Psychological Swearing and other maladies of the human condition


1) Swearing.  I used to wonder what it would be like to swear like an adult when I was younger.  Their ferocity fascinated me.  Their anger! had such punctuation.  Their sense of regret and sadness were palpable.  Everyone took them so seriously, and I was seen as a little kid.  I couldn’t get my emotions across.  It was a source of great frustration for me.  I saw adults in movies sweep everything off their desk to convey ultimate frustration, and I saw them stare into a mirror for thirty seconds before punching it, but in my inner circle of adults it was swearing that caused one adult to take another adult seriously when they were trying to convey emotion.  Swearing had great punctuation.  I knew I could punch people to get them to understand I was mad at them, but that usually prompted them to punch me back, and I didn’t care for getting punched when I could avoid it.  I knew I could cry to convey my sadness, but I’m a boy, and boys don’t cry.  Boys used different swear words, boy swear words, to convey sadness.  I knew I could raise my voice to convey excitement, and I did when I said something was great! but most people didn’t latch onto that excitement and try what I was telling them to try.  I realized that if anyone was going to take me seriously, I was going to have to start cussing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to start cussing, it was that I was bad at it.  I didn’t have the timing aspect of it down, and my inflection was horrible.

I learned timing first.  I learned that there were occasions when group think purveyors considered it mandatory and acceptable to swear, but there were also times when restraint was necessary.   Cussing too much drained the power of the words, and it made one look like they were trying too hard.  Restraint was the key, but even using the words sparingly didn’t help me comprehensively.  I still lacked inflection.  I sounded awkward.  I learned timing, and I learned how to place provocative words before and after sentiments to get people shocked, but due to my inflections few people took me seriously long term.  The inflections came last, but they finally came, and I entered into that adult world of conveyance.  I was shocking and provocative, and people began to take me seriously emotionally, and I found that pleasing.  If I had a rough day, or someone was giving me the business, I could throw out a swear word, and everyone would back up and raise their eyebrows.  They finally knew that I was someone to take seriously.  What a glorious day that was!  Everyone knew I was a person who used swear words adeptly!  I was accepted into the club!  To maintain membership, I swore all the time.  I swore when I was sad, I swore when I was happy, and of course when I was mad and fed up.  I was conveying emotion with a degree of ferocity that could be felt.  A funny thing happened to me at one point in my swearing career, I began overusing the words.  I drained them of their emotional impact through overuse, and I ended up right back at square one.  I was unable to convey emotion in a proper manner, because I was swearing too much, using too many of the designed shortcuts, and no one was taking me seriously anymore.  When I wanted to convey emotion at times when group think purveyors considered it inappropriate and unacceptable to swear I couldn’t think of any appropriate and acceptable words to use.  It was then that I came to the conclusion that most adults have as much trouble conveying emotion as kids do.  They just use swear words to camouflage that struggle.

2) Girl Crazy. “The charms of the passing woman are generally in direct proportion to the swiftness of her passing. –Marcel Proust.

When I was young, and I was very very young, I had this notion that every girl was attracted to me. All I had to do was catch their eye and hold it, and they would be mine on a temporary basis.  It didn’t matter how gorgeous they were, I could captivate them with one powerful stare.  When I got older, I had this notion that no girl was attracted to me.  Now that I’ve met that person that I wanted to meet my whole life, I no longer care who is attracted to me, and I can look back on this cognitive dissonance with some perspective.  Women like men that are attracted to them. They like to be wanted, even if they never cash in on the desire to be wanted, they like to be liked.  So, when I had the notion that a woman was attracted to me, I was actually attracting them with the notion that I was attracted to them.

3) Assigning Characteristics to Animals. Movies, both cartoon and otherwise, depict a dog listening to a conversation and reacting in a manner that suggest they understand more than key words and tones.  Some of us think this is cute and funny.  Some of us think they truly understand.  The cartoonish dogs hide their head when their owner says something stupid, and we laugh.  They scurry from the room when the bad guy suggests that they would make for an excellent dinner.  We laugh.  It sinks in with repetitive messaging.  Why wouldn’t Rover understand what we’re saying? We underestimate animals all the time. Look at what science is uncovering every day about the intelligence of these animals, why would it be so impossible to believe that they can understand us?  It’s not impossible to think that they understand us to a degree, but degrees are the key.  Dogs understand key words, and they understand tone.  Those who believe they understand more than that are trying too hard to understand their pets.  They’re trying to bond with their pets, and they believe their pets understand more than they actually do to bond with them, so they assign a degree of intelligence to these canines to have a better relationship with them.  It is the same mind set we bring to trying to understand infants and small children.  This is more credible, of course, as small children do have a greater capacity to understand language, but they do not understand high-minded, philosophical concepts such as morality.  Some psychologists have stated that young minds don’t have a complete grasp of the ramifications of their actions until they’re about eighteen years old, but we’ve told them and told them, and they still don’t grasp it.  This is due to the fact that their brains are not complex enough to understand these concepts.  As hard as it is for some of us to grasp the complex concept that animals and children don’t understand complex concepts, it actually says more about us that we think that they do than it does whether they do or not.  The question I have is am I onto something here, or do entertainment honchos know that we simply regard this all as entertainment and nothing more?

4) Misunderstood. “Everything great in the world comes from Neurotics. They alone have founded our religion and composed our masterpieces.” –Marcel Proust

I feel that I’m not understood, and I don’t understand that. I speak so clearly that a monkey should be able to understand me, but the humans around me listen to me with their own agenda so often that they do not take the time to understand mine.  Or am I a blowhard that is so ignorant of the various agendas around me that if I took a little time to understand them, they would take the time to understand me?

5) The Dark Days. “Happiness is beneficial for the body but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.” –Marcel Proust

There are dark days that overwhelm me. Nothing I think, or write, can overshadow these days. These are the ‘all hope is lost’ days when I am so depressed about what is going on in the world philosophically, that I can think of nothing that will supersede it. These are the days when I realize that the world holds views so different than mine that it feels pointless to continue pounding my keyboard.  No one is listening.  No one is watching. No one is reading.  No one knows what’s going on. They all think in terms of their insular world, and they can’t see the greater whole. I look back on all the days I spent screaming from rooftops, and I realize I may have just as well have been shouting into a well. It all seems so pointless on these days that I can think of nothing funny, interesting, or enlightening to say or write. I just want to sit and sulk over the proceedings and realize that I have as little power as anyone else does to affect change. All hope is lost. It’s pointless. I don’t think I’m as important as everyone else thinks they are, so I end up cloistered by my own opinion and therefore invalid in the grand scheme of things.

6) Bring the Magic.  “Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.” –Marcel Proust.

Is it possible for a painting to affect our feelings of relevance?  What about music, have you ever listened to a song and felt alone?  Have you ever been scared by a series of words in a book?  It’s the only form of magic I believe in.  Some of the times, we bring the magic to a piece, some of the times the piece brings magic to us, and some of the times we invent magic that isn’t otherwise there.

I sat in a theater once, one among many, and I horrified myself.  The setting of the movie was one I knew, the characters were familiar to me, and I knew the plot from my own imagination. Goosebumps riddled my skin, my eyes were popped wide, and I wanted this movie to end well.  This is unusual for me, because I normally loathe happy endings.  I see them as unrealistic, cliché, and anti-climactic. When I’m truly horrified, however, I want peace in the valley.

I have a friend who never brings the magic.  The onus is on the artist to bring him enjoyment.  He doesn’t understand magic.

There have also been magicians that stole my magic.  These artists insist on telling me that my artistic interpretation was nowhere near what they had in mind.  How dare they steal my magic?  These magicians have reached a place in their career where they are so accustomed to people enjoying their work that they take it for granted, and they want to define it for us, so that their work properly represents their worldview.  They don’t belong in a world of magic.

It is possible, however, to bring too much magic. Yoko Ono created a work (that’s all I will call it) that was done on a large, white canvas.  It was what she called a ceiling painting.  The canvas was glaringly white and glaringly blank, except for one little word “Yes” painted up in the corner.  The canvas was so large, and the word “Yes” so small that the observer needed a ladder to get to it, and a magnifying glass to see it.  John Lennon later claimed this was one of the reasons he fell in love with Yoko Ono. He claimed that after seeing the piece, he had to know the author of the piece, and he had to meet her to see if she followed his ethic in life.  He wanted to find that one “Yes” person in a glaringly blank world of no.

If you don’t “get” a work of art like this, there’s something wrong with you.  You’re in the world of no, and you’re close-minded to the world of yes.  You’re not smart enough, artistic enough, or hip enough to interpret the insular world of yes.  If you look at this piece as a huge waste of canvas, that’s on you brotha.  You don’t understand the psychological power or the sociological ramification of the grand minimalist approach in such a statement.  Most of us know that art is a term that can be loosely applied to a number of works, but we all have limits.  We all want artists to perform individual interpretations of the world, but we also think that there should be some sweat involved.  Writing a word on a canvas in this manner could be called juvenile, posh and elitist, and something an insecure, high-minded, high-browed college art student would do to complete an assignment by the deadline.  A really devious college student could then add in all the interpretations later, and slip his buddy a high five when the teacher fell for it.  For this to be considered a seminal work by a seminal artist, on the other hand defies credulity, but as they say beauty, like art, is in the eyes of the beholder.

“It was beautiful,” Lennon said of the work.  He got it.   You didn’t, and we all know a number of people who get a lot of mileage out of that mindset.  His interpretation was egotistical and insular.  It could be said that that is what artistic interpretation is, but some of the times we bring too much magic to our interpretation.  Some of the times we bring more than the pieces actually contain.

7) God and Philosophy. I believe in God, and I am sympathetic to those who want to worship Him in a relative manner, but God should have little place in philosophy. Philosophy is the study of the human mind. Philosophers take their observations, and knowledge, of man and spread it out to the masses. They help us understand who we are and why we do the things we do, and in their interpretations of man are many answers to the problems we face if we understand how the human mind works a little better. To say that we should turn to God for all that ails us is, to my mind, a violation of the “God helps those who help themselves” principle. A philosopher should be forced, in his study of general and fundamental problems, to locate an answer that is entirely secular. Everyone has a relative understanding of God, and I understand their need to seek his guidance in matters great and small, but to my mind God placed us on this Earth to fend for ourselves, and our greatest philosophical minds shouldn’t rely on God to provide the answers to human frailty any more than we should.

8) Bullying and inner-strength. “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” –Marcel Proust.

Have you ever met a guy who was never bullied? They’re out there, and they’re usually soft. They have no precedent in their lives. When someone lays into them, they can’t look back at the high school bully and say this particular person laying into them now is not as bad as that bully. They can’t recall a day when they had to fight their way out of a particular corner. They have no mechanism with which to continue the fight of their lives for the rest of their lives. They never had to face the reality that they’re alone in a fight, and they never had to deal with the fact that if they didn’t do something the endless abuse would continue. Your parents can advise you, and in some ill-advised circumstances they can step in and assist you in this fight.  Most friends will abandon you on these occasions.  They may put forth a “Leave the guy alone,” but that usually leads to you having a weaker perception of yourself and increased bullying.  Most friends won’t want to implicated with the names you’re being called, or the degradation that you’re suffering.  They’ll usually take their seat with the rest of the spectators and enjoy the show.  It’s not that they’re evil or negligent in their duties as a friend.  It’s just that they’re insecure individuals who don’t want any part of your pain.  They probably have enough of their own to deal with, and this is especially the case in high school where insecurities are rampant.  When you’re bullied, and I’m not talking about the occasional pot shots that are delivered on a daily basis, but really bullied to the point where you don’t want to go to school the next day, you’re on your own.  You’re on an island with nothing but your own devices.  As Proust says, no one can truly spare you the humiliation of these fights, but you will be wiser, stronger, and mightier for having successfully fought them alone.

9) Argument for pot legalization.  If you bring up the fiscal problems experienced in California and elsewhere, you’re sure to hear a myriad of creative solutions.  One of the most popular out there right now is the legalization of marijuana.  “If we legalized it, and taxed it, the revenue we receive could balance a budget.”  It is possible.  I’m not saying it’s not, but my question is how long would it take to accomplish this goal?  How many balanced budgets would be achieved before the representatives began reallocating that money?  All of these creative measures are band aids to the true problem: spending.  It’s our fault.  We voted these guys in.  They appealed to us by promising record levels of spending, and we continue to require that they spend more.  Bottom line: All of these creative measures may bring more revenue to the government, but if these government representatives received increased revenue, they would simply spend more.  There seems to be no end in sight to this cycle for the moment.  We need a catastrophe.  Legislators don’t usually change their ways without a catastropohe that touches the lives of enough voters to make a difference in how its broadcast to the world.  Even then, they usually find their favorite band aid that allows them to keep doing what they want to do.  We’re in whatever situation we’re in, because it favors those who put us there.

10) Purchasing an identity.  We have too much time on our hands. We have too much disposable income. We have no disasters to worry about. We are so bored. We need a trinket that is backed by a successful marketing campaign to complete us. It’s a nothing nothing, but it’s something we need.  We need something to have, but what do we have to have?  We don’t know.  We’re told in some creative manner that affects what we think of our completion what we have to have, and we fall for it, because  we’re impulsive. We’re bored. We’re insecure.  We’re searching for something to complete us. This one product could make life so much easier. We could be one of the crowd and better than the Johnstons, but at least we’d have something to talking about. We like to talk about the products we purchase and how our products are better than yours.  It shows we know a little something something about the nothing nothing products we purchase. We’re finally complete, until the product runs its course and loses all tangible value to us, and it is a staple in the corner of our storage closet with all the other products that used to do something for us, until they grow so abundant that we need to buy a storage unit to house all of the products that used to complete us.  We can’t throw those products away, because we may fall back a stage if we do.

11) Our interest in the joneses.  We’re disinterested in most people.  We claim to be interested in them.  We detail for others who know them what we know.  Then when we have that narrative validated, we move on.  A friend of mine, we’ll call her Renee, wants to keep up on a girl we’ll call Shelly.  Renee details all that she knows of Shelley’s life.  Then she says: “Is that where she’s at right now at this point in her life?”  Another responds that that is correct.  The thing is if Shelley was at the reunion that just ended, Renee would have virtually no interest in speaking with Shelley.  We all have these little gatherings to help us keep up on each other’s lives, but we’re all usually interested only in those things that have occurred with us and those in our inner circle.  We constantly evaluate those of us around us to determine if there is something interesting in their lives, and we usually determine that there isn’t.  We usually live most of our lives in varying degrees of disinterest to the lives around us.

The Mythology of You


“Who are you? Who Who? Who Who?” –Pete Townshend of The Who.

Has anyone ever told you a lie? Have you ever told a lie? When we lie, most of us don’t tell whoppers. We fib. We exaggerate. We tell meaningless lies that don’t harm anyone, but lies are lies, and they have a way of piling up. When the lies of other begin to pile up, we feel compelled to confront them and set the record straight, and we gather other friends to corroborate the truth, as we know it. We then receive a look from the liar that informs us that they’re shocked at the details we’ve gathered. Our purpose was to confront the liar after their lying reached a point where we could no longer tolerate it, but at some point it dawned on us that they didn’t intend to lie, and this is made all the more evident when the confrontation is over, and they continue to lie, fib, and exaggerate.

Why do we lie is a question I asked myself, especially when some of the lies are so obvious and easy to refute. When someone tells me an obvious lie, I feel trapped. Should I out them on the spot, thus informing them that they shouldn’t try this anymore, or will I feel worse than they should for telling the lie. Some lie so often that I can’t help but think they’re trying to make me feel guilty for knowing the truth.

My personal research, conducted through extensive reading on this fascinating subject, coupled with revelatory, related experiences, has led me to believe that most liars are not intentionally deceiving their audience. They may have been exaggerating a truth to cast themselves in the best light possible, but their intent was to create a better result for themselves. Their intent was not to deceive anyone. At some point, between the event in question and their exaggerated account of what happened , they created a truth that they believed. What’s the difference? I didn’t think there was one, until I began delving into the psychology of “misremembering” that some psychologists equate to the problems inherent in eyewitness testimony.

We all seek comfort in a world of truth, but we also manufacture a world of delusions for greater comfort. The difference between the two causes equal confusion for both parties.

Most of us don’t care for our narrow definition of reality, so we’ve come up with a number of definitions that suit us better. This is our mythology, and if we have enough belief in it, we might be able to sell it to others so often that we begin to believe it too.

The Protons and Neutrons 

To make this complex algorithm understandable, let’s put the discussion to a visual display, the model of the atom. The protons and the neutrons, in this model represent the reality of who we are. The protons and the neutrons contain the positive and negative experiences we’ve had and the “in the moment” reactions to those experiences. This is a very limited, and limiting, definition of who we are, and we’re often so unhappy with our reality that we would rather not focus on it. We’ve all made mistakes, and those mistakes have shaped us, but most of us maintain a certain degree of mental health by focusing on the orbital region that exists outside the nucleus.

The Electrons 

In the orbital regions that exist outside the nucleus are the mythologies we have of who we are. This orbital region contains electrons that are the ideas we have about who we are and who we could be. The electrons are the illusions and delusions we have of ourselves, and the potential we believe we have to accomplish great things. Every electron in this region perpetuates this mythology. The lies we tell ourselves are not whoppers, for we would have as much trouble buying into those lies as anyone else. The lies we tell ourselves often have a semblance of truth to them, and we connect the dots after that. The lies can be negative, if we’re seeking sympathy, but they’re often positive electrons that we use to shape how others view us, and how we hope others view us.

The lies we tell ourselves may be unconscious measures employed to stave off the depression that we might fall into if we allowed the protons and neutrons of our reality to overwhelm us. The unconscious measures we use can be interpretations of misdeeds that we employ to maintain the idea that we are good people regardless what we’ve done.

Walk through any penitentiary, and you’ll hear a number of qualifiers and excuses for the things these men and women have done. Are the inmates lying in the truest sense of the word? Ninety percent of them may be, but that is the obvious answer. The less than obvious answer goes to what we might consider a more comprehensive explanation. If the state convicted this criminal with an airtight case, why would they continue to lie to the person who can recite the numerous elements of their conviction? They might want you to believe they’re not bad people, but it’s far more important to them that they convince themselves of their virtues. If they are unable to do so, their guilt might lead them to think that their life is not worth living.

Among the most pervasive electrons we have, floating around in our orbital region, contain the beliefs we have in our own potential. There’s nothing wrong with believing we have potential, of course, until that belief supersedes our desire to do anything about it. For some, the belief in their potential is the reason they wake up in the morning with a smile, ready to greet a new day, but acting on that belief might result in failure and a comprehensive diminishment of one’s belief in themselves. Acting on that belief may also reveal to others that we’re not as capable as we once thought. To thwart that we enjoy reveling in the mythology we create for ourselves.

The Cheaters 

Most of us are honest with whom we are, but we do cheat. When we go out on a first date, or a business luncheon, we may tip a service industry worker a little more than we would have if we were alone. It’s a white lie, that doesn’t harm anyone, and it may bolster our perception, but is it possible that we’re making an investment in our mythology for others to see, and if we do it often enough, it becomes true on a certain level. If we lay that tip on the table, to paraphrase Babe Ruth, it ain’t lying. We done it. It’s only a lie, if we don’t believe it. If we believe it, it can be an investment in our mythology.

Our culture forces celebrities to engage in this lie whenever they go out. Those who stand to prosper from the mythologies of the celebrity encourage them to lay a huge tip on a table, but no one stands to prosper more from a positive mythology than the celebrity does, so their tips are often extravagant enough to make an impression. An inadequate tip could do damage to the mythology they’ve worked so hard to create after all, and if the mythology is real, who’s to say the perception isn’t?

Some of us begin to cheat by building mythologies so often that we can no longer see through the cloud we’ve created, and when this happens we may need professional psychiatric, or psychological, help when something goes wrong. We’ve cheated so often, and created so many mythologies, that we can’t achieve enough objectivity to see our way through a problem. We need to pay someone to let us talk about our past. We need someone cold-hearted to stop us in the middle of our tale and say that some of the details we’ve added are not true. Their cold-hearted nature might shock us, but if we strive for mental health, we’ll drop the façade and work from the new premise. We’ll recognize that those around us have enabled us to live certain lies, because they don’t want to be so cold-hearted. We’ll also recognize that these professionals are doing their best to help us achieve some sort of clarification about who we are and why we do what we do. We can’t work through this cloud ourselves anymore, because we’ve loaded our minds with such positive clutter that we can’t see through to the truth of our existence anymore. We thought we were somewhat happy, yet we were also very unhappy, and we were left with a feeling that life isn’t as fulfilling as it was when we thought we had it all figured out.

Publicity and Charity 

“I live every day trying to convince others of the lies I tell them,” a friend of mine said in jest. One of the primary lies we tell ourselves is that we’re wonderful people, and we’ll take any and every opportunity to prove it. A wonderful person is someone who does things for the sole purpose of attaining a wonderful perception, as opposed to one who actually does wonderful things. A wonderful person might perform certain actions for the publicity it gains them, but truly wonderful people do what they do to help others.

“You’re doing this for yourself,” a sick man, lying on a deathbed, says to a female that is caressing his hands and whispering sweet nothings to him. This crass and heartless man should enjoy the comfort the woman provides, but the greater question is was he calling her out for being a wonderful person as opposed to one who did a wonderful thing? What will she do in the moments that follow his death? Will she tell people about it, or was this a truly selfless act by the woman. Who cares, some would say, as long as she did it.

We have wonderful memories of our school days. We remember running and playing on the playground. We remember some of the studying we did, and some of the questions we answered in class, but for the most part, we choose to remember the fun we had, and some of the aspects that led to our current maturity in life. Those weren’t the only events that occurred in our lives, of course. If we dig back, with professional assistance, we may learn that those days weren’t as great as we remember them, but our selective memory has made us who we are today, so why do we bother with all of those awful memories?

“I had a wonderful childhood, which is tough because it’s hard to adjust to a miserable adulthood.” –Larry David

As we age, we experience the lot life has to offer, and after a while we begin to think we have a decent grasp on who we are based on those experiences. When we select those character-defining moments in our lives, however, which memories are we selecting? Are we selecting protons and neutrons, or electron memories, and what do those selections end up saying about us? Most studies state that for our mental well-being, we often choose positive life experiences to define who we are. If we stumble upon a negative experience, as noted, we find a way to rewrite that memory in a manner to make us appear better than we might have otherwise been in that particular situation. We’ll also qualify that negative experience in a manner that excuses us from the worst part of our involvement in those instances. The memory selection, coupled with harmless delusions that accompany them, form the mythology of who we are, but what if, to paraphrase my friend, we live every day trying to convince others of the lies we tell them that we end up convincing ourselves of these lies, and what if this effort results in us becoming better people? Would it matter if we based this eventuality on a big lie, or a series of meaningless, little delusions? I believe wholeheartedly in the philosophical axiom “Know Thyself”, and I pride myself on being as brutally honest with myself as I can possibly be, but I know that doesn’t work for everyone. The natural reaction one could have to those that live a life diametrically opposed to that effort is, “Who cares how or why they got there they’re living a lie.” That might be true in some cases, relative to the scale of the lies, but what kind of person would they be if they strove to live a more honest life?

The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes


“One of the worst things a person can be,” purveyors of social commentary say in various ways, “is a consumer, and I say this in the most condescending manner possible.”

Such statements often receive wild applause and raucous laughter from esoteric, refined consumers in the audience, spurning them against buying products. An overwhelming majority probably considers such statements brave and bold, but they don’t consider the idea that the condemnation is direct at them too. No one, in such an audience, would stand up and say, “Hey, I’m a consumer. How dare you crack on my people?” These people picture a consumer they know, some poor sap who actually purchases consumable products. They know the truth, of course, but they define themselves against a marker of exaggerated contrast, and they’re often not objective enough to understand that authors of such quotes intend to include everyone but the author.

“What is the difference between consumers who deign to purchase consumable products sold at McDonald’s and those sold at the local mom-and-pop shop?” I would love to ask this of such authors. The answer, of course, would be that one while one may be a consumer, the other is a consumer, and we are to pronounce the latter in the most condescending manner possible. This distinction became clear to me when I informed some friends of mine that blind taste tests showed that McDonald’s coffee tested as high as the coffee found in some of the small mom and pop coffee shops the more erudite attend.

“Pshaw!” my friends responded, albeit not with that word exactly. They opted for more refined and somewhat polite (see condescending) words, but the message of that response was that they are more cultured than those involved in blind taste tests, more posh and eclectic. They eat sushi and Thai, after all, and they broaden their minds by listening to exotic podcasts and watching obscure documentaries.

I confessed that I couldn’t taste the difference between the beans, and most of the products I consume would be more at home on a 1950s table, before the research on food taught us what we now know. I confessed that I enjoy some broadcast television and I enjoy reading mainstream books sometimes. I may as well have admitted to being a Neanderthal.

These people are coffee aficionados. They enjoy exotic coffee beans exclusive to urban coffee shops that I’ve never attended. Their homes come equipped with exotic coffee makers that require minimal mixing times, gentle air pressure pushes, and low brewing times for professional cuppers and true coffee connoisseurs. I am not welcome in this world.

That world involves community venues (see coffee shops in the Neanderthal’s lexicon) with artistic geniuses throwing brilliant ideas at one another under exotic Matisse paintings, all while learning to love various styles of coffee beans that are beyond me. Some of the community venue customers have goatees, and others have cornrows and dreadlocks, but they are all very Euro. They also feel a little sorry for bourgeoisie like me, who know little beyond the pleasures of a mundane McDonald’s cuppajo. “Pshaw,” they say, but they would never actually say pshaw, as I mentioned, for elitists say, “Pshaw,” and they abhor elitists.

They feel at ease when bracketed, alongside fine wine drinkers. They eat Foie Gras, black pudding, and organic foods. The posh, eclectic types don’t eat caviar anymore, beluga or otherwise. “Caviar is a product consumed by consumers with wealth,” they say in the most condescending manner possible. Their condescending caricature of consumers with wealth mirror those found in episodes of Scooby Doo, Captain Planet, and Gilligan’s Island. Caviar doesn’t provide prestige in community venues. Foie Gras is the new caviar.

“But blind taste tests conducted by various institutions, including Consumer Reports and other online Canadian websites found that McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee tested better than the products sold at Starbucks or Tim Horton’s[1],” I told my friends.

This didn’t shock them, as they heard tell of similar blind tests done with similar products, but that never led them to question their beliefs. They were confident that their tastes were more refined than Americans’ taste. (A phrase to read in the most condescending manner possible).

They answered my follow-up clarification with, “Oh, no!” and a titter almost leaked out in reaction to my lack of knowledge. That condescending titter may have made it out of the less refined. It was obvious to all of us that I knew nothing of coffee, and they appeared to be a little embarrassed on my behalf, for being so clueless to attempt to step foot onto their home turf.

“We don’t like Starbucks,” they said, “And we’ve never heard of this Tim Horton’s.” 

They missed the general point I was trying to make, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the magazines performed specific blind taste tests on their specific brand of coffee. They would continue to consider themselves exceptions to the rule. They are posh and eclectic. I couldn’t know to whom I was talking when I was talking to them. No one could.

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In his book, You are Not so Smart, author David McRaney cites such blind with professional wine sippers. The tests incorporated cheap wines as well as expensive, exotic wine, and the goal was to see if the connoisseurs could tell the difference. The results were quite shocking. Not only did they exhibit an inability to discern between the chintzy and the pricey, but the brain scans of the professionals also revealed that they were not lying when they stated their preferences. Their brains actually altered with excitement when they drank the more expensive wine. One particular test asked controllers to place the same wine in two different bottles. They informed the professional sippers that the wine in Bottle A was expensive and exotic, while Bottle B contained a bargain brand. The subjects’ brain scans lit up in response to the contents detailed in Bottle A, allowing the conclusion that the professional sippers grew more excited by the expectation of sipping something more expensive.[2]

Elevated expectations, in other words, are not limited to Pepsi drinkers, domestic beer drinkers, or those consumable products developed by corporations that spend billions on marketing to achieve brand name recognition. Some just prefer imported beer, expensive wine, and Colombian coffee. These allegedly high-end products define them in a manner they find pleasing, but we’re all products of marketing, packaging, and environment. Expectation might also lead us to believe a product can redefine us.

“Have you tried the latest lager from Djibouti?” Gucci asks Dior. “You simply must! It exhibits an exceptional respect for the ancient art of brewing. It is a highly fermented lager with a light malt, corn, water, hops and a yeast that gives it a bright, golden hue with dazzling reflections.” When Gucci concludes his exotic narrative, Dior must have it. Is Dior so excited to try it because Gucci’s narrative elevated his expectation? Maybe, but he also wants the aura and the identity inherent to drinkers of lager from an exotic sounding place like Djibouti. He wants that prestige, coated on his epidermis for the attendees of the next party he attends to see. The fact that those who have even heard of Djibouti could not spot it on a map makes its lager even more alluring. Even if Dior doesn’t know anything about Djibouti either, what’s a little pregnant pause between friends?

These types wouldn’t be caught dead sipping a McCafé drink, as those consumers who prefer a community venue that offers exotic coffee beans with exotic flavors for the exotic mind would define drinking that as consumerism in the most condescending manner possible. If they entered a community venue that offered an exotic coffee bean, and they saw paintings of cartoon clowns on the walls, my friends would consider the bean it produced inferior. If, on the other hand, that same venue had Matisse paintings on display and all the consumers donned goatees and dreadlocks, I’m quite sure they would be sipping on that same bean with a satisfied smile.

The advertisements for such products might not show sports heroes clinking glasses or horses kicking field goals, but that’s not who they want to be anyway. As they pass by their local McDonald’s, en route to the community coffeehouse that offers an environment more suited to someone with esoteric and refined taste, they scoff at American consumers who are susceptible to such blatant marketing. They do this without recognizing that the stratified American marketplace appeals to consumers and consumers.

If an individual attempts to open a McDonald’s franchise, the franchise adviser will inform them that all McDonald’s franchises must be X number of miles from the next nearest McDonald’s location. They base this notion on the fact that the marketplace cannot sustain two such facilities too close together. Those in charge of mapping out franchise locations would inform a potential franchisee that the optimal location would consist of no fast food restaurants within X miles of the franchisee’s desired location, but with the ubiquitous nature of fast food restaurants they concede that  is becoming a logistic impossibility. If that franchisee wants to open a McDonald’s right next to a community venue, however, the franchise locator will inform them that this is much more feasible, as they appeal to such different demographics. The point is that those who believe they are not susceptible to the crass marketing schemes employed by the famous Golden Arches franchise may be right, but those marketing schemes are too immediate for Foie Gras eaters. They prefer a more subtle marketing scheme that appeals to quieter sensibilities, an environment tailored to their personality, and a presentation that speaks volumes with no slogans. They are different from consumers, but they are really just another link in the chain of this huge, monolithic beast we all call capitalism.

There may be a difference between the taste of the exotic Kopi Luwak bean and the beans used in McDonald’s coffee, but most don’t know the difference, at least not to the degree that they can tell in a blind taste test. That may be an exaggeration of the extreme. Perhaps the Kopi Luwak coffee berry that passes through the digestive system of the Peruvian Civet Palm Cat, and is then picked out of that cat’s dung, is so refined that there is a discernible difference between that and McDonald’s coffee. On a linear scale (say Starbucks) McDonald’s coffee proves comparable in blind taste tests, if not superior.

Even if I presented this information in conjunction with the tests that suggest McDonald’s provides a superior cup of coffee, I’m sure these friends would pshaw me. Whether or not they’ve ever tried a selection on the McCafé menu, they would know it to be an inferior product. Their pshaw would contain elements of the messenger within a message, for they would assume that it was Americans who were involved in those blind taste tests, and those Americans were likely truck drivers and church goers from a place like Iowa. They would know that everyone they know knows better. They know I know little about coffee, and they know I have no idea to whom I’m talking when I’m talking to them.

I prefer to think I’m not one of these people. I prefer to think I’ve made conscientious choices that have made me a Bud man and a Pepsi drinker, based on the flavor of those drinks. I understand that the feds prohibited Budweiser and all alcohol producers from visually representing humans consuming alcohol in their TV commercials. In reaction to this prohibition, marketers of such products began selling a lifestyle to those who might consume their products. We all watched those commercials, and we even enjoyed a few of them. Some of us might have unconsciously selected our brand based on the lifestyle those commercials projected, but did we enjoy the products more because we enjoyed the affiliation? My friends would pshaw at such reflection, for they know who they are. They know they’ve made conscientious choices in the products they’ve decided to consume, but the fundamental question remains: Are we buying products based on flavor, discerning tastes based on trial and error, or a level of refinement we gather with experience and age. Or, are we all susceptible to the purported lifestyle the marketing arms sell to consumers and consumersWhen we begin to purchase a product to a point that we establish some level of brand loyalty, are we making the statement that we are informed consumers who choose one product over another based on our refined individual tastes, or are we attempting to purchase a lifestyle that some part of us knows we’ll never achieve, until we purchase it so often that we do?

[1]https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/food-trends/mcdonalds-tim-hortons-who-makes-the-best-brew/article4183891/

[2]McRaney, David. November, 2011. You Are Not So Smart. New York, New York. Penguin Group (USA) Inc.