" That's one more kid that will never ... get to be cool."
- Neil Young, Rockin' in the Free World, 1989

" I’d rather be dead than cool."
- Nirvana, Stay Away, 1991

What a difference a couple of years makes.

When Neil Young used the word “cool,” he was talking about people who are non-conformists. It’s a major challenge to be a non-conformist in the modern world. The pressure to be dull and bland is overwhelming. With enough effort and discipline, though, you can deflect these social influences. You can develop yourself – create your own map to life – such that you become truly unique. However, as Kurt Cobain, who was unique, accurately perceived, this is no longer the meaning to which the term “cool” applies.

Real cool is dead. It has been transformed, transmogrified actually, into “corporate cool.” Cool is no longer what you become through your own creative expression, your dedication to being original. Instead, it is what you are told is cool, through advertisements, as a stimulus to get you to buy. (A Buddhist monk has described the current use of the word as “narcissistic detachment,” i.e., a new and subtle form of socially approved personal selfishness.)

A non-conformist is someone who has an alternative approach to life, who takes a stand against the rotten and depraved uniformity that is now shoved down our throats. Cool was first established by hippies and other long hairs in the late sixties and early seventies. (Another term used then was “far out.”) Social institutions took note, and as a defensive response turned the word against us. Cool is now used as a weapon, by corporate and media fascists, to brainwash weak and undisciplined minds.

The word has been re-engineered to describe the exact opposite of what it originally meant. So now we have Nike cool, Pepsi cool, even extreme sports cool.

Extreme sports “X games” are bullshit, for the following reason. Corporations and television media have taken risky, individual pursuits (steep skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, big wave surfing, rock climbing, mountain biking, etc.), where competition between people traditionally was not an objective, and commercialized them by adding the competition.

The real objective of dangerous sports is to push your limits and transcend the distinction between mind and body. At the most difficult moments, in climbing this is called the “crux,” mind and body become unified. There is no conscious separation; it is a form of enlightenment. At such moments, instantaneous personal growth is possible. Under the threat of death or serious injury you push yourself to do something that you have never before been able to accomplish, to literally change who you are.

Corporations take out deepest strivings, and make them hostage to the profit motive. And for the X games participants, the tattooed corporate spokespeople, who needs enlightenment when you can be rich?

Every new generation is being conditioned more intensively than the last, into docile consumers and workers, what have been called “sheeples. The only way to stop this is to fight back. But there is a price to resistance and rebellion. The institutions are determined to preserve and if possible expand their power over us. At its worst you may be killed outright, witness all the activists around the world who have been murdered; or beaten down until, as Kurt demonstrated, you take your own life.

Fortunately, as a weapon of corporate propaganda, “cool” is relatively easy to disarm. Boycott the word. Never use it, and shun those who do. Explain to them that it’s not cool to say “cool.” And, of course, never buy anything that is advertised using the word or its associated image.

It’s time we showed some originality anyway and invented a new word, or many. It’s a continual process, even “radical” and “phat” are now out of date (not to mention “tubular.”). And when all else fails, there’s always “excellent.” That’s what cool means anyway.