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Doug's Republic

Doug Knell


What's the point of seeing THE POINT, the 1971 telefilm that Nilsson composes the music for and Ringo Starr narrates? The movie discussed, in kid's terms, the meaning of life. Doug's Repuublic asks if we're better off or worse off when we apply certain choices.

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Finding The Point In An Increasingly Pointless World
the point

Without a nice, sharp point to one's life, how to get motivated to get out of bed every morning?

Back when I was three, I saw a cartoon movie on TV called The Point. All the people in this little village had pointed heads. One little boy, Obiyo, is born without a point and is therefore banished to the Pointed Forest. There, on his short journey, he encounters a variety of characters who convince him that everyone and everything does, indeed, have a point. Back to his native village Obiyo goes and announces this news to everyone, and as he realizes this, his own previously normal-shaped head sprouts a point. Point made, happy ending delivered.

But does this really apply in the life most of us must lead? Does everything have a point, and if everything does, is the point sharp enough and meaningful enough that we can motivate ourselves enough to get out of bed each morning?

Let me illustrate with a real example. At this moment in my life, I am attempting to sell a detoxification regimen to spas and health clinics around the world. For me to sell to these prospects, I must first locate them, which isn't all that difficult by using the internet, although it's still a long and laborious process manually databasing them and keeping track of the last time they were contacted.

The other day, as I was entering in yet more names to my database and sending out fresh marketing letters to others, I asked myself what felt like a very reasonable question: what was the point? Whenever you introduce a new product to a new audience, the initial reaction is commonly negative. Few people want to try anything new. To overcome this barrier, you have to repeatedly approach your audience, highlighting different aspects of the product, until some, then eventually more, try the product.

But let's get back to the point of what's the point. In the short run, the point is always the same: money. A wants to sell to B in order to earn money. In most cases, A needs the money to survive. Sometimes, A doesn't need the money, but is still focused on the making of it because how much one sells determines how successful the business is, and no one wants to be in business to not be successful. Witness Silicon Valley's serial entrepreneurs. These fellows aren't short of cash, but no one starts a new venture so as to not, eventually, make money.

It doesn't matter what business you're in. If you're an actor, your business is selling your acting services. You may love acting and be willing to do it for free, but you realize if you can't get paid for it, then you're going to have to procure a job in another field selling something else so as to continue doing what you love. If you're a chef, you're selling your culinary skills. If you're an entrepreneur, you're selling your company's hopefully unique products and services.

Now let's try to see the forest for the trees. Ask yourself, as dispassionately as you can, "If I fail to sell my product or service, is the world worse off?" Let me take a guess as to the answer: the world wouldn't bat an eyelid.

Take my own situation. If I fail to sell a lot of bottles of my detoxification formula, life expectancies worldwide aren't going to fall through the floor. A lot of people who stayed toxic might wind up, down the line, with some debilitating disease which they'll ascribe to other factors. Then again, if they took my detoxification formula and cleaned themselves out of heavy metal toxins, they'd still die of something else eventually. In the end, I'd never really know how many people truly benefited over decades with the product's use or who suffered over decades because they failed to ever use it. Life would go on or end as usual, and someone else would finally get around to selling some of these people a life insurance policy.

Look at Harrison Ford. Ford had done some minor stints in acting up till he was cast in Star Wars in 1977, but nothing major. When New Year's 1977 arrived, Ford's most famous movie was American Graffiti. Ford still earned most of his bread and butter from carpentry work. Let's say Ford had failed to sell his acting services to George Lucas' Star Wars casting director and some other actor had gotten the part. With no blockbuster highlighting Ford's talents, another actor probably would have scored the part of Indiana Jones in 1981. Would the world be that much worse off?

Better off and worse off really only apply, in most instances, to the individual case. I am worse off, financially, if I fail to sell my detoxification formula, and as a result of being worse off financially, I may wind up worse off psychologically. The rest of humanity would not be worse off because they never would've been acquainted with my product to buy it or refuse to buy it. Harrison Ford is the one who would have been worse off, financially, had another decent actor been cast in Star Wars. He might well have never made it in acting. The movie-going public wouldn't have been worse off. We would've instead been entertained by another actor and not able to imagine anyone else but that actor in the part of Han Solo.

There are only a smattering of circumstances where better off and worse off can truly be measured. The first polio vaccine, for example, was introduced to the American public in 1952. From 1988 to 2007, the number of annually diagnosed polio cases dropped from 350,000 to 1,310. By 1994, the region of the Americas was declared polio-free. Compare that to 1952, when 58,000 people in the United States (0.04% of the American population then) were diagnosed with polio in one of America's worst ever outbreaks. It's hard to make firm guesses about how many Americans the vaccinations have ultimately spared, but if we make ultra-conservative assumptions like 0.01% of the population would've been newly diagnosed with polio each year without the introduction of a vaccine, then over 1.2m people have avoided the disease.

It's not often that someone or something comes along which alters the course of humanity. Few of us are that important. Sorry, Obama lovers. Even your JFK-reincarnated savior isn't all that important. If you think my detoxification formula and Harrison Ford's career aren't important, you can be triply certain that humanity wouldn't miss most politicians, presidents included.

As depressing as this realization of meaningless is, it's also quite empowering. Throughout my life, I've been a failure, by my standards, at most of the things I've endeavored to do. I judged myself harshly for it, too. But when I consider that the world wouldn't be all that different had I succeeded instead of failed, it makes me comprehend that all the battles I put before myself to win were just there for my own ego. Few others cared about the outcome, and now that all makes sense. Few others in the scheme of things would have been better off with my successes as few have been made worse off by my failures.

Most things just don't matter all that much. If they seem to matter, they only matter around the time they happen, causing but a slight ripple in the tide of events that people shortly up the timeline will scarcely notice. Think of the JFK assassination of 1963. That was a humongous event at the time and to this day, people who were alive then remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the tragic news. Were most people's lives immensely affected? Not really, and almost five decades on, everyone is that much less affected because JFK, had he survived 1963, would be dead now from other causes anyway, the end result being the same.

Is it a tremendous deal when a landmark TV series gets canceled? Only within a short span of time before and after the cancellation. The season finale of M*A*S*H in 1983 drew 106 million American viewers and remains, more than a quarter of a century later, the single most watched TV-series broadcast in American history. How many people know that (or care) today? In fact, how many people under aged 25 have ever watched an episode of M*A*S*H or ever heard of the show?

Have you ever been to a party and introduced yourself to strangers, and they don't listen to a word you're saying? Well, that's how most of humanity views you. Don't get too upset. We're all virtually in the same boat. The key distinction between the famous and the ordinary is that the masses pay attention to famous people and things while they're famous and never pay much or any heed to the unknown.   But in the long run, there is no difference. A once famous person or product no longer known by the current generation will be paid no more attention to than someone or something that was never famous.

Twenty years from now, no one will give a hoot whether I sold five million bottles of my detox formula or five hundred -- no one but me and the people close to me. Clearly, I give a hoot how many I sell; my life stands to be dramatically different if I sell more rather than less. And JFK's family, his cabinet, his associates and, to a lesser degree, the general public of 1963 all greatly cared that JFK got snuffed out at age 46, as their lives were affected by the turn of events caused by his assassination. But does someone born 20 years after the assassination really care?

Let me extend the time scale and ask you this question: do you sincerely care that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 and President William McKinley in 1901? Of course you don't. On some level, you probably feel pity that these men died before their time, the same way you would feel about anyone who met a tragic premature end. No one rejoices when they read about someone in a far off locale dying in a plane crash or fire. But do you really care, as you would if it were your parent, spouse, or child who was assassinated? How could you? Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley died long before your birth. They had no direct impact on your life. And if a great man like Honest Abe Lincoln doesn't matter much, my detox solution matters a helluva lot less.

I've found focusing on the long, long term -- the macro scale -- can be frightfully depressing. In the long run, we'll be nothing but a line on someone's family tree chart, if that. It's not the most inspiring attitude to get ourselves out of bed. It's more productive to focus on the micro scale: what will the impact of our actions have on us and the people closest to us? Personally, that's something which can motivate me. It's already been established that what I do (or what most anyone does) will equate to near zero impact in the long term horizon, even if what I do is a major accomplishment, like write a bestselling novel or sell cartloads of detox formula. But in a few decades' time, it's doubtful my current bestselling book would still be in print or my detox formula still on store shelves. So why even think about it? Instead, it's more useful to channel my energies into making a short term impact, enough to better the lives of those in my personal sphere of influence. If, for instance, I can manage to sell large shipments of detox, I can afford to take my girlfriend and her son on a nice skiing holiday to Japan or purchase the fancy electric piano she wants.

This realization may be elementary to you. It wasn't to me. For years, I was obsessed about doing my best. I wouldn't embark on a project unless I could devote solid effort and energy to it. I spent 3 years writing a trilogy I'm very proud of, over a thousand single-spaced typewritten pages, but which only one person read and 49 agents rejected. Had I spent a quarter of the time writing the books and the result been an eighth as good, but secured an agent in the process, I could have made a more effective impact on the micro scale. When I'd write a song, I'd sometimes spend days crafting just two stanzas until they sounded right. For what?  Few people ever heard the music. It wasn't like I was being enlisted to compose the music or lyrics to a West End or Broadway show, places where a larger impact could be made.

Doug's Republic is yet another example. I concocted the idea of Doug's Republic way back in September 2008 and registered the domain a month later. Then, I proceeded to do nothing with it. I didn't have the time, and in the back of my mind, I didn't think anyone would ever make the time to seriously visit it -- including people I already knew. The idea kept gnawing at me until I committed myself toward writing content for the site, and even then, I forced myself to not go public with the site until I'd already uploaded a ream of content which took me a year-and-a-half to create.  Again, I  took myself far more seriously than most of my potential visitors probably ever would.

In the short run, the point is always to sell your product or service to someone else. We're told at a young age to do what makes us happy. With the point of it all under consideration, what we are actually asked to do is choose among the activities which make us happiest that which has the best chance of us being able to profit from financially. Plenty of actors and writers and athletes have foregone their first loves because of the obstacles involved in being able to get paid adequately for their services. Because many of us can't reconcile what we're doing with the programmed idea of us supposedly doing what makes us happiest, we look for 'the point' in the long run but find that looking so far ahead yields nothing.

The other day I was telling a story to a friend about something unusual that had just happened to me, and several times he prompted me with "And the point of this is?" The story about myself I was telling, just like most of our lives, had no deep-seated truths or morals -- no point as it were. It was just a story, but everybody's been brought up to think there should always be a point.

Life has no meaning apart from what we make of it. When we and our loved ones are no longer around to manufacture that meaning, our lives, seen by those from the distant future, appear meaningless.

I hope that's a point well taken.

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