Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Many people think they have no choices in life, even about very silly things.

I wrote before about Choices, and in fact, that is what this blog is all about - realizing you have choices, and that the choices you make affect your life.  When you realize this, you are empowered.

On the other hand, most people don't feel they have choices, and often about very silly things.  For example, I wrote in a recent posting about car insurance for kids, and have written before about speeding.  When I was in my 20's, I did the stupid thing and bought a new car and the insurance was murder.  And the reason for this was speeding tickets.  I got a couple one weekend, and a nice lawyer got me out of them.  He said to me, "If you can just drive speed limit from now on, your insurance rates will go down."

I sped on the way home from court.

Drive the speed limit?  Who can do that?  That is not a realistic choice, I thought at the time.   No one drives the speed limit!  Well, that asshole in front of me who is "going too slow" does, but he is the exception, not the rule.  Speed limits are for jerks!  Everyone drives over the limit!  Right?

Well, not exactly.  Speeding is a choice, and you don't have to do it.  No, really.  About half of all Americans think they "have to" drive at least 5 mph over the limit, if not 10 or 15 mph.  About a quarter think they need to drive as fast as the car will go.  But these are not dictates or essentials, but personal choices.

And you realize, over time, that speeding gets you nowhere.  As I noted in my previous posting, we had a motorhome that was very slow, and at full throttle would do little more than 65 mph.  On the Interstate, we would see people pass us at 10-15 mph over the speed limit.  An hour later, they would pass us again.  Or we would meet up with them, once we got off the Interstate, and got into city traffic.   It was an eye-opener.  Most people never have this epiphany.

Or take Cable Television - the work of Satan himself.   When I was in my 20's, I had cable TV, perhaps illegally (hey, I hooked the TV to the cable in the living room, and it worked, what am I supposed to do? Call them and ask it be unplugged?).   But of course, they finally did pull the plug and I was outraged to find I had to pay $30 a month for Cable, which was a lot of money back then, or even today.  And with each rate increase, I was similarly outraged and put-upon.  I want my MTV, dammit!

The idea of not having cable was as alien to me as not speeding.  And for many young people today, this is the case.  Throw in the smart phone and the Abercrombie shirt, and you have a long list of entitlements and sacred cows that cannot be cut from their budgets.  So they go down to protest on Wall Street, with smart phones in hand.  How can those evil people in the corporate world raise our cable rates or cell phone fees?  We need these like oxygen!

Or, maybe not.  Maybe, like in any argument, the answer is in challenging the premise of the argument.  And here, the premise is that you "have to speed", "have to have cable", or "have to have a smart phone" or fill in the blank about the 500 "have to have" things in your life that are not really essential, but rather are just frittering away your estate, a little bit at a time.

A reader writes that they cannot understand why it is hard to unlearn this behavior.  That simple mediation should reveal the ultimate truth to all.   Of course, the same reader hyperlinks to a perpetual motion site, so I am not sure meditation is the answer.

It takes time to unlearn these things because your brain is programmed by the media and our society, thousands of times a day, with contrary messages.   Everyone watches cable TeeVee - Cable TeeVee tells us this.  In fact, back around the mid 1980's, the networks, and later cable, started running ads on TeeVee for TeeVee.   In addition to particular programs, they would show "warm and fuzzy" ads of people gathered around the set (a lie, most watch alone) watching their "favorite programs" together.  The message?  Watching TeeVee is a way of life and a "normal" activity for a human being.  And the average American watches about 4.6 hours a day.  No, really. 

Unplugging from Cable and television in general is the most important step, as more than half of the poor normative cues pummeling your brain are from the television.  You cut off that cult-like programming, and the rest is easier.

Getting off the speeding mindset is harder, as it seems that "everyone" speeds, or at least that they do when you speed.  When you stop speeding (and tailgating and other horrific behaviors) you realize that all those cars you were passing are doing the speed limit, and in fact, make up about half the road traffic.

And you realize that the savings, in terms of wear and tear on your car, are terrific.  I bought theX5 with 50,000 miles on it.  BMW had replaced the brake pads and rotors under warranty at that point.  Eight years later, it now has 130,000 miles, and is still running on the same brakes.  80,000 miles on one set of pads.  How does that compare to your usage?

Most folks who speed end up jamming on their brakes at 80 mph, when a "slower" car has the tenacity to actually try to pass a truck.  This is a huge amount of kinetic energy to convert into heat, and not surprisingly, it converts brake pads into dust.

Poor choices snowball into poorer ones.  You speed, you get a ticket - it is an inevitable probability, a predictable outcome.  And then your insurance rates skyrocket, and like most weak-thinking Americans, you blame the insurance companies for running a racket.  I know I did.  Hey, so what if I speed, its not like I get into accidents, right?  Oh, whoops.

We all have choices in life, even when it does not appear you have choices.  What is appalling about Americans is that they cannot even perceive obvious choices.  They believe that silly things like Cable TV, designer coffee, fast food, smart phones, and speeding, are all necessary to living, and that they cannot do without them.  However, they are a choice - a poor choice in terms of health and wealth - but a choice they make, nevertheless.

And no, I don't feel sorry for them - for the simple reason no one felt sorry for me when I made the same bonehead stupid choices that allowed others to exploit me financially.  Getting ahead, it turns out, requires not a money-making system or trick, but just realizing that poor choices are offered to you daily, gaudily dressed up and presented to look like good choices.  Just turning away from them is the only real "secret" to wealth and happiness.