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Something Old

So, hi there. How are you? I am fine. I'm fine, except that if I talk about what's going on I'll start to sound old. You know...the neighbors, and the arthritis, and the expensive pills, and the Microsoft.

So, instead, here is something I wrote six months ago for the alt.slack newsgroup. It's about happiness. It's not perfect, but what the hell.

This piece mentions something called "The Conspiracy." You may wonder what that is. Without getting too technical: The Conspiracy is everything and everyone that works against you, as well as the cold uncaring world in which these things and people thrive.

So -- happiness. Enjoy! And maybe, someday, I will take my own advice.

So. You're in a good mood. Did something happen?

No reason, huh?

Must be shitfaced.

The way the Conspiracy wants you to see it, you're always happy for a reason. One of THEIR reasons. If you're happy, it's because you did something for Them -- and paid Them for the privilege. Any other reason calls into question Their very reason for being, not to mention all the time and money They spent on the right shoes and hairstyles that would let them stand out by fitting in better than anyone else on the Happy Board of Trade and Interchangeability. And that makes Them very unhappy.

That's if you're lucky! That's if you run into the right kind of Them. At least THOSE Them will let you be happy if you have a reason. If you run into the OTHER kind of Them, the very fact of being happy means you're a parasite on the unhappiness of others.

You think you're enjoying that popsicle, huh? Don't you know that popsicle was manufactured by eight-year-old Eskimo boys working fourteen-hour days in sweatshops? Sweatshops they were forced to build out of their own frozen sweat? Don't you know that those popsicles are depleting the polar icecap at such a prodigious rate that those Eskimo boys have no real ice to build homes out of? That the best they can do for shelter is coat themselves with mucus and wait to be swallowed by starving polar bears? Sir, the least you can do is sign this petition and put your stomach on the list of shelters available for Eskimo boys seeking asylum.

Just hope you run into the right kind of Them. And when you do, you'd better have the business case for your happiness all mission-statemented and sanity-checked, and signed off by all appropriate stakeholders.


Hooray! I'm happy! Happy because I finally gave into guilt and maxed out the Visa to get myself a treadmill that I already know I'll never use! But hey, just sticking it in front of the TV feels like an accomplishment. Now I just need to pay the interest on the card by giving up my Lipitor prescription! With luck I'll save enough to afford my eventual trip to the ER. Last thing I want during a heart attack is to have to jog to the hospital!

Whoopee! I got the home team to reconsider moving! All I had to do was put up $800 mil in city money to get them a new stadium! With all box seats and a private airstrip -- so only the world's 500 most important people get to watch them play! That's the kind of audience any commercial sponsor would kill for!

Triumph at last! We wrangled $80 billion in emergency spending to get these guns, so we could kill the bad guys who were making us feel like we needed them! Evil is vanquished! Oh, except now our guns are used up, and the families and associates of the people we killed are making us need more guns. So -- who's up for another $100 bil?

See? Even if you're happy, it's clear that Conspiracy Land is a place where everything is horrible and frightening. People shoot at each other for reasons which, judging by how strenuously commentators try to make them sound obvious, aren't understood by anyone. School bus blown up? Wedding reception mowed down? We just did what we had to do! After all, it's what you're paying us for.

No. The public sphere of commerce and politics, success and failure, is no place for anyone even a little sane to be happy. Happiness must be found somewhere deeper.

The answer must be love. Isn't it love that makes the world go 'round?

Isn't it?

And if you love me, how could you even think to ask that as a question, since the question could be answered "No"?

You must not really love me! You hate me! All of you!

Yes, love makes the world go 'round. But everyone forgets the world makes love go flat.

The problem with love is that it works just like a police action. You send out your love like an army. You expect to be greeted with cheers and flowers, and for the whole undertaking to cost almost zero in public revenue. And it might even work, for a month or two.

But then it happens. The one you've liberated starts wailing about self-determination. You start getting sniped at, and before you know it your conquest starts holding elections that you're not allowed veto power over. This is the beginning of the end.

In the end, if you're lucky, you'll be able to establish permanent bases in the garage and toolshed, and spend your R&R time cruising for prostitutes without too many questions being asked on the home front. And if you're really lucky, the prostitutes won't turn out to be enemy agents with broken glass hidden up their snatches.

Make no mistake -- the Conspiracy loves it when you fall in love. It wants you to want to fall love more than anything, for you to expect falling in love to solve all your problems. Because then, after you've fallen back out of love, you get to spend the rest of your life fixing the messes you made when all your problems were solved.

Some shining examples from this Conspiracy morality play:

I'm so happy! My soulmate just said he'd marry me, since that's the only way I'll ever give him any! What's even better is, he says his last blood test came back positive for condoms, so he won't infect me with anything even if he don't use them! Hmm. Might cause a problem after week two of our marriage, though, when we need to start thinking about raising a family. Guess I'll just have to inject him with turpentine while he sleeps. That'll take care of the birth control.

Yippee! I am now divorced because my ex wants somebody with ambition! Now I can spend all day looking at porn, until I forget that women ever take their clothes off for anything except wads of cash bigger than anything I'll ever be able to cough up!

I love my grandchildren! I love loading them up with sweets just before their parents come to pick them up from a visit. That shows 'em that SOMEONE knows what those kids want! Those no-goods'll have to shape up, or lose their kids' respect! Or else convince the kids that grandma will think it's tasty if they replace my insulin with corn syrup.

Yay! I'm a fourteen-year-old singer of popular love ballads! My fans demand song after song to fill their loveless lives, which is just fine with my parents since it keeps me locked in a recording booth where boys can't ogle me! But since I've never seen a boy my own age, when I belt one out I have to imagine my baby brother or my dog. That gives my tunes that extra oomph my fans crave, and gives me the kind of focus I'll need for when I finally get married.

Don't misunderstand. The Conspiracy wants you to be happy. Or at least, it wants you to think you SHOULD be happy.

But never happy for no reason. Nope. Uh-uh. If you're in a good mood, it's safer if you call it "morale". Then it sounds like They had something to do with it.

Look, we dug deep and got our minions an espresso maker! The deluxe kind that uses real kidneys instead of filters! Good thing the legal department had the foresight to claim all worker's glands as our intellectual property. (Look, see here, subclause 8A.32.116 of your contract -- "Any organs used during working hours automatically revert to ownership of the company"). Of course our employees will have to purchase the full-coverage healthcare package prior to the mandatory kidney surgery. But on the plus side, once the surgery's over with, their bodies won't flush the caffeine out!

Look, we got our immigrant meatpackers mesh gloves made of steel! Now our product will have 50% less finger! But here's the bad news: due to the cost of these gloves, there's no way we can afford hoses to wash the blood off the plant floor. We'll have to ask the workers to clean it up with toothbrushes. But as a bonus, we'll let them keep the toothbrushes. We are proud of our commitment to worker hygiene.

Now -- aren't you happy? Aren't you GRATEFUL?

You'd better not say no.

Even if you're happy all by yourself, because of something you did for yourself, you're still poised on a plank over a sea of your own doo-doo. Because your body and -- yes -- even your brain are two of Their most loyal agents.

Like to play guitar? Proud of your chops? Don't look now! Here comes lupus, or arthritis, or tendonitis, or tinnitus, or the unhappy combination of your wandering attention and a rogue steam press! Or any one of a thousand and one other ways your body can do a Pete Townsend on your musicianship.

Happy because you can cook? ChopChopChop! Here comes that teppanyaki Master Chef, Old Age, slicing and dicing all 10,000 of your taste buds into 500 pieces each! Then finishing with a flourish by mincing your ability to swallow solid food. All for Their entertainment while They wait for their meal. What sauce would you enjoy this evening, ladies? Sweet-and-sour, MSG, or ketchup?

Happy because you love your kids? Whomp! There goes Old Man Memory down the gullet of Frau Alzheimer, leaving you with no memory of your kids. Except for that one time in 1953 when they ate some of your blank checks. Now they're putting you in a home! Help! Help! They're getting fat on your savings!

And just wait 'til you start dying. By the time it's gotten through to you that you're dying, really dying, you're in no position to do anything at all. All you can do is let your body smother you, and hope to God your money runs out. Because dying is just like being dead -- except you get to feel everything. And once you're dying on Their watch, being sump-pumped full of Their healthcare, They will do whatever it takes make sure They can't be sued by letting you die too soon. That is, until it stops being cost-effective.

So if you want to be happy, the only reason to be happy is no reason at all. HOW happy doesn't matter. It can be anywhere on the spectrum, from faint twinge of intestinal glee to full-out chyme-belting guffaws. But it'd better be for no reason. 'Cause if They give you a reason, They can take it away at any time.


"When was the last time you were so filled with the Holy Spirit that people thought you were drunk? I have to confess that that time, for me, may have been 'never'."
-- Pastor Bud, "Junebug"


My only true happiness comes from serving others, not thinking about myself. The high point of every day for me is when I pray "God bless Texas".

Now I feel really dumb, in a way that makes me want to offer sincere thanks.

Stop with the feeling dumb, Darlin', and get out there and serve the people of Texas. Or even some other people, if it will make you happy...

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