The Smoking Gun

(or, Where Did We Go Wrong?)

"Teach your children well
Their father's hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by

Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you."
- Graham Nash

"One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all
- and in the darkness bind them"
- J. R. R. Tolkien

Okay, it's been a while. Sorry about that.

I have a rant. Okay, I have several, but I'll start with one. This will probably not endear me to my Mom, but I need to hit on it anyway.

I'll start with smokers. Gods and Goddesses, just get me a fire extinguisher. Water will do fine. No blood, no foul, just let me douse each one of their flames into oblivion.

Some smokers are considerate, as much as they can be in relation to my point of view. They smoke outside the house, they field-strip their butts, and they dispose of them properly instead of leaving them for me to find later. Some of them even manage not to make my porch smell like stale burnt tobacco, which is a big plus (thank you, Mom; sorry I don't share or tolerate your habit in close quarters, but I had quite enough of it growing up. I'm grateful that you were considerate enough to ventilate the area while you indulged...).

Most of them, however, are truly cluelessly vile individuals who would just as soon breathe on you as look at you. Pity the one who breathes on the militant asthmatic gorilla. Evolution in action (film at 11).

I guess the ones I will hit upon are the ones I see every day over the couple of hours which constitute my daily journey from bed to waking indentured servitude and back again.

I'm talking about the ones in their cars. You know the ones. They hang their arms out the window with a lit cigarette firmly scissored between their fingers, they blow their smoke out the window and then -- this is the REALLY insulting part -- THEN they flick the lit butt out into the middle of the roadway where it becomes so much solid detritus.

Now, I won't argue against the fact that highways are litter themselves, but they're *useful* -- they let us get rapidly from one place to another (the "rapid" part is the subject of another rant, but I digress).

But if you're a motorcycle rider (I have several friends...) or a bicyclist (I have two bicycles), there is a danger in being behind someone who carelessly flicks a cigarette butt into the air without thought to consequence of their actions. If you're lucky, it will miss you; but anyone who's ridden a motorcycle to have a shower of sparks suddenly appear in the dark from some MORON who thinks that the world is their ashtray will tell you it's a very startling, if not frightening or potentially injurious experience. Something like that will send you careening off the road. If you're a bicyclist, you might also get hot ash in your eye. This is No Fun.

I'm just peeved that these people who fight so hard for their RIGHT to inhale burnt chemically-treated carcinogen-soaked tobacco-like fumes can't seem to keep it contained in their car while they drive. I mean, what are they trying to do, keep the car from getting cancer? If I'm sitting in rush hour behind a yutz like that, I sure don't want to smell the smoke! Keep it in your car. You wanted to be able to smoke freely, breathe it for a while. If you don't want to breathe it, STOP SMOKING, and think about how other people around you might have felt breathing in your noxious fumes.

The second deep thought to hit my mind this morning was triggered by the fact that higher taxes on vices do not reduce the committal of these vices; in fact, all the higher taxes do is increase the Cool Factor -- sometimes known as the Defiance Factor -- of the vices in question. In any case, the taxes don't work. They bring in money for who knows what (it isn't always going where I want it to go, to be sure, however noble the aim may be), but ultimately all it does, to put it politely, is to peeve them to the depths of the Underworld and several laps around the River of the Dead.

Tangent: If you're going to anger people, at least be prepared to tell them the truth about it; and if you're going to tell the truth, you should at least TRY to make them laugh. If you don't, they will kill you.

But I digress.

The tithes, tariffs and other devices on vices Do Not Work. I still buy beer as often as I ever did (which isn't much, to be honest), because I like a decent beer. I'm a bit incensed that a decent beer is so expen$ive because the H7C2OOH tax is so blasted high (and going up continually!), but I still buy it nonetheless. I'd really rather that the money didn't go to supporting the government, though.

Criminalisation doesn't work. To criminalise human(oid) nature is futile. You are not going to stop someone from doing something simply by punishing them for behaving in a certain way which is a part of who they are. All you are going to do is make them madder, and if there are enough people of like mind, you are going to find an unsuppressable revolt on your hands.

I really wish the powers that attempt to govern society would get that message through their heads, although it hasn't happened over the last couple of millennia (about five), so I don't expect it to change any time soon.

We live on a world chiefly governed in an authoritarian manner, and it is ever-present, no matter how much we would like to say it isn't. It's becoming more pervasive than it has been in recent years, though. The private schools are mostly parochial, and the learning material in the public schools is becoming so Bowdlerised and bland, I wonder that the kids are learning anything of substance.

There have been fad diseases over the last few decades; in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was ADD. Oh, my goodness, my child excels in only one area and can't focus on anything else -- we'd better medicate him.

Great. Now your child can't focus deeper than a gnat's wing on anything at all. You now have a "normal" child. Congratulations.

Then it was Asperger's syndrome, which was like ADD except a bit broader and a slight bit deeper, with socially repressed tendencies (gee, do we dare wonder on that one?). Oh, my goodness, we'd better medicate again.

Great. Your child is now not only socially repressed having suffered all the damage already, but can't grasp with the depth he used to on some of those wonderful things he used to do so well. You now have a "normal" child. Congratulations.

What is happening is these sparks, as irregular as they may seem, indicate a deeper perception, a propensity for investigating what is wrong and how to fix it, and a determination to be an individual instead of being stirred into the homogeneous ooze which coats us all to some degree.

But being that we live in an authoritarian society, we can't have individuals. Free thought is far too dangerous an anomaly to permit in a crowd. The few who still think on their own and make their way through are dismissed as radicals, crackpots, and eccentrics (the last one I proudly wear, thank you), and the authority attempts to stir the rest into the pot and plane them, shard them, prune them, melt them down.

Here are the multi-million-zorkmid questions: Why do we suppress or fail to encourage individuality, and why do we depend on authoritarianism?

Answer: Individuality and Freedom are not profitable.

Think about it. Corrections facilities generate an economy. The more jails are built, the more in tax money Corrections takes in. When the jails and prisons are full, they must build more, and so they take in more tax money. After a while, a constant is hit, which means that the profits they reap level off. So what do they do?

They find new deeds and practices to criminalise severely, dragging the net of the law as low as they can in order to catch more people so that they can justify more criminals.

(This next part is going to appear disjunct, but bear with me.)

We live in an economy of total artifice. Our economy as it stands has no viable basis for being an economy. This has been going on since at least the Great Depression era, likely before, when it was determined that the laws of supply and demand could be viciously manipulated by creating an artificial shortage. What makes it worse is that the farther up the chain of economic command you go, the easier it is for them to control the shortage. If some muckety-muck decides that they have a vendetta against a region (for example, California), they will pick something that region uses extensively (gasoline and/or energy) and then they will find some way to drive the price through the roof, usually by scapegoating just one of the many inroads the energy may have. It doesn't matter how readily the product is available -- if just one channel shuts down, it will spike the cost of the product in a severe way.

And then there's federal aid to the region which might be altered by said vendetta, which might contribute to the tipping of the budget balance, which paints its Governor in a very bad light, which makes the region rife for what is effectively a coup.

But I digress. I'm sorry. Do I sound bitter or cynical?

Supply and demand is no longer a valid system because all the checks and balances have fallen out, and supplies can be cut on a whim with no thought given by those who must afford the supplies.

In fact, the supply doesn't even have to be cut. The price can be raised on anything just by declaring a shortage, even if it doesn't exist.

The artificial economy is made even worse by the fact that the two-income household is now the status quo. Because there were some couples who dared to go out and break the one-works-one-raises mold in order to afford more, or to live a bit more comfortably, the fad caught on, and everyone started doing it. This, naturally, drew the interests of commerce who figured out, "Hey, everyone has more money, let's charge more and get more of that money."

And right there is where it went wrong. If commerce could have been content to sit back and just let it flow, they'd be doing fine. But they decided to get greedy, and that was ultimately the first straw.

Not that this hasn't happened before, but never mind that. Someone always has to have more, which gives them more control.

Because of this altered flow, we have found ourselves in a society in which both parents MUST work in order to make ends meet.

Because both parents must work, the City-State-Nation is now seeing after our children, because we the parents cannot. The children are not getting the education they deserve because it is not in the City-State-Nation's best interest to give it to them. Because they are not being educated, they will never see a decent-paying job in their lives. Couple this with the fact that most jobs which would carry a decent wage in this country are being farmed out overseas to people glad of the opportunity for the same jobs for far less than we will pay, and we have a total economic disaster on our hands, one which is going to cost us probably a generation and a half of some otherwise promising young people. What a waste of human(oid) life.

The higher-paying jobs are disappearing. Housing prices are not dropping, nor is the cost of living. Now both parents must work more than one job in order to make ends meet, or be relegated to depressed neighbourhoods with higher violent crime rates.

And we, the nurturers, the upbringers of children, are losing time with them which we shall never recover, because in order to even maintain a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, shoes on our feet and food in our bellies, we are spending fully three quarters of our lives working to bring in profits to people who have enough money in their personal accounts to purchase a small depressed Third World country or two.

Think also of this:

  • The government aids the corporations in this country by giving them tax breaks which, if distributed amongst the workers properly, would allow regular people to breathe.
  • These same corporations, by sending their services overseas, are biting the hand of the government that feeds them, but they don't feel it yet.
  • Two Words: Credit Debt. Need I say more?

The real question, of course, is what can we do about it?

Not much. Appreciate what we have, and keep only what we need to stay truly sane. Vote, no matter how futile it seems. It is the ONLY way you will be heard right now.

Spend time with people who are important to you.

Love your Mother. Those of you who are fortunate enough to have a corporeal one, whether adoptive or biological (or both!), love them, too.

Teach your children well.

I don't know about you, but it won't take much for me to do this. I'm doing my part, and I'm going to be happy, and raise smart kids, and live without material excess. The world will be a little better for it.

And Mom: I love you to pieces. Thanks for letting me use you as a classroom example of a considerate smoker.

1 comment:

Clare is Reading! said...

Dude. Do you remember the hugemongous fire in the Berkeley Hills in about 91/2? I lived off of Edwards Ave at the time, and would drive through the charred remains on my way between work and home. We were one freeway exit from evacuation, newts and frogs packed in travel cases, and several friends were actually evacuated, but luckily not burned out.

One day, about a week after the place was finally extinguished, I was driving behind this guy who flipps a fricken LIT cigarette out the window just as we get to the unburned area. I did not actually chase him down, but what is it now, 2007? I'm still cheesed off about that one.