I have long suspected that our society is becoming dissociated from reality. It started in our schools, continued on into our culture, and has finally and possibly fatally, affected the Halls of Congress. When I was little, the popular version of The Pilgrims told how they arrived from Europe seeking religious freedom, made friends with the Indians who, in their enthusiasm to please the new arrivals, taught them how to raise corn, roast turkeys, and make clothes that didn’t make them all look like pictures on an oatmeal box. Nowadays, children are taught how the white man invaded America with the express purpose of conquering the land, exterminating the natives through genocidal bio-warfare involving smallpox-infected blankets, and polluting the air and water. Both versions perpetuated the image of the indigenous people living in harmony with nature. We are often reminded of how they killed only what they needed and used every part of an animal, wasting nothing.
It is there where reality ends and fantasy begins. The people living here when the Pilgrims arrived were still living in the Stone Age. They used every part of the animal because they had no Wal-Mart, no convenience stores, and no mass production. Most often, they moved into an area, ate everything that walked, crawled, or flew, and then moved to another area to consume that flora and fauna. Occasionally, they moved into an area that was already populated by other people engaged in the eat-everything-and-move method of survival. Then the two groups would fight and the losers were exterminated and, depending on how hungry the winners were, possibly eaten. What the romanticists fail to realize is that living in nature, by its very definition, is an adversarial relationship. Mother Nature is a vicious bitch that will kill you for no other reason than you happened to get wet during the winter, or because the cut on your arm got infected. Researching and developing physics, metallurgy, medicine, chemistry, agriculture, animal husbandry, math, scientific method, or any of a million other areas of study vital to the advancement of one’s society is difficult when the task of finding breakfast takes until lunch time. Or dinner time. Or if you’re killed while pursuing said meal.
The Pilgrims themselves had adopted a form of Socialism in that all food was equally shared regardless of who did the work. Unfortunately for them, human nature kicked in and, as in all cases when everything belongs to everybody, no one attended to the necessary duties of survival. A combination of inclement weather, communal living, and a complete lack of familiarity with their new environment worked against them. The end result was that many died of disease, starvation, and probably boredom. Had they not brought provisions with them, it is entirely possible that they would have been forced to adopt a system in which they ate everything edible in a given area, and then move on to where there was more edible stuff. In other words, except for dressing funny, they would have acted very much like the people that were already there.
You can dispute the details of the things I have listed, but, the reality is that a bunch of people left Europe for reasons of their own, arrived on these shores, discovered that there were people already here, and as is usual when different cultures encounter one another, had varying degrees of conflict until the more numerous and technologically advanced culture rose to the ascendant position.
While our schools have allowed the truth to be obfuscated by political agendas, our culture has abandoned any pretense and just shed any vestige of reality whatsoever. We embrace the lies nowhere so much as we do in our entertainment. The abundance of shows that are categorized under the heading “Reality Shows” is a perfect indication of just how lost we’ve become. The typical format is for a group of people to be thrown together in unusual circumstances, with the requirement that they cooperate to achieve a common goal, or perhaps just cohabitate, or even work against another, similar group. They are given a set of tasks they must perform in order to prove their worthiness to continue. Audiences, through the magic of the internet, convey their support, critique the performance of their favorite group, or express their admiration. The contestants are held up as examples of the way things should be done. The most egregious violators of reality are those shows that purport to display an individual’s or a group’s ability to “survive”. The aforementioned contestants, usually young, physically fit, and above average to stunningly attractive, are then set on an island and given a set of tasks to perform while the audience watches.
It is all a scam. Taking your average twenty-something out of their day-to-day life, transporting them to a tropical island, and forcing them to sleep outside in the rain isn’t really a life or death situation. Uncomfortable? Absolutely. But in Southwest Asia there are thousands of young men and women living in conditions far worse than that. And, those on the television show don’t need to worry about being ambushed, blown up, shot, or mortared. And therein lies the rub; there is no real hazard. Anyone who is injured has the advantage of being medevaced out. Food is provided for them. Heck, they can quit if they want to. “Survivor” should either insert an element of real danger to the mix (my preference would be to release a Bengal Tiger on to the island) or change its name to “Discomfort”
Another style of reality shows are the ones that give us glimpses into the worlds of repo men, bounty hunters, and cops. In those instances, the audience goes from merely curious to completely voyeuristic. We watch (yes, I’m as guilty as anyone) as people make their living by placing themselves in conflict with others. The reasons why are important only in that they identify the good guy from the bad guy. The show about repossession agents shows only the trials and tribulations faced by the people with the tow truck. It doesn’t show the guy that lost his job and is in the process of his life falling apart as he scrambles around trying to make ends meet. The bounty hunter is displayed as doing the dirty work of bail enforcement while ignoring the family members of the bail jumper who are scared shitless when the bounty hunter barges in looking for his target. Their anger is viewed as an invalid response to the people who are just trying to do right when, in fact, it is probably a response to some loud-mouthed jerk disrupting their lives and scaring their children.
The shows that follow the police may actually do some good. We cannot know how many ass-kickings have been prevented by the presence of a camera taking video that is slated for national broadcast. No doubt, many an officer has been exonerated by the presence of video and citizens have possibly been prevented from suffering abuse at the hands of an abusive police officer. Regardless, they do not show the blood, the terror, the heartbreak, and the violence that is a daily occurrence on any city’s mean streets. They show those incidents that are quickly resolved and are edited for language and content.
Yet, we are exposed to these shows and images 24 hours a day. Our children are indoctrinated during their school year and then they come home and watch whatever is on television, amounting to more indoctrination and a greater distancing from reality. In all situations, they are conditioned to believe that adversity should be conquered in 47 minutes (minus commercials) or less and that all situations are resolved with a benign ending if not a happy one.
The real, soul-crushing tragedy about this is that those that have faced real adversity, overcome overwhelming odds, or have sacrificed, truly sacrificed, are lost to them. Young men no longer know about Hugh Glass’ six week ordeal in getting back to civilization after being mauled by a grizzly and left for dead. Nor do they know of Dieter Dengler’s escape from a Laotian prison camp, the tragedy of the Donner Party, the horrors and triumphs experienced by survivors of The Holocaust, the rise of Communism, or the breakdown of order. We seek to live vicariously through the exploits of television heroes while ignoring the wisdom and experience of people that have suffered real trials in situations neither controlled nor choreographed.
Nowhere do we see a greater disconnect from reality than in our own government. Under the guise of “problem solving” our Congress, Senate, and Executive bicker and squabble about whose method is superior, whose plan will most benefit our country, and which sector of society should pay their fair share, whatever that means. We have had a government that has had no budget for over 2 years. Rather than make hard, unpopular, decisions, they vote for extension after extension after extension, never solving anything and careful to offend no one. The problem is not determining who is right, the problem is that everyone is wrong.
The Democrats would have us believe that the only way to get out of debt is by incurring more debt. That the best way to stimulate the economy is to raise taxes on an already over-burdened people and allow nearly half the population to live off of the taxes paid by the other half.
The Republicans think that by explaining that entitlements need to be cut in order to save the country, those whose entitlements are to be cut will just shrug and say, “Oh, okay, being as how it’s for the good of the country and all.” and that there will be no backlash. Plus, they have the added attraction of infighting between those that wish to continue the status quo, and those that see the cliff we are headed towards and wish to change course.
The reality? Our country is broke, in debt, and there doesn’t appear to be anyone willing to lead us out of this mess. The previous administration saw fit to use the attack of 9/11 to create the largest bureaucracy in our nation’s history to that point, costing us trillions. The administration before that enacted legislation that laid the groundwork for the housing bubble to pop, the financial sector to collapse, and for China to be the recipient of our manufacturing base. All of which ultimately cost us trillions. The current President, obviously being a student of the previous two, saw no reason to bring spending under control and, in a masterful blending of philosophies, spent money like George W. Bush while lying his ass off like William Jefferson Clinton.
Unfortunately for us common folk, Economics has much in common with Mother Nature in that it has a cavalier disregard for what we want, or even what we need. And, just as in nature, the more so-called experts that meddle with the natural forces, the more pronounced are the laws of unintended consequences. I’ll use Hawaii as an example; When ships began making regular stops there, the inadvertent introduction of rats on to the islands wrought havoc upon the local wildlife. Experts decided that the problem was the lack of a predator, so they imported mongooses to prey upon the rats. The Problem? Rats are nocturnal, Mongooses are diurnal, so they likely never saw one another. The species that paid the price was the sea turtle. Being blissfully unaware of the rat/mongoose problem, the sea turtles came ashore and laid their eggs as they had for millions of years. Unfortunately, due to the meddling of experts, rats and mongooses both saw the sea turtles eggs as nothing so much as a huge buffet delivered right to their beach. End result? Rats and mongooses flourished while sea turtle babies had to contend with even more predators than the usual seagulls and fish that awaited their arrival.
How does this apply to the current budget crisis? Simple; experts of the same philosophical bent as those that “solved” the rat problem in Hawaii, saw that the middle class was suffering under a crushing tax burden. Their solution? Institute a series of tax increases upon “the rich”; a segment of society that apparently has a level of income that enables them to live without the benefit of government aid. The amount of income that identifies them as “rich” changes with each administration, the current number being $250,000 per year. Generally speaking, those that can be identified as rich produce some good or service that the public at large deems necessary and buys regularly, or they work for a corporation that does. When the government decides through debate, desire for re-election, or Magic 8-Ball that it’s necessary to raise the taxes of the producers, those that produce are understandably loathe to suffer a reduction in their income, thus, they cover the shortfall by raising prices on whatever good or service they provide. End result? Those that are not rich, known as “the rest of us” end up paying our own taxes and covering theirs. So higher taxes (the rats) are met by higher prices (the mongooses) which end up putting a greater burden upon the rest of us (the sea turtles). Get it?
Now, it would seem that the best course of action would be for politicians to leave well enough alone and let the economy chug along on its own. Unfortunately, politicians, like bureaucrats everywhere, must justify their existence by doing things. It doesn’t matter if they do the right thing or the wrong thing, the important thing is that they are doing something. The truly infuriating thing is that, despite all of their claims of doing this to benefit this group or that group, in the long run it ends up benefitting the same group: politicians and their cronies. They have no real interest in fixing things because, for them, it ain’t broken!
Reality? In their view, we are just Multi-Use Labor Elements placed here to benefit them. They will do just enough to placate us in order to keep us from hunting them down and feeding them to ravenous sea turtles.