People get pissed off when you tell truths that conflict with their world-view. The same people who condemn the actions of terrorists who killed the editors of Charlie Hebdo still believe that people should not be allowed to say certain things. For example, any idea they disagree with.
I get three kinds of responses to this blog. The first are "Great work! You are on the right track!" kind of responses, which are gratifying. Some others are "Interesting idea, but have you considered...." which is at least an attempt at dialog, and sometimes I get interesting ideas from these. A subset of these are folks who try to convince me that everything I say is wrong, which really doesn't go anywhere. Sorry, you can't convince me that leasing is a good deal or "miles" credit cards are a smart move - just look at how they market these things - like selling candy to kids. That should tell you all you need to know, whether these are "bargains" or not.
But the third response is the unhinged, unreasoning, negative response. Not only am I wrong about everything, but I should not be allowed to say such things. And yes, some of these people say nasty things about me, or even make death threats.
Some folks say, "Why do you use your real name online?" and I have two answers. First, it makes people accountable for what they say (if they give a shit, that is, what other people think of what they say, I am not among those). Second, it means that if someone wants to say nasty things about me (as opposed to my ideas) then I can sue them for libel. That is the beauty of it. If you use an anonymous name and someone calls you a "liar" you can't sue them, as you are anonymous. But if you use your real name, you have been libeled and you have a cause of action.
So, some of you Facebookers might want to think about deleting a few comments. You have been warned. There is nothing more dangerous than a bored lawyer with a lot of time on his hands.
Just kidding. Got you thinking, though, didn't I?
Just kidding. Got you thinking, though, didn't I?
But getting back to these unhinged people. Why are they so unhinged about ideas? As I noted before, ideas are dangerous - it is what people the world over fight and kill over. Someone spends their life following a cult, and you point out that the cult leader has stolen all their money and spent it on prostitutes and drugs, you are not going to be lauded as a hero for alerting them to this. Rather, they will crucify you as the bearer of bad tidings. After all, everything was going along OK before you came along.
And people subscribe to a lot of cults. Car cults, consumer cults, cargo cults, medical cults, religious cults - you name it. People desperately seek some sort of meaning in their lives, whether it is a '66 Chevelle parked in the garage, or a fancy house and garden, or membership in some secret society or religion. Or obsessing about one's health (a popular sport among the elderly) or worse yet, the health of your spouse. And for each one of these folks (and I am only scratching the surface here) there is a dedicated website devoted to the faithful, that sets forth the holy word - if you only spend just a little more money on the latest upgrade, improvement, you will be saved!
And it doesn't matter whether we are talking about the next level of "clear" in Scientology or the latest quack cure for the disease you don't have. It is all about spending money and consumerism. And that is what is really sad, to me, is that most Americans feel that how they spend their money is an expression of "who they are." In fact, sites like Facebook are just all about this - that your purchasing choices, as a consumer, define who you are as a human being and that somehow, if you buy the right brands or make the right choices, you are making a "statement" about yourself and forming a "lifestyle." You are nothing more than a collection of "likes."
I have sort of reached the opposite point in my life. I am loathe to spend money on anything, simply because some idiot will think that my purchase is a "statement of who I am" or worse yet, some marketing type will try to divine the tea leaves and try to get inside of my head and then barrage me with sidebar ads. The only solution I have found, so far, is to (1) unplug from media as much as possible, and (2) consumer as little as possible. Both are the very hardest things you can do in life. But when you do both, you realize there is an underlying "real life" behind the hoopla of television and the carnival of the marketplace.
But I digress. Here is a list of the top ten things (in no particular order) that I have seen piss people off. How do I know these things? Blogger has a "stats" board where I can see which postings get the most hits and what sites are referring them. So when you post "That Bob Bell is a real jerk!" on your blog, your Facebook page, or your website, or whatever, and if you include a link to my blog, I can see you. Peek-a-boo! You are not anonymous on the Internet. Not anymore, anyway.
Note that in every instance, there is also an industry that is affected, and I suspect that a lot of the shouters may or may not be trolls for the respective industries involved. After all, you can't have people saying your products are overpriced and a bad bargain, can you? This is America, after all!
Anyway here is the list. Pretty stupid stuff to get angry about, if you ask me.....
1. Hydronic Heating: It's expensive and really doesn't save you any money, as it is not "more efficient" that other forms of heating (no study I am aware of shows this - heat is heat, and 90+% efficient is 90+% efficient). How much more expensive is it? Like 3-5 times as much as regular forced air. And you can't add A/C to it, so that adds 5x more to put in central air or split systems. And when it ages - water leaks. Ugh.
Why are they pissed? Because they already had an argument with their wife about this, and now here I am bringing it up again (and likely the wife found the link to my site). Plus they know they spent a lot on a heating plant, and had kidded themselves that they were "saving money" and now maybe they are thinking they really aren't.
And the prospect of rusty water leaking all over their house and ruining everything is scaring the shit out of them. It already is scaring the crap out of some insurance companies!
No one likes to hear the truth. We all would rather live in a fantasy-world. A hydronically heated fantasy world!
The bottom line is this: Going to incredibly complex and costly solutions to simple problems, on the premise they will "save you money!" down the line, is really short-sighted. Anything with a payback of more than a year or two is illusory. Are you really going to live in your house for a decade to see the payback from your (fill in the blank) system? That indeed, is the question. The average person moves every five years. Hydronic heating equipment, like most appliances, wears out in about 15-20 years. So you spend all this money, wait years for payback, and then have to re-invest in it all.
The hydronic heating industry, of course, would rather not I say this.
2. Starbucks: If you want to start a shit-storm on Reddit, just mention Starbucks. Half the people have an irrational hatred of the place, the other half have an even more irrational need to defend it.
Starbucks sell status, not coffee. It is the result of marketing genius and nothing more. And most of the "coffee drinks" are unhealthy and overpriced. And small purchases like this, over time, accumulate into huge personal losses for the individual.
So who gets mad? The "paycheck-to-paycheck" broke slob who was comfortable blaming all his problems on Obama or Wall Street. I am saying that, gee, just maybe, some of his own actions may be the cause of his own problems.
Now that's an idea that needs to be shouted down! And pronto!
Starbucks would rather I not say this, of course. And one thing you see a lot online are "straw man" arguments raised against Starbucks (made to look ridiculous) that are easily shot down. I suspect there may be professional trolls at work.
3. Co-Signing Loans: The people who are really pissed at me are young males, aged 16-25 who want to get Mom and Dad or Grandma to co-sign the note on a new Camaro. Mom and Dad read my article (and the voluminous links to other articles decrying co-signing) and think maybe the last thing an irresponsible 18-year-old needs is a brand-new car.
So I am the villain here. After all, Junior would surely have gotten laid, if not for a new Camaro! But in reality, not falling down the path of consumerism at such an early age (and browning off your parents or grandma for life) is probably a better path. They may be pissed off now, but they will thank me later.
A smaller subset are people who co-signed loans, read my article and then shit in their pants when they realize they just handed their entire financial future to the most fiscally irresponsible person in their family. Oh well!
What industry is affected? Car dealers, mostly, and the odious consumer financing places that suggest such things. They would rather people think co-signing was a routine thing and a fun way to help Junior build up his credit rating. Of course, it isn't.
4. Leasing: Car salesmen love leasing. You can "move iron" off the lot by leasing it to people who otherwise can't "afford" it. They can "afford" it now, because the lease agreement sucks up their trade-in just to cover closing costs, and then socks them with a lot of "back end" fees they won't have to pay for years down the road.
Some folks figure this out ahead of time. Others realize it after being stung in a leasing deal, and take their licks and move on. Most double-down their bet by folding in all the back-end charges into a new lease deal, so they end up paying more and more and more - perpetually - and never actually owning a car free and clear.
They are mad at me, because they know deep down something is going wrong, but they don't want to own up to it. So, lash out at me, and self-justify yet another bad financial decision. This puts off the inevitable, at least for a while.
Car dealers move a lot of iron by leasing, so they are not happy when someone points out leasing is a raw deal.
5. Fibromyalgia: If you've self-diagnosed yourself with this disease and spent countless hours on websites devoted to it, you might be a little browned off if someone - including the doctor who invented the disease - suggests that maybe it is just middle age aches and pains. And yea, getting old is very, very painful.
But many have made a religion out of this disease-that-may-not-be-a-disease, and they spend countless hours on line, reinforcing each other's opinions, shouting down dissent, and chanting "our pain is real!"
Real or not, obsessing about your health is just a bad idea in general, even if you have terminal cancer. Here's the deal: No one has ever been cured of Fibromyalgia, and no one has ever died from it. Take your meds (antidepressants, usually) and move on with life. You won't feel better by blogging about illness all day long.
Is there a fibromyalgia industry? You bet. There are quack cures galore, and one recently discredited blood test sells (directly to patients) for $744 a pop. There is a lot of money to be made in this business, selling nutritional supplements, vitamins, and whatnot, when the real "cure" is just exercise and anti-depressants.
6. Full-Time RVing: Chuck it all and see the world! No more cleaning gutters and mowing lawns, just dumping poop tanks and waxing a vehicle the size of a tractor-trailer! And it's a cheap way to live, too! Just spend $250,000 on a motorhome, $4 a gallon for diesel (at 4-5 mpg) and $60 a night to stay a "motorcoach resort"!
Of course, you can do it "on the cheap" and stay at some run-down trailer court for a month at a time. And this is better than living in a house, why? Oh, right, it ain't. And when you try to get out of "the life" it is like trying to get out of the Mafia. You owe more on the motorcoach than it is worth. They come to take it away, and you quietly hand them the keys. I have seen this firsthand.
Why are they pissed at me? I didn't force them into this. But I am making them realize they are in a world of woe, and "blame the messenger" is a poplar sport in the USA. After all, it wasn't any bad decisions they made on their part, right?
The sad thing is, many oldsters take this route, burn through all their money, and end up destitute. How do I know this? I live on retirement island and have friends who have done this and it ain't pretty. A few years with a fancy toy, and then trying to live on Social Security. And as a Charter Life Member of the Good Sam club (25 years now) I've been to trailer parks and seen EMT's break down the doors of tattered old RVs that had old people living in them because they didn't think this "full-time RVing" thing all the way through.
If you have millions and millions of dollars maybe this "lifestyle" will work for you. But if you don't, and are on a fixed income, you might want to think this through. It doesn't "save money" but spends it. And if you don't "do the math" you could end up in a lot of trouble. Why is saying the obvious so threatening?
Oh, right, the RV industry doesn't want to hear this, either.
7. Airstreams: Airstreams, like any luxury product, are beautiful and expensive. And like any boutique made product, they can be expensive to own and heartbreaking to see get old and fall apart. But like any vehicle, be it a BMW or Mercedes, they get old and fade away and depreciate like mad, which means they are very expensive for middle-class people to own. And their unique construction means they have unique ways of failing - denting, leaking, and clear-coat failure. And like BMWs, they are expensive to fix.
So why does saying the obvious piss people off? Because they have invested in the idea of the Airstream. They have built their cultural identity around a consumer product - about the shallowest thing you can do. They even call themselves Airstreamers and have a little club with secret handshakes. it is kind of stupid and silly.
But mostly, they don't want to be reminded of the huge financial hole they have made in their lives and what it is really costing them. No one likes to be reminded of that! Middle class people have no business buying $100,000 vehicles. But they do it, and put a $50,000 hole in their wallet when they sell.
Of course, the Airstream people would rather I didn't mention that their trailers were overpriced, dent-prone, leaky tin-cans, whose clearcoat peels off after a few years.
8. Car Mods: You can "bolt on" horsepower with a few simple "mods" from a catalog! Visa and MC accepted! Actually, not. Most of this stuff is just wallet-lightener and makes your car look obnoxious and loud as hell. Oh, right, that was the main idea. But go faster? Not on your life.
Again, no one wants to be painted as a fool, even if they are one. Even by someone who admits they were foolish themselves.
No idea is too ripe to be shouted down by the mob.
9. Anything to do with Religion: Some folks think their beliefs are sacrosanct. Not just to them, but to everybody else. You may not have to respect their clothing, their choice of career, their choice of spouse, or even their tastes in popular culture, but you must bow down and pay homage to their religious beliefs.
Why this is so, I do not know. I missed the meeting where we all agreed on this. But whether it is Charlie Hebdo or Pope "Puncha You in da Face!" the result is the same - no one tolerates having their religious views mocked.
Well, except Mormons. Apparently they are so good-natured about it, we can mock the shit out of them. Hmmm.... Maybe they are the real Christians, after all?
So why do people get pissed off when you point out the flaws in their belief systems? Well, whether it is car leasing or Papal Infallibility, it is the same deal. They've invested in these schemes - often their entire lives, and they know deep down there are problems in these beliefs, as they clash with their own realities.
They just don't like someone pointing that out. The other guy's religion is of course, no damn good but theirs is freaking perfect and how dare you question it?
Religion is the antithesis of intellect.
Religion is the antithesis of intellect.
10. The Homeless: Most homeless are mentally ill and/or have drug problems. Giving them $10 isn't helping them, but helping them stay homeless and drug addicted. What is really sick is that the reason people give cash to a homeless person is to feel better about themselves and superior to others.
The idea that the person you are giving money to has nothing is flawed. Right off the bat, he gets food stamps, TANF, Medicaid, assisted housing, an Obamaphone, and a host of other benefits. The money you give him might help him - or harm him, if he uses it to buy drugs or alcohol.
The "truly needy" aren't hanging out on street corners with carefully crafted cardboard signs, asking for spare change. They are looking for jobs, working with caseworkers at the shelter or local government, trying to get ahead. The folks with the cardboard signs are almost always scam artists, as are people who ask you for money on the street.
Why do people hate it when I point this out? Because they think they are better than everyone else because they "care about the homeless" and they don't like it when you point out they are not helping really homeless people, and moreover are handing out money for the very sick reason of self-aggrandizement.
Want to help the homeless? Donate money, time, or materials to your local homeless shelter.
I am not sure of an industry that benefits from people giving money to panhandlers. However, as I have noted, there are professional panhandlers who make a lot of money (one claims $100,000 a year) by pretending to be homeless, or in one case, mentally handicapped. I suppose those folks want to keep this myth of penniless people alive.
11. Genealogy is Bunk: This is a bonus item. People spend inordinate amounts of time "tracing their ancestors". They put together these indecipherable coded charts of names, birth dates, and death dates, and their links to other ancestors.
It is a never-ending task, as the number of ancestors you have expands exponentially with each successive generation. Go back even a few generations, and the number of ancestors and relatives expands to the hundreds, if not the thousands.
And what does it all mean? Beyond your immediate parents, and maybe grandparents, your genome is really unrelated to earlier ancestors. Or put another way, your genome is just as related to anyone else's if you go that far back. So there is no great meaning or divinity to be gotten from this. And people tend to selectively concentrate on their more colorful or respectable ancestors. "My ancestors came over on the Mayflower!" one might claim. True enough, but other ancestors came over in steerage as part of the poor white trash emigrating to America. Or they fled the homeland for America because they were wanted by the law. Or they were just uninteresting people (like most of us are) who left no mark in the world other than to have some babies.
At best, it is a stupefying boring hobby. At worst, it is a thin cover for racism. One of the main compelling reasons people did this sort of thing in the past was to be accepted "into society" which meant tracing your bloodline like that of a dog or horse. We are not dogs or horses. Genealogy is racist.
Of course, Aunt Hattie (and it is usually elderly women or gay men who do this) has spend years at this and spends all her time on chat groups talking about her noted ancestors (whose lives are so much more interesting that her drab, boring life). They have a lot invested in genealogy - sometimes literally.
And the industry? Genealogy websites, book sellers, and other hangers-on of this business, which it has become.
* * *
So what is the common denominator in all of these things? People invest in ideas, and not in themselves. They externalize their lives, thinking that if they invest in a motorhome, a jet ski, a religion, or some other belief system, that they will bring meaning to their lives. And of course, often these things bring no meaning at all. In fact, they never do. Why? Because there is no "meaning of life" that we can discern while we are living it.
And I think most people get that. The religious nut secretly knows, deep down, that his religion isn't answering all the unanswerable questions in life - and moreover, that the tenets of his religion include some pretty bizarre and odious beliefs. These are the sort of folks who constantly feel the need to defend their beliefs, evangelize their beliefs, and of course, shout down any heretics. Because the scary questions raised by others nibble away at their "faith."
For those who have made a religion about material things the error is even more apparent. They need only look to their bank account to see that something is going wrong. And they realize, quite quickly, that owning stuff is a false religion. It is funny, but people become raging true believers about cars, motorcycles, boats, RVs, or whatever, and pledge their lives to these material things. In only a few years, however, they trade these things in and move on to something else. So "Mr. BMW Z3" becomes "Mr. Corvette" after a few years, but oddly enough, still haunts the BMW Z3 board, if nothing else, to annoy people.
I've given up on making an identity for myself out of what I consume. I've gotten rid of a lot of "things" that I thought once defined me. They were fun, but just things and not an end in an of themselves. And eventually, things go away and you move on to new things.
There is more to life than enslaving yourself to material possessions, or a religion. But oddly enough, it seems that most folks are more than willing to be slaves - they desperately seek meaning in their lives and some siren song to follow. They want to be consumers, converts, or followers. They want to be part of the herd, part of the flock, have an identity and "fit in" with everyone else. It is the herd mentality. And sadly, most folks think they are being "rugged individuals" based on what herd they decide to join.