Over the Need Limit
By R. D. Flavin




Apple’s iPhone 3G and the Blackberry Bold.

      Earlier this month
Apple Inc.’s market value of its outstanding shares was estimated to be slightly larger than that of Google’s due to the recent success of the new iPhone 3G.  Whether or not Apple’s lead holds after Google introduces its Android operating system for mobile phones later this year is anyone’s guess (T-Mobile is already committed with Sprint reportedly not far behind).  And, indubitably gauche, there’s the Blackberry [ab]users who maintain a certain position involving ...cold, dead fingers.  It would seem a cellular telephone and a Wi-Fi enabled laptop aren’t enough for many consumers and an all-in-one communication, computing and multimedia handset is needed to, let's say, receive a text message or e-mail of Sen. Obama’s choice of Sen. Biden for vice president,(ah, on 8-23-08 a text mss. went out at 3:00 am, my e-mail from Barak was sent at 5:05 am, though Google's Gmail didn't deliver it until 8:36 am), get RSS E-Bay bids, stay abreast of celebrity mistakes, and BitTorrent cam-versions of the latest movies while listening to retro-tech tunes.  Keeping up with the latest smartphones is necessary for corporate coolies, but I suspect it’s over the need limit of most consumers.  Right, sure, and definitely a gross underestimation of America’s inability to distinguish between 'want' and 'need'.


Recent publication featuring Ms. Winfrey, limestone carving ca. 24,000 BCE, and an extra large order of McDonald’s fries.
 
     The possibility of evolutionary psychology allows a speculation that indulging to excess is a very old, if not basic,
human behavioral trait.  Indeed, some have guessed that certain iconic paleolithic art-works such as the Venus of Willendorf may be an indication that morbidly obese females were highly regarded or worshiped long ago.  Oh, some (i.e. Sir Mix-a-Lot and the dowdy duo of Gayle King and Stedman Graham) still prefer some euphemistic “junk in the trunk,” though being extremely overweight is increasingly understood as equally due to genetic predisposition as well as a maintained extravagant diet.  When I was young going back for seconds at dinner was allowed only when either Mom missed the menu mark (damn those TV Guide Kraft recipes...) or it was a celebratory or holiday meal.  Maybe it was America’s 41st president, George H. W. Bush, and his anti-broccoli position which opened the door for many to choose certain unhealthy foods rather than healthy ones.  Though, following that weighty gay ivory tinkler, “but then again, no.”  The Super Size Me option, that second slice of pie, and the drink for the road are budgetary temptations over the need limit for too many Americans.  There are things we do, though shouldn’t.


Evagrius of Pontus (345-399), Saint Gregory I the Great (540-604) and Dante (1265-1321).

     The 4th century ascetic Christian monk, Evagrius Ponticus, described eight “impure thoughts,” which he listed as dietary consumption to excess or gluttony, fornication and sexual immorality, avarice or the love of money, sadness or sorrow, anger, acedia or discouragement, vainglory, and pride.*  Evagrius’ list was revised under Pope Gregory I as the “seven deadly sins,” luxuria (extravagance, later lust), gula (gluttony), avaritia (greed), acedia (sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride), in opposition to the contrary virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.  These so-called sins (from a Greek archery term for missing one’s mark) were popularized by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy and are interpreted as the result of “misdirected love” by commentators.**  It’s been said that “All You Need is Love,” yet there seems to be a ubiquitous indecision as to what ‘love’ truly is and whether we really need it or just want it.       

      "Most people like to imagine that normal life is happy and that other states are abnormalities that need explanation.  This is a pre-Darwinian view of psychology.  We were not designed for happiness.  Neither were we designed for unhappiness.  Happiness is not a goal left unaccomplished by some bungling designer, it is an aspect of a behavioural regulation mechanism shaped by natural selection.  The utter mindlessness of natural selection is terribly hard to grasp and even harder to accept.  Natural selection gradually sifts variations in DNA sequences.  Sequences that create phenotypes with a less-than-average reproductive success are displaced in the gene pool by those that give increased success.  This process results in organisms that tend to want to stay alive, get resources, have sex and take care of children.  But these are not the goals of natural selection.  Natural selection has no goals: it just mindlessly shapes mechanisms, including our capacities for happiness and unhappiness, that tend to lead to behaviour that maximizes fitness.  Happiness and unhappiness are not ends, they are means.  They are aspects of mechanisms that influence us to act in the interests of our genes.***

     Prof. Randolph "Randy" M. Nesse (University of Michigan, psychiatry) has written and lectured extensively on, among other things, motivation and unreachable goals.  As the above quote argues, happiness is a rest-stop along the road and not the end of the journey.  Nesse has charitably distinguished with secularity the difference between want and need with: “Every religion offers its own answers, most of which emphasize the need to act according to duty instead of desire, and the power to change one’s own attitudes in an unchangeable world.”****  We do what we can and sometimes it matters.


Forty-five and forty years ago.

     This past week marked the anniversaries of one of America’s finest moments and one of its most senseless – the Aug. 28, 1963 "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" which featured the “I Have A Dream” speech by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Aug. 26-29, 1968 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago, Illinois and the arrests, riots and injustices which occurred in the days before, during, and over the days and nights immediately following the convention.  I’m glad that Sen. Barack Hussein Obama II (D, IL), now officially the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee, honored the anniversary of King’s historic speech, though I’m disappointed he made no reference to the tragic mistakes made by the Democrats forty years ago.  His talking points of hope and change have rallied and motivated many, even me, but ...I have serious doubts in the factual and substantive nature of his promises and pledges and suspect it's yet another “The Sky Is Falling” hysterical warning.*****

     During the 1960s (or the era approximately spanning the assassination of Pres. Kennedy in 1963 to the resignation of Pres. Nixon in 1974 and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975), it was widely believed that a paradigmatic shift was underway.  Looking out the window, it appears that we haven’t journeyed that far and there’s lots of road ahead (likely with potholes).

     We’ve endured much and it’s a hollow aside to offer a "what’s done is done."  I was somewhat nervous about the Reagan Revolution, but we survived it.  The House of Representatives' impeachment of Pres. Clinton could have spun us out of control, but we were spared by an acquittal in the Senate, probably due to a better understanding of what “is” is.    And, with the camp and circumstance of the Clinton/Gore years well spent, the Cheney/Bush nightmare of
vile economic plundering and political blundering began and it’ll take more than a histrionic Celtic fancy to wake us up (see Joyce’s Ulysses and its uncomfortable [though faux] anti-Semitism).  It’ll take time.  And, one day and perhaps soon, it’ll be okay.  At least Cheney told us up-front with a sneer that he and his were going to rob us blind.  Putin has claimed the ongoing Russian romp in Georgia is America’s fault and this week Cheney begins a Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine road-trip which should establish even more significant wink-nod contracts for his cronies.

      Do we ‘want’ change, do we ‘need’ change, or do we actually ...require a change?  No, yes, maybe, sort of, and who can say?  Eschewing gospel and putting Country First, Sen. John Sidney McCain III (R, AZ) can’t do any worse?  Those are rhetorical questions...      

From: Praktikos: The Natures of the Eight Logismoi § 6-14.
**  See: Winzel, Siegried.  1965.  “Dante's Rationale for the Seven Deadly Sins.”  The Modern Language Review.   60, 4: 529-533.
***  From: Nesse, R. M.  2004.  “Natural Selection and the Elusiveness of Happiness.”  Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B.  359, 1449: 1333-1347.  See pp. 1336-1337.
****  Ibid; see p. 1333.
*****  Graham Nash, at the time a British citizen, wrote the stirring “Chicago” after the 1968 Democratic National Convention, with a July 5, 1970 live version released on CSNY’s 4 Way Street and a studio version appearing on his solo album, Songs for Beginners, in 1971.  Nash became a U.S. citizen on Aug. 14, 1978.  Nearing disingenuousness, the song was reworked earlier this year as “Denver.”  Ah, the less said about this the better...

Recharging my smartphone,
Rick

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