Thursday, June 18, 2015

Because Life is Too Easy

The excellent John Derbyshire opines today that "In advanced societies, the average amount of reality people can bear has declined across the past few decades."

He proceeds to talk about about the denial of reality involved in the Jenner and the Dolezal affairs.

There is nothing world-shattering in this, says Derb. After all, T.S. Eliot reminded us that "human kind cannot bear very much reality."

Derb writes about the decline in reality:
This, I believe, has something to do with the ever-increasing availability of screen-based entertainment (movies, TV, the internet), something to do with the decline of religion, something to do with the revolution in manners that we call “political correctness,” and something to do with the falloff in violence, as chronicled by Steven Pinker.
While I agree with Derb's assignment of blame I think that the first reason for the falloff in reality is that we can afford to.

When nearly all children survive infancy and we are not losing 0.5 percent of people a year to violent death then the urgency of getting children on the ground and fed and off the nest becomes rather less urgent.

When most of us can get a decent job by sleepwalking through school for 12 or 16 years, then we can afford to indulge ourselves in a bit of fantasy in between the times we have to show up for work.

We can afford to have educated twentysomethings wasting their youth pretending to be artists and writers in some yeasty urban "ideopolis." We can afford to have people experimenting with gender. We can afford to have and "underclass" of violent gangbangers and welfare scroungers. We can even afford to have people bullying other people around with their stupid and twisted doctrines of social justice. We can afford to have a huge government edifice doing useless things with extraordinary ineptitude.

We can afford this because we are so rich, as a result of 200 years of the Great Enrichment. If and when things turn south than the penalty for living in a fantasy will go up.

Of course, I think, following my piece "The Age of Ineptitude," that the big problem at any time is the notion, common among ruling classes, that the rulers are ordained by God to rule over their subjects with compassion and wisdom. This, I believe, is a vicious fantasy, and it always has been. It was bad when the king was the representative of the sky god on earth, and it is bad when the ruling class is an educated, evolved class of administrators and experts, ordained to rule by their knowledge and their expertise.

Government is force. Its job is to do the things that cannot be done by social cooperation, because of bad guys. There is nothing of wisdom or of compassion in the workings of government. It is an armed minority occupying and defending territory with armed might, and it can only stay in power by rewarding its soldiers and its supporters. It is a bad idea, but better than the alternative. Government always and everywhere is accompanied by chicanery, cruelty, injustice, ineptitude, folly, and brutality.

Some men, in some times, have advanced the notion that the way to deal with government is to limit it -- to limit its powers and limit its scope. But that notion imposes a harsh reality on people and requires them to look to themselves and their neighbors for safety and prosperity, and they would rather not. Only in times of trouble are people are forced get serious and lose the fantasy or lose their lives.

But in prosperous times like the present, when life is too easy, there is no need for every person to lose the fantasy.

Derb finishes with an important apércu. In the old days, religion focused wishful thinking into sensible channels like "kindly Sky Fathers listening to our prayers." But not any more.
With that focusing lens gone, wishful thinking runs amok. “I feel female/black, so I am female/black!” “Race creates tensions we don’t know how to manage, so let’s pretend it doesn’t exist!”
Still, with the Great Enrichment we can afford to have half the country zoned out. The only problem arises when the Great Emergency arises and we all have to pay attention.

But will we know it when we see it? There are always alarms and excursions and would-be saviors telling us to mind our ways because the End of the World is nigh. How can we tell if it really is the End of the World, or just another political/religious scam, like global warming?

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