Manufacturing Dissent Since 1996
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Moment of Truth: The Cereal Is The Message

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

I want to correct the common misconception that we don't have seasons here in LA. False. We have rain season, fire season, allergy season, and pilot season.

We also have many different kinds of milk. Goat milk, camel milk, almond milk, hemp milk, buttermilk, buffalo milk, cashew milk, turmeric milk, 2% milk, lactose-free milk... an exhaustive list would be exhausting.

I like lists. I like labels. I love to hate-read commercial copy. I've been an avid reader of cereal boxes since I was a wee lad. The cereal box is a rare example these days of literature that is far more commonly read on hard copy than in digital format.

Food labels are deceptively misinformative. They tell you the selective nutritional content of the grub in the container. They give a somewhat fanciful list of ingredients. (I collect synonyms for "sugar.") Labels can even more fancifully describe the essential nature of the food: is it "all natural?" Is it "organic?" You never see food announcing that it's "partially synthetic," "now less delicious," "sprinkled with insect parts," or "made from repurposed latex detritus and shaved lead." We don't look for truths on our food packaging.

Where do we find truths in hard copy? Books! Ever read one of these rustic bastards? They're made of paper and other old-fashioned materials, such as string and glue, cloth, and sometimes leather.

Some books contain hard truths, some easy ones, and some no truths at all, but only lies. Cowboys and seafaring people used to read them, that's how ancient books are.

I'm reading one currently! There are a couple of tricks to it. First, you have to find a comfortable position in which to hold the equipment and gaze at it for minutes at a time. Secondly, you have to open the thing, and hold it open, either on a lectern, or using your human hands, feet, face, or a heavy object such as a brick or a rock. Even another book will do. Even a cereal bowl. The paper and ink inside reveal the thoughts of the person or persons who composed or compiled the contents. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is, and that's one of the few things you can say that about.

Books are also unusual in that they begin in one place and end in another, unlike a Mobius strip, or the universe. In this way books mimic journeys. And, like a journey, they can be bad for your health. You can lose things on the way. Books can cause brain diseases, which is one reason they fell out of fashion. Books are dangerous. Books are not for children!

The book I'm currently reading is called The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1998, and it was written by Marilyn Young. As I recall, it begins somewhere in the jungles of someplace, maybe South America. It's a jungle story, like the story of Tarzan, but in this case Tarzan is replaced by Ho Chi Minh, who could talk to animals and, most importantly, to people.

In the beginning, the French Army tried to kill Ho Chi Minh and his people. They wanted to steal all the Vietnamese food from the people, such as banh mi sandwiches and Thai iced coffee and Sriracha sauce and whatnot. Then the French got invaded by the Germans, so the Japanese took over abusing the Vietnamese for a while. Then, after the big bombs were dropped on Japan, and WWII ended, Ho Chi Minh thought, "The United States can blow up the world. And they love peace and freedom. So I'll ask them if Vietnam can be an independent country." Because that was what he'd always wanted.

But it turned out the United States wanted to give at least part of Vietnam back to France, as a reward for being such a great ally during the war. Ho Chi Minh and his friends were unhappy, because they had to go back to waging the independence war they'd been fighting since forever.

But the French weren't any better at fighting the Vietnamese than they'd been at fighting off the Germans. To be fair, the Vietnamese had been fighting for so long, and were thus so knowledgeable about how to move and supply themselves over otherwise impassible terrain, that they were unbeatable. The United States didn't want to believe it, because Vietnam was a tiny nation of mostly farmers. If the tough Japanese could be beat, why not these puny people living in mountains and jungles and rice paddies? Also, the Vietnamese were communists, so not fighting them was a non-starter. They couldn't be allowed to have their own country.

Early on in Vietnam, communism meant freeing the farmers from having to pay rent to landlords who kept them in poverty, teaching people to read, and giving women equal rights. Later on it included getting military aid from more imperialist communist governments, such as the Soviet Union. When Vietnam finally won, the communists decided to get revenge on anyone who had been on the other side. It seemed like all that fuss could have been avoided by giving Vietnam to the Vietnamese way back in the first half of the 20th century, or even earlier if possible. But hindsight is 20-20.

Even before he'd gotten rid of the French, Ho Chi Minh's first land reform attempt in the North resulted in some 30,000 dead people, in part because its goal of wealth redistribution gave opportunistic people an excuse to use violence for any number of less constructive goals. The defeat of the United States ended up with even more horrific, vindictive violence.

Looking back historically, moments of social upheaval, especially when the moment is one of throwing off a persecuting power, seem to be taken by both the populace and the higher-ups as an opportunity for violence and destruction. But then again, it's kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing – the violence already in the system, but unacknowledged by its nutritional content label, is as likely to be a contributing cause to the upheaval's violence as the nature of an upheaval itself. It's always more complex than any history book can explain. Societies are complicated.

Here in the United States, today, we seem, sometimes, to be on the verge of a massive social upheaval. Our own society, which is a web of societies, which are themselves webs of smaller communities, themselves networks of smaller groups and individuals, is unmanageably complex. Back when the rich white Christian men and those who aspired to be them thought they were the only ones who mattered, they thought it was complicated. Now that everyone wants to matter, even though the rich white Christian men and those who aspire to be them still insist they're the ones who matter most, the truly incomprehensible social complexity of the United States is beginning to reveal itself.

But the blurb on the back still says, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. It still says, "All are created equal, with inalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It still says, "If you work hard and play by the rules, you can achieve the American Dream." It sounds so simple and so clear. No wonder no one's thought to revise it. And in some ways it should be clear. Like that 3-ingredient ice cream. Just milk, sugar, and berries or whatever, and you have ice cream. But it turns out rights aren't so easy to define, typically because the people who can afford more rights won't cooperate. What if your pre-existing privilege depends on defining rights more restrictively for others? The answer, usually, is, "I think I'll be a dick about it."

I'm not sure what communism means in Vietnam nowadays, but I have a cousin teaching there this year, so I'll find out a little from him. In exchange I'll tell him how I enjoyed my cereal, and how well its ingredients and nutritional literature match up with my experience, or if it's just a lot of propaganda.

Just add milk. Sounds so simple, doesn't it? What do they mean by "milk?" This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!

Moment of Truth


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