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Thursday, 2 July 2015

A Pro Rational Tour De Force

Four hundred years ago the world made a major step forward in its attitude towards information, learning and thinking. We call this period The Enlightenment. It would see the emergence of the Scientific Revolution. The United States of America would be founded on these principles and up until the mid-20th century that same country would reflect The Enlightenment’s values. Then something started to happen. Amidst the solid infrastructure in western society that was built by the forces of reason, lurked an unchecked virus. Irrational thinking was back and it had found its way into a whole range of areas in our society. Francis Wheen believes it first properly blossomed with the ascension of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan’s politics in the west alongside the Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran. This is where his 2004 book, “How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World” begins. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Middle Class Marketing and Bubbles of Archiac Amusement

There are few terms that scream middleclass marketing in the 21st century like “Organic” and “Fairtrade”. The marketing technique is simple. Target people who can afford to pay more for a product and reward them with either the caring or smug knowledge that they are doing something “good”. In this respect it might be argued that they are close cousins in the world of retail, but the two subjects have some distinct differences. 

Before we discuss these two topics, let’s get one thing straight from the start. When you buy Organic or Fairtrade you are, more than likely, buying from the same corporations who produce and sell their lower priced equivalents. So, before you stand legs akimbo with your weekend Che Guevara tee-shirt and declare that these two brands will be the fuel for your anti-austerity/anti-capitalism march, don’t fall into the delusion. You are not “sticking it to the man” in this particular shopping decision.
The Organic Food Movement has its origins with the 19th century Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner. Steiner, like Harvey Kellogg, was just one of many food faddists that exerted their cult-like influence over Victorian society. Steiner believed in supernatural essentialism and promoted the concept of a literal spiritual connection with earth. Much of the appeal of Organic food comes from these pseudoscientific ideas and the appeal to nature logical fallacy. We think of toxic chemicals poisoning nature and by extension not doing us much good either. The term “chemical” gets ignorantly banded about as if it were another name for poison. When tested against an exact non-organic equivalent, a piece of Organic food has proven to have no more nutritional value. There are various studies producing conflicting results, but what seems to be the case is that freshness is more the determining factor in an item of food than whether or not is produced in line with USDA Organic guidelines.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Widening the View - Children and Entertainment Today

I cast my mind back to 2010 and my then three year old daughter has woken me up. It’s too early and I need my sleep. In desperation to grab a bit more dozing time she is given a mobile phone with various educational games. This will keep her happy for a while. Her eyes dark around the small screen as her fingertips tap and swipe. She performs various tasks that will stimulate her mind and build neural pathways. I was as dubious then as I am now by the benefits of early education, but these games cannot hurt. My daughter is actively engaging in something. She is being proactive whereas I will soon turn on the radio or the television and passively receive whatever information happens to be available. 

I was a child that grew up at the dawn of the fourth terrestrial channel. It was also the era of the video cassette, personal home computer and arcade games. With the romance of hindsight and that intoxicating drug we call self-righteousness, it is very easy for me to say that we had the perfect balance over today’s hedonistic, spoilt, overweight and unhealthy wretched brood. We were the last and most representative of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X and just followed the tail end of Andrew Collins’ “Where did it all go Right” brigade. Our generation were the last to experience good rebellious music as teenagers and the ones responsible for allowing our children to be baptized in Don Tapscott’s digital ocean. We were also the first to embrace large scale toy merchandizing alongside our traditional fairy tales. Many of us cried when a giant robot was killed in a motion picture in order to make way for a Christmas toy line. When we got to our adolescence we were filled with a combination of righteous indignation whilst being simultaneously softened by political correctness, which seemed set to ruin the childhood we remembered, sanitizing it for those not yet into double figures. We were cynics and sceptics, and we were also superficially sentimental. The science fiction and fantasy of our youth now dominates the cinemas, which is barely enough to distract us from the fact that we have been lapped by the Millennial Generation.