The Dawn of Idiocracy

My son’s generation is poised to become perhaps the first that questions nothing at all…

“The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

~George Carlin

This week I read about the 900+ writers who signed a letter to Amazon asking the company to stop selective retaliation of authors published by Hachette who are in a dispute with Amazon over e-book pricing. You can read about the letter here. And for simple explanation of the dispute, you can view this LA Times article. In all of this a current runs much deeper than it appears on the surface, one aimed not at sticking it to writers who worked hard to be where they are now but at control.

What bothers me about Amazon and the alleged bullying is not that I feel sorry for successful authors in the thick of this debate. Ok, actually I do. I know a little about what it takes to start writing a novel and finishing it. The success part? I am still waiting, but that’s a separate issue. What bothers me is that Amazon has gone from selling books to everything under the sun. Need a lawn mower? Check out Amazon prices. Need body wax? Look no further than Amazon. Can’t find that doo-hickey that does the thinga-mah-bob? My guess is Amazon has it.

Amazon has obliterated brick and mortar bookstores, both chain stores and independent operators, and with no other competition around it is attempting to fix prices namely because there’s no other game in town. In other words, control is the law of the land.

Don’t get me wrong. I am an Amazon Prime member. I also have a couple of books for sale on Amazon. Shameless self-promotion here. And over the years I have purchased plenty of items from Amazon; mostly books, but a few videos and perhaps a video game or two for my son.

So, O’Brien, why are you so hung up on the control issue? For the last thirty years or so there has been a systematic drive to create less critical thinkers in our society. A good many corporations, Amazon, while relatively new, can be counted among them, contribute to this drive by steering attention away from books and learning. In Amazon’s case, at least in my humble opinion, by offering all kinds of crap readers do not need. If you don’t believe me, go over to the Amazon web site. If you’re already signed in, then sign out. And then look at the home page. Right now, as I write this, there are ads for men’s fashion, solid state drives (not that I would know what a solid state drive is if you dropped one on my head), videos, and digital cameras. Did I leave out the Bluetooth Audio Receiver? How about the ad from Xfinity Triple Play? Never mind. Moving on.

Call me crazy. Laugh if you want. Go ahead. I’m thick-skinned that way so I don’t mind. Then ask yourself this: how does critical thinking help me get what I want? In the question I pose there are two operative words that sum up our culture: get and want.

Someone smarter than me once wrote that Americans, despite whatever label they self-apply—mother, father, CEO, postal employee, teacher, factory worker, carpenter, philosopher, are first and foremost consumers. This word ‘consumer’ need not be applied to those of us who feel compelled to buy things. A consumer can also be someone like me consuming electricity to write these words. As such, we are more concerned with wanting and getting than we are with thinking.

But O’Brien, you say, I’m finished college. Why do I need to think critically now? Or to put it more bluntly, in the words of one of my former professors, the late great John C. Berkey: “Oh fuck that, man.” Why? Because I am a member of the society in which you live. Because year in and year out many of us accumulate worthless crap that we just don’t need. Because no matter what side of the political fence you fall on we all vote for the same people who, when you get right down to it, don’t give a rat’s ass about their constituency. Sure you can vote for the person whom you think will end the deficit, eradicate war, bolster big business, lower taxes, etc.; but ultimately we do not matter to them.

The eradication of critical thinkers in any society is bad. We weep for other countries or at least feel uneasy when we see in the news that teachers, humanitarian aid workers, religious figures, or what have you are rounded up and summarily executed in the name of a system ‘wanting’ to gain power. Ironically, we cruise through our own lives in what David Foster Wallace referred to as the ‘default setting,’ not questioning things, not caring about anyone else but ourselves (and what we want to get), and generally not interested in bettering ourselves. We eschew radical thinking, but we will not think twice about gaining benefit from such radical thinking if it somehow becomes mainstream (penicillin, electricity, the telephone, equal rights, the list goes on and on). And we appear, as Americans, to be quite comfortable with the continued dumbing down of our population.

Case in point: my son’s high school summer reading list. It is peppered with books on a middle school reading level. Dumbing down gone wild. Was it a dream? Or do I remember when teachers attempted to challenge students with reading assignments? For my son, and his contemporaries, it’s a brave new world; one in which corporations have the last say in education (or what they loosely define as education).

It is the dawning of the age of idiocracy. My son’s generation is poised to become perhaps the first that questions nothing at all, that knows not how to offer resistance to detrimental conditions, that will not understand what all the fuss was about in the Sixties with Vietnam protests or even the Eighties with protests against nuclear proliferation, that closer to home none in his generation will stand up against police brutality, genetically modified foods, etc. Worse, my son’s generation will no longer understand why it is important to nurture their own ideas with the ideas of those who came before them. In short, they will lack critical thinking. As a parent, a writer, an educator, and a human being, I find that troubling.

Cock and Bull: Thoughts on Low Testosterone Ads and Aging

We have all seen the commercials. We are bombarded by them every day. That’s right: low testosterone. From over the counter pill form therapy (incidentally not endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration)to ads warning men that their lack of so-called sexual drive may be due to a low testosterone and that they should consult a physician. And within these ads a litany of other ailments may prohibit a guy from taking whatever pill they are pushing. Listen, if you’re taking nitrates for your heart, and I’m a writer, not a doctor, then it’s my guess that you have bigger problems than whether you’re getting it two or three times a week.

The other night I saw one of these ads while watching television with my fiancée. It used to be that I was skeeved by advertisements for catheters. For some people it’s seeing toe fungus on the screen. Call me a wacko but I can’t take the thought of using a catheter and I truly feel for those people who do. But the other night it was yet another commercial about “a condition known as low testosterone.” I am not skeeved out by the possibility of low testosterone, but it the onslaught of television ads have caused it to surpass my otherwise latent dislike for catheter commercials.

“They should just call it for what it is,” I told my other half.

She made a face, a cross between cringing and smiling as she waited for me to pontificate further. I can’t help it. I am an Irish-American. My people are blessed (or cursed) with a gift for storytelling.

“Here’s what I would do,” I said. “I would put together an ad and show what it really is. A middle-aged walks into a doctor’s office and tells his physician ‘Here’s the thing doc. I want to start banging women half my age. You got anything for that?’ That’s what these ads are saying.”

Low testosterone is not a condition per se, no more than menopause is. At the rate we are going as a society there will one be a pill to stave off death. Dying used to be a serious condition. But not any longer. But I digress.

Yes, I am a writer. And the only qualifications I have where psychiatry is concerned is that I once saw a psychiatrist for a period of time. Imagine, if you will, how devastating it was for me for my therapist to tell me, a writer, that I was sane. It was disappointing. I felt empty. I felt like I had failed. I wanted to be crazy…but this is a topic for another post.

So, here’s my suggestion for all of those guys out there my age an older: if you find yourself with a diminished sex drive, with having no energy to do the deed, then try not to fill your day with futile pursuits to stay young. In one commercial about low testosterone a man is depicted surfing (presumably in California as the sun sets over the ocean which would mean this bloke didn’t get to go surfing until he finished work that day). In another a guy looks fatigued playing basketball with his other portly friends.

Sure, it’s a commercial. But my humble estimation is that in real life many men bother with physical activities and save none of it for the bedroom (or living room, or the garage, or the laundry room, everyone’s taste is different). And why? Because by the time we get home from work and the gym, from the evening run that we believe helps to blow off steam after dealing with high-paid morons who have no business running a business much less being trusted to tie their neckties in the morning, we are pooped. Sorry, babe. I am tired.

Most guys reach a certain age and all the mirrors in their homes turn into fun house mirrors, distorting the real image looking back at them. So how do we cope? We rent porn. We drink. We smoke. We eat shitty foods because we were emotionally arrested somewhere in our teens due to some calamitous situation that we can no longer recall. We flirt with that 20-something dipshit at the office whose annoying voice is negated by her voluptuous build. We contend with significant others our own age who become infatuated with movie star hunks twenty years younger than us and in our twisted, manly logic we justify affairs, prostitutes, and lots worse. None of this has to do with low testosterone, the so-called mid-life crisis. It’s not a crisis. It’s nature. Everyone gets old. It’s not a condition. It’s called biology. But we pretend that we are still 25 years old because society expects it of us; only, just as when we were that age, it’s laughable to 25 year olds everywhere.

My point is that there is something greater at play in our society. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die. When did this happen? When did the notion that we can somehow defer aging enter into our collective psyche?

I am not denying the importance of regular check-ups to include blood work to ensure one’s health. You might think that some guys have all the luck, and for the rest there’s erectile dysfunction. But life is never that polarized. Ask yourself as you get older what’s most important. If your answer involves landing that annoying 20-something dipshit at the office then these words have fallen on deaf ears. But if you have problems with diminished performance during intimacy try leaving the gym early. Try cutting your run in half. And look in the fun house mirror at home and ask yourself “Am I a professional athlete? Am I going to the Olympics?” If the answer is no then go home early and surprise your partner. You may not have a “condition” at all. And you damn sure won’t need medicine to fix what ails you.