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Becoming a monster to defeat the monster

 

After watching the brutal second-to-last episode of Game of Thrones I turned on a news channel to alleviate my discomfort. What was I thinking? Bear with me, I’m going to start in an unusual place…

I’m troubled by the vilification of highly literate and educated people, labeling them “elitists.” Once upon a time, the most learned among us were undisputed and logical choices to run companies and govern nations. Regardless of their privilege and pretense, cultivated individuals were valued above all else. After all, didn’t we want the smartest people running things? Fallible wisdom is better than uncontested brutishness.

The populist agenda would have us believe otherwise. Higher education is for entitled liberals and rogue progressives. Such elitists don’t care about hardworking Americans, they say. Professors and scientists live in ivory towers. They are so out of touch. Learning is thusly framed as a luxury i.e. elitist. Only snobs have the luxury to care about esoteric things like Truth and Beauty.

There are kernels of truth in such notions; that is why they become popular in the first place. Yet, it’s paradoxical. We all aspire to be successful geniuses even as we relish dismantling those who are. The rich are evil. Yet everyone plays the lottery.

We reap what we sow. Populism has become the new normal. Any satisfaction seeing a Washington elite lose the 2016 presidential election has been replaced by something far more depressing and sinister. We have a dumb-ass for a President. And when absolute power is given to a dumb-ass we all get screwed.

That said the other side has taken the bait of outrage, fomenting extremism. As the POTUS has gone low so, too, have they. To fight the monster they have become one, unwittingly or otherwise. The insidious political correctness demanded by the “smart” and “woke” has made speaking one’s mind a minefield. God forbid you do not walk and talk a certain way. You will be shunned. You will be fired. Or worse. The outraged have become an angry mob. Journalism is no longer objective. Media channels are mouthpieces for one side or the other, both equally repugnant. I am as sick of CNN as I am of Fox.

In this crucible of correctness socialism feels like a reasonable idea, an antidote. It is neither. Power to the people is merely a bizarro form of populism, a ploy fronting as a bold idea. At first the Mother of Dragons was the Breaker of Chains, freeing the oppressed and punishing their captors. She was a good idea, too. Spoiler alert: She isn’t anymore. Give anyone absolute power and invariably all goes to shit. An angry mob created this government. Now an angry mob wants to take it out. What is the common denominator? An angry mob. Brandishing their hash tags like Valyrian steel.

I want my leaders to be literate and temperate. I want them to be smarter than me, vastly so. So that they have the courage to forsake righteousness for compromise, to ask for help in difficult matters, to be able to say the three bravest three words of all: “I don’t know.”

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Wanting drives every advertisement ever made. Sometimes, it passes as “need” but let’s call a spade a spade. We want. And we want a lot. Whether it’s a new car or world peace human beings are defined by this unnatural urge. I say unnatural because wanting is not an impetus for survival. Animals need sustenance and they take what they can get. A Bear eats salmon when they’re running. Berries when they bloom. It does not crave one for the other.

When born, we are much like other animals. Helpless. Dependent on our parents. A baby needs food and it is given to him. Oddly, an infant remains this way far longer than any other creature. It takes an inordinate amount of time for us to become self-serving. But when we get there we arrive in style.

By the time we’re children, the wanting mechanism is in full flower. We want more than sustenance. We want Cheetos and iPads and Sour patch Kids. Our crying out of need becomes warped, narcissistic. As we get older we crave an ever larger, more expensive and baseless array of things. Want has taken over for need.

So utterly commonplace, the only time we hear about of want is when we are in church, listening to a dusty sermon on greed and gluttony or faced with those who are seemingly without it. Like the Amish. Buddhists. Or Sinead O’connor.

Which begs the question: Is ‘wanting’ a bad thing?

It’s tricky. Unraveling the ball of yarn to get from ‘want’ back to ‘need’ is no easy feat. Does one have what he needs in order to survive? If yes, then it’s everything after that that is in question. The defect (if it is a defect) becomes pronounced when we want better versions of what we already have (car, house, boobs) or when we want what we don’t have (two cars, Cartier watch, mistress) or what someone else has (all of the above).

Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new. This is the ‘longing’ all of us in Adland cultivate and exploit every day. For without it what would be the point of marketing? Does advertising create it? I think so. Like the header on my blog reads: We make you want what you don’t need.

I’m no socialist. I’m not even Alex Bogusky. And I’m as culpable (if that’s the right word) as any of you. Likely more so. But when I observe my young daughters pining for all the stuff they see on TV, the Internet and, most poignantly, when visiting their rich friends I am forced to wonder about wanting.