What Would Hartigan Do?

Question. Everything.

Terry Pratchett

It’s seems somewhat depressing that I only remember my favorite books as a kid when their authors die. It happened first with Brian Jacques and the Redwall series, and now today with Terry Pratchett and the Discworld series. I think the Redwall series made a deeper and more profound impact on me, as I started reading that earlier in my childhood, but Discworld definitely shaped my personality, especially in the humor department.

In tribute, I will revisit the wonderful world that is Discworld, starting with Guards! Guards!

Snow

More Stuff

Previously, I talked briefly about the first step on the road to recovery from the modern debilitating disease known as materialism, which is to acquiesce to the fact that everything around you is conspiring against you to maintain your materialistic tendencies. As Sun Tzu once almost said, “know your enemy”. Once you have assimilated this idea into your mindset, the next step is natural – take a deep breath, and stop buying sh*t. This is obviously easier said than done, so here are a few tips to get you started:

Buy for a lifetime and a half

You may think that the gorgeous pair of shoes you got from that nondescript shoe store – almost always run by a middle aged asian lady – was a bargain, but a week later the shoes decides to play a practical joke and fall apart, and so you go back to bargain hunting for another cheap shoe. At the end of your lifetime, ignoring the considerable human and environmental burden that your shoe parade caused, you will have spent a great deal more money than if you had just bought an expensive, well made shoe in the first place.

I not so recently made a discovery about shoes: the only part of the shoe that is really being worn out is the outsole, provided you take reasonable care of the upper. So it doesn’t really make sense to replace a whole shoe – you should just be replacing the sole. This is why I now almost always buy shoes that are welted, because they are manufactured with the intention of being resoled – meaning that their uppers will be durable and last a lifetime and a half.

Don’t impulse shop

Always wait a day before making a purchase – this is similar in spirit to the email systems that buffer your emails for a day, in case you get drunk and decide to email that girl from work about your erotic feelings towards her and attach some very flattering photos of yourself to her. If after a day, you still want it, go ahead, treat yo’ self. But a lot of the time we get caught up in the moment of shopping, of owning that particular piece of clothing, that particular piece of technology, when in fact we don’t really need it, it really has no purpose other than to make us feel happy about having swapped our hard-earned cash for the chance to feel current and hip.

Stuff

There’s an article on BBC about having too much stuff – we as a species are record-breaking hoarders of extraneous things. They liken this to our evolutionary hunger for sugar and the resultant obesity epidemic, in light of the recent advances in procuring sugar and inserting it into every conceivable edible product. I’m not entirely convinced by the analogy, as I suspect our materialism is more a product of societal and economic forces than an evolutionary desire to own things.

The solution they propose is to focus on the experiences. After all, many studies have shown that it is the experiences that we have that make us happy, whereas the happiness generated from the acquisition of material goods is fleeting and ultimately empty, because that product will almost immediately be superceded by a new, improved, updated, completely irresistably better version. My problem with this proposition is that you are asking a child to run before you teach him to breathe – if materialism is indeed evolutionary, then we must wean society off it in tiny baby steps.

The first step is to realize that materialism is an integral part of economic growth (whatever that means). If everyone woke up the next day content with their lives and the products that control them, our economy would collapse. Anarchy would ensue, but happiness would prevail. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, society must resort to manufactured materialism. We bombard people with advertisements offering a glimpse into a better life, full of luxury and decadence, attainable if you buy this particular product for only $99.95. We make every possible holiday an excuse to go shopping and exchanging worthless gifts, all in the name of goodness and charity. We happily ignore the fact that there are more slaves now than at any time in human history – many of whom are slave-workers of the garment industry – so that we can feel like we’re getting a tremendous bargain when we buy some trendy fashion item from H&M that we will throw away before the next fashion cycle. So really, it’s not your fault if you’re materialistic – the whole Western world is counting on it.

Stay tuned for part two.

Infinite Jest

And the winner of the longest cogent sentence goes to…

You ask the scary old guys How AA Works and they smile their chilly smiles and say Just Fine. It just works, is all; end of story. The newcomers who abandon common sense and resolve to Hang In and keep coming and then find their cages all of a sudden open, mysteriously, after a while, share this sense of deep shock and possible trap; about newer Boston AAs with like six months clean you can see this look of glazed suspicion instead of beatific glee, an expression like that of bug-eyed natives confronted suddenly with a Zippo lighter. And so this unites them, nervously, this tentative assemblage of possible glimmers of something like hope, this grudging move toward maybe acknowledging that this unromantic, unhip, cliched AA thing – so unlikely and unpromising, so much the inverse of what they’d come too much to love – might really be able to keep the lover’s toothy maw at bay. The process is the neat reverse of what brought you down and In here: Substances start out being so magically great, so much the interior jigsaw’s missing piece, that at the start you just know, deep in your gut, that they’ll never let you down; you just know it. But they do. And then this goofy slapdash anarchic system of low-rent gatherings and corny slogans and saccharin grins and hideous coffee is so lame you just know there’s no way it could ever possibly work except for the utterest morons…and then Gately seems to find out AA turns out to be the very loyal friend he thought he’d had and then lost, when you Came In. And so you Hang In and stay sober and straight, and out of sheer hand-burned-on-hot-stove terror you heed the improbable-sounding warnings not to stop pounding out the nightly meetings even after the Substance-cravings have left and you feel like you’ve got a grip on the thing at last and can now go it alone, you still don’t try to go it alone, you heed the improbable warnings because by now you have no faith in your own sense of what’s really improbable and what isn’t, since AA seems, improbably enough, to be working, and with no faith in your own senses you’re confused, flummoxed, and when people with AA time strongly advise you to keep coming you nod robotically and keep coming, and you sweep floors and scrub out ashtrays and fill stained steel urns with hideous coffee, and you keep getting ritually down on your big knees every morning and night asking for help from a sky that still seems a burnished shield against all who would ask aid of it – how can you pray to a `God’ you believe only morons believe in, still? – but the old guys say it doesn’t yet matter what you believe or don’t believe, Just Do It they say, and like a shock-trained organism without any kind of independent human will you do exactly like you’re told, you keep coming and coming, nightly, and now you take pains not to get booted out of the squalid halfway house you’d at first tried so hard to get discharged from, you Hang In and Hang In, meeting after meeting, warm day after cold day…

This (^) and the mention of the book Amusing Ourselves to Death in the article has provided me with the resolve to takle his greatest legacy. I look forward to the impending enlightenment.

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