Isn’t that how all of us feel about the truths we represent and which we project on the world? We all participate in the ultimate illusion: that the universe somehow takes our personal interests into account and that if we can just stare her down skillfully enough, Reality will bend to our demands. We constantly seek allies in our quest for this affirmation and naturally there’s a good business in being such an ally.
I remember well the questionable but entertaining child car seats of three or more decades ago. These flimsy, miniature lawn chairs often featured little steering wheels that your child manipulated to ensure your safe passage through the vagaries of suburban traffic. Your toddler co-pilot sat next to you in the front seat, blissfully unthreatened by uninvented airbags and the uninvented, ubiquitous knowledge of what tragedy might happen to him. His purpose was to navigate a safe passage home among the vagaries of traffic and noise and distraction.
Aren’t we all like those toddlers and the fans of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers? We’re universally equipped with a point of view and a mechanism for projecting our egos upon the Great Reality which we can surely learn to steer once we decipher its special code. Control is the universal need of our species, so vital that we will sacrifice our present and obvious good for the uncertain promise of control of our destiny.
Actually, it’s not control we seek. It’s the illusion of control and certainty. Any tribe will pay any price for that illusion. Our tribe is currently paying more for that illusion, in absolute terms, than has any tribe in the history of mankind.
The Tribe That Knew All
In The Lucifer Principle (but it could have been Global Brain, pardon my sieve-like memory) Howard Bloom (the mentor whom I exalt above all others) describes three tribes on an obscure island. These three tribes each had a specific talent. One tribe raised food – so skillfully that they, like America for much of our world, could provide the needs of all the islanders. The second tribe grew no food but they made implements. They provided the utensils and cooking pots and knives and spear points and fasteners that any society depends upon.
The third tribe had no productive skills but they had developed the ability to make unprovable statements. They “knew” how to cure the sick, forecast the future, resolve domestic differences. The other two tribes had no choice, as they saw it, but to bring abundant offerings of food and implements to the tribe of soothsayers, to learn what? Well, to learn what the soothsayers said was the sooth (“truth”, in the old parlance).
Which of the three tribes, we materialists must ask, was the most prosperous? The food producers or the implement makers or the people who guessed at the future no one else could question?
The most prosperous tribe was the one whose only skill was to utter specious predictions, conjectures and threats. Like our own politicians and priests and journalists, those who added no real value to this island prospered the most. They demanded gifts and sacrifices and, eventually, wound up with a disproportionate share of the food and implements that the other tribes produced.
When the priests’ predictions turned out to be true, they received the credit they seemed to deserve. But when their predictions failed, they informed their clients that their offerings had been found wanting. How could such inadequate offerings appease the angry forces that nibbled at the edges of the tribes’ existence? Such condemnations inspired the victim’s family to up the ante, bringing more and better offerings to the priests whose skill was in describing what might go wrong and what had gone wrong and how inadequate were the attempts of the family in deflecting the inscrutable disapproval of those forces that made disapproval matter so much.
After a while, most of the GDP of the islanders was held by those who had nothing to add, but so much confidence to withhold.
An American Tale
In the not-so-old days, when America’s political conservatives comprised a reliable counterpoise to the silliness of academics and politicians and deficit spenders and the fads of evangelists and charlatans, we could count on skeptical conservative voices to question the ungrounded claims on our productivity by those with no visible means of support and only a scam between them and disaster. But one look at our current cultural milieu of threat and conjecture and deficit spending on cosmetic security causes us to think that the unproductive priests of those distant islands have somehow taken over our own land.
Without the good sense of traditional conservatives, do we have any hope of waking up?