Spending – A Brief Reflection

English SAC: Context:

Topic: That illusions are always ultimately detrimental, even potentially destructive.

The Age – Opinion Article: Spending – A Brief Reflection

Few people would disagree that today’s world is driven by money, and that everything is measured by its dollar worth. Everything from a country’s living standards, to the value of an entire industry or group of people has been quantified. Fifty years ago, a debate raged around the world about whether this system of values based around hard economics was a good idea. People questioned the value that the white picket fence actually had. In today’s world, they don’t, and we’re all much the worse for it.

The great tradition of absurdist theatre is to look at the world around itself, and the illusions that world perpetuates, and tear them apart. Great absurdist playwrights like Arthur Miller and Edward Albee took this notion a step further, and gave the reality a human face, generally a controversial one which shocked audiences in the 50’s. They gave people a wake-up call, and they weren’t afraid of the often ignored elephant in the room. In the modern world, people are often told about abstract ideas like unemployment rates, and economic growth by governmental leaders. But what do those things really mean?

Perhaps, in the same way as Miller and Albee have done, we should put a human face onto the cost of growth.

Fifty years ago, the average family consisted of a successful father, an unemployed housewife, two-point-two children, a dog and a nice house in the suburbs. That family was often financially secure, and yet, people bemoaned the nature of that financial security. In today’s world, that family would be almost impossible. Today, the average mother and father share two or even three jobs, just to pay for their bills, and their mortgage, and their children’s education. Even then, they need assistance. What’s gone wrong between then and now?

Willy Loman, the tragic lead of Miller’s timeless classic Death of a Salesman, is exactly like the modern family today. Willy has been left behind by society, despite his hard work, and is driven to borrowing money from his neighbour and lying to his family about his job. Perhaps, as his wife Linda explains, attention must be paid to this man, and others like him, who have been abandoned by society. For all that this is repeated, however, how often is it followed? The rich-poor divide is increasing, and life is getting ever harder for the battler. The illusion of today’s quantified world would have everyone believe that the solution is money, that the solution is always money.

This is not so. Miller’s great friend, Edward Albee, in his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, portrays four characters, all affluent, and all wronged by society’s unquenchable desire for success in everything. George, one of the play’s four characters, is an intelligent man, an intellectual historian at a university, who has been rendered an insecure failure by society’s, and his wife’s, desire for him to succeed even more than he already has. So both the affluent man, and the poor man have been grossly wronged by the society that uses money to objectify value.

The only option left for us to consider is that, just maybe, the social measure which we use is flawed; that money is not the answer to all our problems, and the infinite generation of money in ever-increasing quantities in the future won’t solve all our problems.

In an early 21st century revival of Death of a Salesman, the director of the play sent the script to several different modern day psychiatrists. Almost without fail, the psychiatrists advised the director that Willy Loman was a man suffering from some form of depression, and that this illness is what is causing Willy’s suicidal tendencies. When asked about this by The New York Times, Arthur Miller seriously objected. He explained that Willy wasn’t a depressive, but rather, a man weighed downby society, and various societal issues. Willy is seized by the mechanics of business early on, and not knowing any better, he leaps at the chance to make money, making this a necessity in his life. In his later years, as Miller depicts in the play, Willy is a shell of his former self, exhibiting a totally disheartened nature. He is character that has been taken up by life, sold the illusion that money is only ultimate goal in life, and when he is old and worthless to the “business”, he is thrown out, without any kind of help from anybody, but his neighbour. Granted, in the modern world, things like pensions are far more prevalent, but in the majority of society, pensions are worthless. The giant cog of business turns and turns, and sucks people in, people like Willy Loman, uses them, and throws them out as spiritually destroyed husks.

This social flaw is perhaps best exemplified in Albee’s Virginia Woolf. The characters are far more affluent than the Loman family, and far more successful. However, even the typical university family displayed by Albee has deep scars. The play’s two male characters are polar opposites. Nick is a young, up and coming, star, who specialises in biology, and represents the advent of the scientific age. He is like the psychiatrists diagnosed Willy Loman as a depressive, enamoured with the belief that science, and money, and other artificial sources are best locations to look for a solution to social issues.

Countenancing Nick is George, an older, unsuccessful, washed up man who represents the dying social ideas, debates and values of the past. George is the man who responds like Miller, arguing that the only way to solve social issues is through social systems, not drugs like Prozac, or the billions of dollars it took to develop it. Today’s world, today’s reality even, objectifies human lives and concerns so much so that everything from education to a lack of socio-economic fluidity can be solved with money and money alone.

Society is suffering the same delusion that destroyed Willy Loman’s life, and would likely have destroyed Nick’s life, were Albee to show it to us.

Perhaps the solution society should embrace is to abandon this illusion, and return to the truth, that social change is the only way to improve society, not money, before our society ends up like Willy Loman and George: spiritually destroyed, deeply disheartened husks living constantly miserable lives, bar a few redeeming moments.

“The Pedestrian”

This was written for an English class in response to the short story “The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury and the task was to write a court transcript of Leonard (the protagonist) being tried.

The 5th District Court

26th July 2053 AT 11:35AM

STATEMENT OF THE CASE AND EVENTS

Shortly after 18:45 hrs of the 2nd of May, 2053, Mr. Leonard Mead left his home and walked down 57th Street. An automated police patrol vehicle questioned and subsequently arrested Mead for violating curfew law and for exhibiting signs of delusional and regressive behaviours. Mead was taken to the correctional processing centre for further questioning. Correctional officers noted his violent and uncooperative behaviour, and restrained Mead for a period of 24 hours. The psychologist at the time recommended involuntary commitment to the Special Offender Facility (an institution for offenders with psychiatric problems). Mead was subsequently later charged with violation of curfew law, destructive and regressive behaviour and state subversion punishable by imprisonment under state law. Mead faced a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if the verdict should so recommend.

Mead entered a plea of not-guilty and was transferred and detained for a period of four weeks awaiting sentencing at the Special Offender Facility. However, on the day before the sentencing, he changed his plea to guilty, his reasoning was to reduce the potential sentence.

Transcipt (shortened)

Court: Leonard Mead, referring to the statement you made to state officers, do you want let your plea of guilty stand, or do you want to withdraw your plea?

Mead: I want to let the plea stand, Your Honour.

Court: Do you understand that by doing so, you are admitting confessing to all counts of the charges and that you enter the plea voluntarily without coercion?

Mead: Yes, I do.

Court: Leonard Mead, you have pleaded guilty to a number of serious offences including 1 count of violation of curfew law, 3 counts of destructive and regressive behaviour and 1 count     of state subversion. I refer to s146 of the Citizen Control Act (2046) and s32 of the State Security Act (2025). The maximum penalty of each offence is: Count 1. 5 years imprisonment or a fine of $50,000; Count 2. 15 years imprisonment (in a mental health institution if recommended); Count 3. Life imprisonment.

You did not plead guilty at first opportunity but you did avoid the need for a trial, and thus you should be given partial credit for showing co-operation with the court. However, the strong case against you should also be taken into account.

As to your personal circumstances, you have had no occupation, and you have not had any personal relationships.  

Your main problem has been your mental condition. I have received a report from the psychologist that has indicated regressive behaviours. Your own admission of walking for a period of over nine years without valid purpose and refusal to use the household viewing screen has confirmed this.

It is in my view, that in light of the circumstances, I will reduce your sentence to 25 years in the Special Offenders Mental Correctional facility as recommended by the psychologist as necessary. I also impose a non-parole period of 20 years.

The sentence will commence from the 2nd of May 2053, from when you were taken into custody.

Court is adjourned. (11:59AM)

 

Riddles

Making a riddle – creating one from scratch – is about as difficult a task to accomplish as writing a story. Making a good riddle is beyond comprehension; of the billions of people who have lived and died on earth, we still find ourselves repeating the same riddles, hoping our friends haven’t heard them, pretending ourselves that we have some sort a secret in our possession. But all good puzzles, being so relevant to the universal appeal of logic, are rare and too well-known, quickly becoming old and tedious.

So I made it a little undertaking of mine to conjure up a series of original riddles that won’t leave people dissatisfied that they already knew the answer, that the streams and currents of logical reasoning are now running dry. Originality is a treasure. Only recently, I realised it after being stuck on repeat, yearning for just a little creativity.

Here it is: in a town, there is one butcher, one fishmonger and one chef. Yesterday, by the most remarkable coincidence, two of them were cutting up their produce when suddenly, they accidentally chopped off their left hands. They have since been rushed to hospital. At the same time, the last of these three got in a motorcycle accident, and he too lost his left hand. They’re all in hospital, undergoing treatment. Their wounds look identical.

You are an insurance officer. You have been instructed to pay the survivor of the motorcycle accident $10000 in compensation. The other two, for their negligence, will receive no compensation at all. You approach them all at the same time and offer them the same, simple task. The butcher and fishmonger do it quite easily; the chef, however, struggles.
Who do you pay the money to? Why? And of course, what was wrong with the chef, why did he fail to do this simple task that the butcher and fishmonger managed so easily? (Answer at the bottom).

Back to riddles in general. Every riddle, in fact, has a back story. No riddle just pops up into being. Behind it, there must a process, a sequence of time – either long or short – for that brief burst of ingenuity to spark creation. There’s something immaterial about it. Invention is the driving force behind it and of course, where inventing is concerned, it is not the mechanism of flying an aeroplane or lighting the lamp that is the difficult part. Rather, it is the creation of the idea, taking inspiration from objects around yet in essence bringing something to life, taking from the infinite pool of immateriality and channelling it through reality.

Every riddle has a story. Similarly, every nursery rhyme, folk song and fable has a story. Remember the classic riddle – what goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening? This riddle actually comes from Greek mythology and the legend of the Sphinx and Oedipus. Oedipus answered the riddle correctly and the Sphinx, at last beaten, destroyed herself. Oedipus, of course, is the main character of the Theban Plays by Sophocles which Year Eleven MHS kids have the pleasure of studying. And for those who know about Freud, Oedipal Complex is the scientific name given to a boy’s secret, subconscious, supposed desire for his mother.

Who would have thought that so innocent a riddle could play such a massive part in one of the most famous mythological tragedies of all time? More than a thousand years on and still, we’re talking about it. Those who hear it for the first time, still, are stunned by the answer whether they give it correctly or belatedly ask for the answer.

As for that riddle I wrote earlier, it’s an original. It took a while, but I got there and honestly, the pleasure of knowing it is my work and my creation that provides people entertainment for just a few moments is extremely satisfying.

The answer is here, as promised. You pay to the chef (obviously). The simple task is writing down your name. The chef can’t do it because he is left-handed. The butcher and the fishmonger can do it because they are right-handed, and with right hand on knife and left hand on meat/fillet, they chopped off their left hands.