Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Don't Be Happy! Just Worry!

Why do some politicians and the media want us all to be miserable?  The answer may or may not surprise you.

Long before this virus thing, I noted that depressed people make excellent consumers.   Get someone completely depressed, and they will drown their "sorrows" in consumer spending.  No, really, people think this way - you and me.   We feel that life sucks and "nothing matters but the weekend" and why not "treat" yourself to a brand-new leased car and a trip to the mall to stave off the malaise of daily living in the wealthiest and most prosperous country in the world.

Marketers know this, and newspaper editors know this as well.  They know we click on bad news twice as much as good news.   They don't have to be genius psychologists - they can tell from the numbers of papers that sell, or from the Nielsen ratings, or today, from the click-through statistics.

Your March performance
on Google Search

Clicks (web)

Impressions (web)

Pages with
first impressions
There are a lot of bored people out there!

Yes, even I get these reports from Google as to what people are clicking on and what they aren't.  For the most part, I just delete these e-mails without reading them.  But when I do read them, it is fascinating.   Depressing subjects "sell" more - and political posts get more readers than how to save money on car insurance.   Not that I care - I write for an audience of one, namely me.   It is cathartic to write thoughts down - and besides, it saves Mr. Mark a lot of my bloviating.

Politicians also know about this phenomenon.  You don't get elected by telling people things are fine.  You don't get people to the polls by telling them they are happy.  No, you want to tell them they are miserable and unless you are elected, the entire world will stop spinning on its axis!   The raging true-believers in politics, right or left, are very, very unhappy people who are convinced that life is one trial after another.

The reality is, of course, different, at least for most of us.  Most Americans are very well off, by American standards and indeed, world standards.   Did you know that more than half of Americans make more than the median income in the USA?   (And that most Americans "hate math" too?).  I am just kidding around - I have a sense of humor and am not convinced by the media or the pols that life sucks, thank you very much.

We have so much in this country, yet we choose to bitch about how awful it is.   And these stories get passed around so much that people believe them, without bothering to think about whether they are true or not.   Every single "millennial" is drowning in student loan debt, we are told, with the average debt amount being $25,000 to $35,000 depending on which source you read.  No one bothers to think that this is what a new car costs - hardly a staggering amount of debt for the average American.   A debt we'd rather not repay, of course, if we could get out from under it.

Sadly, a lot of people are putting more energy into trying to avoid paying back debts than just paying them back.  I know a young lawyer who walked away from a full scholarship at a good law school to go to another school specializing in "International Law".  As I have noted before, there is no such thing as "International Law" really - there are no armies of International Lawyers, jetting from one hotspot to another, offering their expertise on tricky legal issues - but that was the myth they sold young law students.

So, she ran up a six-figure student loan debt - mostly because of the high cost of living in the city she went to school at, and mostly because she wasn't about to live like a peon while in school.   So now she is working as a public defender and hoping after a decade of low-wage employment that this debt will be "forgiven" - provided she filled out the forms right, didn't consolidate her loans, and so on and so forth.   How could she screw that up?  Well, she did walk away from a scholarship to study a non-existent major in law.   Really smart people can do really stupid things - I do them all the time!    And I'm not even all that smart, either.

Was that worth it?   I think if perhaps she just became a lawyer and got a job with a firm, that in a few years or a decade, she could have just paid it all back and moved on with life.   But the media has sold this story that debts are onerous and can never be repaid no matter how much money you make.  And they sell this narrative because it sells learned helplessness and creates a class of dependent people who are malleable.  Malleable to merchants, malleable to politicians of all stripes.

But that was all before the virus.  People were miserable before all this recent brouhaha. Since then, the media and politicians have taken this to a whole new level.   Today in the paper, two stories.  The first, that New York City has official plans in place to start burying the virus dead in mass, unmarked graves in Central Park, as the mortuaries and funeral homes and cemeteries are "overwhelmed" with thousands of unclaimed bodies.  OMG!  The apocalypse is nigh!

The second story?   Oh, right, the entire first story was wrong.   Turns out, it was all based on a tweet (and nothing good ever comes from a tweet, and no, social media is not a "source" for any news story, or least shouldn't be) from a local pol who was musing about dramatic emergency plans for a mass-casualty situation which we are not presently having.  11,000 people dead in the USA sounds like a lot, but since January, that's about how many have been killed in car accidents in America - or would be, if people were driving as before.  Even governor Cuomo (throw up in mouth a little bit) re-affirmed that the mortuaries are not overwhelmed at this point - and don't look to be.

Besides, Cuomo has a lot of "family" friends who know all about how to dispose of bodies in the pinelands of Jersey with no one ever finding out.   So we have a Plan B.

The "Mass graves in Central Park" story was being reported as late as last night on National People's Radio, even hours after the retraction had been published in the press.  Fear mongering, plain and simple, and it reminds me a lot of the "bodies stacked up like cordwood in the meat lockers under the Superdome" which also turned out to be completely and utterly fucking wrong.

But at the time of Hurricane Katrina, it added to the sense of dread and fear at the time, and this got people to click on stories and watch the news for hours on end.  And even after the hurricane was over, politicians found ways to drag this out for a decade or more. Yes, even today, many on the left are touting "Katrina Victims" even though most people have moved on with their lives.  You can't be a perpetual victim, as eventually, whatever situation you are in becomes a new norm, if it is static.

So what's the point of all of this?   Don't worry, be happy.   If you want to put a stick in the eye of all these politicians and the media and the marketers, just be happy - that will really, really piss them off!  Stop trying to live beyond your means by borrowing money to buy crap you don't need.  Learn to live with what you have - and realize that the best things in life are indeed free, or don't cost all that much.  Sitting on a park bench, reading a book checked out from the library doesn't cost a thing.  And with today's "lockdown" hysteria, doesn't something like that sound like it would be a lot of fun?   A lot less expensive than a jet ski, too.

Maybe if anything good comes of this virus, it will be that some folks start to appreciate the simpler things in life.   Oh, hell, what am I saying?  People will go back to being the same old jerks they were before all this happened - whining and bitching about how awful things are, even as things get better.  And I can see the headline now, in the New York Times, sometime this summer:  "Life is back to normal for most Americans, but is that a good thing?" - accompanied by a dark photo of some schmuck (which I just found out was Yiddish for "penis") staring off into space.  New York Times Gloom - and doom!

Happiness comes from within, particularly when you are living in the wealthiest country in the world.  The rest of the world doesn't hate us because we put air force bases in their countries and sell their despotic rulers high-dollar weapons systems.   No, they despise us because we use half the world's resources and then try to tell people what a lousy deal we got out of life.   Folks from the third world struggle to come here - illegally - and wonder why we act so sad in the happiest place on earth.

This virus thing will pass - and there are already signs the infection rate is flattening and the death rate perhaps declining slightly.  I am still not sure how we are going to get from 11,000 to 100,000 or 250,000 deaths at this rate, unless people step up to the plate and stop social distancing (come on, people we can do this!).   At this rate, in two weeks - perhaps four - this whole thing could die down, as it has in China already.   The death rates in Spain and Italy are dropping as we speak.  This doesn't mean we should be overconfident, but a sign that this epidemic - like all others before it - is petering out.

But that's good news, and the media will have none of that - or if they have to report it, will qualify it as much as possible.  It is like this malaria medicine thing they have been trying to shout down.  Turns out, a lot of doctors are using it, with mixed results (no one ever said it was a cure-all or miracle drug, not even Trump!).   The media reports this, but again with the caveat, "This isn't proven!  The experts all say it isn't!"

And the funny thing, they are trying to anoint this one expert, because he disagrees with Trump, and although I am sure he is a really smart guy, he is a bureaucrat, not a practicing doctor actually seeing patients.  I hope I don't get this virus.  But if I did, I would hope I don't get the doctor who doesn't want to not try a medicine just to spite Trump.

Quashing hope seems to be the media's narrative - and that of many pols.