Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Selfie - Signpost to the End of Time or What?

Even my dog's doing selfies!
Brendan Greely wrote this piece on Bloomberg the other day, blaming the rise of the "selfie" and rampant narcissism on capitalists who make money exploiting the all-to-human absorption in ourselves.

I disagree with Mr. Greeley, however. I don't think it's a case of capitalists creating narcissism, but rather a case of capitalism responding to rampant narcissism with products that narcissists like. Greely seizes upon the cell phone camera and the ease with which we can take pictures of ourselves as causative for a rise in self-absorption in society.  This is typical behaviorist, progressive socialist thinking.  We rush to blame our flaws on some external influence that made us this way. And while, I will admit that external factors may have a profound influence upon our characters, choice is, I believe, the deciding element in any societal shift.

Besides, I don't think all self-portraiture is narcissism. If you don't put up some kind of picture of yourself, it works out like those old pen pal letters where you communicate for years with someone that you wouldn't recognize on the street because they never sent you a picture. A picture of yourself is not entirely about you.

People who communicate with you want to know what you look like now. They even like older pictures of you, so they can jog their memories and know which one of their classmates was you. Sure we may have less than honorable intentions when we post pictures of ourselves when we were 23 and svelte and many people do. Okay, that can be a bit dishonest if you're trying to make people believe you're a 23 year old hottie when you're really a 58 year old grandmaw. But at the same time there are a whole lot of us who do post gritty, realistic self-portraits as our Facebook avatars, updating them as we age. People want to see faces when they are talking to someone, even if it's on Facebook Chat or Twitter.

Oddly enough, people tend to get more "likes" and comments on a new self-portrait/avatar change than they do on almost anything else they post on Facebook.  Why? Because people want to see your face - your real face. It makes you more alive. People want to know you've gone native since you moved to Washington State and grew back your hair to hippie length and it's gone all white and curly.  Your face tells your friends a lot about yourself.

Do companies make money on our obsession with self-portraiture. Yes, of course they do. Is that a bad thing?  Not really. We need stuff. Advertisers want to sell us stuff. Why not make it easier?  So let them make money. We get value for our pageviews in that we get to keep up with friends.

One positive outcome may be improving the lot of retired men. Women have always tended to outlive men because they are better networkers than men, who have long tended to become isolated once they retire from work. Technology has given men a tool to not only maintain their connection with their friends, but also to restore old lost connections as well.

Thanks to Facebook's "narcissism business", I've reconnected to dozens of old friends from my youth. I've reconnected with loved ones long lost and follow the careers of children I taught in school 30-40 years ago. I can trade pictures in an instant with my kids and one day, I hope, with my grand-kids and great grand-kids.

It's not the fault of technology, greedy capitalists or godless communism that so much self-absorption and self-centeredness exists in the world. We've always had that going. These kinds of people would have been chipping sexy selfies out of marble thousands of years ago if they'd had the talent and the marble to do it. What's nice about Facebook is the more egregious narcissists in the group leave mostly digital pictures of themselves rather than marble busts littering the place. Bits and bytes, thank God, are very simple to erase. Don't blame technology, though. Technology is but a tool.

"The fault, dear Brutus," as Shakespeare put it, "is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

© 2013 by Tom King

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why I Celebrate Christmas Anyway

Every year at this time, some dear soul feels compelled to tell me I'm committing sin for celebrating Christmas. Then they tell me, as though I didn't already know, that December the 25th was originally a pagan holiday.

I know this.

Then, of course, there are some anxiety-ridden humanists out there who tell me they are offended because I celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday.

Well, I can't help that. They should get over themselves.

I'm still going to celebrate Christmas. Yes, it was once a pagan holiday with roots going clear back to the Babylonians. That has nothing to do with anything. I'm not worshiping Tammuz on Christmas. Most people who celebrate Christmas don't even know who Tammuz was. While the date itself was once a pagan holiday, it has been so thoroughly co-opted by Christians the pagans hardly count anymore. Besides, December is a nice time to celebrate something. Without Christmas the last month of the year would be as bleak as February is.  And if you don't like some of the symbols, just don't use them. There are lots of things you can decorate with besides Santa Clauses or holly wreaths.  Symbols are what you make of them. So make your own symbolism. Explaining the meaning of the symbols you choose can even be a part of your witness during the holiday season.

It's not like Christmas is a holiday which replaces any holy day which God has instructed us to observe.  A case could be made that worshiping on Sunday is a man made substitute for the ten commandment Sabbath, a celebration commanded by God, but Christmas is not celebrated in place of anything which God commands us to celebrate.

I'm like Martin Luther. He once used a German drinking tune for one of his popular hymns. When criticized for using the devil's music for a hymn, Luther asked,  "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" To this day, Germans remember the hymn, but have long forgotten the drinking song. The drunks quit singing it because it sounded too much like a hymn.

As children of God, we are not prohibited from celebrating things like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day or other secular holidays.
Apparently it's okay not to be cheerless and self-righteous about things God has not prohibited. The Jewish Christians made a big deal about Christians buying meat that had been offered to idols. It was sold cheap at the markets once the priests had drawn out all the blood for the sacrifice. A lot of Christians, being out of the mainstream religiously were struggling to make ends meet. Paul said he saw nothing wrong with it. A good deal is a good deal after all.  He did caution, however, that if a weaker Christian were to be tempted by your eating meat in front of him that had been offered to idols, then you, as the "stronger" Christian who had no qualms about it, should be careful not to cause the other believer to stumble by doing so.

Christ, Himself, was criticized for sharing meals with and going to parties with sinners. His response was that he had not come to save the righteous, but sinners and he kept right on offending the Pharisees and Sadducees. I think his example applies nicely to Christmas celebrations. After all, what better place to witness to sinners that to go where they are gathered to celebrate a holiday built around the birth of Christ?

Several friends of mine have relatives who are pretty militant about not celebrating Christmas. One son won't bring his kids to Grandmaw's while the Christmas decorations are up. It's hard to know what to do when someone you love goes holier-than-thou and jumps all over you because you celebrate a holiday that makes you happy and brings you joy.

Rather than give it up, here's what I'd do.  I'd acknowledge that the pagan origins of the holiday might well cause my criticizer to feel uncomfortable with all the holiday decorations and activities. I'd be honest that you feel no such qualms and explain that you receive a real blessing from celebrating the birth of Christ and peace on Earth goodwill toward men with your fellow human beings whatever their race, creed, color or faith. Tell him you recognize that the celebration of Christmas offends his conscience and that you will respect his desire not to participate in your holiday festivities.

I would remind him at the same time that respect goes both ways and that it also offends you when he criticizes you for participating in a holiday for which you can find no scriptural prohibition and which offers you such a wonderful opportunity to share the love of Christ with your fellow man.  He may choose to witness by refusing to participate and that is his belief and his right. Many churches and belief systems demand that their adherents refrain from joining in Christmas celebrations.

It is also, I would explain, my choice to witness by sharing Christ through unselfish giving and by joining in the carols and holiday celebration. I choose to witness by participation. Christ did. He went to parties, weddings and even threw a couple of what my church used to call "eatin' meetin's" Himself.

The question of whether to celebrate Christmas arises every year. Personally, I think those of us who believe it's a good thing should not hide our light under a bushel. If it's too commercial, simply don't fall into all that.  Besides, merchants are people too. The annual spending spree on Christmas celebrations is good for business and thus good for every working person out there.

No, I won't try to change anyone's mind about Christmas at all. I shall, instead of disputing in the temple, go out among my friends and neighbors and spread a little good cheer and sing some carols about joy and peace and goodwill toward men this Christmas season with anyone who would receive it gladly. Eating, drinking and sharing fellowship with everyone, sinners included, is, I think, what Jesus did. I also remember from Scripture, that he was roundly criticized for it by the very same people who later killed him, in part, because he didn't praise them for their nonparticipation in worldly celebrations.

So, I think I'll celebrate this season.

Merry Christmas to you all and God bless us every one.


© 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

They Can't Come Up with a Better Holiday Than Noodle Ring Day?

Police could never crack the infamous Chicago Noodle Ring.
December 11 needs a new holiday.  

"National Noodle Ring Day"?  Really?  I don't even know what a noodle ring tastes like. Sounds like an Asian or Italian pasta cartel to me - somebody smuggling cans of Spaghetti-O's or something!  And that's the best they could come up with for a holiday? I can think of three new national holidays right off the top of my head better than that.

1. National Dress Up Like Young People Day - Anyone over 50 should put on a hoodie, some baggie pants (no belt) with a nice ugly pair of Fruit of the Looms (or a thong for you guys that are really brave) and go down to the mall and embarrass your children and grandchildren.

2. National Ask an Intelligent Question Day - When you go out to day, find someone who's standing around all slack-jawed with a vacant expression and ask them an intelligent question like "How far is it to the sun in kilometers?" or "If I heat calcium carbonate so it releases CO2 and bubble the vapor through an aqueous solution of ammonia and sodium chloride, will sodium bicarbonate precipitate out of solution?" 

3. National Stare Up At the Sky Day -  Get out your tail-gating gear, find a few friends to go along with you and drive to a large parking lot at a mall or Wal-Mart. Then spend the next few hours staring up into the sky while drinking and eating hot dogs and Fritos. Perhaps bring along a telescope or binoculars. If anyone asks what you're looking at, say, "What?  You didn't hear? Well, I suppose it's one of those need-to know things. Don't worry though. They say it will all be over quick."  Then say nothing else.

How much more fun would those national holidays be?  Hmmmm.  Now all of a sudden, I'm hungry for Spaghetti-O's!

© 2013 by Tom King