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"It is naively assumed that the fact that the majority of people share certain ideas or feelings proves the validity of these ideas and feelings. Nothing is further from the truth... Just as there is a ‘folie a deux’ there is a ‘folie a millions.’ The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane."
Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, Routledge, 1955
I have never smoked. I knew that if I started I would never be able to control it - I have enough problems controlling the amount of food I eat. Then I witnessed my father dying from cancer caused by his smoking habit. It was a long and very painful death that dragged on for nine months. He was 56, I was 22. I sort of understand why his generation took up smoking, as the dangers were not then known. However, I totally fail to understand why so many of my generation and subsequent ones have taken it up, when the dangers are known. On top of the dangers, it is so unpleasant. Before the long-overdue ban on indoor smoking was inroduced, one came home from certain music venues reeking of the stuff, and had to put all ones clothes in the wash and have a shower. Why must smokers be so selfish that they not only expose others to toxic fumes but make them stink as well?
I have never used any of the illegal drugs. (It does seem somewhat arbitrary that alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are legal, whereas other drugs are not.) If I want to get high, I listen to good music, or visit beautiful scenery or buildings, or make love.
I tried chewing gum but instantly gave it up because the only thing it did for me was to give me jaw ache. It does does not improve peoples' appearances, expecially when they chew violently and pop bubbles. Avoiding used chewing gum has become a major hazard.
I have never sent any Christmas cards or given any Christmas presents. What is the point of everyone sending everyone they know a card at an arbitrary time of the year, except to keep card manufacturers in business and clog up the post? What is the point of buying each other things that are probably not wanted at this arbitrary time of the year, instead of buying for oneself what one wants when one wants it? Money is always welcome, so why doesn't everyone give each other a ten pound note (or whatever)? Not going Christmas shopping surely improves the quality of life enormously, especially in December.
I gave up listening to rock and other such popular musics around 1955. By then I was listening to jazz and so-called classical music, and was only interested in music that had substance. I very occasionally hear some rock in circumstances beyond my control, and the experience confirms that the genre is much more to do with making money than to do with aesthetics - it should be on the financial pages rather than the cultural ones. The pervading insensitive electric sound, and the mechanically overstated beat remain a complete turn-off.
I gave up religion in the 1950s. I believe that man created god in his own image. In this scientific age, the invention of a god creates more problems that it solves. I fail to see the appeal of repeating the same mumbo jumbo every week, and standing up and sitting down in unison at the same arbitrary points in the proceedings. (Maybe the standing and sitting routine is to try to stop people falling asleep.) Some people say that a religion gives one an identity - I say it is the suppression of individual identity. I certainly do not subscribe to the all too common belief that one should belong to a particular religion just because one's grandparents did.
I gave up watching television in the late 1950s when commercials were intruduced in Britain. Even then it was obviously designed for people with zero attention span - what little I have seen of it since has confirmed that it has become much worse. In those days, there used to be space in between programs (on the BBC that is), now every gap is filled with adverts (commercial or non-commercial), and the ensuing sound is a non stop cacophony. For much the same reason, I recently gave up listening to the radio - the presentation generally seems to get worse and worse. To catch up with the news, I skim through the internet. Now that I am living in Spain, I must confess that I do watch some news on television, and listen to some music on the radio - both are made more palitable because I do not understand Spanish.
I gave up noticing advertising many years ago. True, some is of use, but the vast majority is trying to sell one things one doesn't really want or need. Advertising is also major visual (and sonic) pollution - think of all the eyesores called billboards which are just as bad as graffiti. It is also a major source of censorship - so much media is dependant on advertising income and has to conform to what the advertisers agree to.
I formally studied electric engineering, because I was advised that mathematics was totally impractical. The tedium of the practical side of engineering caused me to drop out. So I became a computer programmer, which I was for most of the next 40 years, to demonstrate the impracticality of mathematics. The only part of this formal education formal education that I can remember is the law of electro-magnetics that states that "every impulsive couple in a field has its moments" The other problem was that engineers were generally such uninteresting people, especially the civil ones. This has since been officially recognized - if you looked up BORING in the Yellow Pages, it used to say "see CIVIL ENGINEERS".
I gave up drinking alcohol and caffeine, New Year's Day 1966 for a combination of reasons. I do not enjoy the presence of drunks, and object in principle to mind altering substances. I also have a sensitive stomach, and was advised to give up several things. I decided alcohol and caffeine were expendable - I never liked beer or tea, and now cannot stand the taste and smell of coffee or alcoholic drinks even though I used to use the stuff before then. I now limit my drinking to still water - I'd rather not dilute it with anything else (although I do indulge in an occasional fruit juice).
However I decided that curries and chocolate could not be given up. In recent years, I have given up eating curry - much as I like it, it does not like me. Every so often I give up eating chocolate but seem to succumb again. I have also recently discovered that I am allergic to smoked food, which is a drag as I am very fond of smoked salmon, but its after-effects mean that it has had to be ditched.
I gave up shaving in 1971. I would have given it up earlier, but was living with my mother and then my first wife, both of whom insisted that I persist with this bizarre ritual. It is said that beards turn off most women. It is obvious that they have never felt them. How can anyone prefer the feel of sandpaper to soft hair? (Warning: it takes a few weeks growth for a beard to feel good - stubble is like coarse sandpaper.) A man removing his facial hair is surely the acceptable face of transvestism. I am not ashamed of being a man, and have no desire to try and disguise myself as a woman. Everyone thought I was older than I was before I stopped shaving - everyone thinks I am younger than I am since. So much for the myth that beards make one look old!
I gave up using titles some years ago. What's the point of being called 'Mr so-and-so' or some such? Why not call people by their names, rather than some impersonal, superfluous moniker? (As it happens, the initials of my given names are M.R., so that a bank insisted on putting 'MR MR DAVIDSON' on my cheques - I am told that 'Mr Mr' is a very posh title in the North of England!)
I stopped wearing short socks a few years ago except during hot weather. Since then, I have had virtually no colds or flu bouts thanks to wearing long socks. Everyone thinks this is crazy, but it has proven to be true.
Wearing a tie. I managed to survive most of the 1970s and 1980s without wearing this most pointless of clothing items. In recent years I have managed to give it up completely, and have reduced my collection to a few anti-ties.
Using decimal arithmetic, because hexadecimal (base 16) is so much better and efficient. (If you think decimal is great, just think of our coinage – one, two, five, ten, etc. What is the relationship between two and five? What use is that?) Alas, we seem to be stuck with decimal, just as we seem to be stuck with the qwertyuiop keyboard which was designed to be as perverse as possible in order to slow typists down - the first typewriters could not keep up with fast typists!
Using money, an archaic device that is well beyond it's 'best before' date. Nowadays, it is just used to make a few people very powerful at the expense of everyone else. The Monetary movement given power by Pinochet, Reagan and Thatcher, and continued by Blair and Busholini, was a very backward direction, resulting in a phenomenal polarisation - the rich getting much richer and the poor getting much poorer over the last four decades. "Trickle down" proved to be "torrent up" in practice! Is it any surprise that some of the poor are not prepared to play this game according to the rules of the rich? Obviously, it will not easy to remove money, but it is not easy to keep it - does it make any sense that five people own as much as half of the population or the world? This is just making a mockery of people and the monetary system. And still the backward and greedy neocons are looking on more ways to use money, instead of working out how to do away with it.
Pick my nose. Not very elegant, but nowhere near as disgusting as smoking or chewing gum.
Eat meat and fish. As an intellectual, I do actually disapprove of eating living things including plants, but as an animal, I disapprove of eating just about anything non-organic - what is one to do? Maybe I am a hypocrite, but I like food to be presented in a way that does not highlight its origin. In some circles this is described as "intelligent design"!
Go for long walks. The best way to meditate.
Listen to good music. The best way to get high.
Enjoy life as much as possible, especially now that I have given up (or not started) so many tiresome activities.
After a mutual friend (the late and much missed Paul Haines) showed him this page, Noam Chomsky suggested that I give up writing. Hm, I'll have to think about...