Friday, November 17, 2017

What a Fool Believes...

Note: This is a draft posting from 2015 that I just got around to finishing today! Hard to believe there are over 300 unpublished drafts....

Are we poised on the verge of a new age of enlightenment - or at the brink of a new dark ages?

Living in America, we often forget how horrific life is in the rest of the world.  In many, if not most, parts of the world, life is nasty, brutish, and short.

While we laud the legalization of Gay marriage in the USA, elsewhere in the world, Gays are still stoned, beaten, or burned to death - by a religion whose stated goal is to take over the planet.   We laud the advancement in women's rights here in the US - while in India, women are raped and in Africa, their genitals are mutilated.   We worry about racial inequality - and income inequality - in the United States, while in Africa, people are routinely slaughtered for being of the wrong tribe.   And in most parts of the world, there are the very, very rich, and the utterly destitute, with no "middle class" in-between.   Yet we whine about the minimum wage.

People are quick to point out that the sort of horrific things happening in the other parts of the world can't happen here or will never happen here.   But I disagree.  We are one crises or recession away from major social change.  Our country would never have engaged in torture, for example.   Even after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the internment of thousands of Japanese, the government did not resort to torture to extract information about spying or plots.   But after 9/11, well, for some reason, we almost expected it and then acted unconcerned when it happened.

And more than a decade later, we are learning what we should have known all along - that "confessions" obtained through torture are often worthless, as people will say anything they think you want to hear, if you torture them long enough.   All we did was give ourselves a black eye - well, and the people we tortured. 

Although we live in an age of high technology, it seems that superstition and primitive religions have become stronger than ever.   We've decoded the human genome, but we cannot teach evolution in school.  Fewer people are religious, but the few that are, believe that God literally wrote the Bible (on a celestial typewriter) and that every single word in it is God talking, and moreover that it is all incontrovertibly true - even the parts that contradict one another.   Even the Pope isn't that crazy.

We look back through history and see how people can lurch from rationality to insanity within a few years.   And people can commit atrocities in the name of freedom or nationalism - and the sweep it all conveniently under the rug later on.  During our own American Revolution - which was more of a civil war - people looted, sacked, and killed each other, based upon their loyalty to the crown or to the new State.  And after the war ended, many lost all their property and were forced to flee the country.   It was not the nice clean war we learned about in school - with plucky revolutionaries fighting paid Hessian soldiers.

Today, however, the "Founding Fathers" are viewed as religious figures.   And the reality of their lives - divorce, bigamy, adultery, and the like - is denied.  They were freedom-loving patriots, in an era where being "patriotic" meant swearing loyalty to the crown.   How can you be a patriot of a country that doesn't exist yet?

This isn't meant to take a shit on the "founding fathers" (a term coined in the last Century, not the 18th) but rather point out historical accuracy.   These were wealthy men fighting for the right to keep their money, and in some cases, their slaves.  And maybe when Britain abolished slavery in their own country and sought to stamp out the slave trade, it was less high-mindedness that was involved that a need to keep others from such rapid economic gain.  

Same reason they burned down the monasteries.

But I digress...

The point is - and I did have one - is that we have to stop feeling sorry for ourselves in this country and constantly positing that we are put-upon, over-taxed, and our "freedom" is at stake.   Compared to the rest of the world, we have a level of freedom that is dreamed of.  Not only that, we have more freedom and opportunity than any peoples in the history of mankind.

People from overseas get that.  And that is why, when many come here, they do remarkably well in a short period of time.  Despite urban legends and "fake news" rumors, immigrants do not get free furniture and wads of cash at secret government stores.  In fact, they don't get an awful lot and are expected to support themselves in short order.   And many succeed very quickly - unshackled from the limited potential of their home country, they rapidly flourish.

Others, well, they literally expected the streets to be "paved with gold" and wonder why life wasn't easy street when they got here.  In other words, they act like real Americans.

But again, I digress...

I think the real point is, we are poised at a precipice.   We have all this high technology and rapid communications, and yet people still cling to primitive beliefs - perhaps now more than ever.   Thomas Jefferson cut up his bible and pasted the parts he liked into a scrap book to make his own Bible.  Today, that would be considered heresy and he would not be deemed fit for public office.  There was arguably more religious freedom back then, than there was today.

Of course, today, he would be hounded out of Washington for sexually harassing his slave, Sally Hemings.  So maybe we are progressing, and not regressing.  It's so damn hard to tell.

It seems we have one group of people who want to go back to "the good old days" of white supremacy, sexual harassment, fundamentalist religion, dynastic wealth, racial discrimination, and religious superstition.   It is the year 2019 and we are still debating prayer in school and whether evolution can even be taught.

Worse yet, there are people saying they believe in a flat earth, and apparently they aren't kidding.

Of course, much of this is just baiting. We are being baited by many of these news stories about anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers and other nutjobs, positing that they represent some sort of new majority of thought, when in fact they represent an narrow outlier that is used by the news media to generate clicks.

But we've seen this pattern before. People throw away a perfectly good civilization or government because of perceived grievances that in retrospect were pretty trivial. The Weimar government in Germany was not overthrown during the height of the Great Depression, but many years afterwards when the economy was actually recovering.

Today, we are told that the country with the strongest economy in the world, with the lowest inflation rate, lowest interest rates, lowest gas prices, lowest unemployment rate, as well as the greatest amount of freedom offered to citizens anywhere, is somehow fundamentally flawed and needs to be overhauled with radical solutions from either the left or right.

Don't be a fool. Don't believe it.