There’s a new phrase that has established itself in the media: The New Normal.
I’m not a fan of this particular string of words. In fact, I utterly despise it. But what is “The New Normal”?
It’s a phrase to describe our lockdown lives right now. It’s a way of coming to terms with and accepting our current circumstances. And I’m all down with that if it’s going to make a difference and minimise the infection rate. But, just as we are being cautious about spreading the virus, we also need to be careful that this New Normal remains a temporary state, and that elements don’t linger in our post-Covid societies. In fact, I’m more worried about living in some sort of paranoid, contact-shy dystopian world than I am about Covid-19. A temporary acceptance of the new rules is fine. It’s required, and to flippantly disregard the measures would be a great display of ignorance to those who have succumbed to Covid-19, those fighting it on the frontlines, and those who have lost loved ones. But, at the same time, we must not fall into the trap of becoming desensitised to it all and allowing the New Normal to become simply Normal.
It is NOT normal to wear face masks. It is NOT normal to steer around other people in the street. It is NOT normal to be so scared of catching something. It is NOT normal to go on virtual dates, rather than be face-to-face. It is NOT normal to have our towns and cities covered in tape and “keep your distance” signage. It is NOT normal to have every TV commercial referencing the virus and lockdown.
As I’ve already said, we need to do these things right now because Covid-19 is far from a done deal. But realise that we have willingly given up our freedoms to our governments and that we get them back when they (backed up by scientific advice) say so. Previous generations have endured far worse changes to everyday life that lasted a lot longer, so we can do this.
But don’t accept these things as permanent changes. Do I think the masses will remain fearful and in favour of digital communion in the long-term? No, I don’t actually think that. The thousands of people that have been breaking distancing rules to pack themselves onto beaches are proof enough (though they are still fucking idiots). So what do I think COULD happen?
First of all – without wanting to become a conspiracy theorist – I think governments around the world will be watching and taking note of just how easy it was to force the populance to remain indoors and surrender basic freedoms. I don’t buy into the theories out there that the virus was released on purpose to trigger a lockdown response that would cow society. But the lockdown will remain invaluable data to leaders should they wish to impose these measures on us again. And next time, it might not even be for a valid reason. All they need to do is to sell us a reason that makes us all feel like heroes.
I think there is going to be a lot of unemployment as businesses fold, and others realise that they have managed just fine without their full workforce. And all this “free” money that has been thrown about will come at a great cost. Public funding is going to be cut and the tax bill is going to be bigger than Christina Hendricks’ boobs. We’re going to be living with the financial aftermath for a long-ass time.
But we can deal with those things. It’s the subtle, creeping social changes that we need to be wary of. Everything that we are doing right now is not human. Virtual communication without the senses of smell, taste and touch isn’t human. Queuing up outside stores in masks with big gaps between us certainly isn’t human. I DO think that we will get over all of this and move on but social changes tend to happen gradually, and subtlety, often without us noticing until, one day, we look back and think about the old ways of living. And that’s why we need to be careful because the longer this pandemic drags on, the more opportunity these temporary practices have to take root and be normalised in society.
I have several other Covid-19/Lockdown-related posts brewing in the back of my mind but I’m not sure if I’ll actually have the energy to publish them. Like most of us, I’m tired of it all, and tired of talking about the whole damn situation. Furthermore, I’m no expert and I have my own biases that make these kinds posts difficult to write.
I’ve been away from blogging for a bit, but it’s a new year and time for Unfiltered Opinion to rise from its festive slumber…
So, let’s kick 2020 off with the first in what will hopefully become a series of posts about positive practices. In this post, I want to discuss the art of doing the right thing. It may sound patronisingly straightforward and completely undeserving of being a discussion point but, if that truly were the case, the world and the people in it wouldn’t feel so utterly fucked so much of the time, would it?
But how do I define “doing the right thing”, then?
As always, I am only sharing my personal take on life, but “doing the right thing” in my book is all about being selfless and doing right by other people regardless of whether your actions and decisions will benefit you personally or not.
It’s about treating others the way you, yourself, would wish to be treated.
It’s about putting aside greed, selfish preferences or personal gain to do what you – deep down – KNOW is the right thing to do.
It’s about being honest and virtuous, and treating other people as the ends rather than the means.
It’s about doing things that are right without trying to (consciously or subconsciously) calculate what sort of “trade” you will be doing in the process i.e. only doing somebody a favour because they will owe you down the line.
It’s about striving to protect something higher than our individual selves.
I was inspired to make this post by – of all things – an ebay transaction last week. In a nutshell, I purchased something for the approximate value of £25-£30 just before Christmas and it still hadn’t arrived nearly a week after New Year. I messaged the seller and explained that I understood that the post was sluggish around this time of year but that I was just a little concerned that the item I’d ordered wasn’t coming. I asked them if they had any tracking information and they got back to me to say that they couldn’t find said information but that, yes, I should have received the item by that point. They apologised and issued a full refund. I was content with the solution and that was that.
Two days later, the item arrived in the post. According to the post marks, it had been posted on the nineteenth of December with a “Special Delivery” next-day service.
At first, I thought, “Get in! I’ve got a my item plus all of my money back”. It seemed like a major score.
But then I thought about it some more and remembered one of my all-time favourite philosophies: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” So I contacted the seller, informed them that the item had turned up and offered to reverse the refund.
They were grateful for my honesty with the situation but it wasn’t their thanks that I was seeking. I just wanted to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. I wanted to preserve the value of honesty.
Yes, I could have easily gotten away with my free purchase, and I’m sure that many would have done just that and lost no sleep over it. It is, after all, a dog-eat-dog world at times and any unexpected bonuses we become the beneficiary of aren’t easy to relinquish. At times, we even feel that we deserve these moments of good fortune for the suffering or hardships that we’ve faced. Or as compensation for the times that we’ve been screwed over by somebody else. And that’s fine but I try to draw the line at plussing at the expense of somebody else, especially if they haven’t done anything to warrant it.
Now, I’m not trying to put myself across as a saint. After all, I did initially feel pretty fucking good about having my (very tasty) cake and eating it when it came to that particular ebay situation. That I cannot deny.
But I did question my actions and arrive at the conclusion that I’d rather do the right thing, even it meant forfeiting my small splash of fortune. I sacrificed a chance to “plus” and did right by the ebay seller because that’s how I’d like to be treated myself. After all, you can’t really roll around bitching about how people are so dishonest these days or always out to screw you over if you are going to behave the same way.
Doing the right thing isn’t always easy and for a good reason: it usually means going out of your way for somebody else – or making a sacrifice – with no expectation of a reward. It means being selfless for the sake of preserving important, high-level values such as honesty and charity. There are a lot of people who will only do the right thing because they are – in effect – bartering and doing good deeds so that they can call in favours down the line or extract something from another person in exchange for their help. This doesn’t count as “doing the right thing” because you are doing something as a means to your own, personal ends.
Doing the right thing becomes doubly hard when we are surrounded by people who are only interested in themselves and think nothing of doing whatever it takes to get ahead, regardless of how their actions affect others. It is, unfortunately, an attitude that can lead to much material, superficial and financial success – you know, all those shiny things that we want in our lives – and so it becomes an attractive way of life.
And that’s why adopting high-level values and doing the right thing is such a difficult thing to do. You might not get the fat bank balance. You probably won’t get to bang all the hot girls. And you likely won’t have such an easy, comfortable time of it.
Nevertheless, I still believe that it’s a positive practice to always question yourself and your actions – so that you can analyse whether you are really doing the right thing or whether there are some selfish motives lurking beneath the surface of your consciousness. I feel that if you want to surround yourself with the best, most genuine of people, then this is one big way to move forwards in that direction.
Of course, you have to strike a balance, because there are so many people who will – consciously or not – take advantage of another’s honest, charitable nature. “Doing the right thing” doesn’t mean that you should be permanently bent over and taking it up the arse from users and those looking to use you as a stepping stone. Saying “No” and recognising where to draw a line is just as important as doing right by others.
Bear in mind that this is just my viewpoint. It is not my intention to get preachy or encourage anybody to do as I do. I’m no master of doing the “right thing” all of the time, after all. I mess up constantly and always try to remind myself that I’m likely wrong or incredibly ignorant about most things. But pausing to question what I’m doing is one of the big things that I intend to keep working on going forwards.
Against my better judgment, I often find myself scrolling through the news headlines and articles on my phone. I say “against my better judgment” because
There is nothing more untrustworthy than the news.
Most of what you read is hyperbole or sensationalist bullshit containing the words “allegedly” or “apparently”. Fantastic, fact-checked journalism, then.
News items are often spun to maintain the us-vs-them or left-vs-right narrative and get the public wound up in order to sell papers or generate ad-revenue via clicks.
Many news outlets are biased towards either the political left or right.
What I’m saying is that regularly reading or watching the news is downright harmful in my opinion. The relentless torrent of bad news can get you down and the way in which it is presented can easily warp an individual’s perception of the world. You have to be able to fish out the raw facts from an ocean of stinking sewage and arrive at your own conclusions but, even then, you may still never know the actual truth.
But this isn’t a post dedicated to bashing the news. I’ll save that for another time.
This is a post inspired by a news item that I read on the BBC’s website (after scrolling beyond the usual headlines involving Brexit, Trump and other misc. death and destruction).
Summer is a time for festivals, long lazy days in the park and for some of us… being single.
But come September, as the daylight hours get shorter and temperatures drop, you might find yourself wanting someone to cuddle up with.
That is basically the premise of “cuffing season” – that’s when people who are normally happy being single decide it’s time to find a plus-one for the Christmas party.
And then swiftly dispose of them before their trip to Ibiza in the spring. Brutal.
“Cuffing Season” has even made its way into the Collins English Dictionary according to this article. It goes on to speak to a few twenty-somethings who have jumped aboard the Cuffing train and the general picture that I got is that girls want to snuggle up with you on the sofa and watch Christmas movies together during the winter, then discard you in the new year so that they can be free and single again, unburdened by the presence of a partner that they chose to invite into their life. I guess this is part of the new Woke way of living where it’s acceptable to flit between, “I don’t need no man!” to “Oh gawd, I’m like so lonely! Won’t somebody go to a Christmas market with me and cuddle in front of the fire?!?”
Speaking as a man, I can’t say I care for this Cuffing Season thing. I have nothing against consensual, casual sex or a non-binding Friends With Benefits arrangement – as long as it’s clear that that’s what it is from the off. But Cuffing Season isn’t that. It comes off as being used to fill a void during the winter season, but not necessarily being informed of it. I wouldn’t want to start dating somebody during the winter months only to find out that I was being strung along so that the girl I was seeing could post pictures and shit on Instagram and Facebook of us being “happy” and together at Christmas. I know it isn’t necessarily as callous or pre-meditated as that but, hopefully, you get where I’m coming from.
I would want to know where I stand from the start. Are we just having sex or are we dating and hoping for this to go somewhere? All of this in between crap or anything that doesn’t fall on either side of the fence isn’t for me. I don’t want the hassle or the games. I don’t want to waste my time.
And this is where I finally get to the point of this post: the reasons for the existence of Cuffing Season and why so many people are desperate to be with somebody at Christmas.
The pressure of social media.
She says there’s an “unspoken pressure” to be in a relationship at this time of year, and that social media definitely influences it.
“Whether it’s decorating the Christmas tree or going to family events – people’s partners are everywhere.”
She says there’s “so much pressure” to find someone to go on Instagram-worthy festive dates with, which isn’t helped by a bombardment of happy couples putting pictures up with cuddly toys they’ve won at Christmas fairs.
So, in a nutshell, young people are seeing pictures of others being happy and together at Christmas and feeling envious. Then, they feel left out and uninvolved if they too can’t post up selfies with a partner.
We are being bombarded by these pictures of happy, smiling, loved-up couples at Christmas and some of us simply cannot take it. If you aren’t able to post similar photos of your own, then your life must suck, right?
The problem with social media is that people are only uploading the positive moments from their lives. It’s just a highlight reel of their best bits and doesn’treally reflect their life. Nobody’s life is an endless rollercoaster of happy selfies and good times. Bad shit happens to everybody and the other 80-90% is simply mundane and very un-sexy. Like going to work, filling the car up with fuel or brushing your teeth.
But the likes of Instagram and Facebook have successfully brainwashed millions into believing that they are inadequate or that their life is terrible just because it looks like everybody else is having an almighty blast. They genuinely feel this unspoken pressure to live up to the standard set by the uploads of others. It’s absolutely nuts if you stop and think about it.
All day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest jokes. The most upsetting news. The scariest threats. Nonstop. … This flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that exceptionalism is the new normal. And because we’re all quite average most of the time, the deluge of exceptional information drives us to to feel pretty damn insecure and desperate, because clearly we are somehow not good enough. … Technology has solved old economic problems by giving us new psychological problems. The internet has not just open-sourced information; it has also open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt and shame.
There’s nothing wrong with uploading pictures to social media, viewing the pictures of others’ or commenting on them and all that jazz. But there IS something wrong with feeling like a failure or a loser because you can’t “compete” and add something of your own.
So some people are happy and loved-up at Christmas…so what? Good for them. It doesn’t mean that I’m somehow worthless. At the very least, it means that I’m not in a Cuffing-style relationship and destined to be dumped come spring 2020!
You need to be able to think, “fuck what everybody else is doing” and get on with your own life. At the time of typing this, I’m single so yes, I would be lying if I didn’t feel even a little bit envious of lovey-dovey couples at this time of the year. It’s human to feel that way. But it isn’t some major crisis for me. I don’t give a fuck about what Facebook is saying or what the trend is on Instagram. I don’t want my perceptions of success and happiness to be defined by what others are doing or what social media says my life needs to be like in order to be “normal”
I don’tneed some sort of false, temporary relationship over Christmas. Either it’s real or it isn’t. If it’s pre-mediatated and plotted during the autumn months by a woman that simply doesn’t want to be left out of the selfie festivities come December, then that can fuck right off.
I have food. I have beer. I have family. I have a few days off work. That’s a good haul as far as I’m concerned. And I’m not going to upload any of it to Instagram because I don’t need anybody else to like or comment on it to enjoy it.
I hope everybody has a swell Christmas but I honestly don’t give a fuck about what they are doing.
I’m often criticised for not getting into the Christmas spirit but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy Christmas; it just means that I don’t see the sense in suddenly getting all hyped up and being Mr. Positive for one month of the year. Behaving this way is – in my mind – incredibly false.
For starters, we are constantly told that Christmas is a time of forgiveness and building bridges; of charity and of reform. Do you know what I have to say to this?
Bullshit – that’s what.
Shouldn’t we behave like this all year round? We shouldn’t be selfish, negative and ignorant to the suffering of others for eleven months of the year then “make up” for it in December by imitating Ebeneezer Scrooge and initiating a total transformation. Why can’t we strive to be good, virtuous people all year round? A lot of people who only act charitable during Christmas are – I’m sorry to say – doing so because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel righteous and I’ve seen people lambasting others over the Christmas period for not following their example, before returning to their self-centred and grumbling selves come the new year.
Then there is the near-sickening level of commercialism surrounding Christmas that overshadows what this time of year is meant to be about. The marketing machine fires up months in advance and a special kind of hell arrives on earth in late November/early December: the jam-packed stores heaving with shoppers, filling their baskets and trollies with cheap, plastic crap manufactured en masse in China.
Christmas has morphed into the biggest shopping “event” of the year and businesses battle to capitalise on the season and rake in the fat profits. The irony of it is that this fierce competition between the retailers is only possible because the corporations have successfully enlisted us all in a war: the war to buy family and friends the biggest and best presents. The war to have the most decorated house or the most outrageously overblown Christmas tree. The war to lay on the most gargantuan and comprehensive spread for Christmas dinner.
All of this can go away as far as I am concerned. I want no part in it.
Christmas, for me, is about the simple things. I only get Christmas day off from my job (Boxing Day isn’t guaranteed) and so I look forward to simply having that one, isolated day off. I look forward to being with family on Christmas morning when we are all free from work. I look forward to the Christmas dinner and watching Christmas movies on the TV in the afternoon while scoffing chocolates and drinking beer.
Do I like opening presents? Sure I do, but it really is the thought that counts. I don’t care about receiving mounds of expensive gifts or the exact items that I wrote down on a list for somebody to buy. I’d much rather receive something that had some thought put into it – something that shows that the giver really knows me, listened to me throughout the year or remembered something. But even then, it isn’t all about the material items. I really don’t get my sister’s determination to spend big or ensure that she tops the previous year’s gifts, for example. It’s unnecessary and I won’t think anything less of a small, simple gift.
In short, Christmas is about togetherness. It’s about relaxing. It’s about remembering what you have as opposed to what you don’t have. It CAN be a time for change and for charity towards those less fortunate but, in that case, it needs to be a permanent change that you carry forwards into the next year and beyond. Be better ALL the time, not just when the Christmas songs and hype have you feeling merry.
DON’T go crazy, spending thousands of pounds to “buy” smiles on faces with gifts. DON’T get all stressed because one small, trivial detail is going to “ruin” Christmas. DON’T buy into the commercial bullshit and be sold excessive amounts of plastic crap that you don’t need. DON’T cave into the pressure to beat the presents of others or to outdo your efforts from last year. DON’T adopt a temporary, false-happy personality and become Mr. Charity for the month of December only.
DO spend time with loved ones. DO buy simple gifts with thought put into them. DO enjoy the small pleasures i.e. time off from work, Christmas dinner, crappy Christmas TV. DO realise what you have in your life and decide to appreciate it. DO reflect on the year just gone and be a better you going forward.
It’s almost (at the time of writing, of course) THAT time of year again. That time when the populance descend on supermarkets and retail shopping parks like lunatics and tear the places apart in their determination to feel smug about “saving” money. I am of course referring to Black Friday, the (now) annual premier shopping ‘event’ on the consumer calendar.
From what I understand, Black Friday has been around for a long time in America. Here, in the UK, we’ve only had the pleasure of hosting it since 2014. ASDA (our British branch of Walmart) attempted to get a Black Friday thing going in 2013 and this was the last of the low-key efforts before it finally took off the following year. It was (rightfully) criticised as “Americanism” and that’s no offence directed at any of you American-based readers. It’s just that a lot of people over here tend to get a little disgruntled over our culture being overwritten by American traditions, entertainment and celebrities.
(Oh, and woe betide anybody who spells a word the American way when you are based in the UK!)
2014 was the first big year for Black Friday in the UK and it was – in my opinion – a complete embarassment that exposed the very ugliest, mindless and sheep-like behaviour in people. Shoppers got so swept up in trying to grab the bargains before anybody else that police had to be called in to deal with grid-locked traffic and threatening behaviour in stores. There were even assaults! Can you imagine fighting somebody over a cut-price TV? I don’t understand it but I guess there are people out there who don’t even need to imagine the concept…because THEY were involved! It was so bad that ASDA didn’t take part in 2015’s Black Friday sales due to the negative publicity and general chaos that occured in its stores.
The madness was big news in 2014 and you would have hoped that it had ended there but this is the real world (unfortunately) and so Black Friday continued to grow and grow because increasing amounts of money and fatter sales figures were involved. Now we have this big beast of a shopping event that is advertised well in advance and has even become a Black Week for some retailers. You can even get Black Friday deals on non-tangible products such as broadband contracts.
But I’m here to tell you why I simply don’t give a crap about Black Friday and refuse to be swept up in the hysteria and hunting for “bargains”.
Firstly, there is only ONE type of person that actually “wins” during Black Friday: the person who was already in the market for a specific product and waits until Black Friday to secure it at a discount. It’s the person who was already going to buy an item and spend money on it.
All these people who get in their cars, battle for parking spaces, then hit the stores and load up their credit cards with heaps of purchases that they hadn’t previously planned? Congratulations, you’ve lost. You’ve been played like a fiddle by the monstrous marketing machine that sits behinds the scenes, steam belching from its pipes with every bellow of laughter. Because here’s the thing: you haven’t saved ANY money if you buy shit that you weren’t even going to buy before you saw it with a Black Friday sticker slapped on the box. That applies to ALL sales and store reductions during the year. If you score a product with an RRP of £50 for £30, you haven’t saved £20. What you’ve done is spend £30 that you otherwise wouldn’t have. You’re worse off AND you’ve jumped when the big businesses and marketing men have cried “jump!”
Fuck that shit – seriously.
Now, some people might read my view on all this and call me a killjoy or a boring fuck with a superiority complex. That’s fine. Go out and fill up the boot of your car with “deals”. But be prepared to take the credit card bills or shortfall in your available bank balance on the chin when an unexpected expense crops up. “But I have loads of money – I can AFFORD to go big on Black Friday,” I hear another person argue (all of these imaginary voices in my head aren’t healthy). Well, that’s fine too but I hope you’re happy with being the little, predictable bitch of the retailers. I also hope that all the importance that you’re attaching to those hard-fought-for material prizes goods, and all that consumerism that you’re gorging on, isn’t just a diversion – a distraction – from the real problems and challenges in your life. You’d be amazed at how quickly a new TV or iphone loses its sparkly lustre…
When I see the footage of people queuing for miles outside of shops, or crowds of feverish shoppers shoving their way into a store, it just strikes me as embarassing. And the raised aggression has no excuse. So you missed out on the last one; big deal – it’s just the way it is. Don’t lower yourself to clawing at somebody else and trying to rip a product out of their hands. Imagine that the roles were reversed; would YOU want some crazed person launching themselves at YOU and attempting to prise something from your arms? No, I didn’t think so.
I must also spare a thought for the shop workers during Black Friday! I have heard all sorts of stories about verbal and even physical abuse aimed at retail employees because something was out of stock or because the queue to pay was too long. Some of it is simply outrageous – customers acting like rabid, wild animals fighting over the last piece of meat clinging to the bones of a dead beast. People working in shops aren’t paid enough to deal with this shit. They don’t get any sort of bonus or extra pay for enduring abuse. Their job is to serve you at the pay point or fill the shelves. It isn’t to magic-up another batch of cut-price blenders which doesn’t exist, or to magic you to the front of the queue – it’s to perform the same roles that they would on any other given shift, for the same pay. There is absolutely zero excuse for losing your rag with store employees or treating them like second-rate pieces of shit for working a minimum wage job. Shame on the business owners too for facilitating the Black Friday insanity and putting their employees on the front lines where the furious customer is “always right” (they really aren’t).
All of this aside, I really don’t want to chase material gains. Yes, I still buy things but I’ll weigh up whether I actually NEED to buy something and if I do still want it? Then I’ll just buy it anyway, not wait for Black Friday or some other sale.
I see horrific traffic congestion in my town all the time at the local retail shopping park – lines upon lines of stationary cars struggling to squeeze in. Next comes the driving-around-and-around-for-ages-to-find-a-space game which can only end with an aggressive play where a car speeds into a vacated spot before another waiting car can do the same. Horns blare and yummy-mummies (who clearly don’t need to work on a Friday…) tear up the parking zones in bloated SUVs or excessively powerful Range Rovers. Then comes the shopping itself…the crowds, the queues, the being rammed by other people’s trollies…
And this is all on a normal week! Black Friday is even worse. I can only ask myself, “why on earth would anybody put themselves through all of that?”. Even sitting at home, why would I want to spend hours on overloaded websites, trying to snag a cheap videogame or something from a Black Friday sale? As I’ve already said, fuck that shit.
In conclusion, Black Friday is – in my opinion – a really bad thing. If you want to see the very worst of western consumerism and people giving too many fucks about insignificant things, then Black Friday is the time to see those things at their very peak.
2019 marks fifty years since man first set foot on the moon. It was an extraordinary achievement and a huge moment for our species, the magnitude of which I think is often taken for granted these days. The mathematics and engineering behind the mission were incredible. The same can be said for the mission structure and how such a meticulously-devised operation was pulled off as planned, with the crew all returning to Earth safely.
It was such a big moment for a species that had, less than a hundred years previous, still been traversing the globe aboard wooden ships reliant on wind. Neil Armstrong’s famous quote of “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” was the perfect way to summarise what NASA’s scientists and – by extension – the human race had achieved.
I will sometimes look up at the moon and remind myself that men have been up there and walked on that far-off surface. Even now, it still strikes me as surreal, as if such a thing should belong firmly in the realm of fantasy.
But when I then think of what we have achieved as a race since 1969, I cannot help but wonder if we have stalled somewhat. Obviously, things have been achieved – too many to list, in fact. We have had so many breakthroughs in regards to technology, medicine, science and the understanding of our planet, for example.
But we haven’t (in my opinion) done anything nearly as momentous as breaking free of the Earth’s gravity and successfully landing on an alien surface. If the moon landing was considered a precursor to even bigger and previously unthinkable achievements to follow, then I don’t believe we have lived up to that potential.
Instead, our “advancements” have been all about bigger and better ways to entertain our brains; more ways to sell products and services to the populance; new ways to make money; better methods of numbing our brains and, of course, more efficient ways to kill each other. In short, we have done a damn good job of increasing the comfort level of our lives and extending our life expectancy but we’ve not really taken many major steps towards propelling the human race to greater heights. In fact, you could even say that we have regressed in many ways. Take a look at what people are complaining about on social media or what the latest “big” news stories are and ask yourself just how important any of this shit is in the grand scheme of things. It’s quite sobering.
We’ve also trapped ourselves with our systems of money and finance. When NASA had its funding cut in the wake of the financial crisis, for example, it meant that research into projects that could push man forward was compromised. So we sacrifice progress to protect money and the economy; man-made concepts that actually hold us back. The focus is on the rich getting richer, the elite protecting their position(s) and the struggle for power. None of this is helpful in the big picture sense. It’s all dick-waving and greed that feeds short-term ambition and selfish gain. And all of these gains will mean nothing when the recipients are dead and buried.
The truth is, we could probably achieve a hell of a lot more if we just DID things rather than holding back because of funding problems or because of opposition. Obviously, this is all necessary to a degree if we wish to maintain order and a functioning society but even so, it’s something to think about. I think so anyway.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you may be familiar with my posts on the subject of materialism. Unfortunately, it seems that I wasn’t completely sorted on my definition of materialism nor my use of terminology.
I’m not taking back anything that I’ve previously said on the burden of materialism, the fallacy of happiness being defined by material goods or the healthy practice of cutting down on materialism. All of that? I still stand by it. I still believe in it.
But I certainly put my foot in it when I accused my sister of being materialistic. I was being casual about it but she didn’t take it well and, initially, I couldn’t see what I’d said wrong. As it turned out, I’d got my terminology completely wrong. Y’see, she is easily advertised and sold to (by her own admission!) and can’t help spending, spending, spending on stuff that she really doesn’t need. Really, this is better described as consumerism.
From Collins: “Consumerism is the belief that it is good to buy and use a lot of goods. “
Of course, you might still describe my sister’s actions as “materialism”…
From Collins: “Materialism is the attitude of someone who attaches a lot of importance to money and wants to possess a lot of material things.”
BUT, I specifically used the word “materialistTIC” and it slowly dawned on me that there might be some differences between “materialistic” and “materialism”…after being (angrily) informed by my sister of what it means to be materialistic. A great many of us are guilty of materialism after all, but a materialistic attitude is a bit different and not necessarily something that comes hand-in-hand with materialism itself.
She was upset by me describing her as materialistic because being materialistic is to put material items and possessions above people and experiences. By her own admissions, she can’t help spending money and buying excessive amounts of clothes and other stuff BUT she doesn’t put her stuff above the people in her life.
And I – of all people – should have known that.
But instead, I was an asshole, trying to throw about my “wisdom”.
So I was wrong, and that’s the big takeaway from this post. It’s important to be able to listen to the criticism of others and review your own actions/words. It’s okay to say, “you know what? I was wrong there.” But, unfortunately, it’s often much easier (and satisfying) to forge onwards and refuse to admit that you made a mistake; refuse to acknowledge that there is even the slightest outfield chance that you weren’t right.
Because we’re all wrong a LOT of the time. We just need to be open to this fact and be willing to take it on the chin.
“extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance“
Does this sound familiar? It should do.
I have come to the conclusion that here, in western civilisation at least, we are seeing an increasingly narcissistic society where people are lost in their ballooning sense of self-importance. Entitlement is everywhere and a worrying number of people simply cannot deal with being denied something, or being informed that they are wrong.
Here’s the blunt truth: you are not important.
I am not important.
In fact, nobody is more important than anybody else.
Now, you may argue that the woman making crucial political decisions is more important than the man sitting on his arse at home, drinking beer in the middle of the day and sponging off the state but even this isn’t so. One role in society is more important than the other but the actual people in those roles? Nope. If you are talking about human life then neither person in that scenario is more important. After all, you can have all the money in the world and one of the highest positions in society, but you still take a shit in the same way. You can still contract a terminal illness such as cancer. And, in the end, we all die the same way.
Away from the crude and morbid analogies, my point is this: strip away the status and we are all just people. Yes, we are all individuals with different personalities, ideas and views on matters but nobody has the right to be considered more important than anybody else.
Narcissism doesn’t care about that though. Narcissism is most commonly linked with physical vanity and originates from the ancient Greek myth, where the young Narcissus looked into a pool and fell in love with his own reflection. That pool that Narcissus gazed into is still here today, only in the form of mirrors and self-facing smartphone camera lenses, rather than old-school water. But I would argue that selfies and the millions of photos plastered across social media of girls in their bedrooms showing off their make-up, outfits and even their bodies is only surface level narcissism. How many of those girls are showing off in front of the camera because they are genuinely in love with their physical self, do you think? I would wager that it is only a small percentage. This kind of behaviour is born of a need to compete and look pretty to live up to a set of standards that society and the media have cooked up in order to keep selling us products.
If you ask me, this isn’t narcissism because it stems from insecurity.
Narcissism operates on a sub-level. It’s the act of showing off to the world and subconsciously shouting for attention that is narcissistic, not the photographs themselves. We crave those Likes and positive comments on our pictures. We want our oh-so-dramatic status updates to pique the curiosity of others and get them asking questions or sending us their best wishes (if said status alludes to a bad experience). We want every piece of trivial, meaningless shit that we upload to social media profiles – amusing gifs, memes, reactions – to contribute towards wrenching the spotlight away from somebody else.
It makes us feel important.
It would be unfair to say that social media is the sole reason that we, as a society, have allowed our sense of self-importance to grow and swell until it dominates our decisions and thought processes, but it has a hell of a lot to answer for. The thing is, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have given anybody with access a platform to speak to the world and blurt out their opinions and rash reactions to events, seconds after they have occured. In ye olden days, if something really fucking offended your principles or seemed worth pushing back against, you’d have to get off your arse and organise a physical rally or protest march. It took effort and organisation. However, social media allows anybody to scream and bawl about anything at all that they perceive to be a wrong, an insult or a problem. Anybody can whinge about anything and when like-minded users begin to agree, an echo-chamber effect amplifies the loudest of voices and, suddenly, the original issue appears to be a huge thing. Massive, even.
Back in REAL life, you are unlikely to meet that many people – if anybody at all – who are talking about the latest cataclysmic outrage that is tearing the internet apart. Why? Because it isn’t actually a big deal at all. If you had to physically organise a meet-up or go out and do something about a perceived problem, how many people do you think would actually bother? How many of these “issues” do you think would even be worth discussing in public?
People’s self-inflated sense of importance gives them the idea that their opinions are important; that THEY are important. And neither is true. Many people can’t deal with somebody challenging their opinion either. The default response is to shout and scream back at the other person, insisting that theyare right and that the other person is absolutely, categorically wrong. It’s the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and shouting, “LA, LA, LA…I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
You’ve no doubt seen it before, first-hand. Look at the comments sections in Youtube or any sort of debate/discussion on social media or in the comments sections of news articles and there is a distinct pattern. Raging, never-ending back-and-forths where nobody is capable of listening to other viewpoints or taking onboard rational, critical counter-arguments. Sure, some people concede or admit that their viewpoint may be flawed, but this is the rare exception to a rotten rule. Usually, it’s all about repeating your opinion relentlessly, and any sensible discussion is more or less guaranteed to devolve into hurling insults.
It’s the final line of defence that sees our supposedly intelligent race regress to the level of apes and start flinging its own shit around.
This happens because an exaggerated sense of self-importance also extends to one’s opinions. Narcissistic people simply cannot have their viewpoint threatened or challenged by another person. They don’t know how to deal with this and thus revert to a childish state where they ultimately throw a tantrum because they aren’t being allowed to have their own way.
In a previous post entitled, ‘You know nothing (and that’s okay)‘, I went into how it’s healthy to be open to the fact that you could be wrong. It’s an attitude that keeps your mind open and allows you to learn. It doesn’t mean that the criticism and opposing views of others areright, but you should be prepared to shut your mouth, listen and analyse what you’re hearing. There might be flaws in your view(s) that you have overlooked or you might actually be wrong. You also need to be able to question yourself at all times and, ultimately, you have to be big enough to accept that you were incorrect and that somebody else’s input was actually useful.
This mindset appears to be being driven to extinction however. It isn’t (as I said earlier) all the fault of the social media though. The other major catalyst responsible for this narcissism epidemic is rampant entitlement. So many people feel that they are owed something by society and life in general. They feel that they deserve all the good things in life without actually doing anything to earn them. And when they don’t get them, narcissism strikes again and they can’t cope with not receiving what they believe they are owed.
I’m sure that there are a multitude of reasons for this ugly and utterly flawed way of approaching life but I will try to keep it brief here because, after all, I’m no expert in psychology or social history. First of all, entitlement seems to have crept into western society over a period of decades. The most obvious reason is that multiple generations of people have grown up in peacetime with no wars to threaten their existence. As a result, millions of people haven’t had to learn the hard way that they are lucky to be alive and leading the rich lives that they are living. Growing up and living a long time with access to healthcare that can fix most problems is taken for granted, as is state assistance.
In short, people grow into adults surrounded by safety nets and help. They don’t learn the value of hard work like their grandparents and great grandparents did. Instead, they benefit from their immediate ancestors’ relative wealth. Those previous generations lived through a time where wages were more competitive and they were able to completely pay off mortagages and amass savings. As such, their children were able to benefit from the security and stability.
A lot of people grew up with everything they wanted and increasingly-lax parents that failed to instil any form of discipline or meaningful teachings into their children. Suffering (an incredibly valuable tool for positive growth) was kept to a minimum and a lot of children developed into adults with a resulting sense of self-importance.
To share a personal example, I remember being at school in the early-mid 2000’s and being surrounded by 11-15 year-olds decked out in designer-branded clothes and £100+ trainers. They had the latest mobile phones as soon as they came to market; all the latest videogame consoles and games, no matter the amount it must have set their parents back. I didn’t have anything of the sort and made do with old, outdated handed-down mobile phones and cheap, affordable off-brand clothes/trainers. When everybody else was raving about the latest Playstation 2 games, I was still using an original, handed-down Playstation and replaying games I’d finished countless times before! But to the other kids, having all of this stuff was viewed as normal – expected, even. I was the odd one out – unable to join in with discussing the latest videogames or mobile phones – and I can’t deny that I felt jealous back then. But now, as an adult, I appreciate the way my parents raised me (a post for another time), and I can see that many others in my school year were already riddled with entitlement.
So people became entitled and now, when life doesn’t treat them the same as their parents and hand them everything on a silver plate, they can’t handle it. Suddenly, their “suffering” (it really isn’t) is the fault of everybody else: society, the government, wealthy people…anybody else’s fault but their own. You’ve no doubt heard people saying, “why is this happening to me?”, acting like a victim. They can’t understand why every little thing isn’t going their way and they falsely believe that they are suffering terribly.
And now, this monstrous sense of self-importance is coming to the fore in mainstream media. Anybody with an agenda is shouting loudly and protesting – be it LGBT rights, #metoo, Extinction Rebellion, etc. – because they absolutely must be heard. Their opinion and cause is incredibly important and everybody must stand up and take notice. And don’t you dare disagree with what they want. Their right to take offence at opposing viewpoints is more important than anything else, including your opinion. They are important people, after all.
I’m not saying that everybody has fallen into this narcissism trap but it seems to be a problem that grows worse with each successive generation and I can’t see it going away anytime soon with social media’s influence now an integral part of our lives. The people who may as well be screaming, “look at meeeeee!” on Facebook are having children of their own and, to those children, this sort of behaviour will be imprinted upon them and become second nature.
There are actually some very worrying theories online from psychology experts and historians who believe that this is all building up to war, the collapse of society and rapidly degrading IQ levels across western society. There’s historical evidence and patterns that back up the theories too.
I’m a big believer in the idea that our (sometimes) wonderful race won’t be wiped out by a planet-consuming disease or a sudden asteroid impact. Likewise, it won’t be a biblical flood, global warming or even aliens that will supply us with our tickets for the Death Express. While all of these things remain a possibility, I think that WE will be the architects of our own doom in some form or another. Our own supreme ignorance; the selfish agendas of the elite; our frustrating inability to learn from past mistakes…these things are all in with a bigger shout of fast-tracking human extinction.
Right now for instance, the Amazon rainforest – an unrepeatable wonder of natural beauty – is burning and, rather than save it, the Brazilian government and other world leaders are using it as the latest political battleground. Far into the future (if we even make it that far) the loss of all that forest and the unique species within is going to look pretty dumb.
It’s quite sobering to think about where we – as an overall race – could be right now and how far we could have come if we hadn’t poured so much time, resources, money and intellect into killing each other or preserving the status quos that keep the rich rich and the powerful powerful. Obviously, there are far too many factors as to why this is the case to go into here, but the outcome is still the same: irrational hatred and conflict holds us all back.
Different races regard one another with suspicion.
Neighbouring countries harbour deep-seated resentment of each other based on historic acts that were ordered and carried out by people long since dead.
Society on a national level is divided by issues where compromise seems impossible.
A free pass for this behaviour could have been handed out thousands of years ago when humans lived in tribes and raw survival was the sole priority. But now, with the benefit of knowledge and the experience of countless mistakes, we should know better. And yet we don’t and likely never will. Not as a collective species anyway. As intelligent as we are, we are also incredibly dim-witted at times.
What happened to accepting that we all have different opinions, beliefs and views? Is it not possible to disagree with somebody else and NOT take shit to the next level? At the end of the day, the person you disagree with is still a person and you will probably have shared interests…if you’d actually view them as a person and not their beliefs. Take the embarassing Brexit saga currently splitting the UK in two for example: it’s turned into a real Us vs Them war of opinion. Suddenly you are either a Remainer or a Brexiteer and both camps are hurling abuse at each other, forgetting that those on the other “side” are just like them – British guys ‘n gals just trying to get on with life.
The irony is that Brexit was never about giving the people what they wanted or about Britain puffing its chest out and going solo. Offering the vote was David Cameron’s way of tapping into an existing anti-EU sentiment in order to win a general election and get into No.10, Downing Street. Everything that has happened since has been a game of political chess with parties and individuals hoping to utilise Brexit as a means to advance their own agendas and careers…
Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party hope to get into power by toppling an unconvincing Conservative government. The Scottish National Party cite Brexit and the government’s piss-poor handling of it as evidence that a second independence referendum for Scotland is necessary. The Brexit Party has risen from the ashes of the (now irrelevant) UK Independence Party and become a genuine political force. The anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats are enjoying a resurgance. Back-stabbing and shifting alliances within ruling the Conservative party itself continue to dumbfound us all.
It’s like a really low-rent, boring version of Game of Thrones without the dragons and breasts.
More importantly though, the rich and powerful continue to move the pieces around the board and get away with it while we continue to divide ourselves and shun neighbours based on which way they voted.
I’m not proclaiming to be perfect. I have my own prejudices and reservations about certain people and groups/organisations for example. But more and more, I’m recognising how incredibly short-sighted and foolish it all is in the grand scheme of things. While we fight and scream at each other over social media, determined to have the last word on a disagreement that we’ve probably long since lost sight of, common threats that should concern us ALL are hiding in plain sight.
Shortages of natural resources and food.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence.
Blatant corruption and cover-ups by the elite.
Yes, some of these do get their fair share of air time but some don’t and even those that DO are forced to make way for “news” on Donald Trump’s latest Tweet or the latest dick-measuring contest between world leaders.
It is in our nature to be competitive and to band together around common beliefs – to be tribal. It’s part of our biological make-up and to try to stamp it out altogether would probably be impossible as well as dangerous. But that doesn’t mean that we should stop learning from the outcomes that division and hatred have historically triggered. Right now, it often feels like we are actually regressing and getting wrapped up in our petty quarrels while actual progress and improvement is forced to take a back seat.
I’m not telling you to discard your views or opinions but try taking a step back and seeing the people behind the labels, because they are most likely just like you, ultimately fighting for the same things.
In recent years, there has been a big shift towards being told that we are all extraordinary people and that we can all attain greatness – that we can all become legends. Perhaps this form of self-improvement advice has always been around and is now simply being magnified by the powerful influence of social media but I don’t necessarily think so.
There is an ocean of self-help books aimed at making you financially rich for example. Then there is the legion of popular Youtube channels pumping out inspirational and motivational content, telling us that we CAN be great and that we WILL be extraordinary…if we just listen to some ten minute speeches backed up by dramatic music and imagery of people working out. And let’s not forget the feel-good content enforcing the notion that we are ALL extraordinary people.
Being average = to have failed in life – apparently. Being average is to be a nobody and that’s a bad thing…apparently.
Before I continue however, let’s remind ourselves of the dictionary’s definition of “extraordinary”, shall we?
And here lies the biggest contradiction of all because if all of us could indeed become extraordinary then, by the metric of comparison, we would all once again be the same. We would be ordinary, not extraordinary. So to peddle the idea that we can all be extraordinary achievers living the high life is an outright lie. All of the self-help gurus seem to skip over this point but it’s hardly surprising when they are trying to get you to subscribe to their Youtube channels or persuading you to pay them money to access a simple five-step programmme that will have you wiping your nose with £50 notes and drowning in pussy within the year. The irony that they are making stacks of money from your desire to make money is so delicious, it has my mouth watering.
My initial inspiration for this post was Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck. It’s a book that I have referenced here numerous times (and even reviewed) and with good reason. The book contains straightforward, realistic advice centred around home truths and becoming more grounded. Mark puts the “extraordinary ordinary” contradiction like this:
Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is in the middle of the pack, the middle of the bell curve. When a culture’s standard of success is to be “extraordinary”, it then becomes better to be at the extreme low end of the bell curve than to be in the middle, because at least there you’re still special and deserve attention.
A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.
This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and others.
The ‘dangerous’ part is actually quite relevant to a theory that I read about the other day; a theory that inspired me to finally write this post. It was a discussion on the problem of mass shootings in the United States and why there are so many shooters that appear to have lost their minds and all empathy for other human beings. Could it be that their disilluson and disatisfaction with society led them to unload on a shopping mall of innocent civilians? Could it be that they feel that they were promised extraordinary things and a certain type of life – that they are owed it – and when it didn’t materialise, they converted all of their bitterness and warped resentment into an ammunition clip before emptying said clip into a school hallway?
I’m no psychologist or expert. I’m not even American. But even so, I saw some potential truth in that searching explanation for these heart-breaking tragedies that continue to occur in the US.
Because the education system is flawed. It teaches children what the System wants them to know in order to to mould them into shiny new cogs to keep the machine running; to keep business running; to keep the rich and the powerful in rich and powerful positions. We aren’t taught the realities of life. We aren’t taught about the real battles that we will have to face as individuals. School taught us that if we work hard and make good grades on our exams then the pieces will fall into place on their own. Our grades will earn us good jobs, we will own our own spacious home and we will drive about in a nice BMW or Mercedes. We will have a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids that we love playing with in the back garden.
Except it doesn’t necessarily work that way and to lag behind on reaching that destination means that you are failing. I worked hard all through school and got great grades but I haven’t “made it” yet. I left education just as the banking crisis tanked the economy and so my grades and CV didn’t mean jack. Eventually, I took a retail/manual labour job in order to get some money coming in and to gain work experience and guess what? I’m still there. In a different role but still there in the same sector. Thing is, school and education doesn’t teach you that there are other obstacles such as personal motivation and self-confidence, both of which I admit to suffering with. After all, you can get the best grades but if you aren’t great with people then the paper they are printed on could be irrelevant. In my case, I’ve never had any real direction or firm idea of what I wanted to do.
Right now, I too could be severely disillusioned and feeling betrayed by society. In fact, I DO feel a pang of jealousy when I see a dude around with his beautiful lady and two kids, enjoying themselves in the park or at the beach. I think to myself, “damn, that’s where I should be by now.” In this situation, it’s easy to feel resentful and bitter about society. It’s easy to hate on other people. But I have to remind myself that everybody’s situation is different and that some people DO have distinct advantages or have had better opportunities. I am an average guy with an average job, an average pay, average looks and you know what? That’s okay. I have Grand Canyon-size space for improvement but it isn’t failure. I know that I’m not owed anything. It’s all down to me to work things out in my head.
Unfortunately, our lovely media is more than willing to finish the job that education systems start. We are shown a 24/7 feed of people who have achieved extraordinary things. We follow and idolise celebrities with fat bank accounts who are untouched by the “street” problems that we average folk have. We digest carefully-packaged TV shows that follow successful people and their money-making antics. We put our brains on the shelf and stare at “reality” television which, in fact, is nothing like reality at all. We forgo personal development and improvement for hours of watching our favourite Youtubers and their lives or scrolling through the social media feeds of those with more money and material wealth than us.
And all of it is force-feeding our subconscious a highly toxic message: if you aren’t like these extraordinary people then you are a nobody – you are failing at life.
If you aren’t earning wads of cash and driving about London in a supercar then you are a lower-class person who is doing life wrong. If you don’t have Kate Upton’s tits or Kim Kardashian’s arse then you aren’tattractive. If you aren’t living in an expansive, modern home then you are slumming it and are failing. If you aren’t the life and soul of the party then you are boring and irrelevant. If you are a guy and you don’t have a trouser-straining horse cock then you won’t be able to satisfy women in bed.
I could keep going but there isn’t the need – you get what I’m saying here. The message from society is clear: if you aren’t like these uber successful or beautiful people then you aren’t doing it right.
Being “extraordinary” is directly linked to success and how we elect to measure it. The problem is that we have a pretty shitty metric for success, especially here in the West. We judge the worth of others based on their bank balance, material wealth or physical looks and we are judged on the same criteria by our peers. Worse still, we compare ourselves to others – compare ourselves to the extraordinary people that we are shown by the media. We are all different and live in different situations with different backgrounds. To pit yourself against somebody else, Top Trumps style, is utterly pointless and harmful to your own personal growth.
I should point out (disclaimer-style) that we aren’t all guilty of being so shallow and misinformed. Likewise, not everybody is out to reinforce the fallacy of extraordinary = successful. But it is an undercurrent that undeniably runs through our society.
I’m also not saying that there aren’t useful things that you can take from the abundance of self-improvement videos and books out there because there certainly is. Anything relating to how the human mind works or can be utilised in a better way for example. You should also still seek improvement but it needs to be on your terms, not somebody else’s. You need to improve for yourself and for your loved ones, not for society.
Basically, focus on yourself and do what you need to do in order to feel happy in yourself and be the best version of you. Don’t do what society encourages you to do. Don’t aim to be like what you see on TV or social media. Most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others and judging your worth based on whether or not you measure up to them.
It’s okay not to be extraordinary. Being average is not failure.