REWIND: “This week in solipsistic beer narcissism” (2014)

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Lightly edited to remove a couple of obscure topical references.

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In 2010 Barack Obama returned to a theme often broached during his historic campaign for the White House. It happened during the 2010 State of the Union address.

“The best anti-poverty program around is a world class education.”

Naturally, the precise components of a “world class education” are open to interpretation, discussion and debate between open-minded citizens, assuming you can find any of them in these idiotically polarized times, but the overall sentiment that education is a corrective to impoverishment has been proven to be truthful again and again.

I submit that the word “impoverishment” has more than one meaning as used in this context. We’d be correct in the assumption that there are clear and compelling correlations between education and the eradication of material impoverishment.

However, we might also consider impoverishment in creative, artistic and cultural contexts. How one’s attitude toward the general topic of knowledge, pertaining to its veracity as an end onto itself as well as the tangible benefits gained from expansive education — as opposed to a confining illiteracy — shapes what we know and the uses to which we put our knowledge.

According to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who drank wine: “With regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it.”

What I think he meant is that possessing something of supposed value for the sole purpose of the object’s ability to reflect its “value” back on the holder somewhat misses the point. The true value of the object is derived from it being used wisely, and a well-rounded education supplies the means to make this determination.

Given the perpetual linkages between education and personal advancement, why is it that people choose to devalue the notion of education, eschewing the why, how and wherefore, and substituting in their place a solipsistic, narcissism-driven, knee-jerk, me-first hedonism?

Perhaps it’s the logical outcome of our American strains of materialism and consumerism. When it comes to pulse-quickening snobbery, exclusionary avarice and frenzied hoarding, the very last thought surfacing in one’s fevered, acquisitive brain is the possibility that all is not quite what it seems.

Do you still desire the object once it is revealed that the profit chain leads straight into the Texas-sized mass of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, or to the owners of factory-farmed chickens wallowing in their own feces, or to the pockets of the AB-InBev?

Except you really want the object, don’t you? Your prestige depends on that Instagram post, and so you want it right now — and by “it” I refer not to a mass-produced Trojan Goose barrel-aged ale, but to a blissfully unexamined version of capitalist doltishness, wherein there are no reasons whatever for diagnosing the nature of the itch, only interminable scratching.

The writer Aldous Huxley called this phenomenon soma. If you don’t know the source of this reference, perhaps it’s time to read a book.

But I’m nothing if not stubborn. Ideas matter, and all too often, both the country at large and my own beer and brewing milieu are dismally stupid and mercilessly tacky places. These daily tsunamis of crass materialism and consumerist greed have come to define the American experience, and even when the topic is “craft” beer — perhaps modern America’s signature accomplishment — we have digressed just as quickly into 24-7, must-have shopping zombies, pausing occasionally to thank Jesus for the blessed privilege of possessing our baubles, and ignoring what’s happening in our own back yards because there’s not enough status in mere localism.

It’s the old Chinese proverb; you guessed it, the one printed on plasticized card stock suitable for framing, and available not from the heirs to Billy Mays, but from Wal-Mart via Guangdong Province:

“It’s all about me.”

Yes, it is. And that’s also why solipsistic beer narcissism doesn’t interest me. An Ordinary Bitter, please, and keep it coming.

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