “To your health” could become a very dangerous proposition, indeed. 

Furthermore, never, under any circumstances, step on a spider.  Mother Nature will not tolerate this.  She will make it rain.  And not some wimpy April-showers-bring-May-flowers rain, either; she will literally kick your ass with water.  I’m not saying, and I don’t know who, but take a look at Manitoba and tell me somebody didn’t screw up on the arachnid front.  The current state of the Canadian prairies is tangible evidence that the laws of the universe must be adhered to.

Most importantly, don’t be smug.  The gods particularly hate smug people.  For example, Tiger Woods thought he could get away with it, didn’t he?  The guy hasn’t made a decent putt since Elin hit the wrong button on his cell phone and heard what’s-her-name leaving him bimbo-mail.  Similarly, Mel Gibson hasn’t made a respectable movie since Payback in 1999.  And Donald Trump, the definition of smug, has been saddled with that hairdo since before he was famous.  The list is almost endless.  The toe-sucked ex-duchess of something, Sarah Ferguson, wasn’t invited to the Royal wedding, was she?  So be careful, the gods hate smug so thoroughly that even an idle word can rain havoc down upon you.  The only way to try and reverse a random act of smuggery is to immediately touch wood and call upon the fox, cleverest of the supernatural animals, to help trick the gods.  Maybe, just maybe, it might work, but for safety’s sake it’s best to remain humble.

Finally, the gods love sports and fair play.  Nothing pleases them more than to see athletes and fans brandishing totems or following rituals to beseech their favour.  The gods will reward the faithful and punish the transgressors ruthlessly.  There is no other realm of human endeavour that so clearly shows the delicate and detailed balance of the universe, or the benevolent power of the gods.  The New York Yankees are living proof.  They win because the gods smile upon them — and their fans.  I, myself, have an old and ratty Yankees’ t-shirt which I wear during the playoffs to honour the Baseball gods.  This is not some childish “lucky charm” but a strong talisman that insures continued success.  On the other hand, the gods hate the Red Sox.  This is a known fact.  They also hate the Dallas Cowboys, the Detroit Pistons and Kobe Bryant.  However, they reserve their special, nasty junkyard-dog-hate for the Toronto Maple Leafs who they have cursed, for all eternity, for being smug.  These are all facts.

So let’s forget about all these ridiculous superstitions – black cats and broken mirrors?  As we have seen there is overwhelming evidence that the universe is controlled by real physical laws, not fairytales and folklore.  And the gods do not interfere in our lives unless you make them angry.  With that in mind and a reasonable amount of caution, you should pass a pleasant Friday the 13th and wake up Saturday, happy and unscathed.