Every now and then you just feel like letting loose with a real rant. Here’s one on how a typical shopping trip to the grocery store has become a microcosm of everything our country now seems to stand for.
When I first began writing this post, its working title for some time was “Introvert Hell: The Grocery Store.” That’s because I am by nature an introvert and find most grocery stores here in the U.S. to be loud and oppressive places, with their dense press of humanity, blaring public address systems, and omnipresent, rumbling refrigeration compressors creating a constant din wherever one goes inside. (To name a few items as a start.) And since research suggests one-third to one-half of the population are introverts — despite the widespread disregard for us in this country’s implicit promotion of the “extrovert ideal” everywhere — there would be no shortage of potential readers.
But as I took down notes it became apparent there was more to my dislike of grocery shopping than simple introversion. Grocery stores today, like many other things in this country, are a microcosm of the larger society. They reflect much about our guiding value system and collective behavior.
So to enlarge the scope of the post title to cover everything on the agenda here, I thought a better-fitting phrase for the range of things at issue would be the more provocative “Neanderthal America.” Which to me is largely what the U.S. has devolved to in recent decades, as the country has passed its former heights as the leading nation others once looked up to, but now is past its prime, like an aging prizefighter, still full of chest-beating bluster, but lacking discipline, vigor, and not least, intelligence.
The classic features of the decline and fall of civilizations in historical times have been well documented. So have the economic and other macro-level problems besetting our own society in recent decades that strongly suggest it, too, has now started down its own inexorable path of decline. What have not been so well described, though, are the more intangible but equally real aspects of modern civilization’s decline that we experience in our everyday personal lives.
Since this post is lengthy… If your time is limited, you can jump straight to the concluding side-by-side comparison chart summarizing the numerous ways our personal lives today differ from the USA’s pre-decline years.
A lot has been written in certain corners of the blogosphere about the macro aspects of the long decline of modern Western civilization ahead of us, like that of ancient Rome, currently in the initial stages of washing over our world. There are plenty of predictions about where it will take us, debates among fast-crash advocates vs. slow-crash, the forms it may or may not assume, and so on.
Of course, outside this circle, many if not most probably believe the current ills of our technological civilization are a temporary detour that will be righted once we get back on course — whatever that is thought to be. In conservative religious circles it is believed the proper moral course is all that is needed. In the business community, the right economic policies will be our savior. In the high-tech community, innovation. (Innovation in computers and iPhones continues! What, me worry?) For those of political bent, no matter what political party, it is a better vision and stronger leadership in government that will save the day.
Direct vs. indirect effects. However, while there are numerous statistics about the more or less stagnant economy, joblessness, the increasing number of families with children on food stamps, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor along with the hollowing out of the middle class, little has been written about how breakdown and decline are experienced by those of us seemingly buffered from the worst impacts — what most of us feel at the personal, individual level. And the decline does affect just about all of us, not only those who have been directly hit by one or another personal disaster.
Blind spots and self-blame. Certainly many people these days are affected acutely by job loss or income decline — or perhaps are managing to maintain their income by working longer and harder, only to see prices for essentials continue to rise, and these are serious impacts. I know a few people myself who have gone through or are going through such trials. To me, all of this is a given. But it has also become apparent to me how even the more commonplace, everyday aspects of our lives are affected by the decline going on around us. Yet these characteristic experiences we share tend to be “blind spots” in terms of failing to realize how strongly they point to the larger decline going on around us, or blaming ourselves for our responses, until one wakes up to the larger picture.
Just when the controversial Beyond Vegetarianism website I had created in the late 1990s was enjoying success — at least on my own terms — I “dropped out.” And this, just as the web itself was undergoing rapid expansion. Rather than branching out into something different or simply taking a temporary breather, I withdrew from public participation instead, for 15 years, as it was to turn out. Why? Here are the reasons.
As mentioned in the conclusion to part one, at the time I decided to pull back from public participation on the internet around the year 2000, the Beyond Vegetarianism (a.k.a. Beyond Veg) website that I had created a few years before had more or less accomplished my original goals for it. Other sites with allied views were now joining in to add their voices to the mix, which provided more momentum in raising awareness of the paleo vs. vegan dietary issues we had helped spearhead. It was good to see this unfolding.
The initial reason why I opted out
Gradual onset of repetitive stress injury
While the influence the website was having in its corner of the internet was satisfying, I wasn’t thinking about that as a reason for moving on at the time I dropped offline. I hadn’t really stopped that long to assess where we were at in our trajectory. That came more in retrospect in helping to support my decision. At the time, I just wanted to find the solution to a case of repetitive stress injury (RSI) I had been dealing with for a while prior to Beyond Veg, but that had gradually become more and more serious.
I am in a palatial, multistory building with floor upon floor, room upon room. All the furnishings are sumptuous and well appointed with impeccable taste, but I do not feel particularly enthused to be here.
There are many people busy doing things in this building, but the people I am nearest to are focusing their attentions on me.
“Here,” they seem to say. “This is for you. Wouldn’t you like to do such-and-such, or to have this?” — this nice thing or this experience that is what one should really like, or be doing.
But none of it interests me.
I realize why. It is like The Truman Show movie in a way, with everything revolving around me. Except unlike the movie, it is not that they are secretly manipulating my experience for the benefit of a TV series, or for others. The purpose isn’t to leave me in the dark within a larger story scripted for the entertainment of an audience. Instead, it is being done openly to convince me of things the others are enraptured by but I am not, so that I will join in with them.
A number of luxury items that would have cost significant sums to design or create are shown to me that most anyone would desire and feel flattered to be presented with.
But the people in this place want me to buy into their experience in a way that I do not, or cannot. I am not moved, and so they only try harder to interest me.
Enhanced typography is still difficult to achieve on the web — well over 20 years after the web’s inception, no less — and by now should be much easier, to my way of thinking. As a professional typographer for 30-plus years now, I thought it might be helpful for others to explore how I went about putting that aspect of things together here on “Think Outside the Box.”
It is a Saturday morning during wintertime. At about 7:00 a.m. I wake up to go to the bathroom and then to the kitchen for a snack. As usual the cats are milling about, clamoring to be fed in their gentle way. We are temporarily out of dry kibble, since I hadn’t had time the previous night to refill their dry-food storage canisters upstairs from the long-term supply of bagged food in the basement. (If we keep bags upstairs, one or another of the cats will eventually claw them open.) I had skipped the chore to get to bed at an hour at least approximating something halfway decent.
After the cats have been fed some unexpected and always-appreciated canned food, instead of the usual kibble at this hour, I head back to bed for more sleep. It’s the weekend and I want to catch up. With enough sleep, I am myself, and I’ve been overworked and a little short of it this week.
I drift back to sleep. Then at some point I am in a dream. I am in a small town the size of, say, a small university town. Bigger than the one of less than 10,000 I grew up in, but still small compared to the cities where most of us live these days. (Having grown up in a small town, I prefer them to cities.) In the dream, it’s a gray day — the type of day I generally like, except it’s somewhat cold, and some snow and slush are on the streets. I find myself in the downtown area of this small town, with ice skates on. I begin skating over the pavement, and even though the snow and ice are melting away, I can still skate over the last remaining bits, more or less.
In the late 1990s, I launched a controversial website — Beyond Vegetarianism — that was at or near ground zero for both the vegetarian and paleo diet movements on the early web. Why would someone who formerly had much to say disappear from the internet for 15 years? Especially at a time when the website was going strong, and just as the paleo movement it had helped publicize was gathering real momentum?
The first several sections of Part 1 here are a retrospective partly for people who knew, or knew of, me “back when” as the guy who created BeyondVeg.com and who was allied with the early paleo diet movement online. These sections provide perspective on my motivations at the time, which were often misinterpreted, and tie up some loose ends. When I eventually dropped off the scene at the time, it was done without much of an explanation, if any.
For those without close familiarity with vegetarianism and paleo diet, these initial sections should help give an idea of what the “veggie vs. paleo” landscape of the times was like, and the role Beyond Veg served, as I saw it.
Whatever your familiarity with any of this, though, if you’d prefer to skip the initial retrospective sections, you can jump to the main part of the story here, recounting the “prequel” years leading up to Beyond Veg, its formation and growth, and then the aftermath.
The “Beyond Veg” website I started in the early days of the web established its position then by drawing a few different lines in the sand that provoked controversy. First, by publishing the earliest widely referenced debunkings of vegetarianism’s claim (at that time) of being the original human diet. This we accomplished by also being the first online to translate and present in plain English the findings of peer-reviewed science on paleoanthropology and human evolution as they pertained to diet.
My motivation was not debunking for debunking’s sake, but because I myself had been misled into believing the above claim. And, following advice based on it had delayed my recovery from health problems by a few years. Perhaps I might help others avoid the troubles I had undergone and not also lose months or years to inferior health — time they could not get back.
I also wanted to set the scientific record straight. While many if not most in the vegetarian movement probably did not base their adherence to the diet primarily on the belief that humans’ biological dietary adaptation was originally vegetarian and presumably supported by evolution (or the Bible, some believed), still, it was part of the “canon,” more or less. At the least, vegetarianism’s status as more whole and “natural” than the indiscriminate standard American mixed diet was usually a selling point. And it was true it was more natural in terms of its inclusion of a large proportion of whole plant foods — if one also ignored its omission of meat. So Beyond Veg’s debunking of that omission as unnatural and less whole did not sit well, at all.
Honestly, kids don’t have much going for them other than carrying on the family name. And you might have very good reason to fear even that. Cats, on the other hand… Well, by almost every other measure, they’ve got kids beat by a country mile.
From the cost to raise them to their agreeable nature, disciplined habits, all-around respectful behavior, and athletic ability — from toilet training all the way through the teenage years — it’s not hard to find a slew of reasons why you might find a cat preferable to a kid. Why anybody in their right mind would think otherwise is hard to fathom. In fact, once done reading these 36 reasons, you might well be itchin’ to find the nearest merchandise return counter to exchange your snotty hapless kid for a felicitous furry feline.
You can raise six cats for the cost of one-quarter of a kid.
You don’t have to pay for cats to go to college.
Cats won’t owe student loan debt the rest of their life and yours.
Cats come in five or six different fur colors.
Kids scream. Cats purr.
Cats will still cuddle with you on the sofa after they’ve grown up.
Kids will move back home to live on the sofa after they’ve grown up.
Cats know how to pee in the box right away and don’t need to be potty-trained.
When a cat meows back at you, you know they appreciate you. When a kid talks back, it ain’t the same.
After fifteen years with no personal presence on the internet, events over the last year or two have pushed me into gearing up to become active again. It has been a “long time gone,” as well as a long time reaching a turning point where the time feels right and I’m now ready to surface online again beyond just lurker mode.