Brain Dead Serious

Thoughts on Matters of Taste and the Dutch Tulip Bubble of the 1600s

The first ever critique of someone’s taste probably went something like, “Man, your taste in rocks is horrendous! What a dumb, lowlife you must be to think such a rough, ugly stone dislodged from a mound of bison dung is worth anything. Why don’t you be like me and collect these shiny, smooth, grey pebbles collected from a river? Look how beautiful they are!”

The shiny, smooth, grey pebbles might have also been presented as suggesting something of the higher intelligence of the stone collector.

You think it’s ridiculous now but once there must have lived a cultured ape.

———

When I think about how people go nuts over matters of taste, I’m reminded of the story of the Dutch tulip bubble that happened in the 17th century. For those of you who haven’t heard this crazy tale before, you read that right–tulips. Apparently, at one point in history, the Dutch deemed tulips so valuable that a single tulip bulb was worth as much as or more than an entire house including the land where it stood. Some of these flowers, which were introduced into Europe just a century before, were worth 10 times more than the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

The priciest of them all were bulbs that had an unusual mix of colors different from the more common single-hued varieties at the time. Many years later, people would discover that these exotic flowers were actually suffering from a virus that messed up how they look, producing the strange streaks of colors that the Dutch so coveted.

In short, these were very sick plants.

———

People lost their heads so much over tulips that they gave the flowers intimidating names like “Admiral Pottenbacker” or “Admiral van der Eyck.” There was even an “Admiral of Admirals.”

Come to think of it, if a garden bulb were to command such a great price that some deluded craftsman could lose his entire estate and end up with nothing but a sickly plant in a pot, you might as well call that piece of vegetation an admiral. Few titles would have been fitting.

———

And then as if the Lord of Sense got so tired of the noisy Dutch taverns trading in futures (this was, in fact, the birth of this questionable financial fuss, as well), he just struck hard one evening in February 1637 to end the farce once and for all. For some reason, people just stopped showing up in one such tavern supposed to hold one of these popular tulip auctions that determined who had the right to own a flower that hadn’t even bloomed yet.

And from there, the bubble burst. Some people felt the economic hammer fall more acutely than others, and there were a lot of folks who lost a fortune. Overall, however, the Dutch economy–already the richest of that era–didn’t really take a dive.

After all, when the dust had settled, no serious, logical person with a conscience would really bereave a family of all their valuables just because their drunk father made the wrong decision to sell everything he owned for a rare purple tulip with yellow specks on its petals the night before the mania melted away.

———

I personally think it’s telling that a mania like that happened to the wealthiest economy in that period of history. When people have so much wealth and so little reason to think why one person deserves much more respect or recognition than the other, then the ground is ripe for something truly idiotic to grow and thrive.

I mean, if I were wealthy, and you were wealthy, our neighbors were wealthy, our friends were wealthy–and if we’re all wealthy, then what would separate me from you?

Surely we can’t test our bravery to see who’s of better stock. We’re not soldiers. Or warriors. I can’t defeat you sword in hand and declare I’ve bested you after a decisive, unquestionable final blow to the head. And we all can read and write, can reason our way around issues using the thinnest of facts to back us up, so intelligence would be such a drag to measure. A contest like that takes so long to judge to determine the winner. Besides, people who love to argue never, ever lose an argument. They just keep on arguing until somebody gets parched.

Admittedly, this is a brazenly simple and theoretical version of what might have transpired, but people must have panicked as they realized they were running out of ways to one up one another.

It was probably a goddamn first-world psychological crisis that punctured holes in the very fabric of society.

And so out of nowhere, some florist raised his hand and said, “Ok–how about who owns the better tulip?”

———

True–taste is a good barometer of a person’s standing in life. One’s Admirael der Admiraelen de Gouda Tulip without a doubt indicated that one had sufficient education and class, as could be expected of someone who had sufficient sacks of money to trade for such a renowned plant.

But what of it?

Was that the point? To declare beyond a shadow of a doubt that one was filthy rich and on the cutting edge of culture? Versed in the finest, most secret knowledge of the floral market?

You could say it’s all just a game. People were trying to outsmart each other and make themselves wealthy like they do all the time, and so they put, what is called in fiction, a “MacGuffin” in the center of it, allowing them to play this game of who gets rich and who gets wretched. It could have been anything–a tulip, a sunflower, acorns, a ball of rubberbands, bitcoin… It doesn’t matter. The point was to get a game of big winners and sore losers going.

Things of ghostly value haunting the real world of men.

Isn’t that where taste comes from? Just utter confusion over what something is really worth?

———

Going back to our story, in the end, it seemed like the bubonic plague played a major role in reversing people’s minds about those tulips. Imagine how uninspiring it was to debate whose flower was better as your neighbors perished by the thousands.

Nothing like the prospect of painful death to remind us of what truly matters.

And that a fleet of admiral tulips wouldn’t make a pile of dead bodies any less stinky.

 

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Brain Dead Serious

Layton’s Operation Somewhere in Orion

The strange purple, part-mechanical beings from Cosmos Redshift 7 had tilted heads as they looked down on what appeared to be Layton lying on a cold operating table.

Bleep. Whirr. Granzik, I think the specimen looks better this way, don’t you think? Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. True, Krik’ok. It is my personal opinion that you have outdone yourself. This piece is a work of functional art. Click-clack. Bloop.

Bleep. Buzz. Indeed. The highly illogical trajectory of this species’ evolution has resulted in an overabundance of inefficiencies, which I believe I, with your help, Granzik, have corrected. Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Clank. Look, Krik’ok. The specimen’s globular section is moving. It appears it’s attempting to communicate. Clank. Bloop.

Bleep. Whirr. Excellent observation, Granzik. Let us temporarily detach the five-limbed appendage affixed to its oral cavity. Whirr. Bleep.

Granzik proceeded to slice away at Layton’s head using a shiny red laser scalpel, which did the job proficiently.

“Ahem, thank you, good sirs. I was really having trouble speaking there with my hand attached to my mouth.”

Bleep. Whirr. Fascinating, Granzik. The specimen is convinced it has need for a means of expression. Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Indeed. Why would it need to convey its primitive, illogical thoughts? Click-clack. Bloop.

Uh, well, you know, how could I say ‘no’ to all of this, er, experimentation if I can’t articulate–

Bleep. Whirr. It seems to be under the delusion that it can affect the state of things if it speaks? Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Clank. Oh, come now, Krik’ok. Surely, it can’t be THAT deluded? We have already plotted its species’ future and it would not even be capable of reversing its planet’s current climatic course to a biotic crisis. Clank. Bloop.

Uh, excuse me. Wh-what did you mean by that? B-biotic cri… Are you referring to climate change? Are we going to die from cli–

Bleep. Buzz. I wish we could make it understand that affixing its five-limbed appendage to its oral cavity is a more efficient way to expend its biochemical energy, Granzik. Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Agreed. Instead of straining itself trying to talk, it could use its appendage to harness resources for us. Click-clack. Bloop.

Ahem, EXCUSE ME again, k-kind sirs, but what do you mean by that? Harnessing resources? Like, am I g-going to work for you now?

Bleep. Whirr. Granzik, did you just hear it say “now?” It seems the specimen is unaware it has been working for us all this time. Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Quite amusing, don’t you think? What does it think it has been doing all this time? Something productive? Click-clack. Bloop.

Bleep. Buzz. Quite amusing! Buzz. Bleep.

Hey! Yes! Of course I’ve been doing something productive with my life! I have a fiancée. We’re going to get married. We’ve been saving up, s-so we could afford a.. a decent wedding! And we-we’re going to buy a house, and-and..

Bloop. Clank. Krik’ok, I believe this species is describing its primitive courtship ritual. Clank. Bloop.

Bleep. Whirr. And a means to prolong its biological existence with its mate. Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Indeed, a juvenile fantasy! Click-clack. Bloop.

Bleep. Buzz. Its species doesn’t deserve to thrive, Granzik. Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Clank. Agreed. Good thing we replaced its reproductive organ with its limb originally designated for locomotion. Clank. Bloop.

WHAT? SO THAT’S WHY I CAN’T FEEL ANYTHING BELOW THERE BECAUSE MY FOOT IS IN MY DI–

Bleep. Whirr. That was an inspired medical suggestion by you, Granzik. I applaud your efforts. Now the specimen can use its libidinal drive to transport itself wherever we please it to be. Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Affirmative, Krik’ok. I recommend we place it in Nognon-9, so we can further study its behavior in isolation. Click-clack. Bloop.

Bleep. Buzz. Granzik, isn’t organic matter absent in Nognon-9? How can the specimen sustain itself in that bare wasteland? Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Oh, forgive me, Krik’ok. I forgot to tell you that when you went to the bathroom, I replaced the specimen’s stomach with an ancient radio device from its planet. Therefore, it cannot experience hunger anymore. Click-clack. Bloop.

Bleep. Buzz. Brilliant! Instead, it can listen to sad music from its planet. Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Clank. Exactly! Clank. Bloop.

WHY YOU DIRTY, LITTLE–

Bleep. Whirr. I would also like to take this opportunity, Granzik, to disclose that when you went to the spaceship’s deck to smoke, I replaced the specimen’s outer covering with polyester. I mean it doesn’t really need a tactile sense, right? Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Why, of course, Krik’ok. Why should it? It’s not like it needs comfort. Click-clack. Bloop.

Bleep. Buzz. Definitely. Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Clank. Also, when you took a drink in the pantry I put the specimen’s nose in the vicinity of its buttocks. Clank. Bloop.

Bleep. Whirr. Granzik, pray tell what’s the purpose of that adjustment? Whirr. Bleep.

Bloop. Click-clack. Absolutely nothing. It was done purely for the heck of it. Click-clack. Bloop.

Bleep. Buzz. Granzik, I love the way you optimize subjects! Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Clank. Thank you, Krik’ok. Bloop. Clank.

SO THAT’S WHY IT SMELLS SO BAD IN HERE I’LL KI–

Bleep. Whirr. So Granzik, shall we continue with the final touch? Whirr. Bleep.

THE FINAL TOUCH? WHAT FINAL TOUCH?

Bloop. Click-clack. Certainly. You may proceed with replacing its heart with a cracked mug, Krik’ok. Click-clack. Bloop.

A-A CRACKED M-MUG? A CRACKED MUG?!

Bleep. Buzz. That should effectively kill all its hopes and dreams. I wonder if it will survive, Granzik? Buzz. Bleep.

Bloop. Clank. I highly doubt it, Krik’ok, but the tests should confirm. Clank. Bloop.

NO! NO! NOOOOOOOOO!

And Krik’ok went on to use the shiny red laser scalpel on Layton’s chest as Granzik held the cracked mug ready.

 

 

 

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Brain Dead Serious

A Man Who Is Extremely Content to Be Perpetually Dissatisfied

DON: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. This is Don Fernandez, your host for yet another edition of The Human Condition, bringing you the most striking interviews of common people you wouldn’t normally think about if you had something better to do. Tonight–Mr. Charlie Mendez–a man who is extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied.

Mr. Charlie Mendez–can I call you Charlie?

CHARLIE: Well, I don’t know. I prefer “Charles,” really. Has a more respectable ring to it. But go ahead, call me “Charlie,” if–

DON: No, no! Absolutely not! If “Charles” is what you prefer, then “Charles” it is.

CHARLIE: Nah… Use “Charlie.” I hate that nickname but… fine! Just use it.

DON: But… I’m totally ok with calling you “Charles.”

CHARLIE: Please. Just call me “Charlie.”

DON: Ok, ok! “Charlie” then.

CHARLIE: Ugh. Ugly name.

DON: Good grief!

CHARLIE: I know right? There are thousands of better names out there and your mother somehow saw it fit to give you the most atrocious, banal, wimpy name possible!

DON: Ok. I may have jumped in this interview the wrong way. Clearly, this–what’s manifesting here–is a symptom of the problem you were going to discuss with our audience today. That is–you, Charles–or Charlie–are a man who’s extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied.

CHARLIE: I… wouldn’t really frame the issue that way. Seems too simplistic. And reductionist. It’s definitely more than that.. but, uh, I guess if that’s convenient for you, then… fine!

DON: I see what’s happening here.

CHARLIE: Do you? I doubt it.

DON:

CHARLIE: But again–it’s ok!

DON: Ok! So. Let’s move on–

CHARLIE: God, I hate when people move on, but…

DON: –but let me guess–you’re fine with it?

CHARLIE: Sure! I mean, what can you do? Launch a revolution?

DON: Charlie, you don’t have to launch a revolution for anything. You know, you can say “No” if you really don’t like what’s happening.

CHARLIE: I do say “No.” I say “No” all the freakin’ time. But then people or circumstances push back, and when that happens, I say “Fine then, yes!”

DON: Don’t you think that’s a supremely defeatist attitude?

CHARLIE: Oh, I do. I do think it’s defeatist. And cowardly. And absolutely nothing will ever change in my life if I continue being this way!

DON: And? How do you feel about that? Sorry, let me rephrase–

CHARLIE: Oh, I HATE IT!

DON: Jesus.

CHARLIE: GODDAMMIT I HATE THE FEELING! But at the end of the day, I just let it slide. It sucks but.. fine!

DON: See, Charlie, maybe you just need to try harder. If things don’t go your way, perhaps you should try just a little bit harder to, you know, get really, constantly angry at the state of things!

CHARLIE: Constantly? Like, uh, constantly-constantly?

DON: Yeah.

CHARLIE: Like, uh, hate it forever?

DON: Yes!

CHARLIE: To do what?

DON: Well, so that you’re so angry and mad at the state of things that you finally push yourself to do something about it!

CHARLIE: Huh.

DON: Don’t you think that’s a better way to live than just being extremely content to be perpetually dissatisfied?

CHARLIE: To be honest–that sounds like a TERRIBLE idea.

DON: Terrible? How so?

CHARLIE: How? What do you mean, how? It’s freakin’ terrible. Constantly being angry in order to actually do things… are you insane? That’s the most terrible idea I’ve ever heard and it makes me sick!

DON: Oh no, just… just stop th–

CHARLIE: But if that’s your opinion, then, FINE!

DON: This… This isn’t going anywhere.

CHARLIE: Nothing’s going anywhere. You, me, this world. All of us ain’t going nowhere. I’ll keep working my soulless day job working with soulless people, enriching some soulless millionaires that keep this soulless society in check! You think just because people are getting more offended these days that this will actually result in a movement that will free us from the savage shackles that have held our humanity back from time immemorial? No! It’s a deception! A mirage! Fifty, five-hundred, five-thousand years from now, we’ll still be talking about the same issues stuck in the same rut!

DON: Charlie, Charlie… I hate to break it to you. But it’s precisely because of people like you that things aren’t going to change. Because you refuse to do anything about your situation! All you do is complain!

CHARLIE: Are you thick? You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t go to bed at night with those exact, same thoughts haunting me to sleep? Of course I’m aware of my shortcomings! Of course I’m aware I’m part of the problem–and the very CAUSE of it! And you know what? I HATE IT!

DON: Here it comes.

CHARLIE: BUT THEN I TAKE A DEEP BREATH, TURN ON THE TELEVISION, AND THEN… I’M OK!

DON: …What do you watch on TV? Maybe… maybe that has something to do with this attitude of yours.

CHARLIE: Nothing particular. Some sappy drama. Or childish sci-fi. Whatever’s on. They’re all garbage. But I watch them anyway. Because once you get used to the trash the soulless media industry is serving you, they numb your mind and your palate enough, and then… they’re ok!

DON: That’s sad.

CHARLIE: Miserable. Bleak. But I’m fine!

DON: What about a relationship? Maybe you just need to be loved and experience love to get out of this vicious cycle of being utterly content with misery?

CHARLIE: Oh, that has nothing to do with it. I’ve been married for over 10 years already.

DON: Wow! That’s quite an accomplishment. You must love your wife very much.

CHARLIE:

DON: Er, right?

CHARLIE: …Nah, I don’t like that woman.

DON: What??

CHARLIE: Yeah… I mean, I got her pregnant after the most horrible sexual intercourse I’ve ever had!

DON:

CHARLIE: Like, I’m not even kidding. It’s shockingly boring and disgusting at the same time! But we sort of… you know, got off, so the thing did its job, so I guess it’s all right. Then her belly started growing bigger after a few months and both our parents pushed us to get together. Oh, I freakin’ raised hell about that for weeks! I screamed at all of them, told them hell no I’m not marrying that woman whom I barely remembered from one drunken night at the pub! But my parents are devout Christians and they believe that a child has to have a father and mother living together yadda yadda yadda. So, you know, after a week, even though I didn’t like her not one bit, I said, “What the hell, FINE, I’ll marry the wench!” And we got married, and the baby was born, and oh God Almighty, what a bloody ugly baby that was who grew up to be one of the ugliest children I’ve ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes on. And my own flesh and blood, you know? But I accepted the kid, anyway.

DON: Because deep inside you loved your kid, right??

CHARLIE: Nah. Because I couldn’t do shit about it anyway. So… FINE!

DON: OK THAT’S IT! FINE! Let’s end the interview right here. I’ve had enough!

CHARLIE: You angry at me, Don?

DON: YES! WHAT KIND OF A FATHER HATES HIS OWN KID? YOU’RE… YOU’RE MAD! YOU’RE PSYCHO!

CHARLIE: So what? What are you gonna do about it?

DON: I–I… WELL, NOTHING FOR NOW!

CHARLIE: So you’re fine for now?

DON: GODDAMMIT. I’M AFRAID WE’LL HAVE TO CUT THIS STINKIN’ PROGRAM SHORT AGAIN! ‘TIL NEXT TIME IN THIS GOD-FORSAKEN MADHOUSE OF A SHOW! THIS IS DON FERNANDEZ, HOST OF THE HUMAN CONDITION, SAYING GOODNIGHT AND GOOD LUCK! I HATE ALL OF YOU!

CHARLIE: Come on, Don! Chill! It’ll pass!

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