Mine’s Bigger Than Yours
Regarding size, let’s begin with the 7 wonders of the world, of which there have been many versions, starting with reports from ancient Greeks, who toured the Mediterranean. All the listings over the centuries include the Egyptian Pyramid of Khufu (or Cheops) built around 2600 BCE. What we see today is the under structure, made of haphazard rocks and cement. Unlike the Greeks, who gave the same care to the invisible parts of a building as to the visible (an idealistic principle), the king of this project was interested only in appearances. That consisted of a white limestone casing, polished smooth to gleam in the sun. The drawing here is how it looked 150 years ago to Scottish astronomer C. P. Smyth. We can only imagine.
Speaking of skin deep beauty, an annual Saudi Arabia ‘Camel Beauty Contest’ disqualified some animals a few years back because their owners had given them Botox shots.
My mother was famous for the camel face she could imitate. She had a Nordic self-critical conscience, but a witty sense of humor to soften it. Even the grandchildren know this one, from about 1920. A camel couldn’t do a better likeness!
To The Max
In this country, and around the world where businesses follow American models, corporations try every conceivable way to indicate their importance in terms of ‘bigness’. X, Extra, Maximum and all their combinations and permutations litter the advertizing world, even when they’re non-sensical, like X-Finity. You know brand names like X-Sport, ReMax, CarMax, and 737 Max. Unsatisfied to be big in their own realm, they also put their products into other larger realms – like national, international, world-wide, universal, cosmic (or is the Cosmos smaller than the Universe?). We can even transcend nature with Divine Decor, Heavenly Beds and Spirit Airlines, but I’ve not yet seen Omniscient AI or Omnipotent Electric.
Many companies (even small ones) are part of a Group, which expands their impact. This real estate ad in my neigborhood is fun – especially the motto: “Everything we touch turns to sold”. Come on, that’s good! You may know someone who has a business and advertizes on Facebook. A sole self-employed person – say, Francis Allen – advertizes to the public as the Francis Allen Group. Is Ms/Mr Allen using a good ad technique, suffering from narcissism, or expressing ‘delusions of grandeur’? Yes, there is a delusional disorder in psychology.
Who’s the Best?
Why do TV viewers enjoy seeing other people win big bucks? I can’t imagine it’s out of love for their neighbors. For a few years in the mid-50s, the $64,000 Question was popular, until cheating scandals shut it down. Now there is the Jeopardy show, starting in 1964 and lasting until its 27 year host Alex Trebek died, this year. The choice of Trebek’s successor has brought on a Hollywood hubbub, and accusations of fraud. After all, the ‘feel good’ TV shows are rapidly losing their hold on the public, so the few that remain popular are worth a lot of money – regardless of what replacement Trebek chose. But TV fans can still binge-view various ‘series’ shows. (My family knows I’m crabby about watching TV.)
In every country, sports provide chances for individuals and their countries to be world champions. The first Olympic Games in Ancient Greece were in 776. The modern games began in 1896, again in Greece.
What’s the best school? Many people need to answer that question, and they look at the annual U.S. News and World Report ranking of schools and colleges to find out. Like so many other comparisons, this one is corrupted by money. Malcolm Gladwell showed this in a video, discussed here in a Reed College article of July ’21.
Who’s the best doctor is another contest not given to objectivity. Since patients need recommendations to find doctors, and doctors need patients, it’s a perfect setup for abuse. Displayed on the wall of a nearby cafe, owned by a retired MD, there’s a nicely designed, cheaply made but costly to buy, fiber board plaque, awarded by the Top Doctor Magazine. Somehow Top Doctor sounded strange, so I looked it up. It’s unquestionably a scam. But this particular doctor wasn’t trying to deceive his customers; I know him. Doctors have egos too, and he has a right to promote his business.
The world’s tallest buildings provide another way to measure value by numerical contests. Sky scrapers pack large numbers of people together efficiently who want to live in cities; and they provide a ‘room with a view’ if it’s affordable. They also engender competitions for countries, cities and architects. The Petronas tower in Koala Lampur beats Trump tower in Chicago by 95 feet, I’m happy to report. In 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright proposed a “Mile High” triangular based tower, showing it could house all the government offices in Chicago, and lots more. Although technically possible (even more now than in Wright’s day, with fireproof materials and automatic ‘sway control’ for nausea), the September 11 attack of 20 years ago might deter some would-be occupants.
Like so many other things, skyscrapers are probably phallic symbols. If so, this interpretation provides a chance for an immature ‘pissing contest’. But note that Chicago’s 101 storey St. Regis Tower was designed by a woman – Jeanne Gang – who also did the smaller “Aqua” (shown below). What would the feminine version of that contest be?
As an aside, numbers themselves seem to have fascination for people, discussed in this LiveScience article. Large numbers are like a drug that can ‘short-circuit’ the brain. Our brains cannot imagine large numbers. Evolution hasn’t caught up with modern math. ‘One, a few, lots!’ is all the primitive brain really needed. Are numbers even real? Plato thought so. He believed numbers exist objectively in a ‘higher realm’. Their reality is independent of minds, but minds can discover and understand them, with the right preparation (See his “Divided Line” discussion in The Republic VI, 509D to end).
The Down Side of Up.
All this numbering and competing easily leaves people feeling ‘not good enough’ and hating themselves. The Rolling Stones’ 1978 hit, “Beast of Burden”, is an earlier reminder of our common fear of inadequacy. “Am I hard enough? Am I rough enough? Am I rich enough? I’m not too blind to see”. Is that a natural trait, or a modern cultural heritage? Or perhaps a result of Capitalism’s push for more ‘success’ – i.e., having more money?
A week ago I noticed a young man reading the Dale Carnegie classic, How To Stop Worrying and Start Living. That says something about the effect of today’s culture on youth. Carnegie (1888 – 1955) was born on a Missouri farm, attended Warrensburg State Teachers College, and after many jobs, decided to teach public speaking in New York. His course, taught at a New York YMCA in 1912, quickly became very popular. Once he offered some spur-of-the-moment advice for his obviously nervous speech students – he told them to write and speak “about something that made them angry”. This class evolved into the Dale Carnegie Course, and his various publications. Carnegie had “tapped into the average American’s desire to have more self-confidence”. This not-good-enough is a very old problem.
Socal Media Friends & Unfriends
One of the earliest Social Media – Match.com – came out in 1995. I started browsing it (looking for a companion) around 2006. My first lesson was that some Match seekers were really not interested in you, but in your zip code! Chicago’s “Gold Coast” – where I lived – was how we got connected. We met in person at a local upscale hotel restaurant – The Ambassador East – which became The Public, and now is The Ambassador. Its Booth One was the famous Pump Room. ‘Nice to meet you’. No more!
Another lesson Match taught me was, no matter how well your written conversations go, meeting in person can throw cold water on your hottest hopes.
Today (2021) Facebook is the ‘biggest’. Many of this medium’s users compete to have the most Friends, and the most Likes. Obviously this too can make people feel inadequate. How many BFF’s can a person have? It’s not possible to ‘know well’ more than a few hundred people, although we can recognize the faces of many more after a lot of meetings. I’m sure some people stay in our memory more than others, depending on the emotional impact they have, for good or bad.
People are more and more lonely today than ever, to the point of epidemic proportions. Great Britain has had a Ministry of Loneliness since 2016 – now headed by Baroness Diana Barran. Until very recently, nothing comparable was available here – most efforts generally have been left to businesses, non-profits or local governments. Since 2020, there has been one bit of Federal assistance, through a Health and Human Services challenge grant to any state which makes hot-lines available for loneliness calls – especially from elderly people. So much for healthcare for all as a ‘Public Good’.
Jacobin Magazine argues that Capitalism makes us lonely – not just single old men – and therefore susceptible to these social media competitions, and the products they advertize.
The widespread competition makes people not only lonely and susceptible to scams. It can also sicken them. Eating a poor diet, drinking alcohol, and doing drugs are natural reactions when people are lonely. Without some guidance, assistance programs, or ‘consumer protection’, people are at risk. Everyone knows how addictive sugar is, for example. That’s why sweets are displayed at check-outs by most groceries, sports stores and pharmacies. Here’s a MotherJones story about the appalling history of Super Size soft drinks, which are addictive at any size. The article is fire walled, but you’ll get the idea, especially the size chart. Some of these drinks are more than a human stomach can hold!
Can we expect things to improve in the future? I remembered a 1987 song – the Timbuk3 one-hit wonder, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”. Husband and wife Pat and Barbara McDonald from Madison, WI, wrote and recorded it. I discovered it was written to be a prediction of a nuclear holocaust! Furthermore, rights to the song’s use by Ford, Rayban and other would-be advertizers were refused! Now there’s some principled musicians! Thank you Timbuk3!