Don't 'Rage Against The
Machine' - Walk Away From It

By Michael Goodspeed

Increasingly, the collective attention of our nation is 100% focused toward sheer inanity. The World Series, The Super Bowl, the criminal trials of celebrities, the Academy Awards -- all garish celebrations of meaninglessness that unfailingly succeed to dominate our lives. The great bard must have seen into the future all the way to the 21st century when he wrote that life "is a tale told by an idiot filled with sound and fury signifying nothing."
Even those who have no investment in our media-generated shared illusions have little choice but to hear about them. For the last couple of weeks, I haven been unable to work out at the gym or stand in line at the grocery store without overhearing some mind-numbing gossip about the decomposing body of a former Playboy Bunny. And although I abstain almost entirely from TV, I am still visually assaulted by screaming headlines on this pseudo-story in another electronic medium, the internet -- the "news" services provided by AOL, Comcast, Yahoo, Google, etc. are even more tabloid oriented than the celebrity obsessed cable "news" leader, Fox.
I cannot mention Fox "news" without pointing out (as have many others) that it was Rupert Murdoch's brainchild that set the pervasive cable "news" trend of 24/7 tabloid coverage. Although the OJ Simpson trial had already gotten things moving in the wrong direction, Fox has pushed unrelentingly over the invisible line that separates news and entertainment. One can be certain that with cold-blooded calculation, the Fox execs measure in minutiae which stories reliably create ratings spikes. They obviously found that the ones that perform best are lightweight celebrity gossip (Anna-Nicole Smith, Britney Spears, etc.) and titillating true crime mostly involving extremely attractive young women (Laci Peterson, Natalee Holloway, Debra Lafave, etc.). And CNN and MSNBC have predictably followed suit, abandoning even a pretense of dignity in their desperate effort to keep pace. The primetime line-ups of every cable news network now consist of talking heads discussing lightweight courtroom drama, showbiz fodder, and for more "substantive" banter, divisive and banal political debates straight down the demarcated lines of neo-conservatism and liberalism.
Whether or not media drive the culture or merely reflect it, the sad reality is that they would not succeed in marketing meaninglessness if the public wasn't buying. All media -- TV, film, radio, internet, video games, and even print -- display less and less moral and ethical restraint because they have no incentive to -- taking the high road is not a reliable way to make money in Entertainment. Several weeks ago a woman actually died in a radio "water drinking" contest. When warned by callers of the contests' potentially lethal consequences, one DJ replied, "They signed releases, so we're not responsible. We're OK."
Bored minds unfamiliar with meaning can only seek amusement in the base and the profane. In the U.S. the underground video series "Bumfights" features pre-meditated physical violence toward and between homeless people. The producers of Bumfights claim to have sold HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of copies. And evidence exists that these videos have inspired real-life murders of the homeless. reports that teen "sport killings" of the homeless are on the rise: "Criminologists call these wilding sprees 'sport killing,' -- largely middle-class teens, with no criminal records, assaulting the homeless with bats, golf clubs, paintball guns....Some teens have even taped themselves in the act. Others have said they were inspired by 'Bumfights,' a video series created in 2002 and sold on the Web that features homeless people pummeling each other for the promise of a few bucks." Story: (
When the "news" channels spend 45 minutes of an hour discussing a celebrity's dead body, they have nearly sunk to Bumfights level of sickness and depravity. Not only are they failing in their duty to inform and educate the public, they are sinking a knife into a cultural wound and twisting the handle. And this wound is our shared obsession with the inane, moronic, grotesque and murderous.
But for clarity, this essay is not solely intended as an indictment of media. From my perspective, media are feeding, worsening, and profiting from deep-seeded sicknesses endemic to our very Way of Life. With or without media, mainstream American culture is so fundamentally damaged and malformed that life within it is no longer tenable.
If the culture can be compared to a machine, it can be said that ours is malfunctioning with key parts missing, broken and/or misaligned. It is no longer a question of "if" the cultural machine is going to implode and die, it is already hiccupping smoke and the sparks are flying. To rage against this dying machine or try to keep it alive are now both futile. All that's is left to walk away before it's too late.
Our culture is fated to die because every official institution directing it has irredeemably failed us. Religion has failed us -- in our allegedly Christian nation, the actual teachings of Christ (unconditional non-judgment, charity, lovingness, pacifism, and devotion to a purely benevolent Father) are barely a rumor amongst Christian leadership. Public education has failed us -- even the increasingly embarrassing raw statistics (pathetic test scores, abysmal graduation rates) provide but the barest glimpse into the apocalypse of intellect that consumes American youth. The sciences have failed us -- models built on unsound or refuted theory (namely the Big Bang and Darwin's theory of evolution) are routinely paraded as inarguable facts, while alternative models that are easily proved through the scientific method -- models that could significantly improve our understanding of the Universe and our quality of life -- are dismissed by scientists out of narrow-mindedness and self-serving interest. "Our" government has failed us in ways too countless to enumerate -- elected and unelected officials have abandoned their most fundamental duty, to ensure the safety of its citizenry, i.e. protect "national security." The deliberately unchecked illegal alien invasion has permeated our land with criminals and untold numbers of possible terrorists. And all the while, young Americans and innocent Iraqi citizens are still dying every day in "our" government's self-styled attempt "to keep America safe."
Speaking of the failure to keep Americans safe, no one has failed the public trust more outrageously than the folks at the Food and Drug Administration. There was a time when mainstream news media characterized the "alleged" unholy alliance between the FDA and Big Drugs as a kind of conspiracy theory (certainly, most talk of the aspartame epidemic has always been in this vane). This characterization was abandoned by most after the very public Vioxx scandal of 2004. Not much can be said in defense of the FDA when someone like Dr. Richard Horton, editor of the medical journal The Lancet, writes, "...with Vioxx, Merck and the FDA acted out of ruthless, short-sighted, and irresponsible self-interest." And it is because of this "ruthless self-interest" that our grocery stores and our pharmacies are latent with brain damaging, cancer causing and otherwise deadly chemicals that have poisoned and possibly killed untold millions. Any talk of personal freedom in our nation is irrelevant when "our" government actively prevents us from knowing what we are putting into our own bodies!
If my point isn't clear to you, let me sum it up as neatly as possible: any person who follows the seemingly normal, mainstream American Way of Life is heading down a path toward devastation and death. A child in the U.S. whose well-meaning parents simply do what is currently considered acceptable -- send him to a public school (where he'll learn nothing and likely be feasted upon by bullies), feed him an All-American diet consisting of the "four food groups," diet soda, and fluoridated water, take him to a church where he'll be told that he's going to hell, feed him his doctor prescribed ADHD medications, and plop him in front of the TV for his daily "entertainment" -- is condemning the child to a lifetime of agony. Premature death is of course also possible, and in some instances, this may actually be a mercy.
If I seem angry, I insist that I'm not. I abandoned anger years ago because it is inherently futile, impotent, and feeds the anger of others. But I am exasperated and offended, because many of the solutions to our collective miseries seem so obvious. In my opinion (and the opinion of many naturalistic health experts) most of our national health epidemics -- obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression, addiction, and even criminal violence -- could be virtually eradicated through simple nutritional changes. In the hit documentary film "Super Size Me," director Morgan Spurlock presented the eye-opening case of an alternative high school that all but eliminated the problem students' behavioral difficulties through improved diet and exercise.
When the school (Appleton Central Alternative Charter High School) first opened, the only "nutrition" available to students was typical vending machine snacks and beverages. When the school staff noticed an apparent connection between the kids' poor nutrition and their behavior problems, they chose to develop a relationship with Natural Ovens Bakery, a producer of foods and beverages free of preservatives, partially-hydrogenated fats, dough conditioners and bromated flour. They began offering students a healthy breakfast and lunch, while simultaneously removing all vending machines and replacing them with water coolers. Additionally, the students were encouraged to exercise, gaining access to fitness equipment and YMCA passes. The result: a reported marked improvement in student behavior and performance. (A case study on this nutrition and wellness program can be read here: ACACaseStudyFinalVersion.doc)
So why doesn't EVERY school implement the changes that apparently worked so well for the Appleton school? As with many things in life, the answer is simple: the vast majority of schools feel dependent on revenue from the sales of lunches, snacks, and beverages that have no nutritional value.
Of course, if Washington lawmakers had any real integrity or consciousness, they would find a way to mandate the national implementation of similar nutritional and exercise programs in all public schools. But they won't, because the big food and beverage companies have billions at their disposal to employ high-powered lobbyists. And some lawmakers may even think they're doing the right thing. I suspect that in what passes for President Bush's mind, growth for companies like Coca Cola and MacDonald's is wonderful for America. Our economy is ALL about growth -- if a company earns billions of dollars in revenue, fattens its stockholders, employs a gazillion low-wage workers who otherwise might be jobless and homeless, and sends the government a king's ransom in taxes, in one sense they are causing the economy to grow. But if the product from which they make a fortune is sickening and killing people, the long-term economic cost will be catastrophic (as demonstrated by the burdens the obesity, heart disease, and cancer epidemics have placed on our health care system). And no dollar figure can measure the cost to human life.
Did I state just a moment ago that I'm not angry? OK, I take that back. I feel myself surrendering to an impotent rage because I think all this misery is so unnecessary. From my perspective, the lives we are living are not "normal," they are aberrations of nature. Our favorite national pastime in the 21st century is not outdoor recreation or reading or gardening or painting or any activity that could reasonably be described as constructive to life. It is vicarious titillation and ego empowerment through celebrities on television. We have all succumbed to this shared illusion at some point in our lives. And if that's not collective insanity, I don't know what is.
Trudging through a suburban social mecca like a shopping mall, a movie theater, or (God forbid) a sports bar, I feel little or not possibility of connection with my fellow humans. We are so contracted into our personal hells that we can barely look each other in the eye anymore. Most of us are so diminished by the toil of work (generally with too-low pay and no sense of meaning), our unhealthy lifestyles (no exercise, poor nutrition), the weight of familial responsibilities, no sense of community, the mind-numbing effects of electronic "communication" and entertainment, and the total deprivation of beauty in the surrounding culture that we feel unable to extend to one another a bridge to fellowship.
Of course Anna-Nicole Smith fascinates us. To focus our attention on something good and meaningful might remind us of the void where our souls used to be.
But please forgive my anger, because I don't wish to inspire it in others. I wish to inspire the only action for which (in my opinion) there remains any reasonable justification. And that is to walk away. Let our cultural machine die its natural and inevitable death and refuse to let it claim you as another casualty.
How does one walk away from this machine? Obviously, the degree to which one is prepared to remove oneself from mainstream culture varies from person to person. It is no secret that many people have successfully abdicated the mainstream existence, selling most of their personal assets, quitting their jobs, moving themselves and their families to secluded natural environments, home schooling their kids, and sustaining themselves through private business (such as private farming). Increasing numbers of Americans are also exploring eco-communities and co-housing projects that exist completely off the grid, and live entirely on their own organically grown foods. These actions may seem too extreme and/or infeasible to many, but everyone can take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from the cultural apocalypse.
In my case, I have amputated myself from the cultural machinery to the absolute best of my ability. I watch virtually no television (I would watch ZERO if I did not live with a person who still occasionally enjoys it), I eat a diet that is almost 100% organic (a task nowhere near as difficult or costly as I had once believed), I no longer buy tickets to Hollywood movies shown at multiplexes (the flicks are mostly soul-poisoning garbage, and the theaters earn most of their revenue from sales of junk food and junk beverages), I am vigilant to contribute NO money to the companies that I believe inflict suffering and death on innocent people, and I earn money (not a lot, but enough) from creative endeavors that I believe will contribute in some way to the betterment of humanity.
And perhaps most importantly, I abstain from unprotected sex, and will not consider having a family unless or until I am no longer a citizen of the United States. I am sorry if that resonates as "un-American," but even disregarding overpopulation, I cannot imagine a more reckless act of negligence than bringing another soul into this unending nightmare.
The cultural machine generates our nightmare, but we will not awaken by raging against it or fighting it with force. It's irrational to hate a machine but one should certainly be wary of it, because it can maim and kill when it spins out of control. Just bid it adieu and WALK AWAY. Turn to it your back, shun it, and you won't even hear its faint sputtering and death rattle as its pointless existence winds to an inglorious end.



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