Author Archive

When a “three star” rating fails to mean anything

We’re all accustomed to the “five star” rating system for movies and products. Most published reviewers use stars, or something similar, and we as consumers get to use them on Netflix and Amazon and other web services. Obviously a few stars can’t tell the whole story, or we wouldn’t add or read any longer written-out reviews; but there are a couple of cases where this type of rating system actually fails us completely.

It occurred to me while using Netflix streaming, and rating the shows I watched. These ratings would be totally inconsequential in life except for the fact that the Netflix computer system uses those ratings to make recommendations and give ratings for the movies I haven’t seen, based on what it thinks I will think of them! Even that might seem like a petty concern, until you think about how Google uses similar systems to shape and steer our search engine results, and about how deeply Google’s infrastructure has become embedded in our daily lives. What appears in a search, or in an Android-based app, can determine what we buy, what we study, who we believe, and even how we vote. Families and even nations get ripped apart by political and religious differences, and this gets exacerbated by the “facts” we believe and base our decisions on, which nowadays are often the facts we learned by searching the internet and reading the news and commentary sources delivered to us by search engine algorithms! The extreme cases are probably not spurred by a three-star rating directly, but when we base our trust on over-simplifications of highly complex subjects, we risk making some very bad choices.

I really enjoy some trashy or cheesy movies, where there’s no question that it’s a “bad movie”, but I might love it anyway. If a movie should get only one star for being a total turkey, but it should get five stars for how much I enjoyed it, what to do? On the flip side, I see many movies that fit the description of things I like generally, but they may be disappointing or even terrible in the specific case. Bollywood epics and science fiction are good examples—the category as a whole is charming and fun for me, but four out of five of the specific movies turn out to be awful dreck. If I give them a one or two star rating, Netflix will denigrate any other movies fitting a similar pattern. If I give them a high rating, to encourage delivery of similar content that I might happen to like better, it’s dishonest: how can I give four or five stars to something I didn’t enjoy at all? Plus, later on somebody may ask me my opinion of that movie, and I won’t remember whether I actually loved or hated it.

All that remains to us is a three-star rating. Everything gets three stars, average, I guess I liked it OK. And the master computer decides for me that everything else is average, OK, neither good nor bad. The world is reduced to grey and beige, a strip mall where all food tastes pretty much the same, and all clothes look pretty much the same, and one pop song sounds almost exactly like the last one. Who wants to live in that world?

For a long time I have held to the idea that everything in life is not black and white, but instead somewhere on a wide spectrum of shades of grey, and that view has plenty of value to it still. But now it occurs to me that the problem with “black and white” thinking is really that things in that worldview can only be black OR white, not black AND white. For every way we see a subject, there are almost certainly other aspects to it that are far different from the one we had already fixated on as “the truth”. We need to recognize that not only does every person, thought, and situation fit somewhere on a grand continuum between extremes, but they have many different qualities that may even seem -at first- to be contradictions.

We’d do well to keep this in mind the next time we find ourselves caught in an us-versus-them argument. Believing the other guy is nothing but a liberal, a conservative, Muslim, gay, or any other easy label, is like believing a three-star rating is the whole truth. There is probably a side of them that matches your own views more closely than you realize, more closely than any simplified star rating even ALLOWS us to realize. We lose sight of the broader truth of the other person’s humanity, their complexity, and the dreams we all share.

Share Button


The ESP MusicCord PRO, an audiophile power cord

You already know my bias here–obviously I’m going to say the ESP cord is a scam. But I honestly believe in testing things to determine the truth. If the results defy my prejudices and prove me wrong, I will always own up to it and give credit where credit is due.

A friend loaned me an ESP MusicCord PRO for testing. Rather than relying on my own ears, and opening up the possibility that somebody might say I was lying, or that the test wasn’t fair, instead I did a single-blind test on TalkBass, where everyone could decide for themselves what they were hearing. Here is the link to that test. I did a previous test that was also informative, but had many flaws in methodology so I nixed it; however the flaws did not change the validity of the results–they only pointed out the need for more stringent methods.

I took a pre-recorded bass track, and ran it through a tube amp with a post-power-section line out, and then recorded the resulting output. I powered the tube amp with the MusicCord, and with a flimsy cheapo 18 AWG cord of the same length. I recorded one track with one of the cords, as a “control”; then I recorded two more tracks, one with each of the two power cords, for comparison. Absolutely no post-processing was done to the tracks. Then I posted them with the simple question “which track, A or B, sounds like the control?” Since the source material was identical, any audible difference could be directly attributed to the power cord swap. If a majority of people could tell that one track was “more like” the control than the other, then that would suggest there was merit to the idea that the power cord could have an effect on the sound.

The result, predictably, was that there is no evidence of any audible effect from the cable. Just as many people “got it right” as “got it wrong”, and 80% said they could not hear a difference at all. And more to the point, ESP claims the difference is obvious, like night and day. Their video “proving” the effect has a dramatically audible difference. But in my test there is absolutely NOT a clear or night-and-day difference. Even the people that thought there was a difference admitted that it was a barely audible distinction, and that the perception vanished after one or two more listens to the tracks.

So even if we were to cling to the few people that “got it right”, and ignore the statistical evidence outweighing them, we would still have to question whether ESP’s “proof” was created in a legitimate, unbiased manner. Actually we know it wasn’t, because the musician visibly plays more enthusiastically when using the MusicCord, and this changes the tone, the dynamics, and the amplitude. He also begins playing lower notes at the point where he says how much fuller the lows sound. So their “proof”, their demonstration, is in fact a lie. A cynical, predatory, calculated lie, with no other purpose than to extract your money.

It’s exactly like the pills and potions that promise a larger “manhood” or a cure for baldness. They proliferate until the Feds get enough complaints about individual brands to investigate and shut them down. So far, there have not been enough complaints about these fraudulent power cord advertisements. And unfortunately, there is no way to prove that a person doesn’t hear an improvement! So as long as the only thing the cable-makers claim is that their cords “sound better”, there is really nothing the regulatory agencies can do about it.

It’s worth noting too that the $160 ESP is actually one of the cheapest audiophile power cords out there. Some of their competitors cost ten times as much, no exaggeration! Each one of those companies has customers, too–and those customers develop such belief in the product that they will not only swear they hear the difference, they will even evangelize other audiophiles to buy the cables too. This frees the vendor from even having to make their own fraudulent advertisements! The suckers do the dirty work for them.

For your continued amusement, here is another TB thread on the same subject. And here is an article about a double-blind (ABX) test on a MUCH more expensive power cord.

Share Button


Product endorsements versus the truth

Whenever you find yourself in a technical discussion about whether a given “miracle” product actually does what it claims, WITHOUT EXCEPTION there will be at least one person who says “Mick Bigtime endorses it, and Mick is world-famous for his artistic accomplishments, so obviously the product must do what it claims.” Some of the more realistic-minded people in that category will say “whether it does or doesn’t do exactly what is claimed on a technical level, Mick likes it and therefore it does something good, and that’s all I need to know.”

There are so many things wrong with those lines of reasoning that it makes my head explode.

First, there are a lot of other reasons why an artist may endorse something. Sometimes they just like the reinforcement it gives to their famous status. Sometimes they like getting a discount on their favorite brand or getting backline support. But the main, most important reason is that they are just as prone as anyone else to being fooled by psychological factors that make any of us hear things non-objectively. Being famous does not give anyone the power to defeat their own brains.

Being a successful musician does not automatically give someone an engineering education on how their equipment is designed internally. It does not mean they understand the real reasons why a device will seem to work a certain way. When they talk about the science behind the gear, nearly always they are just parroting what they were told by the people that sell the goods. The “defenders of the faith” will say they don’t need to know why something works the way it does–they just trust that if a sucessful artist likes it, then it works, and that’s all that matters. But when the artist has bought a bill of sale, bought into the claims of a manufacturer without really understanding, and allowed themselves to be fooled, then the faithful are sucked in with them, like debris in the undertow.

I’ve heard some endorsing artists say “I get paid for the quality and sensitivity of my hearing, so I know that what I heard is real”. The thing is, that artist only knows what they heard–they typically don’t know why they heard it. And this is important because when they (as endorsers) go around saying they heard such-and-such a tonal effect from some great product, they influence other people to buy that item, even though those other people will probably not get the same results! Or more importantly, they may be able to get the exact same results without spending so much money.

For example, my favorite axe to grind, instrument cables. If a certain cable is claimed to have “deeper lows and smooth warmth”, odds are it had higher capacitance relative to whatever other cable it was being compared with. If it is claimed to have “bright sparkling highs and fast transient detail”, odds are it had lower capacitance. If it’s a $200 cable and Mick Bigtime endorses it, then Joe Consumer will think he has to spend that kind of money to get those tones. But instead he could just shop for cables by paying attention to their capacitance, and get ones higher or lower according to taste, for normal working-man’s prices.

Of course there are cases where it’s all in the imagination, as with boutique power cords. There are no excuses there, no matter how famous the endorser, no matter how good their ears–any difference they heard with a super-exensive IEC cord was strictly imaginary. Same goes for high-end HDMI cables, and other digital cables. People who endorse imaginary things, and the people who spent big bucks based on those endorsements, need a serious freaking wake-up call.

That’s where science comes in, and that’s why it is seriously worth your time to pay attention when somebody who has no financial stake in the product makes an effort to explain factually HOW the product does or doesn’t work. It’s not a case of “lab nerds listening with their calculators instead of their ears” as some kind of enemy to “real musicians who know what they hear”. In fact those so-called nerds are trying to help the musician get better results for less money! Once you have learned some science behind the products, you are not so dependent on the hyped sales pitch from the vendor; and you won’t be fooled by the misleading appeal of a famous person’s endorsement.

Share Button

Comments (2)

More bad service: Warwick

I’ll keep this one brief. Basically, several Warwick employees and representatives have treated me like crap over an extended period of time, and I want nothing more to do with the brand.

I asked for help finding some bass parts on the Warwick forum, and was met with ridicule and a totally dismissive and condescending attitude, from two forum moderators, a Warwick dealer, and a Warwick “assistant production manager”. I tried to place an order with the NYC custom shop, and I got ignored, lied to, and blown off by them (including the store manager) for almost five months.

Eventually an employee at the NYC shop gave me the email address of the VP of Warwick USA, and emailing that VP did finally get me the parts I needed. But it should not take an angry email to the company’s VP just to get a basic amount of customer service; and having gotten the parts at last does not make up for the repeated mocking and crappy attitude of the company representatives I had to deal with up to that point.

As far as I’m concerned, Warwick –the whole brand– can go fuck themselves and die in a ditch.

Share Button

Comments (1)

Marketing copy writers: quit while you’re ahead!

Lately I’ve been especially irritated by one particular aspect of much of the advertising copy in the music-gear world: the tendency to take a good product, with perfectly legitimate good features, and make it disgusting by advertising false or misleading features instead.  This is probably prevalent in other fields too, like cameras and cars, but I don’t pay attention to them as much.

One example is instrument cables.  You’ve seen my post about “snake oil” claims, and you may have seen me ranting on this subject over on TheGearPage; but what really bothers me, more than the falseness of their claims, is that the cables usually have legitimate good merits—so why not focus on those in the ad copy?  Why not say “our cable has extra rugged construction, great flexibility, heavy-duty plugs with extra strain relief, and beefy solder joints” instead of all that nonsense about fat wires for bass and thin wires for treble, or “time aligned” signal transfer, or transmission-line theory applied to non transmission line cables.  Why lie when you have perfectly good truth to tell?

Evidence Audio is a perfect example of this. Their “Lyric HG” is actually one of the best-quality cables on the market, with excellent real, measurable performance. Yet the Evidence website and marketing materials are drenched in utterly irredeemable bullshit. Not just hyperbole, but outright lies, weasely misinterpretations of “science”, and tonal claims that are nothing but fantasy.

Another case is the Tech21 “1969” amp head, about which my TalkBass acquaintances will have seen me arguing already.  The amp is probably really good—it has many fine qualities, well worth advertising.  But they decided to crap all over it by making ridiculous claims about “analog wattage” versus “digital wattage”, and asserting that because their amp is analog, therefore it works like an all-tube amp, and making a big deal about how “digital” amps have limiters because they sound bad when clipped… ignoring the fact that most analog solid-state amps also have limiters, for the exact same reason.  And ignoring the fact that most so-called “digital” amps are analog but with a switch-mode power supply…  They could have just said “our amp sounds awesome when driven into clipping, just like an all-tube amp, unlike most other solid-state heads”.  This is a great selling point, a real desirable feature, and it could plausibly be true.  Why all the misleading sleazery instead?

I’m sure I’ll think of more examples later, and expand on this post.  Bottom line though, copy writers: stick with the legitimate good qualities of your product—your customers will respect you for it.

Share Button

Comments (8)

Adidas shoes: willful idiocy

Up until recently, my only knowledge or experience of Adidas was their association with Run-DMC, back in prehistoric times.  But a friend of mine got a job with them a couple of years ago, and he would lend me the employee discount card for the Adidas store.  So naturally I went to get some shoes.  I wear a 9.5E, probably the most common men’s shoe size in America.  I found that the large majority of Adidas shoes are not available in an E width—in fact most of them are only available in a narrower-than-average width, like typical European shoes.  You may say “well, they are a European brand after all”… but isn’t America a large enough customer base to warrant offering sizes that fit us?

It took me almost two hours, trying every non-cleated shoe in the store, to find a single pair of shoes that fit me—and that pair was a size 11!  They weren’t even long in the toe area either, they fit my 9.5E feet perfectly.  What the hell kind of shoe company makes a US 11 shoe that’s a perfect fit for a US 9.5 foot?  What’s even weirder is that the other size-11 shoes they had were too long in the toe, just as you’d expect.  But even they still felt too narrow.  I can even usually fit into a regular-width 9.5 shoe, it’s just not quite as comfy as the E width; however the 9.5’s at Adidas were far too narrow to even squeeze into at all.

I took home the one pair that fit me, pleased to have found a shoe that fit.  They were actually quite comfortable.  However, they had a keyhole-shaped hollow opening in the heels, supposedly for shock absorption, and this hollow space was exactly the right size and shape to pick up and hold several chunks of gravel, the sort of gravel you normally encounter while walking the dog or jogging.  The sole material would hold the gravel pieces wedged in tightly.  I’d pry it out with a stick, and within a dozen yards the heels would be full of gravel again.  This may come as a surprise, but gravel is not great for shock absorption!  It doesn’t feel good to walk with several pieces of gravel under each heel.

After putting up with this gravel idiocy for almost a year, I threw the shoes out, and went back to the Adidas store.  Surprise surprise, they didn’t have ANY shoes that fit!  Not a single shoe to fit the most common, normal men’s foot size in America.  The clerk told me this was something lots of male customers complained about, being unable to find Adidas shoes that fit.  He also said they were expecting a delivery of a wide-fit shoe (one model only) the following week; so I left, and came back a week later.  Sold out!  The one model of E-width shoe they received, sold out completely in just a few days—and they had no plans to re-order more.

Does that sound absurd and unbelievable?  It does to me, too, but it’s 100% true.  Adidas apparently is willing to ignore the complaints and obvious needs of one of the largest consumer bases on Earth, and also willing to ignore the sales reports showing an insistant and immediate movement of goods.  If there was some reason for this willful obstinacy, I’d be very interested to learn of it.  But it seems obvious to me that (a) Adidas should want the largest share of shoe sales in a giant consumer market like the USA, and (b) narrow feet may be common in Germany and Italy, but they are not the world standard, and certainly not in super-sized America.  Nike is more successful here than Adidas.  Nike has shoes that fit a wider range of feet.  Could it be any more clear?

The largest Adidas store in my town has closed down, due to lack of customers.  This store was sharp and modern-looking, and located on a prominent commercial intersection in a largely Black neighborhood—the ideal place to sell Adidas shoes.  They couldn’t even keep a store open there.  I’d like to see Adidas do well… but they are being willfully blind to some of their own self-defeating choices.  I’m certainly not going to suggest that you not buy their products—after all, if the shoe fits, wear it!  But I would hope that someone at the Adidas corporate headquarters sees this post and wakes the hell up.

Share Button

Comments (3)

Anarchists, community, and food

In the earlier years of my life I decided I was an anarchist.  I celebrated anything that suggested the end of conformist society, the destruction of government, and the death of capitalism.  My highest goal was to wake the TV-hypnotized consumer zombies up out of their status-quo stupor.

Naturally, to a young idealist, the ends justify the means—to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs.  If a few feelings got hurt, or property got damaged, it meant nothing as long as I snapped somebody out of their quotidian assumptions for just a moment, or even better if I struck a symbolic blow against the imperialist corporate machine.  This way of life was encouraged by books like The Monkey Wrench Gang, and visible displays by groups such as Earth First or Greenpeace.

As I got older, I started to notice that many of these actions attacked the wrong enemy.  I first noticed it in myself—I’d rail against some perceived evil, only to find out that I had missed several important facts, seen only one facet of the true situation, and made myself look like an ass, without achieving any of my intended goals.  Once I became aware of this problem, I realized it was going on all around me—most of the angry young men and women out there were striking out blindly at anything that resembled their conception of the enemy, without regard for whether the attack actually helped their cause at all, and without regard for any resulting negative impact on the community in the area.

I struggled with this dilemma for several years.  Finally, in the mid-1990’s, I saw something that changed my perspective altogether.  I lived in Eugene Oregon at the time, in a northern neighborhood that was associated with lower incomes, minorities, and residents who had been there for a very long time (as opposed to the more affluent, all-white, and transient population nearer to the university).  In this neighborhood we had only one grocery store, a health-food co-op.  As in most such stores, the goods were organic, gourmet, and priced higher than what you’d find at a large chain grocery.  The local “Black Army” anarchists, all of them white kids from middle-class families, decided that this co-op was the center and symbol of gentrification in the area; that gentrification was inherently evil; and that the best thing they could do for the neighborhood would be to attack the grocery.  They threw rocks through the windows, pelted store employees with paint and eggs, keyed their cars, spraypainted slogans on the walls, and left notes with actual death threats.  This went on for the entire year that I lived in that neighborhood.

That’s when I stopped calling myself an anarchist.  Those kids were harassing and destroying the only grocery store in the neighborhood, and why?  So they could stop gentrification?  That wasn’t going to work. Even if the co-op closed its doors and a more blue-collar grocery opened in its place, affluent people that had planned to buy houses there would still do so!  Gentrification wasn’t the fault of the grocery, and killing the grocery wasn’t even remotely a solution.  How would the neighborhood have improved, or was it just supposed to be worse?  These kids would not have been satisfied anyway because they’d have to bike all the way across town to get their vegan chocolate, kombucha, and organic sliced seitan.  Did they plan to leave the neighborhood themselves, to be nearer to the groceries they wanted?  Or was it just important to ensure that nobody in the neighborhood could have anything good, that even the poorer people would not have access to organic vegetables?  Or was it all just because the food in the co-op was expensive, and the anarchists believed everything should be cheap or free, regardless of the cost to manufacture and distribute?

I’ve seen many, many similar instances since then.  At the G-20 summit in Seattle not so long ago, a friend of mine joined the demonstrations.  He posted a video of anarchists clashing with the police, and wrote “F*** you, Obama, I’m done with you!”  I’m not saying Obama is so perfect, but what did he have to do with the fight between Seattle police and anarchist demonstrators?  Would any other president, whether Republican, Green, or independent, have refused to host the G-20?  Would any other president have refused to keep the attending world leaders safe from attacks?  Basically my friend, and everyone else wearing a black bandanna, was wildly angry and frustrated—and that’s understandable!  But nothing constructive came out of the attacks, the clashes with police, or him saying he’s “done with” Obama.  It was all a misdirected blast of emotion, and a waste of resources.

Just a few weeks ago, in my neighborhood, one of my favorite restaurants shut down.  One of the reasons cited by the owner/chef was the constant harassment, graffitti, and property damage from local anarchists that charged him with gentrification.  Again, who benefited here?  Is the neighborhood better off with one less restaurant?  Did the attacks on the restaurant stop local gentrification?  Not even slightly!  Did anyone who was considering buying a home in the area, or starting a business there, stop and think to themselves “hey, that restaurant closed down, maybe I should invest my money elsewhere?”  NO!  In fact another bourgeoise restaurant took over the location right away.  The attacks, the graffitti, they achieved nothing.  Nothing constructive, anyway.  Nothing that improved the quality of life in the neighborhood.  Nothing that helped the lower-income residents.  Nothing that has anything to do with the espoused ideals of the anarchist kids.

Now, we get to the trickiest part, which is where you ask me “so what should we do instead?”  That’s a genuinely very tough problem.  Voting helps a little, but is not very satisfying, and the “good guy” politicians usually turn out to be just as bad as the previous crooks.  “Voting with your dollars” is very effective, if you have a lot of dollars—the problem is that most of us don’t have enough money to make much of an impact.  Bumper stickers and window signs are pathetically ineffectual.  Demonstrating in the streets is a good outlet, as long as there’s no violence to person or property—and I say that not out of some adherence to Ghandi or Dr. King, but rather to call out the utter pointlessness of such misdirected violence, and the sad mistake of hurting people who are not really the enemy.

The enemy is thoughtless consumerism.  Without thoughtless consumerism, the corporations have no power.  Without thoughtless consumerism, the difference between classes is reduced, which in turn reduces the impact of gentrification.  Without thoughtless consumerism, there would be no war for oil.

Stores are not the enemy.  They do not cause thoughtless consumerism.  Do not attack individual stores.  Police are not the enemy.  They are hired by the community specifically to protect against attacks on personal property.  If you don’t attack other people’s property, the police will not bother you.  Construction crews and logging crews are not the enemy.  Without construction, there is no place to manufacture sliced savory seitan.  Without logging, you don’t get toilet paper.  Of course, there are much better alternatives to traditional logging, such as carefully-managed farms of quick-growing trees, or better yet high-yield fiber sources such as ragweed, hemp, or bamboo.  But will spiking a tree encourage the development of those more efficient and ecological alternatives?  NO!  It will only cause harm, and it won’t even protect the tree beyond the short duration of the attack.  So do not attack construction sites or loggers.

The very best things you can do are:

  • Educate consumers, and direct your diatribes and demonstrations toward showing people a better way to live and provide goods for their families.  Make it a positive thing, demonstrating how life can be better for all of us, rather than just spitting negativity around.
  • Put all of your resources toward developing both the goods and the consumer market for sustainable materials.  The paper industry will not switch to high-yield non-tree fibers for pulp until they can see profits from it.  So make it profitable!  Promote the goods, promote the sustainable methods, get a science degree and develop newer and better pulp systems that increase efficiency without ravaging the old growth woods.  Greater efficiency equals greater profit.  Yes, there are people and companies doing this today, but not enough of them–and possibly, not yet including you!  Take a look at your own actions and decide.

And most importantly, if you are wearing a black bandanna and throwing bricks or scrawling graffitti, you are not part of the solution.  Taking food away from people is not any way to improve a neighborhood.  If you think keying the windows of a restaurant is going to make life better for anyone, please ask yourself exactly how that’s supposed to make sense.  Try to think of something constructive to do, that will actually make life tangibly better for the lower-income people in your area.  If housing costs are getting too high, go volunteer with Habitat For Humanity, or start a mortgage-payment relief fund, or open a tool library and offer help with renovating lower-income homes.  If the local organic grocery is too expensive, start your own organic grocery that is cheaper.

Go ahead!  What’s stopping you?

Share Button

Comments (1)

Conspiracy theories: why they are so compelling

Many of you will have encountered people who are very focused on one or more conspiracy theories.  These people are convinced that their particular subject should get more critical attention, and they will devote a lot of energy to arguing, defending, or promoting their issue.  Sometimes they will even become convinced that they know the facts and that doubters are simply ignorant of those facts.

Why is this so?  What causes otherwise bright and rational people to obsess on the second shooter on the grassy knoll, government cover-ups of alien contact, secret ruling cabals, Jewish bankers, fluoride in tap water, and similar dark conspiracies about which only a few brave souls know the real truth?

I have been reading, observing, and interacting with conspiracy believers for about 20 years now, and I have distilled what I see as the common denominator that explains all of them.  Put briefly, it’s dissociation (see Wiki article).  This is a psychological phenomenon wherein people find the world around them too difficult to manage, so they unconsciously create a new world that they can deal with.  It can spring from a wide range of triggers, for example: a trauma such as childhood abuse or the loss of a loved one; a chemical imbalance in the brain; social conditioning from peers; or even a lifetime of ordinary frustrations.

The new world created is essentially just like the old world, but with a new feature that the dissociating person will obsess on.  For illustration, think of Don Quixote “tilting at windmills”.  In this story, he imagined that windmills were giant monsters, so he attacked them violently, hoping—and fully intending—to save the world from these monsters.  He knew in his heart that it was the right thing to do, and he also felt that if he succeeded it would prove his worth to the woman he loved.

Life is horrifying, life is difficult.  If we thought too much about the atrocities that occur every day, every minute, the pain would be too much to bear.  In America, every two minutes on average, someone is raped.  The figures for rape and mutilation in war-torn regions of the world are far more horrifying than that.  Every day in the news we hear of some new outrage of military violence, or some new flare-up of bitter feuds that have gone on for centuries.  Boys as young as 11 or 12 are forcibly recruited into tribal armies, and brainwashed into soulless killers who will behead, disembowl, rape, and machine-gun their own families and villages of innocent strangers.  Politicians lie to us constantly, and the government really does cover up its misdeeds, sometimes even on a very large scale.  Corporations grow ever more stupefyingly immense and powerful, to the point that they seem as inscrutable and unstoppable as a volcano god.

In a world like this, the only way to survive is to shut it out, to not allow the horror and atrocity to affect us too much.  We feel impotent, helpless, overwhelmed.  We seek out the things that we can control, and cling to those as our life raft in a stormy ocean.  We take up an involving hobby or area of study, we get caught up in power struggles at work, we cling devotedly to a dietary regimen, we join church groups.  Even our political views nearly always spring from this process—we all believe that the political stance each of us takes is the most rational, but since everyone believes that, clearly we are just picking our own personal definition of “rational”.  I could write a whole chapter just on dietary obsessions such as veganism, candidiasis, organics, and raw foods.  For most of us, most of the time, these devotions don’t do any significant harm, especially not compared to the far worse things going on in the world.

Unfortunately, these focus issues can get out of control.  They can expand out to affect your relationships with other people; they can cause intense stress to the point of triggering real physical ailments; they can make us vote for harmful legislation; they can empty your bank account; and they can become clinically-diagnosable disorders.

Part of the appeal is that, by and large, nobody can prove that what you believe isn’t real.  Nobody can prove that you were not abducted by aliens.  Nobody can prove that Oswald acted alone.  Nobody can prove the absence of secret power-mongers and puppet-masters.  Nobody can prove that you don’t feel better with your dietary regimen.  And, my favorite, nobody can prove that you don’t hear a significant improvement in audio quality when using audiophile-marketed power outlets, cable risers, USB cords, or even Beltist notes in red ink in the freezer (read and be amazed).

So now we have a situation where a belief or a concern successfully distracts you from the actual horrors that surround us every day, and nobody can prove that you’re wrong.  It gives us a sense of purpose and identity, and possibly even heroic martyr status.  Is it any wonder that this situation is far preferable to one where you have to contend with overwhelming things you can’t understand or control, such as endless war, mounting debt, or an absence of love in your life?  Now with a new focus in your sights, created by you or your peers, you can set to work on managing the one thing in life that is within your control—because it exists inside you.

Share Button

Comments (6)

« Previous entries Next Page » Next Page »