The problem with people

“Kay : A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet.”

The COVIDs, riots, brutalities of all sorts, climate change. What the F_CK is wrong with people?! Are human beings the most horrid species on this planet? Sure seems so. And yet there are offsets, those counterpoints to horror and tragedy, yet they too often go unnoticed or uncared about. And isn’t that even a more serious indictment of us? Is all we care about the morbid, the violent or the salacious? Most people would say no but their behavior tells the tale. I have held forth on the problem of chaos in the world from a Christian perspective. This post will be from a more secular point of view, although of course it will likely end up in the same place. We’ll see.

If I were an alien (no jokes now…) observing humanity from afar I would note the following: Humans are ruining their planet. Blatantly poisoning it. They are killing slowly but surely the thing that gives them life, turning a very nice neighborhood into a slum. They seem to be really good at killing things, whether other species or themselves. War is their highest achievement. Fear, as expressed through greed, selfishness, and a need for control has infected the entire species.

One would think that we ought to be evolving, moving beyond self, but the opposite seems to be true. It appears that we are devolving, becoming more childish rather than more adult. I can’t speak to what society is like in other countries but in America we are going backwards – the adolescentization of America. The evidence is everywhere and knows no socioeconomic or racial bounds.

We chase after material success – the house, the car, the devices. And we “pay” for it all not with actual money but credit. Debt is evidence of the undisciplined mind, the inability to defer gratification. And up up up it goes, trillions in debt, and not just individuals but our government. And that burden lies not on us but our great-grandchildren. Just kick it down the road seems to be the M.O. of Congress. And we buy this crap. We are slaves to our stuff and the lenders that support our acquisition of it.

Our government has devolved from the citizen-legislator to the career politician, whose sole aim is to get reelected and build a power base, to wield influence and enrich themselves. Harry Truman said that the only way to get rich in politics is to be a crook. The evidence is everywhere. Write some B.S. book and make millions. Speaking fees in the six figures. Pander to the lowest common denominator and instill fear. Get that message of fear and by extension division on the airwaves and cables, right into the homes of the peasantry where their security is most deeply rocked.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. Fake news is evolving into “deep fake”, a marvel of technology that makes the completely fabricated indistinguishable from the real. So-called news stories are not only biased, they are too often built on suspect sources. Read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear for a terrific exploration of how “facts” are created in order to sway opinion and decisions. Even worse, the truth is assaulted and often overrun by lies. A young man of color was murdered by a police officer of a different color. The evidence is incontrovertible. I saw this next crap coming though: the victim is now being painted as worthy of being murdered. He was on drugs, he did something bad. He was positive for the COVIDs. It’s a smear campaign of such laughable transparency and yet it is being swallowed by the ignorant and stupid.

Our vaunted educational system is collapsing under the tonnage of administrators and “programs” while the most important skills go malnourished. The fundamental ability to read, to write a coherent essay (no snickering), to think critically and be aware of the fallacious argument, all seem to be fading into the background so kiddies can be sensitive and fair. Wasn’t that what used to be taught in kindergarten?! Robert Fulghum’s book is more important than ever. God forbid we raise another generation that can actually think and question authority. Instead we teach to the test so more funding from the public trough flows our way. Gotta have those federal dollars! Our most important systems grow snouts.

The rise of the corporation and the subsequent consolidation via merger and leveraged buyout has created a ruling class; not the One Percent but the One Tenth of the One percent. They control everything it seems. The one thing they strive mightily to control and are making headway with is the human mind. Absent the ability to think, question and criticize, the echo chambers of the mind public and private are merging. Groupthink Orwell calls it. The media they control keeps us in a constant state of anxiety: “If it bleeds it leads.” Advertising sells us stuff we don’t need, we pay for it with money we don’t have, and all to impress people we don’t know or really like much. The endless drive to consume and gratify ourselves.

There is a systemic attack on the human being, or at least Americans. Government subsidizes certain crops that produce not food but chemicals that are turned into food. These foods make us sick so we go to the doctor and receive a prescription that ironically usually makes us sicker. More meds are prescribed. And the cost goes up and up across the board. So-called insurance goes down in quality and up in cost. And the lawyers suck at the trough coming and going.

Sigh. My angst may come across as deeply cynical. It is. But I don’t think it is unwarranted. We are killing ourselves slowly but surely, ceding a little liberty for a little security and the “freedom” to consume even more. We are enslaved to our stuff.

It’s disgusting. It is childish. It will be our ruin.

On the other hand…

There are so many myriad points of light, such goodness and beauty, kindness, generosity, selflessness, compassion. But these don’t generally make the news, or at least they don’t capture our attention for very long. Virtues don’t sell anything, don’t make us anxious and fearful. Quite the opposite.

So what, cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war? Actually, yes. But not that way of course. That just plays into the hands of those who profit from chaos, fear, selfishness, childishness and anxiety. I pity those fools who thump their chests and brandish their guns; really? Are you truly prepared to shoot someone? I doubt it. You have no idea what that moment is like and what it will do to you. Neither do I but I have been told by those who know. No, the front lines of the war exist within each of us. And it is a war that can be won. We just have to be willing to fight it.

I have written a lot about mindfulness, even to the point of weaponizing it. And that approach is necessary, as each of us is at war with our own minds and the pattern of the world they conform to (alluding of course to Romans 12:2) Renew your mind by taking control of your attention. As Anthony DeMello says (paraphrasing) “Your “I” must become aware of your “me.” Wake up and become aware of those external things that are demanding your attention, and the internal patterns of interpretation and meaning that have formed.

Find things of beauty and virtue to attend to. I love Sylvie Guillem. Her Bolero has often brought me peace when my angst has swelled. Dance, music, art. Cooking, baking.

Creating, not destroying. Love, not self.

The Apostle Paul tells us that “…the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

These fruits are experienced and have their source in Christ. It’s that simple. When we die to ourselves and strive to no longer conform to the pattern of this world, to seek God’s will not in service to ourselves but in service to Him, we are paradoxically free. All of the self-orientation that produces the fruits mentioned above fades and the fruits of the spirit bloom.

I await your rebuttal.

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