Tag Archives: authenticity

Guacamole substitute choices

 

green-dip

One night last week, as I was leaving from meeting with some old friends at a bar (while staying entirely sober myself, so as to drive legally) I realized that I didn’t have any milk at home for having with breakfast. As it happened there was a little convenience store of Finland’s K-Market chain just down the street from the bar, so I took a quick buzz over there to pick up a few basics.

By way of cultural background, Finland has two major domestic retailers for foodstuffs and basic household supplies: the K-shop chain and the S-shop chain. In many small towns you have just two competing grocery stores, one representing each conglomerate. In both of the shopping malls close to my apartment there is a section for groceries with a large S-chain supermarket (named Prisma) on one side of the main aisle and a large K-chain supermarket (named Citymarket) on the other side. Between them they don’t quite have a monopoly, but they pretty much dominate the market. For various historical reasons if I have to choose between the two I tend to go with S-shops, but I don’t religiously shop at either, and I don’t hold a “preferred customer card” for either as a matter of principle: When it comes to groceries I’m a registered independent.

In any case, as happens once in a while, I found myself in a little K-Market. I found the milk and sundries that I was looking for easily enough but when it came to addressing the munchies I had developed while sitting in the bar most of what I might have found tempting was either out of stock or way over-priced. That’s when I happened to notice a jar labelled in Finnish simply as “Green Dip Sauce”…

The style of the jar was of the sort which K-markets and S-markets, and all of their smaller competitors, use to sell different varieties of generic imitation Mexican chip dip. Such products tend to come in three basic varieties: tomato-based, cheese substitute-based and imitation avocado-based. In bigger shops you can also find the tomato variety at least in the further variations of mild, medium and hot, though those designations are very relative to the Finnish palate. In fact there’s nothing especially authentic or Mexican about any of them, but as something to dip cheap corn chips in to keep your mouth and fingers busy while studying, driving or watching TV, they sort of work… most of the time.

With that in mind this “Green Dip Sauce” sparked my curiosity. It was clear what it was imitating, but nowhere on the front label did it contain the words “Mexican”, “avocado” or “guacamole,” even with the qualifier of “-style”. As it was moderately priced as such things go, and as I had a pretty bad case of munchies to deal, with I went ahead and bought it anyway.

Let me further confess here that such things are something of a guilty pleasure for me –– though in fact I don’t feel all that guilty about them and I actually don’t get that much pleasure out of them. Even so, I know that they aren’t really “good for me” or all that sustainable as consumer choices. At best they help me procrastinate eating “real food” and perhaps reduce the amount of “real food” I need to consume as part of my daily routines. It’s sort of a “for what it’s worth” question, which for me isn’t that much.

Real guacamole, on the other hand, is a fine “real food” for me to indulge in every now and again. Real guacamole –– the sort “so authentic that Donald Trump would build a wall around it” as that Mexican restaurant in Norway advertises –– should be made up of about half avocado mass, with the rest of its composition being a combination of tomato, onion, dairy products and spices. As long as the things you dip in it or season with it are relatively healthy (i.e. not corn chips) guacamole can be a valuable part of a healthy, balanced diet. Once in a great while I take the trouble to mix up a batch of it for myself at home. You can also buy some pricier gourmet varieties of pre-mixed guacamole here, which are pretty close to authentic, but to be honest with you I’m rarely ready to dish out the premium price for such. If I was stricter about eating healthy I would avoid such guacamole substitutes entirely, but I yam what I yam.

Yet the dip that I picked up that evening wasn’t even overtly pretending to be guacamole. Later reading the fine print on the label and comparing it to that on a jar of “Tex Mex Guacamole” from the S-market, I found that whereas the latter had only 6% avocado, this “green dip sauce… containing peppers, onions, cheese and avocado” had an actual avocado percentage of 0.7! At that level my ex-girlfriend, who is mildly allergic to avocado, could probably eat it without having any adverse reactions whatsoever!

At that point I effectively realized, this product was like the Donald Trump of snack foods. Its artificial color came from a completely different side of the spectrum, but other than that, the more I thought about it the stronger the analogy seemed to be. I guess I need to unpack that for you.

The Donald has become one of two products for people to choose between within his particular product group. The fact that there aren’t more choices available is a significant problem unto itself. In both American politics and the Finnish grocery distribution system both of competing operators seem to show little concert for product quality, assuming (for the most part rightly) that consumers can’t really tell the difference between authentic ingredients and cheap by-products used as fillers. But things have now come to the point where the choice is between a product that pretends to be somewhat authentic (Hillary, or the S-markets’ “guacamole”) and a product that is honest enough not even to pretend to be authentic (Donald, or the K-markets’ “green dip sauce”).

What, in terms of this analogy, would the real “avocado” be? In short, the democratic ideal. Democracy is theoretically designed to prevent those who own the most stuff from using their advantage to determine how the less economically advantaged are going to live. When it comes to how the government is run and how the basic rules of society are determined, in theory the rich man’s interests are no more important than the poor man’s interests: everyone’s vote counts equally, and thus no aristocratic minority can tell the less advantaged majority how they are going to live. The concept of a republic in turn stipulates that no royalty or oligarchy ––traditional or newly self-appointed –– is entitled to dominance over their country’s government affairs. Regardless of which word you use, in theory the principle is the same: it is the interest of the majority, organized within constitutional principles of “justice for all”, that determines how a government is to be run.

Well, fairly obviously in the case of American politics these days, neither presidential candidate has much of that sort of “avocado” in them. Ms. Clinton has got richer and built a stronger personal power base through insider favoritism and using the status quo power structures to her personal advantage than any other “public servant” in living memory. No matter how you feel about the good and/or harm she has done during her political career, and how much personal remuneration you feel she is justly entitled to, I don’t think the way she has played the system to her own personal advantage can be denied. It takes far more faith in femininity, or in humanity in general, than I have to believe that she honestly stands for the good of the people above and beyond promoting her own prejudices and selfish interests. If the generic “guacamole” from S-Markets here contains approximately 6% actual avocado, I’d say that could be a fairly accurate estimation of how much authentic public interest Ms. Clinton contains in matters that don’t serve her own personal interests.

It’s easy to see why many would be so passionately opposed to such a person leading the nation that they would choose whatever candidate most powerfully embodies their resentments in this regard. So it should come as no surprise that so many have gravitated towards a candidate whose campaign has been based more on hate-mongering, alpha-male posturing and naked personal ambition than any potential world leader since World War II. (A close second to Trump by those standards would be his soul mate, Vladimir Putin, but that’s beside the point.) Thus the mentality that anything must be better than Clinton has led to her political rivals marketing of a product that contains less than a quarter the minuscule amount of authentic public interest that Ms. Clinton has!

Representing Trump as the “lesser evil” in this election is, to me, as absurd as buying “green dip sauce” because you believe that it is “healthier” and “less artificial” than the competing “guacamole”! There is little credible evidence that he contains more than the smallest possible trace amounts of the sort of public interest we should be looking for in a president. Those who would attribute such interest to him are demonstrating but one thing: Trump is more intelligent than they are.

However the bigger issue is for us to consider is how, in terms of this analogy, we might get the United States onto something which more closely resembles a healthy diet. Given the woeful state of American education in social sciences and basic thinking skills in particular, maybe the country deserves such a completely junk food choice –– though tragically the rest of the world will have to live with this choice as well. Is there something we can do about this?

Going back to matter of green dips, in taking care of my own health it would be better for me not to dip my chips in either of the artificial alternatives available. Neither one offers the health benefits of consuming the “good fats” contained in avocados. If people here were to stop buying both forms of commonly available guacamole substitute, the conglomerates might simply reach the conclusion that people don’t really care for avocado flavored things in general, and they might pull all products representing themselves as avocado-based off of their shelves. But like, so what? I might actually be healthier for it. Likewise when it comes to the choice before American voters, though there is a clear difference between the products, the still greater discrepancy is still between either candidate and the standards that we should ideally be holding our politicians to. In those terms voting for either of the given alternatives seems to do more to condone a system that gives us such pathetic choices than it does to claim responsibility for our health and our future. Maybe we need to refuse to vote for either.

But here the analogy starts to break down a bit. It is pretty much self-evident that we will be force fed one of these two artificial alternatives. Furthermore, if the major political parties see that people aren’t voting in elections the equivalent to “taking the product off the market” for them is not to stop wielding authority, but to stop even pretending to care about the will of the people; pursuing their naked power interests with even greater impunity. Dismissing all pretense that a nation is governed according to the will of its people is the exact recipe for a shift to overt Fascism. We really do not want to see the United States go there!

What if we, by analogy, show the conglomerates that we are willing to defy their power by buying higher quality products from other distributors? In other words what if we vote for third party candidates as a way of sending a message to the big two? Could that work? Perhaps, though this year I’m having my doubts. The closer you look, the harder it is to take either the Libertarian or Green Party candidates as anything resembling healthy alternatives. Yet even so, the more votes which are actually cast this year for those other than the two-party alternatives, the greater the chance is that one or both of these major parties will wake up enough to start adding more genuine public interest into their products. No, I don’t consider that chance to be particularly strong in any case, but perhaps it is worth trying at least.

Given the trace amounts of arsenic that Trump as a candidate has been recently shown to contain (figuratively speaking), in terms of boasting of practicing criminal sexual harassment, it seems more likely that we’ll be faced with Ms. Clinton as part of our political diet for the next few years, though I don’t want to underestimate the stupidity of my countrymen enough to dismiss the risk that Trump could still win. That leaves many of us with a difficult decision: Is it more important to make sure that, in spite of ignorant prejudices of many of our countrymen, a toxic candidate with no redeeming moral values does not inadvertently become president; or is it more important to send a message to the establishment parties that these sorts of candidates with their near complete lack of concern for people’s best interests and the good of the nation, are unacceptable to us as citizens? I don’t really have a good answer on that one.

All that being said, there are three public statements about the race by American jesters of different sorts that I particularly appreciate:

Scott Adams:
“Keep in mind that a big part of Trump’s persuasive genius is a complete disregard for facts and reality.”

Penn Jilette:
“There are two things that I always believed about modern politics:
1. Everyone who had ever run for major office was smarter than me.
2. There was no one worse than Hillary Clinton.
Both of those things have been disproven by Donald Trump.”

Andy Borowitz:
“Stopping Trump is a short-term solution. The long-term solution, and it will be more difficult, is fixing the educational system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump.”

So, my dear American friends, please follow your conscience in voting next month, trying to do what you can to help the country, without being entirely stupid about it. And may God save us from what, largely through the influence of my fellow Evangelical Christians, the United States seems to have become.

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Post Script: The empty jar of “guacamole style” dip, containing just 3.7% avocado, that I had at home, which I used for comparison when I started writing this actually did not come from an S-market, but from the Lidl chain. For purpose of the operative analogy  here that would make it something like the Gary Johnson of guacamole substitutes. On more careful examination I found that the S-chain of grocery stores sells a generic product which claims to be actual guacamole, containing 6%  real (Peruvian) avocado according to its content specifications. I have now corrected the above text accordingly. I wish to formally apologize to any representatives of Prisma and/or associated business for exaggerating the artificiality of their product in the previous version of this article.

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Filed under Change, Education, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Angst

I’ve recently been reexamining my perspective on Heidegger. I haven’t really changed it much, and I’m not interested enough to be a full-fledged Heidegger scholar, but I have been reexamining my perspective.

Certain early impressions regarding this guy remain in place. Among them, one of the reasons he made a particularly good Nazi had to do with his German ethnocentrism and his thing about the German language in particular. He believed that the German language and culture were far superior to anything else that was going at the time and anything that had ever been, and on that basis he decided to attempt to reinvent philosophy on a purely German basis. If his ideas couldn’t be translated into other languages, so much the better for proving the superiority of his own language. As a byproduct of this exercise though he got so busy playing with his language that he frequently forgot what the hell he was talking about.

 

Yet in spite of this fundamental flaw in his perspective, Heidegger remains one of the top 10 most important, original and influential philosophers of the 20th century, regardless of whose list you are going by. His work clearly influenced all continental philosophy for the second half of the century, and arguably the French post-modern movement could not have come into being without him. So for better or for worse he is a force to be reckoned with. And beyond all that, if I were to try to analyze exactly what the core question of my own philosophical pursuits is these days it would have to be something like, how much am I as a person an autonomous individual capable of truly independent thought and action, and to what extent am I just an element within the society and ecosystem within which I find myself? Together with that comes the consideration of what I am ultimately free to do and what is essentially worth doing with my freedoms, such as they are. Call it irony or coincidence, or indirect cause and effect beyond what I am capable of analyzing, but those are precisely the questions that seem to have occupied Heidegger’s mind. So the question is, does Heidegger have anything useful to say about this relevant to life as I know it? That’s what I’ve been trying to reconsider lately.

Heidegger’s main work –– the only one that anyone really talks about –– is called Being and Time, and his main point there seems to be that time sets the conditions for all forms of being. I say “seems to be” because, as I said, he got so busy playing with his German etymologies that even professionals specialized in interpreting Heidegger aren’t really sure what he’s on about sometimes. So rather than continuously repeating that point let me just say to anyone who would wish to critique my understanding of Heidegger as missing his point, “Duuuh!” All of this is merely my layman’s understanding of what Heidegger’s point might have been, on the optimistic assumption that his words actually related to anything beyond themselves. That disclaimer in place, as always, alternative perspectives are more than welcome in reply here.

So anyway, Heidegger’s basic epiphany was saying that what makes life really real is knowing that we’re all going to die. This is self-evident on one level, and deeply problematic on another. Of course human life is of limited duration for everyone, but is that really what it is really all about? Isn’t that sort of like saying that the true beauty of the Mona Lisa lies in the fact that it is framed? I don’t know; perhaps for Heidegger the best he could say about his life was that at least it wouldn’t go on for ever.

So anyway, time frames our lives –– our fundamental sense of being –– giving it profound limitations; setting the boundaries within which the game is played. And within those boundaries we do our best to… score… in some way or another. But what counts as scoring, and why should we really care about it?

In fact Heidegger wasn’t interested in such sports analogies. What he cared about was authenticity –– figuring out some way of being “the real me” without going all existentialist about it. (Heidegger had a real problem with being compared to any Frenchmen.) And what makes a person authentic? Angst –– being a bit uneasy about everything –– having a creeping sense that you don’t really fit in, and eventually this is going to lead to your death.

Angst, as Heidegger describes it, is a bit of a “fish out of water” experience, but that’s the beauty of it as far as he’s concerned, because only when it is out of the water can the fish get the whole concept that there is such a thing as water. That sense of not taking our social and material environments for granted –– not assuming that the way things work in our familiar surroundings is the only way things possibly could work; nor that all of the ways in which we have been tossed about and conditioned to “fit in” within our environments are really a necessary part of who each of us is –– only happens when we become alienated from such conditions. This is what makes a person a genuine, authentic human being, at least as Heidegger saw it.

Then from there –– from that exalted position where you can’t really breath but at least you feel above everyone else –– you can sort of look down on the rest of the world and decide if there’s anyone or anything you feel like caring about. This act of choosing to care –– from a position of defiant self-sufficiency arising from angst-ridden state of alienation –– is the sweetest thing life has to offer as far as Heidegger was concerned.

But of course this only works when you feel as though it’s entirely up to you who you care about and who you don’t. If you can’t choose to be kind to some and be a total bastard to others it isn’t really “caring” as Heidegger saw it; it’s “inauthenticity”. To really care in a valuable way, according to Heidegger’s way of thinking, first you have to get deep into the angst thing: you have to get all messed up about the fact that your life is pretty tightly limited by death and all, which could happen at any time, when you least expect it. Then you have to let that angst keep you from fitting in “like a normal person” in your circumstances. And only after than, when you’ve pretty much given up on everything else, can you find your own way of connecting to people entirely according to your own autonomous tastes in the matter.

To be perfectly honest about it, I really don’t see that as a recipe for happiness and success in life. I don’t see angst as a purpose unto itself as something that I’d want to pass on to my sons and students as a way of enriching their lives, nor is it something that I want to have in ever increasing doses of in order to “keep my edge” as some idiots seem prone to think. And still, ironically perhaps, I continue to experience far more than my fair share of angst and alienation in life; Heidegger would be truly envious of me in those regards.

Yes, I do see this angst –– this sense of my life being disturbingly limited and “different” from those around me –– as having enabled me to think about certain things in deeper ways than some people with fewer such challenges in their lives are able to. But is it worth it? Let’s just say that given a choice in the matter I’d prefer to have a lot less of it.

My preferred basis for establishing purpose and meaning in life is to be aware of angst and what it can teach you, but as a lifestyle choice to stay out of it as much as possible. Rather than thriving on isolation and alienation, I recommend thriving on a sense of harmony with the people and the world around me. I would hope that we can each take part in building something resembling “God’s kingdom” –– a system of empathy and mutual support that extends beyond cultural prejudices and boundaries of tribal identity, even if it does end up becoming more structurally enforced and less subject to our autonomous impulses than what Heidegger might have had in mind.

Rather than waking up every morning wondering how much closer I’ll come to death that day, I want to wake up each morning wondering what sort of lasting positive impact I might be able to have on things that day, which might continue long after I am gone. As I see it my personal authenticity does not depend on who or what I can isolate myself from, but on who and what I can form meaningful connections with. And while nothing relating to human understanding is perfect and eternal, the more refined and firmly established I can make things, the better I suspect it will be for all concerned.

And yes, this also comes down to the perennial $10,000 question: Did Heidegger’s philosophy make his enthusiasm for the Nazi party inevitable, or was he just an otherwise wise and profound thinker that happened to be incredibly stupid and/or immoral in that one particular area? My personal take on the matter: angst can cause people to do some pretty crazy and unbalanced stuff. If he was feeling isolated, morbid and out of sync with everything around him on purpose it would seem extremely likely, if not inevitable, that he would gravitate towards the type of organization that gives its insiders an intense sense of belonging while at the same time offering a sense of freedom to radically hate “the others”. So yes, given the opportunity, of course Heidegger became a Nazi.

But the irony remains: I am in a fairly deep state of situational angst these days. As I approach the end of my sabbatical year’s adventures –– in which I have broken free from social expectations and environmental pressures and moved half way around the world in search of new connections and possibilities –– I have precious little idea what is coming next. As fascinating as this adventure has been, it has not led to any lasting new arrangements for me, and thus I am now in a position where I have no idea what sort of home or job I will have three months from now! The things we do in search of authenticity…

I'm currently watching with fascination to see where my path might lead.

So while a life of Heideggerian angst is really the last thing I’m looking for these days, at the moment it seems to be the core essence of life as I know it. Funny how these things work! Under the circumstances there’s really only one thing I can say for sure: I’m not going to let it make a Nazi out of me.

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Filed under Empathy, Ethics, Individualism, Philosophy, Social identity