Worth

I was catching up on my Radiolab episodes the other day, and I listened to one called ‘Worth’.  In the way of Radiolab, it was a collection of stories loosely organized around a theme, in this case, the monetary value of things not normally valued in those terms: the environment, human lives, or time, in particular, time in your life.

The take-home message of this last was that, when developing and marketing drugs, we, both as individuals and as a society, should think about how much additional years of our lives are worth.

If you were 75 years old, and had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and there were a drug available which might extend (might being one of the operative words) your life by 12 – 24 months, would you take that drug if it cost nothing?  Yes, almost certainly.  How about if it cost $100 per year?  $100 per month?  $100 per day?  $100 per hour?  There are drugs that cost more even than that.  How much is it rational to spend to prolong life?

In general, I think it’s overly optimistic to expect people to be rational about death; nevertheless, these are questions which we should be able to at least entertain, if not answer.  I’d like to think I’d be able to have a discussion about my own end of life care, what I’d be willing to spend and endure, and what I would be willing to ask my family to spend and endure.  I am comfortable, at least intellectually, with the idea that my life is of finite and measurable worth.

But I know that I will never, ever be to think rationally about what my father’s life is worth.  I can accept that the value of my life is not unlimited, but the simple, emotional truth is that, to me, his life is priceless.

It is not that I love my father, in any meaningful way, more than I love my mother, or my brothers, or my spouse.  But my father’s death has been the great terror of my life since I was a young child, and I would do anything to postpone it.

I once told him, when I was very little, that I hoped I would die before he did.  He told me with great emphasis that that was the unkindest thing I could ever wish for him, that no parent should ever outlive their child.

I didn’t want to upset him, so I negotiated: I told him that, in that case, I hoped that we died at that exact same instant.  He failed to appreciate the compromise I was offering him, and told me that he hoped that he would die many, many years before I did, that I would have a long and happy life even after he was dead.

I didn’t tell him, but I didn’t think that was possible.  I still don’t.  The idea of living a happy life in a fatherless world is incoherent – it does not compute.  It’s like telling me you wish me a long and happy life after the sun goes dark for good.

When I was young and the black dog of my father’s death would appear at the edges of vision, my mother told me that that fear would diminish as I got older, as I started my own family and had my own children.  She told me that, when my own offspring were in the world, the death of my parents wouldn’t obliterate it.

I don’t have children.  Maybe I will one day, and maybe she will be proved right – she usually is.  But perhaps all she is really describing is the replacement of one apocalypse for another.  I cannot bear the thought of my father’s death – will I be able to bear the thought of my child’s any better?

I think what I’m trying to say is this: ‘worth’ is a concept with meaning only when there are choices.  “What’s it worth to you” suggests two options: the thing you want and the price you might pay, both with value you can understand and which you can compare.  Death of the most loved ones, this does not have value against which something else can be measured.  This is the scaffolding upon which the world has been built, and without it, nothing has value.

And the point is moot.

“One Half the World Fools and the Other Half Hypocrites”

A Disgression on ‘ How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions‘, by Francis Wheen.

I’m reading a genuinely scary book: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions, by Francis Wheen.  It’s a catalog of the absurdities and errors which, according to the author, characterize the thinking of modern Western man: post-structuralism, catastrophism, Reaganonimcs, alternative medicine, &c.

Two years ago, this book would have made me feel smug.  I suffer from none of the pernicious un-reasons which afflict the men and women in this book, despite the fact that many of them are actually smarter than I am.  I try to be empirical, and I think I largely succeed (but, then, again, obviously, everyone thinks they’re empirical).

Two years ago, I would have read How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World and shaken my head in self-satisfied dismay about how stupid and gullible other people are.  But that was before I took a spin class.

I’ve taken one spin class, a little over a year ago.  I really enjoyed that one spin class I took, although I would never describe it as pleasant.  It was in a small dark room filled with bikes armed with excruciating sharp little seats.  The music was thumpy and very loud and there was an extremely fit woman in the front shouting at us.

But it was encouraging shouting.  This woman with insanely muscular arms kept yelling at me that I was beautiful, that I was killing those hills, that I could definitely do another, that I was looking really great today.

These were all lies, or at least, none of these things were objectively true.  I didn’t look beautiful or even great – I looked horrible, like a sweating person in bad pain who wasn’t going to be able to sit comfortably for a week.  And I was not “killing” the “hills”  – I was lurching up them in near-despair.

Nevertheless, I believed everything the woman screamed at me that day.  Somehow the dark and the music and the numbing pain and the arms and the yelling combined to make me love that shrieking woman, and I would have followed her into battle if she had asked me.  Yet I remember that somehow, in the dank thrumming spin room, it managed to occur to me how cultish my feelings were.

I didn’t care at all – I was having a blast.  But it was humbling: I was susceptible to spin class-level manipulation, which is not, let’s face it, super-sophisticated.  And I knew I was being manipulated, and it still didn’t matter to me: feeling pumped in that moment was worth more than occupying my precious intellectual high-ground.

I don’t think I betrayed the Enlightenment by enjoying my spin class.  But we all abandon the strict precepts of reason every once in a while to make our world a little more comfortable.  That doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it admirable: ideally, we would all be empirical all the time.  We would be data-driven: we would not believe what is not true, and when we do not possess sufficient data, we would remain agnostic.

But someone who actually did that would be insufferable.  We must act on what we believe we know and we must, in a world of contradictions, at some point choose to believe something: I chose to believe in that moment that I was a hill-crushing goddess.  I think that the best that we can reasonably do is change our minds when new information requires it: when I saw myself in the mirrors in the hallway after class, I quickly revised my estimation.  We’re all going to turn out to have been wrong about much of what we believe, whether we like it or not – in the meantime, we might as well spin.

Title quotation by Thomas Jefferson. Featured image, from Thomas Paine’s Age Of Reason, taken from rationalrevolution.net.

There But For the Grace of God Go I

Brian Williams is having a bad week.

Why? Because he has been going around telling a story that isn’t true, and when he was confronted, he made an apology that also wasn’t true.

The problem seems to be that, while Brian Williams has been claiming that in Iraq in 2003 he was in a helicopter that was shot down by an RPG, he was not.  In his apology, he said that it was the helicopter in front of him that was shot down and that he had since conflated the two in his mind; however, that also appears to be untrue – it appears his helicopter was nowhere near the helicopter that was shot down.

And now, pending an investigation by NBC, he has self-suspended his anchor duties for “a few days” while the media and Internet roil with outrage.

We’re never going to get tired of this, are we, this pretending that I am holier than thou?  It’s never going to get old, watching people tear each other down for things most, if not all, of us do.  Mark my words: when the last two men left on the planet face each other, one will burn the other for something they both did the day before.

Show me a man who has never lied, and I’ll show you a man who’s lying to you right now.  Whether Brian Williams lied or strategically misremembered really doesn’t matter – either way, he succumbed to an impulse so normal and human it wouldn’t bear mentioning except that he’s being pilloried for it.

It is so tempting to make the story bigger, scarier, to become the center of it, to seem braver, better, more important.  People’s reactions are so rewarding, their awe, their interest.  Stories grow under the light of admiring attention, sometimes without the tellers even seeming to realize it.

Williams hasn’t undermined our trust in him in some extraordinary way; on the contrary, what he’s done is completely ordinary.  It’s totally unremarkable, and, unless it turns out that he has been fabricating news stories (and not merely embellishing anecdotes), totally unimportant.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone – well, OK, I, at least, definitely won’t be throwing any then.  I’m the king of hyperbole: I exaggerate my stories all the time.  It makes them better stories, and it makes them more fun to tell.  When I write, or when I discuss a scientific result at work, I try to be scrupulous about what is true and real and what isn’t, but when I’m describing the events of last Thanksgiving dinner, I stretch and elaborate like it’s my job.

I know the difference between the two circumstances, and I’ll bet Brian Williams does, too.  I keep reading that, because he was a news anchor, he should be held to a higher standard – a higher standard, or a perfect standard?

Is it reasonable to expect that our news anchors never succumb to the desire to be the hero of a story?  Are they not allowed to slip up, even on one anecdote, even if, in doing so, they don’t harm anyone at all?  Perfection is more than human, and as long as we keep requiring other humans to be more than human, we are going to be disappointed.  And when we deny other men the pardons we expect for our own foibles, we are merely assholes.

Brian Williams looks vain and foolish – that is the appropriate punishment for the social exaggerator.  He should absolutely not lose his job.  That is absurd.

So I ask, as one inveterate exaggerator on behalf of another, let’s let this one go.  Let’s give Brian Williams a pass.

Image taken from nbcnews.org

Should I Forgive H.L. Mencken?

When I endeavor to admire men of the past, I often find myself thwarted by limitations in their thinking which are symptomatic more of their age than of their incapability.

There are technologies in thought just as in other areas of human accomplishment, and they are purchased in the same way as revolutions in medicine, communications, or military technologies: by the slow accumulation of discoveries on the part of many individuals, few of whom were working towards the same ends.  There are giants, but they are very rare, and they stand on the shoulders of many smaller men.  Secularism, equal moral standing for other races and religions, democracy, woman’s suffrage: perhaps it is as unreasonable to expect people to have anticipated these revolutions as it would be to have expected them to sit down and build an atom bomb from scratch.

Abraham Lincoln, during the 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, said:

“I will say then that I am not, nor have ever been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.”

George Orwell, a man whose mind I admire perhaps more than any other, in 1934 wrote (to a woman!), “I had lunch yesterday with Dr. Ede.  He is a bit of a feminist and thinks that if a woman was brought up exactly like a man she would be able to throw a stone, construct a syllogism, keep a secret etc.” (George Orwell: An Age Like This 1920-1940: The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, p. 136)

These men were clear, brave, and forward thinkers; it is probably unreasonable to expect them to have been perfect.  But it is always disappointing when men who saw so much fail to see things which seem to obvious, and so important, to us now.

I have always enjoyed H.L. Mencken, and admired him in the same way, but to a lesser degree, that I admire Orwell: as a man who was little susceptible to the pressures of conventional thinking and who told the truth as he saw it, clearly and well.  However, as anyone who has read much of his work knows, he was prone to assertions like this one:

“They [Jews] strike other people as predominantly unpleasant, and everywhere on earth they seem to be disliked.  This dislike, despite their own belief to the contrary, has nothing to do with their religion: it is founded, rather, on their bad manners, their curious lack of tact.” (Treatise on the Gods, p. 286)

I believe that Mencken was smarter than that, and, if he wasn’t, he should have been.  If Mencken had believed, from the faith in which he was raised and which he had never examined, that Jews were going to hell, one might then plead that, though he was wrong, he was a victim of his context.  But he didn’t; he derived his own pseudo-empirical anti-semitism, and I don’t feel that I can see past that.  It doesn’t diminish his writerly skill, but it absolutely mitigates against my admiration for him as a thinker.

I don’t believe that, in this case, saying, “Yeah, well, when he was writing, anti-semitism was prevalent” solves this problem – what I admired about Mencken was his ability to see through the prejudices of lesser minds.  I see this not as a failure of his time, but a failure in his calling.  And I hold it against him.

Image of Mencken taken from Wikipedia.

Friday Night Tykes

The other day, as I was enjoying a marathon of American Ninja Warrior on the Esquire Network, this ad came on, for the first season of a show called ‘Friday Night Tykes’.

A brief stroll around the internet reveals that I am one of perhaps four Americans who has not already heard of, and been outraged by, ‘Friday Night Tykes’, which follows the football aspirations and coaching of a league of eight and nine year olds in Texas.

If ‘Friday Night Tykes’ is a documentary, an unembellished chronicle of the treatment of children, then it is ghastly and deserves all the censure and outrage which it seems to have generated.  The Season One Replay linked above is appalling.  At one point, an adult tells a child, “I want you to put it in the helmet, you understand?”  When the child affirms, he continues, “I don’t care if you don’t get up”.  Another adult explains to the camera, “When they put that helmet on, it’s time to go to battle.”  At least two children appeared to be injured in the replay alone.

However, I hope that ‘Friday Night Tykes’ is exaggerated in the way of so much reality television.  The clip mentioned above, “I don’t care if you don’t get up”, is edited heavily and cuts off abruptly.  At one point, someone shouts, “You have to earn your playtime!”, which is such a caricaturishly evil thing to shout at children that I struggle to take it seriously.  And, at this point, anyone who takes reality T.V. without a healthy dose of salt is a cretin: not only is it butchered more than edited, but people don’t behave normally in front of cameras.  They know people want stories, and so they give them characters.

I am not in a moral panic about football injuries.  It is obviously a dangerous sport; the evidence is undeniable at this point that many, if not most, professional first string football players retire with crippling injuries, many neurological.  However, I believe that our bodies and our lives are our own to use or damage as we see fit and for whatever recompense we find sufficient.  I object to the information necessary to make those decisions being withheld from players and their families, but, if informed, I think it is perfectly reasonable for someone to choose a few years of high earnings or athletic achievement at the cost of some of their later physical well-being.  And if I would not make the same choice, that is not sufficient reason to deny them the ability to do so.

But those are adult decisions – children cannot make them.  Their parents pose a more complicated problem: they are charged both with protecting their children and with encouraging their development.  What do you do if your child is good at something which may bring them joy, fame, and fortune, or may cripple them?  Or may do both?

Well, certainly, you don’t shout at an eight year old that you don’t care if he gets up or not.  And even if the picture in ‘Friday Night Tykes’ is distorted through the reality T.V. lens, it’s still pretty fucking grotesque.  I called this blog ‘The Gruesome’, but I often wander from that description.  Not this week.  Kids neurologically damaging other kids while adults frenzy in the sidelines is pretty damn sick.

Eric Garner

Let us call a spade a spade.

Here, in the United States, a police officer can kill a black man without fear of serious legal repercussion.  Be the man unarmed, unthreatening, even if there are cameras rolling, a cop can kill him and walk away.

There are two problems here.  The first is that cops have too much latitude to kill people.  Being a cop is dangerous and important work, and so we, the people they serve and protect, have extended to them credit against our lives.  We have given them the benefit of the doubt, and granted them dramatically expanded rights of self-defense.  We have given them license, when vulnerable or afraid, to protect themselves and each other, with the weapons we suffer them to carry.

They have abused that privilege.  They, or some too-great number of them, kill with impunity.  That is outrageous, and it needs to stop.  Cops should not be allowed to shoot unarmed men.  Cops should not be allowed to taze non-cooperative people to death.  Cops should not be allowed to choke the life out of a man, ever.

This does not mean that police should forbear while people shoot at them.  If a cop believes that someone is about to pull a weapon on him, let him shoot.  But, if he is wrong, and there is no weapon, then let him stand for murder.  Don’t let him enjoy the protection of his fellow officers then, or the complicity of the prosecutors.  And if these police killings are the work of a few bad apples, then let their brothers in blue police them.  At the very, very least, the killing of an unarmed person should result in the automatic loss of a badge.  Cops are citizens among citizens – let them enjoy no more protections than we.

The second problem is that the black community has disproportionately borne the weight of these injustices.  This should surprise no one: the black community has been made to bear the weight of many, many injustices.

In this case, the problem is not only that blacks come under undue and undeserved pressure from the criminal justice system, but also that abuses of power which victimize blacks are less likely to be punished, less likely to be treated by the community as the outrages that they are.

The black community must contend with a police force that can harass, assault, incarcerate, and murder them – their ability to make meaningful protest is hampered by the danger the police pose to them.

The white community tsk-tsks and fails to indict – we have voted less with our feet than with our essential apathy.

And it must be apathy, for there is no excuse for disbelief.  True, people tend to believe the evidence of their eyes, and the white community, particularly the white community with power, has a different relationship with the police than the black community.  If I were going only by my own experience, I would have to conclude that the police in the United States are merely an armed concierge service.  But they are not.  And, given the overwhelming evidence, historical and contemporary, it would be absurd to doubt that the American government and populace are capable of systematically disenfranchising, terrorizing, or brutalizing black Americans.

There are self-interested reasons to care: if the police can trample on their rights, then they can trample on your’s.

But, more than that, the fact that people don’t look like you, the fact that their misfortune does not happen to be your’s, does not excuse you for turning a blind eye to a wrong done to them.

The police may not value black lives as much as white lives, but we should.  What would you do if Eric Garner had been white?  Would your outrage be the same?  Or would it be easier to imagine then that the next person killed might be your neighbor, or son, or husband?  Or you?  What would you do, if you really believed that the reality that strangled him might reach out and touch you next?  Would you remark how sad it all was, and then turn off the T.V.?  I don’t think so.

Image taken from Time.com.

Why Does It Matter If Aliens Are Scary?

Part 2:  Fear Learning

[For Part 1: Biology, see last week’s post]

Besides the sheer biological improbability of humanoid aliens, why do I care whether or not aliens in movies are effectively scary?  

We can learn a great deal from what scares us and what doesn’t.  My original thesis was that the scariest aliens are the most, well, alien, and that we are more frightened by the other than we are of the malignant same.

Which does not necessarily make sense.  We may be frightened of the other, but we are also guarded against it.  We are much more likely to be hurt or killed by someone we know than by a stranger.  We are much more likely to be killed by a fellow human than eaten by animals.  And if that is true on Earth, how much truer it is of the universe as a whole.  To date, there has been no confirmed killing of a human being by an extraterrestrial.  Finding aliens scary is not terribly rational.

But the human fear of the other betrays itself in many corners of our thinking.  Many of humanity’s darker moments involved the demonization and destruction of those we consider alien.  Those behaviors were predicated on the idea that those who are different from us are therefore less safe or less trustworthy than those who are like us.

Of course, neophobia doesn’t belong to human beings alone.  Animals, particularly social animals, display it.  And something which is unknown may present unknown dangers.  But there is a difference between that which is unknown and that which is known but different, and it is a dangerous human error to confuse the two.

It is perhaps a little glib to draw parallels between genocide and space aliens.  But fear distorts our thinking and constrains our lives, and it’s worth giving some thought to what scares us and why.

Why Does It Matter If Aliens Are Scary?

Part 1: Biology

I wrote a few weeks ago about movie aliens, about which ones were scary and which ones weren’t.

Alien 2

Alien: scary.

Colonist - X-Files

A colonist from ‘X-Files’: not scary.

My thesis was that movie aliens don’t achieve scariness unless they first achieve un-humanity.  Humanoid aliens aren’t only uniformly unfrightening, they are also products of intellectual and creative laziness, and we should stop making movies about them.

Who cares?  Movies, famously, little resemble real life – that’s part of why we watch them.  Aliens, at least so far, don’t figure in real life at all, so why am I so upset about how they appear in movies?

For two reasons.  The first, let’s call ‘Biology’.  The second, about which more next week, we’ll call ‘Fear Learning’.

Biology:  

Put simply, the evolutionary thinking behind humanoid aliens is, well, nonexistent.

It’s a safe assumption that whatever planet aliens evolve on will be, in some way or another, different than Earth.  It may be bigger or smaller, and therefore exert greater or lesser gravitational force.  The chemical composition of the atmosphere may different.  It may be further away from or closer to a big star, which would change the amount of heat or light the surface of the planet gets.  Whatever the difference, the environmental conditions on this alien planet aren’t going to be identical to the environmental conditions here on Earth.  Therefore, the chances that an alien species would evolve to exactly resemble human are slim indeed.

Even if we hew religiously to the anthropic principle, that the universe is necessarily conducive to the evolution of life like ours (as evidenced by our life), the odds are overwhelming that extraterrestrials won’t look like us.  Even if we accept the common hand-wave, that aliens have come to to disrupt our planet because it is so like their own, it is still unlikely that they will look like us.

Look around.  All life on Earth evolved under Earth-like conditions (obviously), and very few of our fellow-earthlings look like us.  In fact, there really aren’t any animals that look as much like humans as the aliens from ‘Signs’ do.  Honestly, which do you more closely resemble, the little green men from the X-Files, or a gorilla?  Tell the truth – it’s a close call.  And if other humanoids haven’t evolved here on Earth, what are the odds that they evolved somewhere else?

The idea that interstellar aliens, even if they evolved under similar conditions, would be cephalated, binocular, bipedal, and hairless, is preposterous.  To portray them thusly is so lazy, requires so little mental effort, as to be offensive.  We probably aren’t going to guess accurately how the aliens we meet, if we ever do, will look, but we should at least try.

 

The Nine Satanic Statements

The next time you’re flipping idly through the Satanic Bible, take a look at the nine Satanic Statements which preface it.  As the precepts which outline Satanism’s essential belief structure, the Satanic Statements are curiously unimpressive.  Whatever one may make of their substance, certainly their formulation utterly lacks the eminence that one has come to expect from one’s commandments.

The Nine Satanic Statements are as follows:

1. Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence!

2. Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe dreams!

3. Satan represents undefiled wisdom, instead of hypocritical self-deceit!

4. Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates!

5. Satan represents vengeance, instead of turning the other cheek!

6. Satan represents responsibility to the to the responsible, instead of concern for psychic vampires!

7. Satan represents man as just another animal, sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours, who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual developments”, has become the most vicious animal of all!

8. Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!

9. Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he had kept it in business all these years!

Surely, when all your commandments require exclamation points, that is a clue that they lack sufficient gravity.  And note the overly-colloquial phrasing: “spiritual pipe-dreams”, “wasted on ingrates”, “so-called sins”, “kept it in business”.  “Psychic vampires” I will pass over without comment.

Compare the motivational-speaker-amateurishness of “Satan represents vital existence, instead of spiritual pipe-dreams!” with “I am the Lord thy God – thou shalt have no other gods before me”.  Or “Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification!” to “Honor thy father and thy mother”, or even ‘Thou shalt not kill”.

The Satanic Bible was written by Anton Szandor LaVey, an un-majestic former carnie, in 1969, and perhaps he would rejoin that the Satanic Statements are not meant to inspire awe, that the Church of Satan (of which he was the High Priest) celebrated the essential nature of man and did not seek to change him through the imposition of fear.  Perhaps, but the nature of man is not without its own grandeur, and commandments, whoever’s they are, might try to speak to that.

 

Thank You, Kim Kardashian

     Kim Kardashian, never a favorite of the intelligentsia, has come under withering fire this month for the Vogue cover featuring her and fiance Kanye West.  The cover, which is perfectly nice to look at if you know nothing about the people pictured, becomes absurd when you do.

Vogue - Kim Kardashian

     Nevertheless, in their indignation at Kim Kardashian’s very existence, people seem to have forgotten how much we, as Americans and as cultural consumers, owe her.

     Americans, who as a people are capable of astonishing feats of cognitive dissonance, have an ambivalence about celebrity.  On the one hand, we worship celebrities, we follow their every move, we have reality shows to create them and magazines and websites to chronicle them.  But we lament our own interest, and hate ourselves in the morning.

     This conflict runs deep within us, and is probably impossible to resolve.  Celebrities are both of us and above us, and we emulate them even while resenting the time that we spend on them.  On every online article about Kim Kardashian, there is inevitably one commenter who will ask, “Who is this woman and why do we care?”.  Or, consider another example:  a few weeks ago, when Scarlett Johansson was inarticulate about Woody Allen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, people were outraged, as though it were breaking news that Scarlett Johansson is not one of the great intellectual lights of humanity.

     And why should she be?  That was not the selection criterion for her job.  People spent precious minutes of their short lives reading Johansson’s opinions (truly as pointless an activity as I can imagine) and then felt cheated when she failed to scintillate and inspire.

     It is in these moments, when we have gone down the rabbit-hole of celebrity and come out only stupider and closer to death, that Kim Kardashian comes to our aid.

     Kim Kardashian is a woman whose sole pursuit is fame.  She does not excel at anything.  She does not want to be famous for anything; she only wants us to look at her, and she doesn’t care if there is anything of substance to see there.

     Kardashian is the worst of celebrity made flesh, and she exemplifies what we hate about it:  the way it draws our attention without giving us anything in return, the way it wastes our time.  And, yes, every moment that we spend on Kim Kardashian is, in a sense, wasted.

     But now, when we grasp for the words to explain our simultaneous fascination and disgust, we can reference one person.  Kim Kardashian contains in herself everything for which we hold fame-seeking in contempt, and because she possesses no real skill or distinction, we have no excuse for her.  She is empty calories, and when we binge, we cannot but call it what it is.  And that is clarifying.  Kardashian gives us a name for our problem, and that makes our self-reflection more efficient.  The first step to healing is to admit you have a problem, and Kim Kardashian is rock bottom.  When we self-assess, we can (and do) point to her.  She is the face of our weakness, and so she has become our scapegoat.  And we need a scapegoat: we need to build up and then tear down – that’s how we prove to ourselves that, although we read about her, we are still better than she.  It is not, perhaps, an enviable job, but she has volunteered.

     And for that, Kim Kardashian, we thank you.

Image from Vogue.com.