The Meaning Of Life

You can read all the philosophers you want, but nobody summed up the meaning of life quite as concisely as Berk Breathed once did in Bloom County.  In fact, it was so well done that I cut it out of the newspaper (remember those?) saved it for easy reference, and tried very hard to live by its not-so-subtle advice.

Now, a million years later, my youth a dim memory and my future about to kick in the door, I still marvel at its relevance.

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Lies We All Live With

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Lies perform a valuable function in our society.  They keep us civilized because, without lies, fat people would be fat, stupid people would be stupid and 99% of the rest of us would be obnoxious assholes.  Everybody knows that lying works on a sliding scale from “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” to “No, I didn’t shoot Mr. Brown” and we’re content to live somewhere in the middle of that moral dichotomy.  Unfortunately, these days, lying is more about Mr. Brown than Mr. Claus, and it’s becoming institutionalized.  This isn’t healthy.  I’m not talking about politicians or journalists who have been lying to us ever since Cheops the Unwashed told the Cairo Gazette he wanted a small funeral.  I’m talking about those everyday lies we all recognize and just have to live with.  Here’s a small sampling.

Clothing size – The relationship between the number stamped on the label and the actual size of any article of clothing is purely coincidental.  For example, my closet runs from mostly medium through large, extra large and even a few XXLs – and I’m a man.  Go to a woman’s closet and you’re going to find a roulette wheel full of size numbers that would make a croupier cringe.  Actually, I think that’s how clothing manufacturers determine sizes: they just spin a big wheel and whatever it lands on – “We have a winner!” — that’s the size.

Airline prices – I don’t care what the advertisement says, nobody has ever gone to San Pedro, Switzerland, Swaziland or anywhere else for $99.  Nobody!  The 99 you see bold as gold in the ad is just the launch code.  The airlines use that to launch you and credit card into debtor’s prison.

Calorie count – These aren’t actually lies; they’re just blatant misinformation.  When the package says “100 calories per serving,” this is technically true. However, what they don’t tell you is the serving size they’re talking about is a WTF joke!  Who eats half a doughnut, for God’s sake?  I pig down two before my coffee’s even cool enough to drink!

Microwave instructions – Reading the instructions on a box of microwavable anything is like reading an email from a Nigerian prince: you know it’s a scam, but you just can’t help yourself.  Everybody knows there are actually only two settings on a microwave – overcooked and underdone — but we all try anyway.

And finally:

You can’t miss it – Yes, you can!

Why Are We All Angry?

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Here in the Western World, we live in the most benevolent civilization in all human history.  The irony is a lot of us seem pissed off about it.  Odd as it may seem, a ton of people spend a ton of time complaining about our world and the collective bounty of 3,000 years of economic and social success.  Why?  There are three reasons.  I like to call them the Killer Bs.

Bewildered — Like our medieval ancestors, we don’t understand anything about the world we live in.  Face it, folks!  We’re stupid.  These days, most people couldn’t tell you the difference between an aardvark and an antelope if you put burning coals between their toes.  And it’s not just zoology that stumps us.  Common knowledge simply isn’t common anymore.  We might be able to read and write, but we’re culturally, historically, economically, scientifically and mathematically illiterate — and proud of it.  For some weird reason, smart is not a currency we use or even value.  However, without these intellectual building blocks, it’s impossible to make sense out of the 1,001 complex systems that govern contemporary life or to understand our place in it.  At least a 12th century peasant could rely on God to justify his existence.  Unfortunately, since Nietzsche shot his mouth off, we don’t even have that option.  So, unable to figure out the simple how and why of what’s going on, many people boil over with frustration and say “Screw it!”

Bored — Intellectually divorced from reality, we have retreated behind our videos screens which filter out all the complexities of real life.  This is a mutant utopia, scripted with gratuitous drama and broad music-hall comedy.  The problem is it’s all relentlessly the same: kittens have achieved maximum cuteness, blockbuster movies bust tired old blocks, and the only shock left in those “shocking finales” is a shrug.  There’s no place to go in the cyber-verse that isn’t somebody else’s sequel, prequel or reboot.  All that’s left is hours and hours and hours of looping YouTube videos, everybody “liking” everything and bum-numbing binges of “must see TV.”  Face it, folks!  We’re bored — bored to the bone — and it’s making us bitchy.

Betrayed — We may ignore it or fail to understand it, but this is still the only reality we have — and sometimes it can be nasty.  Unfortunately, when that nasty comes calling (and it always will) it’s so alien to our everybody-gets-a-rainbow existence that we think something has gone horribly wrong — and we want to know why.  Flushed with excitement at the possibility of a “real” problem, but unable to comprehend any of the nuances of it, we demand an explanation for how our society failed.  We want a  reason, and we want it yesterday.  When we don’t get it — we get angry.  We begin to see evil where it doesn’t exist, impossible plots and conspiracies, tidy theories of nefarious secrets and blame — lots and lots of blame.  Face it, folks!  We truly believe we’re being betrayed by the very institutions we’re supposed to trust.

The Killer Bs aren’t killing the most benevolent civilization in history, but they’re certainly making it unpleasant. If we could get them under control, we’d all be a lot happier.