Posted by: Harold Knight | 12/29/2010

Non sequitur: General Motors bailouts and Mayan human sacrifice

No Mercedes-Benz for her

No Mercedes-Benz for her

Anyone who stoops so low as to watch Judge Judy browbeat people she doesn’t like before she awards settlement to the people she does is familiar with her saying, “I could have been five-foot-ten, but I’m not,” or some such (her point is not difficult to understand).

I think a great deal about how we all structure our lives as if what we have and do is somehow real and important, and we should all be tall and beautiful. OK, I’m on the same kick as yesterday, except it’s worse today.

It’s not exactly clear to me why we’ve structured our society  the way we have. The process of (if the process is real, which my posting yesterday begins to explain I’m not sure of) getting born as an animal, then following the supposed stages of development (Erikson, isn’t it?) to become a real human being capable of living in society, and then dying doesn’t really depend on driving a car or wearing jeans from The Gap, does it?

Once again, sophomoric. Everyone on earth has thought these things—especially college students looking, as I’ve also said before, for “the meaning of life.”

We have a capacity for imagination—imagining we will be happy, imagining our lives will be easier, imagining our natural (physical animal) desires for sex and food and shelter will somehow be met, imagining what we see is not all that we get—we can’t possibly cease to exist because we’ve made our lives so wonderfully complex and meaningful. My iPhone will protect me from death.

As Julie E. Kirsch would like to remind us, however, this imagination of infinite interest and fascination leading to immortality may “enhance our understanding of the world and ourselves,” but it is “not to say that our capacity to imagine a way of life is a guarantee that we will achieve it and become happy.” She should not need to say, for example, one may

wish for physical beauty only to find himself deeply dissatisfied with his life upon acquiring it. While it is true that beauty may promote friendship and admiration, it may also be the source of considerable envy, pride, and superficial affection (1).

Having reached my old age through years of doubting the reality of anything—least of all the way we chase after immortality—I’ve begun to wonder how so many Homo sapiens (at least those in the advanced first-world societies I know anything about) can have acquired so many trappings of social compliance designed to express—what? individuality? my personality? hope of immortality?—to look and act alike. Let’s all watch Nate Berkus decorate a house so we can manage the same “look.”

Oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends.
So oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz


Oh lord won’t you buy me a color TV.
Dialing for dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until 3.
So oh lord won’t you buy me a color TV.


Oh lord won’t you buy me a night on the town.
I’m counting on you lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round.
Oh lord won’t you buy me a night on the town.


Oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends.
So oh lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

So I can quote Janis Joplin from those days of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Just proves, I guess, my Eriksonian development is stunted.  I could also quote Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes,” or “Houses all made out of ticky-tacky.” (Driving from Santa Cruz to Oakland yesterday along I-580 I saw the latest version of “little Boxes”—except they’ve become big boxes—five story apartment buildings stair-cased up the sides of hills, in that ugliest of all architectural styles, squares with fake garrets and cables and painted ridiculous colors.)



I’m relatively certain all human beings since civilization began have had their own versions of houses made of ticky-tacky and conformity to the most bizarre rules, regulations, and customs. A young boy in the Mayan civilization (yes, boys, they say now, not girls) really had little choice but to go along with societal pressure for the ultimate sacrifice.

Am I comparing houses made of ticky-tacky to human sacrifice? Well, somewhat, I suppose. Both are the ultimate in social conformity, and both are designed to ward off death and destruction—both of the individual and of groups of individuals.

I’m not sure we are capable of doing anything about it. Such conformity may well be part of our genetic evolutional structure. We’ve evolved to be the only creatures aware of our own death (perhaps), and are uniquely situated in the “evolutionary ladder” to try to do something about our mortality.

Man. . . is an eccentric being, as he leans out of the nervous-carnal constitution inherited from his animal ancestors. Such leaning out towards the spiritual is at the same time an anticipation of death, arousing in the eccentric Homo  sapiens thanatal fears. This anticipation finds its expression in cultural interpretations of being, the so-called ‘source metaphors’ [rituals and beliefs that explain creation and death]. Their function is to reduce these fears through organizing interpretations and reinterpretations of the finiteness of man and world (3).

I’m not certain that “eccentricity” at a personal level is possible given our “eccentricity” as a species. We all have to be ready for the ultimate sacrifice—give up our individuality to keep Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler (to say nothing of General Motors) in business; sacrifice our freedom of thought to give the Tea Party the power it so desperately seeks; allow British Petroleum and Dow Chemicals to destroy the earth—you know all the ways we allow ourselves to be sacrificed.

And we walk willingly (in fact, eagerly) into the morass of electronic gadgets, of designer clothing, of organic foods, of mass entertainment, of. . . of. . . of. . . making ourselves human sacrifices to the gods of material things who will deliver us from death. It would be nice if it were not evolutionary and genetic, but I’m afraid John Stuart Mill simply has no grip on reality.

Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time (4).

No eccentricity here

No eccentricity here

The likes of me, dissociative, depressive, and somewhat unable to figure out how to live in this society cannot be expected to offer any real advice—I can barely tie my own shoes (literally—I’ll write about that some day). But someone ought to figure out how we can evolve to a step up from the Mayan sacrifice of young boys in order to placate death.
(1) Kirsch, Julie E. “Maladies of Fantasy and Depth.”  Social Theory and Practice 35.1 (Jan, 2009); 15-27.
(2) Joplin, Janis and Michael McClure. O Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz.” Pearl. Columbia Records. 1971.
(3) Świeżyńnski, Adam. “The Evolutionary Concept of Human Death.” Forum Philosophicum: International Journal for Philosophy 13.1 (2008): 119-126.
(4) Mill, John Stuart. Essays on Politics and Society, 2 vols., ed. J.M. Robson, CWM, vols. 18–19, Toronto, 1977, i.230.


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