The Absurdities of Civilization: A Straw Poll.

I asked friends of mine to describe what they think are some of the biggest absurdities of modern life. Here are some of their answers.

  1. Wealthy people who praise the value of the “rustic” and “simple” life, and who claim to want such a life, but without sharing the burdens of poverty nor empathizing with the suffering of actual impoverished people. Marie Antoinette running her own hobby farm at Versaille Palace, for example.
  2. Excessive displays of social status and prominence: rich teenagers photographing themselves in a bathtub full of Perrier water.
  3. “Dozens of people sharing a city bus, but none of them sharing a conversation with each other.”
  4. Food which is saturated with processed sugar but does not actually taste sweet: the sugar is added to give the food a superficial texture, a ‘weight’.
  5. the huge variety of pre-packaged or frozen food available in grocery stores, which are not in fact a variety of real food choices but are only a variety of brand names, packaging graphics, and minor differences among the additives. These give the illusion of freedom of choice, but actually make the consumer less free (to say nothing of how the loss of the ability to cook for oneself makes one reliant on the choices made in advance by food-tech companies, and again therefore less free.)
  6. Religions whose doctrines promote peace, charity, and neighbourly love, but whose practitioners actual behaviour involves violence, racism, and unquestioning obedience.
  7. “That civilization dupes us into thinking we are somehow better for abandoning our ‘base’ instincts in favor of contrived and often damaging social constructs and social rituals.”
  8. Pocket-sized, mass-produced, and cheap-to-buy computers, each more powerful than those which helped put twelve men on the moon, and able to access without delay the sum of human knowledge through the internet, but which are used to play time-wasting games or to watch videos about cats.
  9. Consumer products that save no one any time or work, which create no new possibilities for human life and action, and which are designed to be thrown out after very few uses. Shaving cream, for example. (A totally pointless product; all you need is hot water.)
  10. The entire “war on terror”, in which the United States and its allies fights an enemy it indirectly and perhaps accidentally created.
  11. Plentiful government money for war-fighting and for monuments to commemorate past wars, but little or none to care for wounded, dismembered, or psychologically traumatized soldiers returning from the wars.
  12. Political slogans or jargon words which mean the very opposite of what a first-glance, out-of-context impression would suggest. “Right to life”, for instance, is not a blanket obligation on all persons to abstain from murder. It actually means government regulation of a woman’s use of her own reproductive organs. “Right to work”, as another example, doesn’t oblige employers to hire anyone, but does prevent workers from going on strike to protest their badly-paid, health-destroying, and mind-numbing jobs.
  13. Bherlin Gildo, a Swedish man standing trial in Britain for terrorism, had the charges against him dropped when it was revealed that British intelligence agencies were supporting the same force Mr. Gildo was accused of joining. In the words of his defence lawyer: “If it is the case that HM government was actively involved in supporting armed resistance to the Assad regime at a time when the defendant was present in Syria and himself participating in such resistance it would be unconscionable to allow the prosecution to continue.” (Source.)
  14. In June of 2015 a terrorist bearing the flags of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa stitched on his clothing entered a church in South Carolina and murdered nine Black people. Nevertheless the governor of the state, Nikki Haley, declared that “we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.” (Source.)
  15. The 1970’s anarchist punk rock band, The Sex Pistols, recently licensed artwork and graphics related to their brand for use by a line of credit cards. (Source.)
  16. The global industrial and economic dependency on petroleum as a fuel source for almost everything, despite the fact that it’s non-renewable and that there will be none left in the world by or about the year 2048. At the same time, efforts to introduce alternative sources of energy are deliberately suppressed by major players in the oil industry. (Source.)
  17. In a society full of opportunity, wealth, comfort, political freedom, widely available education and medicine and (let us admit it) distraction, nonetheless many people find suicide a preferable alternative. 2,728 Canadians took their own lives in the year 2011. (Source.) By contrast in low-tech, pre-civilized societies, suicide is exceedingly rare.

These examples perhaps say as much about the priorities of the people I polled, as they do about modern society. (The last five, the ones with the web links, are my own contributions to the list.) But I’m sure you see the point. Life in an urban, organized, technologically-intensive society involves accepting and even making private peace with inexplicable, unintentionally comic, and seemingly self-contradicting situations like these. I might accept them if I imagine I will benefit from them, or if I fear that those who benefit from them will retaliate against those who criticize. Or, perhaps people accept them using a kind of personal cost-benefit analysis. They’re willing to put up with a city mayor who regularly gets drunk in public, utters racist slurs against his own constituents, and who ignores a police investigation against himself, so long as he cuts taxes. They’re willing to put up with a government that arrests people without charge and imprisons them without a fair trial, so long as the same government keeps the trains running on time.

Friends, I invite you to suggest more examples of absurdities like these. Yes, this is serious philosophy here. 🙂 And I invite a conversation about how best to explain them, and what, if anything, can be done about them.

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2 Responses to The Absurdities of Civilization: A Straw Poll.

  1. maur says:

    ummm…I find “videos about cats” very soul satisfying and far more enlightening than any hour of television.

  2. Alyssa says:

    I find it absurd that healthcare in the US, particularly for poor women, is constantly under attack. The “Religious Right”, and their anti-science, anti-woman approach, have me very worried. We can’t afford insurance, yet we are penalized if we don’t get it.

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