That Don’t Impress Me Much.

‘The Dirty Duck’ — doesn’t sound quite as symbolic as ‘The Black Swan’, does it?

Well, that was the nickname of my favourite pub when I was growing-up in Rugby, Warwickshire. Yes, Rugby; where the eponymous (and somewhat brutal) game was invented.

The pub was in fact The Black Swan; as is common in English pub-parlance, pubs are often given pithy epithets that reflect how they endear to us (or not, as the case may be). I spent many happy hours there with friends, playing Space Invaders and repeatedly selecting ‘Echo Beach’ on the jukebox. Sure, the jukeboxes back then only had access to some 30 or so (vinyl) singles; that sounds absurd when a modern-day internet-enabled pub-jukebox has access to thousands of songs but, to me, that jukebox — to this day — had most of the best pop-records ever made, deep within its mysterious mechanical bowels. Coffee-shops of the previous generation had similar social-cohesion, before they became global behemoths more associated with tax-evasion than, erm, coffee.

Which leads me on to our contemporary obsession with the sensation of ‘Wow!’ and a seemingly insatiable desire to share the latest such experience with everyone and anyone via our multitude of social-networking platforms. Self-gratification is paramount — there’s an app for whatever you’re seeking to share — especially if it is to calibrate and distribute your vanity-metrics, whatever they may be: restaurants visited; miles you’ve just run; points you’ve scored shooting an alien gangster; my latest favourite song, ever, etc. You name it. You can even get the visceral thrill of Las Vegas from your iPhone, via an algobot croupier. Just why is impulse-spending so powerful? Because we don’t want to have to think about anything. The less we need to rationalise something the easier it is to buy it (if you have the money to do so, that is). I suspect app-purchasing, and the sharing of the minutiae of one’s life, is a rather low-priority for most people in Greece right now…

“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” ~ John Kenneth Galbraith.

The absence of truly great thinkers and artists (plus, politicians, industrialists, economists, et al) in our society has meant that we desperately wish to attach ‘greatness’ to even the most average of people. Just look at the music world, where one of the most lauded ‘artists’ is placed on a pedestal largely because of a mystique he has created around himself by means of somewhat eccentric sartorial style and the branding of his name via the scattering of period punctuation marks, rendering a mundane name into a profound cultural statement (apparently). Such are the semiotics of our modern-day culture.

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.” ~ Gore Vidal.

This ease with which we are impressed extends to pretty much every facet of our lives, it seems. Games? Wow! A game where you throw birds (angry ones, rather unsurprisingly) at some pigs and a pile of wood and stones! Such a mindset is not solely at a consumer level but more worryingly at a strata of business decision-making where billions of dollars are casually thrown-around because of such a desperate need to impress and to be impressed, to enthuse about the latest something -anything. Is this nothing more than a distraction from the real-world worries many of us have?

“Minds that are ill at ease are agitated by both hope and fear.” ~ Ovid.

Writers such as Gladwell and Taleb are bright guys, definitely, but I believe their real talent lies in manipulating pretty obvious thoughts into TEDx-worthy babble. Plaudits for that, certainly, but I don’t believe the likes of Churchill or Vidal would be too bowled-over by their narrative.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ~ Socrates.

The absence of truly great thinkers and orators leaves a vacuum and, as we all know, nature abhors a vacuum. So, we fill the space with the thoughts of just about anyone, or so it seems. Anyone (with the right profile-picture) can be an economist, a philosopher, a healer, a business-guru, an entrepreneur…

I’m trying to not make this into another polemic; my wife has none-too-discreetly pointed-out to me that most of my blog entries lack, shall we say, levity. I point out that it’s difficult to be jolly in the times we live in — after all, I’m not a trendy-hipster-entrepreneur who’s just been acquired for a billion dollars, nor a banker with access to limitless money to play with (and profit from) via QE. In fact as I type this I am listening to the BBC World Service and the continued horrors unfolding in Greece(and much of Europe and America, truth be told) — austerity there is resulting in a dramatic increase in suicides, abject poverty, utter misery. Yet, we are told (and passively accept), this is a necessary medicine. How tragic is it that we have become so subservient to bureaucrats and bankers, at the cost of human life and compassion? Our comfort with the superficial — a condition arising from some 40+ years of increasingly absurd consumernomics — means we find the difficult things in life too ugly to try and rationalise, let alone empathise with. Imagine the implications if consumernomics is seen to not be working, and not be the answer to Why are we here?

“I tend not to like an awful lot of what is going out under my name now because it is just all product. Who needs it?” ~ Vivienne Westwood.

Anyway, I digress. I’ve discussed such emotive matters extensively in my past blog missives — look for them in my archive, if you’re interested.

Through my life — and yours, probably — I’ve experienced millions of ‘Black Swan’ moments: if looked at the right way, every moment of every day is one. It somewhat demeans the origin — and true meaning — of an expression (or if there isn’t one suitable, just make one up) when it is suggested to be a major paradigm-shift in current thinking. Wow! Look at what I’ve just invented! Me! The problem is that there is lamentably insufficient thinking in society. We just consume the latest product and move on to the next-big-thing. There’s almost a fear of quiet, inner-reflection and critical-thinking; a disregard for history.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~ Winston Churchill.

I would suggest we become a little less inclined to be so easily impressed and start to think for ourselves a little more. Go back in time; look at the works of the truly great politicians, industrialists, economists, philosophers and artists.

Then, permit yourself the humble sensation of what ‘Wow’ really feels like.

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.