Tuesday, March 11, 2003

It only takes a second the change your mind

I am in a rather perplexing malaise at the moment. I’m having such very big thoughts, that the sniping at the minutiae of the world that has become the stock in trade for this site has become somewhat, well, fudged.

With war and economic crises knocking on the door, I’ve been contemplating my very own existence. Well, not existence so much as welfare.

Here’s the rub. September 11th and all that jazz told us but one thing. People don’t all think the same. Osama and his buddies are not cackling fiendishly at the evilness of their doings, as we are commonly led to believe. They fundamentally believe that what they’re doing is fighting for good. They are Good, and we are Evil. Whereas to them ‘We’ are Evil and they are Good. Some of us think we are flawed and they are flawed. Never the twain and all that.

Goodness is defined in terms of a series of generally accepted ideals. In the west, the one thing that rules our principals is that the accumulation of things is good. This has extended beyond the accumulation of objects, to the commodity of experience. That is, if you’ve had more, or ‘better’ experience than the person next to you. You win. Religion, new agedness, and vegetarianism are included in those virtuous ‘better’ experiences.

The commodification of experience is, in effect, the service industry. A box of popcorn at the cinema costs 6p to produce. That’s everything from the box to the food. To get it into your hand is 6p. Cinemas sell this stuff for upwards of £2.50. The product is 6p, the experience of eating it at the cinema, is £2.44. People eat it because it’s all part of the cinema ‘experience’.

So experience has been codified into accepted, valued practices. These have been given a monetary value that we trade and subsequently rely on. In the popcorn example, 98% of the value is experience. Extrapolated across the whole economy, 98% of what we do relies not on need, but accepted codified experiences.

We are free thinking beings, what happens when we change our minds? What happens, some bloke decides he doesn’t want the cinema popcorn experience, but wants to fly fuck-off big planes into the World Trade Center?

Our world, I call it our world, not because of separatist notions of them, and us but just because it’s easier that way, relies on us not changing our minds, examining our needs or re-evaluating our value of our experience. As we’ve seen, if we change our minds and our values, we are given a completely different world, requiring different skills to survive. Skills that have been taken out of us through thousands of years of domesticity. In the popcorn industry, 98% of popcorn sellers welfare, existence, comfort, warmth, and shelter relies on people believing the cinema popcorn experience to the value of £2.44 a box. If you decide the experience is valued at less than that, or indeed is worthless, the people who sell popcorn lose 98% of their livelihoods. That's all the Playstations, Ford Mondeos, Holidays in Malaga, and Organic food, gone. If you decide that flying planes into buildings as part of a jihad is the valued experience instead, that that is Good, the axis shifts violently.

The premise of valued experiences is so flimsy; I just can’t see us getting away with it for much longer. I for one will not be able to cope in a world focussed on need, on hunting and gathering or strength, stamina and survival. Or even a world which moves towards that. I cope very well in a world which values experience, something that drives western defined notions of intelligence and creativity. I don’t actually know whether what I do is right or wrong, I just do what I do and enough people believe me to value it. I’ve got to convince people for perhaps 35 years that this remains the case. The pressure is unbearable. It only takes one person to step back and realise that I’m contributing nothing to their need (eating, having shelter and warmth), just a bit to their experience of eating cinema popcorn.

The day people realise this, me, and millions of others like me, will be doomed.


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