Book Review – Captains of Consciousness

Captains of Consciousness, originally published in the mid-70’s but just as relevant today, is an interesting book on the role of advertising in the development of the new world. It’s only been a hundred years since the invention of mass production, which eventually required a culture of mass consumption to go along with it. What good is it to produce a billion widgets a day if there is no one to buy them? The result was the creation of the middle class, at least in America and Europe. Globalization is another matter – the growth of a middle class throughout the world is inevitable but lagging.

The cultural implications are also interesting. Previously, people in our culture were raised to value craftsmanship, quality, and thrift. These values became unsuitable, and had to be replaced with acceptance of disposability and debt. Tradition was replaced by trends. Also, people had to be made perpetually dissatisfied with themselves and everything around them, so they could be made to buy things which promised fleeting satisfactions.

The transformation has been so complete we are almost unaware of it. We take consumer culture so much for granted. Consider: Cultures used to have one book or central legend that lasted them for hundreds of years. Now every single day brings a new “Most Viewed” item on YouTube. Movies that lead the box office two weeks in a row are uncommon. A number one bestselling book or album spends only days at the top of the charts. This is clearly no sustainable economy!

The acceleration of this process seems almost asymptotic. The most significant event in the future history of the world may not even be perceived by anyone, because it will only last for a fraction of a second.

Re-inventing the Wheel

Nobody ever wants to “re-invent the wheel” but everybody is always re-inventing the wheel. Obviously, the wheel frequently requires re-inventing. It’s unavoidable. Every new crop that comes around thinks it’s the first crop ever. We have to make the same mistakes, learn the same lessons, follow the same paths. Ontogeny recapitulates philogeny (as my father never tired of saying) and this is how it works. The older I get the less patience I have for this sort of thing, yet I was of course once the same. I’ve been through the stages. I’m still going through the fucking stages, and will right through to the very last one.

I’m thinking of this because I recently came across a person named Justine Tunney, a Google engineer and former Occupy Wall Street honcho (if one can say that that pathetic momentary twitch had honchos – these were people who seemed to be unfamiliar with the concept of “winter”). She was outspoken then and she’s outspoken now, creating a bit of a stir saying shit like the masses ought to be servants to the great one percent true heroes, and that culturally America is going to hell in a handbasket, and that homeless people make cities go bad, all the kinds of things you’d expect from a high school senior who just came across Ayn Rand and thought ‘woah, that is so true, it’s like it’s all a big survival of the fittest contest and every man for himself and who the fuck cares about other people anyway except the losers?’

But there are never two sides of any issue, there is only one confusing complicated mess of an issue. Because there is no right and wrong. Because there is no solution. Because there is no meaning but the one we make up in our tiny little brains. Because making up meanings in our tiny little brains is just something we do.

But knowing that you were wrong before doesn’t mean that now you are right just because you figured out you were wrong before. The logical conclusion is that you are probably wrong again now, because being wrong is clearly something that you can do.

And creating a stir is certainly a lot of fun when you have the ways and means of creating a stir, but you know when you go to sleep at night that what a stir does is churn up a wave, and what waves do is dissipate as they travel, and that the end result of waves and stirs is nothing.

It’s okay, though. Every time the wheel is re-invented it does its one thing and does it well. It rolls along. After all, it is still just a wheel, even if shinier and chromier and sturdier and stronger and sleek and cool and awesome. Wheels do what they do, and we all have no choice but to roll along through all the stages and all the various spokes have their little moment on top.

Woah, that is so true.

Sometimes the Chicken Comes First

Sometimes a story has to be written, and not for any good reason. This month’s bad reason is that I’ve decided to combine the Abnormalities stories in one volume with a new title – The Outlier – but in order to do this, I feel I need a 5th story in the series. I have absolutely no ideas for the story itself, other than the fact that it has to be written. It could be a while, since I’m busy at work and also moving my family to a different town over the next month, but it MUST BE WRITTEN. Just because.

a thousand ratings are worth one word

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and that word is “#roundnumbersarecooliguess”

It’s nice to see 1000 ratings on Goodreads of my various books. I don’t really know why. The average rating, after all, is not so great, and at this point all it can do is fluctuate a few hundredths of a point here and there. I guess what I like most is the idea that people are still reading the books, while I’ve done almst nothing at all in terms of “promoting” or “branding” (or even “brandscaping”, a new term I just came across today). The books are truly like those little paper boats you launch on a stream and make their way, slowly and precariously, into the great wide world. Every now and then something wonderful happens, like the gorgeous book made out of the story ‘Deadline’, or someone from halfway around the world asks for permission to translate, or someone writes a really thoughtful review (one way or another). In the meantime, I’m very very glad I’m not a professional writer. I could not imagine having to force myself to write. I would quickly come to despise and abandon the whole thing. Yuk. As an amateur I get to write whatever I want, whenever I feel like it, and set it free and move along. My new twitter hashtag is #stillnotwriting, because that’s exactly what I am doing these days, along with working hard at my job, parenting, moving, dabbling in music, weeding, biking and camping.

Deadline, the book

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The Lithuanian artist Orile Aleknaviciute not only illustrated my story for an art project, but she also made a beautiful book out of it and sent me a copy. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever gotten from all my writing. It just goes to show that when you put something out into the world, you never know how it might come back to you.