Tag Archives: philosophy

Peaceful image of a gorgeous beach.

More, on the Buttafuoco Point

Peaceful image of a gorgeous beach.

There were lots of neat replies to my previous post. There were so many good comments — not all of them positive — that I thought I’d elaborate:

I certainly have nothing against LeBron James, and I certainly don’t fault basketball fans for being interested in his announcement. You should be interested; following basketball is one of those things that gives you joy. It’s a favored pastime, it engages your intellect and your enthusiasm, and you like talking about this stuff with your friends.

I’m just as interested in news about the tech world (because that’s my job as well as a personal interest) and the comix world (because I’m simply a fan). I’m just as interested in news about Gail Simone’s next job or the poor bastard at Microsoft who greenlit the Kin as a basketball fan is in news about LeBron James’ next job. There’s nothing wrong with that; nothing at all.

The point is that there are certain stories — like “what’s LeBron’s next move?” — that somehow start off as news stories and become news products…and the electronic media sells (say) the Tiger Woods infidelity story just as competitively and aggressively as Coke and Pepsi sell colas. It’s something that news producers who work for TV and the Web have to struggle with. Viewer attention is both (a) fleeting and (b) very, very valuable. I think segment producers at CNN and FOX are just as sick of the latest Lindsay Lohan story as anybody else. But they know that if they don’t spend six minutes of every hour talking about it, viewers are going to turn to another channel that will.

Result: over-marketed stories that will follow you wherever you go for news.

There was a point when I simply became aware of how much time I was spending learning about stories that I had no interest in, and which couldn’t possibly influence my life in any way. I resented that I was being force-fed this useless information. If I wanted to watch a half-hour news program, I had to see three minutes of interviews with the judges at JonBenet Ramsey’s final beauty pageant and hear their opinions about how well she posed to “Achy-Breaky Heart.” That was the deal, it seemed.

The Buttafuoco shooting was the first time I sort of blinked hard and realized that I’m an idiot.

(Well, yes: I already knew I was an idiot, of course. Many people had been helpful enough to point that out to me. I just mean this was the first time I realized I was an idiot about this particular thing.)

As we so often do, I’d forgotten that (oh…right) I’m actually in control of my life. Instead of passively sitting through the next four minutes of speculation about Gary Coleman’s will, and complaining about how pointless it is, I could change the channel. It’s a pain in the butt, because the story’s only a few minutes’ long and the story after it might have been interesting and relevant to me. But it’s something that I can do.

Instead of thinking “I’m really not particularly interested in hearing about Mel Gibson’s latest Really Stupid Drunken Comment…but I’ve already read every other article in this copy of ‘People’, and the captain hasn’t said it’s OK for me to turn on my iPad yet,” I can choose to close the magazine and enjoy five minutes of peaceful thinking, without any distraction or visual stimulation.

The amount of background data noise that surrounds us has increased and intensified every year since the Buttafuoco Days. Can you remember a moment in the past 24 hours when you were completely free from outside stimulation? Is constant immersion in this kind of information like living under high-voltage power lines? Maybe we’ll have no idea of the damage this is doing to us until the damage becomes irreparable.

Redefine all of this unnecessary information as “distraction” and then ask yourself the question again. If you’re spending every waking moment distracting yourself…what are you distracting yourself from? What is your brain clamoring to tell you, if it were ever to get your full and complete attention?

An experiment: The next time you have a little time to kill and you instinctively go to your phone to launch your email client or your Twitter app or the web browser, launch the Clock app instead. Set a countdown timer for the amount of time you were going to spend in any of those activities (or ten minutes, whichever is shorter).

And then, put the phone in your pocket and do nothing until you hear the chime.

The thoughts that will come to you will probably be very surprising. Often, it’ll include thoughts that have been clamoring for your attention for days. And I’m not talking about reminders to pick up your dry cleaning, either.

I openly admit that when I was a lad and first I defined the Buttafuoco Point, it was a somewhat smug response to the inundation of needless media and noise. But at this point, I think of it as one of the most valuable user-installed upgrades to my life software.

I benefit far more from three minutes spent listening to my ceiling fan with my eyes closed than I do from the same amount of time spent reading about Lindsay Lohan’s dad’s reaction to her prison sentence.

Q&A: “Is Mankind Inherently Good Or Evil?”

Q: Is Mankind’s basic nature to be good, or evil?

A: If those are the only two choices, then “good,” definitely.

I sense a disturbance in the Force which corresponds to thousands of voices crying out with information…information that they can barely recall, from a single college Philosophy course that they barely passed. Blah blah blah Hegel blah blah blah Kant, etc.

Philosophers! Morons. All of them. Except of course for the once who have tenured positions with prestigious universities. Now that’s a sweet, sweet scam worthy of a Corleone.

And save your “But are you a good person because that’s Man’s nature, or merely because you fear the repercussions that come from breaking the law?” This comment only demeans you. Plus, it doesn’t address the question. The question isn’t “Am I, Andy Ihnatko, good or evil?” — I suppose I shouldn’t comment publicly on that one, due to pending litigation — but “Is Mankind?

Here it is: as a species, we have consistently voted for Good over the course of the last, what, 40,000 years or so. Witness the bulk of human society today. Overwhelmingly, communities (call them governments, call them tribes, call them nations) are based on observance of the basic principle of acknowledging other people’s rights and freedoms.

So yes, if someone sees me fiddling with a 160 gigabyte iPod Classic on the subway, thinks “This treasure can be mine with a simple investment of a little bit of pushing and a little bit of running away very fast,” but notes the presence of a police officer nearby and does nothing, that’s a point in favor of an evil nature held in check only by threat of punishment. But the fact that there are laws against theft and multiple bureaucracies to prosecute and incarcerate those who aren’t on board with that means that Society, as a whole, trends towards basic goodness.

I mean, we take this sort of thing for granted. If Humanity were evil, we’d take for granted that any property of any kind was simply up for grabs, and if you like your wealth or possessions, you’d better be prepared to defend them with force.

Notable exceptions abound — viz civil warfare in the Congo and banks that charge its own customers a fee for withdrawing their own money — but clearly, all empirical evidence proves that regardless of the generation or the locality, humanity’s basic nature is Good, not Evil.

That’s completely settled. Let’s hear no more of this.