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Saturday, August 10, 2002

Computer Upgrades Make Baby Ahmed Explode

You have just got to be wary of a guy who calls his blog "Seeking Truth". If I'd known about it, I may have called this one, "Avoiding Truth", or "Hiding from Truth", or "Slipping Out without Paying the Truth Bill". A title like that hints that the author is special, because he's actually seeking truth---no, make that T*R*U*T*H---unlike the rest of us, who are only seeking more efficient ways to lie, cheat, or steal.

If there is a prize for "Lamest Reason to Avoid War with Iraq", I think James Durbin has won it. As far as I can tell, he thinks people (like Hussein, I suppose) want to attack us because we're too rich.

Here's how he arrived at that conclusion: in 1999, Durbin was on his own for the first time in his life; he changed his lifestyle to a more "minimalist" one, and was vastly improved by it. Bully for him. But then he gets the bright idea that what's good for the Durbin goose is also good for the American gander...

"I believe personal parallels often illuminate certain truths about the world that can be applied to our actions on a regional and national basis."

Yeah, sometimes I believe that too, but I'm always sober by morning. Seriously, this is always extremely dangerous territory. Individuals are different enough that what works for one will not always work for another; it ought to be clear that you can't just tell a nation collectively to work on finding its inner child.

After a long and eclectic list of supposed ills and crimes that somehow connects postmodernism, prescription drugs and Teddy Roosevelt, he comes to the conclusion that terrorists attack us and suicide bombers blow up Jews:

"Because we are fat, lazy, prideful, and arrogant. We have three, four, even five televisions in our three bedroom homes. We bring home Blockbuster at night, despite paying $50 for cable..."

Blockbuster videos, Mr. Durbin, do not come from the Middle East. If I have extra fries this does not starve a child in Zimbabwe, say. The child in Zimbabwe is starving because the leaders of that country are greedy and obsessed with power.

"Maybe we take a step back and try to live more minimalist. Cut back on our spending. Cut back on our consumption." Ah, yes, consumption. I blame this on Christianity. Christian mythology is full of stories about rich men and camels and the eyes of needles, and this can provoke a sense of spiritual impurity in those who are materially comfortable. Christianity urges sacrifice (and for all I know, Judaism and Islam and Hinduism and Cthulu-worship do too), and a person who's not sacrificing may feel that he is somehow incomplete.

Actually, now that I think of it, this may be intrinsic to human nature. The Greeks told stories of people who were too rich/powerful/happy/beautiful, and this made the gods jealous. Perhaps this is Durbin's true problem: he thinks that by being wildly successful we will tempt Fate into crushing us. This is more than a little superstitious. Fate has been known to crush moderate and poor cultures just as easily as---more easily than ---rich ones.

The funny thing is, those who urge me (by urging us, collectively) to have a leaner lifestyle are nearly always much richer than I am. This makes me wonder---are we all supposed to cut back to some equal level, or are we all supposed to sacrifice equally? That is, if a fellow advocating a more "minimalist" lifestyle sells his boat in sacrifice, is that equal to my sacrifice of giving up my bi-weekly Pizza Hut indulgence? If he decides not to get that new sooper dooper $2000 digital camcorder, am I to contribute by getting rid of my 21-year-old 35 mm camera? And who would I give it to, anyway? (This happens to me a lot when I try to unload things on charities---I keep things until they're very old or worn out, and then even the poor and wretched don't want them.)

I've just come back from three years in Australia, where my already-rather-ragged lifestyle was cut back even farther, partly due to the low Australian dollar, and partly by my unwillingness to shell out money for things---heavy furniture, electrical things---that I wouldn't be able to bring back to the US with me. This did not make me spiritually more pure; it made me depressed.

I didn't have a car, and walked a mile to work (up a goodish hill) every day; this did not make me feel energized, it made my elderly feet hurt. I did not want a dishwasher because somehow I felt more plebeian without it; I wanted one because life is too short to stand over a damned sink doing dishes (especially in the summer). I didn't long for air conditioning or central heat because I wanted to lord it over the lesser beings of the earth; I wanted them because sweating or shivering makes it harder to work or read.

I could go on and on, and will if someone doesn't stop me. There are far worse places than Australia, I know. I didn't have to stand in some Soviet-style line for three hours every day, only to be issued a quarter-loaf of iron-hard bread which I carefully softened in furtively-gathered dew each morning. Australia's a perfectly good first-world country, and you can get most things you could get in the US, just not on my salary.

But I did long for home, partly because of the material comforts (and because I just wanted my old life back, dammit), and am glad to be back. (I've been preparing a post on this very topic for days now. I was going to go on about the wonder and glory of Fry's Electronics.)

Upon reading more of his blog, I see that Durbin is dismissive of claims of anthropogenic (just learned that word) global warming, the notion of the intrinsic evil of oil companies, and the posturing of Michael Moore. He doesn't seem to be the agonized young lefty who usually wrings his hands in this manner. I could understand if he thought that our consumption is actually doing some damage to the environment, or impoverishing others. I would not agree (probably), but his arguments would make more sense. But he seems to have absorbed the Australian "tall poppy" syndrome---best not to stand too tall, lest you get cut down.

Well, I'd spend a lot more time arguing against the application of personal aesthetic values and spiritual angst to national policy affection hundreds of millions, but Niles and I have got to go shopping. Let's see...bagels, Cheetohs, 128M RAM.