The New Normal

crazy-town-exitThe 1991 movie Grand Canyon, which I wrote about recently, in large part is about how insane life has become. In the 25 years since, the insanity has grown. Perhaps most are so focused on just getting through their life, or are so taken up by the distractions and toys of modern living, that they never stop to realize just how really crazy the world has gotten.

I don’t mean the apocalyptic reality presented by TV news, or by the GOP; I mean the sheer insanity of how we go about our business these days, what we accept as “the way things are.”

I mean what we’ve come to accept as normal.

Because it’s just plain nuts when you step back and look at it.

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wolfAs just one example, internet spam, both the benign and the vicious. The former comes from legitimate businesses campaigning for your dollars. But the latter comes from thieves.

And I am so fucking sick of all the thieves on the internet. They are predators. Lazy opportunistic ones (not the hard-working predators we tend to admire).

The legit businesses are bad enough; I’m so weary of the constant clamor for my coin.

Case in point: Best Buy, an outfit I’m generally friendly towards, used to send me email spam every single day until I said enough, stop, no more! (At least they honored that request. In many cases, attempting to unsubscribe just lets them know your email address is valid.)

But the thieves, oh my God, those fucking thieves. On the one hand, the “come hither” schemes from supposed Russian women and Nigerian royalty. On the other hand, outright attacks on your PC with phishing, trojans (not the fun kind), and viruses.

Everyone seems out to part you from as much of your money as they can, and many of them are more than willing to use unsavory methods in the process. Even commercials and legit businesses lie to you constantly in all sort of legal ways.

It makes life grotesque and awful. Why do we put up with it?

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hope-soloI think it has something to do with our tendency to overlook bad and settle for some modicum of good (rather than rejecting the bad and seeking more good).

I’m bemused by cases like Hope Solo and the adulation she gets in spite of apparently being, to put it bluntly, a complete raging asshole.

One can say the same about many sports figures, many media figures, and most definitely about the current GOP Presidential nominee.

We seem to accept an awful lot of shit served with our food. It’s astonishing to me what we tolerate from public figures. That willingness to overlook a rotten core leads to, well, you-know-who (no, not Voldemort; someone much worse).

I’m not saying life is a pure barrel of wine besmirched by any drop of nasty (I’ve said exactly the opposite; see Barrel of Wine; Barrel of Sewage). But I wish we demanded more quality and substance from media and business and government.

I’m saying that some things are too much; some things ruin other things. At the very least, some things spoil other things. We shouldn’t accept that.

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glass half fullAs an aside, I’m getting a little tired of people who tell me how the glass is half-full. It often seems part of that over-acceptance thing.

The message seems to be that half a glass is fine, enjoy the having not the not-having.

Which is fine to a point, I’m in favor of a positive attitude and being grateful for what you do have, but all the contentment about the half-glass seems to end the conversation.

“Yep, that’s a great half-glass you got there! Enjoy it! Next!”

I dunno… Half a life? Half an education? Half a pay check? Seems like half a share in life demands questioning what happened to the other half, not some vague contentment over getting any at all.

Especially if we’re going to go around priding ourselves on how great society is.

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bubble-lifeAs the social world gets simultaneously much larger (in people) and much smaller (in connection), we face a world where the norm operates in a super-critical response zone.

Small actions can be greatly magnified. Current estimates put the number of internet users around three-billion. A tiny fraction of that, say 0.01% (one-hundredth of a percent), is still a lot of people: 3,000,000 of them!

You can see why spam is so popular. It costs almost nothing, can reach huge audiences, and even a tiny return can work out as decent profits. Anything above a tiny return, and the profits can be lucrative.

At the same time, the sheer size of everything, and the fast pace, is so overwhelming, one almost has to try to tune most of it out. The “bubble” becomes a survival means.

And therein lies the problem. What we allow into our bubble. More to the point, what we don’t. At worst we throw up a shield against facts and reason. But it can also let is ignore things that make us uncomfortable. Or it can just prevent us from growing.

And that’s one of the greatest shames right there.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “The New Normal

  • Steve Morris

    So you know I’m one of those irritating glass-half-full types. I must really get on your tits.

    internet spam, Yep, I fucking hate that too. I install as much anti-spam anti-shit software on my server and my PC as I can reasonably get my hands on. The 1% that gets through my firewall still pisses me off. What’s the alternative to accepting it? Giving up email, but then I’m out of a job. That’s why I accept it. I could probably install more filters, but that would consume too much of my time. Finding a balance is key.

    Death and disease. Since my glass is half-full, I’ll remind you that preventable mortality is dropping at record rates and that life expectancy is rising in every single continent. Does that make me happy to accept ageing and disease? Not for one precious second. That’s why I read everything I reasonably can about health and nutrition and go to some lengths to implement current best knowledge. I know that you take a different approach.

    You know, a glass that’s half full won’t stay that way if some asshole spills it. That’s why you have to pay attention and get ready to bat those assholes outta the way. But obsessing over issues can be just as damaging as ignoring them completely. The reason people accept shit is balance – there is an optimum amount of shit that it pays to accept. Accepting less is inefficient.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “I must really get on your tits.”

      We may not see the world very eye-to-eye, but you’re clearly intelligent and thoughtful, so no, not really. I confess to being sometimes puzzled about how we get into debates concerning minor points of the post and seem to miss its main point. I’ve never been sure why that happens, but I’ve seen it before.

      I think sometimes people with strong wills and opinions can actually find more conflict with people who are nearly — but not quite — very similar. It’s almost like the mind can’t believe someone could see most of the world in the “right” way but then be opposite in other areas.

      People who you know don’t think like you, you don’t expect agreement. But it seems like people who do think like you should be able to find agreeable and common ground. I’m always surprised in that situation when I can’t.

      “What’s the alternative to accepting it?”

      Why not concerted action on the parts of all good parties involved to solve the problem? Why should everyone with a server (or even a laptop) need to put in that much effort? Why do we very nearly have self-driving cars, but not a safe internet?

      The main point of the post is: What the fuck is wrong with us that we just accept this shit as normal?

      “Finding a balance is key.”

      Well, sure, but consider how, with regard to spam, you say a glass only 1% empty still has the power to piss you off, so in this case — a case near and dear to your heart and pocketbook — “balance” would seem to indicate 100% is preferred.

      This hits to the point I was making in the half-glass bit. There are many in this world for whom the glass isn’t close to half-full, or, per some examples I cited, half in this case just doesn’t cut it. (Would reducing only 50% of spam cut it for you? And that doesn’t directly affect your health or life.)

      “Death and disease. Since my glass is half-full,…”

      Steve, as a healthy, gainfully employed white man in a first-world (white) nation, your glass is way the fuck more than half-full. Closer to very full, I’d guess.

      You mention “death and disease”… Those, for the most part, are parts of nature, not something we do to ourselves. And still many people fight both with every fiber of their being. Billions are spent. Many would love the glass being full in both cases, and many dedicate their lives to trying to fill it.

      That said, some diseases are human-causes, or the result of human conditions (poverty, culture), and most of those involved are fighting hard to fill the whole glass.

      “I know that you take a different approach.”

      Heh, well yeah. When one young friend dies more or less instantly of a brain aneurysm, when the nine-year-old child of a friend, or a guy I used to fish with, dies of brain cancer, it makes you realize how futile some of that frantic effort can be.

      Funny thing is, at 61, I’m the one among our friends in pretty good shape.

      So, yeah, party like there’s no tomorrow. There might not be! 😄

      “The reason people accept shit is balance…”

      I think sometimes that’s true, but in many other, perhaps most, cases it isn’t.

      I’m sure you know the boiling frog thing? (I almost used a picture of one for this article, but I already have.)

      People accept shit because they have no choice, because it sprang up around them slowly, and for all sorts of reasons. You have many choices in the matter because your glass is so full.

      • Steve Morris

        Well, yes, you are right that people who agree on many things … shall we call them friends, tentatively … are often appalled when they disagree on something they felt was an obviously shared opinion. I nearly got into a huge row with an old friend recently when he said something that nearly made me choke on my food. It wasn’t that his opinion was unusual, just that I was shocked that he held it.

        I picked out one aspect of your post to react to, because I have no idea who Hope Solo is. Can that even be a real name?

        You are right about the boiled frog thing. People often accept the way the world is because it’s hard to imagine it being very different. We think it’s normal to die before we reach 100, because it is. Many folk might dream of curing cancer or something, but very few people think through the implications of that. Hardly anyone considers what it might be like for us to have an indefinite lifespan.

        As for the spam thing, anyone who understands how operating systems work can send spam emails. You could easily do it yourself. Similarly you could probably break into someone’s house and steal their stuff. It’s relatively easy to do these things, especially if you target people who don’t take the obvious security measures. But stopping humans from doing things we don’t like isn’t a trivial problem to solve.

        I am glad to hear that you’re fit and well at 61, and wish you many more years of partying like there’s no tomorrow!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “It wasn’t that his opinion was unusual, just that I was shocked that he held it.”

        Exactly. And, sometimes, the thinking is so different it’s hard to successfully even exchange views on that topic.

        “Can [Hope Solo] even be a real name?”

        Daughter of Napoleon Solo? 😀

        She’s a soccer player (talented by all accounts) who gained notoriety due to a domestic violence act in which she was the perpetrator. When her team lost (to the Swedes, I think?) in the Olympics, she called them cowards or wimps for not playing as aggressively as she thought they should have (and yet they beat her team).

        As a successful female athlete she’s revered by other women. It’s just one more example of overlooking the bad because of some (often single) attribute we decide is more important.

        Why is that bad? It leads to Trump, that’s why it’s bad. (Even worse, lots of bad movies and TV shows. 😮 )

        “Hardly anyone considers what it might be like for us to have an indefinite lifespan.”

        (Other than science fiction authors and their fans, but who listens to them? 🙂 )

        And that dream of immortality is seeing some revival in the idea of living forever as a software entity in a computer. (It’s a central theme in Greg Egan’s work. Funny thing is, one can see his stories as good examples of why algorithmic consciousness isn’t a coherent idea — something I’m becoming more and more convinced of the more I think about it.)

        “But stopping humans from doing things we don’t like isn’t a trivial problem to solve.”

        True, but it’s often doable, and technology is leading to all sorts of interesting (in all senses of that word) solutions. Police agencies already use robots and what we’re now mistakenly calling “AI” (machine learning).

        It’s not about directly stopping people from committing crimes. As you suggest, that’s basically impossible. What you can do is make the system better able to interdict such activity.

        And often the value of the task makes doing non-trivial things decidedly worthwhile. (I’d say that about New Horizons, for example.)

        Again: How is it that we have self-driving cars (most definitely a non-trivial problem) but the World Wide Web is still the Wild, Wild West? How have we not tamed that frontier?

        My feeling is that part of the reason involves our value system.

      • Steve Morris

        On a slight tangent – did you know that Mercedes-Benz built one of the first self-driving cars (a truck actually) in the 1980s, suggesting (to me, at least) that the problem perhaps isn’t as difficult as often imagined?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        No, I didn’t know, so I went looking… Wiki mentions it: “In the 1980s, a vision-guided Mercedes-Benz robotic van, designed by Ernst Dickmanns and his team at the Bundeswehr University Munich in Munich, Germany, achieved a speed of 39 miles per hour (63 km/h) on streets without traffic.”

        I agree the static problem is fairly easy to solve. (And my airline mechanic friend tells me that airplane autopilots have been fully capable of taking the plane from take-off to landing on their own. It’s mainly public perception that’s prevented it from happening.)

        The dynamic problem, at highway speeds, is another kettle of little swimming things. The Tesla crash(es) show it’s not solved yet, and people are still worrying about “Trolley Problem” situations where the car would be forced to choose between undesirable outcomes (protect the public versus protect the passengers).

        I do think we’re likely to see self-driving trucks, maybe buses, routinely deployed before too long. As I understand it, the more established (i.e. mapped and digitized) a route is, the better the software and spot the unusual.

      • Steve Morris

        Trucks look like an obvious first step, as they drive from one commercial destination to another, largely avoiding town centres.

        The Wiki article isn’t very complete. Mercedes went on to make a self-driving car that travelled on the German autobahn for a distance of about 1,000 miles, reaching (legal) speeds of over 100mph!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Wow! So what caused it to end up being so obscure? (Public perception, like airline autopilots?)

        re trucks: from what I’ve read, first appearance would be long-haul (with embedded organic backup system) and the human would take over for the city driving on both ends. (Not unlike airline pilots do today with autopilot.) Then maybe city systems that travel well-known (i.e. well-mapped digitally) routes.

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