Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

November 20th, 2011:

Chief Rabbi for the iJump

It comes to a pretty pass when one of our normally saner religious leaders spouts drivel like this. It is almost unfiskable nonsense but once more unto the breach!

Lord Sacks said that advertising only made shoppers aware of what they did not own, rather than feeling grateful for what they have.

Yeah, now I think about it that’s the attitude that caused my career in advertising copy-writing to fail dismally! I think it was the strap-line, “Do you really need any more crap in your house?” that resulted in me being asked to clear my desk.

But advertising goes back millennia. Lord Sacks (a highly educated man*) is falling into the disturbingly common-place bear-trap that “consumerism” is both bad and new. I mean I like having a fast PC in much the same way chaps in Assyria three thousand years ago showed off their chariots. “What you drivin’ mate?” “Finest Babylonian, my friend! Just feel those sandalwood inserts” or “Well, we’re looking at a bit of a Core i5 Sandybridge jacked to 4.8GHz”.

I said falling. Let’s see how far he goes. I must warn you it’s a long way down…

He insisted that a culture in which people cared solely about themselves and their possessions could not last long, and that only faith and spending time with family could bring true happiness.

Well, I guess it depends on your family! If it’s the Manson “family” then I’d say “No!” but that’s a cheap shot from me and it’s Lord Sacks’s cheap shots I’m concerned with here. In that spirit I shall gloss-over his boiler-plate conception that atheists can’t really be happy and indeed rather than seek “true” faith-based joy waste themselves “merely having fun”. Anyway, who the hell is Lord Sacks to lecture us on the meaning of happiness? That is very personal. My co-conspirator here RAB is a keen golfer. I have no interest in the game. To paraphrase ‘Life of Brian’, We’re all individuals. Another co-conspirator, Paul, likes coffee and I can’t stand the beverage. These may seem “trivial” tastes but these are the things that truly grant us the greatest dignity – individuality. At a more “serious” level what does he mean by “family”? I don’t have kids (Mr William Gruff is queer) and feel no need to sprog so am I lesser because I’ve never, “Been to crying for unborn children who might have made me complete”. And yes, I do have a weakness for such torch songs. Changing shitty nappies and paying for a college education – less so.

The Chief Rabbi’s comments are likely to raise eyebrows because he singled out for blame Jobs – the co-founder of Apple who died last month – by likening his iPad tablet computers to the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses.

You what! I’m trying to figure out who might find that offensive and keep coming-up with the phrase, “almost everyone”. I mean, apart from anything else, it’s generally considered unsporting to kick a man when he’s down but to kick a man who died recently and to do that in the context of a moral homily is… Well, what’s the Yiddish for chutzpah?**

Speaking at an interfaith reception attended by the Queen this week, Lord Sacks said: “People are looking for values other than the values of a consumer society. The values of a consumer society really aren’t ones you can live by for terribly long.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. An “Interfaith” anything is patronizing drivel. It is the belief that unless it was for the likes of Lord (note the “Lord” there) Sacks it would all be burning Catholics (or Protestants) or Pogroms or Crusades or Jihads all the bloody time. I have honestly never seen a kick-off over “faith issues” though I have seen some Barnabus Rubbles over absolutely bugger all. It is the belief that without the likes of Lord Sacks to tell us to play nice we couldn’t just get on. That nonsense was the gravy, now the meat. As I hinted before “consumerism” goes way back and despite Lord Sacks’ prognostication of doom we’re still here. Indeed even if we just go back to the industrial revolution you’d think it would all be over by now if Sacks’ analysis was correct. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s creeping-up towards Crimble (there is a reason in the context I’m not using the word “Christmas”) and I abhor the financial splatter-fest of manic crap-buying of the season of goodwill and dubious credit but Lord Sacks seems to be going a lot further than that…

“The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.”“When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.”

“When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.”

That’s just like wow!

Not for the first (and depressingly I suspect not for the last) time one of the “great and good” completely misunderstands libertarianism. But let’s stick to tech and not political philosophy. What exactly do folks do with iWhatevers? Now I’m a computer tech, a geek, a nerd (I also have an MSc in Astrophysics for my sins) so I kind of interest myself in coding and stuff but most people use this stuff (hey so do I – what do you think I’m doing now?) to remain in contact with folks. These machines (and especially Apple’s recent kit – I mean an iPad is nice but you wouldn’t want to use it for writing a load of C++ would you?) are for communicating with people. This netbook that I’m typing on was bought partly so my wife could Skype her sister who lives in Poland. It has a camera in the lid for that purpose. The sheer extent to which modern IT is based upon connecting people with people and the tech is a mere intermediary as opposed to a means in itself vaguely horrifies the geek in me. Well comparing the default options in modern versions of Windows for controlling the machine as opposed to tweeting your mates or whatever is depressing to the geek in me. Come back AmigaDos! And the meditating Guru is forgiven.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that whilst Lord Sacks’ might be a whizz on the Torah he clearly knows nothing about technology, economics or society. It’s distressingly common. The number of people in positions of authority who think the internet is “socially alienating” or some such is staggeringly depressing. Even Facebook is primarily designed for people to keep in touch with people they already know in the old-fashioned sense and not for God knows what the likes of Lord Sacks suspect in terms of arranging dogging sessions or whatever.

I think it was Richard Feynman who once remarked (I paraphrase) that even the smartest people can make asses of themselves outside their field.

He went on: “What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have.”

For starters an “ethic” doesn’t do anything. That’s a linguistic cock-up.

“If in a consumer society, through all the advertising and subtly seductive approaches to it, you’ve got an iPhone but you haven’t got a fourth generation one, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.

I thought that was communism but then I’m not Chief Rabbi. Having recently spent some time in rural Poland I feel the general consensus was that whilst the new Tesco wasn’t ideal (too pricey) but was vastly preferred to a secret police office.

It continues to a sort of Father Jack-ish Craggy Island, “That would be an ecumenical matter” anti-climax which I can’t be bothered to even cut and paste let alone fisk.

But I can’t help myself including a comment from the Telegraph which shows that Sacksenheimer’s Disease is spreading…

Tao Te Ching- “A good businessman gives the market what it wants”. Chicken and egg situation. Humans are by nature selfish but I agree that advertising and consumerism cause a great deal of unhappiness. Poor children in Africa often seem so much happier than children in first world countries. Consumerist paradox?


And that comment was recommended by two people and that was in the Telegraph!

The Telegraph!

Oy vey!

*Sacks was educated at St Mary’s Primary School and Christ’s College Finchley, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (MA), New College, Oxford, King’s College London (PhD), Jews’ College London and Etz Chaim Yeshiva (London). ([Wikipedia]

%d bloggers like this: