Zen Mischief

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False Life

Over recent years we've come to the conclusion that we currently live in a totally false world, and one which is getting more false by the day. This realisation started several years ago with the concept of false food. False food looks like food but is actually of zero nutritional content despite being loaded with calories. It is largely what is sold by the supermarkets as instant ready meals and what is purveyed by the ubiquitous fast food outlets.

The wider experience of "false living" has multiplied since we discovered the joys of false food and has extended to cover all social groups. Don't get us wrong; we succumb to some of this too!; so it is not us being miserable old gits and Luddite about modern society. There is much of real benefit in modern society and new technology; for instance no-one is suggesting that a return to mediaeval sanitary and medical arrangements. Equally there is much unnecessary, even damaging, rubbish peddled as "the best thing since sliced bread" (itself false food). It is this rubbish which constitutes "false living".

Here are the constituent parts of "false living" we have identified thus far.

 

False Food

It looks so deceptively like food that it fools Josette Public, and increasingly Josephine Publicus, into believing it is as good (or better) than the real thing. Why? Because Josette has been brought up with the idea of (a) convenience food and (b) cheap food; consequently she has no clue either how to cook or how to shop.

False food is sold by the supermarkets (yes, all of them) but the cheaper supermarkets and corner shops are needless to say the worst offenders. No-one (supermarket or manufacturer) is immune; household brands can be as false as cheap supermarket own-label products. And the cheaper the product the more likely it is to be false.

Examples:

  • Cheap cake which when eaten appears to be made of sawdust
  • Most ready meals and snack foods
  • Sliced, mass-produced bread
  • Pot noodles
  • Frozen Yorkshire pudding; frozen Bubble & Squeak; frozen chips
  • Cook-in sauces
  • Anything specially made to be "low fat"
  • Ready-made deserts, including most yoghurt which is pasteurised and processed within an inch of its life
  • All fast food: McDonalds, Burger King, KFC to name but a few
  • Designer coffee: Starbucks, Costa Coffee etc.
  • Ice cream
  • Alcopops

Who remembers Angel Delight and Vesta curry? Now there are two classic examples of early false food.

 

False Entertainment

Sadly this includes most of the mindless drivel which is put out by the media channels, so much of which is totally devoid of intelligent input let alone output – or even real entertainment. But this goes a lot wider and includes the ubiquitous need for 24/7 entertainment piped directly into one's ears through little bits of wire.

Examples:

  • TV game shows, soap operas
  • Reality TV
  • Daytime TV
  • MTV
  • Radio phone-in programmes
  • Most commercial and local radio
  • Newspaper colour magazine supplements (actually newspaper supplements in general)
  • Lifestyle and "lads" magazines, eg. GQ, FHM, Easy Living, Period Living
  • News magazines like Hello!, Heat
  • iPod and similar MP3 players; iPhone
  • Xbox, Wii
  • The majority of pop music (yes, some will stand the test of time and become classics but the age old problem is knowing what)
  • Binge drinking (followed, of course, by binge puking)
  • One-day professional cricket played in pyjamas

In addition we have False News. This encompasses most of what is on the news media; so little of it is actually news worthy. Listen to it. How much of this stuff is actually important?

Examples:

  • Breakfast TV
  • 24/7 news TV

 

False Progress

There are many commodities and ideas out in the wild which we're told (hence the unthinking masses believe) we must have, but which we don't actually need or have a real use for. There's quite an overlap here with "False Entertainment". Just because technologically we can do something doesn't mean we should do it. That doesn't mean the technology shouldn't be developed and might not be useful; but let's look at it and apply it where it will make a real difference.

Examples:

  • Internet applications like Twitter, MySpace, Youtube, Second Life, and even Facebook
  • X-Box, Wii, iPod, iPhone
  • Digital TV, HD TV, HD DVD
  • Mobile phones (yes, they have their uses, but do we all really need them?)
  • Handheld PCs (iPAQ, Blackberry)

False Progress is much wider than these examples imply; indeed it probably encompasses the whole of False Life!

 

False Politics

Isn't this actually all of politics?

Examples:

  • Olympic Games
  • (Slapped Wrists! That's sport; mustn't confuse sport and politics now must we!)
  • European Union
  • Devolution
  • War on terrorism
  • Daily government initiatives

 

False Business

This is a chicken and egg situation. Does False Life create False Business or False Business create False Life?

Examples:

  • Off-shored customer care – actually make that all "customer care", which is no more than basic manners
  • Cost (or rather lack of it) is more important than quality
  • An inability to call your bank branch direct
  • The belief that managers care for their people's welfare
  • FTSE as a true reflection of business worth (the FTSE is a scam; but that's an argument for another day)
  • Stupid business names which give neither information on what the company does nor who founded it; eg. QinetiQ, Apricot, Carillion, Orange, Lattice, Aviva, Fruit

 

False Health & Safety

Everything today has to be "risk assessed" and no-one may be exposed to any risk. The ubiquitous "risk assessment" and rigid adherence to process has taken over from good old-fashioned common sense. Without risk we do not make progress – indeed anything – nor do we learn anything. We have also fallen into the fallacious concept "that it must never happen again". You cannot ensure that something never happens again. Nor can you protect people from any and every risk. There is a sensible line which has to be drawn.

Examples:

  • Methods statements and risk assessments for even the most trivial maintenance job
  • Listen to the news; hardly a day goes past without some bereaved parent/spouse saying "we must ensure this never happens again". Ask yourself how realistic this is.

 

False Medicine

What have we here? The medical profession has led us into a number of fallacies, at least as perceived by Joe Public:

  1. A belief that there must be a treatment for every disease and disability – everything is curable.
  2. A belief that screening for condition X is worthwhile: well the screening reduces the risk of incurable X by 80%. But is this sensible? The risk of getting X was only 1 in 100,000 to start with, but we have to screen everyone!
  3. The belief that if it can't be shown by the science (a blood test, x-ray, CT scan or whatever) it doesn't exist. "You can't have condition Y because we can't detect it in the tests we've done" – despite the fact that I have all the signs and symptoms. What happened to good old-fashioned clinical diagnosis, then?
  4. My broken leg/chickenpox/whatever is exactly the same as yours; conveniently forgetting people are different. Some people are allergic to penicillin; most aren't. QED.
  5. Medicines, drugs and treatments have been tested and are therefore safe. (See 4 above.) Corollary: Anything not tested isn't safe.
  6. If it isn't part of recognised mainstream medicine it isn't useful (and indeed is dangerous). Hence the fetish against complementary medicine.
  7. There is also the fallacy that "treatment X" saves 2345 lives a year. No it doesn't. It may stop 2345 people a year dying of "disease X", but these people still die of something else. The treatments aren't making people immortal!

Examples:

  • Eradication of smallpox, polio etc.
  • MMR vaccine (regardless of which side of the argument you believe)
  • The idea that all African males will effectively be forced, or bribed, into being circumcised in the fight against AIDS. Such an attitude from the medical profession is, in my view, frankly inexcusable – even if it does make a difference. There is a human rights issue here, just as much as a public health issue, which no-one seems to have picked up on. [See my Zen Mischief Weblog posts here and here for my thoughts on circumcision.]

 

False Needs

There are many things it is assumed we need just to exist today. This includes the concept (con trick) that you do actually get something for nothing.

Examples:

  • Everyone needs a car/must be able to drive
  • Supermarket points schemes & loyalty cards
  • Bank accounts with discount shopping attached
  • Everything must be available 24/7
  • 0% finance and interest-free balance transfers
  • Buy now, pay nothing until next year
  • Debt never has to be repaid – we just move it from one credit card to another until eventually it magically disappears.

 

False Lifestyle

You must have the latest, best, biggest, flashiest of everything regardless of the cost and your ability to pay for it. It's all about status, posing and looking good; bugger the fact there is no substance underneath.

Examples:

  • SUVs and 4x4s
  • Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Porche
  • David Beckham
  • You must play golf
  • All professional, and especially international, sport
  • Retirement to Spain
  • Foreign exotic holidays
  • Everything must happen 24/7
  • Xbox, Wii,iPod, iPhone, iPad

Also included here is the current (false) "false childhood" scare: the obsession that today's children don't have a childhood. Oh and along with that the notion that there was a time in the past which was the golden age of childhood. Both wrong! All those Dickensian kids who had to go up chimneys or down the mines are conveniently forgotten.

 

False Equality

We've almost got to the "He's got one; it's my inalienable right to have one too; otherwise I'll sue you" scenario. We never had an endowment mortgage (I foresaw the problems with them) but I've often wondered if I could sue someone because I never had the (mis)fortune of being wrongly sold and getting compensation; after all compensation is my inalienable right!

Examples:

  • Everything has to revolve around children; if you don't have kids/grandchildren you don't count; eg. parents legally and automatically get extra leave entitlements, the rest of us don't; we do the extra work to cover
  • "Women in (profession)" focus groups
  • Arts funding being focussed on ethnic, minority, disability and gay arts projects to the exclusion of small mainstream projects. Isn't this just as discriminatory? (And by the way I have actually fallen foul of this one: it isn't "performance art", it isn't "local" and it isn't for an "ethnic minority", therefore you don't even qualify to be considered for funding.)

 

False Education

Almost the whole of the education system today, including the universities, is false. But it has ever been thus according to the older generation of the day. Except that we can now demonstrate quite clearly that our kids are having to be taught at university what our generation (the baby boomers) were taught for 'O'-level (age 15 to 16). They are just not being taught the basics any more. In addition our kids aren't allowed to do practical science because it might be dangerous (see False Health & Safety).

Examples:

  • Projects replacing actual teaching
  • Media Studies and Tourism degree courses
  • Medical Schools having to teach their students basic Latin
  • Lack of "fail" grades in exams

 

False Terminology

There has long been a trend for terminological obfuscation; but it just gets worse. These days everyone has to be a "manager" of something. And that's without mentioning the plethora of biz-speak and neologism.

Examples:

  • Rodent Operative or, better, Pest Control Manager = Ratcatcher
  • "We're having limited success with this" = "it doesn't work"
  • Governance = how we say we do things. (Note not "how we do them" but "how we say we do them".)

 


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