Company Promotes Insidious Brain Scarring

Days pass. Time flies. Eyes blink, life goes on. Things appear normal. They are as they are, what they always were and for all one knows what they’ll always be. They’re life, the way it is. The way it couldn’t be otherwise. And we – we march into a show of madness that abuses our nerve endings.

The signs are everywhere. In plain view for all to see. Clear as day and bright as night – for the night is bright these days. Our planet is the only one to light up after dark, when the sun don’t shine on it. It turns on and simmers in the blackness, like a firefly. It’s alive.

What a good thing. A truly wondrous thing, a miracle. I might even consider writing about it in glorious tone: the wonder of a little blue dot lost in a vast endless universe, yet somehow able to rise up from the shadows and dare live.

But there’s a downside – big and dark, and perpetual as hell, as the sprawling universe-desert out there, expanding, getting stronger, establishing itself among the bright hours of the day and the prime hours of evening , into the wee dark hours of night; playing itself out louder and faster, more bright and snazzy as it goes along, leaving imprints everywhere; echoing in our mind at night, when we sleep, low enough for us not to hear, sharp enough to burn etchings in our synapses.

We would notice if we were not so preoccupied. We would stand up and say: wait a minute… this – this is absurd. When did life become all this? When did this madness become so normal and acceptable?

What is it then, this madness – this thing so terrible?

Advertising! Incessant, endless advertising. No, not the concept of making a product known –that is only natural: we need to talk about what is out there, so we pitch something, we talk about it, bring it out in the public eye and make others take notice. Naturally. It’s survival of the fittest at its most sophisticated. Part of the gene pool.

Which of course makes it harder for things to stand out – for the more we pitch what works, and the more information we have to deal with, the more things there are to choose from. And competition grows. Products diversify. Pitches get louder, smarter, fancier. They get sharper, explosive. They impress.

Soon they are all over the place. Part of life, like oxygen and water. Like words of affection. They begin to not only sustain life but also influence it. Seep into it. They become normal in their entirety. Scores of people now find it only natural and acceptable, expected even, to spend time in the living room, watching some program, the scope of which is their choice to enjoy, in the dead times of which, filling the holes – and there are many of them, holes, running for many many minutes – filling those short but continuously recurring holes with advertisements… an endless stream of advertisements, one after the other after the other, relentless landslides of them, spewing product after product onto society. Pepsi… Bacardi… Nokia, Elvive. Thunderball, Cheeriohs, Iams, Gucci. Man Utd and Rooney vs. Chelsea’s Drogba, watch it this Sunday… Duh-dam! Peugeot – with an ass that shakes… Lloyds – who creates a new world for you… Tango, Gap, Man U v Chelsea, this Sunday, don’t forget – Volkswagen, das auto – John Smiths, no nonsense – Domino’s, Ariel, Wheetabix, Sainsbury’s… Cartier, Viera,, Argos it… The Office… watch the Office… a double bill of the Office. Duh-dam! Man Utd Chelsea… Man Utd and Chelsea … watch the great match between Man Utd and Chelsea… Duh-dam! With Carlsberg, Dominos, Pringles, Audi… an endless torrent of products, recycled day in day out, the same items round and round, spewing their way through the waves. Like insects being born!

It’s not that they’re bad in themselves; some of these ads are great pieces of entertainment. Some are just repetitious pieces of garbage, but many of them are just outstanding, enjoyable enough to become popular. They spread, and speak, and drive their message home hard, or soft, or elaborately, with wit and charm. That’s their purpose, what they are made for, driving messages home, communicating their value. They have value in themselves, loads of it, products in their own right, creatures with a purpose. To deny it would be to refute a dog’s bark as its voice. Dogs do that, you know, they bark; that’s what makes them dogs. If they were to meow they would be cats, or freaks. So let them bark.

But when they bark all the time… all the fucking time – all day and night… inside, outside – when they’re hungry, or fed, or happy, or upset… when they bark all the time, it gets annoying. Irritating. It can make you mad – or drive you insane. And when they stop barking only to start again at some inopportune time, randomly, picking it up where they left off, breaking that precious little window of silence and peace. Well, that can really drive you up the wall. It’s like torture, turning on and off at whim, never quite letting you settle down.

Advertising. On and off, day and night, home, out, audio-video, text and symbolic, on bus and tube and mobile phone, youtube and facebook, cinema and sitcom… on/off at whim, in between those precious moments of calm and tranquility….wedges thrust into your quality time, splintering your flow, nagging, repeating, etching in… and no one really taking notice.

Because it’s hard to take notice in the presence of company. Shared activities spill over and cover the pain of nerve-etching so that we barely notice.  It may seem like a good remedy, panacea even – company the balsam that heals all wounds caused by our rampant way of life. But it’s not like that. Things are more sinister. More like a tattoo gun making drawings in the presence of friends joking around; company masking the pain and making it tolerable – but never able to undo the mark left.

Now the cool thing about tattoos is that you make a choice before having one. You look at a million designs, find the one you like best, make a conscious decision to get it, and then go get it. You get two or three or twenty three if you want. You can cover your entire skin with them from head to toe if it turns you on, including the back sides of your ear lobes and the inner parts of your lips. But it’s a conscious and deliberate decision. Unless you’re drunk – which is tough luck.  But with advertising, you have one million designs created by one million professionals needling away at your mind all the time, against your will. No conscious choice in that. Plenty of it on choosing which to buy, sure, but none regarding hearing them, for the Panacousticon never ceases, blaring its way into every nerve ending out there. No escaping it. Unless of course you stop going out on the street. Switch everything off, radio TV and internet. Become a monk. Or go out in the wilderness. Become a troglodyte. Which may be an option for some – but not everyone.

For those of us who do not want to go into the wild, those billions of urbanites who don’t want to turn off, tune in and drop out, urban reality is what we have. And for those among us who don’t want to turn off, tune out and drop dead either – living dead that is, infested with a gazillion ad jingles, scarred continuously by the incessant branding they cause – for those of us who do not want to turn into cattle like so, or zombies, there is no choice. Tough shit! It’s mind tattooing all the way for us. Because the Panacousticon never shuts up.

Some would call this cruel and unusual punishment. Some would call it torture. Modern, insidious, bloodless torture.

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Mosque on Ground Zero: Is It Really Such A Great Idea?

There’s a lot of talk about a potential mosque at Ground Zero. America is divided around the issue, with progressive people from both sides arguing for the proposition, saying it’ll be good for the country, and resistant people from both sides arguing against it, saying it’s inappropriate. For a quick overview of the issue, Lexington at the Economist rounds it up nicely, presenting an interesting argument, in an article aptly named Build That Mosque.

Reading the article — or the title alone — one can see that further to the nice roundup it offers, Lexington’s end position is in favor of building the Mosque — which is an interesting point in itself. The fact that the Economist, a right-leaning publication, argues for the Mosque exemplifies the fact that this is not a question of right and left politics per se divided along straightforward bipartisan lines, but that it’s a subtler, more complex issue.

Which is exactly why building that mosque is not as simple, nor as constructive as it seems.

The argument is simple. Imagine ten crazy Christian Fundamentalists going into Mecca, posing as Muslim. They walk in among the crowds, take their M16s from under their loose garments, and start shooting everyone around them. By the time local security forces take them out, 210 people are dead and a further 544 are injured.

Now imagine for a moment that international armed conflict has been averted, as improbable as that may sound. Let’s just say that it doesn’t happen, or that the raging outcry that follows it is managed and vented, or that we’re not going to pay attention to that part of the formula at all. Let’s just focus on the on-site-aftermath and -logistics instead. Mecca, wounded and scarred, tries to put the incident behind it and resurrect itself, get back on track. Millions of believers are called on pilgrimages as a sign of solidarity to their fallen Muslim brothers; mullahs preach fervently, the money is flowing in from sympathizers and charities, international organizations are lending a hand… there is a great hype flowing around as the place gathers itself up to move on. And amidst all the hype, amidst all the sympathy and solidarity, the representative of the Catholics in Saudi Arabia, comes to the site and announces that he wants to build a Christian Church right next to Mecca in support of the site, to show that Christian religion is not to blame and that it doesn’t support terrorism. On the contrary it condemns them, the Catholic representative says, so, in good faith, as a faith of goodness — that ought not to be stereotyped in any negative, narrow-minded way — Christianity wishes to build a Church right next to Mecca, reminding its Muslim cousins — and everyone in the world — that it is a peaceful religion which does not condone extremist acts of violence.

Imagine that happened… How do you think the Muslim world would react? How would they respond? Would they accept such an offer or not? If not, why not?

The imaginary situation raises questions of practical concern. Things are not that simple or easy to push under the carpet, goodwill or no goodwill, progressive society or not. Sometimes theory and abstract politics are not enough. Sometimes things have to be grounded in reality. Rather than have abstract morality get away with the situation, pushing us down roads that sound great on paper, it’s more prudent and advisable to exhibit some realism and react according to the situation on the ground rather than according to the ground in the situation room, or the academic book, or the chairman-and-board committee. Let the policy be dictated based on human parameters rather than humanistic ones. Let strategy be in touch with the field.

Careful examination of the situation — plus a small analogy in reverse i.e. imagining a ground zero in Mecca and the building of a church there — will do that, making it clear why building a mosque on Ground Zero is not a sound idea, why it’s not beneficial for anyone, why it will plant the foundations of rapprochement on very shaky foundations. It is a provocative measure, possibly well-meant and apolitical — although many would disagree — and in direct disregard of reality, sideswiping the feelings of millions of ordinary people and replacing their perspectives and feelings with a morally-superior agenda that vies to restore peace by enforcing it. A top-down peace directive that is based on indiscriminate interpretations of freedom of religion, all souped up and packaged so as to pass as an act of right while acting with complete disregard for the delicate balance of sensitivities involved. A balance that seems to display more sensitivity toward the religion associated with the attack — unjust and inaccurate as that association may be — than toward the group who suffered the attack. There is a rush to mend fences with the maligned American Muslim community — which would not be a bad political move so long as it didn’t do so at the expense of common sense. Not holding grudges and letting go of stereotypes is one thing… sucking the blow up and moving on is one thing… being progressive and fighting bigotry and neutralizing holy wars and religious antagonism is one thing… but pretending not to understand what happened… pretending that half of America’s opinion doesn’t matter… enforcing policy that is in direct disregard with the field, with the citizenry of the country, with the raw reality down on the ground, is quite another. It’s just bad strategy. Lousy management.

If it’s peace and progress the proponents of the Mosque want, they ought to remember why they want it: so that stability will return to the area and relations between America and Islam will be restored; so that there is no discrimination against American Muslims, or any Muslims; so that America may retain and reinforce its free-loving, open-society mainframe. All this will not happen if we close our eyes to the reality of the situation and pretend that what happened to the WTC didn’t happen, going about our business as if this was not a delicate issue, building a shrine to the religion associated (indirectly) with the group that brought that place to the ground. It would be insult to injury, not because we are stereotyping against that religion but because it’s just bad policy. No one would accept such a gesture if in a similar situation themselves, nor Saudis, nor Iranians, nor Libyans and Indonesians. And for those among us who think that this is irrelevant, that because Islam would not accept such a gesture doesn’t mean we shouldn’t either — for we are a free society and ought to do what is right — let me point out that no one at all would accept it, no one of sound mind. This has nothing to do with the despotic nature of the governments involved in our imaginary scenario. The issue here is common sense — and building such a shrine next to a place of massacre, in such a prominent way, is not a bright idea. You just can’t do these things and expect them to work. I mean imagine the NRA going to Columbine and building a new wing for the school… it’s extremely bad, tacky policy.

The reason to not build that mosque is simple: because the measure doesn’t fit the rapprochement. There will come a time when a mosque will be welcome there — or when it will be advisable to lobby for one. But now’s not the time.

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