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Radically Inept
Thursday, October 07, 2004
  Would Major Nelson play the Lottery?

Darrin Stephens ("Bewitched" (1964)) marries a witch.

MAJ Nelson ("I Dream of Jeannie" (1965)) finds a bottle with a genie.

Both deny themselves the opportunity to have everything they ever wanted, instant gratification, and pursue 'ordinary' lives. Why?

There are other examples of this type of story, but these two provide a decent starting point.

How do these characters actions and choices fit in with what we see in society? Are they only the product of sixties idealism, or is there something deeper?

When I watch TV today, I am amazed at how much 'lying' is going on in both the shows and commercials; especially the commercials. What I see on TV now appears to tell me that I should have everything regardless of the methods I use to get them. As a mater of fact, our society seems to say that if you achieve financial success, you are a great person, regardless of the harm to others you caused getting there, and it also doesn't appear to matter whether or not it required actual effort on your part. Success is its own absolution.

So, if you win the lottery, you are a success. You are respected. Why? Because you have financial wealth, presumably.

So, has our culture morphed in the intervening years since the two sitcoms that I started this post with, aired? Would they still play today? I don't think so. I think currently we would not buy into the idea of 'self-denial' based on principles. In fact, I think Tony and Darrin would be considered idiots. I'll grant that at the time these shows aired, there were probably many who thought so. But I think today, everyone would think so. "You have the chance to have everything your heart desires in one fell swoop and you don't take it? You are an idiot." Actually, I think that was reflected in the initial coverage of Tillman's choice to join the military. Not that they called him an idiot, but there did appear to an expression of shock that someone would voluntarily give up the good life. Our culture found this behaviour to be aberrant - outside the norm. And yet our society presumably values patriotism.

So, let's take a slightly different tact. As I stated below, 'Real' Truth questioned, I am inclined to think that our society and economy is based on information exchanges at the 'photon' level, and that most motivations appear to be based on achieving an ever higher endorphin [or some other 'pleasure' enhancing chemical reaction. I am using 'endorphin' as a convenient term to cover a host of reactions] rush, and these seem to lead to a culture of greed and materialism.

So, does getting everything you want via your wife the witch, somehow deny or reduce the pleasure you would normally experience? Or even a step further, if you yourself were gifted with 'supernatural' powers and good blink wealth into existence, would it be fun? Or would life become boring if you could have it all - true instant gratification of your every whim? If this is the case, is there some point at which materialism reaches diminishing returns in terms of the resulting endorphin rush?

If this is true, than our society seems locked in an ever accelerating drive to achieve 'less bang for the buck'. A culture doomed to pursue unhappiness? If this is the case, should other cultures oppose us in our cultural expansion? We seem to be exporting the idea that materialism brings happiness, which if true, leaves me to wonder why so many people in our society are depressed. We are the wealthiest nation on the planet - the one with the most material and expendable wealth - and we seem to also have the highest murder rate, one of the highest rates of anti-depressant prescriptions, and apparently, of the highest rates of people dissatisfied with their lot in life. Is this cause and effect?

None of the 'great' philosophers/prophets/whatevers espoused materialism. Quite the contrary, most of those recognized as the 'greatest' have pointedly stated that happiness is not found via the accumulation of wealth and power. Yet somehow, especially in this country, wealth seems to have become associated with 'godliness'. How? What the fuck were the calvinists on? How could they have simultaneously professed to believe in the teachings of Jesus and that idea that the accumulation of wealth was representative of a closeness with the almighty? In contrast, "the Amish, the Mennonites, the Brethren, and the other 'Plain People' of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country" are considered oddities, and we find it incomprehensible that they reject our culture while living among us. And I doubt they would play the lottery.

So, at some point I am going to I will take this further, right now, I need to get back to the job hunt. While I don't expect to actually come up with anything original in these posts, I hope to further my understanding of what appears to being going on in our society, why it seems so unfulfilling, how it got here, and what if anything can actually be done to change it. The idea of change will probably wind up being several posts on just that subject. There exists a great deal of social/cultural resistance to any change. This true just about everywhere, every society, and even within large organizations - much of it the result of pure inertia - but also active resistance on the part of powerful stakeholders who don't wish to give up their positions of power, regardless of how truly unfulfilling that power might be. On the otherhand, maybe these people are inherently different; maybe the endorphin rush does not diminish as they acquire more, or maybe they are in a position where they can acquire so much more, it's worth the shot for the rush.

Anyway, I'm still not doing a good job of organizing these thoughts, and I have no desire to go back and edit beyound the spell check function, so some of this may be confusing - though I hope you can decipher my meaning from context.

Like I said, back to the job hunt... 
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