Self-Abasement, Incorporated: an Industrial Revolution

At the U.S. headquarters of Self-Abasement, Incorporated, a boss begins to instruct his underlings in the delicate art of business attire.

I.

Business attire, as we all know, is that particular brand of fashion which obscures one’s personality. Business attire offends people at places of relaxation and amusement, and doesn’t look distinguished in one’s workplace, either, regardless how much money one has spent on it.

Business attire, though having been designed to look respectable, handsome, and elegant, fails to do so, because while companies can require that one wear a pinstriped skirt, they can neither require that one should own several such skirts, nor that one should daily press the wrinkles out. The boss can force us to wear a tie, but not to tie a fresh knot daily. These are discretions belonging to the wearer, and this is the irony of business attire.

When one’s silk tie has been in the same Windsor knot for six months, it’s insincere to feel elegant.

You'd be amazed at how long a necktie can go knotted, how long a bra can go unwashed

Yet the boss, a college graduate of average ambition, has also a boss, and this chief boss is the one telling him to enforce the company’s dress code. The command strikes little boss as odd because the dress code has always been followed with little trouble.

“But no,” the chief tells him. “Following the code is just acceptable; we can’t have our employees looking acceptable. Our employees represent the company, and the company can’t look just acceptable.”

“No,” says the boss, “of course it can’t, of course the employees can’t,” even though he is thinking of the word acceptable, its definition, and wondering why there ought to be a dress code at all if not to define precisely how employees should dress for work.

So the boss bows out of the presence of the chief and makes his way to his own cubicle. His cubicle has a window overlooking the blacktop of the parking lot below, because he has worked with the company for twenty-one years and has earned this luxury. Once there, he reviews the company’s dress code, then clicks his mouse pointer to create a new document. His creation takes forty minutes. Making copies takes three. He delivers them to his underlings in no time at all.

The cubicle creatures have become wary of the boss’s hardcopy memos, so they wait until his squeaking loafers have rounded the corner to pluck it up and take their medicine.

They grimace at the familiar arial font, and they sneer at the bullet points. The tone and content of the memo is no different from any that have come before: heartlessness approximates professionalism; condescension masquerades as magnanimity. Tragic, terrible irony seeps from every typo and grammatical error. The cubicle creatures begin to pop up like gophers. They peer over the walls of their little boxes at one another, holding up the memo and pointing.

What bullshit! They can’t do this to us. I’m going to talk to Johnson right now. Can you believe this shit?

They cannot believe this shit.

I Cannot Believe This Shit

ATTN: ALL EMPLOYEES

AS OF 4/25/10 the dress code is being clarified. Some employees arent following company procedure so this should help them dress aproppriately for work. NO EXCUSES! NO EXCEPTIONS!!!!!!!!!!

– Shirt and tie, men

– BLUE or BEIGE blowss, women

– BLACK or NAVY BLUE slacks

TO CLARIFY IN ADDITION!

– Mens slacks must front crease

– NO JEANS on Fri. anymore per Johnson

– Polo shirts are only all right Fri. on floor 3 if they are blue or beige

– EMPLOYEES MUST SHINE/POLLISH THEIR SHOES EVERY WEEKEND BEFORE MON. Mailroom employees must black nylon laces

– No dangly ear rings

– CLEAR or RED only pollished nails

John Johnson wll be reviewing staff Wed. to make sure these rules are being followed.

Thank you for your cooperation,

Gary Melendez

II.

Sometimes when I’m at my job, tappity-tap-tapping on my plastic keyboard and diddling the little touchpad on my laptop from time to time, it occurs to me that I’m accomplishing work which required hours of painstaking, interminable scrawling on sheafs of expensive parchment not so long ago.

Thank you, Industrial Revolution.

The underlings of Self-Abasement, Inc. do not feel the benefits of that historic occasion, though. They feel the crushing weight of imaginary duties, instead, because the introduction of technology to the workplace has eliminated most clerical work, leaving employees with more time between tasks than ever before, time which bosses must fill in order to look industrious.

Having long ago mastered the art of making two hours of work look like a two-day job, proletariat underlings manage to keep their jobs, and this explains how American employment competes with technology which would otherwise make human labor obsolete.

Bosses know that their underlings cut corners and screw off for large amounts of time, though (because they are very guilty of the same thing) so the bosses spend most of their paid hours playing gotcha! with the rest of the staff, ratting out the minimum of underlings necessary to look busy.

Underlings, bosses, and chiefs all have more free time, but the sergeants to whom the chiefs report have no more free time than previously, because sergeants never did any of the clerical work, anyhow.

Sergeants do labor which C.E.O.s need done but cannot do themselves, labor requiring certain talents and educations which computers cannot be programmed to use. In addition, companies need creative, educated humans in virtually every area of their industry, so these sergeants find themselves in high demand, spread thin, overworked and under-appreciated.

The sergeants have meetings, at which they give presentations, with which they sign deals, by which they secure work and money for their employers, which also secures the employees below. They are hard to reach, rarely seen in the office, and have little time for shenanigans. Their private time is taken up with anything and everything that could possibly relax them.

— Drug habits and divorces, for instance.

The big meeting feels like a summer holiday, when your cocaine has gone up both nostrils and your hands have been up both skirts

As a very protracted result of industrialization, then: underlings inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; bosses inflate their jobs in order to look busy and justify their positions; sergeants enjoy the odd amphetamine here and there and become extra-marital enthusiasts.

What, the reader may ask, are the chiefs doing during all this self-inflation?

Sergeants have no time to police them and must be content with available evidence that the chiefs are doing their jobs — but just what, exactly, were their jobs? Since dividing their responsibilities among the bosses, the job of the chief has evaporated into the delegation of labor amongst laborers who are many times more experienced at accomplishing these tasks than the chief ever was. In physical terms, the chief actually does nothing.

However, nothing is a very difficult job to perform, as it turns out.

In order to earn wages for doing nothing, the poor chief must somehow take credit for the work his underlings complete and build hard evidence of having had a hand in it, as well, which proved an inexorable challenge until the late-twentieth-century innovation of micromanagement.

III.

Some definitions of micromanagement stretch for whole paragraphs, while others curtly name it in a concise six or seven words. Micromanagement describes more than a mere business philosophy, though. It is an undiscovered culture. It is an esoteric cabal.

Micromanagement is a sorcery woven over North America which upholds the global economy, feeds innumerable hungry mouths, and maintains the eminent prestige of the corporate-American business style.

It shares also the unfortunate distinction of the Faustian pact, however, in that it happens to kill everyone who subscribes to it.

The micromanager, here seen protected from unemployment by his circle of arcane documentation.

When chiefs first aspire to practice micromanagement, they begin by conjuring new requirements to add to existing regulations. This increases the complexity of the rules, and since they must enforce these rules, this inflates the scope of their job, likewise. In the case of the wretched cubicle creatures at Self-Abasement, Inc., for instance, their chief focuses on the company dress code, which had been a perfectly functional dress code except that it was too easy for his employees to follow and therefore did not give the chief anything to do.

By adding a few superficial, superexacting details, chiefs ensure that their cubicle creatures will resist this tyrannical posturing and fail to observe all new regulations. The chiefs then sign a few official documents of reprimand, obtain the signatures of all offending employees, and in this way create a paper connection between themselves and the actual labor performed by the underlings.

Memos, too, serve to solidify a micromanaging chief’s presence in the office. Suggested by the sergeants and articulated through the chief’s invariably horrific grammar, they explode in mass emails like viral outbreaks, or wind up scotch-taped to cabinetry in the staff lounge, stall doors in the restrooms, or any number of surprising locations where one would not expect a memo to lurk, such as inside the silverware drawer in the kitchen:

DO NOT PUT FORKS AND SPOONS IN THE UTENSILS DRAWER!

These officious memos help to prove the indispensability of the micromanager, and also make his or her presence known throughout the cubicle labyrinth, invoking him or her like the summoned incarnation of a corporate Zeitgeist. Without the ostentation of these memos the chiefs would seem incorporeal, because by nature of their work (which does not exist) they toil alone in their offices, leaving them only to use the restroom or drop in on a boss to make certain the chief’s responsibilities are being sufficiently handled.

This, of course, begs the question underlings have pondered since the inception of the micromanager: if we’re out here doing all the work, and all he does is come up with crazy new rules every two weeks — then what the hell is he doing in there all the time?

It is the opinion of many cubicle creatures that copious amounts of auto-eroticism transpire in the office of the chief.

Connectivity. Infrastructure. Masturbation.

IV.

The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century put thousands of people out of work, and forced thousands more into new schools instituted to train farmers for life as factory hands. Had those day-laborers developed the sort of industrial sleight-of-hand practiced by micromanagers today, they would have been hailed as geniuses. They would perhaps have spent their working hours in the shade of apple trees, shouting perfunctory instructions to the other hands and winning their contempt, like this:

“Smith, yer gone need ter lift that hoe up t’yer shoulder to keep the furrow nice’n straight, hear?”

“Sho’ is a fine thing we got Johnson ter tellus how ter hoe ‘n sow ‘n plant ‘n scrape. I wonder where he gits his idears from.”

“I reckon those idears o’ Johnson’s come from about the same place as the manure do, but I sho’ wouldn’t mind trading up fer his salary, or fer his shady patch o’ sittin’ over thar, neither!”

That micromanagers work illusory jobs for pay does not seem inherently evil, though, as all the crucial work seems to be getting done, anyhow. Giving people something to do simply because people need something to do hardly appears like the worst thing in the world; mentally handicapped individuals have been employed in this fashion for decades, as have convicts, and even grandchildren (“Do what Nana says and sweep those leaves into a big pile on that side of the yard, and let me know when you’re done so I can show you how to sweep them back again.”). Micromanagers commit but a misdemeanor in duping dimwitted companies into paying them for inventing paltry regulations and decorating the office with memos.

In the innumerable tortures they design for the pathetic, piteous cubicle creatures, though, they betray themselves as the authors of fresh hells, their mass emails sundering the contentment and optimism of scores of people with neither shame nor care. The despair these micromanagers distribute as part of their useless, makeshift jobs horrifies the hapless cubicle creatures slowly, their gaunt faces growing more sallow and lined every day as though forced to watch imperturbable carpet bombs falling over an amusement park in crawling, relentless slow motion. Dress codes, new forms, an additional mite of data entry, an extra stop on the fifth floor to obtain a signature, the straws stack upon the quavering spines of corporate employees all the world over — hourly paid, conveniently quashed like cockroaches.

The proverbial last straw never comes for the cubicle creature, though, because each poisonous favor is only as brutal as the last, and like a cuckolding indentured servitude, they can only endure the apathy of their superiors by the anæsthetic of mindless subservience.

One is not mistaken to also detest the cubicle creature. One must consider that while their financial constraints may convince them to daily demean themselves like cowering, obsequious rodents, the shoe polishers of the world, garbage collectors, sewer scourers, bedpan changers, septic tank adventurers and other dauntless laborers of unseemly occupations go about their business with all the dignity and assurance of a British barrister, the cubicle creature having sacrificed self-love and self-respect for the sake of a dollar or two per hour above the wage that is generally paid to teenagers working in fast-food restaurants.

Marty Feldman, having left his position at Self-Abasement, Inc., re-learned how to smile and began an unlikely career in cinema. Seen here in early recovery.

V.

What course of action, then? When I reflect upon the farmhands during the Industrial Revolution, I imagine them going to work in factories with the same resignation and mental fatigue in their faces I see on those of the cubicle creatures, the bosses, and the micromanaging chiefs. This inheritance of misery cannot be tolerated.

However, the solution is not to stamp out micromanagement; that seems implausible. Micromanagers generally possess few marketable talents and so would not know what to do with themselves were it not for micromanaging. They will defend their philosophy to death. They sink in a quicksand of their own devising, and like Dr. Faustus, they do not believe that it will destroy them.

The micromanagers, themselves, appear doomed.

Readers given to martyrdom may decide to practice the Way of Nice for their respective chiefs, but should one find oneself in the position of the cubicle creature, the boss, the chief, or the sergeant, one would do best to quit the place like a spark leaving the flint.

Corporate offices transform human time and energy into cashola. That is their purpose; they have none other. Unless one could change one’s living days into enough capital to justify such a dark metamorphosis, to take a position in a corporate office is to commit oneself to a sanitarium operated by lunatics.

Most corporate fucks work jobs that they hate in order to feed, clothe, and educate their children, transfusing their very lifetime into that of their offspring. Their personal joy and appreciation for the beauties of life visibly deflate from them with every passing day, and many live in fear of termination like battered housewives clinging to abusive spouses. Self-destruction does not raise healthy children. It were better to live with dignity and pride somewhere in a rent-controlled ghetto and nourish one’s family with ramen.

As the great Al Pacino once said, “There is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit; there is no prosthesis for that.” No, and there is no salvation for those who commit a daily suicide all their lives, either.

Beware the promise of material happiness or contentment.

Beware the myth of financial security.

Beware the fiscally ambitious and the ones who have it all.

— But most importantly, beware that part of you which dreams of winning lotteries, marrying rich, or retiring in a large, beautiful home.

It’s the part of you the rest of us have most to fear.

With remarkably tenacious optimism I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

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I Think, Therefore I Love You

Philosophies try to explain the purposes of — well, the purposes of everything.  Philosophies can become a hobby, a lifestyle, or an obsession if one lets them.

Many of us have little use for most philosophies, though.  We find some incompatible, others obsolete.  Existentialism for instance, although great for egocentric neo-hippies, neither nurtures nor allows faith in the common man, so society rejects it.  Zen Buddhism, likewise, does not make sense to materialistic cultures, because the contemplation of nothingness seems just as absurd to most Los Angeles businessmen as the rabid pursuit of wealth does to most Chinese peasants.  A philosophy must operate within its intended context; otherwise, it’s a painter’s hammer, a baker’s wrench, a butcher’s telescope.

We read philosophies to explore the frontiers of human understanding, but few of them can really pertain to everyone.  One such panharmonic philosophy exists, though.  It’s a beautiful thing, clear, concise, and without the usual pompousness that garnishes most mystic proverbs.  It goes like this:

Be nice.

"Be nice," says Dalton

I.

“Be nice” is a highly volatile, extremely dangerous, violently controversial philosophy.  People have been killed for being too nice.  The Way of Nice has martyrs in every part of the world.

That superstar of martyrs who inspired a global sensation, the man who needs no introduction, Mr. Jesus, purportedly believed in being nice.  Extant records say he was a swell guy, except for one small incident when he started chucking tables around because some gamblers had mistaken a church for a casino.   Other than that, he made his career as a philosopher with, “Be nice” (except he actually said, “Love one another.”  It may be presumed that in the time of slavery, flayings, and crucifixions, this sounded less mushy).  Incidentally, Mr. Jesus called himself — not a son of the gods — but the son of the God (big G) and this tended to frustrate people.

The teachings of Mr. Jesus can easily be wired in such a way as to not short-circuit when applied to a logical mind, but many agnostics throw his ideas out with the holy water, quoting other Hebrews just as though Mr. Jesus should be responsible for every Jewish mystic from the necromancer Ezekiel to the reformed torturer Paul.  The philosophy of Mr. Jesus does not need to get complicated.  Perhaps most American Christians don’t read their Bible for the same reason most morally minded skeptics don’t: it doesn’t take eighteen-hundred and eighty-eight pages to say, “Be nice.”

Another school of the philosophy of Nice called Taoism preaches inaction (more on Taoism in “A Hurried History of Pagans and Pulpits,” here).  Tao teaches that one should do nothing (wu-wei) but even Lao Tzu, author of the Taoist holy book, finds himself advocating kind actions when he says, “Kindness in words creates confidence.  Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.  Kindness in giving creates love.”

Taoists look venerable as hell, but beneath that austere Pat Morita facade they’re just big ol’ squishybears like other nice people.  The West and East may not have Zen in common, but they do share the philosophy of the Way of Nice.

They say Lao Tzu lived to be six-hundred years old. Wu-wei, indeed. Do nothing, or break hip.

Marcus Aurelius championed the Way of Nice, too, when he wrote in his Meditations, “Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast, and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.”  Another Stoic philosopher, Seneca, said, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”  From the Dialogues of Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  Cicero: “There is no duty more obligatory than the repayment of kindness.”  Charles Darwin: “The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”  Albert Einstein: “The ideals which have lighted my way have been kindness, beauty, and truth.”

Why on earth do so many brilliant thinkers emphasize the importance of being nice?  These hotshots may have practiced their own forms of morality, but they weren’t known for their morality.  They made names for themselves out of their brains, not their hearts.  Some sound reason must exist for the kind treatment of our fellow beings.

Hold on a moment, though.

Supporting morality with logical premises seems counter-intuitive to many people.  Many people despise the idea that emotions have reasons underlying them.  Western society has accepted the dualistic nature of head versus heart, and for many of us, any attempt to bring reason and emotion, sense and sensibility, contemplation and compassion together is rank blasphemy.

Plenty of people insist that there are matters of the heart which cannot be settled by the brain, often the same good people who keep open minds about things like astrology, tarot cards, and soul mates.  These paladins of mindless warm fuzzies are joined in their bigotry by thousands of doctors of psychology, that mock-science built on neologism which professes to study the mind, but doles out self-help advice as medication.

. . .Well, self-help and benzodiazepines.

These detractors of logic desperately believe that reason and emotion are as oil and water.  A calamitous, deplorable divorce, this, because if there’s anything worse than a chaotic rage, crushing depression, or cataclysmic sorrow, it’s having to deal with these soul-enslaving feelings without the lucidity to counsel and compose oneself, without the presence of mind to talk oneself down, as they say.

"Head vs. Heart," by Danielle Rizzolo

II.

The separation of heart and head is more important to some than the separation of church and state.  Perhaps we have stony-faced Stoics like Aurelius and Seneca to thank for this prejudice.  Colloquially, Stoicism has meant apathy and heartlessness for seventeen centuries.  Sure, we distrust cold and calculating philosophers, yet we have the audacity to explain every pang of fear, justify every twinge of regret, and defend every feeling of personal injury — with logic and reason.

Why are you crying?” asks the doting mother.

Why so sad?” asks the concerned spouse.

Why do you feel this way?” we constantly demand of one another, to which we hilariously reply, “Because. . .!”

We’ve no problem at all demonizing logic and reason as deceitful, dubious, treacherous mishaps of evolution when we wax sentimental — until people take interest in our feelings, that is.  The moment somebody questions our guilt, regret, anxiety or fear, we analyze our feelings like doctors performing an autopsy.  We find ready reasons for each facet of our condition, gladly dissect our heart-of-hearts, and fork out the logic that led us — nay, caused us — to feel such intense feelings.

Certain young thinkers (ahem) have been lambasted by entire university classrooms, wrathful classmates red-faced and spittle-launching, for having dared suggest this heresy.  Why such passionate dissent?

— Because the heaviest weight in the world is the responsibility of self-awareness.  We’d much rather freefall through life like leaves on the wind than assume control.  If we writhe beneath the wild power of our emotions without recourse, we are absolved.  Our follies, our caprices, our sins all manifest as the results of inevitable emotional tides.  Should ever anyone prove emotions to have causal, logical roots, however — then the melodramatic masses will become as culpable as drunk drivers, and many times more shameful.

They were sober, after all.

The purity of an unrestrained emotion -- and this is one of the positive ones. Humans are the only animals which bare their teeth in exuberance.

Emotions retain their validity, though, regardless of their causal relationships in our if-this, then-that universe.  If one feels jovial and carefree because one has paid bills in advance, eaten a nice breakfast, and accomplished every task before noon, one feels no less happy for having enumerated the reasons.

However, some say that we are not truly happy unless we feel glad for no reason at all, happy-go-lucky, willy-nilly, whee!  Unbidden, unexplained emotions seem more pure to these folks.  Understandable emotions with easily surmised causes seem less lustrous, less genuine.  For this reason, our sophomoric culture clings to the love-at-first-sight cliché with the tenacity of a toddler refusing to relinquish a security blanket.

Logic is not the opposite of emotion.  Thinking is not the opposite of feeling, either.  Our feelings exist in our minds, and they correlate to our thoughts.

Now, about the Way of Nice: if compassion has a logical cause, then Aurelius, Seneca, Plato, Cicero, Darwin, Einstein, Mr. Jesus and Lao Tzu merely exercised good sense by practicing kindness.  Many of their reasons for being nice, in fact, are displayed in their quotes, above.  It may be possible for a person to arrive at compassion accidentally, too, and this benefits the world just as well as it would if one could take moral credit for the deed, and maybe better.

One could help an old lady across the street for kindness’s sake, or merely because one couldn’t stand the sight of old-woman roadkill.  A significant difference from the old lady’s perspective seems unlikely, so what difference can it make?

The Good Samaritan, unable to abide roadkill, became the world's first street sweeper.

III.

The reader may lack a reason of his or her own to convert to the Way of Nice, though.  In fact, the reader may be at this very moment shrinking from the thought of practicing any so-called way whatsoever, thinking what a horrid, contemptible thing religion is, and that the Way of Nice smells far too much like religion to be bothered with.

Never fear though, thou valiant heathen.  A philosophy is here offered for the kindly treatment of all animals on the earth.  Therefore, onward!

See, animals are most likely to cause harm when they are in need.  They are also stupid, selfish creatures, too blind to foretell the likely consequences of their actions.  When they need something badly enough, they feel compelled, pushed, forced to act in such a way as to obtain what they think they need.

Should a fellow animal show hunger, one reduces the danger to oneself by feeding him or her.  Should a fellow animal act forlorn, one reduces the danger to oneself by befriending him or her.  Should a fellow animal wince in pain, one reduces the danger to oneself by dressing the animal’s wounds.

Animals naturally seek out a mate in their proper season.  One does well to facilitate this for one’s fellows.  This is fun, anyhow.

Animals yearn for a minimum of tenderness and affection.  One does well to pet them, to soothe them with soft words and caresses.  This feels good, anyhow.

Animals fall into desperation without a safe shelter.  One does well to make one for them.  This can both be fun and feel good.

A cornered animal will most likely attack; it behooves one, therefore, to liberate one’s fellow animals.  Marry logic to kindness so that even the stoniest of Stoics might melt a bit and see the Way of Nice for what it is: the soundest, most obvious philosophy in the world.

Or, to put it more succinctly–

Be Nice.

With earnestness and temporarily subdued sarcasm I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

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Books, Part of This Nutritious Breakfast

There isn’t a community in this nation which doesn’t prefer an hour at the gym to thirty minutes in a library.

Americans would admit it freely, too. If Gallup polled them, Americans would say, “Well, yeah. Wouldn’t anyone rather look like Marilyn Monroe than think like Ben Franklin? I mean, come on, that’s easy.”

These priorities are, as Robert Frost once called them, sincerely fucked-up. It’s sound reason for health-conscious people to concern themselves with their intellectual diets and exercises at least as much as their physical ones.  It’s good logic for health nuts to care about their educations as much as their caloric intake.

The dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle worry many Southern Californians, as well as other folks both domestic and foreign, but those concerns present nothing like the Faustian hellscape that is an intellectually malnourished way of life.  The mind deserves at least as much attention as we pay to our diets.

No amount of crunches will give them that, "I drive responsibly" look.

I.

The mind is easily dismissed, because the mind is hard to describe.  It’s an abstract concept.  Nevertheless, people have cause to worry about exercising their minds just as they fret over diets and exercise, because the mind and body are degrees of the same thing. Neither mind nor body means anything without the other, just like hot and cold, or far and near.  Degrees of the same.

This is not a Taoist argument about balance, though. This is a statement rooted in thousands of years of philosophy, thousands of years of brilliant thought.

These thoughts began when someone tried to find the mind. Where it was he or she could not say, and neither could anyone else. No one, in fact, has ever been able to pinpoint the mind satisfactorily, beyond the assertion that it is inextricably braided into the physical brain.

Now, if there is no known location for the mind, why not presume it made of the same energy and matter as everything else in the world? If the mind were nothing more than an effect (and cause) of physical activities of the brain and body, nothing would remain unexplained, nobody would need to wonder where the mind were located, anymore. More fun than that, though, and much more amusing, it would destroy the divide between body and mind, and anyone in search of health food would need to consider whether chamomile tea might not be healthy.

Chamomile promotes drowsiness, you know, and thereby hinders the mind’s ability to concentrate.

Chamomile, the thinker's devil weed.

Consider the relationship between physical actions and abstract ideas.

Should one decide to flip the bird, one begins by willing the fist to extend the middle finger. The question is, at what point does the incorporeal idea become flesh hard enough to physically move the finger? To answer, one must arbitrarily choose a point along the path from thought to action, and the transformation, so-called, happens too rapidly for anyone to discern a difference. It is as though the action itself contained all the desire, will, and thought that had ever been involved. Ideas and actions are, in the end, inextricable from one another.

It remains possible that our thoughts may be nothing more than the streaming recognition of all our potential actions.

For Batman once said, “Of what use is a dream, if not a blueprint for courageous action” (Batman, the feature film, 1966).

Modern science has corroborated the mind’s influence as part of the body. Harvard’s Dr. Langer successfully showed that housekeepers who merely considered their jobs differently as they went about their duties lost significant weight, as well as ten-percent of their blood pressure. Studies at the Cleveland Clinic recorded participants increasing their muscle strength by thirteen-percent in three months, not by weight training, but by simply imagining themselves doing the exercise for fifteen minutes per day, five days per week. Not to be left out, Drs. Yue and Cole of the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Iowa say, “Strength increases can be achieved without repeated muscle activation. . . The results of these experiments add to existing evidence for the neural origin of strength increases that occur before muscle hypertrophy” (J Neurophysiol. 1992 May; 67 (5): 1114-23).

If this evidence for the intimate body-mind relationship does not weigh enough, consider also: thinking has not only the power to slim us down, but also to fatten us up.  How many calories are in a Snickers bar craving?  Some.

I'm training for the Olympics.

II.

A key reason to favor intellectual exercise over physical exercise is that the earnest pursuit of reason results in the adoption of healthy practices. Active mental lives regularly lead to active physical lives, provided that one’s studies are not allowed to grow too narrow or repetitive. Students of geology or ecology soon deposit themselves on a hike outdoors. Fans of philosophy and poetry, likewise, soon learn to disdain the confines of buildings. Sociology and anthropology fanatics soon find themselves moving about society with the lithe grace of a politician.

No true student of philosophy needs to be told that natural foods nourish better than artificial or chemically treated foods, and indeed, it is likely the growing illiteracy rate among American adults that has allowed such rudimentary lapses of judgment to begin with.

The pursuit of athleticism, however, hardly ever leads to intellectual pursuits. One has merely to look at the workout habits of the typical American to conclude as much: one hour on a treadmill daily, staring at a mounted television while listening to Lady Gaga on headphones, followed by three hours of television in bed to reward ourselves.

As a society, we once walked for miles on a regular basis. We used to read while we walked, too.  We did so often enough to form a cliche now long-forgotten, the careless reader blindly turning a corner, running headlong into someone important, someone attractive, or someone dangerous-looking.

“Oh! Excuse me!” the clumsy reader would say, to which the bulldozed pedestrian would reply,

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going?”

This peeve of society no longer exists to interrupt our afternoon strolls, however, because hardly anyone walks anymore — and even fewer people read. What readers and walkers do exist, certainly do not do them at once, anymore, and this is yet another example of how our intellectual divorce from the physical realm has affected our daily lives.

Abraham Lincoln's clumsy travel habits earned him the nickname, "Absent-Minded Abe," which he lamented until stumbling into John Wilkes Booth in 1865. "Why don't you watch where you're going?" Booth reportedly said.

People interested in their health had better to start a reading habit than a calisthenics regime or a dieting plan. Calisthenics have little to do with one’s quality of life outside of physical fitness. Granted, staying fit and feeling healthy present one with many important benefits, not the least of which being longevity of life, but the benefits of intellectual fitness far outstrip those of a merely athletic lifestyle.

An educated autodidact takes interest in more of the world around him or her, experiences epiphany on a regular basis, and usually gets the joke (even when the joke is not funny).  What good would it do to live for a hundred and fifty years, if all the intellectual stimulation one managed in all that time were counting reps and calories?  Physical exercise for its own sake feels good — right up to when it hurts — but also involves hours of terribly boring repetition.

Boredom is the agony of an intelligent mind beginning to atrophy, just as aches are the pain of muscles gone unused.

Dull people suffer from boredom like victims of bone cancer.  Note the torture children experience at the mall, shopping for school clothes with their mothers.  They don’t know enough to entertain themselves with what little stimulation exists for them in that environment, so the effect is like that of sensory deprivation.  One might as well blindfold them and bind their hands; they’ve absolutely no idea what to do with themselves.

We secretly replaced two of these bored athletes with two complete morons. Can you tell them apart?

The difference between a child and an adult is, the child will gladly, eagerly find a way to entertain himself or herself.  A dimwitted adult, too far gone and having lapsed into perpetual complacency, grows so comfortable with boredom that he or she can tolerate hours upon hours of commercial television programming, finding no irony in laugh tracks and APPLAUSE signs, predicting the plots of show after show, and repressing occasional surges of distaste, disgust, and boredom with the nimble dexterity of a catatonic ninja.

Stupidity is a vicious circle this way.  The dumber one becomes, the more content one is to become an even bigger idiot.  As the light goes out from behind the eyes, the person in the dark back there has a dwindling chance to figure out what makes life so generally unbearable for them.  If one believes that this ignorance is truly bliss, one is horrifically mistaken.

To return to comparing mental health to physical health, an intelligent yet obese person will need to contend with deadly health concerns — and also might suffer from nightmarish, excruciating social repercussions — but he or she will have logic to resist exacerbating these issues, at least.

An uneducated, unintelligent person (even if blessed with good looks, adequate finances, and loving friends and family) still must survive and endure the following hazards of their fatuousness: irresponsible contraction and communication of disease, increased likelihood of incarceration, hampered ability to communicate, vulnerability to cons and scams, misinformed belief systems, haphazard parenting skills, higher unemployment rate, drastically lower income, poor decision making, higher risk of mental illness, self-inflicted illness, incautiousness and injury, unchecked emotion, social ineptitude, confusion, malnutrition, bewilderment, laziness, haplessness, recklessness, and a nigh-infinite parade of other easily supposed hazards.

Sure, obesity can cause pulmonary hypertension, but stupidity can cause a lawn chair to resemble aircraft.

Cancer is cause for concern. Idiocy, is the bane of our existence.

III.

It will occur to the casual reader that since intellectual exercise seems so much more crucial to a long, healthy life than physical exercise, some logic must exist for the favoritism of Southern Californians and others for the latter.  How in the world could so many people ignore the obvious dangers of watching too much television and reading too few books?  Granted, the media does everything it can to keep people out of libraries, into strip malls and reclining armchairs, but other reasons exist.

Studying up after a long period of laziness remains many, many times more difficult than losing weight or getting ripped.  A little willpower allows access to a proper diet and calisthenics routine — but willpower alone will not help an illiterate person put the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius to use.  Rob Cooper lost three-hundred pounds in two-and-a-half years, but the ability to read influential works of literature or contemporary science journals takes years of formal education, followed by several more years of diligent bookworming.

These studies aren’t just difficult for an aspiring collegiate, though; they’re also dizzyingly excruciating for a dullard to endure.  Dieters have hunger pangs to contend with, and joggers must overcome both pain and fatigue, but neither of these agonies can match the psychological horror of limitless boredom.  Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read any books last year, which means they found no joy in turning the pages of Harry Potter, Salem’s Lot, or even their Bibles or Qur’ans.  For an uninitiated thinker, completing even so accessible a text as Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is as difficult as scaling a sheer wall, and less enjoyable than staring at one.

Perhaps this accounts for the dull look in their eyes.  Maybe staring at walls is the secret addiction of idiots all the world over.

Melissa's bedroom wall has been on the N.Y. Times bestseller list for eight weeks running.

There’s also no immediate monetary profit in engaging new intellectual pursuits.  Most people need to clothe their children and put gas in their car.  They don’t have time to sit and read Chaucer unless someone will pay them for their time.  Even if college educations result in lucrative jobs, they neither put food on the table at home, nor pay for themselves, in the meantime.

This makes reading very unfashionable in places like Southern California, where a successful, meaningful life is measured in terms of material wealth.  Everyone in Southern California knows or has met a member of the modern aristocracy who accumulated the entirety of his or her wealth without even a high school diploma.  Few remark that these people may lead valueless, colorless lives fraught with confusion, disinterest, and despair.  Few question whether raising children, attending churches, or advancing careers can supplant an earnest search for one’s own meaning in life.

An intelligent, educated person with debts to pay, has debts to pay, as well as an appreciation for the horrors and beauties of the world we live in.

An unintelligent, uneducated person with money — has money.

Perhaps the most pervasive cause for the preference of physical health over intellectual health, though, is a social divide between jocks and geeks which prevents a natural exchange of information, information jocks desperately need about the use of books, and information plenty of geeks could use about the use of barbells.  Idiots don’t hang out with intellectuals, because educated types make them feel stupid and insecure.  This aversion suits educated conversationalists just fine, too, because they’re tired of having to explain to drunk people in basketball jerseys that comparing political figures to Hitler doesn’t facilitate a mutually beneficial discussion.

With a social disparity this extensive, it’s hard to imagine anyone over thirty spending some hard-earned Monday Night Football time learning to play chess, instead.  With great hope and trepidation, though, one must presume that it’s happened somewhere, sometime, and that it just might happen somewhere again.

Having pounded a creatine shake, a Monster energy drink, and three shots of wheatgrass, this valiant bro opened his game with a variation on the Ruy Lopez.

IV.

Today, universal health care stands out as Washington’s most ambitious undertaking in decades.  In time, the White House might be able to pull it off, too — but what about universal education?

The so-called public option for educating our citizens doesn’t even bother to hide its own shame and self-loathing, anymore.  What if one’s intellect really does matter at least as much as one’s biological health?  That would make the problem of national obesity look like a pebble beside the Himalayan catastrophe that is our national stupidity.

It’s amusing to consider that universal health care could make an effective political smoke screen, if the categorical failure of Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation were ever to draw unwanted attention.  In the years to come, our life expectancy may exceed all expectations, affording every uneducated American an additional ten, twenty, or even thirty years of bad decision making.

Feeling fit and staying active isn’t a silly prospect; it’s an important part of being human, but a healthy physique alone does not a fulfilling, rewarding life make.  It behooves us all to balance our time in spin class with our time between the pages of something thought-provoking.  It is childish to pretend that looking good and feeling good supplants the need for imagination, contemplation, and meaningful dialogue.  Flexed guns and a washboard six-pack can’t govern anyone’s life.  They help a black v-neck tee-shirt fit more fashionably, but what has good fashion sense done for us, lately?  We’re sexy enough, for Chrissakes.

Were there research available on the subject today, it’s likely that stupidity would prove more responsible for a shitty sex life than outmoded fashion sense ever was.  Decent fucking requires a modicum of know-how.  No amount of salon time can make up for a person’s inability to locate a clitoris.

MacGyver. You can bet he never needed a paper clip and a ballpoint pen to find a clitoris.

Put your bullet-shaped helmet away, o’ legion of spandex-clad bicycle enthusiasts, and pluck up a volume of Bukowski.  He’ll keep your interest for an hour or two, I swear.  And roll up your spongy L.A. Fitness brand yoga mat, o’ acolytes of spirituality through weight-loss programs, and fetch a copy of Huston Smith.  Everything you ever wanted to know about humanity’s search for its soul is there.

It’s time to stop overpaying our athletes and underpaying our teachers, overvaluing our blockbuster hits and underestimating our modern classics.  People of great intellect aren’t having a hard time getting laid, they’re having a hard time finding other intellects.  It’s time to re-evaluate the amount of attention we pay to our physiques when we pay so little attention to our minds, and it doesn’t take a Mensa award-winner to see the American reasoning faculty drying up like a dessicated chunk of cacti on a cracked stretch of desert highway.

Evolution’s the great equalizer, though.  If there’s any truth to it at all, then it won’t take long for all the athletic ignoramuses to jog, hike, and bike straight into traffic or off of cliffs, and the rest of us will have more than enough time to take up aerobics.

With total amazement and utter stupefaction, I remain,

Yours Truly,

-BothEyesShut

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