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Offbeat – 6 September 2013

Asking why someone believes this or that is entirely the wrong approach though, when the person invested a whole five minutes in forming a deep-seated opinion by filling out a ten question quiz in a magazine, or skimming an article on whatever topic is on the table.

Picture this. Cinderella is somewhere in the basement, dilligently polishing up here buddy, the dustpan. She idly picks up an old magazine, flips through it and hits the obligatory lifestyle quiz. She goes through it and answers all the questions, comes away a little bit wiser. That evening, the Fairy Godmother shows up to prepare her for her meeting with Prince Charming, who is still miffed by his breakup with Snow White.
The Fairy Godmother explains the plan to Cinderella who looks a little bit confused. The Fairy Godmother explains it again. Finally the lights come on in Cinderella’s head. She opens the magazine and waves the quiz at the well-meaning old dear. “Oh, no,” She says. “I’ll skip the ball because I have a super career ahead of me as a Sanitation Executive.”
Now picture this. The guidance teacher at school tells the children to pursue their passions. One kid gets the gist of the thing and begins to think. He realises that the one thing he really does love is chocolate cake. He goes through all the motions, leaves school and becomes a baker, all for the love of chocolate cake. Naturally, after two years of the stuff, he begins to hate it.
What we are faced with is a bad proliferation of postmodern programming, too much good advice from people who need to flip coins and get into life-changing three-step programmes to make it through the day.
You know the sort. It’s the person who breathlessly waves a book about organising kitchen cupboards in your face, and tells you how it will change your life for the better. It’s the person who reads religious self-help books, because forming morality from the source book is a little complicated. It’s the person who believes  in simultaneous orgasms on demand.
I recently started coming out of my shell a bit, meeting new people and taking them at face value. Unfortunately I also discovered that in spite of the apparent differences, postmodern programming is spreading faster than mold in a damp, closed bread bin.
I shouldn’t have a problem with people like that, but I do.
Actually I should be honest at this point, and say that I am the fly in my own particular tub of ointment. I’m not a huge fan of the manuals in the Lego boxes. I like to do things the hard way and figure things out.
Sometimes it takes me a while. It took me more than a decade to figure out that hangovers are painful and slow me down, but I did it, and I got it right without a self-help programme in a magazine, or the sort of intervention that earns celebrities publicity.
I figured out that religion is evil by watching people who go to church and thinking about their behaviour and attitudes. I realised that I don’t like to eat chocolate cake at the same place, every day and spun that out to smoking several brands of cigarettes because variety is fun. And no, I don’t care what colour someone’s skin is, because every mind is different and I don’t see why I should deny myself the diversity of thought. Perhaps one day I will even learn some other languages.
After all these years of keeping myself to myself, I find myself wanting to question people again. But asking why someone believes this or that is entirely the wrong approach though, when the person invested a whole five minutes in forming a deep-seated opinion by filling out a ten question quiz in a magazine, or skimming an article on whatever topic is on the table.
And that leads me to my weekly rant.
In this convenience store of attitudes, lifestyles, religious beliefs and pseudo-psychometric help for people who shouldn’t be helpless in the first place, there is little room for discovery of self. Those people who might have taken joy in being different are being channeled into uniformity by the spread of dubious, two dimensional media.
Here’s an interesting experiment. The next time you come across something in a magazine close it and write down what you think. Then go back to the magazine and see what answer you are directed to. You may be startled by the difference.

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