Why I don’t give a crap about Black Friday

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.

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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.

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One for any American readers out there (the Thanksgiving joke doesn’t really translate well here in Britain).

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.

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[Source]
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.

So, we went to the moon…

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.

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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.

Narcissism Epidemic

From Merriam-Webster:

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.

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[Image Source]
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.

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[Image Source]
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 they are 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.

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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 are right, 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.

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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.

Worrying times.

 

Life = Prison?

Well, that got dark pretty quickly, huh?

Unfortunately, this is just how I have been feeling over the past week-and-a-bit. A small disclaimer first though. I am fully aware that living in the West is a charmed existence and just another day in paradise compared to the suffering endured by those in other parts of the world who have infinitely worse circumstances than my own. I can, for example, type this post without fear of having a bomb dropped on my head or wondering when I will have my next meal.

I feel that it’s important to make that clear before I carry on. I even have some posts on the horizon that go into the subject of remembering what we have and how good we have it instead of constantly moaning about insignificant first-world problems. So look forward to those.

Unfortunately, it’s this very same “free” (the quotation marks are imperative to note) society that can inspire the horrible feeling of being imprisoned in your own country; your own home; your own head. It isn’t the obvious kind of suppression however and it might be all the worse for it in some ways. I’ve referenced Mark Manson’s fantastic book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, many times already on this blog and I’m certain that I have even repeated the following quoted passage before but this section of the book simply struck a real chord with me. Mark talks about visiting Russia and having to get used to the blunt honesty of the people there.

This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

True, there’s nobody here holding a gun to my head and saying that I must do X or else I will be shot. Similarly, I’m not exactly in a do-or-die situation. What happens here in Western countries is that we get manipulated and herded into pens like sheep. Our society is full of liars and false imagery. Even more dangerous still, the media and those in power play us off against one another, creating a highly toxic us-versus-them environment where we are too busy despising people for their political views or lifestyle preferences to unite against the real threats. We are kept sedated by mindless consumerism, placated by that new TV or showing off our wonderful lives on social media. This is how our system wants us to be because we are easier to herd in this state.

We are forcibly pushed into this system – this established order of things – by our education systems that prepare us for lives as just another cog in the machine. We are needed, after all, to keep the big machine running and the profits coming in for those in the control room.

There is a downside to “waking up” and really questioning everything arout you though. You begin to feel trapped – trapped by having to go to work at a job that has no meaning for you because you need the money to keep the bill collectors at bay. Trapped by a judgmental society that you feel the need to please by conforming to the image of a “normal” man/woman. Trapped by this awful consumerism that makes you feel left behind if you don’t have the newest shit – the same consumerism that brainwashes you to want more, more, more of the ultimately meaningless material products.

You might come to believe that you are living in the world’s largest open prison. No, you aren’t technically incarcerated but do you actually feel free?

 

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So you start to question rather than accept and it can result in some extremely horrible realisations. After all, it is said that if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss will stare back. What I mean by all this is that you might just see the futility in it all and it will bum you out. It’s much easier to STOP questioning and carry on being “normal”. It’s more comfortable; it’s what you know.

But once you’ve started asking questions and silently challenging the credibility of the status quo, it’s difficult to ever stop asking those questions. Especially if you hate your job. I personally don’t hate my job (that would be too strong of a description) but I don’t particularly enjoy it either. Going through the motions, the daily 7am-5pm grind, the lacklustre wages that don’t get you anywhere in life…none of it is inviting. “But work isn’t supposed to be fun!” I hear you cry and you’re right. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that I get a different job. That could be a whole topic in itself but in general, it’s being part of a huge machine and working for thankless corporations – that really don’t care about you as an individual component in their organisation – that is beginning to bug me.

The obvious solution, then, is to become self-employed; to find something that I enjoy doing and can make a living from so that I can be my own boss. That takes energy and quality time to figure out though, let alone put into action. Not easy when the job you have to keep going to in order to collect pennies drains all of your physical AND mental reserves and leaves you feeling like an empty shell that cannot be arsed once the day is done. I’m typing this post in the evening for example and I’m just barely maintaining the motivation to keep hitting those keys.

On the subject of employment and freedom, there is a quote from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello that has resonated with me ever since I first came across it.

“America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Now I’m not saying that we should become lazy bums and sponge off the state while everybody else works to pay their way. I’m not even saying that I have the answers because I don’t.

The good news – the light at the end of this dark, depressing post – is that there is hope. Life can feel like a prison but the truth of it is, we willingly entered our cells. A lot of it is in our heads and the way we perceive the world around us. True, we have been groomed to be good little members of society and to go to work and to accept the way things are but we also – unwittingly of course – allowed people to do this to us. The cell door is closed but it isn’t locked.

Happiness, peace and liberation can only be achieved by asking those questions and understanding that just because something has “always been this way”, doesn’t mean that it is right or that it is the ONLY way.

Breaking out of my cage and living life on my own terms is now one of my top goals. Accordingly, I have been reading and listening to various related things and so I will have some more posts coming up where I look at some ideas and pointers designed to help one wake up and start living a better life.

 

Us vs Them

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.

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I have no doubt that our race will regret this in the future. [Source]
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…

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[Source]
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.

Environmental destruction.
Automation.
Disease.
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.

You’re not Extraordinary (and that’s okay)

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?

adjective

adjective: extraordinary; adjective: extra-ordinary

1. very unusual or remarkable

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.

Perf-Fam-1
Is THIS “success”? It’s certainly not guaranteed, as nice as it looks. [Source – Google/German Edition]
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’t attractive. 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.

Success-1
Should THIS be the definition of “success”? It doesn’t have to be. [Source]
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.

Soil of the Soul

A few weeks ago, I was trawling the internet and reading various blogs and website articles on the subject of personal direction. Something that has been gnawing at me for some time now is my lack of direction in life and every so often, I find myself trying to seek the answers or at least some pointers to how I can get my arse fired up and motivated to do something more fulfilling than the dreadful 9-5 (or – in my case – 7-5) grind as a servant of The System.

It was while seeking enlightenment (spoiler alert: I’m still me, for better or for worse) that I came across an analogy that did at least strike a bit of a chord with me. This analogy compared the human soul to fertile soil and reminded the reader that we could all plant seeds in our soil, nurture said seeds and watch them grow into mighty trees. The main problem for a lot of us is that the soil has been tainted and the seeds left unwatered and unfertilised thanks to invading external forces that have seen fit to turn our plot of soil into a rubbish dump.

I quite liked this analogy and thought about it some more. I saw my own patch of fertile soil enclosed within a field. Seeds labelled “Direction”, “Passion”, “Happiness” and “Purpose” were planted but I didn’t get chance to water or feed them. Y’see, the field has a gate and just as I was skipping toward my patch of sown soil – watering can in my hand – there came a loud crunching noise. It was the sound of a dump truck reversing right through the gate! The bastards! Before I could verbally assault the driver of the truck with a multitude of PG-18-rated words, he tipped the bed and unloaded his cargo of garbage all over my patch. I was too aghast to act but I caught the registration of the truck as it sped away, leaving a cloud of diesel fumes behind. It was a private plate that read “LIFE”.

rubbish-dump-1

We all plant seeds in the soil of our soul. Some seeds take longer than others to germinate, break the surface and bear fruit but we do plant them subconsciously, most often as children when we aren’t even aware that we’re doing it.

Or so I have been reading anyway.

You have to take any advice or points of view that you read on the internet with a pinch of salt of course; especially when it comes to the optimum way to live your life and be happy/successful. Everybody has their own philosopy or tried-and-tested ‘secret’ that worked for them but we are all different and what works for Bob won’t necessarily work for Dave. I personally believe that it is perhaps better to listen to different ideas and solutions then draw your own conclusions based on everything you have read.

However, one recurring self-help tactic that is supposed to help the individual work out what they want to do with their life, is to go back to the past and reconnect with your inner child. You know, that previous version of you that enjoyed doing certain things or making use of talents/skills without realising that they might take you somewhere. Before the fly-tipping began and you turned an unwitting blind eye to the dumping of truckloads of garbage on your precious – now poisoned – patch of soil.

Before the superficiality, materialism and greed of society poisoned our minds.

Before you graduated childhood and were inducted properly into The System, encouraged to accept a status quo and pour all of your energy into unfulfilling jobs in order to service unavoidable debt and keep a roof above your head.

Before you were trapped in that 9-5 cycle with those wonderful dreams shelved as you play the part of just another cog in the machine – a machine that works for the rich and powerful and runs on the blood of the working class.

Shit got a bit dark and gloomy there but it really is how our human society functions. Breaking out of this cage and finding a way to live happily – without being sucked dry by others who don’t have your interests at heart – is the ultimate quest in my mind. It’s not an easy quest by any means and there are a lot of boxes to be checked as you are pushing forwards but is there a more rewarding journey to embark upon?

I’ve been trying to reconnect with my inner child and cast my mind back to past. What I remembered was that I was crazy about drawing, writing and being creative in general. I would spend hours doing this sort of thing, improving my skills and simply enjoying what I was doing without feeling the pressure to turn it into a career or money. Somewhere along the way, I ran out of steam and stopped. Society, people and working a physically-demanding job left me tired and more likely to turn to mindless entertainment in my spare time rather than enjoying the arts and continuing to improve my crafts.

One of the last things I drew was this picture of the character, Blaze Fielding, from the videogame, Streets of Rage 2. That was in 2015 (according to the date on the back). I’m not proclaiming myself to be a good artist or anything like that but comparing this picture to what I was doing a few years prior shows dramatic improvement. It’s also a stark reminder of where I could be at today had I kept at it. As it is, the cubby-hole in my desk is a stack of outdated portfolios and half-finished pictures living in plastic wallets, awaiting completion.

I’m not going to blame society or other people for my lack of work. After all, it was me who allowed this to happen and it was me who chose to numb my tired brain with the likes of videogames and Youtube and lock my creativity away in a cupboard. That said, external influences and the necessities that come with living in the way that society expects you to live have had a part to play. Of course, it is my responsibility to push back and not allow external factors to affect me.

It is my responsibility to fit a stronger lock to the gate that the dump truck forced open before tipping its load all over my patch of soil (no dirty innuendos intended…). Heck, I should be investing in 24/7 security and watchtowers.

But what is done is done and now the clean-up must begin. It’s past time that I hired a skip and put in the work to clear out all of the dumped rubbish that hides that soil and the seeds that are buried deep, awaiting their oppurtunity to sprout.

And with that, I will spare you any more long-winded analogies.