How To Suck At Commercials

For a while I’ve been enjoying these stupid smear ads run by the Conservative Party against Justin Trudeau. They seem like the work of high school girls who are pissed Justin didn’t ask them to prom. Every ad uses the same clip of Trudeau taking off his shirt.

These ads are mysteriously hard to find online, but you can watch and learn all about them in this nice Huffington Post article. They also point out that the clip of Trudeau taking off his shirt is from a mock striptease at an Ottawa charity fundraiser, not that it should matter.

Someone was kind enough to post twelve seconds of one to YouTube:

All the commercials have been exceedingly dumb, but my favorite is this one about marijuana. Trudeau has said he is in favour of legalization and regulation. The commercial asks us to “Imagine. Selling marijuana just like cigarettes and alcohol,” while on screen it reads “MARIJUANA available in stores. More accessible to KIDS.”

Would any conservative argue that we should make cigarettes illegal because they are too accessible to kids at the corner store? No, because the age limitation and the policing of it are part and parcel of the legalization.

We all know smear campaigns are the lowest form of politics, so the conservatives are at least being upfront about being grimy. But what blows me away is their incredulous “Selling marijuana just like cigarettes and alcohol.” Could you pick a better sentence to prove you’re divorced from reality?

Let me embellish the sentence with a fact or two. “Imagine. Selling marijuana, which causes 0 deaths every year and which users have described as ‘pleasant’, just like cigarettes and alcohol, which cause over 40 000 deaths per year (in Canada), and which we are happy to sell to your 18 and 19 year old kids because we make sweet, sweet profits from it.”

I do not understand the mentality of the target audience of these commercials. Who, sitting at home on a Tuesday night, sees this commercial and is struck with horror at the thought that marijuana might be sold alongside cigarettes? Most modern research has show marijuana to be mostly benign and medically beneficial. There is obviously some deviously idiotic dogma at work here.

It’s true; Harper’s generation inherited their beliefs from a massive propaganda campaign to smear marijuana, and maybe conservative old dogs don’t learn new tricks. So despite every piece of available evidence and good sense, they want to go on selling cigarettes and alcohol but suppress cannabis because they just “know it’s bad.”

So here is what I get out of these conservative ads: Conservatives are willfully ignorant of “empirical evidence” and “truth”, they feel morally superior and they’re willing to play dirty to get what they want. I’m not generally a political person, but they’ve got my attention now. And that’s how to suck at commercials.

Guns vs. Cigarettes

With the Newton massacre fresh on everyone’s mind, people are watching Obama’s White House to see if any meaningful gun control measures can be put into place. But gun enthusiasm is still far too entrenched within the American Dream to make things easy. I wonder how change will get made. A hundred and twenty years ago heroin was prescribed by doctors regularly. Now it is illegal and there is a war on drugs. At some point something has to give.

The government takes very seriously it’s role of protecting people from themselves. From unemployment insurance to strict prohibition on many types of drugs, our governments try to make us feel like they politicize our best interests. But even with all the knowledge we have about the harmful effects of cigarettes, they are still available in every corner store. Yet again, ideology and entrenched business trumps public safety.

I don’t believe guns or cigarettes should be strictly illegal. I don’t even think heroin should be illegal. The fact that heroin is illegal doesn’t prevent heroin usage, it only makes that usage more dangerous. This could be an argument against outlawing guns and cigarettes. If something is dangerous but useful there are ways of ensuring the users are qualified. Enhanced background checks would be a step in the right direction for gun use, but it definitely would not end gun violence. Most of us climb into a car, fully licensed, and blast down a highway at 120 km/h without batting an eye, even though it is a terribly dangerous activity. And people die in car crashes every day.

We can’t say in a scientifically definitive way how many lives are lost from cigarettes. And you can’t weigh how many lives are taken by guns against how many lives are saved. Statistics do not tell the full story; the figures are fuzzy approximations at best. Nor can we get the full story from news programs who love the sensational boost in ratings when horrible tragedy strikes.

The NRA’s first statement after the Newtown shooting said nothing about guns, but condemned television, film, and video games for perpetuating virtual violence. It said exactly nothing, but implied the Second Amendment is more important than the First. Their goal is to maintain and increase their membership (less than 2% of America’s population) and to sell more guns. They do this under the guise of protecting American rights.

The issue is personal freedom, and it is the government who decides how much freedom its people have in society. We can drive a car, fire a gun, smoke a million cigarettes, but we cannot do cocaine or pay for sex. Judge these rules how you will but consider if we have reason enough to trust the government’s judgement on socially acceptable behavior.

Lawyers and financial experts bilked the world out of billions in a technically legal way. Legal drugs kill more people than illegal drugs. The USA, under the latest Bush administration, started two illegal wars in the Middle East and gave the rebuilding contracts to associates of Bush and Cheney.

“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” – Thomas Paine

A clear-cut solution would be great, but it is impossible. We live in a world of stifled political action, bombarded by arguments on all sides and in all forms of media. It seems to be an unfortunate fact that any large group will have an asshole in it, and we can’t protect ourselves from the inevitability of chaos.

Of course the world could do just fine without guns and cigarettes. But because I know many resilient smokers, and I know that non-lethal weapons could be used by law enforcement, I choose cigarettes over guns. A cigarette, for the most part, is something we choose to use on ourselves, and I believe we should all have the right to physiological self-sovereignty. But a gun is something to be used on others, generally without their consent. A lot more people are losing their personal freedom to guns than to cigarettes.

Addiction vs. Inspiration

Addiction

Addiction describes a pattern of behavior that we judge negatively. Once behaviors are learned, they can become routine and continue with relative ease. In some cases we might say the behavior is involuntary. If we don’t want to judge the behavior negatively, we call it a habit. A habit can carry a negative connotation too, but it’s not as extreme a connotation as the word “addiction”.

Naturally when people think about addiction they think about drugs, cigarettes, gambling, and apparently now sex. But the whole idea of addiction is that there is enough force compelling one to continue with the behavior that withdrawal causes some unpleasantness. In cases of extreme drug addiction (heavy heroin users, for example), withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. But outside of that example, none of the other behaviors cause any sort of trauma when we quit them.

Media companies and the Surgeon General tell us that cigarettes are addictive. This is supposed to scare us away from ever starting. But cigarette companies benefit from smokers who believe they’re addicted. If I believe that I can’t control myself, then I don’t think about smoking, I just buy another pack. So what actually happens when people quit smoking? They have cravings, maybe compensate by eating, gain a bit of weight, notice themselves more nervous…in other words nothing too bad really happens. The word addiction gives people an excuse to act like it’s not their fault that they’re smoking. If you’re going to smoke, enjoy it. The only smokers I needle are the ones who smoke and act guilty. “I know I should be doing this but…”

Damn it, don’t complain about your own conscious behavior.

The minor psychological discomfort of quitting cigarettes isn’t truly harmful. Nor is withdrawal from gambling or sex dangerous. As a society we call these vices “addictions” to let people know we don’t agree with the behaviors. Unless we’re joking, we never talk of someone being addicted to exercise or meditation, both of which cause big chemical changes within the body and can be extremely habit-forming.

Habits can range from a set wake-up time to crack addiction, or they can be ways of thinking or behaving, like crossing the right leg over the left, or always holding the phone to the same side of one’s head. Much of our behavior is carried out through unconscious habits. I could argue that my heart is addicted to circulating blood through my body, thankfully. And I rarely need to think about breathing.

When meditating gained enough momentum for me it just became a perpetual activity in my life. I never worry if I’ll do it, I only consider the best way to do it in my environment. It’s always best when there’s nothing new to think about. Being aware of some anomaly in the pattern is like being made conscious of digestion – you only notice it when something isn’t right. Under normal circumstances, sitting down to meditation is something I do thoughtlessly, like eating breakfast. A perfectly learned habit is one you can do unconsciously, with no thought. It’s Subconscious Autopilot.

Inspiration

Inspiration rarely comes when I ask it to. In fact, the most fertile activities for summoning inspiration are activities that I do mindlessly, some task like cleaning. As the word implies, inspiration is like an inward breath – we receive an idea. It helps if the mind is somewhat passive and isn’t chattering away. You can’t really work on inspiration, but you can make yourself ready to catch it. I’m sure everyone feels some kind of inspiration in their lives, but anybody pursuing any kind of creative life can become a slave to inspiration.

I used to write when I was inspired. If an idea came I could get excited and then be very productive in a short time. The thought of writing something uninspired was repulsive to me. Why fill pages if they’re not filled with beauty or wisdom? The bottom line on that score is that I wasn’t practicing the craft of writing (or music, or whatever) every day. As with everything in life, it gets easier the more I do it.

Inspiration, whether it’s a new melody or a novel connection between two ideas, is very uplifting. Spiritually and intellectually there are few things more exhilarating than being gifted something new like that. Being ready, and using the momentum that inspiration brings is crucial.

When a person’s inspiration is monumental, and their voice is unique, masterpieces are made. James Joyce only wrote three novels and Stanley Kubrick made only about a dozen films, but they are elevated so high above the average works that these men go down in history as geniuses. If they shared some technique for calling down ideas, we’ll never hear about it…because the Secret Chiefs will never let us hear about it…

But think about all the ideas that come to all the people who don’t follow through. Inspiration is way more useful in someone who knows how to do the work required to carry out the idea.

So…

It’s been six months since I began this blog. Though there’s admittedly been little inspiration in it, blogging is an addiction I’m happy to take part in. I think being able to form new habits is an important skill and I wish it was easier. Ideally blogging will become so old-hat that I will be able to do it like any other chore. Then maybe I’ll catch more inspiration.

Inspiration and habit are two things that should work hand in hand. Inspiration should bring new life to old patterns, while habit or addiction is an effortless commitment. Though you might think I’d be all over inspiration for this Battle Of Unrelated Things, I’m going to overlook the negative connotations and choose Addiction as the winner.

We live in a world where media and ideas flow at such an astronomical rate I have a hard time imagining any singular work of art stopping everybody dead in their tracks. You might say that George R. R. Martin or Stieg Larsson have done this but I would argue that their successes are mostly commercial and don’t herald any novel triumph of artistic spirit the way that Mozart or Citizen Kane did. What survives today is work, and a solid output of consistent quality is the benchmark of successful artists. Take Werner Herzog, for example.

Inspired artists will always rise to the top, unless they’re not putting in the work to make themselves competitive with uninspired artists. Fortunately, work ethic can be learned, mastered, and turned into an addiction.