Archive for December, 2011

Collecting Tschotskes

Posted: December 30, 2011 in Consumerism, Culture, Idle Nonsense

Nearly everyone has an aunt or grandmother whose home is stocked with tschotskes of one sort or another: elephants, bullfrogs, Beanie Babies, spoons, plates, clocks, whatever. (I don’t mean to suggest it’s a female thing; men participate, too, though perhaps more often with tools, guns, and unused sporting equipment.) Such items are usually purely decorative and ornamental and are acquired with surplus funds. Once started, the tschotske collection often grows out of control to take over the room in which they are housed. Examples of elaborate and costly tschotskes might include art collections, wine collections (and cellars), rare books and first editions (and private libraries), and car collections (and garages). And although they might start out utilitarian, excessively large wardrobes and shoe collections (and walk-in closets or converted spare bedrooms) sometimes evolve into tschotske fetishes.

So at the end of the calendar year, having just passed through the year’s biggest by far consumer feeding frenzy (one of several scattered throughout the year), I began to wonder about the normalcy of surplus funds going into collecting stuff of one sort or another, which might fall under the term lifestyle. Appealing lifestyles usually revolved around material opulence even before Robin Leach’s preposterous and spiritually vacuous TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Almost all of us aspire to such trappings as though limits to consumption do not exist in either of two senses: (1) one can only eat so much steak and drink so much wine or (2) the physical and financial wealth of the world can only support so much extraction and exploitation before being emptied out.

On a more mundane level, let’s say with respect to books, what drives a person to collect? At what point does bibliophilia, a love of books, cross over and become an abnormal behavior or psychological disorder, such as hoarding books (bibliomania), eating books (bibliophagy), compulsive stealing of books (bibliokleptomania), or burying books (bibliotaphy)? What causes Aunt Sally to go off the rails and become a ravenous collector of small porcelain figurines? I’m not a clinician of any sort, but my suspicion is that one of the main drivers is sublimation of a universal fear of scarcity. Difficulty meeting one’s physical needs (shelter, food, clothing, etc.) is not something most of us in the West have experienced first hand for several generations now (though demographics are changing), but living memory of the Great Depression is not quite yet gone. Similarly, the danger of not surviving a poor harvest and ensuing winter was very real prior to the 20th century, when more than 90% of American led rural agrarian lives. Social systems have evolved considerably since either of those eras, and with them the means of acquisition (just hop in the car and go to the grocery!). But whereas stockpiling and hoarding basic, essential commodities makes little sense (except when they are proxies for wealth) to most of us, we have accepted as normal and even desirable the analogue: needless collections.

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I have linked to Dave Pollard’s blog How to Save the World numerous times in the past, as well as commented there. His blog is not on my blogroll for reasons I won’t delve into. One of the things he does best is provide a monthly (used to be weekly) list of links with brief commentary. I tried that once but have not repeated the experiment. In the commentary to his links for November 2011, Pollard provides the following assertions of belief:

  • I believe that our civilization will inevitably collapse, in stages, over the course of this century, and that that collapse will bring immense suffering (though perhaps no more than the suffering that civilization inflicts now, every day, on the human and non-human creatures of this world).
  • I believe that, in our desperate efforts to deny or delay inevitable collapse, we will do more damage to our environment and exhaust more of the planet’s natural wealth in the decades to come than has even been done to date.
  • I believe that faith in technology, innovation, human ingenuity, ‘free’ markets, leaders, deities and spontaneous global consciousness-raising, to re-form civilization culture, are all desperate salvationist magical thinking, and that such thinking is foolish, dangerous and a distraction from coming to grips with what we can and must do.
  • I believe ‘we’ are not the rational ‘individuals’ we imagine ourselves to be. ‘We’ are nothing more than a complicity of our bodies’ organs that evolved our minds for their survival purposes, minds that our culture is, in its struggle to survive, trying to seize control of to have our bodies instead do its bidding. We are all, now, victims of this chronically stressful body-vs.-culture war inside us, that has left us feeling exhausted, anxious, fearful, powerless, helpless, culturally imprisoned, intellectually paralyzed, self-blaming, and physically and emotionally ill.

I subscribe fully to these assertions but have not quoted the rationale behind them. That can be found at his website. It’s significant that Pollard has moved on from his messianic save-the-world message to making peace with himself over the guilt, shame, horror, and despair that accompany recognition of our unstoppable self-destruction. His struggle with these issues is at least double the duration of my own, so I suspect he has processed more of it and perhaps graduated through stages (à la Kübler-Ross) I’m still in the midst of.

Bright-siders might object that Pollard and I have essentially given up in view of our dank pessimism. We both admit publicly that nothing can be done really to stem the awesome force of 7 billion people (and rising) demanding to be fed, clothed, housed, and entertained — but not educated (not truly educated, if one pauses even briefly to think about it). Liberation from the demand that anyone can should fix the unfixable or indeed save the world sounds like a great load lifted. I’m not there yet. In fact, I’m still for all intents and purposes paralyzed at the prospect of it all looming before us. So perhaps I deserve a double-whammy, since about all I’m good for is seeing and pointing like some gawker at the scene of an accident — an accident where we are the next victims. Most of us would rather not see the death blow coming.

Awarded Answers 03

Posted: December 4, 2011 in Advertising, Blogosphere, Education, Writing
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Awarded answers at WebAnswers trickle in slowly, in part because I don’t bomb the site with answers and in part because many questions go unawarded for long periods of time. My previous sets of awarded answers can be seen here and here.

  • Can you tell the time without looking at your watch? link
  • Are you for or against the right to bear arms? And if you have a gun have you ever had to use it? link
  • Why do people buy gold? link
  • Which bank has decided not to charge that offensive debit card fee? link
  • Why does mainstream music seem to digress? link
  • What makes fireworks create light? link
  • Is silver going to be worth more than gold? link
  • What are the principles of Post Modernism? link
  • Do you remember when there was no internet? link
  • Does man have more animal instincts than the power of reason? link

I’m probably making a nuisance of myself, since I often take to task those posing questions for their assumptions embedded in the question. (The usual example of begging the question is the cliché of the attorney asking the witness on the stand, “When did you stop beating your wife?”) For example, I answered a question about when the soul enters the body by denying the existence of a soul. I don’t expect my answer will be at all satisfactory to someone who self-identifies as a Christian, with the doctrinal belief that the soul exists (somewhere, somehow) separate from the body. Could my answer ever in my wildest dreams be the best answer judged by that same person?